Computer Science

Science 22 Sep 1967:Vol. 157, Issue 3795, pp. 1373-1374

Allen Newell 

Alan J. Perlis 

Herbert A. Simon

“Professors of computer science are often asked: “Is there such a thing as computer science, and if there is, what is it?” The questions have a simple answer:

Wherever there are phenomena, there can be a science to describe and explain those phenomena. Thus, the simplest (and correct) answer to “What is botany?” is, “Botany is the study of plants.” And zoology is the study of animals, astronomy the study of stars, and so on. Phenomena breed sciences.

There are computers. Ergo, computer science is the study of computers. The phenomena surrounding computers are varied, complex, rich. It remains only to answer the objections posed by many skeptics.

Objection 1. Only natural phenomena breed sciences, but computers are artificial, hence are whatever they are made to be, hence obey no invariable laws, hence cannot be described and explained. Answer. 1. The objection is patently false since computers and computer programs are being described and explained daily. 2. The objection would equally rule out of science large portions of organic chemistry (substitute “silicones” for “computers”), physics (substitute “superconductivity” for “computers”), and even zoology (substitute “hybrid corn” for “computers”). The objection would certainly rule out mathematics, but in any event, its status as a natural science is idiosyncratic.

Objection 2. The term “computer” is not well defined, and its meaning will change with new developments, hence computer science does not have a well-defined subject matter. Answer. The phenomena of all sciences change over time; the process of understanding assures that this will be the case. Astronomy did not originally include the study of interstellar gases; physics did not include radioactivity; psychology did not include the study of animal behavior. Mathematics was once defined as the “science of quantity.”

Objection 3. Computer science is the study of algorithms (or programs), not computers. Answer. 1. Showing deeper insight than they are sometimes credited with, the founders of the chief professional organization for computer science named it the Association for Computing Machinery. 2. In the definition, “computers” means “living computers” – the hardware, their programs or algorithms, and all that goes with them. Computer science is the study of the phenomena surrounding computers. “Computers plus algorithms,” “living computers,” or simply “computers” all come to the same thing – the same phenomena.

Objection 4. Computers, like thermometers, are instruments, not phenomena. Instruments lead away to their user sciences; the behaviors of instruments are subsumed as special topics in other sciences (not always the user sciences – electron microscopy belongs to physics, not biology). Answer. The computer is such a novel and complex instrument that its behavior is subsumed under no other science; its study does not lead away to user sciences, but to further study of computers. Hence, the computer is not just an instrument but a phenomenon as well, requiring description and explanation.

Objection 5. Computer science is a branch of electronics (or mathematics, psychology, and so forth). Answer. To study computers, one may need to study some or all of these. Phenomena define the focus of a science, not its boundaries. Many of the phenomena of computers are also phenomena of some other science. The existence of biochemistry denies neither the existence of biology nor of chemistry. But all of the phenomena of computers are not subsumed under anyone exiting science.

Objection 6. Computers belong to engineering, not science. Answer. They belong to both, like electricity (physics and electrical engineering) or plants (botany and agriculture). Time will tell what professional specialization is desirable between analysis and synthesis, and between the pure study of computers and their application.

Computer scientists will often join hands with colleagues from other disciplines in common endeavor. Mostly, computer scientists will study living computers with the same passion that others have studied plants, stars. glaciers, dyestuffs, and magnetism; and with the same confidence that intelligent, persistent curiosity will yield interesting and perhaps useful knowledge.”

The Emancipation Proclamation

After the bloody Union victory at Antietam a few days before and the retreat of Robert E. Lee’s Army out of Maryland, President Lincoln felt he now had the political clout to transform the very nature of the American Civil War. On 22 Sep 1862, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which stated that all slaves held in Confederate territory would be freed if the state did not return to the Union by the end of the year. Although a bold step, the Proclamation did not end slavery in slave owning states that didn’t secede, nor did it give former slaves citizenship, nor did it even free very many slaves. It did however turn the war from a partisan political struggle of reunification to a moral crusade against slavery, at least in the eyes of the rest of the world. Although many in the North would be greatly angered by the Proclamation; Great Britain and France, both with anti-slavery laws, could no longer support the Confederate States. The South, with its small population and tiny industrial base, would have to defeat the North on its own.

