Modeling War Damage – USS Yorktown (CV-5) at Coral Sea

Merit’s 1:350 USS Yorktown (CV-5) presents an excellent opportunity to display “that gallant ship” in a way that isn’t terribly common among shipbuilders: out of the water, but still within a vignette.  Even though most full hull ships are mounted on a base for display, the fact that Yorktown underwent one of the most famous repair operations of the Pacific War between her actions at Coral Sea and Midway lets us depict a historic scene without the need for waterlining.  That said, Yorktown entered drydock for a reason, and some work should be done to illustrate the damage she suffered which necessitated her repair.  This damage is often misunderstood, however, and can be difficult to depict accurately, so we need to examine damage reports and oral histories, primary and secondary sources, general plans and photographs to come up with a clearer view of how this scene could best be modeled.

Luckily I’ve done just that.

USS Yorktown at Pearl Harbor, May 29, 1942. Image Source: National Archives and Records Administration.

Rather than get in the weeds recounting the Battle of the Coral Sea, let’s just cover the basics: on May 8, 1942 both Yorktown and Lexington (CV-2) came under attack by Japanese dive and torpedo bombers flying from IJN Shokaku and Zuikaku,  Lexington absorbed two torpedoes and two bombs, and was eventually scuttled after catching ablaze from stem to stern.  Yorktown was luckier, only taking one direct bomb hit and at least two near misses, yet this damage was enough to warrant a quick return to port for repairs.  So what damage did these strikes inflict?

The most comprehensive resource we have regarding this damage is Captain Elliott Buckmaster’s action report, dated May 20, 1942; in another example of the internet being great, the entire report can be found online here.  Enclosure H of the report details the damage caused by the bomb strikes.

Starboard profile view of damage caused by bomb strikes on USS Yorktown, May 8, 1942. Created by author.

The Direct Hit

The most severe damage – a direct hit amidships, is also the simplest to model.  Here, an 800 lb armor piercing bomb penetrated the Flight, Gallery, Hanger, Second, and Third decks before exploding in the space between decks Three and Four.  This high order explosion dished downward the deck in compartment C-402-A (an Aviation Stores room) and ignited a conflagration among the supplies crated within.

Damage to Yorktown‘s Fourth Deck, May 8, 1942. Created by author.

Blast damage inside Compartment C-402-A. Image Source: Robert Cressman, That Gallant Ship (Missoula: Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, 1985), 123.

Much of the explosion was vented up into compartment C-301-L, a crew messroom (it was this event which led to most of the ship’s 66 casualties).  A hole “6 feet in diameter was blown out completely,” turning and peeling upward 35 square feet of the surrounding deck.  In addition, the deck was bulged up from below, several transverse bulkheads were bulged out of true, and multiple watertight doors were blown from their hinges.  According to Buckmaster, damage in this area also included the destruction of “the ship’s service store, soda fountain equipment, laundry issue room, ship’s service office, and engineer’s office” (Buckmaster to Nimitz, Enclosure H).

Damage to Yorktown‘s Third Deck, May 8, 1942. Created by author.

Blast damage on Yorktown, looking from Compartment C-301-L to C-402-A. Image Source: ibiblio.org.

As the blast proceeded upward its force began to dissipate.  At the Second Deck, “one hole 4 feet in diameter was blown up at frame 107,” with additional deck bulging in compartment C-201-L (Buckmaster to Nimitz, Enclosure H).  Similar bulging damage was reported on the Hanger Deck.  No blast damage reached either the Gallery or Flight Decks.

Damage to Yorktown‘s Second Deck, May 8, 1942. Created by author.

Damage to Yorktown‘s Hanger Deck, May 8, 1942. Created by author.

Damage to Yorktown‘s Gallery Deck, May 8, 1942. Created by author.

Damage to Yorktown‘s Flight Deck, May 8, 1942. Created by author.

Bomb damage to underside of Yorktown‘s Flight Deck, viewed from the Gallery Deck. Image source: ibilio.org.

In profile, the damage done to Yorktown‘s internal spaces becomes clearer.  She absorbed a massive body blow which incinerated, bulged, and warped a large portion of her midships structure:

Profile view of all bomb tracks and internal bomb damage suffered by Yorktown, May 8, 1942. Created by author.

