Background: In the course of writing for my home blog I’ve had occasion to meet up with a number of folks who’ve “been there/done that” in a historical context. By default many have been from Vietnam, a few from Korea andsome of whom have been by proxy from WWII, but late last year I had the occasion to (virtually) join up on the wing of a Helldiver naval aviator who flew from Ticonderoga. The genesis of the join-up was a post on Tailhook’s page about the “Grey Books” associated with Midway being de-classified after a review mandated by the Kyl-Lott amendment to the Defense Appropriations Act of 1999 and 2000 (which had forced the re-classification of the previously declassified documents…). A couple of queries later and LCDR George Walsh, USNR-Ret was vectored my way and offline discussions ensued. Two items became evident – that at 88 yrs of age George is still a passionate and articulate writer (would that I be the same 35-years hence…) and that he is committed to correcting what he and some others from that era consider to be shortcomings in the historical record. One is the continued downplay of the role of dive bombers as attested to here in a review he recently wrote on A Dawn Like Thunder by Robert J. Mrazek:

Mr. Mrazek has produced a wonderful book full of great human interest stories about the crews of the fated Torpedo Squadron 8 but it perpetuates some inaccuracies long discounted by historians as follows:

At 7 AM on the morning of June 4th, 1942 a variety of aircraft based on the Islands of Midway located a Japanese carrier force and commenced a series of sporadic attacks that were easily repulsed by the Japanese.
Two and a half hours later, at 9:30 AM, Torpedo Squadron 8 attacked and all planes were easily shot down with no damage to the Japanese. One man survived, Ensign Gay.
After this attack the Japanese fleet turned northeast at high speed to close the American carriers.

It was 10:25 AM when our dive bombers made their successful attacks. How then could the attack of Torpedo Squadron 8 almost an hour earlier have had the effect of drawing the Zeros down to low altitude and clearing the way for the fortunate dive bombers?

How could Ensign Gay have been eyewitness to the crucial dive bombing attacks an hour after he was shot down? Standing up in a life raft visibility at sea level would be 2.8 miles to the horizon. Under a seat cushion?

The myth of Torpedo Squadron 8 was first introduced in Admiral Nimitz’s main Action Report of the Battle of Midway issued on June 28th, 1942. This delayed report was prepared by Commander Ernest Eller, a public relations expert, in close consultation with Admiral Nimitz. In addition James Forrestal, then Under Secretary of the Navy, flew out from Washington to consult. Forrestal was formerly a journalist and public relations expert.

There were many weighty matters to be considered before releasing the Nimitz Action Report, too many for me to go into here, but foremost was the need to maintain secrecy concerning the code breaking.

The story of Ensign Gay and Torpedo Squadron 8 were a welcome public relations tool for the Navy at an opportune time, and it was brilliantly employed. By glorifying the mutinous John Waldron and the glamorous George Gay attention was diverted from the staggering losses of our pilots and the inept way in which Admiral Fletcher had executed Admiral Nimitz’s inspired plan to ambush the Japanese as they were attacking Midway (for reference, the Battle of Midway roundtable has an excellent summary and list of counter-arguments here. – SJS).

Ensign Gay was dispatched on a highly publicized bond raising tour. He was lionized by Hollywood. He made the cover of Life Magazine while Admiral Fletcher was wafted to obscurity on the Northwest Sea Frontier, as far from the Washington press corps as Admiral King could send him.

Robert Mrazek’s engrossing book is a great addition to the many books and films devoted to Torpedo Squadron 8 and the 15 pilots and crewmen shot down at Midway in unsuccessful attacks.

But there also were 16 SBD Dauntless dive bombers and their crews that were lost that day, nobody knowing how many were shot down and how many were lost at sea after pursuing the Japanese beyond the SBD’s point of no return.
Why has there been not a single book about Wade McClusky, Max Leslie, Dick Best and their stories? No TV film about our WW II dive bombing?

Where Torpedo 8’s attacks were futile, the dive bombers succeeded in saving the United States Navy from a looming disaster. It’s a better story but the myth seems to have a life of its own. Focusing on the successful dive bombers at the time of the battle might have invited awkward questions.