The Battle of Valmy

In 1791, the nervous monarchies of Europe finally declared war on the Revolutionary France to restore the Bourbon monarchy and prevent the spread of liberte, egalite, and fraternite (liberty, equality, and brotherhood) to their lands. The War of the First Coalition started well for the monarchies, as a large mixed army of Austrians, Prussians, Hessians, and French emigres under the Duke of Brunswick seized several French fortresses and brushed aside any French revolutionary resistance.

By the end of the summer 1792, Brunswick was deep into French territory and advanced on Paris through the Argonne Forest. Brunswick was shadowed by the French Army of the Center under Francois Kellermann. At the time, Revolutionary France’s Army of the North under Charles Dumouriez was invading Austrian Netherlands. But with the threat to Paris, Dumouriez turned south and joined Kellermann. Dumouriez and Kellerman appeared behind Brusnwick and along his lines of communication eastward back to Prussia. Though the French were outnumbered 54,000 to 84,000, morale was high, a good portion of the army were professionals from the old Royal Army, and even though Paris was exposed, the cautious Brunswick would never leave an enemy army to his rear. They were right.

The Napoleonic idea and practice of advancing forward to the objective while foraging off the land was still a decade in future, and Brusnwick’s Army was tied to its depots in the German states. Brunswick could have easily seized Paris but instead turned his army east and attacked the French at Valmy.

In the driving rain, the two armies lined up at opposite ends of the field of battle and commenced an artillery duel. Unlike the bulk of the infantry in the French Army, which were made up of raw but passionate volunteers, the artillery still consisted of the professional gunners from the old Royal Army. For decades, the French artillery was considered the best in Europe. Unlike Brusnwick’s gunners, they kept their powder dry, and a steady stream of accurate fire pounded Brunswick’s lines. Furthermore, Brunswick’s artillery got the worst of the exchange, which demoralized the rest of the army, who would soon have to advance into the teeth of the French cannon. As Brunswick’s Army began to advance, the infantry assault was checked by French fire. And though there was a brief panic after a French ammunition wagon exploded, Kellermann was quickly on the spot, and cried out “Vive’ le Nation!”, which spurred the volunteers to break out into loud and enthusiastic renditions of “Ca Ira” and “La Marseillaise”. Brunswick couldn’t exploit the brief opportunity and broke off the assault completely because he felt the position was too strong and he could fight elsewhere. His army withdrew east away from Paris, never to return.

German poet Wolfgang von Goethe who was present at the battle, told his retreating comrades, “Here and today, a new epoch in the history of the world has begun, and you can boast you were present at its birth.”

Valmy provided a much needed boost to the French Revolution. In 1792, the French Revolution was beginning to collapse as increasing amounts of control was taken by radical elements, which alienated many French citizens (Lafayette being the most famous). Upon the news of the victory at Valmy, the French Legislative assembly formally abolished the monarchy and formed the National Assembly. The French Republic was born. The Battle of Valmy was the best chance the monarchies of Europe had to snuff out the French Revolution. It would take more than two decades, six more “Wars of the Coalition”, and Napoleon’s defeat, for the monarchies of Europe to get that close to Paris again.

The Battle of Borodino and the Fires of Moscow

When the French Army crossed the Nieman River and invaded Russia in June 1812, Emperor Napoleon I had 300,000 troops under his direct command. 3 months and 600 miles later, he had half that due to casualties, desertion, starvation, Cossack raids, and detachments to guard his overextended supply lines. General Kutuzov, the Russian commander opposite Napoleon used scorched earth tactics as he retreated and wouldn’t allow his army to be caught and destroyed by Napoleon’s superior numbers and skill. But after judging Napoleon’s strength in late summer 1812, Kutuzov decided it was time to make a stand with his 120,000 men. On 9 September, the Russians would make build a defensive position just outside the small village of Borodino: a bare 70 miles from Moscow. Napoleon was ecstatic that he could finally destroy the Russian Army. He launched his combined French, Polish, Italian and German Army in a series of bloody frontal assaults against the Russian redoubts. It was the largest battle of the Napoleonic era and by the end of the day, the bloodiest. The French had 35,000 casualties and the Russians had 45,000 men killed, wounded and missing but the Kutuzov managed to escape with the remains of his army when Napoleon wouldn’t commit his Imperial Guard to finish the job. Napoleon won the battle, but his hesitance would eventually cost him his empire.

