- Header: Coral Sea, 7 May 1942 – American dive-bombers and torpedo planes deliver the Sinking News to IJN carrier Shoho
- Active Pages: Bibliography: Outline/Structure; Bibliography…1870-1918; Bibliography: key to cited periodicals
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- Feature Essay
Feature Essay in Memoriam:
Adm. Frank Jack Fletcher, his Sailors and Aviators – In Desperate Battle, February-September, 1942
Midway, 3-7 June 1942: Luck is the Residue of Design
“The God of Operations…has spawned a monster”
– Japanese staff officer, re Yamamoto’s Midway battle plan
Having PR’d their Coral Sea debacle as yettanother victory, Admiral Yamamoto and his staff learn none of the lessons that an honest appreciation of defeat can teach. Instead, they amplify the mistakes: yettanother operation – this time aimed at seizing Midway Island (with a view to taking the American Pacific bastion on Oahu later in year 1942) while co-incidentally attacking Dutch Harbor in Alaska and storming Attu and Kiska Islands (with a view to blocking an already climatologically impossible American invasion of Japan from Arctic waters) and, just incidentally, if any American aircraft carriers dare show themselves, sinking them too – with too many moving parts, too many simultaneous objectives, and a radical, potentially fatal dispersion of force. Yamamoto’s monster, sprawled all over the North and Central Pacific, as might be seen from outer space:
Turning his 3-eyed gaze from north to south, our astonished alien flyby sees the “Kiska Occupation Force” (2 transports with 500 troops, 700 construction workers) leaving harbor on the night of 26/27 May; the “Attu Occupation Force” (1,200 troops in 2 transports) leaving harbor about 24 hours prior; Adm. Hosogaya’s “2nd Mobile Task Force” (carriers Ryujo and Junyo, Adm. Kakuta in command, with 2 heavy cruisers), which intends to flatten Dutch Harbor then provide air support for the Attu/Kiska troop landings, setting forth on 24/25 May; the “Main Force” (superbattleship Yamato, a.k.a the Admiral’s Yacht, with Yamamoto himself on the bridge, plus 6 more battleships [4 of which + 2 light cruisers and 4 fleet oilers will later peel off northward as the “Aleutian Support Force”], + light carrier Hosho, 2 seaplane carriers, and 14 destroyers), all departing 27/28 May; the “Carrier Striking Force” (Adm. Nagumo, with 4 heavy carriers [CarDiv 1: Akagi, Kaga; CarDiv2: Hiryu, Soryu], + 2 battlecruisers, 2 heavy cruisers, 12 destroyers, and 5 fleet oilers), which intends to launch aircraft against Midway and then erase whatever American naval units appear, sortieing on 25/26 May; Adm. Kondo’s “Midway Occupation Force”, comprising a “Covering Group” (light carrier Zuiho, 2 battlecruisers, 2 cruisers, 8 destroyers, 4 fleet oilers), a “Close Support Group” (4 heavy cruisers, 2 destroyers, 1 fleet oiler), whose purpose it is to bombard Midway Island in preparation for landing troops, and a “Transport Group” (12 troop transports and freighters carrying c. 5,000 officers and men + naval construction workers and etc., 2 seaplane carriers, + 1 light cruiser and 11 destroyers), all making wakes on 27/28 May from bases in southern Japan, Saipan, and Guam.
Interestingly, in a letter to his – fatally ill – wife written on May 27th, Admiral Yamamoto isn’t exactly brimming with good cheer and confidence:
How did you feel on your way home after using up all your energy to come so far to see me in your present condition?….Just as you’re struggling with with the misfortunes you’ve taken on yourself for my sake, I myself will devote all my energy to fulfilling my duty to my country to the very end – and then I want us to escape from the world to be really alone together….On the morning of the 28th we leave for battle, and I’ll be at sea in command of the whole force for about three weeks. Not that I’m expecting very much of it. Now comes the crucial time….
“to the very end”….”escape from the world”….”alone together”….in death? A bad planner, but with some degree of prescience. Yamamoto will never see his wife alive again, and in less than a year will join her in death. Tamon Yamaguchi, the most intelligent and aggressive of Japan’s admirals and commanding CarDiv 2 from Hiryu, is also unhappy with “The Plan” and, upon leaving home, remarks to his wife,
We are going to a place the enemy is familiar with – I may not get back this time.(1)
Equally disturbed is Temeichi Hara, c/o of destroyer Amatsukaze, part of a squadron which is slated to escort the troop transports:
….sweeping reassignments come for most of my crew. Practically all my officers and half the petty officers and men are transferred. Every day sees my experienced crewmen leaving for new ships and new officers and recruits arriving to replace them. Such changes are going on throughout the Navy. I cannot imagine what the High Command is thinking. My trained crew is being broken up and I resent it. Other skippers feel the same way. It will take at least two months to drill this conglomeration of new men into shape….When the Midway operation plan is revealed on May 20th, I think the High Command must have lost its mind. This surprising news is whispered to me by at the Kure Naval Station by Rear Admiral Raizo Tanaka. I gasp, “What does this mean…? Are we going to conduct it with this crew?” “Sshhhh….”, says Tanaka dispiritedly. “As a matter of fact I am not sure about it. I hope it’s untrue.”(2)
Admiral Nagumo, though, has a more sanguine view of the situation:
…the enemy lacks fighting spirit….He will be unaware of our presence in the area and will remain so until after our attacks on Midway. It is assumed there are no enemy carriers in the waters adjacent to Midway.(3)
Years later, this will be called “Victory Disease”…for which Nagumo, at least, may be reasonably excused. For 6 months, his 4-to-6 carrier Main Body, officers, sailors, and aviators, have swept all before them and at relatively small loss: Pearl Harbor (apparently) devastated, Rabaul hammered in January and the East Indies seized, and in February – just to give the Australians a brush of the Iron Sleeve – Port Darwin pulverized. Further, in March-April, during the Indian Ocean Raid, Nagumo and Co. struck at Colombo and Trincomalee, and concurrently routed the British Eastern Fleet, sending it scurrying back to African shores in bloody defeat.(4) A defeat that signals the end of the seapower-based Brit Empire, and the imminent struggle between Japan and America for global hegemony on a planetary surface that’s 70% water. Nagumo knows, in particular, that his aviators – dive-bomber pilots, torpedo-plane crews, Zero fighter pilots – are at the moment the world’s best long-range strategic striking force and working with generally excellent equipment. If they can get off the carrier decks and hit first, nothing and no one can stand against them. Moreover, Nagumo has – so far – shorted the skills of his own airmen: at Pearl Harbor and Indian Ocean, he stopped just short of strategic victory, settling for mere tactical triumph, then ran back to Japan. This time he means to release the valkyries. Who are likewise confident. After CarDiv 5’s (Zuikaku, Shokaku) so-called “victory” against the Americans in the May 4-7 Coral Sea battle, a motto makes the rounds in CarDivs 1 (Akagi, Kaga) and 2 (Hiryu, Soryu):
if the sons of the concubine can triumph, the sons of legal wives will find no rivals in the world(5)
One of these skillful ship-killers is Juzõ Mori, a less profound but war-honed Kate torpedo-bomber pilot aboard Soryu. He describes the departure and first several days at sea:
On the 26th of May, after a solid month of training and comprehensive maintenance on our planes we return to Soryu, now at anchor in the Bungo Strait….After a month away it feels great to back in our floating home. When we gather in the Pilots’ ready-room our orders are waiting: “on the morrow the carrier strike force will depart Hashirajima on the Inland Sea to attack Midway Island….after air supremacy is established, transports will land troops on the Island. After the airfield has been taken and repaired, some of our fighters will deploy there. With the occupation of Midway complete, the Strike Force will go to Truk, where our planes will be serviced. We will then return the waters around Midway where a decisive battle can be expected with the American Pacific Fleet. After destroying that fleet, we will launch another attack on Hawaii. The Midway attack is merely the first skirmish in a grand plan.”
Next day the fleet steams grandly out into the Pacific…our slogan for the coming operation is “High Spirits for Certain Victory”. A day later we are enveloped in thick clouds and mist….although this eliminates any worries about being detected by enemy aircraft, the days of gloomy weather get us down…Back on the fantail, where pilots gather to smoke, various remarks are made….”After we clobbered them in Hawaii they’ll be out for revenge. This time we’re in for a real fight”….”Express train to the Yasukuni Shrine will be leaving from Midway”….”and the first passengers will be the torpedo plane crews!”
Since our departure from Japan on the 27th we spend every day in the hangers below decks with the mechanics working on our planes….Even for the first few days of June, the sky remains foggy and overcast….”.(6)
Meanwhile, after some intricate maneuvers in the sunny South Pacific, Adm. Bill Halsey’s Task Force 16 – carriers Hornet and Enterprise plus escorting cruisers and destroyers – which missed the Coral Sea battle thanks to the Mid-April “Tokyo Raid”, a strategically pointless and near-disastrous American PR operation – flies off its air groups and returns to Pearl Harbor on May 26th:
Clay Fisher, a dive-bomber pilot with Hornet‘s VS-8, lands on solid ground and finds that
all our pilots and aircrew are restricted to station. Why? It’s hard to describe the mental pressure we are under. We know we are going into battle….How many of us will survive? And now we are deprived of a chance for a little mental relaxation. It just doesn’t seem fair as I watch air station personnel going off base on liberty. That evening bottles of whisky are given to the pilots to pacify us. After a few become inebriated, they end up wrestling on the lava cinders and having a couple fist fights. No one seriously hurt, but next morning there are faces with with skin abrasions and some black eyes.(7)
Led by Lt.-Cdr. Stanhope Ring…
…a courageous but edgy blueblood with authority issues and not the best of aviators, the pilots and gunners of Hornet‘s dive-bomber (VB-8, VS-8) torpedo (VT-8), and fighter (VF-8) squadrons are unhappy warriors. And green too, their new-to-the-Pacific carrier having done nothing but lug B-25’s during the TR. Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher’s TF-17, meanwhile, is returning from a brutal fight in Australian waters – the 4-7 May Coral Sea battle – but not without untoward incident along the way.
For on May 12th America’s unhappy, desk-bound in D.C. Naval C-in-C Ernest J. King comes up with the Mother of All Bad Ideas: he “suggests” that both Fletcher and Halsey fly off all their aircraft to southwestern Pacific land airbases at New Caledonia and Fiji in order to counter a proximate (actually, not yet existent) Japanese “threat” in this direction. If done, this will rusticate Fletcher – always a major goal with desk-warrior King – and in effect knock out 3 of America’s 4 remaining Pacific heavy carriers. And at the worst possible time, since the next real IJN thrust is in fact north and west toward Alaska and Midway-Hawaii. One doesn’t lightly disregard a “suggestion” from Ernie King, though, and it takes all of Nimitz’ considerable political and Task Force handling skills to get Enterprise and Hornet, then Yorktown, back to Pearl with their air groups officially if not – as with Yorktown – numerically intact.(8)
Though the Coral Sea battle was a major strategic victory, saving Port Moresby and its 7 airfields from the Japanese – not to mention the rest of New Guinea and preventing Jap airstrikes on Australia’s northeast coast military bases, as well as sinking one IJN carrier and knocking 2 others out of the next battle – carrier Lexington has been lost, fleet tanker Neosho and destroyer Sims also erased by the Japanese, while another destroyer, Aylwin, is suffering recurrent miseries after being near-missed by a Japanese dive-bomber. Richard Epps, a very ordinary sailor who knows something about sonar, records that
as we approach Pearl Harbor, our fathometer fails and I’m asked to fix it. I obtain the instruction manual and try to puzzle out the problem when a messenger from the bridge comes down and says the captain wants to see me immediately. When I get to the bridge, he says “fix the fathometer right away or I’ll break you”. Says I, “you can’t do that.”
He explodes and says, “What do you mean I can’t do that?”
“I’m just an apprentice seaman.”
The captain then turns to his officer-of-the-deck and says, “get the executive officer up here, get the communication officer up here, get the chief yeoman up here.”. Then he turns to me and says, “Stand right there.” By this time I’m beginning to sweat…
When they all arrive he turns to them and says, “I am going to rate this sailor Radioman Third Class right now,” and turning to me he says, “now I can break you…fix my fathometer.”(9)
Yorktown is rather more heavily damaged: 62 crewmen dead, both dive-bomber squadrons decimated, bomb holes in the deck, blasted innards, and leaking oil. According to the Official Report,
a 551-pound armor-piercing bomb plunged through the flight deck 15 feet inboard of her island and penetrated 50 feet into the ship before exploding above the forward engine room. 6 compartments destroyed,
as are the lighting systems on 3 decks across 24 frames. Gears controlling #2 elevator damaged. Radar and refrigeration knocked out. Near misses by 8 bombs opened hull seams from frames 100 to 130 and ruptured the fuel oil compartments….(etc.)(10)
In ordinary circumstances, three months repair in drydock might make her combat-ready. But the Americans are fast running out of time: thanks to Joe Rochefort and his code-breaking team at Pearl, they know that most of the IJN is heading east, aimed at Midway and the Aleutians, and will appear over the event horizon in just a few days. So the C-in-C Pacific, Adm. Nimitz, allows just 72 hours to do what can be done. He also suspends the usual purge of aviation fuel/fumes, a fearful risk with sparks flying around and, in order to power the repair crews, subjects the city of Honolulu to rolling daytime blackouts. Jasper Holmes, one of Rochefort’s analysts, notes that
as soon as Yorktown is within flight range, the repair superintendent and the master shipfitter, with a team of navy yard planners and estimators, flies south to meet her. As the carrier rounds Hospital Point at 1430 on 28 May the big Ten Ten drydock is ready to receive her. I went down to the dock that night to see her under floodlights that turn night into day in blacked-out Hawaii. Every welding machine in Oahu has been marshaled at the dock…..Time is running out. Estimates when the Japs will attack, based on plot and assumed speed of advance, vary from the first to the tenth of June. In the un-decrypted 10% of the Japanese warning order lies the answer, concealed by an unsolved internal time-date cipher….Finnegan enlists Ham Wright’s aid in an all-out attack on it. They work all night and on into the next day, drawing in Dyer and Rochefort. Next morning, Admiral Nimitz sends for Rochefort. Rochefort delays….finally Wright announces that 4 June is the date set for the attack on Midway, and 3 June for the air strike on Dutch Harbor. Rochefort immediately challenges Ham’s conclusions. When satisfied that Wright has the best answers, he shucks his old red smoking jacket and carpet slippers, changes into a fresh khaki uniform, and reports to Nimitz.(11)
While the code-breakers continue their last-minute struggle with the IJN ciphers, Bernard Petersen, an aviation machinist and torpedo-plane gunner with Saratoga‘s Air Group 3, now coming aboard to replace most of Yorktown‘s chewed-up squadrons (only VB-5 and part of VF-42 are retained), helps
rush all of our support equipment from Kaneohe to Ford Island and begin hauling supplies, tools, and personal equipment aboard on our backs. This goes on around the clock…making our way through an obstacle course. Yard workers by the hundred swarm everywhere, performing miracles in battle-damage repair. Hoses, cables, ladders, acetylene torches…sparks light up the night and add to the tense eeriness of the moment. I talk to members of the Yorktown crew and they are really bent out of shape…promised liberty as soon as they hit Pearl. One hundred days plus at sea is a long stretch, but they accept it and pitch in when told they’ll be going stateside after this one.(12)
Yorktown crewman Bill Surgi finds himself
drilling wooden pegs of different shapes and sizes for all the shrapnel holes in the hull and fuel and water tanks, then we drive them in with sledgehammers to make her watertight. In the spaces below decks where bombs went off, we put in big timbers and weld cross-beams to shore up decks and bulkheads. Nobody gets shore leave…we have shipyard workers on board and our working parties go at it around the clock. Nobody sleeps. To fix bomb-holes in the flight deck, they hoist aboard huge steel plates and we fasten them down with metal spikes. The ship isn’t what I’d call seaworthy, but the flight deck is operational.(13)
Aboard Enterprise, ammunition handler Alvin Kernan is among the 2,000+ sailors
back in Pearl. Halsey, who’s been standing for weeks on the bridge in his skivvy shorts trying to cool an allergic rash that covers his body – he must be more nervous than he appears – goes ashore to hospital. He has become a hero to the crew, for no apparently good reason except that he’s familiar, so his departure seems ominous. Nimitz comes aboard, and we all stand to quarters to watch medals being handed to various worthies….time in port is short and filled with all-hands details provisioning the ship, refilling the magazines, getting stores and fuel aboard. Bright floodlights burn all night as one lighter after another comes alongside, while workmen from the yard install new guns and equipment. But for once no one complains and excitement shines in the men’s eyes.(14)
With several of C-in-C U.S. Fleet/CNO Adm. Ernest J. King’s local headhunters(15) agitating for his removal, Fletcher is called into a quick face-to-face with the C-in-C Pacific. After stopping along the way for some liquid fortification, Frank Jack makes a strong case for his conduct of the Coral Sea battle, and Nimitz decides to retain him in overall command-at-sea for the coming confrontation, aboard Yorktown with TF-17. Halsey, who is indeed suffering from combat fatigue and a debilitating skin ailment, has to enter hospital for treatment; probably a large break for the Americans, as otherwise Nimitz would certainly have placed bull-in-china-shop Halsey in overall comand instead of Fletcher, who is the right combination of caution and aggression for this time and place.(16) Unfortunately, Halsey strongarms Nimitz into giving TF-16 to his (non-aviator) cruiser commander, Adm. Raymond Spruance…a personal blow to Hornet‘s plankholder (and pioneer aviator #33) c/o, Captain Marc Mitscher who, reasonably enough, considers himself the right man for TF-16; an attitude only reinforced a couple days later when, as a sop, Nimitz promotes Mitscher to Rear Admiral. And, though he brings Fletcher and Spruance together in conference to coordinate planning, Nimitz does not entirely subordinate Spruance – who has zero experience commanding carriers in combat, but will now have 2 carriers under his direct authority – to the battle-tested Fletcher. A more effective command arrangement, would be a single, 3-carrier TF commanded by Fletcher, with Spruance leading the cruiser/destroyer force, and Fletcher in direct communication with all 3 carrier captains. But due to the realities of military politics this does not happen; as it happens, Nimitz knighting Halsey’s favorite has disastrous potentials. And considerable time and energy is wasted fending off Washington D.C., where Ernie King and his ace code-breakers (principally, the notorious Redman brothers, using magic decoder rings found in crackerjack boxes) insist the real Japanese target is not Midway but the fleshpots of Hollywood.