I am an 88 year old former dive bomber pilot myself. Too old to start writing books myself, but I have spent the last twenty years searching for the truth about the Battle of Midway as told in my blog.

Everyone who participated in the Battle of Midway 66 years ago deserves our respect and admiration but the U.S. Navy needs to be challenged over its persistence in withholding the true story of the battle all these years.

Let’s open up the old classified files at the Naval Historical Center as well as the Midway files that were reclassified last year after the publication of Peter C. Smith’s controversial book, Midway: Dauntless Victory.

Lots to chew on there for those with a historical bent. I know as I carry out research on another project that spans the WWII through Cold War span, that the access to original materials has been and remains critical in conducting analyses and that falling into well worn traps of publically held mythos all too easy. Putting that same material in context with those who were there is also important and as the WWII generation dwindles, opportunities in that regard follow suite – all the more reason to open (or, as the case may be, re-open) the books. I am encouraged that the Naval History and Heritage Command (neè Naval Historical Center) has taken a round turn on the important role they play in educating and promoting naval heritage in the Fleet and other communities.

There’s more to come as George and I are working on an interesting project, some of which will be seen here – after I finish the first book project later this month.




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  • OldRetSWO

    While I had not realized the delay between the Gay shootdown and the Dive Bomber attack and info about the “mutinous John Waldron”, I have long heard and known that the Dive Bombers were the force that won the Battle of Midway. In my view, that has never been in doubt. Yes, there were “Hollywood” depictions of the bravery of others but clearly, the Heavy Lifting was done by the Dive Bombers.

  • Andy (JADAA)

    SJ:
    While I have yet to read “Midway:Dauntless Victory”, Jon Parshall and Tony Tully’s “Shattered Sword” really has helped raise the academic bar to new heights. I am grateful that both academic and non-professional but nonetheless equally rigorous students of this clash have sought to bring to light new and more vigorous scholarship and helped correct the popular record.

    Many thanks for sharing George’s and your work here on the blog!

    VR,
    Andy

  • jwithington

    Very interesting to read. The “Armed Forces Officer,” published by the National Defense University, is issued to midshipmen entering one of our leadership courses. Several pages are spent lauding the sacrifice of Torpedo Squadron 8, yet very little attention is paid to the dive bombers as LCDR Walsh points out.

    On a sidenote, every second-class (junior year) midshipmen has to write a paper on the Battle of Midway. With ~500 mids writing a paper on this topic all at the same time, there are rows upon rows of empty shelves in the sections dealing with the battle.

  • http://xbradtc.wordpress.com XBradTC

    I was fortunate to know one of the “forgotten survivors” of VT-8, Harry Farrier. Harry was a gunner on the sole Midway based TBF to return. IIRC his pilot survived, Harry was wounded, and the third crewman was killed. The other 5 TBFs dispatched from Midway were all destroyed.

  • SeniorD

    The Dauntless SBD was untouchable during it’s dive but oh so vulnerable during the pull-out. The pilots of those aircraft deserve all the credit for the countless number of Japanese ships they sent to the bottom of the Pacific.

    Two curious things still allude me. The Brits in their Swordfish attacks on the Bismark came away with relatively light casualties and a seriously damaged German Battleship. Why?

    In comparison, Torpedo 8, whose out-dated torpedo bombers managed to arrive BEFORE the faster SBDs and F4Fs? Why?

  • Byron

    Senior: The Stringbags? Luck? Lousy marksmanship on the part of the German and Italian AAA gunners?

    Re: Torpron 8: Navigation difficulties, I would suspect, on the part of the SBDs and Wildcats.

  • sid

    The Brits in their Swordfish attacks on the Bismark came away with relatively light casualties and a seriously damaged German Battleship. Why?

    Something I always wondered too.

    One answer….not entirely verified… is in a Discovery Channel production with an interview of one of the few remaining survivors from Bismark. He remarked that their radar guided AAA didn’t work very well against the Catalina or the Swordfish because they were too slow.

