Daily Archives: June 5, 2018

Devastators Into the Valley of Death: The Sacrifice of the Torpedo Bombers at Midway

tbd-devastator1

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote:

Half a league half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred:
‘Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns’ he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

They were not six hundred and they were not mounted on horses but the Naval Aviators of Torpedo Squadrons Three, Six and Eight and their aerial steeds 42 Douglas TBD Devastators and 6 TBF Avengers wrote a chapter of courage and sacrifice seldom equaled in the history of Naval Aviation. Commanded by veteran Naval Aviators, LCDR Lance “Lem” Massey, LCDR Eugene Lindsey and LCDR John Waldron the squadrons embarked aboard the carriers flew the obsolete TBD Devastators and the young pilots of the Midway based Torpedo 8 detachment under the command of LT Langdon Fieberling flew in the new TBF Avengers.eneterprise-vt-6-midway1

When it entered service in 1937 the TBD was the most modern naval aircraft in the world when   It was a revolutionary aircraft. It was the first monoplane widely used on carriers and was first all-metal naval aircraft.  It was the first naval aircraft with a totally enclosed cockpit, the first with hydraulic powered folding wings.  The TBD had crew of three and had a maximum speed of 206 miles an hour and carried a torpedo or up to 1500 pounds of bombs (3 x 500) or a 1000 pound bomb.

g66074

LCDR Lem Massey Commanding Officer of Torpedo 3

A total of 129 Devastators were built and served in all pre-war torpedo bombing squadrons based aboard the Lexington, Saratoga, Ranger, Yorktown, Enterprise and Hornet, while a limited number embarked aboard Wasp.  The Devastator saw extensive service prior to the war which pushed many airframes to the end of their useful service life.  When war began only about 100 remained operational. By then the TBDs were for all purposes obsolete.They were too slow, had poor maneuverability, insufficient armor and defensive armament.

They were still in service in 1942 as their replacement the TBF Avenger was not available for service in large enough numbers to replace them before Midway.  The TBDs of Torpedo Two and Torpedo Five based on the Lexington and Yorktown performed adequately against minor opposition in strikes against the Marshall Islands, and contributed to the sinking of the Japanese Light Carrier Shoho at the Battle of Coral Sea..

However in the Battle of Midway the squadrons embarked on Yorktown, Torpedo Three which had previously been assigned to Saratoga which was undergoing repair, Torpedo Six of Enterprise, and Torpedo Eight of Hornet were annihilated with only 6 of 41 aircraft surviving their uncoordinated attacks against the Japanese Carrier Strike Force.

enterprise-tbd-landing1

When the Japanese were discovered the American carriers launched a massive strike agains the Japanese carriers. Unfortunately the attacking squadrons became separated from each other and the torpedo bombers arrived before the dive bombers and without fighter escort. Over the course of an hour and ten minutes the three squadrons attacked independently of each other.  Lacking coordination and with inadequate escort, the lumbering aircraft were easy prey for the modern Japanese A6M Zeroes.

The Zeroes of Japanese Combat Air Patrol ripped into the slow, cumbersome and under armed Devastators as they came in low and slow to launch their torpedoes.  Torpedo Eight from Hornet under the command of LCDR John C Waldron pressed the attack hard but all 15 of aircraft were shot down.  Only Ensign George Gay’s aircraft was able to launch its torpedo before being shot down and Gay would be the sole survivor of the squadron. From his observation point hiding under floating wreckage Gay would see the dive bombers get revenge and would be rescued later by a PBY Catalina patrol plane.

Page500_163_6

LCDR John Waldron Commanding Officer of Torpedo Eight

Torpedo Six from the Enterprise under the command of LCDR Eugene Lindsey suffered heavy casualties too. It lost 10 of 14 aircraft with Lindsey being one of the casualties.  The last group of Devastators to attack was Torpedo Three from the Yorktown under the command of LCDR Lem Massey losing 11 of 13 aircraft with Massey a casualty last being seen standing on the wing of his burning aircraft as it went down.

