Aviation History

How two SBD Dauntless aircraft from USS Enterprise sank submarine I-70, the first major Japanese combatant ship sunk during World War II

The first major Japanese combatant ship sunk during World War II.

By the time the USS Enterprise CV-6 (The Big E) returned to Pearl Harbor on the evening of Dec. 8, 1941, the entire American Strategic situation in the Pacific was in shambles. The Pacific Fleet Battle Line was all but eliminated, while Oahu, the hub of the US military in the Pacific saw the majority of it’s air power eliminated. Farther to the West across the International Dateline, Wake Island lost 8 out of 12 of the Wildcats Enterprise had just delivered to Japanese Land Based Naval Bombers from the Japanese occupied Marshall Islands. US Forces in the Philippines had already lost half their bomber strength, and a third of their fighters. For all intents and purposes, the American war effort was like a boxer entering a ring, entering and expecting a fight, but getting a knockout punch right before the bell rang.

Aboard Enterprise, Vice Admiral Halsey’s anger at what had been done to His Navy simmered like a pressure cooker, growing into a deep abiding hatred for the Japanese which would stew for the rest of his life. Halsey represented the spirit of Revenge of the US Navy, a desire to take out those responsible, a hatred to his very core. Halsey had lost friends, classmates, and men he had trained, all to an attack he could do nothing to stop. He had also taken losses to his Enterprise Air Group, his boys, both to enemy and friendly fire. Finally, he would have been aware of the great personal cost experienced by his Naval Academy classmate Admiral Kimmel, who he had known for nearly a half century.

Halsey, ashore but still looking every much like the fighting Admiral he was.

SBD Dauntless aircraft Vs Submarine I-70

Remaining only long enough to take on extra supplies, by calling an all-hand’s drill, Enterprise was able to resupply within 7 hours and be under way again before Dawn. Now, Enterprise would act as Guardian for the Hawaiian Islands, again patrolling as a moving airbase, sending scout planes to all quadrants armed and ready for war. Those who crewed Enterprise’s planes were equally spoiling for a fight, they had lost fellow Aviators, and many had heard the startled last transmissions of their fellow fliers as they were shot down when approaching Oahu on that Dec. 7 dawn. Halsey’s anger channeled the fury of everyone in his task force, and as time went on, it would be something that infused the entire war effort.

Thus, when two SBD Dauntless aircraft flown by the pilots of VS-6 spotted the Japanese Submarine I-70 on the surface, there was no question what would be done. The Sub was a clear threat, as the loss of HMS Courageous under similar circumstances proved in 1939, and events for the rest of 1942 would subsequently show.

A participant in the Pearl Harbor attack, I-70 is the first major Japanese combatant ship sunk during World War II.

Japanese Submarine I-65, sister sub of the I-70 sank by Enterprise.

According to Battleship Cove Facebook Page, I-70 was part of a group of submarines sent to patrol off the coast of the Hawaiian Islands during the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. That day, it failed to answer a radio call. The last radio received from the submarine was on Dec. 9, 1941 when it reported seeing USS Enterprise near Naval Station Pearl Harbor.

The BIG E strikes back first

On Dec. 10, 1941, it was sighted by a Douglas SBD-2 Dauntless aircraft from VS-6 after 6:00 AM. The aircraft scored a near-miss with a 1,000-pound bomb which damaged its hull and prevented it from diving. Later that day, another SBD of VS-6 saw the damaged submarine. Although the submarine attempted to maneuver and was even able to fire its 13 mm deck machine gun, the SBD was able to climb to 5,000 feet and hit the ship amidships with a bomb, blowing several gunners overboard. The sub stopped and then disappeared underwater about 45 seconds later.

The war was on, and Enterprise had drawn her first blood in response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

The famous BIG E strikes back first…

Be sure to check out William Cobb’s Facebook Page Pensacola Aerospace Museum for awesome aviation’s photos and stories.

Photo credit: U.S. Navy

An oft shown photo, but still historic view of the SBDs of Scouting Six over the Enterprise immediately prewar in October of 1941.
William Cobb

Mr. William Cobb is a licensed Instrument Flight Instructor in Single and Multi Engine Airplanes who is the founder and director of the Pensacola Aerospace Museum. Mr. Cobb spent from 2008 to 2015 instructing for the U.S. Navy's Initial Flight Screening program. After 8 years of full time Flight Instruction, Mr. Cobb started his own Commercial Drone Business, obtaining the first FAA Part 107 certification in his FAA region. Subsequent Drone work led to his becoming involved in Film Production work, and his establishing the Pensacola Aerospace Museum, an entity dedicated to honoring the memory of all those who ever gave their lives to flight.

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