Tag Archives: admiral frank fletcher

Remembering the Guadalcanal Campaign at 75 Years

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today is another day where I am posting an article dealing with the Guadalcanal campaign. The campaign is often forgotten in our day. It was featured during the mini-series The Pacific and the 1998 film The Thin Red Line. The campaign was long and bloody, but it allowed the United States to gain the initiative in the Pacific, and it was the first time that American Marines and Soldiers defeated the Japanese on land, even as the U.S. Navy fought a series of naval engagements which cost the Imperial Japanese Navy large numbers of ships and combat seasoned sailors that they could not replace. It was also the first time that the United States military began to operate in a joint manner. Thus it is important, and sadly it is all too often forgotten, even by military history buffs. I was able to meet Mitchell Paige who was awarded the Medal of Honor on Guadalcanal about three years before he died when I was stationed at Camp Lejuene North Carolina. He was spry and active, and it was an honor to meet him after hearing him speak. 

This is a “wave top” look at the campaign. Maybe someday when I finish my Civil War books I will write something more about this campaign. That being said I hope this article might inspire my readers to read any of the fine books that deal with this campaign. Have a great night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Guadalcanal map 2

The Decision to Invade

Guadalcanal came to American attention in early 1942 as a result of the Japanese South Pacific advance, which “threatened the Allied line of communications with Australia.”[1] Admiral King believed that “the Japanese must not be permitted to consolidate the formidable prizes” that they were then in the course of gathering.”[2] General MacArthur and Admiral Nimitz both wanted to “exploit the Midway victory by a speedy change-over from the defensive to the counter offensive.”[3] MacArthur wanted to strike Rabaul directly using Navy carriers. The Navy, not wanting to give up control of its carriers proposed a strategy of working up through the Solomon Islands, under Navy control.[4] The debate was at times acrimonious. Eventually King and General Marshall worked out a compromise that divided the campaign between the Navy and MacArthur,[5] the Navy in charge of taking Guadalcanal and Tulagi.[6] OPERATION WATCHTOWER was approved in a Joint Chief’s of Staff directive on July 2nd 1942.[7]

turner and vandagrift

Partners Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner and Major General Alexander Vandegrift

The Japanese had not initially placed a high priority on the Solomons, “as they did not expect a counteroffensive in the Pacific for months.”[8] However, after Coral Sea and Midway, they authorized operation “SN” to “strengthen the outer perimeter of Japan’s advance by constructing airfields at key strategic points….”[9] The Japanese sent a contingent of troops, which arrived on June 8th[10] to build an airfield on Guadalcanal, in addition to the seaplane base on Tulagi, as part of a strategy to take the offensive in the South Pacific with an attack on Port Moresby in mid-August.[11]

coastwatchers

Coastwatchers

Japanese commanders were impatient for the airstrip to be completed, yet work began at a leisurely pace, with the Japanese unaware that every move was being “watched and reported to Allied headquarters in Australia,” by coast-watchers.[12] As the Japanese on Guadalcanal dithered the Americans rushed their preparations for the invasion[13] nicknamed “SHOESTRING” by American officers.

The Landings and Initial Actions through the Ilu (Tenaru) River

marines landing at guadalcanal

Marines coming ashore at Guadalcanal

Preparations, though rushed enabled the 1st Marine Division under General Vandegrift to embark on transports for Guadalcanal, despite not being combat loaded and having been assured that they “need not expect a combat mission before 1943.”[14] The invasion force under the overall command of Admiral Fletcher and Admiral Richmond “Kelly” Turner set sail on July 25th and cloaked by heavy rain and clouds[15] remained undetected by the Japanese until they arrived in the waters off Guadalcanal, achieving complete surprise.[16] The invasion force landed on both Tulagi and Guadalcanal. On Tulagi, 1st Raider Battalion under Colonel Edson and 2nd Battalion 5th Marines quickly drove off the 350 Japanese defenders of the 3rd Kure Special Naval Landing Force,[17] and in three days eliminated the Japanese garrison which resisted to the death, with only 23 prisoners.[18] On nearby Gavutu-Tanambogo 1st Parachute Battalion subdued the Japanese personnel operating the seaplane base, though not without difficulty, the naval bombardment was ineffective[19] and the Parachutists suffered heavy casualties[20] and forcing the commitment of the 1st and 3rd Battalions, 2nd Marines.[21] Across the sound the main force of 1st Marine Division went ashore near Lunga Point with 5 infantry battalions. The Marines rapidly ran into difficulty, not due to the Japanese garrison, which melted into the jungle,[22] but to a lack of maps, the thick jungle and kuni grass, their own “deplorable physical condition” from being shut up in the holds of the transports for two weeks and overburdened with full packs and extra ammunition.[23]

