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. – SJS (June 2007)

Three years ago I wrote that at the end of a series of posts (which are collected here) that began on the 65th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea, and culminated on the anniversary of Midway with some modern day observations and what we might take away. For even today, with all our technological sophistication there are still things we can learn at all levels, be it at the Fleet or in the cockpit or on the bridge. One of those lessons is the role of the individual and seizing the initiative when everything else seems to be going to hell in a handbasket around you. That was something impressed upon me as a young LTJG E-2C Mission Commander and I found resonance and inspiration from the JO’s and petty officer’s actions that pivotal day.

And sometimes it means pressing ahead into a situation from which you know there is no way out — but to do otherwise would result in a greater loss.

There aren’t too many of them left — the original Midway vets that is. Same for the Doolittle Raiders. Ditto Medal of Honor awardees from that era. These modern day Samuel’s raised their Ebenezer in our darkest hours – and what was before was forever changed.

The job wasn’t finished yet though, and the way ahead was still perilous — Guadalcanal, Savo Island, Bloody Tarawa (can it ever be though of as just Tarawa?), Iwo Jima, Anzio, Normandy, Bastogne and the Meuse — Okinawa; all lay in the future. But it was a future made possible by the fighting spirit of the Navy, Marines and Army Air Corps in a far flung theater whose battlefield was but a featureless, sun-dappled sea of blue. Still, more would come and follow in their footsteps. And you and I today carry their proud heritage forward.

The far horizon is difficult to discern these days and it may well indeed hide gathering storm clouds – from whence direction I can not say for certain. But it would do us well to heed their lessons and remember their deeds when the warning flags are broken and we are called to battlestations once again.

— SJS, June 2010

Posted by SteelJaw in Aviation, History, Navy
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  • We dangerously underestimated the Japanese, to our grief, and I’m afraid we’re doing the same with China … except we won’t have 6 months recovery time to get our act together like we did in 1942.

    Nevertheless, the Battle of Midway was one of the most incredible, David vs. Goliath victories in history, and everyone involved earned it … especially the torpedo squadrons.

  • Woody Sanford

    There was tremendous bravery and resourcefulness all- around at the Battle of Midway,but I really believe the the most important event occurred before the battle, when Commander Joe Rochefort and his intelligence unit at Pearl Harbor broke the Japanese Naval Code(JN-25). This allowed Adm. Nimitz to get his 3-Carrier Battle Fleet out to the Midway Perimeter ahead of time and in the best position to intercept the HUGE Japanese Invasion Force.(Documented in Mitsuo Fuchida’s Midway- The Battle that Doomed Japan.)Also important was Adm. Spruance’ timing of his aircraft launch order and the “luck” of the American Dive-Bombers arriving over the Japanese Carriers with very little air cover opposition.

  • Shattered Sword is a more recent account, Woody. There are some criticisms of Fuchida’s book, I understand.

  • And I would add Stephen Budiansky’s excellent Battle of Wits on the code breakers. Also, it happens that my article (based on my Naval Institute book with James Shell) on the US subs at Midway is in the current issue of WWII magazine. If you’re interested, it includes Robert Hunt’s eyewitness account of the Tambor’s bizarre (but consequential) encounter with four Japanese cruisers. Robert was one of the few Navy guys not in a plane to lay eyes on an enemy ship at Midway. I’m glad to say he’s still salty at 91.

  • Paul

    I got into an argument about the role of “luck” with a history professor who discounted that concept in history. I used Midway as an example of where luck played a huge, pivotal role in McCluskey’s finding of the destroyer moving north to find the main body and then finding it at the same time the torpedo bombers were sacrificing themselves. They probably died thinking it was in vain, but it wasn’t.

  • Richard B. Smith

    Hi… Recently Richard B. Frank suggested that Guadalcanal was the “Turning-Point” in the Pacific… I, don’t think so… prior to Midway the Japanese had not lost… after Midway, they never won…

  • JD

    I like to think of Midway and Guadalcanal as dual turning points. Midway, unquestionably, was the point at which the Japanese tide was stopped. Guadalcanal was the point at which the U.S./Allies capitalized on the momentum shift.

  • Woody Sanford

    Thanks, Lou. I only referred to Fuchida regarding the total size of the Japanese invasion fleet, the “Order of Battle.” Has that listing in his book been questioned? By invasion, I mean all ships involved in the whole operation, not just Adm. Kondo’s landing force. I believe C-in-C, Combined Fleet, Adm. Yamamoto was
    there, some distance back, with the “Main Body” Battleships, etc.

    Would like to learn more, Woody

  • As a wargamer, I have enjoyed (and suffered) “luck” too frequently to mention. (Recently, in the little Moscow Defended! lunch-hour boardgame free on first webpage, my Western Front aviation unit beat off 3 consecutive overwhelming Luftwaffe attacks on Moscow – a 1/216th chance – and my ground units’ last stand then barely held, to save Moscow and win the game … to my opponents’ astonished disbelief.)

