January 24, 1942
O24 strikes AMC Aikoku Maru with a torpedo off Kendari, moderately damaging her.
Unlike yesterday, our superior search assets allow us to launch the first strike of the day. 51 SBD-3 dive-bombers escorted by 27 Wildcats from the Saratoga are met by a Japanese fighter CAP of 25 Zeros and 2 Alf Float Planes. Thanks to some superb escort work by the Wildcats, particularly the battle hardened Enterprise fighters, all the SBDs make it through. Nevertheless, even with 51 SBDs diving in only a single bomb hit was registered on the light cruiser Katori.
14 SBD-3s from the Yorktown – for some reason unescorted – then approach the Japanese carriers. 6 of them astutely withdrew leaving 8 SBDs charging in. The reorganized Japanese CAP shot down 7 of them with the last one going in only to be destroyed by flak. Not a good start to the day!
In the afternoon, the Japanese finally find us and launch their first strike of the turn against the Yorktown group. Luckily, Most of the Japanese fighter strength was left to guard the carriers, leaving only 2 Zeros to escort 25 Kates charging in. 13 Buffalos and 15 Wildcats tore them to shreds, leaving only 7 Kates to deliver their attack where they missed.
The Saratoga group goes in again in the afternoon, this time with 19 Wildcats escorting 43 SBD-3s. The Enterprise Wildcats do a stellar job once more, keeping all SBD bombers intact for the attack. This time the SBDs do better – 3 1,000lb bomb hits, delivered by what I think was the Enterprise SBD squadron on board the Saratoga (based on the bombing accuracy stat), leave the Zuikaku a raging inferno. Another 1,000lb bomb hit was also put into the light cruiser Kashima. The Zuikaku would make it to the next night when she would sink beneath the waves. The revenge of the Enterprise!
A light cruiser/destroyer task force I sent to intercept the New Caldeonia invasion force finished the job during the night, sinking the last couple of ships remaining after last turn’s air strikes.
The Japanese 4th Division takes Gau Island, finishing off the remnants of my base force there. It is now trapped in the island however.
Likely due to the events in the South Pacific, the main Japanese CV group is observed retracing back its path towards Rabaul. The damaged cruisers take the opportunity to make sail for Australia, where they would all eventually arrive safely and be repaired.
The Japanese sweep Soerabaja with 22 Zeros, but my still robust CAP of almost 40 fighters still manages to inflict painful losses on the IJN fighters. We both lose about a dozen fighters each.
Japanese bombers pound the retreating Chinese forces from Wenchow, while the large Japanese army arrives at Pingsiang, where the hastily assembled Chinese army is digging in to resist.
With the Zuikaku down and with his fighter and bomber wings heavily depleted - I prepare to press on my attacks. Given the proximity to my bases, particularly Noumea, I also have the luxury of retiring the depleted squadrons and shuttling in fresh ones to the carriers.