Oiler Neosho mistaken as a carrier

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marcelo_malara
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Oiler Neosho mistaken as a carrier

Post by marcelo_malara »

Hi all. During Coral Sea occurred a well known fact that was that Japanese recon planes detected the oiler Neosho and destroyer Sims in company and mistook the oiler for a carrier, provoking the launching of a full fledged air attack that rapidly dealt with them. The question is, how the observer, flying a propeller driven and so a relatively low speed plane, manned presumably by more than one crewmen, could confuse an oiler with a carrier. There are many instances of mistaken ships seen from planes, we all know this, but:

-is it known what model the airplanes were?
-any data on how close they came to the oiler?

Thanks
OpanaPointer
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Re: Oiler Neosho mistaken as a carrier

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SWAG would be the scout was at max range and had to give best guess.
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Re: Oiler Neosho mistaken as a carrier

Post by HvKleist »

The mistaken sighting was by a Type 97 (KATE) attack bomber flying standard recon patrol from CarDiv 5's SHOKAKU. One of six (6) launched early that morning from the carrier. A significant ID error by any measure as it turned out, but also not that unusual. Her report said the enemy ships were 163 mi away from SHOKAKU, so possibly towards the latter stage of her outward leg(?) -- I don't know what her altitude was or the WX was like, however.
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Re: Oiler Neosho mistaken as a carrier

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HvKleist wrote: Wed Apr 12, 2023 9:38 pm The mistaken sighting was by a Type 97 (KATE) attack bomber flying standard recon patrol from CarDiv 5's SHOKAKU. One of six (6) launched early that morning from the carrier. A significant ID error by any measure as it turned out, but also not that unusual. Her report said the enemy ships were 163 mi away from SHOKAKU, so possibly towards the latter stage of her outward leg(?) -- I don't know what her altitude was or the WX was like, however.
Thanks! Yes, a mistaken ship is common in any aero naval environment. Regarding the sighting, we must presume that the Kate was fully crewed by 3 and the observer did have some kind of optical equipment for the task? About the distance flown, 163 nm is not even in the limit of a Zero,I think that those recons would be launched easily to 300 nm.
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Re: Oiler Neosho mistaken as a carrier

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The two ships reached waypoint "Rye" at 0730 the following morning. The weather was unusually calm and offered a stark contrast to the rain squalls and rough seas the task force had gone through a few days earlier.

At 0859, a single 500-pound bomb crashed into the ocean less than 100 yards off the Sims's port side and shocked her crew into general quarters. Her 5-inch guns began pointing skyward. The blasts of the guns rattled and shook the ship to her keel. A single Japanese plane appeared in the sky at 15,000 feet. As Vessia recalls, the order was given for Flank Ahead and both the Neosho and Sims built up speed to 18 knots.

"It was very strange," said Vessia. "We were going in a straight line. No zig, no zag to dodge whatever was being thrown at us. Ordinary precautions during an attack were to have the two screws going in different directions. Port Full Ahead and Starboard Emergency Astern—the reversing of Emergency Full Astern—on both engines to put the brakes on. This was not to be."

Although most accounts have registered the near miss on the front starboard quarter, both Verton and Vessia recall it falling on the port side close enough to wreck the captain's gig and send Hyman crashing to the deck. "The bridge talker relayed the message. ‘Near miss forward, Captain down!'" said Vessia. "‘Port side whaleboat damaged.'"

Unknown to the crew of either ship, before leaving the area the pilot had radioed back to the Japanese carrier force and reported the presence of a U.S. carrier and cruiser. It was a classic case of the kind of misidentifications that plagued both sides during the early stages of the war. The pilot's error would prove to be fateful for the Sims and Neosho; they soon would face nearly every available aircraft the Japanese carriers could muster.
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Re: Oiler Neosho mistaken as a carrier

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From article at the Naval Institute site.
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Re: Oiler Neosho mistaken as a carrier

Post by R Leonard »

When scouting for an adversary’s ships the scouting aircraft is probably tooling along in its assigned search sector at about 5000 feet. This altitude is about maximum for scouting as the limiting factor is the Mark I Eyeball. And the object, at least for USN scouts until late 1942, and the same for the Japanese, was to spot, report, and shadow; after about October 1942 the USN task became spot, report, and attack. But the spotting, reporting and shadowing part was done at a distance. Ship identification was not made by fly-overs, a really good way to get shot down and thus not provide further information.