japanese aircraft guadalcanal

Japanese “Betty” Bombers attacking US Transports

While the Marines advanced inland, supplies built up on the landing beaches due to the limited number of cargo handlers. Additionally, the Japanese launched a number of heavy air raids which caused minimal damage to the destroyer Mugford on the 7th but were more successful on the 8th damaging a transport badly enough that it had to be abandoned.

GuadM3Tank

Marine M3 Stuart Light Tank and Crew at Guadalcanal

The Marines on Guadalcanal, comprised of the 1st and 5th Marine Regiments consolidated a bridgehead around the captured airfield on the 8th, but the next day found that their situation had changed dramatically. The Japanese Navy had attacked and mauled the covering force, sinking four cruisers and damaging one at the Battle of Savo Island.[24] The destruction of the covering force and Admiral Fletcher’s withdraw of the carriers forced the transports to depart on the 9th, still bearing much equipment, supplies and nearly 1800 men of the 2nd Marines.[25] Vandegrift was left with only 5 infantry and 3 artillery battalions, and the 3rd Defense battalion on the island as well as some tanks, engineers and Navy “Seabees.”[26] When the Navy left Vandegrift went over to the defensive and organized a line from the Ilu river on the east to Lunga point and the airfield to a point about 1000 yards past Kukum.[27] Defenses were prepared to defend against potential Japanese amphibious attacks. 1st Marines held the eastern perimeter and 5th Marines (-) the west. One battalion with tanks and half-tracks was reserve. The line was thin and not continuous, thus Vandegrift could only watch and wait for the Japanese strike and move “part of his mobile reserve to meet it when it came.”[28] On the 12th a prisoner reported that Japanese near Matanikau were willing to surrender and LtCol Goettge the G-2 led a 25 man patrol to investigate. The patrol was ambushed and decimated with only three survivors.[29] The Japanese landed the advance party of the 5th Special Naval Landing Force in broad daylight on the 16th, and Vandegrift decided to bring 2/5, and the Raider and Parachute battalions from Tulagi as soon as he had ships to do it.[30] On the 20th the airfield was opened and a squadron each of Marine Fighters and Dive Bombers landed on Guadalcanal.[31]

guadalcanal makeshift obstacle

Makeshift Obstacles: With no barbed wire the Marines used the ingenuity

General Hyakutake of the 17th Army was allotted 6,000 men of the Special Naval Landing Force, and the Kawaguchi and Ichiki detachments to re-take Guadalcanal. 17th Army also had the Sendai 2nd and the 38th Divisions, tank and artillery units, but they were scattered from Manchuria, to Borneo and Guam.[32] Hyakutake was ordered to use only the Ichiki detachment, a move which some at Imperial GHQ vigorously opposed.[33] Kawaguchi, recognized Guadalcanal’s importance and told a reporter that “the island would be a focal point in the struggle for the Pacific.”[34] On the 18th Colonel Ichiki landed with half of his unit, 915 men, 25 miles east of the Marines. Overconfident, he disobeyed orders to wait for the rest of his troops, left 125 men behind to guard his bridgehead and set off to attack.[35]

col ichiki

Colonel Ichiki whose elite 5th Special Naval Landing Force was annihilated at the Tenaru River

