Naval Battle of the Eastern Solomons
Today marks the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, one of a string of naval battles that occurred during the months-long campaign to wrest Guadalcanal from Japanese control. The Eastern Solomons was not as significant as the Battle of the Coral Sea or Midway, but it did have an impact on the Guadalcanal campaign. However, the Eastern Solomons is probably best known for a split second of the battle that was caught on film.
Late in the afternoon of 24 August 1942, the USS Enterprise came under attack by Japanese “Val” dive bombers from the carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku. Skilled maneuvering caused the first nine bombers to miss the Enterprise, but, at 1644 hours, an armor-piercing bomb hit near the ship’s aft elevator and exploded deep in the ship’s bowels. Just thirty seconds later a second bomb struck the Enterprise just a few feet away from the first. This bomb set off a ready service ammunition box for the ship’s starboard 5” anti-aircraft guns, resulting in a large explosion.
Less than a minute later, a third bomb hit the ship just aft of the island. This bomb exploded on contact, blasting a ten-foot hole in the wooden flight deck. It was the detonation of this third bomb that produced one of the most amazing images of the Pacific War. The story behind the image is almost as compelling as the image itself.
For many years, the image was credited to Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Robert Read, a still photographer attached to the Enterprise’s Fighting Squadron Six. Read was killed in action on the Enterprise during the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, and it was widely believed that he captured an image of the explosion that killed him.
Unfortunately, Robert Read did not take the photograph that made him famous. In fact, Read was already dead when that photo was captured. Read’s action station was in the aft anti-aircraft gallery on the Enterprise’s starboard side. He was killed instantly when the second bomb set off the 5” ready locker.
Less than one minute after Robert Read was killed, Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Marion Riley captured the image that made Read famous. Riley had set up a motion picture camera on the aft end of the ship’s island and, from his higher vantage point, captured two of the three bombs that struck the Enterprise on 24 August. The famous image that was credited to Read was, in fact, a frame from a motion picture shot by Riley.
This video includes the footage shot by Marion Riley on 24 August 1942. At 2:31 into the video, the second bomb hits the Enterprise, setting off the explosion that killed Robert Read and thirty-four of his shipmates. At the 3:05 mark, Riley captured the detonation that became so famous.
Robert Read became famous for a photograph he did not take. Marion Riley never sought, and rarely receives, credit for taking one of the most famous photos of the war. Both men deserve the highest praise for performing their duty in the heat of battle. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to face an enemy with a weapon in hand. It takes even more courage to face that enemy with a camera.
Posted by Curator Eric Rivet.