Yorkown Class Carrier
One of only three American carriers commissioned prior to World War II. She participated in nearly every major engagement of the war against Japan, including the Battle of Midway, the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, various other air-sea actions during the Battle of Guadalcanal, the Battle of the Philippine Sea, and the Battle of Leyte Gulf, as well as participating in the "Doolittle Raid" on Tokyo.
Enterprise earned 20 battle stars, the most for any U.S. warship in World War II. She was the only ship outside of the British Royal Navy to earn the highest award of the British Admiralty Pennant. Her planes and guns claimed 911 enemy planes; her bombers sank 71 ships, and damaged or destroyed 192 more.
During the last two weeks of December 1941, Enterprise and her group move west of Hawaii to cover those islands while two other carrier groups made a belated attempt to relieve Wake Island. After a brief rest at Pearl Harbor, the Enterprise group sailed on January 11, 1942, to protect convoys reinforcing Samoa.
On February 1, 1942, the task force attacked Kwajalein, Wotje, and Maloelap in the Marshall Islands, sinking three ships, damaging eight, and destroying numerous airplanes and ground facilities. Enterprise received only minor damage in the Japanese counterattack, as the force retired to Pearl Harbor.
During the next month Enterprise's force swept the central Pacific, attacking enemy installations on Wake and Marcus, then received minor alterations and repairs at Pearl Harbor. On 8 April 1942, she departed to rendezvous with USS Hornet and sail westward on her mission to launch 16 Army B-25 Mitchell bombers in the "Doolittle Raid" on Tokyo. While Enterprise fighters flew combat air patrol, the B-25s were launched on 18 April. The task force was detected and after launching the B-25s returns to Pearl Harbor on April 25.
Five days later, sent to the South Pacific. The Battle of the Coral Sea was over before Enterprise could reach her destination. Ordered back to Hawaii, the carrier entered Pearl Harbor on 26 May, and began intensive preparations to meet the expected Japanese thrust at Midway, in what became known as the Battle of Midway.
Battle of Midway
On 28 May, the Enterprise sortied as the flagship of Rear Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, CTF-16, with orders "to hold Midway and inflict maximum damage on the enemy by strong attrition tactics." With Enterprise in TF 16 were Hornet, six cruisers, and 10 destroyers. On 30 May, TF 17, Rear Admiral Frank J. Fletcher in Yorktown, with two cruisers, and six destroyers, sailed to support TF 16; as senior officer, Rear Admiral Fletcher became "Officer in Tactical Command".
Each side launched air attacks at the other during the day in one of history's most decisive battles. Though the forces were in contact until 7 June, by the end of the 4th, the outcome had been decided. Yorktown and Hammann were the only American ships sunk, but TFs 16 and 17 lost a total of 113 planes, 61 of them in combat, during the battle. Japanese losses were far more severe, consisting of four carriers, one cruiser, and 272 carrier aircraft. Enterprise aircraft bombed Soryo and Akagi. Enterprise came through undamaged and returned to Pearl Harbor on 13 June 1942.
South Pacific Service
Battle of the Eastern Solomons
Enterprise suffered most heavily of the American ships; three direct hits and four near misses killed 74, wounded 95, and inflicted serious damage on the carrier. But well-trained damage control parties, and quick, hard work patched her up so that she was able to leave for Hawaii under her own power. During the battle, the carrier lost TBF Avenger 00418.
Repaired at Pearl Harbor from 10 September, to 16 October 1942, Enterprise departed once more for the South Pacific, where with Hornet she formed TF 61. On 26 October, Enterprise scout planes located a Japanese carrier force and the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands was underway. Enterprise aircraft struck carriers and cruisers during the struggle, while the "Big E" herself underwent intensive attack. Hit twice by bombs, Enterprise lost 44 killed and had 75 wounded.
Despite serious damage, she continued in action and took on board a large number of planes from Hornet when that carrier was sunk. Though the American losses of a carrier and a destroyer were more severe than the Japanese loss of one light cruiser, the battle gained priceless time to reinforce Guadalcanal against the next enemy onslaught. Enterprise was now the only functioning US carrier in the Pacific Theater. On the flight deck, the crew posted a sign: "Enterprise vs Japan".
Enterprise arrived at Nouméa on 30 October, for repairs, but a new Japanese thrust at the Solomons demanded her presence and she sailed on 11 November, repair crews from USS Vestal (AR-4) still working on board. On 13 November, aviators from Enterprise helped to dispatch the damaged battleship Hiei. When the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal ended on 15 November 1942, Enterprise had shared in sinking 16 ships and damaging eight more. The carrier returned to Nouméa on November 16, to complete her repairs, while VF-10 trained from Tontouta Airfield.
Sailing again on December 4, 1942 Enterprise trained out of Espiritu Santo until January 28, 1943, when she departed for the Solomons area.
Battle of Rennell Island
Afterwards, returned to Espiritu Santo on February 1 and for the next three months operated out of that base, covering U.S. surface forces up to the Solomons. Enterprise then steamed to Pearl Harbor where, on 27 May 1943, Admiral Chester Nimitz presented the ship with the first Presidential Unit citation won by an aircraft carrier. On 20 July 1943, she entered Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for a much-needed overhaul.
