Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Midway, June 4-7, 1942, a great victory for the U.S. Navy, and considered the turning point in the war in the Pacific.
From Wikipedia’s account
of this epic battle, here is the climactic moment when, after a squadron of U.S. torpedo aircraft trying to attack the Japanese aircraft carriers had been utterly wiped out without touching the enemy, three American dive bomber squadrons running low on fuel located and inflicted crippling damage on three highly vulnerable Japanese aircraft carriers:
American carrier aircraft had difficulty locating the target, despite the positions they had been given. Nevertheless, they did finally sight enemy carriers and began attacking at 09:20, led by Torpedo Squadron 8 (VT-8, from Hornet), followed by VT-6 (from Enterprise) at 09:40. Without fighter escort, every TBD Devastator of VT-8 was shot down without being able to inflict any damage, with Ensign George H. Gay, Jr. the only survivor. VT-6 met nearly the same fate, with no hits to show for its effort, thanks in part to the abysmal performance of their aircraft torpedoes. The Japanese combat air patrol, flying the much faster Mitsubishi A6M2 “Zeros”, made short work of the unescorted, slow, under-armed TBDs. However, despite their losses, the American torpedo attacks indirectly achieved three important results. First, they kept the Japanese carriers off balance, with no ability to prepare and launch their own counterstrike. Second, their attacks pulled the Japanese combat air patrol out of position. Third, many of the Zeros ran low on ammunition and fuel. The appearance of a third torpedo plane attack from the southeast by VT-3 at 10:00 very quickly drew the majority of the Japanese CAP to the southeast quadrant of the fleet. Better discipline, and employment of all the Zeroes aboard, might have enabled Nagumo to succeed.
- end of initial entry -
By chance, at the same time VT-3 was sighted by the Japanese, two separate formations (a total of three squadrons) of American SBD Dauntless dive bombers were approaching the Japanese fleet from the northeast and southwest. They were running low on fuel because of the time spent looking for the enemy. However, squadron commanders C. Wade McClusky, Jr. and Max Leslie decided to continue the search and luckily spotted the wake of the Japanese destroyer Arashi. The destroyer was steaming at full speed to rejoin Nagumo’s carrier force after having unsuccessfully depth-charged the U.S. submarine Nautilus, which had earlier unsuccessfully attacked the battleship Kirishima.
McClusky’s decision to continue the search was credited by Admiral Chester Nimitz, and his judgment “decided the fate of our carrier task force and our forces at Midway…” The American dive-bombers arrived at the perfect time to attack. Armed Japanese strike aircraft filled the hangar decks, fuel hoses snaked across the decks as refueling operations were hastily completed, and the constant change of ordnance meant bombs and torpedoes were stacked around the hangars, rather than stowed safely in the magazines, making the Japanese carriers extraordinarily vulnerable.
Beginning at 10:22, Enterprise’s air group scored multiple hits on Kaga. To the north, Akagi was struck four minutes later by three of Enterprise’s bombers. Yorktown’s aircraft went for Soryu. Simultaneously, VT-3 targeted Hiryu, which was sandwiched between Soryu, Kaga, and Akagi; again, the American torpedo aircraft scored no hits. The dive-bombers, however, had better fortune. Within six minutes, the SBDs left all three of their targets heavily ablaze. Akagi was hit by just one bomb, which penetrated to the upper hangar deck and exploded among the armed and fueled aircraft there. One extremely near miss also slanted in and exploded underwater close astern, the resulting geyser bending the flight deck upward and also causing crucial rudder damage. Soryu took three bomb hits in the hangar deck, Kaga at least four, possibly more. All three carriers were out of action and were eventually abandoned and scuttled.
[end of Wiki excerpt]
Ron L. writes:
While it is nice to see all three carrier based torpedo squadrons mentioned, when VT-8 normally receives all the glory, there were actually four groups. Midway Island hosted the first operational use of the TBF Avenger, the replacement for the outdated TBD Devastator. Although nominally part of VT-8, the Midway Squadron operated alone, and despite being better armed, armored and faster, the Avengers were also mauled. From these squadrons 51 planes gallantly flew the most dangerous of missions, approaching ships at 100 knots at level and low flight to drop their “fish.” 44 of these planes and 99 of their 128 pilots and crews fell to flak and fighter. Though only one plane managed a hit (sadly a dud) on a Japanese carrier, their sacrifice ensured that the dive bombers got through all but unopposed. In all the Torpedo bombers suffered an 86 percent casualty rate among with 77 percent of their crews. I can think of no other American bomber group taking similar casualties in the war, not even Liberators of the infamous Ploesti bombing.