    However, I do believe we can make our luck (and improve our odds of winning) with adequate material, planning, and execution, and Nimitz’s calculated risk instructions to Spruance fully reflect that.


    Midway stopped Imperial Japan’s offensive momentum by shattering its naval aviation striking force (Kido Butai) sword, and Guadalcanal reversed the momentum with our Stalingrad-like battle of attrition and (almost, but for Tenacious Tanaka) annihilation.

  • Paul:

    Re. “luck” — I subscribe to the racer’s definition, namely luck is where preparation meets opportunity…

    w/r, SJS

  • Lou:

    As described here and over here, it was actually the entire Solomons Campaign, not just Guadalcanal that was the war of attrition, though without Midway, it wouldn’t have played out the same way.
    w/r, SJS

  • Byron

    And I humbly ask you, SJS, do you agree now with my assertion that the Solomons campaign was equally important to Midway? πŸ˜‰

  • SJS, we’re talking about turning points here. Midway was one turning point in its way and Guadalcanal – not the entire Solomons campaign – was the turning *point* in its way.

    The momentum was already set in the rest of the Solomons operations.

    By the way, have you ever seen the old Simulations Publications Inc. (SPI) game Solomons Campaign? Fascinating!, although I prefer my own Sky, Sea, and JUNGLE. (SS&J’s unique Rabaul Volcano rule isn’t quite as controversial now, thanks to the Icelandic volcanoes. πŸ™‚ )

  • Byron

    And thus we see the difference between a gamer and someone who understands war. The entire Solomons campaign, the taking of Guadacanal, Tulugi, the other islands in the Solomons and the Russels including the seven distinct naval/air battles were all part of one great battle to secure the Australian sea lanes and push the Japanese back for the first time in the war. Japan completely lost it’s offensive momentum during the Solomons campaign and was on the defense until the end of the war.

    Midway stopped the IJN cold. It proclaimed that the US Navy was coming back, and wasn’t going to stop. Midway was very important in that it blunted the Japanese offensive and at the same time protected Hawaii from further attacks by the Combined fleet, an extremly important objective at this point of the war with the US Navy at it’s lowest in strength and numbers.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    I would equate Midway and The Solomons similarly to Stalingrad and Kursk.

    After Stalingrad, it was thought that the Third Reich might not win the war. But Kursk confirmed they would lose it.

    The same is true of Midway and The Solomons, respectively, WRT the Japanese Empire.

  • Byron, to “understand war” you need an accurate knowledge of its history, and yours is as debatable as your discussion of the herding of cats. πŸ˜‰

    The Solomons campaign was active from August 1942 into the spring of 1944 (and technically continued to the end of the war), with the Japanese counterattacks on Bougainville. Meanwhile, the Australians were already on the counteroffensive on New Guinea in Milne Bay in September 1942, and our Central Pacific campaign was going strong at Tarawa in November 1943.

    As far as naval surface and air forces deployed and lost, the battle for Guadalcanal itself (August 1942 to February 1943) was the decisive, turning point battle of attrition. What followed in the Solomons and elsewhere was from its reversal of momentum.

    URR, I think you’re a battle/campaign late. I would say Moscow was equivalent to Midway – the Wehrmacht’s first decisive defeat – and Stalingrad equivalent to Guadalcanal, but you’re entitled to your opinion.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    “I would say Moscow was equivalent to Midway”

    Perhaps, but to stretch the analogy to the breaking point,
    Moscow = Coral Sea, in that it was a temporary parrying of a thrust, after which the Wehrmacht, like the IJN, held the preponderance of mobile combat power, and the initiative.

  • Woody Sanford

    Well, this discussion has come an awful long way from the original topic of the tactical Naval Battle for a tiny(perhaps “strategic”)Island in the vast open Western Pacfic Ocean to an enormous land campaign by an experienced, well-traned, German Army across the huge Russian Northern Plain. How far did Hitler plan to go? All the way to Vladivostok? That’s 11 time zones! Midway: 9 Aircraft carriers(6 Jap, 3 American)over a few hundred miles of ocean, Various surface warships on both sides-many more on Japan side. Incidentally, if Yamamoto had allowed his Battleships to proceed further West and contact the US Fleet, their big guns could have obliterated the Americans in short order. After the 4 Jap Carriers went down, Spruance and Fletcher didn’t have much left, especially fighters for air cover. And the Yorktown was already lost. Had to be some luck in there somewhere. Maybe Radar was the a real US advantage. And better scout planes. Stalingrad: The Wehrmacht had at least 3 separate Army Groups in Russia(Operation Barbarrosa.)What is that? 750,000,
    maybe a million men. Either Hitler never learned anything from Napolean or he thought his army would be victorious under any circumstances. Fatal Pitfalls! The Army probably wasted too much time waiting on the Einsatz Gruppen to kill all the civilians they could find. The attack could been launched earlier, perhaps in the Spring thaw of 1941, vice waiting to June, thus having more
    good weather before the winter returned in November. The Germans had a huge advantage in tanks, artillery and aircraft in the first year of the campaign. The Russian 37mm anti-tank weapon could not penetrate anything. They did much better when the T-72 tanks came on-line in the winter of ’42-’43. By that time, the tremendous German logistical problems raised their monstrous ugly heads! When Hitler’s last replacement Commander got to the front in 1943, he knew immediately that he had to disobey orders and surrender. The German Army had been “attritioned” to death. Woody