So scouts tended to lurk on the far horizon, popping up for quick look-sees and attempting to create an accurate fix and potential identification. At 5000 feet the far horizon for the scout airplane is slightly less than 87 miles (easily calculated, or better, see http://www.ringbell.co.uk/info/hdist.htm), obviously far and away farther than the human eye can differentiate objects. The popping up is accomplished by turning away from the target, flying away some distance, then turning back to bring the target back in sight.

Obviously flying lower will bring a better view. At 1000 feet the far horizon is about 39 miles, still too far for the human eye, even with binoculars, but a target appearing at say 18 to 20 miles away is within the observation limit. Now the problem would be determining what is being observed besides “Look! There! Ships!” At that distance (18-20 miles) a ship is not much more than a speck followed by a wake. And if you are expecting to see, for example, an enemy aircraft carrier (this without getting into the absence of radar technology on the part of the Japanese) you would not want to get too close lest you are the recipient of some unwanted attention from patrolling fighter planes. Aside, even with radar as on US carriers, catching a scout was not always easy, though most detected were eventually brought down. From a Japanese scout pilot’s perspective, not knowing of the USN radar capability, he’d shadow as if the target were similar in capability as a Japanese carrier and thus not wish to get close enough to attract undo attention. The mission was to scout, locate, and report, not get into what would probably be an unhappy result of a gun fight.

So, there you are, popping over the horizon, looking at a couple of ships, ducking back below the observable horizon and popping back up a few minutes later, repeat as necessary. One is apparently larger than the other, but probably not of the proportions of a battleship or cruiser. You’ve been briefed to expect, or at least look for, enemy aircraft carriers, so what do you see in these distant specks on the sea trailing wakes, amidst glare or haze or clouds or all three? And if an aircraft carrier, you’re not going to get any closer to make sure. People see what they expect to see, especially in times and places of marginal visibility. Especially when they do not want to be seen themselves.
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Re: Oiler Neosho mistaken as a carrier

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R Leonard wrote: Fri May 26, 2023 1:47 am When scouting for an adversary’s ships the scouting aircraft is probably tooling along in its assigned search sector at about 5000 feet. This altitude is about maximum for scouting as the limiting factor is the Mark I Eyeball. And the object, at least for USN scouts until late 1942, and the same for the Japanese, was to spot, report, and shadow; after about October 1942 the USN task became spot, report, and attack. But the spotting, reporting and shadowing part was done at a distance. Ship identification was not made by fly-overs, a really good way to get shot down and thus not provide further information.

So scouts tended to lurk on the far horizon, popping up for quick look-sees and attempting to create an accurate fix and potential identification. At 5000 feet the far horizon for the scout airplane is slightly less than 87 miles (easily calculated, or better, see http://www.ringbell.co.uk/info/hdist.htm), obviously far and away farther than the human eye can differentiate objects. The popping up is accomplished by turning away from the target, flying away some distance, then turning back to bring the target back in sight.

Obviously flying lower will bring a better view. At 1000 feet the far horizon is about 39 miles, still too far for the human eye, even with binoculars, but a target appearing at say 18 to 20 miles away is within the observation limit. Now the problem would be determining what is being observed besides “Look! There! Ships!” At that distance (18-20 miles) a ship is not much more than a speck followed by a wake. And if you are expecting to see, for example, an enemy aircraft carrier (this without getting into the absence of radar technology on the part of the Japanese) you would not want to get too close lest you are the recipient of some unwanted attention from patrolling fighter planes. Aside, even with radar as on US carriers, catching a scout was not always easy, though most detected were eventually brought down. From a Japanese scout pilot’s perspective, not knowing of the USN radar capability, he’d shadow as if the target were similar in capability as a Japanese carrier and thus not wish to get close enough to attract undo attention. The mission was to scout, locate, and report, not get into what would probably be an unhappy result of a gun fight.