The Japanese, for their part, are interested in the whereabouts of the remaining American carrier or carriers; though only mildly so. This because Yamamoto believes they have sunk not one but two in the Coral Sea battle, and Nimitz has foxed his opposite number by leaving cruiser Salt Lake City in the area broadcasting bogus messages using the call sign of carrier #3.(17) Since 4 – 3 = 1, Nippon suspects there can be no more than one American carrier in Hawaiian waters. And quite possibly none at all: because, after the Tokyo Raid, Nimitz had TF-16 dodge about within range of Japanese South Pacific recon planes long enough to be spotted…then quickly yanked away. Adm. Matome Ugaki, Yamamoto’s Chief-of-Staff and now aboard battleship Yamato heading east toward Midway Atoll, makes an entry in his diary for
28 May….according to a radio intercept, an enemy sub ahead of our Transport Force has dispatched a long, urgent message to Midway….it will surely serve to alert the enemy….another intercept indicates that enemy planes and subs in the Aleutian Islands, Hawaiian Islands and the central Pacific are engaged in brisk activities. Exchange of urgent messages at a very unusual rate. Certain indications make me suspect that they are taking countermeasures against our suspected movement….premature discovery might lead to a showdown with an enemy force, which is rather welcome. Be that as it may, for the time being there is no need to change our plan.(18)
Nonetheless, in an effort to confirm, two further reconnaissance efforts – both involving submarines – are put in motion. One involves French Frigate Shoals, located along the Hawaii-Midway line and about 400 miles west of Pearl Harbor. Having used the Shoals as a sub-based refueling point for a couple of long-range Marianas-based 4-engined flying boats in March, in order to scatter a few bombs around the hills above Honolulu to no good effect, Yamamoto will try it again…this time to get a looksee at the harbor and adjacent waters. But, precisely because of prior stupid gambit, Nimitz has this one covered too: the Americans have now stationed one of their own PBY units there, together with a fuel tender. Yasuo Fujimori, c/o of I-121, describes the consequent debacle:
We leave Japan on 2 April, 1942, with a load of 40 tons of aviation fuel and oil for servicing our flying boats…at French Frigate Shoals in connection with their scouting operations for our attack on Midway. We proceed via the Marshall Islands and arrive there on 25 May; our flying boats are scheduled to rendezvous with us between 24 May and 31 May for refueling. Upon arrival I sight a small seaplane tender in the anchorage and observe American patrol seaplanes in the area most of the day. We have to remain submerged during the day, but at night I surface and report the situation to our base at Kwajalein. We have no direct radio communication with our planes, but since they do not appear during the time we spent in the vicinity of the shoals, I presume base instructed them to cancel the operation.(19)
Ten more Japanese submarines sortie several days later, scheduled to arrive around Oahu on June 3rd; plenty of time, thinks Yamamoto, to scope (and attack) any American carriers issuing from Pearl Harbor; I-164 and its 80-man crew, caught running on the surface off the coast of Japan on 17 May by American sub Triton, will never arrive. Meanwhile, 1,100 miles to the East, on Midway Island, an Army Air Force B-17 heavy bomber group (19 planes) takes up residence, and the dive-bomber squadron (VMSB-241) of Marine Air Group 22 (via airplane transport vessel USS Kittyhawk) receives an additional 19 SBD-2 Dauntless dive-bombers with 22 “mostly brand new” pilots and gunners(20):
Upon 27 May arrival we are greeted by remarks indicating that we are “just in time” for something. Doesn’t bother us….Next morning Major Henderson at squadron briefing lets us know the Japs are due, and we do a little more thinking on the matter. The greenest group ever assembled for combat includes 2nd Lieutenants George Lumpkin, E.P. Thompson, George Koutdas, D.L. Cummins, myself, Jack Cosley, Ken Campion, Orvin Ramlo, and James Marmande….
None of us have ever flown a Vindicator dive-bomber, so we check it out….with no more than a couple ground loops (and) we all make two or three dives with practice bombs. Mighty little prep for the job at hand.(21)
Jack McGuckin, a Midway-based SBD pilot, finds himself
lying on a makeshift bunk eight feet underground and 1,300 miles from the nearest civilization…I wonder how many nights I will spend here and under what circumstances I’ll leave. I open my eyes into total darkness and feel dizzy, waves of vertigo washing over me and sit up in a cold sweat. “Anybody else awake?” I ask….”Yeah, I can’t sleep either”, comes a reply, and five other dive-bomber pilots grunted in agreement….Leaning out of my bunk, wave my arm around in the air until I find the string for a naked light bulb that hangs from the ceiling. A quick yank dispells the darkness….I glance at the huge timbers that hold back the seeping coral on all sides and above us…the rough boards on the floor are damp and under water in places and the walls and ceiling are wet and dripping….Next morning when I come up out of the hole I’m blinded by the glare of the sun reflecting off white coral. “So this is Midway Island”, I think as I walk down one of the two runways that cross near the middle….barely long enough for take-off with a bomb load. Things are complicated by the goony birds. Thousands of them are engaged in mating dances or sitting on eggs. Others fly up and down the runway, getting in the way of our planes which chop them to pieces. The metalsmiths are kept busy patching planes damaged in combat with the birds. They’re really albatrosses, and I’m reminded of Coleridge’s “Rhyme of The Ancient Mariner.” Standing on top of the dugout, I wonder it it’s indeed bad luck to kill one. There certainly is “water, water everywhere”, as I survey the vast expanse of ocean in all directions. There are no trees, only a small shrub that covers the island like two-day stubble….our Dauntless dive-bombers do look formidable half-hidden in their revetments. The ugly bombs slung underneath the planes might hold the enemy back, but for how long? No profit in such speculation, so I continue my tour and end at the squadron ready-room, another hole in the ground….(22)
In addition to the B-17’s and Marine dive-bombers (11 semi-obsolete Vindicators, + the newer Dauntlesses), Midway’ s air component also includes 4 dual torpedo-carrying USAAF B-26 twin-engine medium bombers; the 27 single-engine fighters (20 antique Brewster F2A-3 Buffaloes, + 7 newer F4F-Wildcats) of VMF-221; 6 fresh-from-the-factory TBF torpedo-bombers with crews that arrived just too late to join VT-8 on Hornet; and 37 long-range PBY Catalina recon patrol planes. A motley-but-dangerous menagerie on what amounts to an unsinkable aircraft carrier. Next day, TF-16’s two sinkable carriers – with a strong escort of 5 heavy cruisers, 1 antiaircraft cruiser, and 9 destroyers – having quickly provisioned and fueled, sortie from Pearl Harbor and head northwest toward “Point Luck” an aptly-named, hoped-for ambush position c. 300 miles north and east of Midway. This is TF-16’s Order of Battle:
in command: Rear Admiral Raymond Spruance
- Enterprise, c/o Capt. George Murray; Air Group led by Lt. Cdr. Clarence McClusky: VB-6 (19 SBD-Dauntless divebombers led by Lt. Richard Best); VS-6 (19 SBD-Dauntless divebombers led by Lt. Wilmer Gallaher); VT-6 (14 TBD-Devastator torpedo-planes led by Lt. Cdr. Eugene Lindsey); and VF-6 (27 F4F-Wildcat fighters led by Lt. James Gray)
- Hornet, c/o Capt. Marc Mitscher; Air Group led by Lt. Cdr. Stanhope Ring: VB-8 (19 SBD-Dauntless divebombers led by Lt. Cdr Robert Johnson); VS-8 (18 SBD-Dauntless divebombers led by Lt. Cdr. Walter Rodee); VT-8 (15 TBD-Devastator torpedo-planes led by Lt. Cdr. John Waldron); and VF-8 (27 F4F-Wildcat fighters led by Lt. Cdr. Samuel Mitchell)
- New Orleans
Press correspondent Bob Casey, a no-nonsense vet of the Meuse-Argonne inferno in WW1 and witness to Halsey’s Marshall Islands and Tokyo raids from Salt Lake City, now finds himself aboard Northampton:
28 May, Thursday….out of harbor at 8:30 AM, at 9 heading out through the slot. The day turning out well, cool enough. Calm, sleepy atmosphere broken only by black bursts from Fort Weaver ack-ack ominously thumping off our port bow. Apparent now that we’re going northwest and best thought on the subject suggests that we are headed for a slugging match.
Enterprise and Hornet air groups come aboard later in the day. The latter’s dive-bomber, torpedo-plane, and fighter squadrons land without a hitch; as do the Enterprise pilots, with one unlikely exception: when Lt.-Cdr. Lindsey’s Devastator hits Enterprise‘s deck, the plane bounces then slides overboard. Plane-guard destroyer Monaghan quickly rescues all 3 crewmen, but pilot Lindsey
is severely injured and in great pain, with cracked spine and faced smashed against the instrument panel.
29 May, Friday….at sea, calm, cooler. This morning an announcement to officers on watch that we will shortly contact an enemy who is traveling in great strength. According to the best information the Japs have mustered many carriers and battleships, a large number of cruisers and countless destroyers. As usual we seem to be holding the short end of the stick – this time shorter than usual. We muster two carriers, a few cruisers, and a handful of destroyers to face an armada, meeting it with a fly swatter and a prayer. Today heading almost due west, tomorrow we will be in waters north of Midway…already in their patrol zone. A B-17 passed over us today. Well, we might sit here and fret but, while our assets may be slim, they are good. So let’s think in a grand fashion….This is our great opportunity.(23)
The American Admirals think so too, and at noon on the 29th Spruance chairs a conference attended by his staff, Air Group Commander, and the Enterprise divebomber, torpedo, and fighter squadron leaders. Among them Richard Best of VB-6:
He lays out the whole plan of the Jap attack, including that they will hit the Aleutians on June 3rd…not only gives the names of their carriers – Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, Hiryu – but also mentions a battleship unit coming up from the southwest and a transport unit with troops that will land on Midway….The carriers will strike from the northwest, at daybreak on June 4th. This is all hard to believe. Our submarines cannot possibly have observed all Spruance tells us, because he gives their battleship and cruiser division numbers, even the names of ships. When the briefing is complete, he asks for questions. I speak up boldly, “Admiral, suppose they don’t hit Midway but keep on going and hit Honolulu or Pearl again?” I have a wife and four-year-old daughter there. Spruance regards me silently…then says, “Well, we just hope they won’t.”(24)
Next day is is largely uneventful for TF-16, at least as seen from Northampton:
30 May, Saturday…at sea, northeast of Midway. Cold and a little gray. Finagle about all day to no apparent purpose and it gets colder and grayer.(25)
Not so at Pearl Harbor where, at daybreak (and three days ahead of Yamamoto’s submarines) TF-17 is ready to come out. Its Order of Battle:
in command: Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher
- Yorktown, c/o Capt. Elliot Buckmaster; Air Group led by Lt. Cdr Oscar Pedersen: VB-3 (18 SBD-Dauntless divebombers led by Lt. Cdr Max Leslie); VS5 (19 SBD-Dauntless divebombers, brought in from Saratoga’s CV3 Air Group, led by Lt. Wallace Short); VT-3 (13 TBD-Devastator torpedo-planes led by Lt. Cdr. Lance Massey); and VF-3/42 (25 F4F-Wildcat fighters led by Lt. Cdr. John Thach)
Adm. William Ward Smith, commanding Yorktown‘s 8 escorts from flagship Astoria, admits that TF-17’s carrier
isn’t the ship she was, but her watertight integrity is restored and her air squadrons, reinforced by planes and pilots originally earmarked for Saratoga, are in top form….cruiser Chester with her reliable Captain Tom Shock is ferrying Fitch and his staff from Tongatabu to San Diego to form another TF with Sara as flag. We will miss the Chester and her antiaircraft guns….As Astoria gets underway and heads for the channel buoys, we receive a message from CINCPAC: “Captain W.G. Greenman reports for duty as relief of Captain Scanland.” Scanland, whose releif after Coral Sea was shunted to Portland, asks me, “What now?” My reply, since we’re well underway, is “well, Baldy, Nimitz has some fast boats. If he wants you relieved at this time, Greenman will catch up with us…if not, you are stuck with the cruise.” He answers, “that’s OK by me”. As we start the sortie, I notice heavy cruisers Indianapolis and Louisville slipping their moorings. They’re going to join Adm. Theobald and three light cruisers in the Aleutians…”(27)
Sad but true. Theobald is already in Alaskan waters with a force of 3 – soon to be 5 – cruisers and 4 destroyers. What CINCPAC hoped to accomplish by sending this little flotilla against a Japanese Northern Force of 2 carriers (with a sum total of 31 torpedo-planes, 21 dive-bombers, and 38 fighters), 4 battleships, 4 cruisers, and a dozen destroyers is not immediately obvious. Naval politics may be the answer: Theobald is an old friend of Adm. King’s, and King wants “the west coast” defended. Better, however, had these 9 American gunships gone with Fletcher’s carriers to augment anti-submarine and anti-aircraft protection; Yorktown‘s escort is particularly thin. TF-17, as recorded by Portland recon-floatplane pilot Ralph Wilhelm, gets
underway at 8:45…Yorktown, Astoria, 5 destroyers and our ship leaving Pearl but we don’t know what for. Fired our 5″ battery this morning, afternoon the 8″ turrets. Bob, Al, and I fly during the firing. Thought we might return to port this evening but at about 3 PM Yorktown’s planes come aboard so I know we are not going in. Now heading northwest on course 320 degrees at 19 knots…(28)
First to land are the 18 divebombers of VB-3. Then VS-5’s 19 divebombers settle in. VT-3’s 13 torpedo-planes are the last of the strike aircraft to arrive. All 50 of these fine pilots get their planes down smoothly and without incident. But, amidst all this lethal machinery, death is omnipresent even before battle. With radioman Ray Daves watching from Yorktown‘s bridge, Thach’s 25 Wildcats begin their landings. VF-3’s executive officer, Lt. Cdr. Don Lovelace, gets down first and he’s
still in the cockpit when the next plane approaches our carrier’s stern. Coming in hot, too fast….I can tell by the sound of the engine. The LSO tries to wave him off. I’m laughing when he drops his paddles and scrambles out of the way….Why doesn’t this pilot pull up and try again? He comes in so fast that his tail hook bounces over the arresting cables and then he plows through the last barrier, a rope net below the island. I brace for impact…this plane crashes into the plane that just landed, propeller blades cutting through the canopy and I watch them chop that pilot’s body into pieces as blood spatters across the flight deck….”. (29)
Thach, seen here (at right) with another of his doomed pilots…
…and the rest of Fighting 3 have little time to mourn the loss of the experienced and popular Lovelace.
That night, after we get everything buttoned up and are headed toward Midway, all pilots of the air group are brought into the wardroom. There Yorktown’s Air Officer briefs us on everything known about the oncoming Japanese forces and their intentions. We are all mighty impressed….If we can win this one, we may be able to stop the Japanese advance. (Later) we spend some time getting our ammunition ready, checking and re-checking each aircraft. Then I get word that the dive-bomber c/o and the commanding officer of VT-3 want to have a talk….Massey says I ought to stay up with the dive-bombers, “because that’s where the Zeros are going to be, where they were during the Coral Sea battle.” That’s the issue, whether my fighters should go with the dive-bombers or the torpedo-planes. I don’t have enough fighters to to split up and send a few with each….I reason that, since the Devastators at Coral Sea went in pretty much unopposed and got hits, the Japs will now be more concerned about them. So it’s finally decided that I will go with VT-3. But next morning Captain Buckmaster, the carrier’s c/o, decides that only 6 fighters can go. He wants to hold back as many as possible to defend the Yorktown.(30)
Aboard Northampton, Bob Casey greets
31 May, Sunday….at sea, northeast of Midway. Cool. Calm. Took on fuel this morning,
including lots of aviation gas, all of which is right under my bed. HQ – may its tribe increase – sent out a request today for somebody to take pictures of Jap battleships, etc., so that profiles in the spotting books can be corrected. Except for this odd communication, nothing to suggest that there is a war going on in the neighborhood.(31)
For Yorktown radioman Daves, the morrow is
a good day because I spend some free time with Mike Brazier…one of the new aviation radioman that hangs out with us. Not sure how we got to be such good buddies in such a short time. Maybe that’s just the way it is when you’re stuck together on a ship during a war, but I think Brazier and I would have been good friends anywhere. Ashore, we’d go for beer and play some pool….He’s got a girlfriend back home and shows me her picture, going to get married the next time he gets leave. But I’m more afraid for him than for myself, because he is also a rear-seat gunner on a torpedo-plane. By this time we all know the Devastator isn’t devastating at all…too slow. Carrying a 1,000 pound torpedo, it can barely do 100 miles per hour. But Brazier never indicates any fear. We don’t talk about it. But this day I know he isn’t concentrating very well when we play acey-deucy: I beat hims two times out of three.(32)
Correspondent Casey continues:
1 June, Monday…at sea, northeast of Midway. Cool and a bit foggy. Now really in Jap territory. We can tell by the condition watches and our daylight zig-zag. Odd that it seems so much like any other part of the Pacific. Our destroyers continue to chase after whales large and small, as if there aren’t plenty of Hirohito’s subs in the vicinity….
True enough. Because it’s just about now that most of the I-boats are passing south of Spruance’s 2 carriers, churning toward their futile watch station off Pearl Harbor.
…at noon, raining, a thick gray rain. Boots and saddles for launching our float planes. Then un-boots and saddles. About 2 PM an alarm: planes sighted to starboard. So our planes go out to look at them…Midway-based PBY’s. The aviators come in, red-faced from the wind and wet, their yellow rubber jackets dripping and shiny. “I was always a delicate kid,”, says pilot Tom O’Connell. “they used to wonder if I’d ever grow up. Now I wonder if I’ll live to see my 22nd birthday.”…”when is it?” someone says….”Thursday”.
