Compounding Disaster: The Loss of the Mikuma at Midway

Mikuma as Built

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was still attempting to digest the calamity that had befallen Admiral Nagumo’s carrier task force. In the shocked atmosphere of the mighty Super Battleship Yamato’s command center the Staff of the Combined Fleet was hastily attempting to arrive at a solution which might reverse the disaster and bring victory.  Admiral Ugaki, Yamamoto’s Chief of Staff despite his personal doubts ordered Vice Admiral Nobutake Kondo to prepare for a night surface engagement with the US Fleet and to dispatch a strong surface force to bombard Midway in order to prevent the Americans from reinforcing it and to prevent its further use against his forces should the invasion move forward.  Kondo organized his fleet to attempt to find the American carriers and bring them to battle before dawn.

SBD Dauntless Dive Bombers from Hornet attacking Mogami and Mikuma 

Kondo detached Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita’s Close Support Group composed of Cruiser Seven, the fastest and most modern cruisers in the Imperial Navy proceed at full speed to attack Midway.  Kurita’s cruisers, the Kumano, Suzuya, Mikuma and Mogami were each armed with 10 8” guns and were escorted by the two destroyers.

Kurita’s force was 80 miles from Midway when Yamamoto realizing that his plan was unrealistic ordered Kondo’s forces to retreat and rendezvous with his main force shortly after midnight. The order was met with a measure of relief by most officers in the force and the force turned northwest and steamed at 28 knots to meet the Main Body.  At 0215 lookouts on Kumano sighted a submarine on the surface which turned out to be the USS Tambor which had been shadowing the group, and made a signal for the force to make a emergency 45 degree turn to port.

During the process Mogami’s Navigator took over from the watch to oversee the tricky maneuver. In doing so he thought that there was too much distance between him and the ship ahead, the Mikuma. So he adjusted his course to starboard and then realized his mistake. The ship he thought was Mikuma was actually Suzuya and Mikuma was directly ahead. As soon as he recognized his mistake Mogami’s Navigator ordered a hard turn to port and reversed the engines but it was too late. Mogami’s bow crashed into Mikuma’s port quarter. The impact caused minimal damage to Mikuma but Mogami was heavily damaged. She lost 40 feet of her bow and everything else was bent back to port at right angles to her number one turret.

Ariel Photo of Mikuma damaged

Mogami’s damage control teams isolated the damage and worked the ship up to 12 knots. This was not fast enough for Kurita to make his rendezvous so he left Mikuma and the destroyers to escort Mogami while he steamed ahead with Kumano and Suzuya.

Mikuma adrift and sinking. The wreckage of Captain Fleming’s Vindicator can be seen on X- Turret 

Tambor’s skipper LCDR John W Murphy sent a contact report at 0300 reporting “many unidentified ships.” He followed this with more detailed information and the Americans on Midway began to launch its remaining serviceable aircraft to attack the threat. A flight of B-17 Bombers launched at 0430 could not find the Japanese ships but at 0630 a PBY Catalina found the Japanese and radioed Midway “two Japanese battleships streaming oil.”  The remaining 12 aircraft of VSMB-241 under command of Captain Marshall Tyler a mix of SBD Dauntless and SB2U Vindicators took off at 0700. His force attacked at 0808 scoring no hits but Captain Richard Fleming, his Vindicator on fire dropped his bomb and then crashed his aircraft into Mikuma’s after turret. The fire was sucked down air intakes into the starboard engine room with disastrous results. The engineers were suffocated by the smoke and fumes and Mikuma was greatly reduced in speed.

Close up shot of Mikuma with survivors visible 

The two ships limped northwest at 12 knots escorted by the destroyers and were unmolested through much of the day with the exception of an ineffective attack by the B-17s at 0830. The following morning the Dive Bombers of Enterprise and Hornet were at work and found the crippled Japanese ships. Waves over US Dive Bombers attacked the cruisers throughout the morning and into the afternoon. Mikuma was hit at least 5 times and secondary explosions of ammunition and torpedoes doomed the ship. Mogami was also heavily damaged but remained afloat while both destroyers received bomb damage.  At sunset the tough cruiser rolled over to port and sank into the Pacific. Mogami whose damage control teams had performed miracles to keep their ship afloat helped the destroyers rescue survivors from Mikuma.  Only 240 were rescued with 650 officers and sailors going down with the ship.

The action against the cruisers ended the combat operations at Midway. The Japanese ships were doomed by Yamamoto’s decision to try to salvage victory from defeat and the error of Mogami’s Navigator during the emergency turn when Kumano sighted Tambor. The only thing that kept the result from being total was the efficacy of Mogami’s damage control teams.  Mogami was out of the war for 10 months following repairs and conversion to an Aircraft Cruiser in which her aft turrets were removed to increase the number of float plane scouts that the ship could carry. She rejoined the fleet in April 1943 and was sunk following the Battle of the Surigao Strait on 25 October 1944.

The Mogami and Mikuma proved to be tough ships to sink. Unprotected by friendly aircraft they fought hard against the unopposed American Dive Bombers. They suffered massive damage from 500 and 1000 pound bombs, both direct hits and near misses. Mogami was saved by the skill of her damage control teams and the foresight of her Damage Control Officer to jettison her torpedoes so that they did not explode and compound the damage wrought by the American bombs.

For the Americans it was a fitting end to the Battle of Midway and revenge for the Battle of the Sunda Strait where Mikuma and Mogami sank the USS Houston.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under History, Military, Navy Ships, US Navy, world war two in the pacific

3 responses to “Compounding Disaster: The Loss of the Mikuma at Midway

  1. John Erickson

    Despite their powerful main gun armament and the deadly “Long Lance” torpedoes, the Japanese cruisers were notoriously overloaded, resulting in instability and cracked welds which might (or might not) have contributed to their loss. “A quart in a pint pot” is an oft-heard summary of Japanese design, often aggravated by insufficient AA armament. A pity for the brave men who crewed these ships, but definitely a blessing for our Navy, who would have had a much tougher fight with ships not hampered by trying to sneak too much ship under the Washington Treaty limits.

  2. Some of the surviving crewmen of the burning and drifting Mikuma can be seen gathered at the stern of the cruiser in photo 4. Photo 3 seems to have been taken later in the day and indicates what seems to be a large white tarpaulin(s) suspended over the survivors to protect them from the sun. Presumably some of these survivors were badly injured. And what of food and, more importantly, drinking water? And rescue? At dusk, a few hours later, Mikuma sank.

  3. padresteve

    Reblogged this on Padresteve's World…Musings of a Passionate Moderate and commented:

    A final thought about the Battle of Midway. I wrote this last year but the fact is that there are times that nations and military commanders attempt to salvage something out of defeat only to lose even more in a futile cause. Peace, Padre Steve+

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s