So, there you are, popping over the horizon, looking at a couple of ships, ducking back below the observable horizon and popping back up a few minutes later, repeat as necessary. One is apparently larger than the other, but probably not of the proportions of a battleship or cruiser. You’ve been briefed to expect, or at least look for, enemy aircraft carriers, so what do you see in these distant specks on the sea trailing wakes, amidst glare or haze or clouds or all three? And if an aircraft carrier, you’re not going to get any closer to make sure. People see what they expect to see, especially in times and places of marginal visibility. Especially when they do not want to be seen themselves.
Hi! Well, that sound perfectly possible. But the article from the Naval Institute says that the Japanese plane, much like the SCB of the USN, carried a single bomb that released over the Sims. So, I must conclude that far from looking from the distance, the plane overflow the Sims and released the bomb.

Regards
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Re: Oiler Neosho mistaken as a carrier

Post by OpanaPointer »

Given the massive amount of buck fever at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese I would have to suggest that we don't have anything close to what actually happened in this fight.
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Re: Oiler Neosho mistaken as a carrier

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marcelo_malara wrote: Fri May 26, 2023 3:49 am
Hi! Well, that sound perfectly possible. But the article from the Naval Institute says that the Japanese plane, much like the SCB of the USN, carried a single bomb that released over the Sims. So, I must conclude that far from looking from the distance, the plane overflow the Sims and released the bomb.

Regards
I’m pretty familiar with USN aircraft, I don’t know what an SCB was, never heard of it. Be that as it may . . .

The way you present this bombing incident is somewhat of a red-herring.

One might note the report filed by Robert James Dicken, CSM, the ranking surviving chief petty officer from the Sims, describing the first attack which came at 0930, not 0900.

“On May 7 at 0930 I was in the Chief's quarters and heard a man in #1 handling room exclaim that a bomb had lit right alongside. General Quarters sounded immediately and duty gun opened fire. Upon reaching bridge the other guns had commenced firing on horizontal bombers. Recognition signals were attempted but no reply.

“There were a large number of our shells which failed to burst at the beginning of the attack but after several rounds, number unknown, the fuse settings seemed to be operating satisfactory as bursts were observed near the enemy planes.

“At beginning of attack Sims went to full speed and patrolled on either bow of tanker. Our gunfire seemed very effective in keeping the planes high and on the move.

“Observed one bomb score near miss, port side, amidships. No damage reported. One casualty, slight shoulder wound, on #2 gun. Man treated during lull and returned to gun.

High level attack lasted ten to fifteen minutes.”

See http://ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USN/ships/l ... Coral.html

Note that the time of this attack is noted as 0930. The original scout (another B5N) made his morning sighting report at 0736.

Drawing from “Coral Sea Log” produced by the Coral Sea Battle Commemorative Association of Australia:

Page 49:
“0736 hours: A Japanese reconnaissance plane spotted and reported an aircraft carrier and a cruiser at the eastern edge of the search sector (Neosho and Sims). Hara, accepting the report, closed the distance between his force and that of the reported aircraft carrier, ordering an all out bombing and torpedo attack.”

“0830 hours: The following search report made by a Japanese reconnaissance aircraft was picked up by Pearl Harbor listening watch: one carrier and one light cruiser 200 miles south of the Japanese carrier strike force. The plotting staff of the Pacific Fleet found this corresponded to Point RYE (the position of Neosho and Sims).”

And we can find in the ONI report on Coral Sea, page 48:
“The ships had reached a position at latitude 16°01’S., longitude 158°01’E. by about 0800 of the 7th, when planes began to be contacted both by radar and visually. For a time it was thought possible that the planes were ours. However, at 0929 the Sims, then moving ahead of the Neosho as an antisubmarine screen was attacked by a single reconnaissance type plane which dropped one bomb about 100 yards off the destroyer’s starboard quarter. According to Sims survivors, the plane, which came over at an altitude of about 15,000 feet was not seen before the bomb fell.”