  • Lee Wetherhorn

    There are still a lot of ‘untold stories’ about Midway. The avgas system on the island was accidentally destroyed and resupply was critical. It came from a lot of drummed fuel in a merchant ship and a recently requisitioned AOG with recalled reservist in charge and a couple of small warships for an escort. I bet there are even more stories like that which haven’t yet been told.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Though the scope and scale of the wars on the Eastern Front and in the Pacific are vastly different in scope and scale, the comparison of watersheds and turning points has some validity.

    BTW, the Wehrmacht had nearly 2.7 million men in 180-odd divisions against the Red Army with approximately 3.3 million in 300 divisions in June 1941.

  • Woody Sanford

    I have to agree in terms of “watersheds and turning points.” Yet, I guess what I have been trying to convey is this: except for aircraft, The Pacific Ocean/Island Battle area and forces involved were Completely different from the massive, unprecidented, vast land conflict lasting some 20 months in Russia. In my mind, it was a throw-back to World War I in many ways. Hitler fought in that war, so maybe he wanted to repeat those efforts and win the great European War and makeup for failure the first time. But , who in hell really knows what that man was thinking at any time. Wow, have to admit I got those Army numbers wrong. How many total survived? Thanks, Woody

  • The Battle of Midway was incredibly important in that it ended a Japanese advantage in superior numbers of carriers, trained pilots, and leveled the playing field between US and Japanese naval forces early in the war before US industry could take affect.

    Howvever, in my opinion it is not the true turning point of the war in the Pacific. As already noted in August the US invaded Guadalcanal in an attempt to take advantage of the victory at Midway and was not really ready to take the offensive from a logistical stand point. Once there the strategic inititive shifted to the Japanese with US forces reacting to Japanese offensives and their attempts to re-take the airfield.

    The battles of Eastern Solomons and Santa Cruz are actually Japanese tactical victories, but not on a level to shift the strategic balance. By November the Japanese had superior numbers in all ship types again wiping out the advantages gained at Midway and the US was down to one damaged carrier (Enterprise) and two battleships (Washington and South Dakota and she was damaged too) in the area of operation.

    Now here is the key. Japan knew prior to hostilities that she could not win a war with the US if the war was a long war and US industrial capacity was allowed to take affect. Japan chose war on the basic belief that she could win a short limited war by crushing the US Navy and this would produce a shock within the US public, which was extremely divided prior to hostilities, that they did not want to re-take the Pacific, due to the high human cost that it would require.

    Is this strategy really un-reasonable? No, the US when its public is divided loses interest in war fighting rather quickly. Vietnam showed the loss of public support as well as current events in that the US is tired of sustaining Iraq or the war in Afganistan. In Yamamoto’s plan to crush the US fleet at Pearl Harbor in many ways backfired by uniting the country.

    The November Battle of Guadalcanal was the thinnest US forces had become. However, Yamamoto never realized this. Never saw Guadalcanal as the place for the decisive battle and kept his advantage of ships in reserve to fight this mythical battle. The offensive was poorly planned and with the US victory this was an even more decisive victory than Midway.

    Why? After this battle Yamamoto told the Army that the Navy would no longer support operations to hold Guadalcanal and this came as a complete shock to the Army. As an Admiral, Yamamoto did not have the authority to change national policy and yet he did. Through frantic meetings that eventually went as high as the emperor it was decided to withdraw from Guadalcanal. Yamamoto withdrew his remaining forces in preperation for a long war, something prior to hostilities Japan knew could not be won. The fate of Japan had been decided here.

    War is a test of political will and it was at Guadalcanal that Yamamoto’s will was broken. The Combined Fleet would not come out to fight until June 1944. It took less than 24 hours to destroy what Japan had re-built in a year and a half because the US Industrial might was now in full effect. The logistical support, along with huge numbers of reinforcements of all kinds allowed the US staying power that could move from operation to operation without leaving the front lines. This is the true measure of control of the seas. Japan had no capability to slow much less stop US forces and of course she did not.

