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Battle of Yorktown

Battle of Yorktown

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Yorktown, 1781.

Map showing the approach of the American armies from New York to Yorktown, 1781.

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Yorktown article

Siege of Yorktown begins

Union forces under General George McClellan arrive at Yorktown, Virginia, and establish siege lines instead of directly attacking the Confederate defenders.

This was the opening of McClellan’s Peninsular campaign. He sailed his massive Army of the Potomac down Chesapeake Bay and landed on the James Peninsula southeast of the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. He reasoned that this would bring him closer to Richmond, and the Confederates would have a difficult time gathering their scattered forces to the peninsula. The first resistance came at Yorktown, the site of George Washington’s decisive victory over Lord Cornwallis to end the American Revolution 91 years earlier.

McClellan was discouraged by what he thought was a substantial force resting inside of strong and well-armed fortifications. The Confederates he saw were actually 11,000 troops under General John B. Magruder. Although vastly outnumbered, Magruder staged an elaborate ruse to fool McClellan. He ordered logs painted black, called “Quaker Guns,” placed in redoubts to give the appearance of numerous artillery pieces. Magruder marched his men back and forth to enhance the illusion. The performance worked, as McClellan was convinced that he could not make a frontal assault.

He opted to lay siege instead. Not until May 4 did Magruder’s troops finally abandon Yorktown, giving the Confederates valuable time to gather their troops near Richmond. The campaign climaxed in late June when McClellan was driven away from the gates of Richmond in the Seven Days’ battles.

Why Was the Battle of Yorktown Important?

The Battle of Yorktown was important because it triggered the point of final surrender for British forces. The battle was the last major conflict during the American Revolution, and its outcome in favor of the Americans effectively sealed the British loss. British casualties in this battle were nearly twice those of the Americans.

British forces continued to fight in places after the Battle of Yorktown, but back in Britain, the public began turning against the war. The following year saw a Parliament elected that was pro-American, and peace negotiations soon followed, leading to the Treaty of Paris.

The Battle of Yorktown was a significant victory for the Americans because it disabled a sizable force of 7,500 men led by Lieutenant General Lord Charles Cornwallis. General Washington chose to attack this force because it was isolated from reinforcements thanks to the French naval blockade. The combined French and American army marched on Yorktown on Sept. 28, 1781. On October 17 of this same year, Cornwallis surrendered his forces. Upon meeting with Washington after surrendering, Cornwallis attempted to gain favorable terms, but he was refused as Washington instead demanded the harsher terms previously imposed by British forces against an American general the previous year.


General Cornwallis had put thousands of British-led soldiers in a vulnerable situation. During the summer of 1781, Cornwallis was ordered to fortify a naval base along the Virginia coast. So he and the 7000 troops under his command set up shop in Yorktown, a seaside tobacco hub. Geography put them at a major disadvantage. Because the city was perched at the tip of a York River peninsula, the Franco-American allies figured that if they could hit Yorktown with a naval blockade and a strong land-based siege, Cornwallis and his men would be hopelessly isolated. Their subsequent capture might bring the whole war to an end.

Any opportunity to nab Cornwallis was too good to pass up, but going after him like this was a big gamble. Time was of the essence if British reinforcements made it to Yorktown before the city fell, the campaign could turn into a bloody disaster. Enter the Comte de Grasse: On August 30, 1781, his fleet dropped reached the Chesapeake Bay, where the admiral transferred supplies and men to the waiting Marquis de Lafayette. One week later, the Comte de Grasse's naval force engaged with a 19-warship British fleet that had been sent to find it.

A two and a half-hour sea battle broke out. The French prevailed, damaging six British vessels and killing 90 sailors in the process. (De Grasse only suffered damage to two ships.) Had the British won, the seamen aboard those Royal Navy vessels might have landed in Yorktown and given Cornwallis the backup he so desperately needed. Instead, the groundwork was laid for a Franco-American victory.

Battle of Yorktown

“We are at the end of our tether, and now or never our deliverance must come”, wrote a discouraged George Washington in April 1781. The rebellion was in its seventh long year. The terrible strains of the conflict continued to crush the agrarian-based economy and a population ravaged by a nightmarish smallpox epidemic. Continental currency continued to hyper-inflate, and finally collapsed in May 1781. The Council in Philadelphia began to publish the month-to-month rates of currency to specie, and weary consumers then multiplied the official rate by three. At the time of its demise in the spring before Yorktown, the currency to specie ratio was officially 175 to one, or 525 to one, according to the informal calculations of the public. A procession was held in Philadelphia to spiritedly mark its collapse, with people marching with dollars in their hats as paper plumes. An unhappy dog trotted alongside, tarred and pasted with the worthless paper.

As he planned for the Yorktown campaign, Washington was desperate for hard specie to pay the troops. He wrote to Robert Morris, “I must entreat you, if possible, to procure one months pay in specie for the detachment under my command. Part of the troops have not been paid anything for a long time past and have upon several occasions shown marks of great discontent,” an understated reference to the mutinies and general unrest that were occurring among the troops.

“You may depend upon this amount” The most decisive naval battle of the American Revolution was fought under French commanders with French ships and French sailors and marines. On March 22, 1781, Rear Admiral Francois Josef Paul, comte de Grasse, sailed for the Caribbean with an armada of over twenty ships of the line, leading a convoy of French merchant vessels that numbered 150. He also ferried infantry reinforcements for Rochambeau. His command ship was the Ville de Paris, reportedly the largest warship on the eighteenth-century seas. A gift of the people of Paris to the Americans, the Ville de Paris was an imposing vessel of 110 guns on three gun decks. Admiral de Grasse’s mission was to reinforce the French possessions in the West Indies, and then to turn his actions towards the North American theater. His fleet sighted land in Martinique on April 28, a remarkably swift transatlantic crossing for a fleet of this size. He stated his orders from the French court in a heartening message to the worried Rochambeau, “His Majesty has entrusted me with the command of the naval force destined for North America. The force which I command is sufficient to fulfill the offensive plans…of the Allied powers to secure an honorable peace.” At this point in the summer of 1781, the French war chest in North America was also in dramatic straits. A shipment of gold was due to arrive in Boston sometime in the early fall, but with the dangers and unpredictability of overland transport, Rochambeau knew that he could not depend on these funds for the Virginia campaign. He wrote to de Grasse on June 6, 1781, stating that his funds were insufficient to maintain his army longer than August 20, and he felt that it was impossible to secure the needed gold or silver specie at any price. Rochambeau also corresponded as to the condition of the Continental Army, “I should not conceal from you, M. l’Amiral, that these people are at the very end of the resources or that Washington will not have at his disposal half of the number of troops he counted upon having. While he is secretive on this subject I believe that at present he has not more than 6,000 men all told.” De Grasse turned to the Spanish for assistance, who had been aiding the French with cash financing in their battles against the British in the West Indies. Francisco de Saavedra de Sangronis was a central figure who assisted de Grasse in raising the funds through a dramatic, last minute collection of silver and gold from private citizens in Havana, Cuba. After receiving the funds, de Grasse proceeded to speed his fleet to the north. Spy ships prowled the waters of the West Indies and de Grasse feared that the British had some knowledge of his mission. Realizing that he was critically pressed for time to reach Yorktown, the Admiral made the decision to take the fleet with its precious cargo through the old Bahamian Channel, “the famous dreaded channel, where no French fleet had ever passed.” A fretful General Washington and his staff waited for news of de Grasse. The army planned to march in to Philadelphia on September 2. Washington, determined that the weary men should look as presentable as possible, ordered that flour from precious rations be distributed, so that the men with wigs could powder them. While Washington paced anxiously, de Grasse had arrived in the Chesapeake Bay and wrote to Rochambeau on August 30 aboard the Ville de Paris. De Grasse noted his “great pleasure” in arriving at the Chesapeake Bay, and that he had departed on August 3rd from Santo Domingo. He wrote that it had been necessary to stop in Havana for the 1.2 million livres. He also noted that he was ferrying the 3,200 reinforcements that Rochambeau had also requested. The reaction of the normally reserved Washington to de Grasses arrival underscores the importance with which the Commander in Chief viewed the naval reinforcements. Washington was spotted by a bemused Rochambeau as “waving his hat at me with demonstrative gestures of the greatest joy. When I rode up to him, he explained that he had just received a dispatch … informing him that de Grasse had arrived.” The arrival of de Grasse, with its timing decidedly impacted by the speed of the collection of specie from Havana, was harrowingly close for eighteenth-century military maneuvers. On September 1, British Admiral Thomas Graves sailed from New York for the Chesapeake with a fleet of nineteen ships, and in the dawn light of September 5, Graves sighted the Chesapeake capes. De Grasses men too were on the lookout in that early morning, but for the French ships of de Barras that were supposed to be heading south to join them. The French in de Grasses fleet soon realized that the oncoming ships plowing across the seas were British, and sprinkled the decks with sand to soak the blood that would be splattered in the morning battle. De Grasse would enter this battle with his entire fleet, as insisted upon by Saavedra, and had at least five more ships-of-the-line than Graves. The battle raged throughout the day and into the night. Wood shattered, canvas sails ripped, cannons balls screamed, and the cries of wounded and dying rolled across the blue and white waves of smoldering seas. Finally, both sides halted to count their casualties and briefly mourn their dead. Repairing their ships on September 6th, the fight resumed the next day, and by now the dueling navies had drifted south from the Chesapeake to the vicinity of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. By the 9th, de Grasse had turned back towards the Chesapeake, fearing that the British would do the same, as Commodore Louis Antonione de Bougainville wrote, “I am very much afraid that the British might try to get to the Chesapeake … ahead of us.” Their fears were unfounded, however, and there to greet them in the calm waters of the Bay were the reinforcements of de Barras. De Grasse now had thirty-five ships of the line, and would be able to hold the Chesapeake Bay and major rivers for the siege and land battle of Yorktown to unfold. A council of war was held by the British navy, and Admirals Graves and Hood concluded that given “the position of the enemy, the present condition of the British fleet and the impracticability of giving any effectual succour to General Earl Cornwallis … it was resolved the British squadron should proceed with all dispatch to New York.” The British ships withdrew, leaving Cornwallis and his army to defend themselves against the combined American and French forces. News of the defeat of his navy at the Chesapeake Capes reached a shocked King George in London, and he confided to the Earl of Sandwich in a decidedly different tone than his pronouncements of September 1780, “I nearly think the empire ruined … this cruel event is too recent for me to be as yet able to say more.” For a copy of this article with footnotes (remember those?), please click here Battle of Yorktown Citations.