Going back to the “Coral Sea Log,” still on page 49:

0900 hours: Inouye . . . learnt that the enemy (TF17) was some 200 miles south of Deboyne Island. A Kate was sent on a reconnaissance to confirm the sighting report, but Vice-Admiral Hara did not wait for this confirmation. He did not question that it was unlikely a single carrier would, in the lone company of a cruiser, turn out to be an attacking formation. At 0800 hours Vice-Admiral Hara ordered a strike to be launched, and 18 Zeros, 24 Kates and 36 Vals were launched from the carrier strike force. These were well on their way when the true location of TF17 was received from Rabaul. The Kate which had earlier despatched to confirm the carrier report, on sighting Neosho and Sims, did not give them serious consideration as being the culprits of the earlier reports and failed to recognize they were the reported ‘carrier and cruiser.’”

Coral Sea Log goes on in detail the various attacks on these two ships. Since I’d rather not spend a couple of hours typing what is there, let’s look at the USNI article.
https://www.usni.org/magazines/naval-hi ... -combatant

I don’t understand why you did not tell the of the rest of the story as found there such as rather than go down a rabbit hole of who may or may not have dropped, maybe, a bomb at some point or who recognized the two ships for what they were and knew they were not attacking a carrier and a cruiser:

“It took some time for the Japanese to realize the mistake the Shokaku scouts had made. A crisis for them began at 0902, when they received word from the strike leader, Lieutenant Commander Takahashi Kakuichi, that all he could see was an oiler and a destroyer. The Japanese commanders assumed he had found a support group trailing behind the previously reported carriers. Takahashi was instructed to maintain contact, but also to commence an area search for the U.S. strike force. This was a perfectly rational decision, but as each minute passed, continuing that search became less and less rational, as the evidence mounted that the U.S. carrier force was elsewhere. It took the Japanese commanders until 1051 to issue a recall, and Takahashi hesitated another 21 minutes before ordering his torpedo bombers and fighters back to their carriers. Thirty-six dive bombers—Aichi D3A “Vals”—including Takahashi’s command aircraft, remained behind.

“Phillips knew an attack was coming. Neosho lookouts spotted the Shokaku scouts at 0740, soon after their first sighting report. But the commander assumed the aircraft were friendly. It was only when the main Japanese strike arrived just before 0900 that his doubts mounted, and they were confirmed not long thereafter: “At 0929, a bomb was seen to fall about one hundred yards on the starboard quarter of the SIMS.” The “bomb” was most likely a target marker dropped by Takahashi’s Val. The Sims, whose main battery of five 5-inch/38-caliber guns was capable of engaging Takahashi’s high-flying bomber, opened fire but scored no hits.

“At 1003, Takahashi decided to replenish the smoke marker he had dropped more than an hour before. Ten Japanese aircraft overflew the two-ship formation, and three of them dropped target markers. This attack was reported in a message so brief and uninformative that Fletcher, hundreds of miles to the northwest, could have done nothing to help, even if he had had the time and resources to do so; in fact, he had neither. The Yorktown and TF 17’s second carrier, the Lexington (CV-2), were launching strikes that would result in the sinking of the light carrier Shoho.

“At 1126, Takahashi’s dive bombers began their attack on the two U.S. ships. The attack was methodical and extremely effective, spanning nearly a half hour. Most of the attackers concentrated their attention on the Neosho; the Sims was not targeted until almost 15 minutes into the attack. But once the Japanese set their sights on the destroyer, they made quick work of her. The senior surviving crewman, Chief Signalman R. J. Dicken, had swum out to a motor whaleboat that had broken loose after the Sims received three bomb hits aft in rapid succession. He was steering the boat aft to check conditions there when the destroyer’s boilers exploded and the ship broke in two. The Sims sank so rapidly that very few of her men made it off the ship before she disappeared. Between the boat he conned and two life rafts he found with a few more survivors, Dicken was able to bring a total of 15 men over to the Neosho, where he put himself and his men at Commander Phillips’ disposal. Approximately 180 officers and men went down with the Sims.