VT-6

These aircraft were also decimated and Massey killed but they had drawn the Japanese Combat Air Patrol down to the deck leaving the task force exposed to the Dive Bombers of the Enterprise and Yorktown.  The six aircraft of the Torpedo Eight detachment from Midway under the command of LT Fieberling lost 5 of their 6 aircraft while pressing their attacks.  Only Ensign Bert Earnest and his aircraft survived the battle landing in a badly damaged state on Midway.  Four U.S. Army B-26 Marauder Medium Bombers were pressed into service as torpedo bombers of which 2 were lost.  No torpedo bomber scored a hit on the Japanese Task force even those torpedoes launched at close range failed to score and it is believe that this was in large part due to the poor performance of the Mark 13 aircraft torpedoes.

yorktown-devastators1

 

Despite the enormous losses of the torpedo squadrons their sacrifice was not in vain. Their attacks served to confuse the Japanese command and delay the rearmament of aircraft following the Japanese strikes on Midway. They also took the Japanese Combat Air Patrol down to sea level and opened the way for American Dive Bombers to strike the Japanese with impunity fatally damaging the Akagi, Kaga and Soryu in the space of 5 minutes.

After Midway the remaining TBDs were withdrawn from active service and no example survives today. The TBF became the most effective torpedo bomber of the war.

800px-tbd_attacking_at_midway_painting-1

As we remember the brave men that fought at Midway it is imperative that we remember the brave aircrews of the torpedo squadrons that like the Light Brigade rode into the Valley of the Shadow of Death against the First Carrier Strike Force and Midway.

Peace

Padre Steve+

3 Comments

Filed under aircraft, History, leadership, Navy Ships, US Navy, World War II at Sea, world war two in the pacific

Marine Aviators at Guadalcanal: The Sacrifice of VMF-221 and VMSB-241


A Brewster Buffalo of VMF-221 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today on June 5th I am posting several articles on the Battle of Midway which was fought between June 4th and June 6th 1942. It was the turning point of the World War Two in the Pacific.

One of the more overlooked aspects of the Battle of Midway are the sacrifices of Marine Fighter Squadron VMF-221 on the morning of June 4th 1942 and Marine Bombing Squadron VMSB-241 that morning and on June 5th.

The Marine aviators of VMF-221 flew a mixture of 21 obsolescent Brewster F2A-3 Buffalos and 7 newer Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats. On the morning of June 4th they engaged a vastly superior force of Japanese Navy aircraft as the Japanese squadrons vectored toward Midway and its air station to begin softening it up for the planned invasion.

Led by Major Floyd Parks the squadron had arrived at Midway on Christmas day 1941 being delivered by the USS Saratoga after the aborted attempt to relieve Wake Island.  The squadron along with Marine Scout Bombing Squadron 241 (VMSB 241) formed Marine Air Group 22. The squadron that Parks brought with him was comprised of just 14 aircraft, all F2A-3’s. The squadron was augmented by 7 more F2A-3s and 7 of the more advanced F4F-3 Wildcats before the battle. The fighter pilots of VMF-221 scored their first victory of the war shooting down a Japanese Kawanishi H8K2 “Emily” flying boat.

F2F-3 Brewster Buffalo 

When the Japanese First Carrier Striking Group was spotted in the wee hours of June 4th the Marines and other Navy and Army Air Force aircrews aboard Midway scrambled to meet them.  The 18 SBD-2 Dauntless’ and 12 Vought SB2-U3 Vindicator dive bombers of VMSB-241 along with the 6 new TBF Avengers belonging to Torpedo Squadron Eight, 4 Army Air Corps B-26 Marauders and 15 B-17 Flying Fortresses flew out to attack the Japanese carriers.  Meanwhile the fighters of VMF-221 rose to intercept the 108 Japanese aircraft heading toward Midway. The 72 strike aircraft, 36 Aichi 99 Val Dive Bombers and 36 Nakajima B5N Torpedo/ High Level Bombers were protected by 36 AM6-2 Zeros. The Japanese Zeros thoroughly outclassed their Marine opponents in speed, maneuverability and in the combat experience of their pilots.

