In the comments for the USN AOB posting John asked about the Marine Buffalo and SBD pilots at Midway. Much to my chagrin, I realized I’d left that out of the land-based AOB post. Thanks John for bringing this to my attention and hope this (partially) re-dresses the error. They were gallant aviators in an impossible situation and fought bravely – as the following recounts… – SJS

(from “Marines at Midway“)

Fighter Action:

“Meanwhile the Midway Marines were ready for the first shock of attack. Ground force defenders at general quarters manned every weapon and warning device, and MAG-22, which already had fighters up to cover the sorties of the PBYs stood by for orders. At 0555, shortly after the second PBY report had fixed the position of the Japanese Striking Force, the 6th Defense Battalion radar logged a report of “many planes,” and the Naval Air Station raised similar blips almost simultaneously. Air raid sirens began to wail, Condition One was set, and the MAG-22 pilots manned their planes. Both squadrons were in the VMF-221 heading to intercept the enemy planes and air in less than 10 minutes, VMSB-241 off to rendezvous station 20 miles east where the dive bomber pilots would receive further instructions.

The VMF fliers under Major Floyd B. Parks sighted the Zero-escorted Val dive bombers at 0616 about 30 miles out from Midway, and Captain John F. Carey, leading one of Parks’ divisions in an F4F-3, launched the attack from 17,000 feet. The Marine fliers were hopelessly outnumbered, and they found that the Zero fighters could “fly rings around them.” they had time for only one pass at the bombers, and then had to turn their attention to the swarm of Zeros, from one to five of which got on the tail of each Marine fighter. Only three of the original 12 Marine pilots survived this brawl, and although the damage they inflicted on the enemy has never been assessed, it is believed that they splashed a number of the bombers and some of the Zeros. Other Zeros were led into the Midway antiaircraft fire.

Meanwhile another group of 13 Midway fighters under Captain Kirk Armistead came in for an attack against the enemy air formation. Again the damage inflicted upon the enemy was undetermined, but fewer Marine pilots were lost. For better or for worse, however, the fighter defense of Midway had been expended, and the problem now passed to the antiaircraft guns on the atoll.”

(note: the Marines were flying both F2B’s and newer F4F-3’s. The F2B’s lost 15 of 25 in the ensuing engagement. – SJS)

Dive Bomber action:

Upon arrival, May 27, at the island, we were greeted by remarks indicating that we were just in time for the “party.” These remarks didn’t bother us; we had just left the States two weeks before. Next morning, May 28, at squadron briefing when Major Henderson also let us know that the Japs were overdue, we did a little more thinking on the matter.

Before the fateful day we all had made two or three hops with practice bombs–mighty little preparation for the job at hand. Gasoline was at a premium, and our planes were only allowed 190 gallons (which was suddenly raised to 230 gallons on 3 June). Plotting boards were also so rare that out of our flight of 12, only four had plots. This was mighty awkward to one who found himself on the attack with neither plot nor chart (and had only a few quick glances at a chart of the area including Midway, Kure and Pearl and Hermes reefs).

On the morning of 4 June, after an 0200 reveille we were all at standby and had warmed up the planes. Around 0515 the radio message was received to go on attack. Confusion was the order then as I had just cut off the engine. By the time I had started again I thought that the order was changed. Finally a runner came by in a jeep and verified the attack order. By 0605 we were all in the air. Captain Prosser returned with a loose fuselage panel so I assumed his lead position in the second box. By the time we were rendezvoused, the Jap’s attack had fired a fuel storage tank, which served as a guiding mark throughout the day and night.

It was a quiet, uneventful trip to meet the enemy. Such young second lieutenants never realized their predicament. It became quite apparent, however, when we were intercepted at least 10 to 15 minutes before contact with fleet units. The amazing nonchalance of Zero pilots who did vertical rolls right through our formation was a good show–very good for us since more attention to business might easily have wiped out 11 of the slowest and most obsolete planes ever to be used in the war.

With the interception at 13,000 feet, the clouds became our have and Major Norris led us without loss to the target. He radioed instructions to dive straight ahead on to target, through the broken clouds. Upon breaking out at 2,000 feet, the major, being short of the target, a BB, straight ahead, whipped to the right onto a heavy cruiser. We all followed his lead. Even in the dive Major Norris gave instructions as to course home: 140º; time due 0900. The AA was heavy–but to one so ignorant of its destructive powers–not too bothersome; just curious. I received identical holes, about 6 inches in diameter, in each aileron. I imagine the shells were incorrectly fused for our altitude at the moment and so passed through with little damage.