The Battle of Yorktown, Virginia

The Battle of Yorktown, also called the Siege of Yorktown, was the final battle of the American Revolutionary War even though the Treaty of Paris, ending the war, would not be signed for another 2 years.

Yorktown, Virginia was founded in 1691 by Thomas Ballard along with Joseph Ring. The city was designed to be a shipping port for tobacco from Europe.

Before the Revolutionary War the town was known simply as York. Afterward it was renamed Yorktown.

The Battle of Yorktown was a memorable one: a remarkable victory for the patriots and an emfooassing loss for the British.

The Turmoil Begins

In the summer of 1781, after being unable to hold onto the Carolinas due to patriot resistance, British General and Earl Charles Cornwallis was sent to Yorktown to take hold of a fort near the river. General Henry Clinton wanted a port from which he could supply and reinforce the British regulars in Virginia. Lord Cornwallis agreed to this after being promised reinforcements from New York.

German engraving of Lord Cornwallis’ surrender at the Battle of Yorktown.
The words read:
Die Americaner machen den Lord Cornwallis mit seiner Armee zu Gefangnen, bey Yorktown den 19 ten October 1781.In English:”The Americans capture the Lord Cornwallis with his army at Yorktown on the 19 th of October, 1781.”

Meanwhile, French ships had recently come to the aid of George Washington‘s army. Washington, along with French General de Rochambeau, was trying to find a way to take New York when a messenger boy arrived with the news of the British encampment in Yorktown. Washington decided to go down and take back the fort in which the British were staked.

When Corwallis received the news, he was left with the choice to flee to New York, where he risked running into the French flee to North Carolina, where safety was also not certain or stand and fight Washington’s army. He chose to stay, his only hope lying in the soldiers he was promised by Clinton.

The Battle of Yorktown Begins

Upon the arrival of the American soldiers, Cornwallis had only one advantage: the fort they were in. When he saw how many more American soldiers than British there were, he tried to flee across the York river to the fort he had taken on the other side. As soon as he left his current fort, the Americans took it. His attempt to cross the river failed, due to a storm that was tossing the waters badly, making it impossible to cross.

The French ships arrived the next day, cutting off all hope of reinforcements from General Clinton. By this time the Americans had begun to fire on the British army and things were looking bad for Lord Cornwallis.

The Surrender

All of the British supplies had been lost to the Americans when Cornwallis had fled the fort. His only option now was to surrender or die. On October 19, the second in command of the British army came out in place of Lord Cornwallis—who feigned illness because he could not bear the shame—to present the earl’s sword, ending the Battle of Yorktown in a complete British surrender.

When he returned to England, his name had been dragged through the mud. In later years, he would be known as the man who lost America.

Unfinished Treaty of Paris painting by B. West

The Battle of Yorktown was the last major battles before the signing of the Treaty of Paris in September of 1783. During the signing, the British were asked to pose for a painting for the history books, but they refused to face forward. The painting is still incomplete.

Alexander Hamilton was key to the American victory at Yorktown

That's right, America's hippest Founding Father gave General Washington a leg up in the Battle of Yorktown, ultimately helping him force the British forces to throw in the towel. And how did he do it? Why, his sick rap battling skills, of course. Okay, not really. Alexander Hamilton wouldn't embark on his rap career until more than two centuries after his death, but he did have some killer moves that helped the fledgling nation get a foothold on this earth. But he almost didn't even get the chance to help.

According to Mental Floss, Hamilton had to talk Washington into putting him into the game. In order to extend their trench line, the American and French forces needed to take down a pair of earthen barricades the British had erected known as Redoubts 9 and 10. French Commander Marquis de Lafayette wanted to send his assistant to take the Redoubts, but Hamilton convinced Washington to give him the job, and the general was not disappointed with his decision. Hamilton took 400 men with him to Redoubt 10, hopped over the structure and its defenses of sharpened tree limbs at the top, and took it for the American and French forces in just 10 quick minutes. Hamilton claimed to have lost only nine men in the process. Later, Washington would make him his secretary of the treasury, but Hamilton would end up having a much less impressive performance in his infamous duel with Aaron Burr.


McClellan had chosen to approach the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, with an amphibious operation that landed troops on the tip of the Virginia Peninsula at Fort Monroe. His Army of the Potomac numbered 121,500 men, transported starting on March 17 by 389 vessels. [1] McClellan planned to use U.S. Navy forces to envelop Yorktown, but the emergence of the Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia and the Battle of Hampton Roads (March 8–9, 1862) disrupted this plan. The threat of the Virginia on the James River and the heavy Confederate batteries at the mouth of the York River prevented the Navy from assuring McClellan that they could control either the York or the James, so he settled on a purely land approach toward Yorktown. [4]

The Confederate defenders of Yorktown, led by Maj. Gen. John B. Magruder, initially numbered only 11–13,000 men [5] the rest of the Confederate forces, under the overall command of General Joseph E. Johnston, remained spread out across eastern Virginia at Culpeper, Fredericksburg, and Norfolk. Magruder constructed a defensive line from Yorktown on the York River, behind the Warwick River, to Mulberry Point on the James River (even taking advantage of some trenches originally dug by Cornwallis in 1781 [6] ) to effectively block the full width of the Peninsula, although he could adequately man none of the defensive works at that time. This became known as the Warwick Line.

