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Date: Monday, 24 August 1942
Place: Eastern Solomons, Solomon Islands
Photographer: Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Marion Riley
A Japanese bomb exploding on the flight deck of USS Enterprise (CV-6), just aft of the island, on 24 August 1942. According to the original photo caption, this explosion killed the photographer, Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Robert F. Read. However, Morison's "History of U.S. Naval Operations in World War II" (volume 5, page 97) states that Read was killed by the bomb that had earlier hit the after starboard 5"/38 gun gallery, which can be seen burning in the upper left. Morison further states that the bomb seen here exploded with a low order detonation, inflicting only minor damage. One of the most famous images of the Pacific War - a bomb caught at the instant it exploded on the Big E's flight deck during the Eastern Solomons battle - has long been attributed to Photographer's Mate Second Class Robert Frederic Read. Read lost his life during the battle of 24 August 1942 and it is widely believed that his final photo was of the bomb that killed him. While outwardly plausible, the story contradicts the historical record. Enterprise's action report for 24 August 1942 indicates that four photographers were in action during the afternoon attack. Ralph Baker (PhoM 1/c) and Read both operated still cameras: Baker from a point forward of the island, Read from the aft starboard 5" gun gallery, at flight deck level. Marion Riley (PhoM 2/c) manned a motion picture camera from the aft end of the ship's island, above the flight deck. W. Edward Smith (PhoM 2/c) was stationed in the Air Plot, also in the ship's island. Read, the action report states, photographed the enemy planes as they attacked and were shot down. The first bomb to strike the ship did not deter him, but the second bomb destroyed the gun platform were Read was stationed. Read was killed instantly by this bomb, along with 37 other men. The bomb exploding in the photo was the third to hit the ship, and was photographed from above the flight deck. Torpedo Ten photographer Joe Houston recently contacted both Smith and Riley's son, Marion Riley III. Ed Smith indicated, and Mr. Riley confirmed, that the photo is Marion Riley's. Riley's camera was damaged by the explosion, but the film survived. A dramatic sequence of stills from the film was published in Life Magazine months after the battle. Read's legacy is not diminished by this revelation. It appears that at least one of Read's photos survives to this day: that of an enemy plane burning on the sea while the Big E races by just yards away. The ship's rail, the curve of the hull, and the angle of the shot all indicate this photo was taken from the aft starboard quarter of the ship, where Read was stationed. More of Read's photos probably languish in the archives, waiting only for proper identification.
Official U.S. Navy Photograph 80-G-17489, now in the collections of the National Archives