  • http://www.usni.org admin

    I’m currently working on a project that focuses on Battle of Midway: digitizing the audio of a number of Oral Histories and stringing them together for blog talk radio which also combines some of the footage of Harry Ferrier from a filmed interview we did in 2007.

    I just uploaded the short to our YouTube site:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6TTJlYmpVGw

    Withington: the Midway Essay contest is hosted by USNI and we have a library with numerous first-hand accounts and books on Midway…here on the yard and accessible to midshipmen.

  • http://steeljawscribe.com Steeljaw Scribe

    Admin:
    If you haven’t already, strongly recommend contacting The Midway Roundtable as they have about 50 living survivors of all stripes who are part of the Roundtable.
    – SJS

  • http://steeljawscribe.com Steeljaw Scribe

    SeniorD/Byron:

    Remember, Bismark didn’t have the organic air assets the Kido Butai had – that was the demise of the TBD’s. Plus IIRC, the weather was typical North Atlantic (low ceilings, reduced vis, etc. IOW – sucky) compared to that of the Central Pacific…
    – SJS

  • http://xbradtc.wordpress.com XBradTC

    admin, I’m getting a 404 on the youtube link, please check that.

  • CINCLAX

    Having just finished Robert Mrazek’s A Dawn Like Thunder, I’d like to weigh in on this topic. First of all, it adds immeasurably to the story of VT-8, a squadron heretofore thought to have disappeared from history with the loss of all its TBDs on June 4th. Now we learn that its TBF detachment made its own contribution, not only on June 4th but later at the Eastern Solomons (August) and on Guadalcanal for three very long, painful months when the issue was still in doubt.

    Most of all, Mrazek spares no criticism of Hornet skipper Marc Mitscher and its air wing CO, CDR Stanhope Ring. Heretofore Mitscher has been lionized into the pantheon of Navy heroes, while Ring has borne the brunt of historical criticism for leading his F4Fs and SBDs off on a mistaken course that only John Waldron’s TDBs refused to follow. Denied fighter escort by Ring, Waldron found the Japanese carriers although all his aircraft were shot down and no hits made.

    Mrazek suggests that, in fact, Ring’s erroneous heading was Mitscher’s and not Ring’s decision, and that Ring was simply covering for his boss—for which he was rewarded with a Navy Cross—of all things!

    Later in the day, when TF17 mounted the strike against Hiryu, Hornet continued to blunder and got no aircraft on the scene. In fact Hornet’s only success in the battle didn’t come until June 6th, when TF17 went out to attack the two crippled cruisers Mogami and Mikuma—and SBDs from Enterprise had to finish the job on Mikuma.

    Lastly, a couple of errata in Mrazek’s book jumped out at me:

    There are no such islands as Nandi or Suva (p. 407). In fact they are two towns at the opposite ends of Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu. And “Nandi” is correctly spelled “Nadi” even if local pronunciation makes it seem as though it ought to be spelled “Nandi.” Today it’s the location of Fiji’s international airport.

    There is no “Shetland Harbor near Bougainville” (p. 390). It’s the Shortlands, which the Japanese often used as a staging base for raids and supply runs to Guadalcanal largely because it was some 200 miles closer to Henderson Field than Rabaul.

    SteelJaw…Whatever you may think of Fletcher’s ability—he was not “wafted to obscurity on the Northwest Sea Frontier” just yet, but survived in command long enough to lead three TFs in the Battle of the Eastern Solomons in August 24-25. Lightly wounded in a submarine attack while aboard Saratoga a week later, he returned to Pearl, and it was at this point in his career that he was “rusticated” to the Northwest. So his performance at Midway had little or nothing to do with his reassignment. At Guadalcanal, however, that’s another story, and the Marines never forgave him for pulling out as soon as he did.

  • http://www.usni.org admin

    Whoops! The link is fixed…and it’s here too:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6TTJlYmpVGw

  • UltimaRatioReg

    “At Guadalcanal, however, that’s another story, and the Marines never forgave him for pulling out as soon as he did.”