McClellan's plan called for Maj. Gen. Samuel P. Heintzelman's III Corps to fix the Confederate troops in their trenches near the York River, while the IV Corps under Brig. Gen. Erasmus D. Keyes enveloped the Confederate right and cut off their lines of communication. McClellan and his staff, ignorant of the extent of Magruder's line, assumed the Confederates had concentrated only in the immediate vicinity of Yorktown. [7]

Union advance and Lee's Mill Edit

On April 4, 1862, the Union Army pushed through Magruder's initial line of defense but the following day encountered his more effective Warwick Line. The nature of the terrain made it difficult to determine the exact disposition of the Confederate forces. McClellan correctly estimated that the Confederates had 15-18,000 troops in the defensive line. [8] It has been claimed that Magruder attempted to deceive by moving infantry and artillery in a noisy, ostentatious manner to make the defenders seem a much larger forces than their actual numbers. [9] However, his reports do not mention this and no reference before 1988 can be found claiming this, except for Shelby Foote's three volume history of the Civil War, first published in 1956. [10] On 6–7 April McClellan correctly estimated (given Magruder's reinforcements) that 30,000 troops were at Yorktown. [11] Troops continued to arrive and on 20 April McClellan correctly estimated "more than 80,000" were at Yorktown. [12]

McClellan had five divisions available and advanced in two columns. The 4th Corps of two divisions under Keyes advanced towards Lee's Mill, whilst the 3rd Corps of two divisions under Heintzelman advanced towards Yorktown proper. He kept his last division (Sedgwick) in reserve to commit to either column. The lead division of Keyes' corps under Smith contacted the position at Lee's Mill in the early afternoon of the 5th. He had two brigades (Davidson and Hancock) and a battery (Wheeler's) to hand and attempted to suppress the superior enemy artillery. He lost the firefight and despite an order from McClellan to Keyes "to attack with all his force if only with the bayonet", Smith withdrew back to Warwick Court House. The 3rd Corps advanced directly towards Yorktown, but were stopped by heavy artillery fire. [13]

That evening McClellan ordered two brigades to march across the entire frontage of the enemy line. The next day (April 6) Hancock and Burns took parts of their brigades and marched across the entire frontage to provoke enemy fire. Hancock took the 6th Maine Infantry and 5th Wisconsin Infantry left to right, and Burns went right to left. This proved that there was no break in the river that could easily be assaulted. That evening a major storm started, and shut down all troop movements until the 10th. Further recces were ordered in order to find a weak point to attack, and on April 9 Hancock performed a reconnaissance around Dam Number One, where Magruder had widened the Warwick to create a water obstacle nearby. The rebel picket line was along the Garrow Ridge on the eastern side of the river. Hancock drove off the Confederate pickets and took some prisoners. Smith and the attached engineer (Comstock) noted this was the only place along the river where the ground was higher on the eastern bank than the western, and hence was vulnerable. McClellan chided Smith for not taking an opportunity to attack stating "if you had gone and succeeded, you would have been a Major General". Hancock considered this area a weak spot in the line, but his messenger was captured by the rebels en route to Smith's HQ. [14] Keyes believed that the Warwick Line fortifications could not be carried by assault and so informed McClellan. [15]

During this phase, Union Army Balloon Corps aeronaut Professor Thaddeus S. C. Lowe used two balloons, the Constitution and the Intrepid, to perform aerial observation. On April 11, Intrepid carried Brig. Gen. Fitz John Porter, a division commander of the V Corps, aloft, but unexpected winds sent the balloon over enemy lines, causing great consternation in the Union command before other winds returned him to safety. Confederate Captain John Bryan suffered a similar wind mishap in a hot air balloon over the Yorktown lines. [16]


Yorktown was laid down on 21 May 1934 at Newport News, Virginia, by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Co. launched on 4 April 1936 sponsored by Eleanor Roosevelt and commissioned at the Naval Station Norfolk (NS Norfolk), Norfolk, Virginia, on 30 September 1937, Captain Ernest D. McWhorter in command.

After fitting out, the aircraft carrier trained in Hampton Roads, Virginia and in the southern drill grounds off the Virginia capes into January 1938, conducting carrier qualifications for her newly embarked air group.

Yorktown sailed for the Caribbean on 8 January 1938 and arrived at Culebra, Puerto Rico, on 13 January. Over the ensuing month, the carrier conducted her shakedown, touching at Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands Gonaïves, Haiti Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Cristóbal, Panama Canal Zone. Departing Colon Bay, Cristobal, on 1 March, Yorktown sailed for Hampton Roads, arrived on 6 March, and put into the Norfolk Navy Yard the next day for post-shakedown availability.

After undergoing repairs through the early autumn of 1938, Yorktown moved station from the navy yard to NS Norfolk on 17 October 1938 and soon headed for the Southern Drill Grounds for training.

Yorktown operated off the eastern seaboard, ranging from Chesapeake Bay to Guantanamo Bay, into 1939. As flagship for Carrier Division 2, she participated in her first war game—Fleet Problem XX—along with her sister-ship Enterprise in February 1939. The scenario for the exercise called for one fleet to control the sea lanes in the Caribbean against the incursion of a foreign European power while maintaining sufficient naval strength to protect vital American interests in the Pacific. The maneuvers were witnessed, in part, by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, embarked in the heavy cruiser Houston.

The critique of the operation revealed that carrier operations—a part of the scenarios for the annual exercises since the entry of Langley into the war games in 1925—had achieved a new peak of efficiency. Despite the inexperience of Yorktown and Enterprise—comparative newcomers to the Fleet—both carriers made significant contributions to the success of the problem. The planners had studied the employment of carriers and their embarked air groups in connection with convoy escort, antisubmarine defense, and various attack measures against surface ships and shore installations. In short, they worked to develop the tactics that would be used when war actually came. [4]

Following Fleet Problem XX, Yorktown returned briefly to Hampton Roads before sailing for the Pacific on 20 April 1939. Transiting the Panama Canal a week later, Yorktown soon commenced a regular routine of operations with the Pacific Fleet. The Second World War started on 1 September 1939, but the USA was not yet involved. Operating out of San Diego into 1940, the carrier participated in Fleet Problem XXI that April. Yorktown was one of six ships to receive the new RCA CXAM radar in 1940. [1] At the same time her signal bridge atop the tripod foremast was enclosed, and several 50 caliber machine guns were fitted in galleries along the edges of the flight deck.

Fleet Problem XXI—a two-part exercise—included some of the operations that would characterize future warfare in the Pacific. The first part of the exercise was devoted to training in making plans and estimates in screening and scouting in coordination of combatant units and in employing fleet and standard dispositions. The second phase included training in convoy protection, the seizure of advanced bases, and, ultimately, the decisive engagement between the opposing fleets. The last pre-war exercise of its type, Fleet Problem XXI contained two exercises (comparatively minor at the time) where air operations played a major role. Fleet Joint Air Exercise 114A prophetically pointed out the need to coordinate Army and Navy defense plans for the Hawaiian Islands, and Fleet Exercise 114 proved that aircraft could be used for high altitude tracking of surface forces—a significant role for planes that would be fully realized in the war to come.

With the retention of the Fleet in Hawaiian waters after the conclusion of Fleet Problem XXI, Yorktown operated in the Pacific off the west coast of the United States and in Hawaiian waters until the following spring, when the success of German U-boats preying upon British shipping in the Atlantic required a shift of American naval strength. Thus, to reinforce the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, the Navy transferred a substantial force from the Pacific including Yorktown, Battleship Division Three (the New Mexico-class battleships), three light cruisers, and 12 accompanying destroyers. [4]

Yorktown departed Pearl Harbor on 20 April 1941 in company with destroyers Warrington, Somers, and Jouett headed southeast, transited the Panama Canal on the night of 6–7 May, and arrived at Bermuda on 12 May. From that time until the United States entered the war, Yorktown conducted four patrols in the Atlantic, ranging from Newfoundland to Bermuda and logging 17,642 miles (28,392 km) steamed while enforcing American neutrality.

Although Adolf Hitler had forbidden his submarines to attack American ships, the men who manned the American naval vessels were not aware of this policy and operated on a wartime footing in the Atlantic.