While undergoing repairs in late 1942, Enterprise also received an extensive refit, which included an anti-torpedo blister that significantly improved her underwater protection.
Back in action waters by mid-November, Enterprise joined in providing close air support to the Marines landing on Makin Atoll, from 19 November to 21 November 1943. On the night of 26 November, the "Big E" introduced carrier-based night fighter operations in the Pacific when a three-plane team from the ship broke up a large group of land-based bombers attacking TG 50.2. After a heavy strike by aircraft of TF 50 against Kwajalein on 4 December, Enterprise returned to Pearl Harbor five days later.
The carrier's next operation was with TF 58 in softening up the Marshall Islands and supporting the landings on Kwajalein, from 29 January to 3 February 1944. Then Enterprise sailed, still with TF 58, to strike the Japanese naval base at Truk in the Caroline Islands, on 17 February. Again, the Enterprise made aviation history, when she launched the first night radar bombing attack from a U.S. carrier. The 12 torpedo bombers in this strike achieved excellent results, accounting for nearly one-third of the 200,000 tons of shipping destroyed by aircraft.
Detached from TF 58, Enterprise launched raids on Jaluit Atoll on 20 February, then steamed to Majuro and Espiritu Santo. Sailing 15 March, in TG 36.1, she provided air cover and close support for the landings on Emirau from March 19 - 25. The carrier rejoined TF 58 on 26 March, and for the next 12 days, joined in a series of strikes against the islands of Yap, Ulithi, Woleai, and Palau. After a week's rest and replenishment at Majuro, Enterprise sailed (14 April) to support landings at Hollandia in mid April 1944 and then hit Truk again (29 April–April 30).
On June 6, 1944, she and her companions of TG 58.3 sortied from Majuro to join the rest of TF 58 in attacking the Marianas Islands. Striking Saipan, Rota, and Guam between 11 June and 14 June, Enterprise pilots gave direct support to the landings on Saipan on 15 June, and covered the troops ashore for the next two days.
Aware of a major Japanese attempt to break up the invasion of Saipan, Admiral Spruance, now Commander 5th Fleet, positioned TF 58 to meet the threat.
The Battle of the Philippine Sea
The battle over, Enterprise and her companions continued to support the Saipan campaign through 5 July. She then sailed for Pearl Harbor and a month of rest and overhaul. Back in action waters on 24 August, the carrier sailed with TF 38 in that force's aerial assault on the Volcano and Bonin Islands from 31 August to 2 September, and Yap, Ulithi, and the Palaus from September 6 to September 8.
The Battle of Leyte Gulf
During the Battle of Leyte Gulf spanning October 23–26, 1944, Enterprise planes struck all three groups of enemy forces, battering battleships and destroyers before the action ended. The carrier remained on patrol east of Samar and Leyte until the end of October, then retired to Ulithi for supplies. During November, her aircraft struck targets in the Manila area, and the island of Yap. She returned to Pearl Harbor on 6 December 1944.
Iwo Jima, Okinawa
She then supported the Marines in the Battle of Iwo Jima from the day of the landings, 10 February, until 9 March when she sailed for Ulithi. During one part of that period, Enterprise kept aircraft aloft continuously over Iwo Jima for 174 hours.
Departing Ulithi on March 15, the carrier continued her night work in raids against Kyushu, Honshu, and shipping in the Inland Sea off Japan. Damaged lightly by an enemy bomb on March 18, Enterprise returned to Ulithi six days later for repairs.
On May 14, 1945 a kamikazie fighter piloted by Lt. Shunsuke Tomiyasu of the 721 Kokutai, 306th Squadron crashed into the flight deck and destroyed the forward elevator, killing 14 and wounding 34 men. The ship's forward elevator was blown approximately 700' into the air from the force of the explosion six decks below. The carrier departed for repairs at the Puget Sound Navy Yard, arriving June 7 and where she was still moored undergoing repairs on V-J Day, August 15 , 1945.
Enterprise began a series of "Operation Magic Carpet" voyages to Europe, bringing more than 10,000 veterans back to the United States. During one trip to Europe, the ship was awarded a British Admiralty Pennant, the only ship not in the Royal Navy to receive this honor.
Enterprise entered the New York Naval Shipyard on January 18, 1946 for inactivation, and was decommissioned February 17, 1947. Although there were several attempts at preserving the ship as a museum / memorial, the fund raising efforts failed to raise enough money to buy the vessel from the Navy.
On July 1, 1958 sold for scrap to the Lipsett Corporation of New York City for scrapping at Kearny, New Jersey. A promise was made to save the distinctive tripod mast for inclusion in the Naval Academy's new football stadium, but was never fulfilled (a memorial plaque was installed at the base of what is called "Enterprise Tower"). Scrapping was completed as of May 1960.
Other surviving Enterprise artifacts include: the ship's bell, which resides at the U.S. Naval Academy, where it is traditionally rung only after midshipmen victories over West Point; the sixteen foot, one-ton nameplate from the ship's stern, which sits near a Little League park in River Vale, New Jersey; and one of the anchors, which is on display at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. Various other artifacts and mementos (including one of her portholes) are also kept aboard the current USS Enterprise.