On 14 September 1812, Emperor Napoleon I and his La Grande Armee triumphantly marched into Moscow… only to find it abandoned and deserted. The vast majority of the population took all of the food in the city and evacuated ahead of the French. Napoleon fully expected Tsar Alexander to surrender once Moscow was occupied but now he couldn’t find anyone to entreaty with. Two days later, on the night of 16 Sep, Russian patriots snuck in and set the city ablaze. For the next several days the French attempted to put out the fires but eventually ¾ of Moscow would be a smoldering ruin. Napoleon was now not only short of food for his army but also short of shelter for the coming Russian winter. He would wait around for the Tsar’s surrender for a month before he accepted that his troops must retreat or starve and freeze to death. On 19 October 1812, Napoleon and his Grande Armee began the long retreat back to Poland and East Prussia. Over the next several months, the Russian winter, Cossack raids, peasant guerrillas, and the scorched earth would contribute to Napoleon’s defeat in the campaign, but it was Kutuzov’s Army that escaped Borodino that would eventually throw Napoleon out of Russia and drive him back to Paris. Of the 690,000 troops Napoleon started the invasion of Russia with, only 63,000 would re-cross the Nieman River.

Blood and Iron

In the mid nineteenth century, Germany was still fractured in a loose confederation of almost 40 states, with Bavaria, Austria, and Prussia vying for leadership. In the aftermath of the revolutions of 1848 and 1849, Germany attempted to unite under Austria. However, “The Greater or Lesser Germany Question”, that is whether Austria would enter the union with Hungary and its empire, was very divisive. Most German states wanted a union with Austria, but not its multicultural empire in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. And Austria refused anything less than complete integration. Neither side could come to a compromise and the Frankfurt Parliament dissolved.

A decade later, Otto von Bismarck determined that the only way Germany would unite was by force of arms. However, in the summer of 1862, the Prussian parliament balked at Kaiser Wilhelm’s request for a significant spending increase for the Prussian Army. On 20 September, 1862, Bismarck, the newly appointed Prussian chancellor, spoke before the parliament. He concluded with,

“Germany is not looking to Prussia’s liberalism, but to its power; Bavaria, Württemberg, Baden may indulge liberalism, and for that reason no one will assign them Prussia’s role; Prussia has to coalesce and concentrate its power for the opportune moment, which has already been missed several times; Prussia’s borders according to the Vienna Treaties [of 1814-15] are not favorable for a healthy, vital state; it is not by speeches and majority resolutions that the great questions of the time are decided – that was the big mistake of 1848 and 1849 – but by iron and blood.”

The parliament passed the Kaiser’s budget, and over the next eight years, Bismarck, now known as “The Iron Chancellor”, united Germany.

The Battle for Edson’s Ridge

Throughout early September, 1942, the Japanese 17th Army at Rabaul ferried thousands of troops down New Georgia Sound, better known as “The Slot”, to Guadalcanal in a nightly ritual the Marines referred to as “The Tokyo Express”. Because of the aircraft on Henderson Field and the carriers USS Hornet and Wasp, the Tokyo Express would speed down the Slot at night, unload troops and cargo on Guadalcanal’s north tip, shell Henderson Field, and depart before they could be sunk by Allied aircraft in the morning.

By the second week of September, the Japanese were ready to attack. On the evening of 11 September, 6000 men of MG Harukichi Kawaguchi’s reinforced 35th Brigade (of which Ichiki’s Regiment was the vanguard) began the 17 mile approach march through the jungle to Henderson Field. At dawn on the 12th, they attacked the Marine perimeter.

LtCol Merritt Edson, commanding 900 Marines of the 1st Marine Raider battalion and the remnant of the 1st Marine Parachute Battalion, fought off Kawaguchi’s relentless assaults over the next two days. The Japanese launched waves of banzai charges and the Marines engaged in brutal hand to hand combat to stop them. Nonetheless, Edson’s men were forced back along the length of “Bloody Ridge”. In several instances the Japanese broke through to Henderson Field’s flight line where support personnel had to throw them back, or were turned back by Marine gunners firing over open sights at the charging Japanese. In the end though, the Battle of Edson’s Ridge shattered Kawaguchi’s brigade.