  • Woody Sanford

    I agree with everything you wrote. Since we have also been discussing “luck” and tactical vs. strategic efforts, I offer the following:
    1.Nimitz was “lucky” that his 3 carriers were not in port when Adm. Nagumo’s planes arrived on the Pearl Harbor raid on 12/7/41.
    2.Did Yamamoto really understand that the Americans had lost 3 carriers in the 7 mos. since Pearl Harbor( Coral Sea- Lexington, Midway- Yorktown, Guadalcanal campaign- Hornet.)And as you point out, Enterprise was damaged. That takes a lot of aircraft out of the war. In addition, the Japanese surface forces gave quite a good account of themselves throughout the campaign for Guadalcanal. Their “Long Lance” surface-launched torpedoes sent a lot of US ships to the bottom of “Iron-Bottom Channel.” Japanese Adm. Tanaka ran his destroyers and troopships down “The Slot” just about every night, delivering troops and supplies to their forces on the opposite side of the Island.
    3. Guadalcanal was mainly a battle for an airfield, Henderson Field, that the Americans occupied on the day they landed. Essentially, all the Japanese efforts after that were keyed to retaking it and they fought like fury to do it.
    4. The Japanese Army had good,well-trained fighters, but their commanders were too fanatical, ordering too many Banzai charges against the out-numbered American Marines.
    5.The Marine machine-gunners, riflemen and some mortar-men mowed down the attackers in waves. Most of the machine guns were the older water-cooled 30 calibers, but those guys knew how to use them.
    6.The Americans lost a lot of fighting men to malaria, not only enemy action.

    Would love to learn more. Woody

  • Woody Sanford

    I agree with everything you wrote. Since we have also been discussing “luck” and tactical vs. strategic efforts, I offer the following:
    1.Nimitz was “lucky” that his 3 carriers were not in port when Adm. Nagumo’s planes arrived on the Pearl Harbor raid on 12/7/41.
    2.Did Yamamoto really understand that the Americans had lost 3 carriers in the 7 mos. since Pearl Harbor( Coral Sea- Lexington, Midway- Yorktown, Guadalcanal campaign- Hornet?)And as you point out, Enterprise was damaged. That takes a lot of aircraft out of the war. In addition, the Japanese surface forces gave quite a good account of themselves throughout the campaign for Guadalcanal. Their “Long Lance” surface-launched torpedoes sent a lot of US ships to the bottom of “Iron-Bottom Channel.” Japanese Adm. Tanaka ran his destroyers and troopships down “The Slot” just about every night, delivering troops and supplies to their forces on the opposite side of the Island.
    3. Guadalcanal was mainly a battle for an airfield, Henderson Field, that the Americans occupied on the day they landed. Essentially, all the Japanese efforts after that were keyed to retaking it and they fought like fury to do it.
    4. The Japanese Army had good,well-trained fighters, but their commanders were too fanatical, ordering too many Banzai charges against the out-numbered American Marines.
    5.The Marine machine-gunners, riflemen and some mortar-men mowed down the attackers in waves. Most of the machine guns were the older water-cooled 30 calibers, but those guys knew how to use them.
    6.The Americans lost a lot of fighting men to malaria, not only enemy action.

    Would love to learn more. Woody
    P.S. on Yamamoto: He died in 1943, shot down by US planes while on an inspection tour in the South Pacific. Another intelligence coups. Japanese messages annouceing his schedule were intercepted and decoded, allowing US fighters to find and get him. YEAH!

  • Byron

    Robert: agree with everything save one: The reason for taking Guadacanal was to keep the Japanese from taking it. There was genuine concern that the shipping lanes to Australia would be comprimised if the Solomons fell. And agree completely that the strategic momentum was totally lost at Guadacanal. To the Japanese, taking the Solomons was merely an adjunct to their campaign to secure the flanks of their oil fields they recently stole from the Dutch.

    Woody: It was Kimmel who was in command on 12/7/41, not Nimitz πŸ˜‰

  • One important note when discussing numbers and advantages — the IJN may have re-established an advantage hull-to-hull by November, but they never were able to re-establish numbers in terms of experienced carrier aviators after the losses at Midway. That was a reflection not only of the magnitude of the losses suffered, but also the fundamental difference in the way we trained and manned our squadrons, rotating combat experienced aviators back stateside on a regular basis to train the new folks.
    w/r, SJS

  • Byron

    SJS: I think that service philosophy had a hand as well. The Japanese delibaretly sacrificed armor protection for speed, and never really had an organized pilot rescue service. The US understood the value of combat experience, both the good and the bad, and made a concerted effort to keep aviators alive and to get them back home.

  • I don’t think it was just luck that had the American carriers out at sea for Pearl Harbor: I think Kimmel, Halsey, et al knew how vulnerable they would be if caught at anchor, and also the carriers were doing and covering other tasks to outlying bases.