On 28 October, while Yorktown, the battleship New Mexico, and other American warships were screening a convoy, a destroyer picked up a submarine contact and dropped depth charges while the convoy itself made an emergency starboard turn, the first of the convoy's three emergency changes of course. Late that afternoon, engine repairs to one of the ships in the convoy, Empire Pintail, reduced the convoy's speed to 11 knots (13 mph 20 km/h).

During the night, the American ships intercepted strong German radio signals, indicating submarines probably in the vicinity reporting the group. Rear Admiral H. Kent Hewitt, commanding the escort force, sent a destroyer to sweep astern of the convoy to destroy the U-boat or at least to drive him under.

The next day, while cruiser scout planes patrolled overhead, Yorktown and the cruiser Savannah fueled their escorting destroyers, finishing the task as dusk fell. On 30 October, Yorktown was preparing to fuel three destroyers when other escorts made sound contacts. The convoy subsequently made 10 emergency turns while the destroyers Morris and Anderson dropped depth charges, with Hughes assisted in developing the contact. Anderson later made two more depth charge attacks, noticing "considerable oil with slick spreading but no wreckage".

The short-of-war period was becoming more like the real thing as each day went on. Elsewhere on 30 October, U-552 torpedoed the destroyer Reuben James, sinking her with a heavy loss of life, the first loss of an American warship in World War II. After another Neutrality Patrol stint in November, Yorktown put into Norfolk on 2 December. [4]

On the early morning of 7 December 1941, Japanese warplanes attacked the U.S. base at Pearl Harbor without warning, damaging or sinking 16 U.S. warships. With the battle line crippled, the undamaged American carriers assumed great importance. There were, on 7 December, only three in the Pacific: Enterprise, Lexington, and Saratoga. Yorktown, Ranger, Wasp, and the recently commissioned Hornet were in the Atlantic. The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor resulted in massive outrage across the United States and led to the country's formal entry into World War II the next day. Yorktown departed Norfolk on 16 December for the Pacific, her secondary gun galleries studded with new Oerlikon 20 mm guns. (The ship's Gunnery Officer retained the Browning M2 .50 caliber machine guns the Oerlikons replaced, and acquired a supply of M1919A4 .30 caliber machine guns as well. The crew discovered the pintle mounts of the .30 calibers fitted neatly into cut swab handles, and the swab handles themselves fit neatly into the hollow pipes used for the ship's safety lines. Dozens of sailors went into the unofficial antiaircraft gun business, and according to one report, "Yorktown bristled with more guns than a Mexican revolution movie." [5] ) She reached San Diego 30 December 1941 and soon became flagship for Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher's newly formed Task Force 17 (TF 17).

The carrier's first mission in her new theater was to escort a convoy carrying Marine reinforcements to American Samoa. Departing San Diego on 6 January 1942, Yorktown and her consorts covered the movement of Marines to Pago Pago in Tutuila to augment the garrison already there.

Having safely covered that troop movement, Yorktown, in company with sister ship Enterprise, departed Samoan waters on 25 January. Six days later, Task Force 8 (built around Enterprise), and TF 17 (around Yorktown) parted company. The former headed for the Marshall Islands, the latter for the Gilberts, each to take part in some of the first American offensives of the war, the Marshalls-Gilberts raids.

Yorktown was being screened by two cruisers, Louisville and St. Louis and four destroyers. At 05:17, Yorktown launched 11 Douglas TBD-1 Devastators and 17 Douglas SBD-3 Dauntlesses, under the command of Commander Curtis W. Smiley. Those planes hit what Japanese shore installations and shipping they could find at Jaluit, but severe thunderstorms hampered the mission, and seven planes were lost. Other Yorktown planes attacked Japanese installations and ships at Makin and Mili Atolls.

The attack on the Gilberts by Task Force 17 had apparently been a surprise since the American force encountered no enemy surface ships. A single Japanese Kawanishi H6K "Mavis" flying boat attempted to attack American destroyers sent astern in hope of recovering the crews of planes overdue from the Jaluit mission. Antiaircraft fire from the destroyers drove off the intruder before it could cause any damage.

Later, another Mavis, or possibly the same one, came out of low clouds 15,000 yards (14,000 m) distant from Yorktown. The carrier withheld her antiaircraft fire in order not to interfere with the combat air patrol (CAP) fighters. Presently, the Mavis, pursued by two Grumman F4F Wildcats, disappeared behind a cloud. Within five minutes, the enemy patrol plane fell out of the clouds and crashed in the water.

Although TF 17 was slated to make a second attack on Jaluit, it was canceled because of heavy rainstorms and the approach of darkness. Therefore, the Yorktown force retired from the area.

Admiral Chester Nimitz later called the Marshalls-Gilberts raids "well conceived, well planned, and brilliantly executed." The results obtained by Task Forces 8 and 17 were noteworthy, Nimitz continued in his subsequent report, because the task forces had been obliged to make their attacks somewhat blindly, due to lack of hard intelligence data on the Japanese-held islands.

Yorktown subsequently put in at Pearl Harbor for replenishment before she put to sea on 14 February, bound for the Coral Sea. On 6 March, she rendezvoused with TF 11 which had been formed around Lexington and under the command of Vice Admiral Wilson Brown. Together they headed towards Rabaul and Gasmata to attack Japanese shipping there in an effort to check the Japanese advance and to cover the landing of Allied troops at Nouméa, New Caledonia. The two carriers were screened by eight heavy cruisers (including the Australian warships HMAS Australia and HMAS Canberra) and 14 destroyers. As they steamed toward New Guinea, the Japanese continued their advance toward Australia with a landing on 7 March at the Huon Gulf, in the Salamaua-Lae area on the eastern end of New Guinea.

Word of the Japanese operation prompted Admiral Brown to change the objective of TF 11's strike from Rabaul to the Salamaua-Lae sector. On the morning of 10 March 1942, American carriers launched aircraft from the Gulf of Papua. Lexington flew off her air group commencing at 07:49 and, 21 minutes later, Yorktown followed suit. The choice of the gulf as the launch point for the strike meant the planes would have to fly some 125 miles (200 km) across the Owen Stanley mountains, which provided security for the task force and ensured surprise, at the cost of poor flying conditions.

In the attacks that followed, Lexington ' s Douglas SBD Dauntlesses from Scouting Squadron 2 (VS-2) dive-bombed Japanese ships at Lae at 09:22. The carrier's torpedo and bomber squadrons (VT-2 and VB-2) attacked shipping at Salamaua at 09:38. Her fighters (VF-2) split up into four-plane attack groups: one strafed Lae and the other, Salamaua. Yorktown ' s planes followed on the heels of those from Lexington. VB-5 and VT-5 attacked Japanese ships in the Salamaua area at 09:50, while VS-5 went after auxiliaries moored close in shore at Lae. The fighters of VF-42 flew CAP over Salamaua until they determined there was no air opposition, then strafed surface objectives and small boats in the harbor.

After carrying out their missions, the American planes returned to their carriers and 103 planes of the 104 launched were back safely on board by noon. One SBD-2 Dauntless had been downed by Japanese antiaircraft fire. The raid on Salamaua and Lae was the first attack by many pilots, and, if accuracy was below that achieved in later actions, the fliers gained invaluable experience which helped in the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway.

Task Force 11 retired at 20 knots (37 km/h 23 mph) on a southeasterly course until dark, when the ships steered eastward at 15 knots (28 km/h 17 mph) and made rendezvous with Task Group 11.7 (TG11.7), three heavy cruisers (USS Chicago, HMAS Australia, and HMAS Canberra) and four destroyers under the Royal Australian Navy Rear Admiral John Crace, which provided cover for the carriers on their approach to New Guinea.

Yorktown resumed her patrols in the Coral Sea area, remaining at sea into April, out of reach of Japanese land-based aircraft and ready to carry out offensive operations whenever the opportunity presented itself. After the Lae-Salamaua raid, the situation in the South Pacific seemed temporarily stabilized, and Yorktown and her consorts in TF 17 put into the undeveloped harbor at Tongatabu, in the Tonga Islands, for needed upkeep, having been at sea continuously since departing from Pearl Harbor on 14 February.