On 15 September 1942, LTG Harukichi Hyakutake, commander of the Japanese 17th Army, received the news of the defeat and after receiving concurrence from Yamamoto and the Imperial General Staff, suspended all other offensive operations in order to reinforce Guadalcanal. Yamamoto was seeking the “Kantai Kessen” or decisive battle, with the Americans specifically the US Navy. Yamamoto felt that the battle for Guadalcanal would draw the US Navy into the open where it could be destroyed in a single epic confrontation. Once the bulk of its navy was sunk, America would surely sue for peace, just as the Russians did after Tsushima 40 years before. Japanese operations in the Pacific for rest of the war can be characterized as the search for the Kantai Kessen with the US Navy.

1500 miles away, the Japanese on New Guinea were within sight of Port Moresby (and almost certain capture of the island), when Yamamoto’s order gave the Australians some very much needed time to reorganize. The Japanese would never threaten Port Moresby and the Australian mainland, again.

The Battle of Brandywine Creek

The British grand strategy for subduing the troublesome New England colonies was to seize the Hudson River valley and cut them off from the middle and southern colonies. To this end, Gen. John Burgoyne attacked from Canada while Gen. William Howe was supposed to do the same from New York City. However, Howe unilaterally decided to sail his army into the northern Chesapeake and march on Philadelphia. On 9 September 1777, Howe’s British, Loyalists, and Hessians landed, and Washington planned to meet them at Chadd’s Ford along the Brandywine Creek.

Unfortunately for the Americans, a Philadelphia loyalist informed Howe of series of smaller fords on the East and West Brandywine Creek some miles to the north of Washington. On the morning of 11 September 1777, Howe marched the bulk of his army around Washington while he sent his Hessians to fix the Continental Army at Chadd’s Ford. Washington learned of the maneuver fairly early in the day, but didn’t act on it for several hours. He decided to go look for himself.For several hours, Washington conducted his own personal leader’s reconnaissance of the battlefield, accompanied only by the newest brigadier general in the Continental Army, Casimir Pulaski. Pulaski was a former colonel in the Bar Confederation, a Polish revolt against the Russians, who fled to America after the First Partition of Poland. Pulaski was by far and away the most experienced cavalryman in North America at the time, and about noon on 11 September 1777, Pulaski was showing Washington the finer points of mounted reconnaissance when they both were nearly killed.

Waiting in a copse of trees, was Maj Patrick Ferguson, a light infantry pioneer in the British Army. With him was a company of light infantry armed with breech loading marksman’s muskets specially designed by Ferguson himself. Washington and Pulaski rode to within thirty yards of Ferguson and his men. Ferguson ordered them killed but stopped his men after the duo turned their backs to them. Ferguson called to Washington and Pulaski, and they both rode off. Ferguson stated later that he alone could have put four rounds into each before they were out of range, but it was ungentlemanly to shoot the “well dressed hussar and his august companion in the back”. Ferguson never regretted his decision to spare the two.

By mid afternoon, Howe’s army appeared on the flank of the Continental Army, but Washington re-positioned. He sent Sullivan with three divisions to make a stand on a small hill topped by the Birmingham Meeting House. However, as Sullivan was conferring with the division commanders, the British emerged from the wood line and surprised Sullivan’s own division as it was forming. The line broke and the rest withdrew from the hill. Sullivan reformed at Dilworth, and as Washington confirmed he was facing the bulk of Howe’s army to the north, re-positioned Lafayette and his reserve under Greene. The Continentals stopped the British advance, and the fighting degenerated into a slug fest with American and British troops firing volleys point blank at each other, followed by bayonet charges. Nonetheless, the Continentals held.

At Chadd’s Ford, the Hessians also attempted to force the American position with little success. However, a British column from the north got lost in the forest attempting to flank Washington’s position at Dilworth, and appeared on the flanks of “Mad” Anthony Wayne’s defense of the ford. Though fiery and eccentric, Wayne was not stupid, and retreated. Washington recognized that he was now out maneuvered, and withdrew the army back to Philadelphia to fight another day. Greene and Lafayette provided a skillful rear guard.

Though a defeat, the Battle of Brandywine Creek showed that the Continental Army was beginning to mature. For the first time, they fought the British regulars and Hessian professionals toe to toe on ground of British choosing and gave as well as they got. Furthermore, the Continental leadership showed that it too could execute complicated and demanding maneuvers, none more so than a withdrawl while in contact. The Continental Army was not a professional force by any means in 1777, but it began to act like one.

The Continental Congress abandoned Philadelphia a little over a week later. They would flee to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which would have the honor of being the country’s capital for a single day, 21 September 1777, and then on to York, PA.