    As to any advantage the Japanese had after Santa Cruz and the 1st and 2nd (naval) Battles of Guadalcanal, they were only on paper. Their naval aviation had been bled white, regardless of how many carrier decks they had.

    Meanwhile, the land-based airpower that is often overlooked was shaping up to our advantage, and not only on Henderson Field/Guadalcanal. The Battle of the Bismarck Sea would later demonstrate the consequence of trying to sail in Allied-air-dominated waters, and any crippled/slowed IJN ship could expect to see B-17s soon overhead, like vultures.

    It is a pity that a few of the latest B-17s weren’t left behind to monitor the IJN carriers and whittle down their fighter strength after the B-17s’ predictably useless high-altitude bombing: more accurately and quickly vectored naval air strikes could then have been even more effective with significantly fewer losses.
    But Hap Arnold’s strategic air doctrine – dogma – wouldn’t have allowed that, I suppose.

    I would hope the USAF and USN are now more closely coordinating their naval warfare doctrines. Or does the USAF even have one?

    Lou Coatney, (Free/educational Leyte Gulf Naval Chess Game boardgame, to print off, assemble, and play)

  • Woody Sanford

    Yeah, Another “forget” on my part, concerning Adm. Husband E. Kimmel as CincPac at the time of the the Pearl Harbor attack. I guess he was the ultimate scapegoat there. I beleve he was sharing Hawaii defense with Army Gen. Short, but all efforts fell “short.” Adm. Halsey had the 3 Carriers out mainly to deliver planes to Wake Island. As I remember, Arnold’s B-17s did very little damage at anytime in the Pacific. Of course, they were the main strategic aircraft in Europe. I have really enjoyed all of this, but I am signing off now on Midway. This is my last Blog. Thanks to all and Anchors Away. Capt(MC)USNR(ret.)Woody Sanford- Served in Naval Hospitals San Diego,Philadelphia, Portsmouth,VA, Charleson,SC. 2 years in Submarines as Medical Officer, Blue Crew,USS JAMES MADISON, SSBN-627(Polaris.)

  • Byron

    Hey, Lou, since you seem to have all the answers, tell me how many IJN ships were sent to the bottom by B-17s?

  • Byron

    CAPT. Sanford, respectfully request that you stick around. I suspect you have a thing or three to teach us young pups.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    But Byron,

    Don’t let facts get in the way of Lou’s board game. Isn’t rolling boxcars in a parlor game with your friends the ultimate test of a warrior spirit?

  • Lou –
    Allied land-based airpower is justifiably overlooked in the early days of the war because it was singularly ineffective. Drawing the wrong lessons from peacetime training which emphasized day, VMC, high-altitude “pickle barrel” bombing using the Norden bombsight, the AAF figured they had a lock on being able to put one down the stack of a ship since it was obviously a bigger target. Compare/contrast with the hard work Navy did with dive-bomber development that led not only to the Dauntless, but the *Navy* TTP’s that emphasized steep dives for precision placement of bombs while making it difficult on the defenders to counter with AA fire. The Marines, OTOH, used a shallower method because they were working on close air support — and come Midway that’s one of the reasons the Marines lost a many SBD’s as they did.
    But back to land-based air. AAF contribution at Midway was zero, zip, nada. A lot of folks are justifiably angry (still) because of the publicity seeking AAF hounds back in DC who jumped to the papers proclaiming Midway’s success was because of land-based bombers. In fact, it wasn’t until after Midway that a small group of renegade aviators in the 5th AF figured out the best way to sink a ship with a land-based bomber was via skip-bombing – and laid waste to a significant amount of Japanese tonnage. Those guys I’ll give major ‘props to (and have).
    And if you haven’t yet, I’d strongly recommend you go back and read the Solomon Islands campaign series posted here last year. It’s well wrth an afternoon’s read.

  • Yes, yes: high-altitude bombing against ships underway was ineffective, which is exactly what I said.

    My point was, again, that those B-17s at Midway could have contributed much more to the battle if a few of the later, heavily armed models had hung around the Kido Butai, harassing it with bomb every now and then to draw up (and away) its combat air patrol and to broadcast its heading and position, so that our naval air could more quickly and effectively go in for the kill.

    Something else, which was relevant then and is now … and you might look at the recent USNI blog where the importance of speed in a modern design was questioned: if a ship lost speed, it was much more vulnerable to air attack of any kind, including even high-altitude precision bombing. As evidence check out this surprosing photo I discovered, just trying to verify that B-17s had attacked Hiei at all, the morning after the First Battle of Guadalcanal:

    In my boardgame about Guadalcanal – Sky, Sea, and JUNGLE – my elegantly simple naval combat system is based more on the ability of the ships to absorb or avoid damage … a combination of armor, speed, and relative size. However, in my Leyte Gulf Naval Chess Game – a battle significantly later in the war, where airpower was even more dominant – offensive power is weighted stronger, with a major bonus for the target having lost speed.