Ichiki’s force attacked shortly after 0100 on the 21st. He thought that he had achieved surprise[36], but, opposing him was 2nd Battalion 1st Marines under LtCol. Al Pollock. Warned by patrols that encountered the oncoming Japanese, and by Sergeant Major Vouza,[37] the Marines were on alert, well dug in, though lacking barbed wire, of which a single strand was emplaced across their front. The Japanese ran into the barbed wire and were mowed down as they attempted to cross the sandspit against G/2/1 and a weapons platoon. About 0300 artillery joined the action, catching the Japanese bunched together near the sandspit inflicting heavy casualties.[38] Around 0500 Ichiki made another attempt, sending a company through the surf, which was engulfed in machine gun and artillery fire.[39] At daylight the Marines counter attacked. Colonel Cates ordered Lt.Col. Cresswell’s 1st Battalion 1st Marines, to envelop the Japanese along the beach. Pollock’s Marines ranged mortars and small arms fire on Japanese survivors to their front, picking them off “like a record day at Quantico”

battle of tenaru river

Dead Japanese of the Ichiki Detachment at the Tenaru

[40] Marine aircraft made their first appearance, strafing the Japanese survivors. A light tank platoon crossed the Ilu and began to mop up the Japanese with 1/1 at 1530. At 1630 Ichiki burned his regimental colors and committed suicide. The Battle of the Ilu was over, the Japanese suffering at least 777 dead,[41] 15, 13 of whom were wounded were captured, only a Lt. Sakakibara and one soldier escaped to join those at the landing site.[42] The Marines suffered 35 dead and 74 wounded.[43] Ichiki made critical mistakes; he failed to reconnoiter, made a frontal attack against a dug in enemy and repeated it, with disastrous results.[44] Hyakutake informed Tokyo: “The attack of the Ichiki detachment was not entirely successful.”[45] The Americans were shocked at the Japanese fight to the death, and Griffith would note: “from this morning until the last days on Okinawa, the fought a ‘no quarter’ war. They asked none for themselves. They gave none to the Japanese.”[46]

Bloody Ridge

mitchpaige

Artists depiction of Sgt Mitchell Paige assaulting attacking Japanese units at Bloody Ridge

A round of minor engagements was fought in late August and early September as each side sent reinforcements. Kawaguchi’s brigade landed between August 29th and September 4th, but many troops were lost due to air attacks on the destroyers, transports and barges. Kawaguchi received the remainder of Ichiki’s force, bringing his force to 6200 men. He refused Hyakutake’s offer of an additional infantry battalion, believing intelligence that only 2000 Marines remained on Guadalcanal.[47] In fact Vandegrift had already moved the Raiders, Parachutists from Tulagi to Guadalcanal. Most of Kawaguchi’s force was east of the Marines; elements of 4th Regiment under Colonel Oka were on the Matanikau.[48] Vandegrift used the Raiders to attack Kawaguchi’s rear areas, capturing Tasimboko and killing 27 Japanese, destroying many of his troop’s supplies and foodstuffs.[49] Kawaguchi was infuriated by the attack and 17th Army prepared to send troops from the Sendai 2nd Division to the island.

vandegrift and staff

Vandergrift and Key Marine Leaders

The Raiders and Parachutists took positions on a ridge south of Henderson field on their return from the raid against Kawaguchi’s rear. Vandegrift placed his “Amtrackers” to the west of the ridge with 1st Pioneer Battalion.[50] Colonel deValle’s artillery was emplaced to give close support and observers attached to Edson’s battalion. The artillery was registered on pre-plotted points.[51] Edson’s force had little time to prepared defenses and due to the ridge and jungle prevented him from having “anything like a continuous line.”[52] First Marines held the line from Edson’s left to the sea along the Ilu. Unlike Ichiki, Kawaguchi avoided an attack on the strong 1st Marines position, and headed across the jungle to attack the airfield from the south with the 124th Infantry Regiment. Due to the difficult approach his battalions had a hard time reaching their start positions, two of the three reached the assembly areas two and three hours after the start time. When they did attack they lost their way, became scattered and intermingled; and Kawaguchi his battalion commanders lost all control.[53] The attack on the 12th was frustrating to Kawaguchi who later wrote “In all my life I have never felt so helpless.”[54] The attack was so ineffective that Edson thought the Japanese were “testing” him.[55]