Points to be made are
- Original report was made at 0736
- By 0830 CinCPac evidently had a translated copy and was aware that Neosho and Sims were in danger
- A second reconnaissance plane, a B5N, sent to the location to confirm the original sighting report recognized that the two US ships were not a carrier and its consort.
- There is no evidence that whoever dropped a single bomb near Sims at 0900 was the original reconnaissance plane from the first contact two hours before and, from the article you cite, was probably a smoke maker and not a bomb at all, and if a marker, was not dropped by the original reconnaissance plane but by the Japanese strike leader.
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Re: Oiler Neosho mistaken as a carrier

Post by marcelo_malara »

R Leonard wrote: Fri May 26, 2023 5:52 pm
marcelo_malara wrote: Fri May 26, 2023 3:49 am
Hi! Well, that sound perfectly possible. But the article from the Naval Institute says that the Japanese plane, much like the SCB of the USN, carried a single bomb that released over the Sims. So, I must conclude that far from looking from the distance, the plane overflow the Sims and released the bomb.

Regards
I’m pretty familiar with USN aircraft, I don’t know what an SCB was, never heard of it. Be that as it may . . .

The way you present this bombing incident is somewhat of a red-herring.

One might note the report filed by Robert James Dicken, CSM, the ranking surviving chief petty officer from the Sims, describing the first attack which came at 0930, not 0900.

“On May 7 at 0930 I was in the Chief's quarters and heard a man in #1 handling room exclaim that a bomb had lit right alongside. General Quarters sounded immediately and duty gun opened fire. Upon reaching bridge the other guns had commenced firing on horizontal bombers. Recognition signals were attempted but no reply.

“There were a large number of our shells which failed to burst at the beginning of the attack but after several rounds, number unknown, the fuse settings seemed to be operating satisfactory as bursts were observed near the enemy planes.

“At beginning of attack Sims went to full speed and patrolled on either bow of tanker. Our gunfire seemed very effective in keeping the planes high and on the move.

“Observed one bomb score near miss, port side, amidships. No damage reported. One casualty, slight shoulder wound, on #2 gun. Man treated during lull and returned to gun.

High level attack lasted ten to fifteen minutes.”

See http://ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USN/ships/l ... Coral.html

Note that the time of this attack is noted as 0930. The original scout (another B5N) made his morning sighting report at 0736.

Drawing from “Coral Sea Log” produced by the Coral Sea Battle Commemorative Association of Australia:

Page 49:
“0736 hours: A Japanese reconnaissance plane spotted and reported an aircraft carrier and a cruiser at the eastern edge of the search sector (Neosho and Sims). Hara, accepting the report, closed the distance between his force and that of the reported aircraft carrier, ordering an all out bombing and torpedo attack.”

“0830 hours: The following search report made by a Japanese reconnaissance aircraft was picked up by Pearl Harbor listening watch: one carrier and one light cruiser 200 miles south of the Japanese carrier strike force. The plotting staff of the Pacific Fleet found this corresponded to Point RYE (the position of Neosho and Sims).”

And we can find in the ONI report on Coral Sea, page 48:
“The ships had reached a position at latitude 16°01’S., longitude 158°01’E. by about 0800 of the 7th, when planes began to be contacted both by radar and visually. For a time it was thought possible that the planes were ours. However, at 0929 the Sims, then moving ahead of the Neosho as an antisubmarine screen was attacked by a single reconnaissance type plane which dropped one bomb about 100 yards off the destroyer’s starboard quarter. According to Sims survivors, the plane, which came over at an altitude of about 15,000 feet was not seen before the bomb fell.”

Going back to the “Coral Sea Log,” still on page 49:

0900 hours: Inouye . . . learnt that the enemy (TF17) was some 200 miles south of Deboyne Island. A Kate was sent on a reconnaissance to confirm the sighting report, but Vice-Admiral Hara did not wait for this confirmation. He did not question that it was unlikely a single carrier would, in the lone company of a cruiser, turn out to be an attacking formation. At 0800 hours Vice-Admiral Hara ordered a strike to be launched, and 18 Zeros, 24 Kates and 36 Vals were launched from the carrier strike force. These were well on their way when the true location of TF17 was received from Rabaul. The Kate which had earlier despatched to confirm the carrier report, on sighting Neosho and Sims, did not give them serious consideration as being the culprits of the earlier reports and failed to recognize they were the reported ‘carrier and cruiser.’”