  • I should add here that the Germans of course DID find a way to make high-altitude bombing EXTREMELY effective against ships underway, with their remote control glider bombs … enabling the bomb to be controlled right down to the target without risking/losing aircrew as with strafing, torpedo bombing, and divebombing.

  • Byron

    Lou, hate to break it to you, but all war games are based on damage points. It’s a common method of calulating hit’s and damage. There’s also modifier rolls for effectiveness of armor and speed. Since I’m an old Harpoon gamer I’m well aware how games are scored.

    Sorry fact is, there’s no record of any high altitude bomber ever getting a hit on a surface ship. The B-25s that learned how to skip bomb were another thing indeed.

  • You evidence a very narrow wargaming experience, Byron. There are many games – naval as well as military, and miniatures rules systems as well as boardgames – which record damage without using “points” at all.

    As to Harpoon, it does its job, but when Frank Chadwick of Game Designers Workshop was confronted with the chance to publish the Harpoon guys’ World War 2 system, Command at Sea, he instead wanted to publish my own “Naval Action” rules which are far simpler and more playable – without sacrificing basic realism (and without using “damage points.” (Unfortunately, GDW went out of business before it could publish NA, but Frank gave me permission to quote him that NA was the best WW2 naval miniatures system he had seen … and played. And Frank knows just a little more about wargaming and military and naval history than you or I do, B. πŸ™‚ His/GDW’s Desert Shield Factbook was distributed to our servicepeople by the DoD, during our first Gulf war.)

    Your claim “Sorry fact is, there’s no record of any high altitude bomber ever getting a hit on a surface ship.” is simply and embarrassingly false:

    “Muzio Attendolo was a Condottieri-class light cruiser of the Italian Regia Marina, which fought in World War II. She was sunk in Naples by bombers of the United States Army Air Forces on 4 December 1942.”

    “On 10 April 1943, Trieste sank after being hit by several bombs dropped by USAAF B-24s while in port at La Maddalena, Sardinia.”

    “In the air attacks on 26–27 February 1942, on the floating dock where she was being repaired for her mine damage, Gneisenau became the target of massive RAF attacks by 178 bombers, and she was struck in her bow. Contrary to the normal practice, and since repairs were anticipated to be completed within two weeks, her ammunition had not been unloaded. The resulting fires set off an explosion that destroyed her entire bow section ….” and knocked her out of the war.

    And the big one: “On 12 November 1944 Royal Air Force Avro Lancaster heavy bombers bombed and sank Tirpitz at her moorings.”

    And as to ships underway:

    The first hit scored on fast-moving Repulse on 10 December 1941 off Malaya was a high-altitude bomb hit.

    That photo I linked above appears to show a 4-bomb pattern dropped on Hiei, and the following narrative supports a claim the 2nd hit:

    “However, just at that timea flight of three B-17s arrived overhead making a bomb run from 14,000 feet.

    Captain Nishida had stopped to allow pumping of the steering room, but now had to get HIEI back underway, quickly building up speed to 15 knots as he sought to evade the bombs coming down. Trailing a large slick to starboard,the HIEI commenced a wide sweeping turn to the right, and managed to avoid all but one direct hit by a 500-pound bomb.”

    Then there are all those hits by the high-altitude remote controlled German glider bombs.

    Byron, I keep backing up my statements with sources, while you just make obviously false claims they’re not true, and … again … I think you need to do more/better research on some of these topics before you post.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    You need to do more homework. The fatal hit to Tirpitz was from about 12,000 feet, medium altitude. Repulse and Prince of Wales in Phillips’ Force Z were attacked by G3M and G4M twin engined bombers from only 9,000-10,000 feet, low to barely-medium altitude. In addition, the attack on Gneisenau in her drydock was primarily by Vickers Wellingtons, whose service ceiling (18,000 ft) did not allow for high altitude (above 20,000ft) bombing.

    In addition, the hit on Hiei has never been confirmed, and likely didn’t result in the loss of the ship, which was strongly suspected to have sunk due to scuttling.

  • You’ve attempted to define high-level bombing too highly, URR, but nice try. πŸ™‚

    We can convert the term to horizontal bombing to avoid the quibbling, if that makes you feel better.

    In any case, those B-17s hit an underway Hiei from 2.5 miles up in the sky … amazingly.

    And I didn’t claim the hits on Repulse and Hiei resulted in the loss of the ships. I was responding to Byron’s blanket claim that there had been no hits at all.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    It isn’t quibbling to correctly identify high/medium/low altitudes. So save the condescension. The US had only two high-altitude bombers in service in November 1942. Neither the B-17 or the B-24 could achieve the pre-war accuracy estimates for high-altitude bombing with the famous Norden sight. In fact, the only tests that came close to the predictions were conducted at 15,000 feet, well below the 30,000 feet the USAAF had stated.

