Sunday, 17 May 1942. PACIFIC OCEAN AREA (POA, 7th Air Force): The 7th Air Force is placed on alert in anticipation of a possible attack on Midway. For the next 10 days the old B-18’s on hand are used on sea searches to supplement the B-17’s. VII Bomber Command receives an influx of B-17’s during this period, and the 72d Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 5th Bombardment Group (Heavy), is converted from B-18’s to B-17’s.

Beginning with Billy Mitchell’s “demonstration” off VACAPES in 1921 where the Ostfriesland and ex-USS Alabama were sunk by heavy bombers, airpower proponents hailed the ability of land-based aircraft to protect our coastlines, claiming precision bombing would make surface ships obsolete. Now, in the wake of the attack by Japanese carrier-based aircraft on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent all out offensive through out the western reaches of the Pacific, land-based air began staging at Midway and would soon have the chance to prove if the advertising was true or not.

Onboard Midway, a collection of aircraft ranging from Marine fighters (F2A Buffalos and F4F Wildcats) and dive bombers (SBD Dauntless’s and SB2U-3 Vindicators) to Navy PBY Catalina’s and TBF-1 Avengers were joined by elements of the 7th Air Force, contributing 17 of America’s frontline bomber, the B-17E Flying Fortress and 4 of the new Martin B-26 Marauders. The former would conduct long range patrols in concert with the Navy PBYs to locate Japanese forces and attack same from high altitude while the Marauders would be used for low-level attacks with airborne torpedoes.


(Ed note: Because of the ranges involved, Japanese land-based air was not a factor. Since the Marine and Navy fighters and bombers had counterparts on the carriers, they will be covered in next week’s installment which centers on ship-based air. – SJS)

Posted by SteelJaw in Army, Aviation, Marine Corps, Navy

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  • Byron

    SJS, you mean you aren’t going to talk about how the IJN seaplanes, those big beautiful Kawanishis(?) were denied use of French Frigate Shoals?:

    “Meanwhile, on 29 May, seaplane tender (destroyer) USS Thornton (AVD-11) arrived at French Frigate Shoals to relieve light minelayer USS Preble (DM-20) on patrol station there. The presence of U.S. ships at French Frigate Shoals prevented the Japanese from refueling flying boats to reconnoiter Pearl Harbor. Although the Japanese could not visually confirm the departure of Task Forces 16 and 17 from Pearl Harbor, American preparations to defend Midway were on the verge of discovery anyway. Japanese COMINT stations not only learned of carrier movements in and out of Pearl Harbor, simply by listening to increased air-ground radio chatter, but traffic analysis of “Urgent” American radio messages coming out of Pearl Harbor suggested at least one Task Force was at sea. Incredibly, these discoveries by Japanese COMINT were withheld from the Midway Strike Force because of Yamamoto’s strict radio silence restrictions.”

    An AEW bubba not mentioning the IJN side of early AEW? Tsk, tsk 😉

  • Andy (JADAA)

    As you know, the USAAF’s presence at Midway led to a couple of interesting issues: The inevitable “turf wars” over tasking of the AF elements (which were locally resolved due to the urgency of the situation) that are still the subject of “mine is bigger than yours” conflicts 67 years later, albeit to a lesser extent due to the development of CAOC’s and joint forces structures that have been agreed to and implemented.

    The other issue was the result of the USAAF’s ability to get back to Hawaii and the press immediately after the battle. For quite some time, to the deeply felt resentment of the Navy and Marines, stateside radio and newspapers all crowed about the victory the Air Forces had won with their precision bombing at Midway. It was some time later that a clearer public perception of what actually happened became prominent.


  • @Byron: Assuming you are referencing the Kawanishi H8K “Emily” which wasn’t operational until 1942 – when, coincidentally enough, it was used for Operation K, a second raid on Pearl Harbor in March ’42 and staged out of French Frigate Shoals. That raid, was unsuccessful and is what ultimately led to CINCPAC’s stepped up presence at FFS, aborting the plan to use it as a staging area for the IJN to track fleet movements. As you will see in a later installment, IJN employment of ship-based patrol a/c and development of patrol plans was problematic at best…
    @Andy: Some of that was also Nimitz’s own doing to screen the real status of his carrier availability. But yes, even today when I read contemporary accounts or see film clips of the AAF’s alleged “precision bombing” prowess at Midway, especially in light of the dive bomber’s accomplishments, it makes me shake my head, much like the staged VACAPES event of a couple decades earlier…
    – SJS

  • Byron

    SJS: Part of the o-plan for the IJN was to use both submarines and Emilys to scout ahead and determine the location of the American fleet. This went out the window when the subs assigned to re-fuel the Emily’s found the USN was there first. And yes, I know about the IJNs recon plan, and how one floatplane and it’s mechanical problems proved fortuitous for the US Navy.

    And I agree about the AAF and their bragging. Other than cause the invasion fleet to move about a bit to miss all the bombs, nothing much was accomplished. Having said that, the crews of the four B-26s were as brave as they come.

  • Slightly related to this topic – I am looking for Boston area Midway vets. Anyone with info please drop me a line.


  • @Maggie: Check your inbox…
    – SJS

  • CDR Mark Condeno

    Steeljaw Sir

    Thank You for this,I am an avid Battle of Midway Student,I assume the Photo of the PBY crew is that of ENS Reid and his crew???one more thanks for the info on the B-18 i didnt know they were at Midway im only aware of the B17’S and B26.

  • Cdr Mark R Condeno

    oops got my bearings therew wrong, it seems my eyesight is failing me the caption read is B17 and not B18’s.

  • Mark:

    Misfire on the photo caption, but not the facts. B-18’s were in use until more B-17’s arrived in early May, at which time the squadron and group was convereted over to the B-17’s. And yuo are correct re. the Catalina crew.
    – SJS

  • Cdr Mark R Condeno

    Copy and noted Sir, Thank You for the info.