However, the enemy was soon on the move. To Admiral Nimitz, there seemed to be "excellent indications that the Japanese intended to make a seaborne attack on Port Moresby the first week in May". Yorktown accordingly departed Tongatapu on 27 April, bound once more for the Coral Sea. TF 11—now commanded by Rear Admiral Aubrey W. Fitch, who had relieved Brown in Lexington—departed Pearl Harbor to join Fletcher's TF 17 and arrived in the vicinity of Yorktown ' s group, southwest of the New Hebrides Islands, on 1 May. [4]

Battle of the Coral Sea Edit

At 15:17 the next afternoon, two SBD Dauntlesses from VS-5 sighted a Japanese submarine running on the surface. Three TBD Devastators from Yorktown succeeded only in driving the submarine under.

On the morning of 3 May, TF 11 and TF 17 were some 100 miles (161 km) apart, engaged in fueling operations. Shortly before midnight, Fletcher received word from Australian-based aircraft that Japanese transports were disembarking troops and equipment at Tulagi in the Solomon Islands. Arriving soon after the Australians had evacuated the place, the Japanese landed to commence construction of a seaplane base there to support their southward thrust.

Yorktown accordingly set course northward at 27 knots (50 km/h 31 mph). By daybreak on 4 May, she was within striking distance of the newly established Japanese beachhead and launched her first strike at 07:01―18 F4F-3 Wildcats of VF-42, 12 TBD Devastators of VT-5, and 28 SBD Dauntlesses from VS and BY-5. Yorktown ' s air group made three consecutive attacks on enemy ships and shore installations at Tulagi and Gavutu on the south coast of Florida Island in the Solomons. Expending 22 torpedoes and 76 1,000-pound (450 kg) bombs in the three attacks, Yorktown ' s planes sank the destroyer Kikuzuki, three minesweepers and four barges. In addition, Air Group 5 destroyed five enemy seaplanes but lost two F4F Wildcats (the pilots were recovered) and one TBD Devastator (whose crew was lost).

Meanwhile, that same day, TF 44, a cruiser-destroyer force under Rear Admiral Crace (RN), joined Lexington ' s TF 11, thus completing the composition of the Allied force on the eve of the crucial Battle of the Coral Sea.

Elsewhere, to the northward, eleven troop-laden transports—escorted by destroyers and covered by the light carrier Shōhō, four heavy cruisers, and a destroyer—steamed toward Port Moresby. In addition, another Japanese task force—formed around the two Pearl Harbor veterans, carriers Shōkaku and Zuikaku, and screened by two heavy cruisers and six destroyers—provided additional air cover.

On the morning of 6 May, Fletcher gathered all Allied forces under his tactical command as TF 17. At daybreak on 7 May, he dispatched Crace, with the cruisers and destroyers under his command, toward the Louisiade archipelago to intercept any enemy attempt to move toward Port Moresby.

While Fletcher moved north with his two flattops and their screens in search of the enemy, Japanese search planes located the oil tanker Neosho and her escorting destroyer, Sims and misidentified the former as a carrier. Two waves of Japanese planes—first high-level bombers and then dive bombers—attacked the two ships. Sims, her antiaircraft battery crippled by gun failures, took three direct hits and sank quickly with a heavy loss of life. Neosho was more fortunate in that, even after seven direct hits and eight near-misses, she remained afloat until, on 11 May, her survivors were picked up by Henley and her hulk sunk by the rescuing destroyer.

Neosho and Sims had performed a valuable service, drawing off the planes that might otherwise have hit Fletcher's carriers. Meanwhile, Yorktown and Lexington ' s planes found Shōhō and sank her. One of Lexington ' s pilots reported this victory with the radio message, "Scratch one flattop".

That afternoon, Shōkaku and Zuikaku, still not located by Fletcher's forces, launched 27 bombers and torpedo planes to search for the American ships. Their flight proved uneventful until they ran into fighters from Yorktown and Lexington, which proceeded to down nine enemy planes in the ensuing dogfight.

Near twilight, three Japanese planes incredibly mistook Yorktown for their own carrier and attempted to land. The ship's gunfire, though, drove them off, and the enemy planes crossed Yorktown ' s bow and turned away out of range. Twenty minutes later, when three more enemy pilots made the mistake of trying to get into Yorktown ' s landing circle, the carrier's gunners splashed one of the trio.

However, the battle was far from over. The next morning, 8 May, a Lexington search plane spotted Admiral Takeo Takagi's carrier striking force—including Zuikaku and Shōkaku. Yorktown planes scored two bomb hits on Shōkaku, damaging her flight deck and preventing her from launching aircraft. In addition, the bombs set off explosions in gasoline storage tanks and destroyed an engine repair workshop. Lexington ' s Dauntlesses added another hit. Between the two American air groups, the hits killed 108 Japanese sailors and wounded 40 more.

While the American aircraft were attacking the Japanese flattops, Yorktown and Lexington had been alerted by an intercepted message that indicated that the Japanese knew of their whereabouts and prepared to fight off a retaliatory strike, which came shortly after 11:00.

American Combat Air Patrol F4F Wildcats downed 17 aircraft, although some still got through the defenses. Nakajima B5N "Kates" launched torpedoes from both sides of Lexington ' s bow, achieving two hits on the port side while Aichi D3A "Val" dive bombers managed three bomb hits. Lexington began to list from three partially flooded engineering spaces. Several fires raged below decks, and the carrier's elevators were put out of commission.

Meanwhile, Yorktown was having problems of her own. Skillfully maneuvered by her commanding officer, Captain Elliott Buckmaster, the carrier dodged eight torpedoes. Attacked by "Val" dive-bombers, the ship managed to evade all but one bomb. At 11:27, Yorktown was hit in the centre of her flight deck by a single 250 kg (550 lb), semi-armour-piercing bomb which penetrated four decks before exploding, causing severe structural damage to an aviation storage room and killing or seriously wounding 66 men, as well as damaging the superheater boilers which rendered them inoperable. Up to 12 near misses damaged Yorktown ' s hull below the waterline.

Lexington ' s damage control parties brought the fires under control, and the ship was still able to continue flight operations despite the damage. The air battle itself ended shortly before noon on the 8th within an hour, the carrier was on an even keel, although slightly down by the bow. However, an explosion caused by the ignition of gasoline vapors later caused a fire and tore apart her interior. Lexington was abandoned at 17:07, and later sunk by the destroyer Phelps.

The Japanese had won a tactical victory, inflicting comparatively heavier losses on the Allied force, but the Allies, in stemming the tide of Japan's conquests in the South and Southwest Pacific, had achieved a strategic victory. Yorktown had not achieved her part in the victory without cost, and had suffered enough damage to cause experts to estimate that at least three months in a yard would be required to put her back in fighting trim. However, there was little time for repairs, because U.S. naval intelligence had gained enough information from decoded Japanese naval messages to estimate that the Japanese were on the threshold of a major operation aimed at the northwestern tip of the Hawaiian chain. These were two islets in a low coral atoll known as Midway Island. [4]

Battle of Midway Edit

Armed with this intelligence, Admiral Nimitz began methodically planning Midway's defense, rushing all possible reinforcement in the way of men, planes and guns to Midway. In addition, he began gathering his comparatively meager naval forces to meet the enemy at sea. As part of those preparations, he recalled TF 16, Enterprise and Hornet to Pearl Harbor for a quick replenishment.

Yorktown, too, received orders to return to Hawaii she arrived at Pearl Harbor on 27 May, entering dry dock the following day. The damage the ship had sustained after Coral Sea was considerable, and led to the Navy Yard inspectors estimating that she would need at least two weeks of repairs. However, Admiral Nimitz ordered that she be made ready to sail alongside TF 16. Further inspections showed that Yorktown ' s flight elevators had not been damaged, and the damage to her flight deck and hull could be patched easily. Yard workers at Pearl Harbor, laboring around the clock, made enough repairs to enable the ship to put to sea again in 48 hours. [6] The repairs were made in such a short time that the Japanese Naval Air Commanders would mistake Yorktown for another carrier as they thought she had been sunk during the previous battle. However, one critical repair to her power plant was not made: her damaged superheater boilers were not touched, limiting her top speed. [5] Her air group was augmented by planes and crews from Saratoga which was then headed for Pearl Harbor after her refit on the West Coast. Yorktown sailed as the core of TF 17 on 30 May.