    So many attacks on smaller precision targets were made well below the 20,000 foot designation of “high altitude”.

    If you think such is “quibbling”, suggest you converse with pilots who attacked at or below 14,000 feet within range of all the light (12.7mm), medium (25mm), and heavy (7.6cm Type 98/88) Japanese shipboard AA guns, and see whether they might have liked the 25,000 foot altitude better.

  • You’ve attempted to define high-level bombing too highly, URR, but nice try. πŸ™‚
    We can convert the term to horizontal bombing to avoid the quibbling, if that makes you feel better.
    In any case, those B-17s hit an underway Hiei from 2.5 miles up in the sky … amazingly.

    Point >>missed<<

    Regardless if those B-17's hit the Hiei or not (and count me in the latter group of sceptics) the fact is the AAC/AAF's established pre-war doctrine that they trained and procured to was fatally flawed – in the Pacific AND Europe for that matter. Navy had it right for the theater they were in and the threat they faced with their doctrine and procurement/training re. dive bombing.

    Replaying previous battles just for the sake of gamesmanship is a hobbyist’s pursuit and if that stirs someone’s oars, more power to ’em. Just don’t try to convince me with a single digit statistical sample that the pre-war AAC/AAF was on the right track.

    Studying previous campaigns and drawing relevant lessons learned (many that are still applicable today) is the province of the historian and warrior.

    w/r, SJS

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Before we point to current doctrine of 15k as “high altitude”, it is important to understand something. Today, low/medium/high altitudes are defined today by the threat envelope, and not by payload and service ceiling of horizontal bombing aircraft, as the USAAF did in the 1930s and into WWII.

  • No, SteelJaw, strategic bombing was not a fatally flawed doctrine and the B-17 and other aircraft procured to it fully proved their worth both in Europe and the Pacific. According to Albert Speer, 8th Air Force could have paralyzed German war industry in 1943, if it had had the strength to finish the job on the German ballbearing plants. Then too, all the Germans’ resources devoted to antiaircraft could have been well and maybe decisively used against Russian and other Allied land fronts. The Axis had nothing in any sufficient quantity to match our strategic bombers, and their strategists came to bitterly regret it.

    In Navy use, such aircraft became patrol craft. The PBYs’ early big-aircraft bombing attack was disastrous, although personnel losses were less than they could have been – great USNI Naval History article about that some time ago.

    The Navy soon had to acquire more competitive patrol and horizontal bombing aircraft, which included the B-24 for its range.

    And considering what alternate uses/doctrines might have produced isn’t mere historical gamesmanship: it can open the professional mind to considering alternate and better uses/doctrines today.

    I remember when I was in Juneau Alaska we toured a Navy destroyer, one 4th of July. It had a helicopter pad, and the pilot was enthusiastically briefing us civilians on its capabilities. I raised my hand and asked him what ECM/whatever countermeasures there were for a (Soviet) submarine launching an antiaircraft missile which could do a random search to find his helicopter and destroy it.

    He looked perplexed and said (a little defensively) that he didn’t *know* of any such threat … which wouldn’t have been difficult for the Soviets (or Chinese) to develop.

    It is important that when we study previous campaigns/actions, we don’t draw lessons that are too narrow. And even game designers can “over-choreograph” games, dictating only narrow, historical (or their own) results and denying real possibilities. The myth of the Unsinkable Aircraft Carrier is a classic example.

  • Steeljaw Scribe

    Fine – quote away from a former Nazi industrialist seeking to curry favor from the Allies, particularly the US. I’ll quote from the US Strategic Bombing Survey – European theater:
    German equipment was redesigned to substitute other types of bearings wherever possible. And the Germans drew on the substantial stocks that were on hand. Although there were further attacks, production by the autumn of 1944 was back to pre-raid levels. From examination of the records and personalities in the ball-bearing industry, the user industries and the testimony of war production officials, there is no evidence that the attacks on the ball-bearing industry had any measurable effect on essential war production.

    The fact of the matter is the way strategic bombing was developed as doctrine before the war, the aircraft that were procured under that doctrine and the set of requirements it established and the way we trained were indeed fatally flawed — as attested to by the loss of over 9900 bombers and almost 80,000 airmen, in grievously high numbers particularly in the 1942-early/mid-44 as they were trying to execute that doctrine. It wasn’t until the target set was drastically altered (e.g., go after the pert-chemical industry and transportation infrastructure) AND long-range fighter escorts were added AND bomber TTP’s changed (shift to battle boxes) that the corner began to be turned. Even then, as documented by the USSB, most aircraft missed their target by over 1,000 ft – a reflection of unrealistic training and development in the clear air of the southwestern US and try to apply that to the weather conditions and attendant obscured target complexes common to Europe. The only saving grace, as it were, was that the poor accuracy was made up for by sheer volume – which, I will note, was in direct contravention to pre-war doctrine.

