Archive for the 'Countdown to Midway' Tag

I can run wild for six months … after that, I have no expectation of success.
– Fleet Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto

In racing there is a saying – ‘luck is where preparation meets opportunity’ Perhaps there is no truer an example than the Battle of Midway. Popular literature seems to emphasize the American forces stumbling into a heaven-sent scenario of laden carrier decks and little to no opposition to the dive bombers, while giving short shrift to the preparation that enabled them to make use of that opportunity. How so?

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In carrying out the task assigned … you will be governed by the principle of calculated risk, which you shall interpret to mean the avoidance of exposure of our forces without good prospect on inflicting, as a result of such exposure, greater damage on the enemy. (Extract from CINCPAC Operational Order to TF 17 Commander)

In every battle there is a moment when the combatants, and the world, seem to catch their breath. It is a fleeting moment, lost in the blink of an eye. But in that same blink, everything changes. Such moments are borne of desperation, of courage, of plain dumb luck. But they are pivotal – for what was before is forever changed afterwards.

Until 1019 on the morning of 4/5 June 1942, things had gone badly for the US and its allies. With few exceptions, the Allies were fighting a losing battle in the Pacific. Indeed, as events unfolded that morning, it appeared as if the rout was on. The attacks by land-based air forces from Midway had utterly failed culminating in the loss of many aircraft. The strikes by the torpedo aircraft were decimated – an entire squadron of TBDs shot down with only a sole survivor to claim witness. An entire air group missed the Japanese carriers and the battle altogether and of the remaining forces, they were scattered and disorganized. The future was looking grim. At 1019, Hiryu’s senior lookout shouted he had spotted dive bombers attacking Kaga from overhead. Despite being thrown into a hard turn, Kaga was struck by a 500 lb bomb and then successive strikes utterly crushed her…

At 1024 Soryu was struck a mighty series of blows…

At 1026, LT Dick Best led a flight of two other SBDs away from Kaga in an attack on Akagi. Attacking in a “V” formation from a right-hand turn, history held its breath as the first bomb missed and the third narrowly missed the carrier. But the second bomb, a 1,000 pounder from LT Best’s aircraft tore through the aft edge of the elevator and exploded in the upper reaches of the Akagi’s hangar bay, in the midst of the refueled/rearming aircraft parked there. In the blink of an eye, fate turned and three carriers lay burning.

To be sure the battle was not over and a dreadful price remained to be extracted from the American carriers. Likewise, Kido Butai had not seen the last of the Americans either and would pay the final price later in that day.

Across a seaborne canvass that stretched over 176,000 sq nm, larger than the country of Sweden the battle see-sawed back and forth. No other naval engagment has seen such breath-taking distances involved and few, short of a Trafalgar, have seen such a decisive turn of events. We honor today those who fought and gave their all in this signatory battle.- SJS

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WEDNESDAY, 3 JUNE 1942

ALASKA: In an attempt to divert forces from the Midway area, a Japanese carrier-based bombers and fighters bomb and strafe Ft Mears and Dutch Harbor in several waves inflicting little damage but killing 52 US personnel. P-40s from Cold Bay trying to intercept them arrive 10 minutes after the last attack wave departs. Other P-40s at Umnak are notified too late due to communication failure. 9 P-40s and 6 B-26s fly a patrol but cannot find the fleet-l80 miles (288 km) S of Dutch Harbor- but 2 of the P-40s engage 4 carrier-based aircraft, shoot down one and damage another. An A6M2 Zero fighter crashes in the Aleutian Islands and is discovered intact five weeks later. It is shipped to the United States for testing and evaluation. (ed. – this is the Zero that the urban legend about the design of the F6F sprang from; in fact, the F6F will fly for the first time in a little over 3 weeks from today’s date)

  • Alaska – Japanese occupy Kiska and Attu in the Aleutians.

CHINA-BURMA-INDIA (CBI) THEATER OF OPERATIONS: A flight of 6 B-25s of the 11th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 7th Bombardment Group (Heavy), earmarked for China, take off from Dinjan, India for China. They bomb Lashio, Burma en route to Kunming, but afterward 9 crashed into an overcast-hidden mountain at 10,000 feet (3,048 m) and another is abandoned when it runs out of fuel near Chan-i, China. The remaining 2 B-25’s reach Kunming, China, 1 with its radio operator killed by a fighter.

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