2 June, Tuesday…at sea, northeast of Midway. At 1 PM the Yorktown arrives with two cruisers and an assortment of destroyers. This new force stays aloofly over toward the horizon on our starboard side, but they make a very inspiriting sight.(33)
And an overall noisy one, radio-wise. For some days now, Japanese traffic analysts at Wake Island and Kwajalein Atoll have noticed a rising spike in USN radio communications emanating from Pearl and alert Naval HQ in Tokyo. On June 3rd, HQ sends a warning to Yamamoto – now, with his battleships, trailing behind Nagumo by c. 300 miles – that there is a “strong likelihood” of American carriers lurking near Midway. Aboard Yamato,
the C-in-C receives the message and briefly considers relaying it to Nagumo; but one of his top staff officers, Kameto Kuroshima (a.k.a. “the god of operations”), talks him out of it. Neither wants to break radio silence, and both assume Nagumo, also an addressee, picks it up anyway. But the additional 300 miles of heavy, wet atmospherics tamp the signal. Nagumo does not get this fateful message.(34)
On 3 June, Fletcher closes the range, bringing his quasi-combined 3-carrier force somewhat southward and takes up ambush position c. 230 miles northeast of Midway Island. He intends to hit the Japanese flattops as soon as possible after they strike Midway. The Japanese, for their part, continue to steam confidently eastward…at least until early morning on the 3rd, when Midway-based PBY patrol planes spot Kondo’s invasion flotilla at c. 3 AM and keep shadowing. Though at first misidentifying it as Nagumo’s Main Body, they get off good contact reports as to course and distance, now c. 700 miles west of Midway and moving fast. Captain Hara, 3 hours later, aboard Amatsukaze:
0600 – we are 600 miles southwest of Midway. One enemy floatplane sighted a few miles ahead….no doubt notified Midway of our approach.
Shortly after 4 PM, a few Midway-based B-17’s arrive, dodge about in the clouds for awhile, then attack the Japanese troop transports and their escorts.
late afternoon…large planes appear from the south. Tanaka’s flagship Jintsu opens fire and the enemy aircraft withdraw. They return when the guns stop…Jintsu reopens fire. Again they disappear…unnerving to us as we have no air cover. At dusk they come back and attack head-on, identifiable as 9 B-17 Flying Fortresses.
Too right. For Lt.-Col. Walter Sweeney and his aircrews, it’s
the first attack any of us have made. At medium altitude because of the clouds, and anti-aircraft fire is soon spitting at us….far more accurate than we expected and our planes are bounced about a bit. We pick the biggest ships in sight as our targets. When they Japs spot us they immediately deploy, each ship turning individually, trying frantically to avoid attack. We lay our bombs in a pattern. Bombardiers and rear gunners report direct hits on a cruiser, one transport, and possibly a second cruiser. Frankly, we don’t stay around long to check up. AA fire is making things hot….(35)
Too wrong. Captain Hara watches as
All our destroyers open fire, throwing off the enemy’s timing. Bombs arcing down from the bombers fall 1,000 meters away. Then they turn around and withdraw, none hit by our shells.(36)
Lt. Genjirou Inui, an anti-tank gun platoon commander and member of Col. Ichiki’s detachment aboard troop transport Zenyu Maru, sees things from another angle:
…our destroyers sending up black smoke into a blue sky. Air raid….the convoy spreads out into battle formation while anti-aircraft crews man their guns. Nine enemy planes to starboard, attacking in three formations. AA opens fire, bombs falling….Huge columns of water erupt on both sides of Argentina Maru, but my transport is unscathed. Three minutes later…only the calm sound of our ship’s engines.(37)
While the high-altitude bomber attack proceeds and fails, another threadbare American improvisation is already underway. Four amphib PBY’s, modified to carry torpedoes, depart from Pearl Harbor and arrive around 3 PM. The already-tired crews, among them ensign Allan Rothenberg, are directed
to an underground bunker where we eat and are allowed two hours sleep before report to briefing. I ask myself, “briefing for what?”, but don’t let it sink in right away as I am bone-weary from the long flight in. When I arrive at the hanger there is an ordnance crew hanging a torpedo under the wing of my seaplane; why, I have no idea. At the 5 PM briefing, Captain Logan Ramsey announces that a Jap fleet is 750 miles west of Midway and expected to hit the island tomorrow morning. Our 4 PBY’s are to attack the enemy with torpedoes….Ramsey then advises it will be a “volunteer mission: Richards, Davis, Propst, and the little ensign standing in the back of the room.” In the shortest briefing of my navy career, he concludes, “depart at 2000 hours and you should intercept, flying a westerly course, about 550 miles from Midway….Find and attack!”
Lt. William Richards PBY and the other three patrol planes
take off after dark, wait for the Army bombers to return, then rendezvous with them and head for the position they give us by radio. We locate the enemy just as described – two columns of big vessels with small ones astern and on the flank. I make a wide circle to be sure the other planes have picked them up and then start down….no formation, each pilot on his own….no anti-aircraft fire….I get in close, let go the torpedo, and turn away…later my co-pilot says he saw two large flashes of light followed by an explosion and then heavy black smoke from the ship we attacked. ID it as a troop transport.(38)
the last plane off, delayed by a ladder that refuses to release, causing an additional time lag. As a result the other 3 PBY’s drop their torpedoes and are on the way out, leaving a hornet’s nest for me to wade through. But we drop, don’t wait to see results, and get out of there.(39)
Remarkably, one of these torpedoes
pierces the bow of oiler Akebono Maru, killing 11 sailors and injuring a dozen others. But watertight compartments hold and the tanker can keep pace with the slower troop transports. I am no longer uneasy. So far the attempts against our convoy have been feeble. Nagumo’s carriers will smash this pathetic enemy with sledge-hammer blows.(40)
On the same day and 1,000 miles to the northeast, Adm. Kakuta’s task force moves into position for its Alaskan strike; an attack which will succeed only in diverting two Japanese carriers from the Main Event. Due to the usual, ferocious weather conditions – almost perpetual cloud cover, ubiquitous fog, snow, ice, and frequent, unpredictable killer storms – that make this part of the planet so unsuitable for sustained, large-scale military operations, American patrol planes cannot locate the Japanese vessels…even though they know they’re around. So, shortly before 3 AM, Kakuta gets off two deckloads of Zero fighters, bomb-carrying Kate torpedo-planes…one of which, when Junyo plunges into a wave-trough, flies straight into the sea…and Val dive-bombers. But Junyo‘s planes get lost in thick, drifting mist, rain, ice-storms, and scattered blizzards, and have to turn back. As do some of Ryujo‘s. Along the way these aircraft encounter an American PBY returning from Umnak Island to Dutch harbor and administer some rough treatment:
we leave at 0300…and at daybreak run into a group of Japanese bombers and fighters. We turn into a cloudbank, and when we come out three or four Zeros are waiting for us….one lines up on our tail and starts shooting. I’m standing on the cat-walk just behind our pilot, Lt. Jean Cusick, facing starboard, drinking a cup of coffee. The cup is knocked out of my hand as bullets hit my sleeve and pant legs. Cusick and out co-pilot Morrison also hit. Both Cusick and Morrison are crushed by the pilot yokes when we hit the water…neither lives long after we get out of the aircraft. We are finally picked up by a Japanese cruiser after being in the water about four hours. Wylie Hunt, Joe Brown, and I are the only survivors of the nine men on our PBY.(41)
Adm. Theobald, meanwhile, has disregarded the intel briefing he got from Nimitz shortly before leaving Pearl Harbor. Apparently thinking that the actual Japanese target will be mainland Alaska, he’s taken his anemic assemblage of cruisers and destroyers up along the coast and is now 500 miles too far east to interfere with the Japanese Northern Force. Perhaps just as well, considering the overwhelming odds and the relative insignificance of the Japanese objectives. Press correspondent Keith Wheeler, aboard heavy cruiser Indianapolis:
morning…3 June, 1942. Our cruiser lies just south of the Aleutians, fumbling through pearl-gray fog so wet and dense you can scarcely see across the deck. I’m on the bridge, chatting with Captain Edward Hansen, the cruiser’s amiable skipper, when Mr. Gregerson, the communications officer, comes up from the com deck and hands a a typed flimsy to the captain. “There it is, sir,” he says quietly. Hansen reads the message, then hands it to me with a thin smile. It comes from the Navy radio at Dutch Harbor and the time group says 6 AM. It reads
enemy aircraft attacking(42)
As they are. Fourteen bomb-carrying Kates and three Zeros win through to Dutch Harbor and, considering the limited number, inflict substantial damage:
strafing and flaming moored PBY seaplanes, blasting army barracks, killing and wounding dozens of soldiers and sailors, while losing two Zeros to anti-aircraft fire. A second strike flies off early on June 4th, this time directed at American naval units in Makushin Bay. Through – can you believe it – worsening weather these Japanese pilots can’t find the primary target, and instead administer another superfluous beating to Dutch harbor. On the way back to their carriers they overfly the U.S. airbase at Umnak, where bored but eager Army Air Force pilots rise quickly to the occasion. Zenji Abe’s plane is
suddenly attacked by P-40’s from both sides. I throw my dive-bomber into a tight turn, and soon my group and the Americans are going at each other in circles….The low ceiling won’t allow the quick P-40’s to zoom down on our bombers, so I think I have a chance. Fight back against one of them, but another is firing at me. My comrade, Warrent-Officer Harano, chases after it. I notice another friend, Pilot Officer Numata, engaged in a dogfight about 300 meters above the sea in some low clouds, circling vertically, each trying to get on the other’s tail. A confusing melée, I’m sweating buckets and time seems to stand still even though it’s over in seconds….Our aircraft put up a good fight, but I see three trails of smoke going down and later find out both Harano and Numata were shot into the sea.(43)
In this brief, bloody encounter the Japanese lose 4 dive-bombers with their 2-man crews; a Zero is also shot down, as are to two American fighters, though one pilot manages to parachute into the freezing water and survive long enough to be rescued. A few hours earlier on June 4th and 1,600 miles to the south, aboard the the U.S. carriers, the strike-plane crews and fighter jockeys are awake just after midnight to a new day. Which, for many, will be their last. Frederick Mears, a back-up torpedo-plane pilot with Hornet‘s VT-8, is in the ready room with his squadron-mates at 1:30 AM….
….for the most part we sleep or drowse in the comfortable leather chairs, whose backs let down to recline. Between 3 and 4 AM some begin to yawn, wake up, talk a little. Down to breakfast in relays, two or three at a time….4:40…the keys on the large teletype screen stir and seconds later a message that during the night army bombers and navy PBY’s attacked enemy ships. This brings everybody fully awake and holds our interest for about an hour. But with no elaboration…pilots relax again. They begin to tell jokes…I’m sitting next to Rusty Kenyon and he tells some limericks…Waldron leans over to listen….Whitey Moore, who can sleep at any time, is still pounding his ear in the back of the room. Suddenly at 6:10 the teletype screen flashes “many enemy planes headed Midway bearing 320 degrees…”… 6:15…”all fighter pilots man your planes”….”Hornet base course now 240 degrees”…we have picked up 10 knots in as many minutes and are now boiling through the water hell-bent for the Japanese….now over the loud-speaker: “The enemy Main Body is attempting to take Midway. We are heading toward Midway to intercept and destroy them”….the teletype rattles again…”pilots of all scout-bombers and torpedo-planes on flight deck…Air Group Commander and squadron commanders remain in ready room for later instructions”….6:25: “surface wind 6 knots from 126 degrees. Correction, do not man planes…Hornet position latitude 31 degrees 368 minutes longitude 176 degrees 29 minutes enemy bearing 239 degrees” ….other orders and vital information stream onto the screen as pilots in flight gear, intent over their chart-boards, work out their flight navigation. The loud-speaker blares again, “we intend to launch planes at 0700 to attack enemy while their planes are returning from Midway”, and then the teletype: “each group attack one carrier”.
Waldron has been thinking….For some reason the skipper has a hunch that the Jap ships will be in a different position than reports place them, and tells us that he won’t hesitate to run the squadron dry of gas in an effort to find the enemy….”in that case we’ll all set down in the water together and have a nice little picnic”, then he continues: “I have no doubt we’ll all be back here by noon…but if worst comes to worst and we find ourselves alone and out numbered by enemy planes on the way in to attack, we’ll keep boring in toward the carrier. If there’s only one man left I want that man to get a hit…”. After Moore finishes his navigation he banters with Ensign Gay, “you’ll never get a hit, Gay. You couldn’t hit a bull’s ass with a six-foot rake.” This is beyond a joke with Gay, who answers solemnly, “I’ll get a hit.”…then the final order comes, “Man all planes”….the pilots hurriedly finish their navigation and clamber one-by-one out of the ready-room….Kazmar is to go on a second attack. Divine and I will go on a third attack….(44)
Enterprise torpedo-bomber pilot Walt Winchell and his radioman-gunner Doug Cossitt are
called to flight-quarters at 3:00 AM….in case the Jap fleet is spotted early we could make a dawn attack. We’re ordered not to drop our torpedo against anything but a carrier. Breakfast at 3:30…baked beans…I can’t even look at them much less eat ’em. So I spend the waiting time checking my guns, twin .30’s, and the emergency equipment. The center cockpit compartment is for the bombardier in case we make a bombing run….now it’s where Walt and I keep our rubber boat and emergency ration kit.(45)
in the officers’ dinette, Air Group c/o McClusky looks at torpedo-squadron leader Eugene Lindsey’s swollen face, heavily-taped body, and evident physical agony. Then suggests he sit this mission out. Lindsey replies:
“no. This is what I have trained to do.”
Jack Kleiss, a VS-6 dive-bomber pilot aboard Enterprise and veteran of Halsey’s island raids, also heads for
the officers’ mess. Delicious smell of steak and eggs wafts through the halls, a telltale sign the cooks expect us to have a bloody morning. Breakfast takes an hour, and after 1:00 return to my quarters and change into flight gear. Double-check everything…completely adorned, I’m an aerial warrior ready for action. Walk aft to Scouting Six’s office and check the assignments….my usual plane, typical bomb load: 500-pound general purpose and two wing-mounted 100-pound incendiaries. Walking through a passageway, I reach a ladder and descend to the hanger deck. Parked planes clutter the back half. Mechanics tinker feverishly, making last-minute adjustments. The Dauntlesses from Scouting Six and Bombing Six are already on the flight deck, spotted for takeoff….crews are pushing the Devastators and Wildcats to the rear elevator. I notice that all fourteen of Torpedo Six’s TBD’s are fitted with Mark-13 torpedoes….for a full year all I ever heard about these torpedoes is how they malfunction….After the Marshalls strikes, the pilots cursed these torpedoes for failing so spectacularly. I even heard Halsey barking at subordinates, telling them he didn’t want any torpedo-laden TBD’s ever to leave the hanger deck again….I see my best friend, TBD pilot Tom Eversole. “Tom,” I ask him, “Why the hell are the TBD’s armed? Do the admirals expect them to go into battle?” He nods and looks worried. Perhaps no one ever told Fletcher and Spruance about the deficiencies of the Mark-13’s.
Fact is, Halsey and Fletcher have had different experiences with the balky TBD’s and their erratic weapons. During the March, 1942, Lae-Salamaua raid, when Fletcher’s and Adm. Wilson Brown’s carriers surprised a Japanese landing operation on the northern coast of New Guinea by striking across the Owen Stanley Mountains from the south, both dive-bombers and torpedo-planes performed well, sinking 3 transports and damaging other ships. During the Tulagi strike, the dive-bombers hit nothing, but the torpedo-planes nailed a Jap destroyer. At Coral Sea, the TBD’s – again untroubled by Japanese fighters – blew 9 below-the-waterline holes in the Japanese carrier Shoho, and down she went. In any case, both Fletcher and Spruance understand that to win this battle they have to throw everything they’ve got at Nagumo’s carriers and hope something sticks. Kleiss, with no awareness of this, has
little time to discuss tactics with Tom. We shake hands and bid each other good luck. I know this is likely farewell forever. As we shake hands, Tom’s image starts to blur….at 3:30 I enter the ready-room and sit down in my front row chair. Open the locked cabinet underneath my seat and pull out my chartboard. As the other pilots filter in, I memorize our task force’s position and bearing….most of the pilots keep silent, listening to the yeoman relaying data, but some of the nervous aviators chatter away. Ensign J. Q. Roberts, one of the new guys, boasts about how he intends to put a bomb on a Jap carrier even if he has to drag it aboard. My archrival, Lt. Dickinson, also speaks out, complaining as usual…he realizes that our SBD’s won’t have any fighter escorts. The F4F-4’s have orders to shepherd the TBD’s….Dickinson has registered similar complaints on other occasions, so I just tune him out.(46)
the aforementioned Lt. (Clarence) Dickinson and his VS-6 squadronmates are
in the ready-room by 0400, plotting our carrier’s position, recording wind and other data. All we want is the word that the enemy carriers have been spotted; that, and the final order. I sit beside Earl Gallaher and Lt. Ware, the squadron flight officer. Any message the ship picks up from distant patrols or Midway will be relayed to us from air plot….The waiting is…trying. 0500….such long intervals of silence it seems like the teletype will never clatter again, and I begin to resent the talker’s silent telephone. Never as during these hours have the men when together in these rows of chairs been so quiet. 7 members of our squadron are combat experienced, but 11 of our pilots have never been under fire. Yet the confidence is something one can feel.(47)
For another Enterprise dive-bomber pilot,
the air is so tense you can cut it with a knife. Now we wait, listening to the whine of the elevator lifting planes to the flight deck, a continuous high-pitched drone that tightens hands into hard knots of bone and muscle…clock-watching…we were here when it read 0330. Two false alarms haven’t helped…silence…so quiet we can hear ourselves breathing.(48)
On Midway Island, a patchwork group of American pilots, air- and groundcrew have been up and about since 0300. Marine aviator Tom Moore, who will fly one of 16 SBD-2 early model Navy-hand-me-down Dauntless dive-bombers, walks
through pitch-black darkness to the mess hall. There I find other members of the dive-bombing and fighter squadrons….seems as though everyone has something to say. We are like people who keep talking all through an operation in order to keep their minds off what the doctor is doing. We chew on thick slices of bread with marmalade and drink burning hot swallows of coffee and talk and talk….who listens, I don’t know. Still not yet dawn when we make our way in threes and fours to the revetments where our planes are waiting. Pvt. Huber, my rearseat gunner, is already there checking his twin-.30’s and ammunition. I don’t know him very well, but in the next few hours will find out a great deal. Climb into my cockpit, start the engine, check radio and intercom phones. All in order. Danny Iverson, in the next plane over, waves and I wave back. Nothing to do now but wait….perhaps I should write a letter to Janet; write by the light of the instrument panel. Something meaningful and everlasting in case I don’t come back. No. Too late now. And I can’t think of any words. We have an unborn child, a son, I hope….God let me live long enough to see him.(49)
Now, off to the northwest, events and time itself begin to accelerate. Lt. Howard Ady, at the controls of a Midway-based PBY, spots at 5:20 AM an “unidentified aircraft” heading east and reports it in code. This in fact one of just seven battlecruiser/cruiser-carried floatplanes launched by Nagumo (he has at least 15 available) in a somewhat slapdash, pro forma search for American warships. The sort of search you launch when you think there’s nothing to be found. Then Ady sees a phosphorescent wake and goes in low to investigate….