Alvin Kiernan’s 2005 book, “The Unknown Battle of Midway” focused on the torpedo bombers and their crews.
The USS Yorktown, CV-5, also deserves mention. Hastily patched up after damage at the Battle of Coral Sea, the USS Yorktown led its own task force. She was twice attacked by retaliatory strikes from the Hiyu and twice reported sunk. This led the Japanese to think that they had wiped out the America carrier forces, leaving them off balance when the planes of the Enterprise and Hornet struck. Although initially abandoned after the final Japanese strike, the Yorktown stayed afloat and salvage operations continued. Sadly, a Japanese submarine found the carrier the next day, sinking the Yorktown and accompanying destroyer, USS Hamman.
Since the decommissioning of CG-48 in 2004, no active ship bears this illustrious name. There is a movement for the planed CVN-79 to be name Yorktown, as opposed to the silly idea of USS Arizona.
Of course, I’m biased. As a child, I built a model of the USS Yorktown and hung it up in my room.
Ron K. writes:
A fascinating detail about Midway is the story of Richard Fleming’s heroism, apparently the only Medal of Honor awarded for the battle, and the legend that grew out of it, that he was the “first kamikaze.” A couple of the pages on the first link (can’t link to individual pages somehow) analyze that legend.
Walter Lord’s book “Incredible Victory” is probably the best work on Midway.
It makes it clear that it wasn’t just one torpedo bomber squadron that failed, it was wave after wave after wave of American planes (many of them launched from Midway itself) that had attacked and failed to inflict any damage at all. The Japanese commander was feeling pretty confident after repulsing so many attacks. Problem was (as mentioned in the Wikipedia article) the Zeroes had gotten diverted down near the surface (the torpedo bombers would come in very low and shallow), and thus were totally out of position to respond to the dive bombers when they suddenly showed up. It didn’t help that the Japanese had been changing their minds several times in a row about how to outfit the next waves of planes they’d launch from the carriers, so they had quite a few planes that weren’t ready for anything.
There is also an interesting story about an American pilot—I think he was in one of the torpedo bomber waves—who got shot down early on, and ended up just floating in the middle of the Japanese fleet throughout the entire battle, watching the whole thing. Lord mentions him, I need to reread the book.
One of the things I always thought was most interesting is that afterwards, when the American commanders went through all the debriefing and tried to figure out which dive bomber squadron showed up when and where and which ones attacked which Japanese carrier, the eyewitness testimony of the pilots was very difficult to reconcile with what had evidently happened. Two examples that I particularly recall were that the pilots in one of the squadrons that showed up last were absolutely certain that there were no other dive bombers either in position above the Japanese ships, or already in a dive, that they were the first on the scene, and that no Japanese ships had been hit at the time; but this simply wasn’t possible, given other facts, it was clear they must have been the last to show up—and second, that all of the bomber pilots were sure they had attacked one of the larger two carriers. But the Soryu got sunk, so obviously that wasn’t true. We normally take eyewitness testimony as being extremely reliable, but people can fool themselves—we can see this in misidentification in police lineups, or in good murder mysteries—people will notice certain details but not necessarily remember accurately how they relate to other details, although they think they do, particularly at times when there is a lot going on and people are focusing on just a few things at a time. The problem is to figure out what they actually noticed, and what blank areas the brain “filled in” after the fact.
Howard Sutherland writes:
Thank you for remembering the battle of Midway on its 67th anniversary. Was I the only one who noticed that The One chose to grovel before his Moslem masters, debasing our country, on the anniversary of Midway, one of America’s most heroic days? Indeed, are today’s United States Navy and Marine Corps, with B. Hussein Obama as their commander-in-chief, any longer capable of an effort such as Midway, and the Pacific campaign as a whole? This former officer of the Naval Service and fighter pilot rather doubts it, which certainly isn’t how I like to see things.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at June 04, 2009 11:59 PM | Send
Almost everything one sees these days serves as a reminder of the ongoing displacement of Americans in our own land. Does feeling that way make me as race-obsessed as Senorita Sotomayor? I hope not!