    Believe it or not, after almost seven decades, Fletcher’s name still often invokes a string invectives from Marine Guadalcanal veterans, who feel sure that the lack of ammunition, food, and supplies contributed materially to the loss of life on the island.

  • blowback

    The Brits in their Swordfish attacks on the Bismark came away with relatively light casualties and a seriously damaged German Battleship. Why?

    The Germans did not have proximity fuses so the fuses on the anti-aircraft shells were set automatically by a predictor to allow for a attacking ‘plane flying at about 120 knots – from memory (very hazy) the Swordfish flew at about 80 knots while preparing to drop its torpedo. The result, all the anti-aircraft shells detonated well in front of the Swordfishes.

  • SeniorD

    Fletcher’s ‘Canal ‘Bug Out’ and his insistence on refueling every time a cloud hiccuped makes him less than ideal to run a Task Force. I think Nimitz’ choice screwed Yorktown.

    As regards the Brits and their Swordfish attack against Bismark, granted the AA fire did not have radar or proximity fuses, but Bismark also had 20mm and 40mm guns. Even at 80 knots, a biplane makes a real fat target.

    Perhaps the pointers needed more instruction?

  • http://steeljawscribe.com/ SteelJaw

    @URR:
    Trust me – they don’t even have to be Guadalcanal vets to remind one, as a retired Marine I work with is oft given to remind me…without prompting.
    – SJS

  • RG

    Can’t believe I’m reading on a USNI blog some of the things I’m seeing here.

    The best-researched histories of Midway (among others, Parshall & Tully, and Lundstrom’s “The First Team”) agree that the Yorktown’s personnel in toto probably fought the best of any of the three US carriers. Lundstrom’s dissection of the Hornet air group’s contrasting poor performance informs Mrazek’s book and is credited there accordingly. The Yorktown’s loss is attributable to 1). The failure to knock out the Hiryu at the same time as the other three Kido Butai carriers, which was in turn the probable result of the Hornet group’s absence; 2). US doctrine which at the time didn’t support operating more than two carriers in even loose formation; and 3). the small size of the standard VF at the time, which didn’t have enough fighters in it to cover both strike escort and CAP duty. Fletcher’s performance didn’t have a damn thing to do with it.

    I get annoyed when I hear USMC carping about the Navy’s performance at Guadalcanal. It’s simple fact that the USN incurred more casualties than the ground forces (3x as many, according to Richard Frank’s book on the campaign). And it’s also fact that whenever the USN tried to operate heavy ships continuously within striking distance of the island, as the USMC wanted, it suffered major losses. The only thing that worked was the in-and-out, cut-and-thrust that necessity dictated and that Halsey and his TF commanders eventually perfected. Japanese air, sub and night-surface forces were too effective to allow anything else until late in the campaign. The simple fact is that the Guadalcanal campaign was not well planned and probably premature, and succeeded only because the Japanese army there was poorly led and supplied.

    Wade McClusky’s and Max Leslie’s stories have received fine treatment in various books, though not the squadron-level detail that Mrazek provides for VT-8. See for example “Rendezvous at Midway” by J. Harrington and P. Frank for details on Leslie, and both Lord’s and Prange’s books for McClusky’s story.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    “I get annoyed when I hear USMC carping about the Navy’s performance at Guadalcanal.” Okay., RG, I’ll bite

    The USMC doesn’t carp about the Navy’s performance. It carps justifiably about Fletcher’s performance. Nothing but good to say about the cruisers and destroyers that paid so heavy a price, particularly at Savo, and Eastern Solomons, and Santa Cruz.

    “The simple fact is that the Guadalcanal campaign was not well planned and probably premature, and succeeded only because the Japanese army there was poorly led and supplied.”