Howe marched into Philadelphia on 28 September thinking he had just won the war. However, the seizure of the enemy’s capital as a means of victory is a distinctly Western European construct. In Europe, the capital was the center of a nation’s culture, industry, and state bureaucracy, without which a nation can no longer fight. In the late 18th century it was unthinkable for a Briton to continue a war if London fell, or Frenchman to continue if Paris fell. But the ideals laid out in in the Declaration of Independence, and later the U.S. Constitution, are not tied to a piece of terrain. If an American capital falls, it just moves to another spot. You can’t occupy an idea.

Howe might have won Philadelphia, but he lost the war.

Pigeon Roost and the Battle of Fort William Harrison

After the fall of Ft Detroit to the British on 16 August 1812, Indians all along America’s western frontier began raiding in earnest. On 3 September 1812, a Shawnee war party descended upon the small settlement of Pigeon’s Roost (in modern day Indiana just across the Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky). The attack was a complete surprise and many inhabitants were killed before they could make it to the Collings family blockhouse. The scalps of 15 children (including 2 infants), 6 women and 3 men from Pigeon’s Roost were eventually presented to the British commander at Ft Detroit.

Most of the men from Pigeon Roost were away in the militia, including some at Fort Harrison, in present day Terra Haute, Indiana.. On the same day Pigeon Roost was attacked, 600 Miami and Potawatomi Indians approached the fort demanding its surrender. Captain (and future President) Zachary Taylor asked for a parley in the morning which the Indians agreed to. CPT Taylor had 50 soldiers and militiamen, but unfortunately 30 were ill and bedridden. During the night, one Indian scout set fire to the blockhouse, and while the healthy members of the garrison tried to put out the fire, the Indians attacked. The situation looked grim and two of the garrison immediately deserted.

Taylor quickly assessed the situation and left three able-bodied defenders to fight the fire, including one woman who lowered herself into a well to fill buckets faster. Once he dispelled the confusion through sheer force of will, Zachary l shouted “Taylor never surrenders!” and then led the other 15 healthy defenders and every invalid who could walk in a charge to clear the palisade. After brutal hand to hand fighting along the wall, the Indians broke off the attack and settled into a siege. The defenders lost all of their food in the fire but fortunately COL William Russell was at nearby Vincennes with the 7th US Infantry, a ranger company, and a company of militia including a few Pigeon Roost men. They lifted the siege on 12 September and gave America its first victory on land in the War of 1812.

The Battle of Alam Halfa

Rommel needed to attack. Every day he was getting weaker and the British were getting stronger. The ships and planes of Malta were wreaking havoc on his convoys and he was beginning to regret the decision not to invade the small island after his victory at Gazala (the supplies for Operation Herkules, the invasion of Malta, were pushed to him to continue his pursuit further into Egypt). A thousand miles from his ports in Libya, the very trucks delivering the fuel were using the bulk of it. Nevertheless, he had defeated a succession of Eighth Army commanders, Cunningham, Ritchie, and Auchinleck, and now it was the turn of the newest Eighth Army commander, LtGen Bernard Montgomery.

Monty wasn’t the first choice for the next Eighth Army commander. After Auchinleck fired Ritchie and took command himself, LtGen William Gott was chosen to succeed Ritchie. However, he was killed when his plane was shot down on his way to the front. Montgomery was the next choice.Montgomery might have been an arrogant martinet that was difficult to deal with, but he was a master planner, first class trainer of men, and he wasn’t afraid to sack an incompetent officer. Most importantly, he had an unshakable conviction in inevitable victory. Monty despised defeatism in all its forms, and this included even prudent measures in case Rommel broke through at El Alamein. As soon as he took tactical command of the Eighth Army from Auchinleck , the first thing he did was order worked ceased on defensive positions around Alexandria and Cairo. Rommel would be stopped at El Alamein, or they would die trying. In a popular story at the time, Monty said of his appointment, “After having an easy war, things have now got much more difficult.” A friend tried to encourage him, but Montgomery stopped him and said, “I was talking about Rommel”. 

The British defenses were strengthened along the coast road but gradually thinned the farther south Rommel went. There was an obvious gap far to the south where it was clear the British intended Rommel to attack. But he had no choice. If he couldn’t have the element of surprise as to the location, he would have it with the speed and tempo of his breakthrough. Rommel planned to be through the minefields before the British could react. This would allow him time to establish a hasty defense with his 88mm anti-tank guns and easily defeat the inevitable British counterattack. Once the British tanks were destroyed, he would breakout into their rear areas and then isolate and begin systematically destroying the British defensive boxes. Once that happened, the British would withdraw, as they always have. On 30 August 1942, Rommel struck, and he quickly broke through the minefield. He brought up his long range anti tanks guns and awaited the British armor.