The Marines audaciously attacked the far superior Japanese force, throwing themselves against the Japanese phalanx with unmatched courage.  Despite their courage the Marine fighters were decimated by the Japanese Zeros.  The Marines shot down 4 Val dive bombers and at least three Zeros but lost 13 Buffalos and 3 Wildcats during the battle.  Of the surviving aircraft only three Buffalos and three Wildcats were in commission at the end of the day. Among the casualties killed was Major Parks.  Of the surviving pilots of VMF-221, two became “Aces” during the war. Lieutenant Charles M. Kunz would later fly in VMF-224, adding six victories to end the war with 8 victories. Capt. Marion E. Carl would later fly in VMF-223 and was credited with 18.5 Japanese aircraft shot down.  Other pilots like Second Lieutenant Clayton M. Canfield shot down two additional aircraft while flying with VMF-223, while Second Lieutenant Walter W. Swansberger won the Medal of Honor at Guadalcanal.

The last remaining Marine fighter pilot of VMF-221 from the battle of Midway, Williams Brooks died in January 2010 and was buried with full military honors in Bellview , Nebraska.  Brooks in his after action report described his part in the battle:

I was pilot of F2A-3, Bureau number 01523, Our division under Capt. Armistead was on standby duty at he end of the runway on the morning of June 4, 1942, from 0415 until 0615. At about 0600, the alarm sounded and we took off. My division climbed rapidly, and I was having a hard time keeping up. I discovered afterwards that although my wheels indicator and hydraulic pressure indicator both registered “wheels up”, they were in reality about 1/3 of the way down. We sighted the enemy at about 14,000 feet, I would say that there were 40 to 50 planes. At this time Lt. Sandoval was also dropping back. My radio was at this time putting out no volume, so I could not get the message from Zed. At 17,000 feet, Capt. Armistead led the attack followed closely by Capt. Humberd. They went down the left of the Vee , leaving two planes burning. Lt. Sandoval went down the right side of the formation and I followed. One of us got a plane from the right side of the Vee. At this time, I had completely lost sight of my division. As I started to pull up for another run on the bombers, I was attacked by two fighters. Because my wheels being jammed 1/3 way down, I could not out dive these planes, but managed to dodge them and fire a burst or so into them as they went past me and as I headed for the water. As I circled the island, the anti-aircraft fire drove them away. My tabs, instruments and cockpit were shot up to quite an extent at this time and I was intending to come in for a landing. 

It was at this time that I noticed that a important feature in their fighting. I saw two planes dog-fighting over in the east, and decided to go help my friend if at all possible. My plane was working very poorly, and my climb was slow. As I neared the fight both planes turned on me. It was then that I realized I had been tricked in a sham battle put on by two Japs and I failed to recognize this because of the sun in my eyes. Then I say I was out-numbered, I turned and made a fast retreat for the island, collecting a goodly number of bullets on the way. After one of these planes had been shaken, I managed to get a good burst into another as we passed head-on when I turned into him. I don’t believe this ship could have gotten back to his carrier, because he immediately turned away and started north and down. I again decided to land, but as I circled the island I saw two Japs on a Brewster. Three of my guns were jammed, but I cut across the island, firing as I went with one gun. But I could not get there in time to help the American flier and as soon as the Brewster had gone into the water I came in for a landing at approximately 0715 (estimated). 

VMF-221 was composed of the following aircraft and pilots.