    The alternative was to let the Japanese complete and put into operation a large airfield that could dominate US supply lines into Australia. That is what happens when the enemy has the initiative. One has to wrestle it from them, at high cost. And as for the “only reason” we secured Guadalcanal having nothing to do with the bravery of the Marines, soldiers, and sailors who endured that hell, well, there isn’t much to say to that except you haven’t read very thoroughly about the Guadalcanal campaign. URR

  • sid

    The USMC doesn’t carp about the Navy’s performance. It carps justifiably about Fletcher’s performance.

    As its a USNI publication, surprised no one has brought up Black Shoe Carrier Admiral, which takes another look at Fletcher’s performance.

    Worth the read, and makes a compelling argument that he got a raw deal from SE Morison.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Well, it is an interesting topic, Fletcher’s performance at Guadalcanal.

    Being somewhat parochial, the USMC only has a beef with his decision to pack up the transports, with almost all the food, water, and about 80% of the gasoline and ammunition aboard, and have them put to sea. In the views of Vandegrift, Del Valle, and others, he risked the entire landing force, 11,000 Marines of the 1st Marine Division.

  • RG

    Sid: I’ve read “Black Shoe Carrier Admiral” and found it not wholly convincing. Lundstrom I thought had a better discussion of Fletcher’s post-Savo decision-making in “The First Team and the Guadalcanal” Campaign,” especially where he noted the condition of the air groups. I do think Fletcher at the end of his run was gun-shy and that Lundstrom in the bio doesn’t really come to grips with that; I just don’t happen to think Fletcher had reached the point of gun-shyness in August ’42.

    URR: I take absolutely nothing away from the bravery of all arms at Guadalcanal. That said, luck played a part, just as it did months before at Midway. Both the November sea battles around Guadalcanal could easily have gone the IJN’s way; Santa Cruz was a hair’s breadth from being a disaster for the USN’s carrier force. Those were all at least must-survives on the USN’s part for the overall campaign to have worked out.

    As far as the Japanese army’s supply situation and leadership, Richard Frank’s book is quite definitive on the point. Their first attack, when the Marines were most vulnerable, was completely botched. Troops subsequently landed lacked even the essentials.

    I’ve never been convinced that Fletcher’s decision to withdraw the transports post-Savo was incorrect. Reasons: 1). The transports’ surface screen was on the bottom; 2). the CVs’ aircrews per Lundstrom were quite worn down or getting that way; and 3). the IJN in any event had pretty definitely proved that in the absence of a USN surface screen, it was not possible for the CVs to protect the transport force because of the possibility of night attack. Point #2 of these is the weakest but point #3 seems to me unanswerable. The supplies didn’t do the Marines any good once the transport left, true. But they also wouldn’t have done the Marines any good from under the waves of Ironbottom Sound.

    As for the necessity of taking the ‘Canal in August, I do think holding on the defensive on Espiritu Santo and at Noumea was an option. As hard a time as the Japanese had operating air against Guadalcanal from Rabaul, their problems operating from the ‘Canal against the two more-southern islands would have been even greater.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    RG,

    No doubt luck played a great part in salvation in the Guadalcanal campaign. But luck is the residue of design. And, in many cases, bravery and skill.

    The Japanese on the island were lightly equipped, and “botched” several attacks, not because they were tactically inept, but because they underestimated their foe. They had had the upper hand in virtually the entire of the war in the Pacific, starting with Manchuria in 1931. Their haphazard planning and execution was something they had gotten away with until then. As one interrogated Army officer put it, “We had been used to fighting the Chinese”.

    Your analysis of Japanese difficulties reflects hindsight that was not available to Nimitz and Ernie King in June of ’42. Rabaul and Truk were tough nuts to crack. One MM2 I knew vividly remembered the poundings dished out by land-based bombers from Rabaul to anyone venturing north of Brisbane for quite a long time.

    Vandegrift wanted another 24 hours to unload stocks of fuel, ammunition, and food. Facing a skilled enemy of unknown strength, and with any resupply other than what was in the bellies of those transports virtually impossible, veterans of Gualdalcanal thought the request worth the risk to the transports. Tough to argue that point of view. And had the Marines not fortuitously captured two large caches of Japanese rations, the landings might have collapsed. And the landings were, of course, the whole reason for the existence of the ATF.