But they never came.

Rommel continued his advance, confident that he would soon come upon British rear area units and supply depots. What he ran into was massed dug in armor and anti-guns on Alam Halfa Ridge, far behind the British main line of resistance.

In previous engagements in the Western Desert, Allied reconnaissance would identify Rommel’s panzers, and the British armoured brigades would charge forth in the grandest tradition of the Scots Greys and Household Cavalry of yore. And they would be massacred by Rommel’s 88s. The number of times in the past 18 months that a few panzers were used as bait for waiting 88s were almost too many to count. But cavalry “attacks”, that’s what it does. At least until Monty came along.

Much to the disgust of his armour and cavalry officers, Monty forbade them to attack, and ordered them to dig in on Alam Halfa Ridge and wait for the Germans. The defensive boxes along the frontier were in strong positions and could survive isolated for a few days. As the Afrika Korps and the Italian XX Corps through the south, they were extending their vulnerable supply lines to air and artillery attack. The battle proceeded just as Monty predicted.

The Germans and Italians saw themselves for the first time on the receiving end of long range anti-tank fire, and as they got closer to Alam Halfa Ridge, massed tank fire in a well-rehearsed engagement area. Furthermore, the Eighth Army was the beneficiary of Roosevelt’s pledge to reinforce Egypt after the fall of Tobruk, so the British sported more American tanks in the form of Honeys (Stuarts) and the newer Grant tank with its hull mounted 75mm gun and turret mounted 37mm guns (known as the Lee in America. The only real difference was the shape of the turret). German and Italian infantry assaulted the Commonwealth positions in order to expand the gap and take pressure off the fight at Alam Halfa, but although there was some hard fighting, they were unsuccessful.

Rommel was saved from being cut off and destroyed by an unfortunate turn of events. After Rommel was decisively engaged on Alam Halfa Ridge, Montgomery gave orders to limit tank losses so as to not jeopardize the upcoming decisive counteroffensive. However, the 4/8 Hussars (the combined 4th Queen’s Own and 8th Royal Irish Hussars) saw an opportunity to raid Rommel’s supply lines and did so to great effect: they shot up and destroyed almost 57 trucks and lorries. This unfortunately forced Rommel to send the Italian XX Corps back to secure his extended line of logistics. This act and the lack of fuel eventually forced Rommel to withdraw completely the next day. However, it also saved him when Montgomery’s counterattack to cut him off on the east side of the frontier minefields ran into the Italians, who were thus in position to throw back the British and Kiwi attack. They did so handily.

By the evening of 4 September, 1942, Rommel was back in his start positions, prepared to defend. However, the Eighth Army didn’t attack. As Auchinleck had discovered the year before, the only way to assure Rommel’s defeat was to have an overwhelming preponderance in supplies. Otherwise, the offensive would fall just short, and then Rommel would be in position in Libya to mass supplies more easily. This is exactly what happened to Operation Crusader. It was better to keep a starving and thirsty Rommel in Egypt where his fuel and ammunition had to endure Malta’s, the RAF’s and the LRDG’s raids, not to mention his own trucks guzzling his tanks’ fuel, before it arrived at the front. All the while American lend-lease equipment poured in to Haifa and Alexandria, a short drive away.

Montgomery estimated he’d need another month.

