Archive for the 'Battle of Midway' Tag

Stan Stanley has assembled a remarkable site that lays out the little told story of the shore-det of VT-8 and the combat debut of the Grumman TBF Avenger:

I have the privilege of knowing Harry Ferrier who was in Torpedo 8 and one of the two survivors of the six TBF’s which launched from Midway Island on June 4, 1942. I had the honor of helping Harry put together a presentation of his experience. I have made a Blog with first hand accounts of the flight from Harry and Bert Earnest, his pilot, as well as some pictures at:

It is a thrilling account.

Stan Stanley
[email protected]

Well done Stan — (via Tailhook Daily Briefing).

Ship’s photographer, Bill Roy, had captured a sequence of photos as Yorktown sank which disappeared in the archives over at the Naval History & Heritage Center. What was remarkable about this sequence was that it showed Yorktown going down stern first as opposed to the more commonly held belief that she went down bow first.

Now, courtesy the Battle of Midway Roundtable, the photos have been rediscovered and are available at the NHHC’s site here and here.

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 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)

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Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless

The Douglas SBD Dauntless was the U.S. Navy’s main dive bomber from mid-1940 until late 1943, when it was supplemented (although not entirely replaced) by the SB2C Helldiver. Derived from the Northrop Model 8 attack bomber developed for the Army and export market, the Dauntless was developed at the Douglas Northrop facility at El Segundo, Calif., and featured a novel “Swiss Cheese” style dive flap arrangement. Slow but rugged (the aircraft was tagged as the “Slow But Deadly” Dauntless by her aircrew) the Dauntless when used in a steep dive profile was proved deadly to shipping, accounting for more ships sunk in the Pacific theater than any other US or Allied aircraft.

The SBD was involved in combat from the first day of the Pacific War, as Dauntlesses arriving at Hawaii from USS Enterprise were caught in the Pearl Harbor attack. The type’s first major use was in the Battle of the Coral Sea, when SBDs and TBDs sank the Japanese aircraft carrier Shōhō. SBDs were also used as anti-torpedo combat air patrol and scored several times against Japanese aircraft trying to attack USS Lexington and USS Yorktown. the SBD’s most important contribution to the American war effort probably came during the Battle of Midway (early June 1942), when SBD dive bomber attacks sank all four of the Japanese aircraft carriers (the Akagi, Kaga, Sōryū, and Hiryū) as well as heavily damaging two Japanese cruisers (including the Mikuma, which sank before a Japanese destroyer could scuttle it.). 5,936 SBDs were produced in WWII.

General characteristics

* Crew: Two
* Length: 33 ft 1 in (10.08 m)
* Wingspan: 41 ft 6 in (12.65 m)
* Height: 13 ft 7 in (4.14 m)
* Wing area: 325 ft² (30.19 m²)
* Empty weight: 6,404 lb (2,905 kg)
* Loaded weight: 10,676 lb (4,843 kg)
* Max takeoff weight: 10,700 lb (4,853 kg)
* Powerplant: 1× Wright R-1820-60 radial engine, 1,200 hp (895 kW)


* Maximum speed: 255 mph (410.38 km/h)
* Range: 773 mi (1243.8 km)
* Service ceiling: 25,530 ft (7,780 m)
* Rate of climb: 1,700 ft/min (8.6 m/s)
* Wing loading: 32.8 lb/ft² (160.4 kg/m²)
* Power/mass: 0.11 hp/lb (0.18 kW/kg)


* 2x 0.5 in (12.7 mm) forward-firing machine guns
* 2x 0.3 in (7.62 mm) flexible-mounted machine guns
* 2,250 lb (1,020 kg) of bombs

More here…


Britain launches its first 1000-plane bomber raid – the target: Cologne, Germany.


Myitkyina, Burma is again hit by B-17’s. Again no activity is observed and the attacks are discontinued. HQ 7th Bombardment Group transfers from Karachi to Dum-Dum, India.


77th Bombardment Squadron (Medium), 28th Composite Group, based at Elmendorf Field, Anchorage, Territory of Alaska, begins operating from Umnak, Aleutian Is with B-26’s.


7th Air Force begins flying B-17’s from the Territory of Hawaii to Midway in the face of an expected attack on that. 394th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 5th Bombardment Group (Heavy), transfers from Hickam Field to Bellows Field, Territory of Hawaii with B-17’s.