11th marines 155mm howitzer

Marine Artillery on Guadalcanal

Kawaguchi regrouped as did Edson, who pulled back his line 200 yards to a stronger point on the ridge, reorganizing the line and command and control.[56] This improved fields of fire for his automatic weapons.[57] 2nd Battalion 5th Marines, the only reserve was moved south of the airfield so it could relieve Edson on the 14th.[58] As darkness fell, the Japanese attacked. I/124 attacked the ridge and the area to the west. Marines withdrew up the ridge under heavy pressure supported by artillery, which dropped fires almost on top of the Raider positions.[59] During the withdraw the Parachutists became confused and continued to withdraw, and only stopped when Edson’s operations officer, Major Bailey stepped in and halted it.

bloody ridge

Artists depiction of the Battle of Bloody Ridge

Artillery pounded I/124 and halted its attack even as companies of the reserve, 2nd battalion 4th Regiment attacked forcing the Raiders back to a knoll, the last defensive position before Henderson Field.[60] Edson exhorted the Marines who threw the Japanese back, and parachutists under Captain Torgerson counterattacked. Two more attacks were repulsed with assistance from 2/5 which had moved up in support.[61] The third Japanese battalion did not get into action[62] and Colonel Oka in the west made a weak attack that was handily defeated. The Japanese lost over 1200 men in their attack on the ridge.[63] The demoralized Japanese retreated west to join Oka’s men, taking a week and costing even more casualties.[64] Short on food, Oka pushed the survivors west and so he could defend the river line.[65]On the 18th Vandegrift was reinforced with 4700 men of the 7th Marines along with trucks, heavy equipment and supplies.[66] Edson was promoted to command 5th Marines.[67]

Matanikau Battles and the Fight for Henderson Field

wildcat on henderson field

Marine F4F Wildcat on Henderson Field

The Japanese now decided to send the Sendai and 38th divisions and heavy artillery to the island. Hyakutake went to the island to direct the campaign. The decision resulted in the suspension of 17th Army’s offensive against Port Moresby.[68] Admiral Yamamoto committed the fleet to cover the operations[69] setting up a major air, land and sea confrontation with the Americans. However before these forces could reach the island Vandegrift launched a series of attacks against Oka’s force on the Matanikau using the Raiders, and elements of 5th and 7th Marines.[70] The first attacks took place 24-27 September. The Matanikau position was important to future Japanese operations as their artillerymen stressed that they could not effectively shell the airfield unless guns were emplaced across the river.[71] The Raiders attacked at the log bridge[72] supported by C/1/7 and were repulsed by Oka’s 12th Company with heavy casualties.[73] Puller’s attack by 2/5 and parts of 1/7 at the mouth of the river was rebuffed by 9th Company. An amphibious assault by three companies of 1/7 was ordered by Edson who mistakenly believed that his Marines had crossed the river.[74] The force isolated by Oka’s II/124 and 12th Company, its commander killed and the Marines had to be rescued by Navy units.[75]

litter_bearers_on_guadalcanal

Navy Corpsmen preparing to evacuate a wounded Marines (above) and the 1st Marine Divsion Field Hospital

1st mardiv field medical

A second attack by the Marines on the Japanese, now reinforced by 4th Infantry Regiment on 6-9 October dealt them a crushing blow. An attack by 2/5 and 3/5 along the coast met heavy Japanese resistance and General Nasu decided to push across the river. While this was taking place, 7th Marines and the Whaling Group[76] outflanked the Japanese on the river and pushed to the coast. The Marines mauled the 4th Infantry, a Japanese report noting at least 690 casualties.[77] The action had decisive impacts on the next phase of Japanese operations.