Coral Sea Log goes on in detail the various attacks on these two ships. Since I’d rather not spend a couple of hours typing what is there, let’s look at the USNI article.
https://www.usni.org/magazines/naval-hi ... -combatant

I don’t understand why you did not tell the of the rest of the story as found there such as rather than go down a rabbit hole of who may or may not have dropped, maybe, a bomb at some point or who recognized the two ships for what they were and knew they were not attacking a carrier and a cruiser:

“It took some time for the Japanese to realize the mistake the Shokaku scouts had made. A crisis for them began at 0902, when they received word from the strike leader, Lieutenant Commander Takahashi Kakuichi, that all he could see was an oiler and a destroyer. The Japanese commanders assumed he had found a support group trailing behind the previously reported carriers. Takahashi was instructed to maintain contact, but also to commence an area search for the U.S. strike force. This was a perfectly rational decision, but as each minute passed, continuing that search became less and less rational, as the evidence mounted that the U.S. carrier force was elsewhere. It took the Japanese commanders until 1051 to issue a recall, and Takahashi hesitated another 21 minutes before ordering his torpedo bombers and fighters back to their carriers. Thirty-six dive bombers—Aichi D3A “Vals”—including Takahashi’s command aircraft, remained behind.

“Phillips knew an attack was coming. Neosho lookouts spotted the Shokaku scouts at 0740, soon after their first sighting report. But the commander assumed the aircraft were friendly. It was only when the main Japanese strike arrived just before 0900 that his doubts mounted, and they were confirmed not long thereafter: “At 0929, a bomb was seen to fall about one hundred yards on the starboard quarter of the SIMS.” The “bomb” was most likely a target marker dropped by Takahashi’s Val. The Sims, whose main battery of five 5-inch/38-caliber guns was capable of engaging Takahashi’s high-flying bomber, opened fire but scored no hits.

“At 1003, Takahashi decided to replenish the smoke marker he had dropped more than an hour before. Ten Japanese aircraft overflew the two-ship formation, and three of them dropped target markers. This attack was reported in a message so brief and uninformative that Fletcher, hundreds of miles to the northwest, could have done nothing to help, even if he had had the time and resources to do so; in fact, he had neither. The Yorktown and TF 17’s second carrier, the Lexington (CV-2), were launching strikes that would result in the sinking of the light carrier Shoho.

“At 1126, Takahashi’s dive bombers began their attack on the two U.S. ships. The attack was methodical and extremely effective, spanning nearly a half hour. Most of the attackers concentrated their attention on the Neosho; the Sims was not targeted until almost 15 minutes into the attack. But once the Japanese set their sights on the destroyer, they made quick work of her. The senior surviving crewman, Chief Signalman R. J. Dicken, had swum out to a motor whaleboat that had broken loose after the Sims received three bomb hits aft in rapid succession. He was steering the boat aft to check conditions there when the destroyer’s boilers exploded and the ship broke in two. The Sims sank so rapidly that very few of her men made it off the ship before she disappeared. Between the boat he conned and two life rafts he found with a few more survivors, Dicken was able to bring a total of 15 men over to the Neosho, where he put himself and his men at Commander Phillips’ disposal. Approximately 180 officers and men went down with the Sims.

Points to be made are
- Original report was made at 0736
- By 0830 CinCPac evidently had a translated copy and was aware that Neosho and Sims were in danger
- A second reconnaissance plane, a B5N, sent to the location to confirm the original sighting report recognized that the two US ships were not a carrier and its consort.
- There is no evidence that whoever dropped a single bomb near Sims at 0900 was the original reconnaissance plane from the first contact two hours before and, from the article you cite, was probably a smoke maker and not a bomb at all, and if a marker, was not dropped by the original reconnaissance plane but by the Japanese strike leader.
Sorry, I meant SBD, my mistake. According to "Destined for glory" (https://www.amazon.com/Destined-Glory-B ... 159114969X) the SBDs would carry a single 500 pdr bomb on scouting flights.

As for the 0900 attack, it is in an article of the Naval Institute, here https://www.usni.org/magazines/naval-hi ... 877e154783.

But yes, you are right that after that single bomb (which wrecked a boat, so I would not deem it a smoke marker) the attack came. The only conclusion that can be reached is that the plane was not the recon one.
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