FIRST DIVISION (F2A-3)

Plane # Bu.No.  Pilot                                                               Status

MF-1     01518    Maj. Floyd B. Parks USMC                          MIA

MF-2     01548    2nd Lt. Eugene P. Madole USMCR            MIA

MF-3     01525    Capt. John R. Alvord USMC                        MIA

MF-4     01537    2nd Lt. John M. Butler USMCR                   MIA

MF-5     01569    2nd Lt. David W. Pinkerton Jr. USMCR      MIA

MF-6     01552    2nd Lt. Charles S. Hughes USMCR, Did not engage, turned back due to Engine problems

 

SECOND DIVISION (F2A-3)

Plane # Bu.No.  Pilot                                                                 Status

MF-7     01552    Capt. Daniel J. Hennessey USMC              MIA

MF-8     01541    2nd Lt. Ellwood Q. Lindsay USMCR                 MIA

MF-9     01524    Capt. Herbert T. Merrill USMC                   Bailed out WIA

MF-10   01528    Capt. Herbert T. Merrill USMC            MIA

MF-11   01568    Capt. Phillip R. White USMC                       Survived

MF-12   01542    2nd Lt. John D. Lucas USMCR                      MIA

 

THIRD DIVISION (F2A-3)

Plane#  Bu.No.  Pilot                                                               Status

MF-13   01562    Capt. Kirk Armistead USMC                      Survived

MF-14   01563    2nd Lt. William B. Sandoval USMCR         MIA

MF-15   01553    Capt. William C. Humberd USMC            Survived

MF-16   01523    2nd Lt. Williams V. Brooks USMCR           WIA

MF-17   01521    2nd Lt. Charles M .Kunz USMCR               WIA

MF-18   01559    2nd Lt. Martin E. Mahannah USMC           KIA (his body washed up later)

23 (F4F-3) 3989  2nd Lt. Walter W. Swansberger USMCR   Survived

 

FOURTH DIVISION (F2A-3)

Plane # Bu.No.  Pilot                                                                Status

MF-19   01520    Capt. Robert E. Curtin USMC                     MIA

MF-20   01550    2nd Lt. Darrell D. Irwin USMCR                       Survived

 

FIFTH DIVISION (F4F-3)

 

Plane # Bu.No.  Pilot                                                                Status

22           4008       Capt. John F. Carey USMC                          WIA

24           4000       Capt. Marion E. Carl USMC                         Survived

25           3997       2Lt. Clayton M. Canfield USMCR                Survived

26           4006       Capt. Francis P. McCarthy USMC               MIA

27           2532       2nd Lt. Roy A. Corry USMC                              Survived

28           1864       2nd Lt.Hyde Phillips USMCR                            Did not engage, mechanical problems

As for VMF-221 it was re-equipped with the F4F-4 and later with the F4U Corsair during the course of two more deployments overseas.  VMF-221 finished the war with a score of 155 victories, 21 damaged and 16 probable kills, the second highest total of any Marine Corps Squadron during the war.

SB2-U2 Vindicator of VMSB 241 at Midway

Their bomber counterparts of VMSB 241 attacked the Japanese task force on the morning of June 4th and scored no hits while losing 8 aircraft. The survivors were again in action later in the day as well as the following day where they helped sink the Japanese Heavy Cruiser Mikuma with with Captain Richard Fleming diving his mortally wounded Vindicator into the cruiser’s number four 8” gun turret.

The Mikuma Sinking after being bombed by Marine and Navy Dive Bombers – the wreck of Major Henderson’s Vindicator is atop the number four turret 

While the Marines’ actions are not as well known or as successful as those of their Navy counterparts they were brave.  The inexperienced Marine fighter pilots had to engage some of the most experienced pilots flying superior machines. The bomber crews had little to no experience before being thrown into combat. As we remember the sacrifices made by the men of Midway let us not forget the gallant men of VMF-221 and VSMB-241.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under History, leadership, US Army Air Corps, US Marine Corps, World War II at Sea, world war two in the pacific