    For not wanting to run a substantial risk to his transports, Fletcher came very close to risking the success of the entire operation. Rest assured, that runs contrary to how the USMC fights, both then and now.

  • RG

    URR,

    No quarrel here about the shortcomings of the Japanese army. I haven’t seen the quote relative to the Chinese but it certainly rings true. All told, few countries have been as poorly served by their army, particularly their army’s officer corps, as the Japanese were from 1931-45.

    I do disagree about the possibility of remaining on the defensive. The early Solomons offensive was basically Ernie King’s baby and it was born of inter-service rivalry (with MacArthur) well before the USN learned that the Japanese were building an airfield on Guadalcanal. Supply lines were quickly invoked as a rationale but the USN by that time was already committed to making an attack. I stand on my previous argument about the difficulties the Japanese would have had in waging an air campaign that could have seriously threatened the supply route to Australia. The relevant factor is the range of the Zero, not the range of the Betty. Both sides by that time already realized that the Betty needed escort (c.f. Butch O’Hare’s exploits against a formation of Bettys from Rabaul that attacked the Lexington early in ’42). Both Noumea and Espiritu were existing bases where forces could have been built up long before the Japanese could have been in position to attempt much.

    As to Fletcher and the Marines, the whole problem was that the unloading of the transports had gone far more slowly than anyone predicted. Remember, Turner had planned for a good number of his transports to have already left the area by the time Savo happened, only to have that expectation dashed by the pace the loadmasters set. Given those problems, another day I doubt would have improved the USMC’s supply situation as much as Vandegrift hoped. As to the risk to the CV force, Fletcher was hardly alone among WW2 TF commanders in not wanting carriers to linger days in one area conducting shore support. Later in the war Halsey, McCain and Mitscher all shared his impatience in that regard. Only Spruance was willing to commit CVs to long periods of station-keeping, with good results at the Marinas and bloody ones off Okinawa.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    We will have to agree to disagree regarding the Solomons offensive. Certainly planning was in the works, but the rush that was put on the operation following the airfield building activity was not done with the luxury of six decades of post-action analysis. Until the Japanese airfield was discovered, and the threat recognized to US/AUS lines of communication, the offensive was not to begin before the Autumn of 1942.

    As for the transports, the USN, Fletcher in particular, demanded control over the loading configuration of the support vessels. Also, until after Tarawa, it was CATF, not CLF, who dictated the pace and nature of unloading in amphibious operations. This was done, as many have said, was over Vandegrift’s strong protest, which he lodged both in Wellington and on the beaches themselves.

    Fletcher created his own problems with load plans that did not reflect the (admittedly) new concepts of amphibious warfare, and then exacerbated them by dictating general unloading far too early and without regard for the tactical situation. The ship-to-shore movement was reported as being very smooth, but supplies piled on the beach because limited shore party personnel were unloading supply categories not immediately needed by units on the perimeter.

    As for the CV force, with a target like Guadalcanal, a large island with a big Japanese garrison; With the limited resources the USN and USMC possessed in Aug 42, there was no way to have a “get the hell in, get the hell out” campaign that characterized the Central Pacific landings. In THAT campaign, the enemy garrison defended the beaches and could easily be brought to action, but not so on Guadalcanal.

  • http://www.admiralfletchervictories.com AndrĂ©s LazarĂşs del Castillo

    Spruance, not Fletcher was guilty of disaster. Fletcher was overall comnander (Senior Officer Present Affloat and Officer in Tacticas Command). He ordered Spruance to attack with two carriers, while he mantained Yorktown in reserve. When he decided no more enemy carriers were in other places, he sent his planes in correct order all together. But Spruance, withour experience, was afraid that Task Force 16 attack never could be, because the slow launching, and ordered the first planes that were flying waiting its fellows, to depart immediately to the enemy (and he didn’t warn them about the probably change of Nagumo’s course, as Fletcher did with Yorktown’s planes). Torpedo 8th was the torpedo planes of Hornet, and because the Spruance’s order of depart without waiting to be in correct formation and flying order, the torpedo planes arrived to the enemy without fighters. Almost all were lost, and its heroic aviators were dead. Spruance, not Fletcher was guilty moreover Fletcher’s responsibility as overall commander. But an Overall Commander is to give estrategical orders, the tactical duties was Spruance’s because the correct separation of Task Forces decided by Fletcher, the main reason for the great victory. all best for all. aldelcas@arnet.com.ar