  • SJ,

    Albert Speer oversaw the entire German war production effort at the time of our raid, August 1943, and would be a better judge of its effect than the USSB’s one Nazi industrialist.

    And although 8th Air Force didn’t have the strength to do a complete job, your industrialist said ballbearing production didn’t recover completely for a full year.

    Strategic bombing also brought the war directly home to the German people, especially Britain’s mass firebombings which were a direct reply to the Luftwaffe’s terror bombings.

    Strategic bombing was a basic reason we took the Marianas (and then Iwo Jima), as is emphasized in Victory at Sea’s Turkey Shoot program, and they were the base for the atom bombings that finally broke Imperial Japan’s will to resist and ended the Pacific War. The Bomb was specifically cited by the Emperor to his people in his first-ever address to them to explain/justify the surrender.

    The necessity of strategic bombers’ role in our WW2 victory and any future major war should be undeniable.

  • Lou:


    Don’t need a lecture about the why’s/wherefores of taking the Marianas’ – am well familar with all the plans to include the unrestricted submarine warfare which arguably had a larger impact on Japan. BTW – Lemay’s firebombing campaign ran counter to pre-war strategic bombing doctrine too and was only put into place when “precision” bombing obviously wasn’t working.

    Bottomline — as I have repeatedly stated, there was a major disconnect between the AAC/AAF’s doctrine, acquisition and training prior to the war that cost immeasurable blood and treasure in the first three years of the US’ war effort because at it’s base, it was fundamentally flawed. It was only until significant losses had been experienced (and serious consideration given to dropping daylight raids over Europe) that the doctrine, target stes, TTP’s were reset in a major way. Just compare even the models of the B-17E coming off the production line right beofre Pearl Harbor (with initial lessons observed from Britain’s bombing campaign) with the last models of the B-17G to see how badly they got it wrong.
    Contrast with the pre-war planning, training and doctrine of dive-bombing to attack ships as conducted by Navy and it should become clear that they pretty much had it right. *That* is what i was referring to when people claim “Oh, they just got lucky” — luck in my opinion (and many others engaged in similar fields of endeavor as mine) is where *preparation* meets opportunity.
    w/r, SJS

  • And others would say strategic air doctrine (and equipment) evolved, but it wasn’t fundamentally wrong, SJS. I agree that naval air warfare doctrine didn’t have to change so much … although it too had to add more defensive (in the form of a larger complement of fighters) armament than had been envisioned. It looks like all that prewar WARGAMING at the Naval War College and wherever else paid off. πŸ™‚

    “luck in my opinion (and many others engaged in similar fields of endeavor as mine) is where *preparation* meets opportunity.”

    GLAD to hear it, and I fully agree. Of course, preparation is a very inclusive term.

  • LCDR Dennis Dickerson USNSCC

    Nimitz called it Point Luck – where the carriers met to lay in wait for the IJN. It was naval intelligence that made the day possible and the efforts of Torpedo Squadron 8 under LCDR John C Waldron who found the IJN Kido Butai. I simply marvel at the unfolding of the battle – to have been there! It was the singularly most important moment of the war – by then, it was clear that aircraft carriers were the core element of any fleet and in a few short minutes, three IJN carriers were taken out by SBD dive bombers. A few hours more and it was four.

    Imagine those carriers being available to counter the Guadalcanal landing – would it ever even have taken place without Midway?

    As Churchill said, we owe so much to so few (not an exact quote)…but the same can be said for those who fought at Midway, and especially those who led the fight – Torpedo Squadron 8.

    For me, Midway is the essential event of the Pacific War that made all other things possible.

    LCDR Dennis Dickerson, USNSCC
    Commanding Officer
    Naval Sea Cadet Corps Torpedo Squadron 8
    Mesa, Arizona

  • LCDR Dennis Dickerson USNSCC

    Where can I get a signed print of the photo above?

  • Dennis:

    Check your email.


  • Woody Sanford

    Thanks, Byron
    I just returned here by chance after posting a blog about the capture of the Russian Spy Ring. What a bizarre episode! After my Midway sign-off, I doubt I could have contributed much more, particularly knowing very little about high altitude bombing. Since submarine service was my only time at sea in the Navy, I would enjoy entering a discussion about THE BOATS. While on SSBN-627, I got my Medical Officer Dolphins and also qualified as Diving Officer of the Watch. Anchors Aweigh(spelled wrong the first time) Woody

  • Byron

    Woody, I think you’d be surprised. How about you keep a weather eye on the blog. I’d be interested in whatever you have to say on a lot of subjects.