General Hyakutake

General Hyakutake Commander of the Japanese 17th Army defending Guadalcanal

7th Marines and the 164th Regiment of the Americal Division arrived allowing Vandegrift to mount a full perimeter defense while Admiral Halsey replaced Ghormley as COMSOPAC.[78] Arriving on 10 October with the Sendai Division and 17th Army Artillery, Hyakutake, was notified that “American artillery had ‘massacred” the Fourth Infantry Regiment”[79] and found Ichiki and Kawaguchi’s units in an emaciated condition, the total effectives of the 6 battalions numbering less than a full strength battalion.[80] He radioed Rabaul “SITUATION ON GUADALCANAL IS MUCH MORE SERIOUS THAN ESTIMATED, and asked for more reinforcements and supplies at once.”[81] The Navy turned back a Japanese bombardment group on the 12th, but battleships and cruisers blasted Henderson Field on the 13th, 14th and 15th, destroying many aircraft.[82]

kongo

The 14″ guns of the Japanese Battleship Kongo and her sister Haruna pounded Henderson Field

Hyakutake received reinforcements including tanks and an infantry-artillery group and prepared to attack. General Sumiyoshi[83] was to make a diversionary attack along the coast with Army artillery and 5 infantry battalions. The Sendai Division under General Maruyama[84] with 9 infantry battalions moved inland along a route “the Maruyama road,”[85] to make the main effort to attack the airfield from the south. Sumiyoshi divided his artillery to support the bombardment of Henderson Field and support his infantry attacks, but was short ammunition.[86] The Marines had fortified the eastern side of the Matanikau and Sumiyoshi probed the Marines with infantry and tanks and artillery fire on the 20th and 21st, giving the Marines their first taste of concentrated artillery.[87] Sumiyoshi’s demonstration on the coast was effective, and Maruyama’s division remained undetected throughout its advance avoiding Marine and native patrols.[88]

bloody ridge aftermath

Japanese dead after the failed attack on Henderson Field

The attack began on the 23rd with Sumiyoshi attacking on the Matanikau; but he did not get the word that the attack for that night had been postponed until the 24th since Kawaguchi’s units had not gotten to assembly areas on the right of Sendai division.[89] His tanks advanced at 1800 and all but one were destroyed by deValle’s artillery as soon as they moved across the sandspit. The supporting infantry withdrew, and most never went forward as they were hit hard in assembly areas by Marine artillery losing over 600 men.[90] The action succeeded in the Marines shifting 2/7 and 3/7 north leaving Puller’s 1/7 alone on “Bloody Ridge.”[91] Fortunately for the Marines these Japanese forces were detected by Scout-Sniper’s[92] and Puller dug in his battalion deeper and set out a platoon in an outpost 1500 meters south of his position.[93]

puller1

Chesty Puller

On the 24th Maruyama’s Sendai troops attacked the ridge. He divided his force into two wings each of three infantry battalions commanded by General Nasu on the left and Colonel Shoji[94] on the right, three battalions served as a reserve. He advanced at 1900 but a storm turned the jungle into a vast mud bog exhausting the Japanese. Shoji’s wing advanced tangential to the Marine line and only one battalion made contact with Puller’s battalion.[95] Nasu’s troops hit Puller’s who realized that he was facing a major attack; he fed platoons from 3rd Battalion 164th Infantry, a National Guard unit into his lines and requested reinforcements.[96] The Marines and Guardsmen beat back all but one attack, that of LtCol. Furimiya of III/29 who got into the Marine perimeter and held out 48 hours, colors flying, leading Hyakutake to believe that they had captured the airfield.[97] The Japanese were driven off 9th Company of the 29th Regiment was wiped out primarily by the efforts of Sgt. John Basilone’s machine gun section.[98]

wrecked aircraft

Wrecked Aircraft on Henderson Field

The next day was known as “Dugout Sunday”[99] and that night the Japanese renewed the attack. This was better coordinated, but the Marines, reinforced by 3/164 and 3/2, and backed by artillery, devastated the Sendai division. Nasu and the commander of 16th Infantry were killed with at least 2000 of their soldiers.[100] Colonel Oka attacked 2/7 and was driven off with heavy casualties. Marine Sgt. Mitchell Paige won the Medal of Honor for single handedly manning his platoon’s machine guns after his troops became casualties, going gun to gun.[101] The attacks were crushed leaving more than 3000 dead or dying Japanese on the battlefield.[102]