  • http://www.admiralfletchervictories.com AndrĂ©s LazarĂşs del Castillo

    I don’t want to seem I´m not value Ray Spruance in all his value.
    In an article wrote to be published in a War Magazine, I talked about my book “The Days of Fletcher” (see http://www.admiralfletchervictories.com) and I made myself 25 questions and answered them. I was telling in the article, that the real victor at Midway was Fletcher, not Spruance. Here the question 20:
    20. YOU ARE NOT A SPRUANCE ADVOCAT ARE YOU?
    You are wrong, and very wrong. My book is critic, but also recognizes widely what Spruance’s deserves for his actions after Midway. Case in point, you won’t find in any other book a paragraph like this: “Spruance did not hesitate in taking apart the protection screen of Enterprise, his own flagship, to help protect Yorktown from new attacks”. Neither the chapter (among others), that I dedicate him named: “A Wonderful Person”. I transcribe a part of it: “Ray Spruance gave us an example of nobility by taking the blame for the loss of Yorktown when Hornet’s dive bombers didn’t find their target. He gave us an example of magnanimity when in a letter to the boss of both of them, Nimitz, he said that he admired Fletcher for his performance in Midway (22). Spruance’s tribute to Wade McCluskey, the man who heroically saved the mistake of the TF16 staff (23), and another time in a personal letter to Fletcher, will forever be unforgettable (24). It’s the kind of behavior that surprises, because it is rarely found. He gave us an example of greatness and humility when, well deserving the honor of five stars for high merits, he watched in silence how they were given to Halsey and only said it was fine. He gave us an example of honesty when he admitted – in the foreword to Fuchida’s and Okumiya’s book “Midway” – that the marvelous calculus of the instant to attack, that Morison assigned Browning and him, was a complete lie. He gave us an example of personal courage and generosity when he weakened his own escort force to reinforce Yorktown’s, which had already been attacked and was in danger of being so again, and when he turned on the lights of Task Force 16 to receive its planes in Midway. But above all, he gave an example of patriotism when he went to face Yamamoto. He knew that the chances of Fletcher being there were very slight, yet, he did it with all the calmness that a man can be capable of. He went to the encounter of Yamamoto, even when he knew he could be buried by history, by those same historians that today irresponsably award him the victory. He was the kind of person that sees all, that reasons all, that quickly understands all and solves all. And finally he was, as Fletcher said it: “a splendid officer and a wonderful person” (25). And while his advocates still fight for his memory today, they also fight for a dream… a five-star dream. If we dare say that Fletcher was best fighting commander of the United States Navy maybe we’ll have to say that Spruance was one of the greatest admirals in all its history … … but not at Midway”.
    Also you’ll find in the book, a description of Spruance’s work as Pacific Fleet Organizator. It was an enormous military machine which he granted structure and doctrine. Then he exhaustively studied the former carrier battles. Remember there were four great carrier battles in 1942, and Fletcher fought and won three of them, always as the underdog. Spruance’s advocates take the glory of Midway away Fletcher, and give the credit to Spruance instead. Spruance never meant to take the credit of that glory, because his later job had been admirable. Others put him in the position of an usurper without ever asking him for permission, and the day could arrive in which he must unjustly pay for that big error he didn’t do. That stigma would haunt his memory for ever. This would be unfair because he – even though not at Midway – was an excellent officer to whom the free world owes a great deal. But above all, Ray Spruance was an excellent person at a time when fine people were rare to find and very much needed”.
    References:
    (22). “I cannot close without expressing my admiration for the role Fletcher played in the campaign with the Yorktown” (Ray Spruance. Letter to Nimitz. June 8, 1942).
    (23). “The outstanding hero of the Midway battle” … “decided the fate of our carrier task force and our forces at Midway” (Ray Spruance talking about Wade McClusky. Quoted by Robert Cressman & Others. “A Glorious Page in Our History”. Pictorial History Publishing Co. 2001)
    (24). “If it had not been for what you did and took with the Yorktown, I am firmly convinced that we would have been badly defeated and the Japs would be holding Midway today”… “You were certainly fine to me all during the time the two task forces were operating together under your command, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it”. (Ray Spruance quoted by John B. Lundstrom. “Black Shoe Carrier Admiral” p293-296).
    (25). Gordon W. Prange. Interview with Fletcher. September 4, 1964. “Miracle at Midway”. Penguin Books. N.Y. 1991.
    All best for all. Andrés Lazarús del Castillo. aldelcas@arnet.com.ar