On release at 400 feet, I pulled out right over the cruiser and was headed for the center of the fleet. One turn to join on two buddies at 240 knots convinced me that was no place to circle; a Zero passed right behind as I whipped into a tight turn. Then, at course 140º, I headed home, passing just behind a destroyer. I stayed below 50 feet for about 20 minutes, in a straight course, only luck making harmless the numerous passes made by the Zeros. My gunner later told me he was too busy shooting to even inform me of the situation, and I was too scared and ignorant to turn around and look.Following the major’s instructions, I flew a compass course of 140º, not bothering to compensate for wind, variation, nor compass. At the appointed time of 0900 I sighted a lagoon which I took to be Midway and let down, made my recognition approach and was greeted by fire from a PT. I immediately left the area and regained altitude to continue on course. (Woe was me! That was Kure reef, just 50 miles west of home.)

The radio had failed, as radios were wont to do, so radio navigation was out of the question (as was good sense in this instance). By 1015 I had gathered that my navigation or Major Norris was wrong. I used good judgment then, for the first time in the day, and turned 180º, figuring on finding that minute speck of land, about one hour behind me. As luck and poor navigation would have it, by 1100 I had sighted two lagoons in the offing and, mentally flipping a coin, chose the one to the right–how right I was! Within 10 miles of the reef I ran out of gas so I immediately set all tabs to glide at 90 knots and almost sat on my hands to resist lifting the nose to stretch my glide. I attempted to get the lift raft loose to no avail. Then I found I could no replace the pins holding the bucket seat. So I was faced with a water landing in a loose seat. I chose to land right in front of a PT boat and all went so well that I even forgot to inflate my life jacket, the pick-up was made so readily. So by 1115 I was back on Eastern Island to be greeted by Captain Prosser, who said, “Well, never expected to see you again.”–“Hell, neither did I. * * * “

Posted by SteelJaw in Aviation, Marine Corps

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  • John


    Thanks, glad you counted our boys in. It should be noted that VMSB-241 was flying SBDs and a few SB2U Vindicators. It was the first and only battle the SB2U fought(disregarding being blown up on the ground at Pearl Harbor), and for good reason. The Vindicator was as obsolete as the Buffalo and being replaced by the SBD. Maj Henderson was the squadron CO, and was shot down leading the attack in an SBD. His bravery was recognized by the naming of the airstrip at Guadalcanal, Herderson Field. Marine Capt Richard Fleming also flew one and was awarded the MoH for leading the attack against a Japanese CA.

  • Byron

    Speaking of Henderson Field and Guadacanal, do you have any plans to do a series on the Solomons Campaign? Carrier battles, night battleship clashes, the Marines desperate stand on the island, the Cactus Air Force, so much to talk about.

    Just a nudge 😉

  • @Byron
    …and give up my day job(s)? :O
    Thinking about it, but will have to line-up with other projects (including a couple of book projects)…
    – SJS

  • Byron

    I’m willing to argue that the Solomons campaign is equal in importance with Midway with respect to winning the war in the Pacific.

  • On that we might have to agree to disagree. Not denying the importance of the campaign as the beginning of the rollback of the Empire. The test for me lies in the question – would the Solomons Campaign have been possible without the results at Midway?
    – SJS
    P.S. Be watching these parts ’round about August or so 😉

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Byron and Steel Jaw,

    Now there’s a juicy debate. I would love to see the two mighty intellects present their cases. Perhaps the stuff of a dedicated blog entry? I would be happy to propose the question(s): What campaign was more important to US victory in the Pacific? Could the Guadalcanal/Solomons campaign happened without the victory at Midway? Or would the thrust into the Solomons have “forced” a Midway-like confrontation in August, 1942?

    Let’s get ready to rumble…..

  • UltimaRatioReg

    *Burma Shave*

    And I ain’t kiddin’ when I say “mighty intellects”. Youse guys are some smart cookies….

  • Byron

    Nah, I’m just a knuckle-dragging yard bird 😉

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