By Elijah PalmerHampton Roads Naval Museum Educator
|A torpedo from the destroyer USS Whipple (DD-217) strikes home as the seaplane tender USS Langley (AV-3) is scuttled after being disabled by Japanese bombers on February 27, 1942. (Naval History and Heritage Command, NH 92476)|
Japanese GM4 "Betty" bomber.
|USS Langley transits the Panama Canal in 1924 on her way to the Pacific Ocean. As USS Jupiter a decade before, she had made history, transiting in the other direction, as the first US Navy ship to use the canal. (Hampton Roads Naval Museum file)|
|USS Langley's insignia (Wikimedia Commons)|
|USS Langley in 1928.|
|Langley after conversion to seaplane tender.|
After Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941, the United States joined the war in the Pacific. The early months of 1942 were a tumultuous time, with the Allies struggling to check any advances of the Imperial Japanese forces. By early February, Singapore fell in a disastrous defeat for the British, and American forces were fighting desperately on the Bataan peninsula in the Philippines. USS Langley was ordered to transport over thirty critically needed P-40 "Warhawk" fighter planes from Australia to the Dutch East Indies (what is now Indonesia). On February 27, the ship met its destroyer escorts, USS Whipple (DD-217) and USS Edsall (DD-219), south of the island of Java. A few hours later, the ships were under attack by Japanese air units.
While the destroyers, with their higher speed, could largely evade the mid-altitude bombers, Langley was never meant for high speed maneuvers. Besides this, the extra weight topside from the stowed fighters bogged down the ship. Once the bombers missed the seaplane tender during the first two passes, they changed tactics and bracketed the ship with bombs, so that there was nowhere to turn. Langley was hit with five bombs, severely damaging the ship, while killing 16 and wounding countless others. About two hours after the attack commenced, Commander McConnell gave the order to abandon ship. The destroyers picked up the survivors, and scuttled the marred ship with torpedoes and shellfire.
Sailors watch from Whipple as Langley is scuttled. (Naval History and Heritage Command, NH 92475)
A Memphis, Tennessee newspaper's headline about the Langley, Pecos, and other ships. Note that this reporting was over a month after these ships had been sunk.