Pearl Harbor: On the 27th of May, USS Yorktown arrived at Pearl Harbor bearing the wounds of her action from the Coral Sea action. Grievously wounded by both direct-hits and near-misses (even while having avoided a spread of eight air-launched torpedoes), Yorktown required at least a three month overhaul and refit. However, Nimitz knew Yorktown was the only carrier available to add to the task force that had previously sailed with Hornet and Enterprise. Two carriers against Kido Butai would not be sufficient – Saratoga, enroute from the West Coast, would not arrive until 7 Jun, too late to be of use. Ranger was otherwise engaged and Lexington, well, Lexington was lost after a valiant fight at Coral Sea. The third carrier had to be Yorktown.

When she entered Pearl on the 27th, over 1,400 shipyard workers swarmed aboard and immediately set to work repairing the damage, along with ship’s company. On 28 May she entered dry dock to repair cracks in the hull and fuel holding tanks from the near misses. In forty-eight hours another in a series of miracles ensued and Yorktown made ready for sea. At 0900L 30 May 1942, Yorktown put to sea, her airwing replenished with three of Saratoga’s squadrons (VB-3, VF-3 and VT-3 replacing VS-5, VF-42 and VT-5, all of which had suffered heavy losses at Coral Sea).

How significant was this action? In a word – it was pivotal. The urgency to turnaround Yorktown, bring aboard squadrons who had never operated off her before and in so doing, get a third carrier into action was one of the key points in the outcome of the coming battle – and make no mistake everyone from Nimitz down to the seaman on the Yorktown knew it. This was in studied contrast to the almost leisurely approach the Japanese took in repairing Zuikaku and replenishing her air wing (the Japanese did not rotate airwings between carriers and didn’t think about doing it until later in the war).

Pacific Theater:

ALASKA (11th Air Force): A B-17 flies the first armed reconnaissance from the secretly constructed airfield at Unmak , Aleutian over the Aleutian Chain, but finds no sign of the enemy. XI Fighter Command elements are not deployed at Unmak (P-40’s and P-38’s), Cold Bay (P-40’s), Kodiak (P-39’s), and Elmendorf Field [P-38’s and Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Kittyhawks].
USA – Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson warns Americans along the west coast to expect a Japanese attack as retaliation for the Dolittle raid on Tokyo.
SOUTHWEST PACIFIC AREA (5th Air Force): B-26’s attack the airfield at Lae, New Guinea.
New Hebridies – U.S. forces arrive at Espiritu Santo.

Pearl Harbor, Hawaii:

USS Enterprise, Hornet and escorts have sortied to meet the Japanese fleet bound for Midway. USS Yorktown, which arrived 27 May from action in the Coral Sea is in the shipyard undergoing desperate repairs to enable her to join Enterprise and Hornet.

In an inauspicious beginning, perhaps future, LCDR Lindsey, CO of VT-8 crashed astern of Enterprise while flying aboard Enterprise. He and the rest of his crew are rescued by the planeguard, USS Monaghan.
While Yorktown is in dock, her airwing receives new aircraft and performs maintenance on the others.

Kido Butai:

After clearing the Inland Sea on the 27th, Nagumo’s forces have set a north-easterly course at 14 knots. Ships crews turn to the daily routine of maintenance, cleaning and participating in drills while the embarked aircrew amused themselves playing cards in the ready room or passing around novels while sunning themselves on the flight deck – some had brought wooden deck chairs for this purpose. (ed – It would appear there were (are) some universal similarities across naval aviation…). The overall mood of the crews was relaxed. Duty carrier rotation was set with Soryu taking the first watch on the 27th. However, overnight on the 27th, CDR Fuchida Mitsuo, CAG for Akagi’s air group, was diagnosed with acute appendicitis. Although he pleaded otherwise, the flight surgeon overruled him and operated immediately. Fuchida would miss the coming battle, at least leading the air group in battle, and this was dismaying to the veteran crews.
1430, 28 May – Kido Butai’s supply ships are sighted and once they were joined in the force, a course change to east-northeast was ordered. Speed remained at 14 knots in consideration of the destroyers and other fuel hogs in the fleet.