….flying through rain squalls. As we come out of one we see the Japanese navy coming out of another. A long front of ships, two big carriers, some other big ones which I believe are battleships, some cruisers, and a lot of destroyers. From their course, running into the wind, they have either launched planes or are about to.(50)
Indeed. At this moment, aboard carrier Kaga, communications officer Sesu Mitoya hears
a bellowing, shattering uproar on the flight deck and livid streaks of engine exhaust flame through the darkness…
…sounds from the bridge. I watch the Air Officer swing his green lamp in a circle. One by one our Zero fighters roar forward and leap skyward as unison banzai cheers of deck crew echo over screaming engines…the dive-bombers follow. Soon over 100 planes from all the carriers are airborne.(51)
0530, again in code. Ady signals
carriers….bearing 320….distance 180
15 minutes go by. Then a PBY piloted by Lt. William Chase spots something equally electrifying. Excited, he doesn’t bother to encode – a fortunate error, as Fletcher and Spruance pick up this transmission – and signals in plain language
many planes heading Midway….bearing 315….distance 150
Meanwhile Lt. Ady circles, gains altitude, and finds a break in the cloudcover. At 0552 he transmits
2 carriers….course 135….speed 25 (52)
One minute later Midway radar picks up the incoming Japanese strike – 35 bomb-carrying Kate torpedo-planes, 36 Val divebombers, 36 Zero fighters – c. 90 miles away. Some of the island’s offensive aircraft – B-17’s and B-26’s – are already airborne and vectored toward the Japanese carriers, and now orders go out to launch the Marine fighters and dive-bombers as well: having long since lost the element of surprise, the IJN attackers will catch nothing flyable on the ground and receive an unexpectedly hot American reception.
In the east, the sun…and Major Henderson’s plane starts to taxi slowly down the runway, heading into the wind, now I push the throttle forward. We move faster, faster, my plane straining to lift off when the engine starts coughing…I cut throttle, then ram it forward again…that’s it, airborne. Our squadron is up, 16 pilots flying worn-out SBD’s accompanied by 11 obsolete Vindicators. For a minute or two there’s nothing but the steady drone of our engines and a few idle remarks passing over the ‘phones. Sky very blue and clean of clouds, cold wind whipping around my face and goggles.(53)
Aside from a respectable array of anti-aircraft guns,
Midway’s main defense is VMF-221, a Marine fighter squadron led by Major Floyd Parks and which, like VMSB-241, finds itself equipped with a clutch of cast-off Navy planes. Originally, the Marines have 21 F2A Brewster Buffaloes – an aptly-named, years obsolete, slow, clumsy, under-gunned deathtrap – and 7 better though service-worn F4F-3 fighters; but various training mishaps have reduced the number to 20 and 4. The pilots too are a mixed bag. A few, like Lt. Marion Carl, a flight instructor with prior service in a Wildcat squadron and 1,400 hours flying time, are primed and more-or-less ready for lethal combat. But most are not yet up to par and, reasonably, do not like their planes. Right after the dive-bombers get off, Carl hears
the air-raid alarm and just for good measure the command post pickup is scurrying around, siren wailing. We start engines, already warm since we strapped on our aircraft almost an hour ago. No briefing, no coordination – just a mad scramble to get out from under whatever is inbound. Using two of Eastern Island’s three runways…
…the Buffaloes and Wildcats narrowly miss each other at the intersection. Wildcats wobble in their climbs as we crank rapidly with the right hand – 28 turns – to raise the wheels and our tactical organization breaks down before the atoll is even a few miles astern. I look for John Carey’s #2 man but can’t see him. My own wingman, Lt. Clayton Canfield, is in position with me but I wave him forward to support Carey, continuing my climb alone and outbound to 14,000 feet….24 aircraft struggling into a beautiful blue morning sky with almost unlimited visibility. A low-lying deck of puffy clouds partially obscures the ocean, but otherwise the weather affords excellent prospects for interception. Then I hear Carey’s radio call…
“…Hawks at angels 12…”
…and glancing down I spot them. Immaculate ranks of Japanese aircraft approaching Midway, barely 40 miles out…a beautiful set-up. With a 2,000 foot altitude advantage our three Wildcats are well positioned for an overhead attack….I roll into a 180-degree left turn, completing a half-roll to inverted. At that moment…Zero fighters diving on me but I am committed to my attack, jockying stick and rudder to line up on one of the Nakijimas in my gunsight, trigger finger tense on the stick grip as the target grows larger during my 300-knot vertical plunge. Press the trigger and feel 4 .50 caliber guns recoiling….(54)
Carl’s prey escapes, but Carey and Canfield destroy two dive-bombers. Then the Zeros arrive, and it becomes a savage, swirling dogfight, rolling in toward Midway as one American pilot after another, unable to maneuver with a nimble and skillful enemy, is blown out of the sky. Capt. Kirk Armisted, leading a group of 6 Buffaloes and Carl’s missing F4F
sight the Japs at about 14,000 feet, 5 to 7 miles out, 2 miles off to my right. Immediately turn to a 70-degree heading and continue to climb. I’m trying to get into position above and ahead of the enemy and then attack out of the sun….can’t do it though….17,000 feet when I start my attack on target consisting of 30-40 dive-bombers, coming down at a steep angle and high speed on an enemy group of 5 planes. My incendiary bullets travel from a point in front of the leader, up through his plane and back through the planes on the left-wing of the V….look back….2 or 3 of these planes are falling in flames. Look over my shoulder, below and behind, 3 fighters in column climbing toward me….Zeroes…I kick over into a violent split S, but get 20 mm. cannon hits in the engine cowling and wing root, also 7.7 rounds in the left aileron. Continue my vertical dive at full throttle. Start to pull out at 3,000 feet and manage to hold my plane level at 500…(55)
Major Parks gets as far as the island and parachutes out of his bullet-riddled Brewster, but a Jap with a taste for blood strafes and kills him before he hits the water. Of VMF-221’s 24 pilots, 14 are swiftly dead, while others crash-land damaged aircraft and run for cover as low-flying Zeroes work over the island’s ground defenses with cannon and machine-gun fire. Movie director John Ford, filming the battle, watches a too-confident pilot
dive down about 100 feet from the ground, turn over and fly upside-down over the seaplane ramp while thumbing his nose….Suddenly a Marine gunner says, “What the hell…” and lets go at him…and the Jap slides off into the sea.(56)
Then bomb-carrying Kates dump their load, in a single high-altitude pass over the island. Ensign Taisuke Maruyama finds the AA fire
accurate and intense. Anti-aircraft shells tear through our formation, and I feel the wind blast from explosions. Pilot Officer Sakamoto’s torpedo-bomber blows apart in the air, and I see another of our planes force-landing on the water.(57)
Against “sustained and furious” AA fire which destroys several more of their number, Japanese dive-bombers now slant down and join the attack. Lt. Moore is just at the horizon and
wondering if we will see the enemy at all when someone shouts over the radio, “island under attack island under heavy attack”….I glance backward and see bombs bursting all over Midway. All at once a sheet of flame streaks toward heaven and falls back. Thick palls of smoke billow upward…”.(58)
Joichi Tomonaga, c/o of Hiryu‘s airgroup and strike leader, circles the island to assess damage. Insufficient, he decides. His own plane damaged and the radio shot out, Tomonaga hand-signals his wingman whose radioman taps out the message
second strike necessary repeat necessary
upon the 7 AM receipt of which Nagumo orders his remaining Kates and Vals – currently carrying anti-ship weapons: torpedoes and armor-piercing bombs – re-armed with fragmentation bombs. With bombs, torpedoes, and aviation fuel hoses strewn about, the hanger decks of all four Japanese carriers are soon an explosive, combustible matrix.
While Lt. Carl hears
Midway control ordering VMF-221 to return and land by divisions. Nobody responds….Guided to my revetment, I shut down and unstrap. Climbing from my cockpit, I count the bullet holes….Every returning fighter has evidence of combat except one. My Wildcat and the undamaged Buffalo are quickly re-fueled and armed, but Midway still reels from the attack. Gasoline fires rage out of control, hangers flattened, debris strewn everywhere. A dive-bomber hit 221’s arming area, detonating several bombs and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Four men killed there. Most of the returning pilots are stunned by their experience….C/O and exec both missing…our squadron is a shattered command. The surviving officer walks out of the command post to a bomb shelter, and proceeds to get drunk. He has plenty of company.(59)
Col. Sweeney, now with most of his 11th Bomb Group, is long since at altitude with 14 B-17’s and
proceeding to attack the same Jap fleet we (sic) bombed the previous afternoon. En rout to target we get word that another enemy force, complete with carriers, is approaching Midway from 325 degrees and at a distance of only about 145 miles ….climbing to 20,000 feet, we turn to intercept. Cloud conditions lower broken, bottoms at 1,000 feet, tops at 6,000 with high thin-scattered at 18,000….Jap carriers under the clouds, we have to search for them. Captain Payne spots the first carrier, and we go in to attack. Enemy starts firing as soon as we open our bomb doors, not effectively, but a bit disturbing. Fighters attack, maneuvering beautifully, but fail to follow through…in no case is an attack pressed home. I divide our planes into three groups, each group instructed to take a carrier. Fairly certain we hit the first carrier, but don’t claim it. The second group, c/o Captain Cecil Faulknor, hits its carrier amidships. Lt. Col. Brooke Allen, commanding the third flight, secures hits on carrier #3. We don’t have time to wait around and see them sink, but leave knowing they are badly crippled.(60)
It would have been a long wait. The American B-17’s (as on day prior) hit nothing but water which, in all fairness to the Pacific Ocean, is a pretty big target. Destroyers and cruisers laying smoke screens, ships venting smoke, low-lying clouds, and gunflashes are all easy to mistake for hits under the stress of air-sea combat. Too, this is an Army Air Force that is bucking hard for separate service designation and the larger slice of the military budget that goes with it – all based on a “unique strategic mission” carried out by heavy bombers – and not averse to exaggerating results. Or flat out lie’ing. In the event, the skillful Japanese carrier commanders go to battle speed, circle tightly, then whip their ships through violent S-turns and so manage to evade the clusters of falling ordnance:
…and torpedoes, because 10 Midway-based torpedo-planes attack moments after the big bombers. Six of these aircraft are the new Grumman TBF’s, led by Lt. Langdon Feiberling. These planes represent a big improvement over the Devastators: better-built, faster, more maneuverable, and feature both a doubled-barreled dorsal turret weapon and a ventral gun. Flown in proper stepped-down formation, they can put out a truly devastating cone of defensive fire. But their 3-man crews also lack raw flying and actual combat experience – as well as escorting fighters – and quickly find themselves beset by a swarm of kill-hungry Zero pilots. As Ensign Bert Earnest and his fellows
near our targets, we are jumped by about 20 Zeros. Cannon-shells and machine-gun bullets tear into our plane, killing my turret-gunner Jay Manning…a cannon shell hits him in the chest and there’s blood everywhere. Our flight of 6 drops to 100 feet and makes for carriers that I can see in the distance. Just then the control cables to the elevator are shot away so I decide to go after a nearby cruiser. As I flick the plane around and turn toward it, more cannon shells are dancing on my wings. Gyro compass shot out…the stick goes limp in my hands…hydraulics lost, difficult to control…drop my torpedo…(61)
With Feiberling’s and the other four TBF’s shot into the sea, Earnest alone survives to nurse his battered plane back to Midway. And this only because the Zeros are drawn away by the sudden debut of four torpedo-lugging, twin-engine B-26’s. Lt. James Muri and his 3-man crew
don’t know what we are getting into….When we leave Midway, a staff officer tells us there’s a target and the estimated mileage. Could be a barge for all we know….and didn’t tell us there’d be Zeros which hit us before we even see the Jap fleet. We’re flying at 800 feet when they come over the horizon and start shooting. Makes quite an impression since none of us have ever been shot at before, and our formation breaks up. Imagine the surprise when we come over the horizon and see all these warships, all shooting at us. We see carriers, protected by the rest of the ships, and go after the nearest one. There’s another B-26 going in, probably Captain Collins…
six fighters come at us fast, straight in, others hit us from the rear and we can’t shake them. Antiaircraft shells, machine-gun fire and tracer whizzing around….I slip between several destroyers and cruisers, heading for a carrier. It makes a quick turn and puts on speed, trying to swing head-on to us….We can actually hear 20-mm. shells leaving the Zero’s cannon that’s how close they are. Now about 2 miles from the target and the Zeros don’t hesitate to fly into AA fire from their own ships. Although the carrier is circling to the right, we maneuver so she’s side-on to us, and the whole side seems ablaze with anti-aircraft guns, a curtain of fire for us to fly through. . Have proper altitude and release our torpedo as close as we can, pull up sharply and shoot over the carrier’s bow at only a couple hundred feet. Then I yank the control column straight back and shoot up another thousand feet, Zeros still after us….
With his own plane now well shot-up, Muri
goes in to attack, so low and fast that as soon as the torpedo drops away I have to turn sharply to get over the carrier’s deck….climbing, pass over the island and toward the stern, there’s 50 maybe 75 men standing around the structure and my nose gunner throws lead, scattering them in all directions. Zeros still on us as we draw away….(62)
A third B-26, Lt. William Watson at the controls, takes a fatal hit, cartwheels across the water and explodes. Lt. Herbert Mayes’ #4 plane, seen through Japanese eyes,
skims straight over Akagi, starboard to port, nearly grazing the bridge. The white star on the fuselage of the plane, a B-26, is clearly visible. Just after clearing our ship it bursts into flames and plunges into the sea….trailing white wakes, several torpedoes pass to port of Akagi.(63)
No hits, 7 more American aircrews – 24 men in all – dead. So far so good, for the Japanese….