This is the primary damage which led Rear Admiral Aubrey Fitch to estimate 90 days of repair at the Navy Yard in Bremerton, Washington.  Despite its severity, however, almost none of this damage was externally visible: with the exception of a patched hole on the Flight, Gallery, and Hanger Decks, the modeler needs not worry about representing this damage at all.  The most visible external damage to the ship was actually the least severe.

The Glancing Blows

During the May 8 attack, Yorktown suffered from at least two near misses (out of eight misses total), each of which damaged the ship’s port and starboard sides, respectively.  In his book That Gallant Ship, Robert Cressman concludes that these bombs were likely using Yorktown‘s island as an aiming point (Cressman, 111-112).

The first, and most serious of these blows, exploded “below the surface about 20 feet outboard of the hull abreast frame 110, port side” (Buckmaster to Nimitz, Enclosure H).  This 500-1000 lb bomb buckled the hull along three outboard fuel tanks, springing rivets and opening these tanks to the sea.

Repair crews patching Yorktown‘s port hull, May 29, 1942. Image Source: Steve Wiper, Warship Pictorial #44: USS Yorktown CV-5 (Tucson: Classic Warships Publishing, 2015), 52.

Damage to Yorktown‘s port fuel tanks, May 8, 1942. Created by author.

Yorktown returning to Pearl Harbor on May 27, 1942. Note the only visible port side damage stems from chipping along the waterline and boot top. Official US Navy photograph.

The second of these two near misses crossed Yorktown‘s Flight Deck from port to starboard, striking the ship’s catwalk “abaft number  three 5-inch gun” before exploding on contact with the sea “50 feet outboard abreast frame 20” (Cressman, 111; Buckmaster to Nimitz, Enclosure H).  Buckmaster noted that this bomb “touched the edge of the catwalk” but never mentioned this damage again, leading me to believe that damage to this area was slight and hardly worth mentioning (Buckmaster to Nimitz, Narrative).  There do not appear to be any extant photographs of the catwalk either, so if you’re going to model this damage, restraint is probably in order.

When the bomb exploded, splinters from the casing projected upward, striking the ship above the waterline in several places, specifically:

  • Frame 22: one 3″ hole five feet above the waterline.  This resulted in 4″ of minor flooding
  • Frame 15: one hole of indeterminate size twenty-one feet above the waterline
  • Frame 20: one hole of indeterminate size in the gallery walkway, forty-eight feet above the waterline.  This splinter damage also severed the adjacent gasoline line but did not result in a fire.
  • Frame 18: degausing cable (M Coil) severed, forty-four feet above the waterline.
  • Frame 5: degausing cable (F Coil) severed, forty-four feet above the waterline.
  • Frame 16: degausing cable (F-Coil) severed, forty-four feet above the waterline.
  • Frame 17: degausing cable (F Coil) severed, forty-four feet above the waterline.

Close-up of splinter damage from starboard bow near miss, May 8, 1942. Created by author.

Patched splinter damage along Yorktown‘s starboard bow, May 29, 1942. Image Source: That Gallant Ship, 124.

Close up of repairs to Yorktown‘s starboard bow, May 29, 1942. Image Source: National Archives and Records Administration.

Conclusion

And you know the rest of the story.  Fitch claimed that repairs to Yorktown would take three months; Nimitz, keenly aware of the ambush he planned to launch at Midway instead ordered “we must have this ship back in three days” (Cressman, 121).  And, of course, that’s exactly what happened when Yorktown left Pearl Harbor again on May 30, 1942, en route to her destiny.

This research is for a build project that I have not started yet.  Truth be told, I have not even begun to collect the components needed to get underway: Merit’s 1:350 USS Yorktown, various photoetch sets (likely the excellent detail set from Inifini), nor any of the materials I’ll need to scratchbuild Pearl Harbor’s Drydock Number One.  That said, the ball is starting to roll.  Here’s to picking up speed.

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2 thoughts on “Modeling War Damage – USS Yorktown (CV-5) at Coral Sea

  1. There are more photos of the damage in the War Damage Reports records on Floor 2 of NARA College Park, including one of the catwalk damage. The raised lip of the catwalk edge was bent in about an inch for the length of the diameter of the bomb, so it’s nothing that could be replicated in 1/350th.

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