On the Offensive

Guadalcanal

Marines pause during advance

As the Japanese struggled out of jungle to the coast the Marines began preparations to attack as each side brought in reinforcements, the Americans receiving the 8th Marine Regiment and 2nd Raider Battalion of 2nd Marine Division, as well as the 2nd Marines who had been on Tulagi and more of the Americal Division.[103] On November 1st and 5th Marines attacked across the Matanikau and by the 4th had eliminated a Japanese pocket on Point Cruz.[104] To the east 1/7 and 2/7 along with 2/164 and 3/164 attacked Col. Shoji’s force and fresh troops sent to relieve him near Koli Point. The battle lasted until the 9th when Shoji broke through the American cordon with 3000 men pursued by 2nd Raider Battalion. Shoji eventually made it back to 17th Army with 700-800 soldiers, most unfit for combat after battling the Raiders and the jungle.[105] The Japanese attempted to reinforce the island during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal from 13-15 November. Out of 11,000 troops of 38th Division on 11 transports only 2000 got ashore after 7 of the 11 were sunk enroute by Henderson Field aircraft and the surviving ships beached.[106]

jap transport and mini sub

Grounded Japanese Transport and Midget Submarine on Guadalcanal

The Americans received the rest of 2nd Marine and Americal Divisions and parts of 25th Division and Vandegrift decided to attack, his command now being a de-facto Corps.[107] Though they still numbered 30,000 the Japanese were incapable of offensive operations but still full of fight.[108]On 18 November the 8th Marines and the Army and elements of the 164th and 182nd regiments attacked on the Matanikau. They met heavy resistance from Col. Sakai’s 16th Infantry and in a 6 day battle and lost 134 dead with minimal gains.[109] The new arrivals allowed 1st Marine Division to be withdrawn[110] as it was no longer combat effective.[111] On 9 December Vandegrift[112] turned over command to General Alexander Patch of the Americal Division.

crossing a bridge

Advancing across a improvised pontoon bridge

Patch used early December to conduct aggressive patrolling[113] and decided to clear the Japanese from Mt Austen, which they had nicknamed “Gifu” and in a 22 day battle the 132nd Infantry eliminated the 38th Infantry Group.[114] With the 25th, Americal and 2nd Marine Division Patch now headed XIV Army Corps.[115] Although the Americans were unaware the Japanese had decided to withdraw from Guadalcanal on 31 December, after a heated debate.[116]

vandegrift edson paige and basilone

Major General Vandegrift, Colonel Edson, 2nd Lt Mitchell Paige and Sgt John Basilone all awardees of the Medal of Honor

The final offensive began on 10 January. Patch hoped to clear out the Japanese by April.[117] The 2nd Marine Division attacked along the coast while General Lawton Collins led his 25th Division in a flanking movement heavily supported by artillery and air. 6th Marine Regiment relieved 2nd Marines flanking the Japanese enveloped the majority of the 4th and 16th Regiments.[118] The Japanese began withdrawing on the 17th moving west shielded by the Yano battalion.[119] Collins troops finally reduced and eliminated the Japanese on the Gifu by the 23rd.[120] “The annihilation of Japanese detachments from regimental size down” characterized operations over the final phase of the command.[121] A characteristic of American operations now included the use of heavy massed artillery including time on target or “TOT” missions.[122] On the 22nd the Japanese began to extricate their troops via the Tokyo Express at Cape Esperance.[123] On 1 February Patch landed 2/132 at Verahue on the southwest tip of the island and the 25th and Americal Divisions continued their push to the west against the rearguards of 17th Army. On the 8th of February the last survivors were withdrawn[124] in a move described by the Chief of Staff 17th Army as a “minor miracle.”[125] The Japanese were shocked that the Americans “press them hard” and turn the withdraw “into a bloody rout.”[126] Still expecting a fight Patch’s troops found nothing on Cape Esperance but abandoned boats and supplies.[127]