  • COL (ret) Jon Czarnecki, USA

    It’s almost 7 months since the last entry. I just wanted to add something as I teach Joint Ops for Naval War College, and we use Midway as a case study in command/staff relations. First, in perspective, the only USN commander to engage in three CV vs. CV battles, let alone winning two and drawing in one, gets disregarded until the 21st Century. That would be Fletcher; recall that during almost his entire command time, the USN is on the strategic and operational defensive. Even at Eastern Solomons, although Fletcher had local superiority, the IJN was still superior in numbers and quality of all combatants. Fletcher practiced “calculated risk” throughout his command time. And it was appropriate despite the hotheads who wanted to gunning for “Tojo.” Thank goodness for Nimitz for backing Fletcher. Second, none of the above question the ethics and practices of Kelly Turner. Does the ghost of “Terrible Turner” still haunt the Navy? Turner, who was THE self-acknowledged expert on amphibious affairs (like he was THE self-acknowledged expert on intelligence and botched the Pearl Harbor read), did have a close admirer (Too Close) in S.E. Morrison, who believed everything that Turner said. It was Turner who planned on the 48 hour interval at GCanal; it was Turner who was OTC for Savo. And yet, and yet, because of his…..disingenuous (am I being sufficiently discrete here???) comments to everyone who would hear, including his number one patron, FADM King, Fletcher somehow gets the rap for bugging out on the USMC at the Canal. Being a groundpounder myself, I understand being left in the dark and alone (think of CAS from USAF), but I think the USMC mis-aimed their justifiable wrath at the wrong ADM. Fletcher had the Center of Gravity for the US under his command – not Marines at Henderson, but the carriers. And he could not realistically risk the carriers for the grunts. I know that’s cold, but that’s what flags get paid to do. Fletcher earned his pay and then was insulted in DC and passed off the the Seattle Naval District (whatever number that was.) Turner who didn’t earn his pay at the Canal ended up being hurrahed and praised.

    Oh, and third, let’s not forget the disingenuous letter from CDR Ring, covering his butt for posterity. We now know that the inter-acft comms, monitored even by Hornet, between SQDN commanders of the Hornet Strike Group, continued to debate which course to take, Ring insisting on heading out on 260 T as opposed to 240 T – the route Waldron took. Recall in the letter that Ring wrote that VT-8 stayed with him even when we now know Waldron argued on the acft comms with Ring and set out with his sqdn alone.

    My take on all this as a retired officer and now a teacher is that Navy needs to reexamine its leadership styles – Ring and Mitscher covered up things so much that even Spruance could smell a rat – and take a closer look at just who deserves the praise of posterity for their actions.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Col Czarnecki,

    Excellent points about RK Turner. Ed Layton’s masterpiece “And I was There” paints a very different and uncomplimentary picture of Turner as a vindictive and petty man, while also giving the man his due for his accomplishments. Layton’s view is seconded in a number of places.

    The Marines had and will always have an issue with Fletcher, however, because of Wake and Guadalcanal.

    I am a reservist that drills at NWC. Maybe beer will facilitate intellectual exchange.

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