    “The Inland Sea of Japan was still veiled in darkness when the anchorage at Hashirajima began to awaken. On board the aircraft carrier Akagi, white-clad crewmen, ghostly in the deep twilight on the forecastle, began raising the ship’s anchors. The clatter of the capstan was overlain with the bright sound of spraying water as the foredeck gang played hoses along the dripping anchor chains, washing them clean of the harbor’s mud. All around Akagi, just barely discernible in the gloom, lay dozens of great grey warships, many of them weighing anchor as well. Nautical twilight was at 0437. But the dark waters of the bay, sheltered by the mountainous islands, would remain shrouded in gray until well after sunlight dappled the hilltops. Akagi would sortie around dawn. The date was 27 May 1942.” Shattered Sword (Parshall & Tully) 2005, p.3

    JAPAN – Citing Japanese victories in the Coral Sea and other battles, Radio Tokyo the previous day announces that “America and Britain… have now been exterminated. The British and American fleets cannot appear on the oceans.”

    On board the new battleship, Yamato, a final round of planning and wargaming had wrapped on the 25th, uncovering some potentially fatal flaws with Yamamoto’s plan – namely that there was a gap in the air search pattern south of the Hawaii/Midway axis which would prevent detection of American forces if they sortied to that area. Other officers were concerned that Nagumo’s forces were too far removed from the main body should additional support be required. However, Nagumo and his staff assured Yamamoto that they would be able to handle any such contingency, but another problem had arisen – namely that elements of Kido Butai would not be ready to sail on the established date.

    Parshall & Tully note that Yamamoto declined to make changes in the operational schedule, believing that the tides at Midway would not accommodate Nagumo’s tardiness. Kido Butai would sail a day after the rest of the forces (invasion convoy and supporting force) and as such, would have one day less to knock out the island’s defenses for the invading force. No changes were made to the operational plan – no contingency plans put in effect. On the eve of departure for what the IJN leadership viewed to be the deciding battle, the battle that would utterly destroy the American fleet and end America’s presence in the Pacific, thereby securing the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, the planning and wargaming was almost a polar opposite of the tightly scripted, minutely detailed effort that led to the attack at Pearl Harbor.

    Around the world, forces were joined and movement was afoot in this truly global war. In Russia, the 2nd Battle of Karkhov was winding to a close. After initial Soviet successes and re-capture of the city, they now found themselves surrounded and an attempted breakout two days earlier had failed. Southward, in the Crimea, the Nazis have begun their summer offensive. In Africa, Rommel has undertaken an offensive against the British defensive positions at Gazala. In Britain, preparations are being made for the first thousand plane raid against Germany – American forces were just beginning to arrive under the command of Eighth Air Force, VIII Bomber Command, but would not see their first combat for another 2 months. In the China-Burma-India theater, 10th Air Force moved B-17’s of the 11th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 7th Bombardment Group (Heavy) from Karachi to Lahabad, India with B-17’s. And in the Southwest Pacific Theater, 5th Air Force B-17’s bomb the Japanese stronghold at Rabaul. 8th FG P-39s intercept Japanese fighters attacking Port Moresby, Australia losing two P-39F’s in the process. And at CINCPAC HQ, Ed Layton answers a question from Nimitz – name the dates and dispositions the enemy intends to take up around Midway:

    “‘I want you to be specific,’ Nimitz said, fixing me with his cool blue eyes. ‘After all, this is the job I have given you – to be the admiral commanding the Japanese forces, and tell me what is going on.’

    It was a tall order, given that so much was speculation rather than hard fact. I knew that I would have to stick my neck out, but that was clearly what he wanted. Summarizing all my data, I told Nimitz that the carriers would probably attack on the morning of 4 June, from the north-west on a bearing of 325 degrees. They could be sighted at about 175 miles from Midway at around 0700 hours local time.

    On the strength of this estimate, Admiral Nimitz crossed his Rubicon on 27 May 1942…I knew very well the extent to which Nimitz had staked the fate of the Pacific Fleet on our estimates, and his own judgment, against those of Admiral King and his staff in Washington.”…And I was There (Ed Layton) 1985, pg. 430.


    And sixty-seven years later, off Wake Island – the Nimitz-class carrier, USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) headed in the opposite direction of Kido Butai…

    The Mitsubishi A6M Zero (“A” for fighter, 6th model, “M” for Mitsubishi) was a light-weight, carrier-based fighter aircraft employed by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service from 1940 to 1945. At the time it was introduced, the Mitsubishi A6M was the best carrier-based fighter plane in the world and was greatly feared by Allied pilots.

    Widely known as the Zero (from its Japanese Navy designation, Type 0 Carrier Fighter – Rei shiki Kanjo sentoki, 零式艦上戦闘機), taken from the last digit of the Imperial year 2600 (1940), when it entered service, in Japan it was unofficially referred to as both Rei-sen and Zero-sen. More…

    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)