JapanesePrisonersGuadalcanal

Japanese Prisoners

The Guadalcanal campaign had ended with the loss of nearly 30,000 Japanese. Japan lost the psychological advantage it had possessed from the beginning of the war.[128] It was an action that was an offensive won with defensive actions. The Americans seized a strategic point that the Japanese could not afford to lose and then fought a defensive battle of attrition to grind the Japanese down. The American Marines and Soldiers showed themselves to be the equals of the Japanese in one of the most demanding campaigns of the war. Kawaguchi would comment to a reporter in Manila; “We lost the battle. And Japan lost the war.”[129]

Appendix: Leaders On Guadalcanal

Major General Alexander A. Vandegrift: (1887-1973) Commander of 1st Marine Division on Guadalcanal. He served in the Corps 40 years and retired in 1949 as Commandant of the Marine Corps. After Guadalcanal he commanded 1st Marine Amphibious Corps at Empress Augusta Bay. He was a key player in the congressional debates regarding the Marine Corps in 1946 when President Truman supported by the Army pushed to eliminate the Marine Corps as a ground combat force. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his service at Guadalcanal. USS Vandegrift FFG-48 was named after him. That ship made the first visit of a US warship to Vietnam since the Vietnam War in 2003.

Major General Alexander Patch: (1889-1945) Commander of XIV Army Corps at Guadalcanal. He assumed command of forces on island from Vandegrift on 9 December 1942. General Marshall ordered him to Europe in 1943 to take command of 7th Army from General Patton. He commanded 7th Army in the south France and the Rhone campaign of 1944, leading that army across the Rhine in 1945. He was to take command of 4th Army in the United States but died of Pneumonia. He was considered a very good commander in both the Pacific and Europe. Patch Barracks in Stuttgart Germany is named after him.

Major General Lawton Collins: (1896-1987) “Lightning Joe” Collins commanded 25th Infantry Division (Tropical Lightening) at Guadalcanal. He commanded VII Corps and distinguished himself in France and was instrumental in Operation COBRA and the breakout from Normandy. He was considered by many to be one of the outstanding Corps commanders in the Second World War. During Korea he was Army Chief of Staff and later served with NATO and as a special representative to Vietnam.

Lieutenant Colonel Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller: (1898-1971) “Chesty Puller commanded 1st Battalion 7th Marines at Guadalcanal and was instrumental in the fight for Henderson Field against the Sendai Division. His early career was marked by much time in Haiti and Nicaragua where he was awarded his first and second Navy Crosses. He served with the “China Marines” (the 4th Marines) He was wounded on Guadalcanal and later served as Executive Officer 1st Marine Regiment and commanded that Regiment at Peleliu. In Korea he again commanded 1st Marines at the epic Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. He was promoted to Brigadier General and served as Assistant Division Commander for that Division. He was promoted to Major General and Lieutenant General prior to his retirement in 1955. He is considered one of the most iconic and beloved Marines who have ever lived earning 5 Navy Crosses and numerous other awards for valor in combat include the Bronze and Silver Stars and Distinguished Service Medal and the Purple Heart. The USS Puller (FFG-23) a Perry Class Frigate was named after him. His uniforms and many of his medals and citations were displayed at the former Marine Corps Barracks, Naval Weapons Station Yorktown until 2006 when they were transferred to the custody of the Marine Corps Museum following the death of his wife Virginia who insisted that they be displayed in Yorktown.

General Harukichi Hyakutake: (1888-1947) Commanded 17th Army on New Guinea and Guadalcanal. He was an infantry officer who studied crypto analysis and served with the Kwantung Army in Manchuria before the war and following Guadalcanal he remained in command of Japanese Troops in the Solomons. He returned to Japan at the end of the war and died in 1947.

Major General Kiyotake Kawaguchi: (1892-1961) Commanded 35th Infantry Brigade on Guadalcanal and was senior officer until the arrival of General Hyakutake and the Sendai Division. Led the unsuccessful battle at “Bloody Ridge” and was relieved of his command just prior to the October attack on Henderson Field. Was one of the few Japanese officers who expressed an early understanding of the importance of Guadalcanal to the overall war effort. Following his evacuation from Guadalcanal and return to Japan he was transferred to the reserve. Convicted of war crimes in 1946 for actions committed in the Philippines in 1941-42 he was released in 1953 and died in 1961.