at 7:28, though, Nagumo gets evil news from Yðji Amari, cruiser Tone‘s #4 scoutplane pilot:
10 ships apparently enemy bearing 10 degrees distance 240 from Midway course 150 speed 20 (64)
Nagumo, thanks to Yamamoto’s woeful battle plan, now finds himself and his carriers caught between two fires. Just how hot this latest is remains to be seen, but not for long. He briefly mulls over the situation, and neither he nor his staff realizes the significance of the American ships’ turned into-the-wind course….almost parallel to his own south-southeast course when he launched against Midway. Actually, Enterprise and Hornet have been launching their fighters and strike aircraft since just after 7 AM. Fletcher won at Coral Sea by striking first – that’s the way of things with floating, sinkable airfields – and means to do it again. In fact the attack order is issued at 0607 but Spruance, beginning to get the sleight of carrier operations and realizing wind conditions now necessitate a turn to the southeast in order to launch his aircraft, a distance-increasing turn away from the Japanese, spends an extra hour closing the range in order to give his pilots – barely – enough fuel margin to attack and return. Aboard Northampton, Bob Casey learns of the Japanese aerial assault on Midway and watches with a degree of awe as 2 American carriers, 6 cruisers, and 9 destroyers
swing about into launching position, going so fast that our destroyers are half-submerged, slapping green water over their bridges and tossing up plumes in their wakes. We don’t have to be told that we are about to take a flying leap at the Jap carriers….into the wardroom to get my gas mask and tin hat, meet Commander Crenshaw who says
“OK….This is it.”(65)
And in the Enterprise and Hornet ready-rooms
heads lift to the speaker, now crackling with static. Fighter, dive-bomber, and torpedo-plane crews shift uneasily in the chairs. Out of the static a harsh voice:
“PILOTS…MAN YOUR PLANES”
we sprint from the guts of the Enterprise and across the hot steel deck….crewmen are still snugging torpedoes under the Devastators. Climbing onto the wing of my Dauntless, I notice the chipped paint, oil streaks oozing from under the engine’s nacelle, patches marking spots where bullets chewed into her. Choking on the slipstream from the idling engine, I get set, pull the straps tight, turn my head and watch as my rear-seat gunner climbs in and checks his weapon.(66)
at 7:10, now seen from high up in Northampton’s bridge tower,
the wind stiffens and our fighters begin launch. Much too windy for me to hear what’s being said in Sky Control, so I don’t know if any current contact has been made with the Japs….comforting to see them getting up and off, though, and something of a relief. Won’t be long now one way or the other and if something is coming to us we’ll soon know it. If we don’t get the Jap he will certainly get us.(67)
nearby, on the Enterprise flight deck
our dive-bombers go off first….They dip under the bow then rise in long, sweeping curves. My hands are sweaty on the stick. Now that The Moment is here I don’t feel well. The LSO gives me the sign for full throttle and I lay it on. The engine screams, he drops his hands, I dig into the seat and brace myself as the plane surges forward, drops sickeningly toward blue water…then climbs skyward…(68)
Radioman-gunner Ron Graetz, off the VT-6 flying roster this day, is
standing starboard side aft on the catwalk watching 6-T-9, my usual aircraft, rolling forward for takeoff. Aboard that plane…Ensign Rombach, with whom I fly for most of my time in Torpedo Squadron 6, and radioman-gunner Wilburn Glenn, one of my closest friends. Glenn is facing aft, alternately signaling two thumbs up, then clasping fists over his head, like a winning boxer…continues doing so until the plane leaves the forward deck of Enterprise…(69)
from his cruiser’s Sky Control, Casey glances down at
the scout planes….Beyond the catapults five-inch guns are bunched together on the deck, all with muzzles in the air expectant of attack. Guns manned by Marine crews…motionless…nothing on earth so immobile as a cannoneer awaiting a chance to work. Shells stand nose-down in the fuse-cutters, colorful shell and and dull varnished brass bases. The guns look bright and new – freshly painted barrels with a red ring around around the muzzles, brass elevation gears burnished with grease. Somebody might make a fine picture here of the strain before battle – strain never manifest save in a deathlike impassivity as this. But I have no time…the sky is filling with planes.(70)
But not very rapidly. Rust never sleeps, and, having done no real combat launches for over two months thanks to the Tokyo Raid, certain Enterprise officers and plane-handlers make a hash of this one; it doesn’t help when 4 dive-bombers suffer engine failure on deck and have to taken below again. So the SBD’s and Wildcats get off raggedly, then circle the carrier again and again, burning precious minutes and fuel while waiting for VT-6 to get airborne. Kleiss of VS-6:
at the rendezvous point I join a gaggle of 32 dive-bombers circling in step-down formation. We’re expecting the other squadrons from Enterprise – Torpedo Six and Fighting Six – to join us, albeit at lower altitude. We also expect 4 squadrons from Hornet and 3 from Yorktown to link up with our group. That’s the plan relayed to us by Gallaher….We wait and wait but no additional aircraft arrive….40 minutes pass and we just continue to circle stupidly above Task Force 16, burning valuable fuel. Dutifully, we keep off our radios, adhering to strict protocols of radio silence, performing all communications through hand signals. Terribly frustrated, I rock angrily in my seat…(71)
Finally, at 7:45, an equally angry Spruance orders the two dive-bomber squadrons to head southwestward by themselves – the vector is. c. 230 degrees, based on an assumption that the Japanese carriers are still and will keep heading toward Midway – without waiting for the torpedo-planes; in fact, with nothing from the Midway-based PBY’s since 7 AM, the American commanders no longer have a clue where the Japanese carriers are. Jim Gray’s 10 Fighting-6 Wildcats, meanwhile, keep on circling and waiting for the Devastators; he has a “come on down, we need help” signal arrangement with the TBD c/o, Eugene Lindsey, which he hopes will allow his F4F’s to stay at high altitude so as to support both dive-bombers and/or torpedo planes (the Wildcat can’t climb well, but dives like a brick) in a coordinated attack….which just now is going all to hell. Lindsey, when finally off the deck and with no firm vector from Spruance, drifts to the right and leads his 14 Devastators off at at c. 240 degrees…with Gray’s fighters – for the moment – weaving high above at 20,000 feet altitude. Aboard Hornet, meanwhile, the launch is preceded by a tense confrontation on the Captain’s bridge. Mitscher, like Fletcher, is worried about the possibility of the Japanese carriers being operated in two groups, with 2 carriers forward, attacking Midway, and two others off to the northwest, waiting with deckloads primed for the American carriers to disclose themselves. Were Nagumo a military genius instead of a bland mediocrity this might be the case: such a tactical separation (2 carriers hitting Midway, 2 others waiting with anti-shipping strike aircraft deck-spotted and ready to launch) would partly compensate for The Plan’s strategic dispersion of force. And, for a fact, the only sighting reports – now, over two hours old – the American commanders have mention 2 not 4 Japanese carriers. Upshot is, Mitscher decides to send Lt.-Cdr. Ring’s entire airgroup – 37 divebombers, 15 TBD’s, 10 fighters – out on almost due west search/attack vector: 265 degrees. None of the squadron commanders like this, calculating it’s too far north, and Waldron disagrees most vehemently. The discussion becomes… animated. Ring, now considering career options, backs Mitscher and that’s that. Hornet‘s launch
is, remarkably, somewhat less ragged than that of the Enterprise airgroup; slow but integral, with only this glitch: somehow, Gray’s VF-6 drifts over Waldron’s Devastators and thus, unknowingly, abandons VT-6. Hornet‘s radar then tracks Ring – who demonstrates his own lack of faith in the vector by quickly spreading his dive-bombers into wide-search scouting-line abreast – and his aviators out to about 60 miles, still @ 265 degrees, then loses contact. Which is just about when and where Ring’s command begins to disintegrate into open mutiny. At 8:16 Waldron breaks radio silence, and other pilots listen in as he and Ring go at it:
Waldron: we’re heading in the wrong direction…I know where the Japs are
Ring: you fly on us…I’m leading this formation. You fly on us
Waldron: go to hell
Ring and the rest of the Hornet pilots watch in stunned silence as, far below, the torpedo squadron veers leftward, heading southwest, and disappears into the haze. Followed at altitude, unbeknownst to all, by VF-6.(72)
During this time-frame on the Japanese side, Nagumo radios a message that only multiplies his own hanger-deck difficulties:
prepare to carry out attacks on enemy fleet units leave torpedoes on those attack aircraft which have not as yet changed to bombs
and at 7:47 another crackles through the ether, addressed to Tone #4:
ascertain ship types maintain contact
an order easier given than obeyed. Both Chikuma scouts – #5 piloted by Lt. Nobu Toma having droned right over Yorktown without seeing it – have long since turned back due to “bad weather”(73), and Tone #4’s pilot, made of sterner stuff, has to plot a fine line between seeing something useful and getting shot down by patrolling Wildcats; in fact Hornet‘s excellent radar has him locked on, but the combat air patrol fighters haven’t…yet…found him. More vital seconds disappear forever, as two of the three American carriers are now within minutes of clearing their decks of strike aircraft. Nagumo, frustrated by convergent onrushing events he can no longer control, can only continue to re-arm his strike aircraft below decks, then try to figure out some way to land his about-to-return-from-Midway planes while getting the anti-ship armed Kates and Vals deck-spotted and launched, and all the while keep landing, re-arming and re-fueling, then sending skyward yet again his combat air patrol Zeros. In an 11-dimensional universe, this might be possible. Not in ours. And still more hate from Midway is about to arrive. At eight thousand feet and closing, Marine dive-bomber pilot Tom Moore checks his watch: 7:55 AM. He counts off
83 minutes from time of take-off…84…85….”attention, ATTENTION!” Major Henderson’s voice,
“…enemy carriers on our port bow! Jap carriers!”
There they are. Two…and big, leaving wakes that are thin white lines upon the sea. Big bastards…this is the enemy. Then over the thrumming of our engine I hear, “enemy aircraft….” and my heart is beating like a bass drum. Off to the left…Zero fighters…at first they seem almost playful, rolling and twisting against the sun and sky. Then they are on us, firing streams of gray-white tracer. Rattling bursts of return fire race from our gunners toward the Zeros….one veers, slows and turns a hundred feet from me…I hear a thin whine of air passing over its wings, see a helmeted head lolling from side to side as the plane wobbles…Like a struck match the Zero suddenly bursts into flame and falls burning toward the sea. Still they come on. Two Zeros right behind us, and a stitch of little holes races across my right wing. Bullets whip into the instrument panel before me, shattering glass….my rear-seat gunner Huber opens fire, and I hear the sharp barking of his twin .30’s as he throws lead at the Japs. One turns away but another still behind us and I hear and feel bullets ringing off the steel armor plate at my back. Then turn my head and watch transfixed as a Dauntless rides into a blast of cannon and machine-gun fire that goes in one side and passes out the other. It too begins to fall, a long ribbon of black oily smoke unwinding from the tumbling plane…
at 8:11, 24 minutes after Nagumo’s query, , Tone #4 responds:
enemy composed of 5 cruisers 5 destroyers
as the Midway-based dive-bombers now slant downward
already many of our squadron, those that survive, are diving toward the carriers. I see my wingman Blaine begin his descent. Now my turn. Kick hard left rudder, left aileron, stick forward, begin to dive, fast, as fast as three tons of deadweight tied to a thousand horses can dive….below a layer of cloud races up to meet us…inside of it, feeling a damp coolness…then free of it. Water, and up and down inside my bombsight, a carrier. I am dead on it. Bigger and bigger, filling the sight. Pull out…PULL OUT! A voice shouting from inside my head. DROP THE BOMB AND PULL OUT! I snap back, glance at what’s left of the instrument panel, see needles spinning crazily. 500 feet…I punch the bomb release and yank the stick into my stomach. The bomb falls clear…and a wave of concussion blasts back at us as we are thrown out of control, dropping, climbing, and dropping again as the prop spins and screams. Then…abruptly free and clear again, 25 feet above the water, skimming the waves to regain speed and then altitude. Look back to see what damage our bomb has done to the carrier, but the view is blocked by 3 Jap fighters bearing down on us…(74)
at 8:20, Tone #4 signals again:
enemy force includes what appears to be a carrier
just as Blaine’s gunner, Gordon McFeely, watches his pilot’s bomb near-miss another Japanese carrier, and then they’re
all alone except for eight Zeros. One gets on our tail, sends tracer bullets into our plane and then cuts loose with his 20-mm. cannon. I’m hit in the right leg. Then machine-gun slugs hit my left arm, which begins bleeding bad. I give the Jap a long burst into the engine and another into the Zero’s belly as it pulls away….slipstream is blowing so much blood over my goggles I can hardly see, radio shot out, cockpit and instruments shot up, blood all around. Captain Blaine reaches the clouds and loses most of the Zeros, but one is persistent, putting a hole in our stabilizer big enough for a man to crawl through….motor cutting out now, so I take over the wobble pump, kicking it with my one good foot and pumping with my one good hand. Finally the motor quits and we hit the water hard….(75)
joining Major Henderson’s and 8 other SBD’s and their – mostly dead – crews. A few minutes later Major Ben Norris’s 11-strong Vindicator section goes after battleship Haruna with similar results: no hits and 4 more planes shot down, crews killed. By 8: 30 Midway’s airpower has, finally, shot its bolt. But Nagumo does not know this. And his CarDiv 2 commander, Adm. Yamaguchi, has already signaled twice, demanding an immediate deck-spot and launch of all available strike aircraft against the American ships. An awful dilemma. If Nagumo does so, his 98 now returning-from-Midway strike aircraft, most low on fuel and many damaged, will fall into the sea. If he lands them, another hour will be lost before he can clear the flight decks and begin bringing his soon-to-be properly-armed torpedo-planes and dive-bombers up from the hanger decks and into take-off array. Since it takes the well-practiced Japanese deck crews about 40 minutes to spot and launch a deckload of planes, Nagumo can expect – provide he is no longer troubled by incoming hostiles – to get his first strike off around 10:15 AM. If he has enough time. If…he has enough time. If….finally Nagumo rolls the dice. And decides to recover the returnees first, turning his carriers into a breeze now blowing from a bit north of east. How smoothly can be judged from Akagi‘s radio log:
0837: battle speed 3…commence landing planes on board
0839: sight enemy torpedo planes bearing 10 degrees port 2 degrees elevation. Landing operations halted, start evasive action at top battle speed
friendlies, actually, but so it goes. More planes have only just re-begun landing when, 180 miles off to the northeast, Fletcher has Capt. Buckmaster ring up 28 knots and bring Yorktown into the wind….
…no surprise, the Yorktown launch – on a c. 245 degree vector – goes like clockwork: Max Leslie’s 17 VB-3 divebombers vault off the deck at 8:40, and Lt.-Cdr. Massey’s 12 Devastators just 10 minutes later, closely followed by Thach with 6 Wildcat fighters. Fletcher, unaware of the Hornet airgroup’s westward vector (because Mitscher and Spruance are not talking to each other), holds VS-5’s 17 divebombers on deck, ready for any eventuality. Scout-plane pilot Amori, still dodging from cloud to cloud, gets a glimpse and signals Nagumo:
10 enemy torpedo planes heading yours
Though most of them are not (yet) “heading yours”, 5 American dive-bomber squadrons, 3 torpedo squadrons, and a 3 gaggles of fighters are at least off the carrier decks and outbound…while the Japanese still struggle below-decks to get their strike aircraft armed and re-armed, land returned aircraft from the Midway strike, and land, service, and launch combat air patrol Zeros. At 8:55, Nagumo orders his fleet to turn northeastward in order to close the distance to the reported American ships and, finally, at 9:18 the four Japanese carriers complete recovery of the Midway strike aircraft, less 3 who ditched with crews picked up by destroyers. Given just one more hour, both CarDivs can deck-spot and launch an annihilating attack on the American carriers. But Nagumo has now run out of hours. And minutes. And seconds….
(map showing c. 9:15 ship, air vectors)
Akagi‘s radio log:
0918: completed taking aboard attack units
0918: Chikuma sights 16 enemy planes bearing 52 degrees starboard elevation 2 degrees distance 35 kilometers
0918: destroyer laying smoke screen….AA action readied. Battle speed
0919: Akagi resorts to evasive action
0920: Chikuma opens fire with main batteries
0922: speed 30 knots
0923: Akagi sights 18 enemy planes bearing 122 degrees starboard elevation 0.5 degrees distance 40 kilometers
0925: so as to bring the enemy torpedo planes astern, Akagi is swung around
0927: commence firing main guns on planes to starboard
0928: course 115 degrees
0929: Kaga‘s fighters take off
0930: Akagi AA guns open fire
0931: radio from destroyer Arashi….enemy submarine attacked with torpedoes in grid position HE E A 37 at 0910. Counter immediately with depth charges but results unknown(76)
The trouble-making submarine is USS Nautilus. And these torpedo-planes are Waldron’s VT-8, first coming in from the northeast, at an angle too acute to permit an attack on the north-northeastward speeding Japanese carriers, then turning away, then back, and swinging in from the southeast in order to drive home a broadside attack. Ensign George Gay, whose plane is near the back of the formation, watches his squadron fly into swarming Zero fighters and a welter of anti-aircraft fire. Other pilots of the Hornet airgroup, now far to the north and west, as well as air staff aboard the carriers, pick up a few desperate words from Cdr. Waldron…
Johnny One to Sam. Come on down Sam we need help right now. Attacking…How’m I doing Dobbs….there’s two fighters into the water…two of my men going in…Fighting 8, Sam come on down to help…
but no help comes. Because Sam Mitchell’s VF-8 is still with Ring, and it’s Jim Gray’s 10 VF-6 Wildcats circling uselessly 20,000 feet above. Moments later,
Waldron shot down. His plane bursts into flames and I see him stand up to get out of the fire, puts his right leg out of the cockpit, then hits the water and disappears. His radioman, Dobbs, doesn’t have a chance. Another plane blows up…everything happening at once, Zeros coming in from all angles and our planes keep falling, some on fire, others do a half-roll, out of control, and crash on their backs. Machine-gun bullets rip into my armor plate, others over my shoulder into the instrument panel and through the windshield….I start dodging, pulling up, dropping down, kicking the rudder and sliding. Something hits my left arm….Now on the carrier’s starboard side, to the right and ahead and the ship begins to turn toward us….my god that’s a big mother. Only two planes left of our squadron besides my own. I skid left, avoid more 20-mm shells…turn back right, the plane ahead of me now gone and the other out of control…
Most of VT-8’s Devastators are shot into the sea before even in range to drop torpedoes. Mitsuo Fuchida, leader of the attack on Pearl Harbor and now senior Wing Commander in Japan’s carrier-based aviation, watches the massacre from the bridge of Akagi:
15 enemy torpedo-bombers, tiny dark specks in a blue sky, a little above the horizon on our carrier’s starboard side. Distant wings flash in the sun, our fighters on the job….One by one the specks burst into a spark of flame and, trailing black smoke, fall into the water. (77)
Gay alone survives to drop his torpedo at close range against Soryu, then whips up over the flight deck. On the other side,
more Zeros…a cannon shell hits my left rudder peddle, blows it apart and knocks a hole in the firewall. Sets the engine afire, burning my leg. I pull the nose up, cut the switch, slow to almost decent ditching speed….slam into the water and the canopy bangs shut above me. As I unbuckle water rising to my waist….(78)
He smashes through the canopy, as the plane and his dead gunner sink into the depths, then grabs a seat cushion and treads water.
Despite the complete destruction of this squadron of American torpedo-planes, though, Nagumo still cannot even begin to get his own strike aircraft on deck. Because, at about 9:45, the Enterprise Devastators – a bit too far south and just about to miss seeing the Japanese fleet – spot the smoke of VT-8’s battle, turn northward, and begin their attack. Pilot Winchell and gunner Cossitt are
passing north of Kure Atoll when things begin to happen very fast. Cdr. Lindsey takes us down from 3,000 feet to almost sea-level. Before we even get to the Jap destroyer screen the Zeros are on us…5 of them, they get us in a scissors, 2 on the right, 2 on the left, and one right down the slot. When I swing my guns and fire on one group, the other makes a run on us. Flying over a destroyer now and there’s flack exploding all around, and I’m too busy with the Zeros to even notice when we pass by the cruiser screen. Brock, our wing man, pulls up and tries to get a shot at a zero with his nose gun. A TBD off our starboard blows up, direct hit on its torpedo…and a cannon shell explodes in my cockpit. I keep thinking Walt hurry up drop the fish get us out of here….but he’s already dropped and the Zeros are still after us. After what seems like an eternity we get clear of the action, the fighters leave, but there’s not a friendly plane in sight either.
Nine of VT-6’s TBD’s are shot into the sea, all the crews killed, most before they can drop torpedoes.