Northeast of Midway, Yorktown, flying Vice Admiral Fletcher's flag, rendezvoused with TF 16 under Rear Admiral Raymond A. Spruance and maintained a position 10 miles (16 km) to the northward of him.

Patrols, both from Midway and the carriers, were flown during early June. At dawn on 4 June Yorktown launched a 10-plane group of Dauntlesses from VB-5 which searched a northern semicircle for a distance of 100 miles (160 km) out but found nothing.

Meanwhile, PBYs flying from Midway had sighted the approaching Japanese and broadcast the alarm for the American forces defending the key atoll. Admiral Fletcher, in tactical command, ordered Admiral Spruance's TF 16 to locate and strike the enemy carrier force.

Yorktown ' s search group returned at 08:30, landing soon after the last of the six-plane CAP had left the deck. When the last of the Dauntlesses were recovered, the deck was hastily respotted for the launch of the ship's attack group: 17 Dauntlesses from VB-3, 12 Devastators from VT-3, and six Wildcats from "Fighting Three". Enterprise and Hornet, meanwhile, launched their attack groups.

The torpedo planes from the three American carriers located the Japanese striking force, but met disaster. Of the 41 planes from VT-8, VT-6, and VT-3, only six returned to Enterprise and Yorktown none made it back to Hornet.

As a reaction to the torpedo attack the Japanese CAP had broken off their high-altitude cover for their carriers and had concentrated on the Devastators, flying "on the deck", allowing Dauntlesses from Yorktown and Enterprise to arrive unopposed. [4]

Virtually unopposed, Yorktown ' s dive-bombers attacked Sōryū, making three lethal hits with 1,000 pounds (450 kg) bombs and setting her on fire. [7] Enterprise ' s planes, meanwhile, hit Akagi and Kaga, effectively destroying them. The bombs from the Dauntlesses caught all of the Japanese carriers in the midst of refueling and rearming operations, causing devastating fires and explosions.

Three of the four Japanese carriers had been destroyed. The fourth, Hiryū, separated from her sisters, launched a striking force of 18 "Vals" and soon located Yorktown.

As soon as the attackers had been picked up on Yorktown ' s radar at about 13:29, she discontinued fueling her CAP fighters on deck and swiftly cleared for action. Her returning dive bombers were moved from the landing circle to open the area for antiaircraft fire. The Dauntlesses were ordered aloft to form a CAP. An auxiliary 800-US-gallon (3,000 l) gasoline tank was pushed over the carrier's fantail, eliminating one fire hazard. The crew drained fuel lines and closed and secured all compartments. [4]

All of Yorktown ' s fighters were vectored out to intercept the oncoming Japanese aircraft, and did so some 15 to 20 miles (24 to 32 km) out. The Wildcats attacked vigorously, breaking up what appeared to be an organized attack by some 18 "Vals" and 6 "Zeroes". [8] "Planes were flying in every direction", wrote Captain Buckmaster after the action, "and many were falling in flames." [4] The leader of the "Vals", Lieutenant Michio Kobayashi, was probably shot down by the VF-3's commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander John S. Thach. Lieutenant William W. Barnes also pressed home the first attack, possibly taking out the lead bomber and damaging at least two others. [ citation needed ]

Despite an intensive barrage and evasive maneuvering, three "Vals" scored hits. Two of them were shot down soon after releasing their bomb loads the third went out of control just as his bomb left the rack. It tumbled in flight and hit just abaft the number two elevator on the starboard side, exploding on contact and blasting a hole about 10 feet (3 m) square in the flight deck. Splinters from the exploding bomb killed most of the crews of the two 1.1-inch (28 mm) gun mounts aft of the island and on the flight deck below. Fragments piercing the flight deck hit three planes on the hangar deck, starting fires. One of the aircraft, a Yorktown Dauntless, was fully fueled and carrying a 1,000 pounds (450 kg) bomb. Prompt action by LT A. C. Emerson, the hangar deck officer, prevented a serious fire by activating the sprinkler system and quickly extinguishing the fire.

The second bomb to hit the ship came from the port side, pierced the flight deck, and exploded in the lower part of the funnel, in effect a classic "down the stack shot." It ruptured the uptakes for three boilers, disabled two boilers, and extinguished the fires in five boilers. Smoke and gases began filling the firerooms of six boilers. The men at Number One boiler remained at their post and kept it alight, maintaining enough steam pressure to allow the auxiliary steam systems to function.

A third bomb hit the carrier from the starboard side, pierced the side of number one elevator and exploded on the fourth deck, starting a persistent fire in the rag storage space, adjacent to the forward gasoline stowage and the magazines. The prior precaution of smothering the gasoline system with carbon dioxide undoubtedly prevented the gasoline from igniting.

While the ship recovered from the damage inflicted by the dive-bombing attack, her speed dropped to 6 knots (11 km/h 6.9 mph) and then at 14:40, about 20 minutes after the bomb hit that had shut down most of the boilers, Yorktown slowed to a stop, dead in the water.

At about 15:40, Yorktown prepared to get underway and, at 15:50, thanks to the black gang in No. 1 Fireroom having kept the auxiliaries operating to clear the stack gas from the other firerooms and bleeding steam from No. 1 to the other boilers to jump-start them, Chief Engineer Delaney reported to Captain Buckmaster that the ship's engineers were ready to make 20 knots (37 km/h 23 mph) or better. Damage control parties were able to temporarily patch the flight deck and restore power to several boilers within an hour, giving her a speed of 19 knots (35 km/h 22 mph) and enabling her to resume air operations. Yorktown yanked down her yellow breakdown flag and up went a new hoist-"My speed 5." [9] Captain Buckmaster had his signalmen hoist a huge new (10 feet wide and 15 feet long) American flag from the foremast. Sailors, including Ensign John d'Arc Lorenz called it an incalculable inspiration: "For the first time I realized what the flag meant: all of us — a million faces — all our effort — a whisper of encouragement." [10]

Simultaneously, with the fires controlled sufficiently to warrant the resumption of fueling, Yorktown began refueling the fighters then on deck just then the ship's radar picked up an incoming air group at a distance of 33 miles (53 km). While the ship prepared for battle, again smothering gasoline systems and stopping the fueling of the planes on her flight deck, she vectored four of the six fighters of the CAP in the air to intercept the raiders. Of the 10 fighters on board, eight had as little as 23 US gallons (87 l) of fuel in their tanks. They were launched as the remaining pair of fighters of the CAP headed out to intercept the Japanese planes.

At 16:00, maneuvering Yorktown churned forward, making 20 knots. The fighters she had launched and vectored out to intercept had meanwhile made contact with the enemy. Yorktown received reports that the planes were "Kates". The Wildcats shot down at least three, but the rest began their approach while the carrier and her escorts mounted a heavy antiaircraft barrage.

Yorktown maneuvered radically, avoiding at least two torpedoes before another two struck the port side within minutes of each other, the first at 16:20. The carrier had been mortally wounded she lost power and went dead in the water with a jammed rudder and an increasing list to port.

As the ship's list progressed, Commander Clarence E. Aldrich, the damage control officer, reported from central station that, without power, controlling the flooding looked impossible. The Chief Engineer, Lieutenant Commander John F. Delaney, soon reported that all boiler fires were out, all power was lost, and that it was impossible to correct the list. Buckmaster ordered Aldrich, Delaney, and their men to secure the fire and engine rooms and lay up to the weather decks to put on life jackets.

The list, meanwhile, continued to increase. When it reached 26 degrees, Buckmaster and Aldrich agreed that capsizing was imminent. "In order to save as many of the ship's company as possible", the captain wrote later, he "ordered the ship to be abandoned".