America’s Forgotten Carrier Battle: The Battle of the Eastern Solomon Islands

Yamamoto was shocked and dismayed at the destruction of Ichiki’s detachment on Guadalcanal, mostly because his staff told him there were only about 2000 US Marines on the island (there were 11,000). In response, Yamamoto planned to combine the next operation to reinforce the island with a naval strike by the two remaining Japanese fleet carriers, the Shokaku and Zuikaku led by Adm Nagumo (who, despite Midway, was still Japan’s best carrier admiral).
Yamamoto’s plan, Operation Ka, called for the light carrier Ryujo to act as bait, and draw the American carriers into launching a strike. While they were occupied with sinking the Ryujo, the Shokaku and Zuikaku, which would be following behind, would sink the Enterprise, Wasp, and Saratoga. At the same time, Tanaka’s destroyers would escort heavy transports and a sea plane carrier with heavy equipment to Guadalcanal. It almost worked.
On 24 August, 1942, American scout planes spotted the Ryujo. Fletcher suspected his bigger brothers were in the area, and initially declined to attack. Several hours later, after the Ryujo launched its planes against Guadalcanal (which were turned back by the Cactus Air Force), Fletcher launched his attack which promptly set the Ryujo afire, whom consequently sank a bit later. Fletcher did eventually spot Nagumo’s fleet carriers, but by then he was already committed. Nagumo pounced.
The Saratoga and Enterprise were in two escort groups about ten miles from each other (the Wasp was out of the area refueling), but they were separated by a squall line. Nagumo’s scouts spotted both carriers and the battleship USS North Carolina, but because of the clouds masking the Saratoga, Nagumo’s strike aircraft only found the Enterprise, and the full weight on the strike fell on her.
This was actually very fortunate for the Americans: the Enterprise group contained the North Carolina, which bristled with anti-aircraft guns after the debacle at Pearl Harbor. Moreover, the Enterprise was escorted by the brand new anti-aircraft cruiser USS Atlanta, whose 12 radar controlled 5” guns, and 8 dual 40mm Bofors and 16 20mm Oerkilon anti-aircraft guns, more than evened the odds against Nagumo’s planes. And lest we forget, the Enterprise put up nearly her full complement of fighters.
It is a testament to the determination of Nagumo’s pilots that they still managed to put three bombs into the Enterprise through the swarms of fighters and walls of accurate flak that they had to fly. Still, it could have been worse: one bomb damaged the Enterprise’s steering and forced her into a slow uncontrollable circle. Fortunately the steering took the ship in the opposite direction than the Japanese fliight leaders expected, and many of the second strike only found the escorts. Additionally, the previous nine months had taught the US Navy hard lessons about damage control aboard aircraft carriers, and these paid off that afternoon and evening. The steering on the wounded Enterprise was eventually repaired by a courageous damage control party who braved the 170 degree heat in the steering control room. She limped back to New Caledonia for repairs, and her planes transfered to the Saratoga or onto Guadalcanal, where they’d become a welcome addition to the Cactus Air Force.
The Saratoga wasn’t idle while the Enterprise wasn’t frantically maneuvering and fighting for her life a mere ten miles away. Tanaka’s not so sneaky run was spotted even though it was not down the Slot, but east of it, and his seaplane carrier was mistaken for one of the fleet carriers. The Saratoga launched everything, and most anticlimactically, the seaplane carrier was only seriously damaged and forced back up the Slot.
Once again the Japanese assumed the ship they struck had sunk, and were mistaken. This time Nagumo reported that he had won a great victory when he sunk the USS Hornet and avenged the Doolittle Raid, which was obviously not correct. Also, Nagumo was concerned with his plane losses, and most disconcertingly, the lost element of surprise, so important and integral to Japanese operations. He would sink the other US carrier another time. That night, Nagumo took his carriers and sailed back to Truk, defaulting victory to Fletcher…again.
The next morning, while Fletcher was nervously failing to find Nagumo’s carriers, the reinforced Cactus Air Force (with the Enterprise’s planes) pounded Tanaka’s slow convoy attempting to reach Guadalcanal. They sank his flagship, the light cruiser Jintsu, from underneath him and seriously damaged a transport. A destroyer pulled alongside to assist the stricken ship, and then an event akin to the sighting of a unicorn happened – A high altitude level bomber dropped a bomb and struck the destroyer, sinking it.
B-17s from the 11th Bombardment Group from Espiritu Santo attacked the immobile duo of ships, and one bomb struck the unfortunate destroyer, IJS Muzuki. In the six years and millions of tons of bombs dropped from heavy bombers, such as B-17s, B-26’s, B-29’s or Avro Lancasters etc, during World War Two, only two singular bombs had ever struck a ship at sea: one on 25 August 1942 into the poor Muzuki, and on 24 April 1944 on the Tirpitz in Norway. Just two, that’s all.
With his air cover departed, his flagship and a destroyer sunk, seaplane carrier fled, and 1/3 of his charges on fire and sinking, Tanaka withdrew back to the northern Solomon’s to his base on the island of Bougainville. The Japanese abandoned further attempts to reinforce Guadalcanal in the day light. The Tokyo Express would be a strictly nighttime affair from then on.