Operation Wisp contd
Those Japanese fighters had instead been tasked to escort their bombers against the invasion force. The approach of the invasion fleets had been spotted by the Japanese, initially that did not cause much concern as the ship movements were intended as a feint to take attention from Port Moresby. Yet once the decision to go into Lunga was made the fact the ships had been detected was made moot. The first Japanese air raid came in over the main carrier task force off Guadalcanal. Some 50 enemy fighters approached from the North West, A6M models. They ran into a CAP of F4F-4s and Martlets. A crazy melee ensued that saw planes lost on both sides. As the fighters jousted however Betty bombers carrying sleek torpedoes arrowed in at wave height.
The sky around them was turned black as hundreds of AA guns poured their fire into them. Several bombers broke up as they were torn to shreds by the shells fired at them. Two vic however homed in on the battleship Royal Soverign, whose guns were protecting the circling Victorious. Seaman and pilot alike held their breath as four bombers dropped their fish, they hit the water with a splash and arrowed towards their target. One of the Bettys disintegrated a mere second after releasing taking a 20mm hit full on the nose, the torpedoes however all missed as the helmsman had the Royal Sovereign at full to starboard and the torpedo wakes streaked away from her.
Simultaneously over Lunga a second fighter sweep came in. Both VF-60 and VF-35 from the escort carriers Suwanee and Chenango were up early and were able to shoot down 10 enemy fighters for little loss.
Yet the real danger were the D3A2 dive bombers the Zeroes were escorting into Lunga. Despite harrasment by Wildcats a reasonably large number of these second generation Vals began their rolls, turns and dives from about 12,000 feet on the CVE Suwanne. She was a Sangamon Class Escort Carrier and a veteran of Operation Torch in the European Theatre of Operations but she was not facing Vichy French pilots but rather veteran pilots of the IJNAF, veterans of many a dive on an enemy vessel. The first two bombs missed but the third anf fourth hit her smack in the middle of her flight deck. The second bomb was the one that really did the damage as it blew a wide hole in the deck and ruptured two main fuel lines. These promptly erupted into flame when the fifth and sixth bombs struck her sealing her fate.
As their ship burned its way to the bottom of the sea her pilots, still aloft and soon to be bereft of a home, wrecked a terrible revenge on the retreating Vals. Chasing them almost back to Munda they claimed 9 enemy planes shot down. Though the Suwanee was to later sink her Avenger sqaudron was able to land in one of the bases in the Santa Cruz while VF-60 found refuge on the decks of the Chenango, later they would rejoin VT-60 on Vanua Lava.
The real life Suwannee was a real veteran and she even survived a Kamikaze hit in Ocotober 1944. She was later used as a helicopter carrier post war. Read more about her here.