Over the next few minutes the crew lowered the wounded into life rafts and struck out for the nearby destroyers and cruisers to be picked up by their boats, abandoning ship in good order. After the evacuation of all wounded, the executive officer, Commander Irving D. Wiltsie, left the ship down a line on the starboard side. Buckmaster, meanwhile, toured the ship one last time, to see if any men remained. After finding no "live personnel", Buckmaster lowered himself into the water by means of a line over the stern, by which time water was lapping the port side of the hangar deck. [4]

Salvage and sinking Edit

After being picked up by the destroyer USS Hammann, Buckmaster transferred to the cruiser Astoria and reported to Vice Admiral Fletcher, who had shifted his flag to the heavy cruiser after the first dive-bombing attack. The two men agreed that a salvage party should attempt to save the ship, since she had stubbornly remained afloat despite the heavy list and imminent danger of capsizing.

While efforts to save Yorktown had been proceeding apace, her planes were still in action, joining those from Enterprise in striking the last Japanese carrier—Hiryū—late that afternoon. Taking four direct hits, the Japanese carrier was soon helpless. She was abandoned by her crew and left to drift out of control.

Yorktown, as it turned out, floated throughout the night. Two men were still alive on board her one attracted attention by firing a machine gun, heard by the sole attending destroyer, Hughes. The escort picked up the men, one of whom later died. Buckmaster selected 29 officers and 141 men to return to the ship in an attempt to save her. Five destroyers formed an antisubmarine screen while the salvage party boarded the listing carrier on the morning of 6 June. The fleet tug USS Vireo, summoned from Pearl and Hermes Reef, commenced towing the ship, although progress was painfully slow.

Yorktown ' s repair party went on board with a carefully predetermined plan of action to be carried out by men from each department—damage control, gunnery air engineering, navigation, communication, supply and medical. To assist in the work, Lieutenant Commander Arnold E. True brought Hammann alongside to starboard, aft, furnishing pumps and electric power.

By mid-afternoon, the process of reducing topside weight was proceeding well one 5-inch (127 mm) gun had been dropped over the side and a second was ready to be cast loose, planes had been pushed over the side, and a large quantity of water had been pumped out of engineering spaces. These efforts reduced the list about two degrees.

Unknown to Yorktown and the six nearby destroyers, however, Japanese submarine I-168 had discovered the disabled carrier and achieved a favorable firing position. The I-boat eluded detection—possibly due to the large amount of debris and wreckage in the water—until 15:36, when lookouts spotted a salvo of four torpedoes approaching the ship from the starboard beam.

Hammann went to general quarters, with a 20-millimeter gun going into action in an attempt to explode the torpedoes in the water as she tried to get underway. One torpedo hit Hammann directly amidships and broke her back. The destroyer jackknifed and went down rapidly. Two torpedoes struck Yorktown just below the turn of the bilge at the after end of the island structure. The fourth torpedo passed astern of the carrier.

About a minute after Hammann sank there was an underwater explosion, possibly caused by the destroyer's depth charges going off. The concussion killed many of Hammann ' s and a few of Yorktown ' s men who had been thrown into the water, battered the damaged carrier's hull, dislodged Yorktown ' s auxiliary generator and numerous fixtures from the hangar deck, sheared rivets in the starboard leg of the foremast, and injured several onboard crew members. [ citation needed ]

The remaining destroyers initiated a search for the enemy submarine (which escaped), and commenced rescue operations for Hammann survivors and the Yorktown salvage crew. Vireo cut the tow and doubled back to assist in rescue efforts.

Throughout the night of 6 June and into the morning of 7 June, Yorktown remained afloat but by 05:30 on 7 June, observers noted that her list was rapidly increasing to port. Shortly afterwards, the ship turned over onto her port side, and lay that way, revealing the torpedo hole in her starboard bilge- the result of the submarine attack. Captain Buckmaster's American flag was still flying. [11] All ships half-mastered their colors in salute all hands who were topside with heads uncovered and came to attention, with tears in their eyes. Two patrolling PBYs appeared overhead and dipped their wings in a final salute. [12] At 07:01, the ship rolled upside-down, and slowly sank, stern first, in 3,000 fathoms (5,500 m) of water with her battle flags flying. [4] To most who witnessed the sinking, the Yorktown went quietly and with enormous dignity- "like the great lady she was," as one of them put it. [13] In all, Yorktown ' s sinking on 7 June 1942 claimed the lives of 141 of her officers and crewmen. [ citation needed ]

On 19 May 1998, the wreck of Yorktown was found and photographed by oceanographer Dr. Robert Ballard, discoverer of the wrecks of the RMS Titanic and the German battleship Bismarck. The wreck of Yorktown, 3 miles (5 km) beneath the surface, was sitting upright on the bottom in excellent condition. Despite spending 56 years on the deep-sea floor, much paint and equipment were still visible. [14] As of 13 July 2019, there have not been any follow-up expeditions to the Yorktown ' s wreck.

Yorktown (CV-5) earned three battle stars for her World War II service, two of them for the significant part she had played in stopping Japanese expansion and turning the tide of the war at Coral Sea and at Midway. [4] CV-10, the second vessel of the Essex-class of aircraft carriers, was renamed from USS Bonhomme Richard to Yorktown in honor of her loss at Midway, and was preserved after decommissioning in 1970 to become a museum ship in 1975.

11i. Yorktown and the Treaty of Paris

The outlook for General Washington and the Americans never looked better.

Although the American military was still enduring losses in 1780, the French were making a difference. The French navy was disrupting the British blockade. French commanders such as Lafayette and Rochambeau earned the respect and admiration of the American troops.

Although, the British occupied much of the south, they had still been unable to mobilize the local Loyalists. Grumbling in England grew louder over the war's expense and duration. The morale of Washington's men was improving. The war was by no means over, but the general could now see a bright side.

The Siege of Yorktown

The French navy and the Continental Army conceived a daring plan to entrap Cornwallis in Yorktown. The plan worked: Cornwallis surrendered Yorktown, and three weeks later the war was over.

The year 1781 found a large squadron of British troops led by Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown , Virginia. Cornwallis hoped to keep his men in the Chesapeake town until fresh supplies and reinforcements could arrive from Britain. The French and the Americans conspired to capture the British before that could happen.

A French naval unit led by Admiral de Grasse headed north from the West Indies. Washington's army was stationed near New York City at the time. Along with a French unit from Rhode Island, Washington's troops marched over 300 miles south toward Yorktown. Along the way, he staged fake military maneuvers to keep the British off guard.

When Washington reached Virginia, Americans led by Lafayette joined in the siege. The French navy kept the British out of Chesapeake Bay until Cornwallis was forced to surrender his entire unit of nearly 8,000 troops on October 19, 1781. The capture of the troops severely hampered the British war effort

Peace and the Treaty of Paris

John Trumbull painted Surrender of Cornwallis in 1786-87. Although Trumbull did sketch the actual scene of surrender, his painting was not meant to be a literal recording of the event. Instead, he placed Cornwallis between the French and American forces to show their united effort against England.

Despite the American victory, the British military continued to fight. But the Battle of Yorktown turned the British public against the war. The following March, a pro-American Parliament was elected and peace negotiations began in earnest.

Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and John Jay met with the British in the hopes of securing a peace treaty. The Americans played off European rivalries to reach a most favorable agreement.

In the 1783 Treaty of Paris the British agreed to recognize American independence as far west as the Mississippi River. Americans agreed to honor debts owed to British merchants from before the war and to stop persecuting British Loyalists.

David had triumphed over Goliath. Independence was achieved at last!

Articles from the Treaty of Paris

Article 1: His Brittanic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz., New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to be free sovereign and independent states, that he treats with them as such, and for himself, his heirs, and successors, relinquishes all claims to the government, propriety, and territorial rights of the same and every part thereof.