But, in part because many of the Japanese pilots have exhausted their 20-mm. explosive ammunition and now rely only on 7.7 machine-gun tracer and ball, 5 of the 14 VT-6 pilots break through, drop, turn, and escape eastward. Cossitt’s Devastator is
equipped with a high frequency homing receiver but we need altitude to pick the signal from Enterprise. Can’t…get…the…plane..up, she’s shot to pieces. Gas pouring out of the wings….down to about 1,000 feet when Walt says we can’t make it back to the ship, we have to ditch. I crawl forward into the bombardier’s cockpit to make sure of the rubber boat and emergency rations. He makes a perfect ditch, skimming across the waves and then we go nose up. I throw the boat and everything else we need out into the water and the plane sinks in 30 seconds….(79)
Four other Enterprise TBD’s make it back to their carrier. Where Kernan watches pilot Steve Smith
jump out of his plane, draw his .45, run over to the island and, shouting that he’s going to “kill that sonovabitch Gray”, begins to climb the bridge ladder….he’s disarmed and calmed down, but the whole mess is out in an instant; that the torpedo planes had attacked alone; that the fighters had remained at high altitude where there were no Japs….that while VT-6 was dying, Fighting-6 turned around and flew back to the Enterprise.(80)
Lt.-Cdr. Lindsey is among those who do not return and, as with VT-8, no torpedo hits a Japanese carrier. On the other hand, another 20 minutes of time disappears, running the clock to about 10:10. Time when Nagumo still can’t begin spotting his dive-bombers and torpedo planes for launch, all of which, now armed and re-armed with anti-ship weapons, are waiting to be brought up from the hanger decks of the four Japanese carriers. And now…he’s got to spend still more precious minutes landing, servicing, and re-launching his 30-odd combat air patrol Zeros, some of which are low on fuel and others have exhausted all their ammunition knocking down the first two American torpedo-plane attacks. While all this takes place, the Enterprise dive-bombers are passing far to the south and then westward of the Japanese carriers. For Lt. Kleiss the search
seems to continue forever. by 9:20, after flying about 165 miles, our two squadrons reach the intercept point…and find nothing. Looking downward through sparse cloud cover I have a clear fifty-mile view in all directions. All I see is empty ocean. Here…McClusky elects to make a box search, turning his plane ninety degrees and hand signaling both squadrons to follow him. Gripping the stick, I guide my plane into a lazy starboard turn, leading my section northwest. Then I catch sight of the leader of Bombing Six, Dick Best, making hand signals too…Best holds up his oxygen mask and points downward….one of his pilots, Kroeger, has lost oxygen. Bombing Six’s planes drop down to 15,000 feet so the pilots can breathe normal air. As our squadrons separate it seems it just isn’t meant to be that we will deliver a concentrated blow against the enemy….(81)
While Dickinson finds
the visibility excellent, good as I have ever experienced. Nothing to mar it except from some big, fleecy, scattered clouds. As we are flying almost 4 miles high there is a marvelous breadth of ocean within our view, deep blue, blue as a dye of indigo….to our left, almost a hundred miles away, we see Midway Island, which is scarcely four or five miles across. To us it appears much smaller and with no more substance than the clouds above it…..Possibly 100 miles past the enemy’s estimated position, we turn and fly northwest for almost half an hour, maybe another eighty miles. Still nothing. It’s well after 9 AM, we have used a lot of our fuel, and I know whatever happens it will be touch and go just getting back to our carrier. 9:45…a turn from our northwest course and start searching northeast. Somewhere we have crossed the cold track of the Japanese carriers but…the ocean is trackless.(82)
Time…the inexorable…passes…still nothing sighted by the Enterprise dive-bombers. More droning minutes…9:46…9:47…9:48…9:49…
….9:50. And far to the north, in a second then a third mutiny, Stanhope Ring’s Hornet airgroup has just now completely disintegrated. VF-8’s fighters, at 9:00 already past their point-of-no-return, have long since turned back toward the American carriers – some, along the way, look right and notice the smoke of battle – and, missing TF-16 just to the south, all 10 planes run out of fuel and fall into the sea. Ring and his dive-bombers fly west for another 20 minutes, then both squadrons desert their commander; Lt.-Cdr. Rodee’s Scouting 8 turns back eastward toward the carriers, while Lt.-Cdr. Johnson takes Bombing 8 southeastward in a forlorn effort to find something Japanese to attack.(83) Ring himself heads out into the Central Blue for another few minutes and then c. 9:40, in anger and despair, turns eastward as well; along the way he catches up to VS-8 and, discovering a sudden need to get back to Hornet before any of his pilots, puts pedal to metal and goes by them like they’re standing still. Meanwhile Yorktown‘s single dive-bomber squadron, VB-5, is on a vector which will also miss southward, just beyond visual range of Nagumo’s northeastward-charging fleet. Despite all their initial advantages of intelligence, force concentration, and early physical recon, the Americans are about to lose the Battle of Midway…and likely a whole lot else. 9:51…9:52…9:53….9:54…
(c. 9:54 map of all ship/aircraft vectors)
Then, in perfect synchronicity, two chaotic, unrelated, apparently random events pivot history.
9:55….breakthrough. The morning sunlight, passing through a cascade of mist produced by a waterspout far below us, produces a spectrum of beautiful color. McClusky seems to be pointing out the rainbow to Gallaher….All of us can see it. Then something else commands Gallaher’s professional attention. Fifteen miles ahead, 20,000 feet below, a white scar is visible on the solid blue expanse of the sea.(84)
It’s the speedboat-like wake of the Japanese destroyer Arashi, after her encounter with Nautilus and now driving northward at nearly 40 knots in order to catch up with the rest of Nagumo’s fleet. McCluskey then makes a great, command decision. Casting aside all fuel considerations, he changes direction, following a vector of the destroyer’s course, and both Enterprise dive-bomber squadrons follow. One plane, Ensign Schneider’s, already out of fuel, slides downward and hits the sea…but the others press on. Moments later and few miles to the northeast, Yorktown VB-5 squadron leader Max Leslie orders his dive-bomber pilots to arm their weapons. Newly-installed electronic arming devices malfunction and one, two, three, then four bombs actually release….a frantic shout from Leslie puts a stop to this disaster, and the other 13 pilots go to manual arming. These bombs slice right through VT-3’s torpedo plane formation, some 18,000 feet below, then hit the sea. Radioman-gunner Lloyd Childers suddenly sees
splashes on the surface below us. I think we are under attack, so I start twisting about, looking in every direction…who is shooting at us? While turning my head to starboard I notice a wisp of dark smoke on the northern horizon and tell Corl. He rocks our wings, attracting Massey’s attention, and Massey turns us all toward the smoke.(85)
VB-5, weaving at altitude, turns as well and follows the Yorktown torpedo-planes as they veer from southwest to west. At c. 10:10, some of the leading, high squadron (VS-6) Enterprise dive-bomber pilots – now approaching from the southwest – spot Nagumo’s force. One sees
blacks specks on the horizon as we close in fast. The specks take shape and become…Jap carriers surrounded by cruisers and destroyers.(86)
moments later J. F. Murray, low squadron (VB-6) leader Dick Best’s radio-gunner, observes
broken clouds at 3,000 feet…Japanese carriers in the distance. I count 3, the fourth obscured by cloud. The CV’s are maneuvering hectically to avoid attack by our torpedo-planes and I can see TBD’s among the intercepting Zeros. The screening ships are firing pointblank into the oncoming TBD’s, marking them for the Zeros. About this time a voice over the radio says, “Attack Immediately!”….sounds like Mils Browning over the CV-6 transmitter responding to McCluskey’s contact report….the torpedo-planes are taking a beating, the crews don’t stand a chance. Then I hear a VT-6 pilot calling Fighting Six to come down and help…later there’s a faint transmission saying VF-6 is low on fuel and returning to base…
and a couple of minutes later another is impressed by this
huge fleet, so many ships…I want to keep looking at it, but must keep close formation on McClusky’s division and watch out for enemy planes. The Jap fighter patrol should be at the altitude we are flying, around 20,000 feet. I expect to see them and keep looking around. Now we are rapidly trading altitude for speed…going downhill toward the enemy ships, pull of gravity adding to to the power of our engines. Slight course change that’ll bring us ahead of the enemy and I get an intoxicating view of the whole Japanese fleet. Among these ships I see two long, narrow, yellow rectangles standing out on a dark blue sea….Then farther off a third carrier and my heart sinks. Northwest corner of the fleet’s position is obscured by cloud cover…then…another long yellow rectangle slides out. I still can’t understand how we have come this far without Jap fighters swarming us….Jap fleet passing under us now, we’re almost in the middle of it. Some of the craft below are recognizable because we have models of many Japanese ships….I’ve studied them thoroughly. Sometimes, to get a dive-bomber’s view, I stand on a chair and look down on one. Now at 15,000 feet and certain characteristics make me feel that the most distant carrier is the slender Hiryu and the next nearest Soryu, her sister….Almost below us are two larger carriers, Akagi and Kaga.(87)
Though some of the Japanese combat air patrol fighters spotted VF-6 and clawed for altitude after destroying most of the Enterprise torpedo-planes – and a Zero can go up like an elevator @ c. 3,000 feet per minute – all now drop down again to deal with VT-3, whose attack begins at about 10:20, a few minutes ahead of the 3 American dive-bomber squadrons’ arrival.(88) And once again, all the lookouts on the Japanese ships – unlike the Americans, they have no radar to spot incoming hostiles and must rely on optics – are watching, fascinated, as another bloody drama unfolds at sea-level. None notice the dive-bombers now arriving directly overhead. And, just seconds before tipping over into their near-vertical dives, a few of the American SBD pilots and gunners get a quick, initial snapshot of the massacre as 7 Devastators led by Lt. Patrick Hart begin their run on Soryu. One
takes a hit and spews smoke…another hit. Another. Then erupts into a fireball and disintegrates. A second Devastator gets a wing sheared and splashes. Another blows up, the plane splintering into a million shimmering pieces. Three Zeros jump the fourth….two others seem to waver amid shell splashes and streaking tracer…they fight for altitude….then one rolls over and hits the water upside down, sending a white geyser skyward.(89)
Kaname Harada, a Zero pilot flying off Soryu,
battles nine enemy torpedo-bombers. Shoot down two, but my wingman Nasagawa perishes….out of ammunition, I land back on the carrier then quickly take off again to battle the next wave of American attackers. Shoot down two more, but my aircraft is badly damaged…(90)
S’truth, the Japanese combat air patrol pilots – while racking up kills – aren’t having the best of days either; four are already dead, shot into the sea while fighting off the successive waves of Midway-based planes and the the first two American carrier-based torpedo-plane attacks. And now, unlike the Hornet and Enterprise TBD’s, Yorkown‘s VT-3 has a few fighter escorts. It’s just that, swarmed by Zeros, the 6 Wildcat pilots of VT-3/42 have all they can do to stay alive…never mind protect the torpedo-planes. Lt.-Cdr. Thach, weaving above the remaining Devastators, counts
20 Zero fighters streaming down on us from astern. I’m surprised they put so many fighters on my 6 fighters, but then I see they have a second large group diving right past us at the torpedo planes…
this latter group, some 14 Zeros, is the last of the Japanese carriers’ high-altitude air cover, now down at wave-top level and all 34 make
….the air like a beehive, Japs everywhere. Several Zeros make a head-on attack on the SBD’s and burn Lem Massey’s…it just explodes in flames…then…I get a good shot at two Zeros and burn one then the other. They’ve already shot down one of my Wildcats and two others I can’t see anymore. There’s just Macomber, Ram Dibb, and myself. We can’t possibly survive….then, as the remaining torpedo planes begin their run on the carrier, the attacks on us begin to slacken off…(91)
one of Thach’s others is Tom Cheek, who sees
black puffs of antiaircraft fire blossoming below and ahead. Then an object I think to be a belly-tank whirls down through the formation. I look up…Zero fighter, in a shallow dive at the lead TBD. White puffs around the engine cowling as the pilot trips off a short burst, then rolls into a steep climbing turn and levels into a sweeping flat turn to the right. I’m momentarily spellbound watching the Zero’s clean, seemingly effortless manuevers. In seconds it’s in position to make a run on the last plane on the formation’s right flank….the pilot continues his curving approach, 500 feet above and slightly to my left…he hasn’t seen me. Move my engine controls into combat power range, push the throttle to the forward stop. Easing back on the stick until the F4F is hanging on the prop, I bring my gunsight pip to an almost full deflection lead on the Zero’s nose….squeeze the trigger, six .50 caliber wing guns rumble and I hold the trigger down just long enougn to see red tracers converge into his engine and drift back along the fuselage. The Zero’s nose bucks up, drops back, then the plane dives in my direction….I’m stalled, literally hanging on my prop, then let my fighter’s nose drop and begin a rolling recovery left as the Zero sweeps past on my right, black smoke and flame spewing from the engine, a river of fire trailing back along its belly. Clearly visible, the pilot sits rigidly facing straight ahead. A thought flashes through my mind…he is dead.
Cheek fires at other Zeros, missing as they power upward and away, then looks back and watches a Jap fighter, possibly one of Thach’s kills, and an F4F spin into the water and disappear. Lloyd Childers, TBD-pilot Corl’s gunner, gets
a couple of no deflection shots at crazy Zero pilots who are in a hurry to shoot us down…I fire about 200 rounds, 2 cans of ammo as we move in on the target, and observe the F4F’s above us mixing it with the Zeros….I see one coming almost straight down, not smoking, smacking the water within a hundred yards of us. So I know the Wildcats aren’t losing every encounter….other aircraft fall out of the sky but I can’t tell whether they’re ours or theirs. Although it requires some stretching by me, I try to see what we’re headed into….3 carriers, cruisers and destroyers going top speed and turning, an awesome sight that frightens me badly. Now AA fire coming at us….Corl yells in his high-pitched voice, “Look at the skipper.” I look to port just in time to see Massey’s plane hit the water in flames…(92)
Striving to protect the remaining TBD’s as they close on Soryu, Cheek draws a bead on another Zero but, caught in a crossfire from several Devastator rear-seat gunners, it
shudders, then pitches forward in a near-vertical dive into the sea as I pull up in a climbing turn to the right….snap out of a momentary trance as a burst of tracer, shoulder high, sweeps past the right side of my cockpit. Nose down and twist left, glance back but I can’t see anyone, then another burst of fire brushes across my left wing and I hear, feel the thud of hits on the armor plate behind my seat as 20 mm. cannon shells, seemingly the size of oranges, float past in slow motion on both sides of the canopy. I kick my Wildcat into a violent, vertical left turn and find a Zero tucked under my tail. Caught off balance, he drifts rapidly to the right as I complete the turn and swing back in the direction of our torpedo squadron …what’s left of it. To the right of the formation a plane just under attack is now in a curving glide toward the sea. A parachute blooms behind the TBD and from the side a Zero knifes down toward it….(93)
VT-3’s golgotha is, if anything, even worse than the Hornet and Enterprise torpedo-planes for being a more prolonged death-ride. Coming in to starboard and well behind the northernmost Japanese carrier, Soryu, and at a top speed of less than 100 knots while trying to gain a favorable attack angle, they are attempting to catch a ship going at least 30 knots and turning away to deny that angle. Along the way Lt. Bill Esders’ plane is hammered by a Zero, mortally wounding his gunner: Mike Brazier. He
employs evasive tactics and manuevers radically, maintaining the highest speed possible. Two more of our planes go down about two miles from the target. I give the attack signal and turn sharply to port in order to come in on the starboard bow of a carrier…
….drop my torpedo at a distance of 700 to 800 yards, then turn sharply and proceed on a course almost parallel to the carrier, avoiding as many ships as possible, still maneuvering and staying close to the water.(94)
at about this time, c. 10:25, 6 of Yorktown‘s torpedo-planes have been destroyed, while Esders’ and 5 others remain. Lt. Hal Bottomly’s SBD and 16 other VB-3 dive-bombers are
at about 14,000 feet, climbing in formation, making our approach….I’m scared to death! The cold of the cockpit at this altitude is compounded by shivers of dread and anticipation….
Just then Wildcat-pilot Thach looks up to see
a glint in the sun…our dive-bombers spilling down like a waterfall…
…as all 17 VB-3 SBD’s – even those 4 who lost weapons in the arming mishap – pour down toward Soryu. X/O DeWitt Shumway gets a glimpse of
…aircraft spotted aft. Upon sighting our dive-bombers the objective turns north to launch planes and the sides of the ship flame with AA fire. Diving from the north, we have straight fore-and-aft run on target.(95)
Squadron c/o Leslie strafes then pulls away as his wingman, Lt. Paul Holmberg, puts a 1,000 pound bomb squarely between the carrier’s 1st and 2nd elevators and just a tad left-of-center; Bottomly sees
Holmberg’s bomb explode right on the forward elevator. A Zero taking off just ahead of it flips like a matchstick….glance again at the altimeter passing through 3,000 feet. My plane is steady, bombsight on the red ball at the carrier’s bow….I press the bomb release button then reach and pull the manual release….then pull the stick back into my gut, close the dive brakes and, as the plane comes out of the dive jam on full throttle and bank toward open water. My gunner Dave Johnson has a perfect view, shouting “We got her! We got her…! And I look back to see the ship enveloped in flames as another bomb explodes….”(96)
in quick succession, three thousand-pound missiles slam into and through Soryu‘s steel deck, one just in front of the forward elevator, one midway between elevators #2 and 3, and one aft. Just below, this Japanese carrier’s hanger deck is divided by two fireproof partitions into three bays, but it doesn’t help as the American dive-bombers have generously deposited one lethal egg into each basket.(97) Nagumo’s report has Soryu
attacked by 13 dive-bombers…hits scored at 10:25, 10:26, 10:28. By 10:30 fires quickly spread and cause secondary explosions in the bomb-storage, torpedo-, and ammunition rooms, as well as gasoline tanks. Fires envelop the entire ship. When officers and men congregate on the decks, a teriffic explosion sends them flying into the water. By 10:40 both engines stop, the ship is helpless…”
Soryu torpedo-bomber pilot Mori and those of his squadron-mates who also took part in the attack on Midway are in
our tiny ready-room….Suddenly I realize how hungry I am. Better eat something now, so I start eating an onigiri and some pickled radish. For some reason they are especially tasty today. Before long all of us are contentedly munching this traditional Navy delicacy. Suddenly…our ship is staggered by a tremendous explosion and heels way over to the left. “Shit…they got us,” someone says. Everyone looks grim and we stuff what’s left of the onigiri into our mouths. Then two more mighty explosions reverberate through the ship. Someone else remarks, “this is bad…” and at that instant a huge ball of flame shoots into the ready-room. The place fills with black smoke and my headgear is blown off…I can’t breathe…Out! is all I can think. We all lunge for the door at once and get jammed up. Like a rugby player I leap on top of the bodies in front of me and scramble over their shoulders….finally make it to the lifeboat deck, a narrow space crammed with scared, panicked sailors, some with terrible burns, their skin hanging in tatters. Those of us who finally make it to the flight deck discover a scene of utter devastation. Explosions going off left and right, pieces of airplanes and human body parts flying through the air….Sudenly a wall of flame rushes toward us…only a sudden wind shift saves me from immolation. Soryu is still churning through the water at full speed, then one of the boilers bursts and a screaming jet of scalding steam shoots up from the middle right of the ship. I see men begin jumping from the rear of the flight deck…and remember a photo shot by one of our dive-bomber pilots when we sank that British carrier in the Indian Ocean. Now it’s happening to us. Karmic retribution….Shortly thereafter Captain Yanagimoto gives the order to abandon ship. A dozen or so sailors nearby spring into one of the lifeboats, which tips crazily and spills them 60 feet into the water….(98)
seeing Soryu hit and embroiled, the handful of VT-3 Devastators still in the air jump the deck and attempt a run on Hiryu that’s as brave as it is hopeless. Swarmed by Zeroes, all five are soon shot into the sea.