Your Midway post reminded me of an exchange I had with a member of VDare’s editorial coalition around the time of the 60th anniversary of the battle in 2002. We were discussing the fleet action, with its many close calls and what-ifs, when he observed that the roster of commanders of the U.S. naval aviation units in action that day read like a roster of old stock American names—he was thinking primarily of the Scots-Irish. I had not thought of it that way, but of course in 1942 that would have been absolutely normal and no cause for comment.
It’s quite a different story in today’s deliberately diverse, affirmative-action driven military. Without straining my memory too much, I can remember the following names of senior commanders in our ill-conceived Afghan intervention and Mesopotamian invasion: Sanchez, Abizaid, Taguba, even Odierno and Petraeus (and who can forget “our” ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad?). Hardly traditionally American names. And not only in our Middle Eastern misadventures: when I deployed in the F-16C to Italy in 1993 to help the United Nations make Bosnia safe for Islam (I shudder to think what the commanders at Midway would have thought of such a mission!), the NATO commander was one General George Joulwan, U.S.A, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs was the eminently forgettable John Shalikashvili—who wasn’t even an American by birth, and who had replaced that famous son of Jamaican immigrants, Colin Powell. Now why did Powell become CJCS? Let’s see if we can guess.
In contrast, here are the names of the naval aviators who commanded the Task Forces and aircraft carriers (CV), the carrier air groups (CVG) and squadrons (VF (fighting), VB (bombing), VS (scouting) and VT (torpedo)) that fought at Midway. In fairness to the black-shoe* Navy, though, I must note that Admirals Fletcher and Spruance were not themselves aviators, which did not prevent their employing aviation effectively—all other officers listed were naval aviators. As you’ll see, my friend was not too off-the-mark, and I doubt such a roster of names among commanders would be permitted today. I hope I’m not considered mean-spirited or insufficiently “inclusive” for noticing the change since 1942:
Task Force 17—Rear Admiral Frank J. Fletcher in Yorktown
Task Group 17.5 Carrier Group—CAPT Elliott Buckmaster
USS Yorktown (CV-5) CAPT Buckmaster
CVG-5—LCDR Oscar Pederson
VS-5 LT Wallace Clark Short, Jr. 19 (17) x SBD-3
VF-3 LCDR John Smith Thach 27 (25) x F4F-4
VB-3 LCDR Maxwell Franklin Leslie 18 (17) x SBD-3
VT-3 LCDR Lance Edward Massey 15 (12) x TBD-1
Task Force 16—Rear Admiral Raymond A. Spruance in Enterprise
Task Force 16—RADM Raymond Ames Spruance
Task Group 16.5 Carrier Group—CAPT George Dominic Murray
USS Enterprise (CV-6) CAPT Murray
CVG-6—LCDR Clarence Wade McClusky, Jr. 1 (1) x SBD-3
VF-6 LT James Seton Gray, Jr. 27 (27) x F4F-4
VS-6 LT Wilmer Earl Gallaher 18 (18) x SBD-3
VB-6 LT Richard Halsey Best 18 (18) x SBD-2, -3
VT-6 LCDR Eugene Elbert Lindsey 14 (14) x TBD-1
USS Hornet (CV-8) RADM Marc Andrew Mitscher
CVG-8—Cdr. Stanhope Cotton Ring 1 (1) x SBD-3
VF-8 LCDR Samuel David Mitchell 27 (27) x F4F-4
VS-8 LCDR Walter Fred Rodee 16 (15) x SBD-3
VB-8 LCDR Robert Ruffin Johnson 18 (18) x SBD-3
VT-8 LCDR John Charles Waldron 15 (15) x TBD-1
The commanders of the two Marine squadrons flying from Midway Atoll were Major Floyd B. Parks of VMF-221 (F2A Buffalo and F4F-3 fighters) and Major Lofton R. Henderson of VMSB-241 (SB2U Vindicator and SBD-2 dive bombers). Both were killed in action.
*In the U.S. Navy, surface line officers (today known as Surface Warfare Officers, once qualified), the real sailors who drive ships, are often called black-shoes, in contrast to naval aviators (and today naval flight officers as well), who similarly are often referred to as brown-shoes. The monikers come, not surprisingly, from the color of the shoes each group wears with khaki working uniforms.