Article 2: And that all disputes which might arise in future on the subject of the boundaries of the said United States may be prevented, it is hereby agreed and declared, that the following are and shall be their boundaries, viz. from the northwest angle of Nova Scotia, viz., that nagle which is formed by a line drawn due north from the source of St. Croix River to the highlands along the said highlands which divide those rivers that empty themselves into the river St. Lawrence, from those which fall into the Atlantic Ocean, to the northwesternmost head of Connecticut River thence down along the middle of that river to the forty-fifth degree of north latitude from thence by a line due west on said latitude until it strikes the river Iroquois or Cataraquy thence along the middle of said river into Lake Ontario through the middle of said lake until it strikes the communication by water between that lake and Lake Erie thence along the middle of said communication into Lake Erie, through the middle of said lake until it arrives at the water communication between that lake and Lake Huron thence along the middle of said water communication into Lake Huron, thence through the middle of said lake to the water communication between that lake and Lake Superior thence through Lake Superior northward of the Isles Royal and Phelipeaux to the Long Lake thence through the middle of said Long Lake and the water communication between it and the Lake of the Woods, to the said Lake of the Woods thence through the said lake to the most northwesternmost point thereof, and from thence on a due west course to the river Mississippi thence by a line to be drawn along the middle of the said river Mississippi until it shall intersect the northernmost part of the thirty-first degree of north latitude, South, by a line to be drawn due east from the determination of the line last mentioned in the latitude of thirty-one degrees of the equator, to the middle of the river Apalachicola or Catahouche thence along the middle thereof to its junction with the Flint River, thence straight to the head of Saint Mary's River and thence down along the middle of Saint Mary's River to the Atlantic Ocean east, by a line to be drawn along the middle of the river Saint Croix, from its mouth in the Bay of Fundy to its source, and from its source directly north to the aforesaid highlands which divide the rivers that fall into the Atlantic Ocean from those which fall into the river Saint Lawrence comprehending all islands within twenty leagues of any part of the shores of the United States, and lying between lines to be drawn due east from the points where the aforesaid boundaries between Nova Scotia on the one part and East Florida on the other shall, respectively, touch the Bay of Fundy and the Atlantic Ocean, excepting such islands as now are or heretofore have been within the limits of the said province of Nova Scotia.

Article 3: It is agreed that the people of the United States shall continue to enjoy unmolested the right to take fish of every kind on the Grand Bank and on all the other banks of Newfoundland, also in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and at all other places in the sea, where the inhabitants of both countries used at any time heretofore to fish. And also that the inhabitants of the United States shall have liberty to take fish of every kind on such part of the coast of Newfoundland as British fishermen shall use, (but not to dry or cure the same on that island) and also on the coasts, bays and creeks of all other of his Brittanic Majesty's dominions in America and that the American fishermen shall have liberty to dry and cure fish in any of the unsettled bays, harbors, and creeks of Nova Scotia, Magdalen Islands, and Labrador, so long as the same shall remain unsettled, but so soon as the same or either of them shall be settled, it shall not be lawful for the said fishermen to dry or cure fish at such settlement without a previous agreement for that purpose with the inhabitants, proprietors, or possessors of the ground.

Article 4: It is agreed that creditors on either side shall meet with no lawful impediment to the recovery of the full value in sterling money of all bona fide debts heretofore contracted.

Article 5: It is agreed that Congress shall earnestly recommend it to the legislatures of the respective states to provide for the restitution of all estates, rights, and properties, which have been confiscated belonging to real British subjects and also of the estates, rights, and properties of persons resident in districts in the possession on his Majesty's arms and who have not borne arms against the said United States. And that persons of any other decription shall have free liberty to go to any part or parts of any of the thirteen United States and therein to remain twelve months unmolested in their endeavors to obtain the restitution of such of their estates, rights, and properties as may have been confiscated and that Congress shall also earnestly recommend to the several states a reconsideration and revision of all acts or laws regarding the premises, so as to render the said laws or acts perfectly consistent not only with justice and equity but with that spirit of conciliation which on the return of the blessings of peace should universally prevail. And that Congress shall also earnestly recommend to the several states that the estates, rights, and properties, of such last mentioned persons shall be restored to them, they refunding to any persons who may be now in possession the bona fide price (where any has been given) which such persons may have paid on purchasing any of the said lands, rights, or properties since the confiscation. And it is agreed that all persons who have any interest in confiscated lands, either by debts, marriage settlements, or otherwise, shall meet with no lawful impediment in the prosecution of their just rights.

Article 6: That there shall be no future confiscations made nor any prosecutions commenced against any person or persons for, or by reason of, the part which he or they may have taken in the present war, and that no person shall on that account suffer any future loss or damage, either in his person, liberty, or property and that those who may be in confinement on such charges at the time of the ratification of the treaty in America shall be immediately set at liberty, and the prosecutions so commenced be discontinued.

Article 7: There shall be a firm and perpetual peace between his Brittanic Majesty and the said states, and between the subjects of the one and the citizens of the other, wherefore all hostilities both by sea and land shall from henceforth cease. All prisoners on both sides shall be set at liberty, and his Brittanic Majesty shall with all convenient speed, and without causing any destruction, or carrying away any Negroes or other property of the American inhabitants, withdraw all his armies, garrisons, and fleets from the said United States, and from every post, place, and harbor within the same leaving in all fortifications, the American artilery that may be therein and shall also order and cause all archives, records, deeds, and papers belonging to any of the said states, or their citizens, which in the course of the war may have fallen into the hands of his officers, to be forthwith restored and delivered to the proper states and persons to whom they belong.

Article 8: The navigation of the river Mississippi, from its source to the ocean, shall forever remain free and open to the subjects of Great Britain and the citizens of the United States.

Article 9: In case it should so happen that any place or territory belonging to Great Britain or to the United States should have been conquered by the arms of either from the other before the arrival of the said Provisional Articles in America, it is agreed that the same shall be restored without difficulty and without requiring any compensation.

Article 10: The solemn ratifications of the present treaty expedited in good and due form shall be exchanged between the contracting parties in the space of six months or sooner, if possible, to be computed from the day of the signatures of the present treaty. In witness whereof we the undersigned, their ministers plenipotentiary, have in their name and in virtue of our full powers, signed with our hands the present definitive treaty and caused the seals of our arms to be affixed thereto.

Done at Paris, this third day of September in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-three.



On April 4, 1862, Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan moved out from Fort Monroe on the Virginia peninsula and began his advance toward the Confederate capital at Richmond. Opposing him were two divisions of 11,000 Confederates under the command of Brig. Gen. John B. Magruder, outnumbered ten to one by McClellan’s gathering Army of the Potomac. Magruder had constructed a formidable line of defenses behind the Warwick River, which ran across much of the peninsula. McClellan attempted to outflank Magruder’s position on April 5 at Lee’s Mill, but was rebuffed.

As McClellan pondered his next move, Magruder’s deceptive theatrics -- conspicuously parading his men back and forth behind his defenses -- bought time to gather reinforcements and convinced the Federals that his works were strongly held by a much larger army. Magruder “played his ten thousand before McClellan like fireflies,” wrote the diarist Mary Chestnut, “and utterly deluded him.” Additionally, faulty intelligence from the former detective Allan Pinkerton reported as many as three times the number of Confederates present as the Federals actually faced, supporting McClellan’s fears that he was vastly outnumbered. McClellan suspended the march toward Richmond, ordered the construction of siege fortifications, and brought his heavy guns to the front along a line that reached to the York River near Yorktown.

In the meantime, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston brought his 40,000-man army to the peninsula from Manassas and took command of the defenses. On April 16, Union forces probed a weakness in the Confederate line at Dam No. 1 on the Warwick. A small breakthrough was achieved by the 3 rd Vermont Infantry but was not followed up with reinforcements. McClellan pondered for another two weeks while Johnston gained in strength. Finally resolved to attack Yorktown, McClellan planned for a massive artillery bombardment, followed by an infantry assault, to begin at dawn on May 4, but Johnston’s men slipped away in the night to Williamsburg, where they would make a stand on May 5.

Watch the video: History Brief: The Battle of Yorktown (May 2022).


  1. Pericles

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