Shortly after VB-3’s descent on Soryu, McClusky’s Enterprise dive-bombers
attack at 10:22, rolling into a steep 70-degree dive. Our approach a complete surprise, still no Jap fighters…
but due to some elemental confusion and commo breakdowns between McClusky and his squadron commanders, most of these 30 planes are plunging down toward just one Japanese carrier:
Bombing Six, as the lower squadron in the formation, also because we carry the heavier ordnance, should attack the nearer carrier….someone’s trying to use the radio, but now the transmission is garbled and indistinct. Only thing I hear is, “follow me”. Now I stow the guns and rotate my seat forward, to call off altitudes during the dive….abruptly Best and I are startled…directly in front, dropping down from above, comes CEAG and VS-6 usurping our target and barely missing our first section. Only a blur visible as diving SBD’s blank our forward view….Best scrambles out of the way just before there’s a large mid-air collision. Baker Two and Three, Kroeger and Weber, join B-1….(99)
and slant toward Akagi. Which, at 10:24 is about to launch another flight of combat air patrol Zeros. Best decides that
the Jap carrier is the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen…yellow-orange deck with a great rising sun up near the forward elevator. A perfect point of aim….Opening my dive-breaks, I turn over at 14,000 feet and start down…
while Fuchida on Akagi’s bridge watches
the Air Officer flap a white flag, and the first fighter gathers speed….At that instant a lookout shouts
I look up and see 3 black planes plummeting toward our ship. Some of our machineguns fire a few frantic bursts….too late. Down they come emitting a terrible scream….I fall to the deck and crawl toward a command post mantelet…(100)
…as all the Enterprise SBD’s
slash downward, dive-breaks howling. My eyes are fixed on Akagi…first bomb a near-miss then Best’s thousand-pounder crashes through the elevator amidships and detonates inside the hanger deck….Sheets of flame erupt as bombs and torpedoes detonate, catching Jap sailors….I see them ignite like torches and some leap off the side of the ship as white hot steel buckles, catapulting more men and planes into the sea….great clouds of black smoke roll into a blue sky.(101)
Best pulls up sharply, looks back and sees
my bomb hit right near the forward elevator….a tremendous burst of flame and smoke and the deck peels back, things scattering off. A second bomb hits a Zero about to take off and a third hits among fighter planes that are warming up.(102)
Akagi maintenance officer Hiroshi Suzuki watches
the first bomb…a near-miss but I’m knocked down by the force of the blast. Stand up and check my body for wounds….Then a direct hit lands squarely amid Zero fighters standing on the flight deck causes a huge explosion. As the aircraft ignite their 20 mm. shells cook off and, due to the intense heat, rivets from the ship’s plates start to pop out like bullets. The blaze quickly spreads, everything seems to be on fire.(103)
while Fuchida experiences
a blinding flash and then a second explosion, much louder than the first. I’m shaken by a wierd blast of warm air….another shock, but less severe…then…a startling quiet as the barking of guns suddenly ceases. I get up, look skyward….the American planes are already gone from sight. Looking about, horrified at the destruction wrought in a matter of seconds….a huge hole in the flight deck just beyond the midship elevator. The elevator, twisted like molton glass, droops into the hanger. Deck plates reel upward in grotesque configurations. Planes stand tail up, belching livid flames and jet-black smoke….tears stream down my cheeks as I watch fires spread and I am terrified by the prospect of induced explosions that will surely doom the ship. I stagger down a ladder and into the ready-room, already jammed with burned victims from the hanger deck. A new explosion…several more follow, each causing the bridge structure to quake violently. Smoke from the burning hanger gushes through passageways and into the ready-room, forcing us to seek other refuge. Climbing back to the bridge I see explosions of fuel and munitions devastating whole sections of the ship, filling the air with deadly splinters. As fire spreads among the planes lined up wing-to-wing…their torpedoes begin to explode, making it impossible to control the fires. The entire hanger deck is a blazing inferno, and flames move swiftly toward the bridge.(104)
An anguished and stupified Admiral Nagumo refuses to leave the bridge. Finally one of his staff officers, Reizo Kusaka,
drags him along by the hand, but can’t find a way down, everything is so covered by smoke and flame; no way of getting out except by a rope which we hang from the edge of the bridge….When I get down the deck is on fire and anti-aircraft machine guns, set off by the flames, are firing automatically. Bodies all over the place, and the deck so hot it burns my hands and feet. This is how we abandon Akagi…helter-skelter, no order at all.(105)
While VB-6’s Best, Weber, and Kroeger hammer Akagi, Kleiss of VS-6 watches
McCluskey nose over and lead his wingmen, Pittman and Jacard, on their first combat dives. At first no antiaircraft fire, but when the Japanese hear the shriek of the Dauntlesses Kaga comes alive, spewing a barrage of shells….
at just this moment Kaga is
still engaged in evasive action against persistent enemy torpedo-planes when… 9 American dive-bombers drop suddenly through the clouds.(106)
Naruo Yoshino, one of this carrier’s Kate pilots, has just entered the ready-room when
a trumpet blares out, signaling impending attack. Then the roar of AA guns just below the room. I jump out onto the walkway and see several enemy torpedo-planes attacking and our gunners doing their best to hit them with machinegun fire. Suddenly one of our antiaircraft officers shouts something and points his baton to the sky. As I look up, enemy dive-bombers appear between the clouds and plunge toward us….(107)
while Lt.-Commander Mitoya, standing on Kaga‘s flight deck, hears
a lookout yell “dive bombers!” I glance up, see planes hurtling down at us…as I watch, tiny specks detach themselves from the planes…the specks grow larger… bombs…
McCluskey’s bombs miss, so do those of Pittman and Jaccard…theirs land in the same ocean as Kaga but not even close. Earl Gallaher next, followed by his wingmen, Stone and Roberts. Gallaher is the best dive-bomber pilot in our fleet. At that moment he saves the day, bringing our string of plunging aircraft back on target….
a string now joined by Kleiss, whose Dauntless
rolls into its dive, knifing downward at 240 knots, the wind roaring loudly around my open cockpit….the Rising Sun emblem on the carrier’s bow makes an inviting target…I pick out a spot on the ocean where I expect that big red orb to be in about forty-nine seconds and dive toward it…
as does, several planes up the ladder, the equally-experienced Lt. Dickenson. Who kicks his rudder back and forth
signalling my division to attack. I pull up the nose, stall, open dive-breaks, then peel off, 9th man in our squadron to dive. By the grace of God as I put my nose down I pick up our carrier target below and in front of me. We are making the best dive ever, coming in from all directions on the port side of the ship, beautifully spaced…14,000 feet…13,000…at 12,000 I recognize Kaga and she is enormous in my bombsight, racing along at 30 knots, beginning to launch planes….the target is absolutely satisfying. This is the absolute.
several thousand feet below, Kleiss watches Gallaher’s
bombs slam into the aft section of the carrier’s flight deck, just forward of the rear elevator. Immediately the stern section of the ship is engulfed in a huge mass of flames. As Gallaher pulls out he rocks his plane sharply, standing it on its tail so he can look at the devastation, something he routinely orders us not to do….Ensign Stone’s bombs miss and Roberts’ SBD never pulls up from its dive, plunging straight into the ocean, killing him and his gunner, Thurman Swindell….at 1,000 feet I jerk the bomb release lever and my three bombs drop loose, then pull back sharply on the stick, an awful gut-crushing sensation as 9 g’s squeeze my body and sea-spray speckles the windshield….the 500-pounder slams into Kaga’s forward elevator right at the edge of the red circle, penetrates the flight deck and explodes in the hanger, as do the two incendiaries….(108)
while Kleiss’s rival Dickinson, as his gunner calls out the altimeter readings – “11,000…10,000…9…8…7” – sees things somewhat differently:
bombs from the group commander’s section strike water on either side of the great ship, explosions grabbing at her like an iceman’s tongs. Gallaher’s pounds into the after part of the flight deck and makes a tremendous, gasoline-fed explosion among parked planes. My aiming point is the big red disk near the bow…almost at the dropping point when I see Ensign Stone’s bomb hit just behind the disc and the deck seems to ripple then curl back exposing a great section of hanger below….now release my bombs then kick the rudder hard, get my tail out of the way and stall out; I’m simply standing there to watch. The 500-pounder hits right next to the island and my 100-pounders slam into the forward part of that yellow flight deck.(109)
There are numerous historical narratives and/or detailed analyses of the violent American-Japanese conversation at Midway. Among the best are – despite a King-instigated, contrafactual hatchet-job on Fletcher and a few other inaccuracies – Samuel Eliot Morrison, History of U.S. Naval Operations in World War II (Boston, 1950), Volume IV, pp. 69-186; Walter Lord, Incredible Victory (NY, 1967); Gordon Prange, Miracle at Midway (NY, 1982); R. J. Cressman et al., A Glorious Page In Our History (Missoula, 1992); John Parschall and Anthony Tully, Shattered Sword (Washington, 2005); Dallas Isom, Midway Inquest (Bloomington, 2007); Peter Smith, Midway – Dauntless Victory (Barnsley, 2007); Craig Symonds, Battle of Midway (Oxford, 2011); and – getting Fletcher as right as Fletcher got the early, desperate months of the Pacific War – John Lundstrom, Black Shoe Carrier Admiral: Frank Jack Fletcher at Coral Sea, Midway, and Guadalcanal (Annapolis, 2006). Other narratives and firsthand accounts as cited:
- Hiroyuki Agawa, The Reluctant Admiral – Yamamoto and the Imperial Navy (Tokyo, 1979), tr. John Bester, pp. 310, 317. For a less dewy-eyed view of the Japanese CINCPAC, which dilineates his assorted incompetencies, see Mark Stille, Yamamoto Isoraku: Strategy, Leadership, Conflict (Oxford, 2012).
- Hara, Japanese Destroyer Captain (NY, 1961), tr. Fred Saito, p. 97
- Nagumo quoted in Mansanori Ito, End of the Imperial Japanese Navy (NY, 1962), p. 59.
- on the Japanese thrust into the western Indian Ocean, a critical and still under-appreciated aspect of the World War, cf. S. W. Roskill, The War at Sea, 1939-1945 (London, 1956), Vol. II – The Period of Balance, pp. 22-33. Also Michael Tomlinson, The Most Dangerous Moment (London, 1976), and John Clancy, The Most Dangerous Moment of the War (Oxford, 2015). I – almost- agree with these sentiments. In fact, the “most dangerous moment” had already passed, in March, 1942, during the planning phase of the Indian Ocean operation. At that time the Japanese offered to extend the Raid as far as Madagascar, off the coast of East Africa, the seizure of which would have cut the last Allied convoy route to the Middle East and its oil fields. Madagascar would likely have fallen to the Japanese without a shot being fired: it was then controlled by Vichy France, selfsame which had just handed all of Indochina to the Japanese with zero resistance. All the Germans had to do, to fulfill their end of the bargain, was seize Malta (to secure Rommel’s trans-Med supply line…in fact Kurt Student, the German Para-Corps commander, had already put both his divisions in Sicily, together with gliders and tow-planes in an effort to force Hitler’s hand) and then give Rommel a real force: a few of the 35 divisions Hitler then had in Norway and France, doing generally nothing. Once the Italo- Germans crossed the canal and into the oil-fields the Allied dominoes would have fallen rapidly: Turkey into the war on the Axis side, throwing 40 more divisions against the Russians and the Raj – India – with Japanese on one border and Germans on the other, going up in a pro-Axis uprising…which almost happened anyway. All this was, in fact, Churchill’s and the Allied strategists’ Great Fear in the early Spring of 1942. And they had no answer. Fortunately for the Anglo-Americans and the Reds, the Greater Fool in Berlin refused the Japanese offer; an Anglophile, Hitler still thought he could win the war by crushing Russia rather than bringing down the British Empire. Realizing they had just dodged a major strategic bullet, the Brits scraped together an ad hoc force of Empire troops and seized Madagascar in early May.
- Ian Toll, Pacific Crucible…1941-1942 (NY, 2012), p. 378.
- Mori, Miraculous Torpedo Squadron (Tokyo, 1952), tr. Nick Voge, pp. 222-226. Typical of the 1941-42 IJN’s world-class dive-bomber and torpedo-plane pilots, Mori’s intense and prolonged combat experience includes service with a land-based navy squadron during the ongoing Japanese-Chinese War and then, flying from Soryu: attack on Pearl Harbor, the Rabaul and Port Darwin strikes, and the Indian Ocean Raid.
- Fisher, Hooked – Tales and Adventures of a Tailhook Warrior (Denver, 2009), p. 73.
- Lundstrom, op. cit., pp. 209-212.
- Epps, Life On A Tin Can (Baltimore, 2002), p. 65.
- see Dwight Zimmerman’s essay @ http://defensemedianetwork.com/stories/youve-got-three-days-repairing-the-yorktown-after-coral-sea/ If the link fails, use this search term: “defense media network – repairing yorktown”.
- W. J. Holmes, Double-Edged Secrets: U.S. Naval Intelligence Operations in the Pacific During WW II (Annapolis, 1979), pp. 94-95.
- Petersen, Briny to the Blue (Scottsdale, 1992), pp. 53-54.
- Surgi quote in Oliver North, ed., War Stories, Vol. II: Heroism in the Pacific (Washington, 2004), pp. 116-117.
- Kernan, Crossing The Line: A Bluejacket’s World War II Odyssey (Annapolis, 1994), pp. 50-51.
- Ernest J. King, Roosevelt’s C-in-C United States Fleet AND Chief of Naval Operations, detested Fletcher (Frank Jack, being above this kind of thing, did not reciprocate) for a pantheon of bad reasons. First, King considered himself a hardscrabble self-made sort while Fletcher, nephew of an Admiral, was a naval dynast. Second, though both officers’ career paths show the usual alternation of shore-duty and at-sea command, Ernie King was fundamentally a desk jockey while Fletcher was a front-line fighter: at Vera Cruz in 1914, for instance (when a renegade poli sci professor esconced in the White House attempted to hijack Mexico’s oil fields) Fletcher somehow wound up with a Congressional Medal of Honor….while King “wished to get into the Mexican campaign…he went to Washington to investigate the possibilities. The only billet available was command of the reserve (read: rustbucket) destroyer Terry, then with only half a crew and one officer. This was his first command, and he was delighted with it, for it required the exercise of independent judgment. The Mexican incident did not, however, draw too heavily on his resources…for the only duty that Terry and the other reserve destroyers did was to escort a mule transport, and they were deprived of even that by regular destroyers as soon as they got about seventy-five miles to sea.” (King and Whitehill, A Naval Record, p. 89)….and here it is, 28 years later, and once again Ernie King is commanding a desk in DC while Frank Jack Fletcher is on the bridge of Yorktown commanding America’s Pacific carriers in desperate battle against a deadly enemy. There are other problems with King’s regime – he sometimes demands access to younger officers’ wives as a condition for promotion – but, since this is a family site, we’ll leave these aside for now.
- Symonds, Battle of Midway (Oxford, 2011), pp. 194-195, outlines the May 27-28 Nimitz-Fletcher conversations at Pearl and Fletcher’s “typed, single-spaced, 13-page letter” explaining his Coral Sea decisions. Stephen Regan’s In Bitter Tempest…Frank Jack Fletcher (Ames, 1994), pp. 152-156 is better still.
- Edwin T. Layton, And I was There – Pearl Harbor and Midway, Breaking the Secrets (NY, 1985), pp. 379-380, describes extensive Japanese knowledge of the USN call-signs, for both bases and ships. Which Nimitz now turned against them.
- Ugaki, Fading Victory – The Diary of Admiral Matome Ugaki, 1941-1945 (Pittsburgh, 1991), p. 131.
- Fujimori interview in United States Strategic Bombing Survey (Pacific), Interrogations of Japanese Officials, (Washington, 1946), Vol. II, p. 465. The astute reader will note the date of I-121’s sortie: April 2nd. More than two weeks before the Grandstand Play-alias-“Tokyo Raid”. Apologists for this misbegotten affair (which annihilated two squadrons of B-25’s, just then desperately needed in the South Pacific/New Guinea airwar; and, had Nagumo’s carrier force returned from it’s Indian Ocean Raid about 40 hours earlier than it did, would have given the Japanese the generic 2 carriers they missed on 7 December) usually claim that it “much accelerated” Japanese planning and execution of the Midway battle; in fact the IJN’s Midway Operation was conceived months before, and even figured in Japan’s pre-war contingency plans. And formal approval by IJN GHQ took place on 16 April, two days before the army bombers launched from Hornet. The all-around awfulness of Japan’s Midway battle plan, in short, had nothing to do with the TR. And everything to do with Yamamoto’s military personality and Japanese naval culture. For further discussion, cf. Agawa, op. cit., and Thomas Cleary, The Japanese Art of War – Understanding the Culture of Strategy (Boston, 2005)
- Robert Sherrod, History of Marine Corps Aviation in World War II (San Rafael, 1980), p. 54. While Kitty Hawk wasn’t yet at Pearl Harbor in the ten days prior to 7 December, 1941, one may reasonably wonder why some other naval transport was not used to crane and ferry the late November/early December 1941 pre-Pearl Harbor attack nickel-and-dime air reinforcements out to Wake (12 Wldcat fighters) and Midway Island (18 Vindicator dive-bombers) – instead of the entire Enterprise and Lexington carrier battle groups. The answer is: plausible deniability. Roosevelt and his top military advisors were looking to get into the World War on 7 December, 1941, not lose it on Day One. They sought to get the most valuable ships – the carriers and their escorts – out of the way of sure destruction while leaving enough tonnage and sailors (the obsolete battleships and their crews, a couple vintage cruisers, etc.) for the Japanese to sink and kill, thus manufacturing the “Infamy”, and do it in such as way as not arouse suspicion of foreknowledge re the Jap attack. But what did this foreknowledge consist of and where did it come from? Well, we know what it did NOT consist of. In his insightful overview of the Pacific War, Eagle Against The Sun (NY, 1985, p. 91, note #50), Ronald Spector writes, “in The Pacific War (NY, 1981), John Costello argues that Roosevelt’s decision to abandon the idea of a modus vivendi (NB: a public propaganda pose only) on 26 November was because he had received ‘an explosive piece of intelligence….a positive war warning, quite specific, absolutely believable, from a trusted source. Costello speculates that this intelligence must have come from Churchill, and was probably a copy of Yamamoto’s ‘Combined Fleet Operations Order #1’, which contained the broad outline of Japanese strategy for war with the U.S., Britain, and the Netherlands. Costello reports finding a copy of the plan in ‘recently declassified records’ (Pacific War, pp. 626-637). He believes this document was in British hands by 26 November and that at least part of its contents was passed on to the Americans. Whether or not the President received a ‘piece of explosive intelligence,’ it is highly unlikely that it was Combined Fleet Order #1. The copy of the document found by Costello in the records is #145 of 700. An identical document bearing the same serial # did, in fact, fall into American hands – but not until April 1945, when it was recovered from the (NB: sunk in Manila Bay) Japanese cruiser Nachi.” If not this, what was the “explosive piece of intel” conveyed to FDR on 26 November and where/whom did it come from? It came via a (scrambled) 1 PM (GMT) 26 November, 1941, radio-telephone call initiated by British PM Churchill, whose Far Eastern intel crew had cracked the IJN code. In this exchange the two Allied warmongers discuss how to play the upcoming attack (an attack purposefully provoked as a back-door into the European War by Roosevelt’s summer-fall, 1941, trade embargo and oil cut-off) in order to get a War Declaration out of a still-reticent U.S. Congress and support from an American public which as yet wanted no part of another World War. This RT call and a series of other such FDR-Churchill conversations on tender topics were picked up and descrambled by a German intercept station on the Dutch coast, active during 1941-1943. For the 26 November intercept (to put it mildly, the “smoking gun” that Court Historian defenders of the Official Version are always demanding) see Gregory Douglas, Gestapo Chief: The 1948 OSS Interrogation of Heinrich Muller (San Jose, 1995), Vol. I, pp. 42-55, 246-252, and Vol. III, pp. 48-99. For background on the German RT intercept station and its operations, see Richard Montpelier, “…a Little-Known Agency Was Tapping the FDR-Churchill ‘Hot Line'”, in World War II Magazine, III/1, May 1988, pp. 12-17. And for conclusive evidence (which the Brits will admit, or continue to lie about, in 2042) on the Far East Section’s break of the IJN code: Peter J. Shepherd’s first-hand account, Three Days to Pearl (Annapolis, 2000). Two other major points that should have been obvious long before now: first, if the issue really was just a two-bit airplane reinforcement mission to Midway-then-Wake, why use BOTH carriers when one (Halsey’s Enterprise, at c. 19,000 tons a relatively fuel-efficient heavy carrier) could have done it almost as quickly and with far more fuel economy, that is, without the entire Lexington battle group (& @ 33,000 tons, Lex was a ferocious oil hog) – guzzling tens of thousands of gallons of precious fuel – essentially duplicating the 2,200 mile round-trip from Pearl Harbor to Midway? And all to deliver just 18 additional planes that Enterprise could much more easily and economically have flown off to Midway along the way out to/back from Wake? And the answer is, once again, Roosevelt and his American co-conspirators (Navy C-in-C Harold Stark + Richmond Kelly Turner @ War Plans, JCS head General George C. Marshall, Interior Sec. Harold Ickes, Sec.-of-State Cordell Hull) understood that they were going to need every single heavy carrier then existing (Japan with 11 Pacific carriers; U.S. with only 3 carriers in-theater [Enterprise, Lexington, Saratoga] + 4 Atlantic carriers – Ranger, Yorktown, Hornet, Wasp – with only Yorktown ready for combat) to have a winning shot at the Japanese once hostilities began. And second: the standard response of the Court Historians, whenever a “revisionist” points out the remarkable coinkydink of both carriers (and all their attendant cruisers and destroyers) being well away from Pearl Harbor on 12/7/41. Which is: “well, Enterprise was actually due back on the morning of the 6th, but was held up by bad weather”; cf. E.B. Potter, Bull Halsey (Annapolis, 1985), p. 8….Potter’s sources for the Great Storm and its purported dilatory effect on Halsey’s Task Force are a) the journalist Eugene Burns’ And Then There Was One (NY, 1944, esp. p. 10) and b) Halsey’s initial hagiographer, J. Bryan, in his Admiral Halsey’s Story (NY, 1947, esp. pp. 75-76); But Burns wasn’t there, provides no documentation, while Halsey via Bryan mentions only some “head seas that delayed the refueling of destroyers”. And to all of whom I reply: bullcrap. Let’s look at some numbers. It’s 2,000 miles from Pearl to Wake; Enterprise, having left Pearl on the AM of 28 November, flew off its 12 Marine F4F’s from c. 170 miles north of Wake during the early morning OF 4 DECEMBER (see: John Kinney, Wake Island Pilot [Washington, 1995] pp. 44-49). Thus, c. 2,000 miles in 6 days at an average speed – really dogging it, actually – of no more than 12 knots. Most unusual for Halsey, a.k.a. “haul ass with Halsey”, who was well known as a demon for speed; he was evidently under orders to go slow. See if you can figure out why. Now, we are supposed to believe that Halsey, the Enterprise, and his entire 3 cruiser + 6 DD battle group were “due back on the morning of the 6th”??? That’s 2,000 miles in 48 hours, which would require an average speed of c. 40 KNOTS PER HOUR. The Enterprise-class carriers were capable of a max speed-burst of c. 32 knots which, if sustained, would burn out the engines. Actual “safe”, sustainable battle-speed would be c. 25 knots. And you know what? In order to begin flying off its planes to Pearl in the early AM 0f 7 December, from a distance of c. 200 miles, THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT HALSEY AND ENTERPRISE DID, “storm” or no storm. So: 6 days out, 3 days hell-bent-for-leather coming back (hint: Halsey smelled a rat) and STILL safely out of harbor during the attack. Sorry, Court Historians, the Official Version does not compute. As to Adm. Wilson Brown’s Lexington battle group, the save-the-carrier machination is even more obvious: Lex (again, a 33,000-ton fleet carrier ferrying 18 entire airplanes) and her cruiser/destroyer consorts sortied from Pearl in the early morning of 4 December (just when Enterprise was doing its Wake Island fly-off) and then lollygagged LITTLE MORE THAN HALFWAY out to Midway Atoll in THREE DAYS, i.e, an average speed of about 8 KNOTS. Lex and her consorts were still c. 500 miles short of Midway during the Japanese attack on Pearl, and never did fly off the 18 dive-bombers: Lex and her battle group then spent the next several days milling about uselessly south of the Hawaiian chain, depth-charging whales while doing a mock “search for the Japanese carriers”. Halsey’s TF came in on the late afternoon of 8 Dec. with fuel bunkers almost empty, refueled during the night, then skedaddled southward as well. And the 18 Vindicators of VMSB-231? Turns out they didn’t need carrier-transport to Midway at all: on 17 December, their own pilots flew them all the way from Oahu to Midway. Though all this is sufficient proof of conspiracy, it’s also worth noting that the preliminary get-the-carriers-out-of-harbor “suggestion” went by radio from Stark in DC to Adm. Kimmel at Pearl at 8:30 PM on 26 November…just 11.5 hours after the 9:00 AM (DC time) Churchill-FDR RT conversation, just sufficient time to come up with a plausible-deniability-providing “mission”. Kimmel (like his fired-by-FDR predecessor Adm. James Richardson) suspected he was being set-up, and was more than happy to get the carriers out and in a position to fight back if attacked. That’s also why, jerking about like a tethered goat in tiger country, he attempted on 28 November (see doc. above) to sortie several of the battleships and AGAIN did so on 4 December. Stark and/or R.K. Turner immediately countermanded both orders. There remains, of course, an infinitely remote possibility that both carrier battle groups being out of harbor (and well south of the incoming Japanese 6 carrier attack force) on 7 December, 1941, was essentially a random correlation of events. But if so, Roosevelt’s pre-7 December war conspiracy – an exercise in murderous realpolitik – looks much, much worse. It looks like dereliction of duty and High Treason. Here I am giving Roosevelt, Marshall, Stark, Turner and the rest of FDR’s claque the benefit of the doubt.
- Allan Ringblom account @ http://ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USMC/USMC-M-Midway/USMC-M-Midway-VI.html
- McGuckin, Split-Second From Hell (Perkasie, 1979), pp. 1-6.
- Casey, Torpedo Junction (Indianapolis, 1943), p. 363.
- Best, in Wayman Mullins, ed., 1942: Issue In Doubt (Austin, 1994), pp. 191-92.
- Casey, op. cit., p. 366.
- TF-16/17 OOB’s via Samuel Eliot Morison, History of United States Naval Operations in World War II (Boston, 1950), Vol. IV, pp. 92-93.
- Smith, Midway – Turning Point of the Pacific (NY, 1966), p. 69.
- Wilhelm’s diary @ Chris Hawkinson’s Battle of Midway site, http://www.centuryinter.net/midway/veterans/ralphwilhelm.html
- Daves interviewed by Carol Hipperson in Radioman (NY, 2008), pp. 112-113. For Thach’s account of his XO’s death and how he dealt with it, see his USNI oral history ms., pp. 223-225. And for a personal reminiscence of Lovelace, Griffith Coale, Victory at Midway (NY, 1944), pp. 42-49
- Thach, in John T. Mason, ed., The Pacific War Remembered – An Oral History Collection (Annapolis, 1986), pp. 98-100.
- Casey, op. cit., loc. cit.
- Daves, op. cit., pp. 114-115.
- Casey, op. cit., pp. 366-369.
- Holmes, op. cit, pp. 96-97.
- Sweeny quoted in Gilbert Cant, America’s Navy in World War II (London, 1944), p. 149.
- Hara, op. cit., p. 100.
- Inui’s diary, My Guadalcanal, @ http://www.netally.com/jrube/Genjirou/genjirou.htm (WordPress server doesn’t like this link, but the site exists; if it doesn’t go through, type in URL on your browser, click, scroll down, click)
- Richards account in Cant, op. cit., pp. 149-150.
- Rothenberg’s account in Mel Crocker, Black Cats and Dumbos (Blue Ridge Summit, 1987), p. 48.
- Hara, op. cit., loc. cit.
- Carl Creamer interview in Jeff Dickrell, Center of the Storm – The Bombing of Dutch Harbor and Patrol Wing Four in the Aleutians, Summer 1942 (Missoula, 2001), p. 51.
- Wheeler, The Pacific Is My Beat (Mt. Vernon, 1943), pp. 109-110.
- Abe interview in Ron Werneth, ed., After Pearl Harbor – Untold Stories of Japan’s Naval Airmen (Atglen, 2008), p. 51.
- Mears, Carrier Combat (Garden City, 1944), pp. 51-55.
- Doug Cossitt letter @ http://midway42.org/ShowPDF.aspx?Page=/Images/Cossitt_Douglas_M.pdf (apparently another link that WP breaks; to see the letter, type the URL in on your browser. Or go to the midway42.org website and click thru to the August 2016 Newsletter, then scroll down to the Cossitt link)
- Kleiss, via interviews with Timothy and Laura Orr, Never Call Me A Hero (NY, 2017), pp. 183-187.
- Dickinson, Flying Guns (NY, 1942), p. 141. Note that Dickinson published first. By 75 years. Possibly a factor in Kleiss’ animosity.
- anon. ms., author’s collection.
- Moore, The Sky Is My Witness (NY, 1943), pp. 57-58.
- Ady statement in Foster Hailey, Pacific Battle Line (NY, 1944), p. 164.
- Mitoya, “I Fought the Americans at Midway”, in Howard Oleck, ed., Heroic Battles of World War II (NY, 1962), p. 152.
- Chase, Ady @ http://pacificwar.org.au/Midway/June4.AM.html
- Moore, op. cit., pp. 59-60.
- Carl, Pushing the Envelope (Annapolis, 1994), pp. 2-3.
- Armisted account @ http://pacificwar.org.au/Midway/Midway_air_defence.html
- Ford account in Prange, op. cit., p. 201.
- Maruyama interview in Werneth, op. cit., pp. 178-179.
- Moore, op. cit., p. 60. The Midway-under-attack aerial image is one of 33 Norman bel Geddes’ dioramas depicting the battle. Complete set @ http://flightjournal.com/belle-geddes
- Carl, op. cit., pp. 25-26.
- Sweeney’s statement in John Loosbrock and Richard Skinner, eds., The Wild Blue (NY, 1961), pp. 206-207. See also W.F. Craven and J.L. Cate, The Army Air Forces in World War II (Washington D.C., 1948), Vol. I, Plans and Early Operations, January 1939 to August 1942, pp. 455-461, for the immediate post-war USAF Official Version: interesting but still extremely tendentious.
- Bert Earnest’s account @ http://harryferrier.blogspot.com
- Muri interview in Aviation History, XV/6, July 2005, p. 42, plus additional material in Cant, op. cit., p. 153. Collins in same, loc. cit.
- Fuchida, Mitsuo and Masatake Okumiya, Midway (NY, 1955), p. 142.
- this and all following Akagi signals traffic via Nagumo’s after action report, published postwar by the Office of Naval Intelligence as The Japanese Story of the Battle of Midway (Washington D.C., 1947) and available online @ http://ibiblio.org/hyperwar/Japan/IJN/rep/Midway/Nagumo
- Casey, op. cit., p. 374.
- anon. Enterprise dive-bomber pilot, ms., author’s collection.
- Casey, op. cit., p. 375.
- anon. ms., author’s collection.
- Graetz statement in Ronald W. Russell, No Right To Win: A Continuing Dialogue With Veterans of the Battle of Midway (NY, 2006), p. 178.
- Casey, op. cit., pp. 375-376.
- Kleiss, op. cit., pp. 192-193.
- Robert Mrazek, A Dawn Like Thunder – The True Story of Torpedo Squadron Eight (NY, 2008), pp. 129-132. Alvin Kernan, the Enterprise deckhand/ammo-handler (see above, note #13) wrote, in addition to Crossing The Line, three other books about Midway: The Unknown Battle of Midway – Destruction of the American Torpedo Squadrons (New Haven, 2005); a novel, Love and Glory – The Destruction of a Torpedo Squadron (pvt., 2004); and Adrift: Rescues After the Battle of Midway (pvt., 2009). The 2004 novel covers not only VT-8, but the coincident disintegration of the entire Hornet airgroup on 4 June, and the portrayal of it’s c/o, Stanhope Ring, is contrafactual and venomous. Kernan, in claiming that Ring (a.k.a. “Binder”) originated the due west search/strike vector in defiance of Mitscher and in order to take himself out of the battle, literally accuses him of cowardice in the face of the enemy. Actually, it was Mitscher, in defiance of Spruance, who originated the vector…because he had sufficient reason to believe there might be 2 additional Japanese carriers out in the direction; Ring simply obeyed orders. In his 2009 book, though, Kernan reverses himself and gets it right. The real villany involves the post-battle mutual CYA that Mitscher and Ring concocted: Ring agreeing to cover up Mitscher’s bad vector – which, but for a couple of chaotic micro-events involving the other 3 dive-bomber squadrons, might have lost the entire battle – and Mitcher deciding to cover up the mutinous implosion of Ring’s (and his) Hornet airgroup.
- Haruo Yoshina, Kaga‘s #2 scoutplane pilot, as interviewed in Dan King, The Last Zero Fighter (Irvine, 2012), pp. 160ff.
- Moore, op. cit. pp. 62-70. The Japanese Zero pilot killed by one of the SBD gunners and observed by Moore: apparently W/O Yoshimi Kodama. See Parshall and Tully, op. cit., p. 176.
- McFeely’s account in Cant, op. cit., pp. 154-155.
- Nagumo, Japanese Story, pp. 17-18.
- Fuchida and Okumiya, op. cit., pp. 154.
- Gay, Sole Survivor (pvt., 1986), pp. 121-125; also his statement in Mullins, op. cit., pp. 195-200.
- Cossitt, loc. cit.
- Kernan, Crossing The Line, pp. 54-55; Unknown Battle, pp. 110-111.
- Kleiss, op. cit., pp. 195-196.
- Dickinson, op. cit., pp. 145-146.
- credit for debunking the Official Version and unraveling the real drama of Hornet‘s airgroup goes entirely to Bowen Weisheit, as elaborated in The Last Flight of Ensign C. Markland Kelly (Baltimore, 1996). Weisheit began by researching the post-battle recovery positions of VF-8’s splash-downed pilots (Kelly was one of the two who perished) and discovering them to be some 180 miles east of Midway, not northwest as per the OV, and went on from there to other documents and firsthand interview material. With the exception of Peter Smith, all the top-echelon Midway narrative authors now accept Weisheit’s version. And, via two additional data points – VT-8’s initial approach vector (from the northeast, as per Akagi‘s log) and VB-8’s touchdown time @ Midway island (shortly after 11 AM) – so do I. For a last ditch, smoke-blowing attempt to defend the Official Version, see Smith, Midway – Dauntless Victory, pp. 104-123.
- Kleiss, op. cit., p. 196-197.
- Childers statement in Russell, op. cit., pp. 192-193.
- anon. VS-6 pilot, via unpublished ms.
- Dickinson, op. cit. pp. 149-151.
- Isom, Midway Inquest, pp. 206-207.
- anon. ms., author’s collection.
- Harada interview in Werneth, op. cit., p. 219.
- Thach account in Mason, op. cit., and his “Red Rain of Battle” in Maude Walters, ed., Combat In The Air (NY, 1944), pp. 187ff.
- Childers quoted in Kernan, Adrift: Rescues After the Battle of Midway (pvt., 2009), pp. 32-33.
- Cheek account in Russell, op. cit., pp. 99-101.
- Esders in Stuart Ludlum, They Turned the War Around…Going to War with Yorktown’s Air Group 5 (Bennington, 1999), pp. 105-106.
- Shumway quoted in Peter Smith, Fist From The Sky (Mechanicsburg, 2006), p. 216.
- Bottomly’s account in Peter Smith, Midway – Dauntless Victory, p. 143. Smith misplaces this pilot’s statement into Enterprise VS-6’s attack sequence on Kaga; as per the squadron rosters in his book, p. 107, Bottomly flew off Yorktown with Bombing 3.
- Gordon Prange, Miracle At Midway (NY, 1982), pp. 268-271; Parshall and Tully, op. cit., pp. 250-151.
- Mori, op. cit., pp. 247-251.
- Murray, “Midway: The View From a Bombing Six Rear Seat”, The Hook, XVII/#1 (Spring, 1989), p. 42.
- Fuchida, op. cit., p. 156.
- anon. ms, author’s collection
- Best statement in Mullins, op. cit., p. 194.
- Suzuki, in Werneth, op. cit., p. 92.
- Fuchida, op. cit., p. 156.
- Kusaka, in Morison, op. cit., p. 125.
- Nagumo, Japanese Story, p. 9.
- Yoshino statement in Werneth, op. cit., p. 140.
- Kleiss, op. cit., pp. 200-203. Given Roberts’ early-AM 4 June remarks in the pilots’ ready-room, it’s almost certain that he attempted to suicide-dive his SBD into this Japanese carrier. His gunner, Swindell, evidently did not get a vote on the issue.
- Dickinson, op. cit., pp. 152-153. Seems likely that both Stone and Kleiss scored, with #4 diver Gallaher striking first and #9, Dickinson, applying the fourth hit; a few seconds later, VS-6’s George Goldsmith contributed a fifth. No surprise, of course, that Dickinson neglects to mention Kleiss’s hit.
B. Firsthand accounts