Notes

[1] Spector, Ronald H. Eagle Against the Sun: The American War With Japan, The Free Press, New York, NY p.185
[2] Morison, Samuel Elliott, The Two Ocean War: A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War, Little, Brown and Company, Boston and Toronto, 1963. p.164

[3] Liddle-Hart, B.H. History of the Second World War G.P. Putnam’s Son’s. New York, NY 1970. 356

[4] Ibid. Spector. p.185

[5] Ibid. Spector comments that “MacArthur declared that the navy’s obstinacy was part of a long time plot to bring about ‘the complete absorption of the national defense function to the Navy, the Army being regulated to merely base, training, garrisoning, and supply purposes.’” (p.185)

[6] Toland, John. The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936-1945, Random House Publishers, New York, 1970. p.346

[7] Ibid. Morison. p.165

[8] Ibid. p.350

[9] Frank, Richard B. Guadalcanal: The Definitive Account of the Landmark Battle, Penguin Books, New York, NY 1990. p.30

[10] Ibid. p.31

[11] Ibid. Morison. p.166

[12] Griffith, Samuel B II. The Battle for Guadalcanal originally published by Lippincott, New York, 1963, University of Illinois Press, Champaign IL, 2000. p.19

[13] Costello, John. The Pacific War 1941-1945, Quill Publishers, New York, NY. 1981. p.320.

[14] Ibid. Spector. p.186

[15] Ibid. Frank. p.60

[16] Ibid. Spector. p.191

[17] Ibid. Frank. p.72

[18] Ibid. Costello. p.323

[19] Ibid. Griffith. p.49

[20] Ibid. Frank. p.72. 1st Raider Battalion took 22% casualties and 1st Parachute Battalion 50-60%.

[21] Ibid. Frank. p.74. Frank notes that of the 536 Japanese defenders that only about 50, a platoon from the 3rd Kure Naval Landing force were trained for ground combat.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid. Griffith. p.45

[24] Savo Island was the worst defeat suffered by the US Navy. In a short engagement the heavy cruisers Astoria, Quincy and Vincennes and the RAN Canberra were sunk and the Chicago badly damaged, leaving the covering force but one heavy cruiser and some AA Cruisers and Destroyers to cover the transports. Over 1000 sailors lost their lives.

[25] Ibid. Frank. p.125

[26] Costello notes the presence of the Seabees, but neither Franks nor Griffith mentions them by name. The discrepancy appears to be the date of their arrival on the island. Morrison notes that 387 men of the 6th Seabee Battalion landed on September 1st with 2 bulldozers and other equipment and that they then took over the improvement of Henderson Field. Morison, Samuel Elliott. The Struggle for Guadalcanal: August 1942-February 1943, Volume V of History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Copyright 1949, Samuel Elliott Morison, Castel, Books New York, NY 2001, published in arrangement with Little Brown and Company. p.76

[27] Ibid. Griffith. p.68

[28] McMillan, George. The Old Breed: A History of the First Marine Division in WWII, The Infantry Journal Incorporated, Washington DC. 1949. p.50

[29] Ibid. Frank. p130, Griffith. p.70. McMillan pp.52-56. This incident is still shrouded in mystery as no Japanese records survive to record the outcome of the incident. According to McMillan, when Goettge went out he believed he was also on a humanitarian mission and took the assistant division surgeon and a language officer. The Goettge Field House at Camp LeJeune NC is named in his honor.

[30] Ibid. Griffith. p.74

[31] Ibid. McMillan. pp.56-57

[32] Ibid.. p.59

[33] Ibid. Griffith. pp.79-80 some believed the commitment of small numbers inadequate to the task would repeat the defeats suffered at the hands of the Russians and in China. Ichiki himself was given poor intelligence stating that there were only about 2000 Americans on the Island and that they suffered from low morale and were trying to flee Guadalcanal to Tulagi. (p.81)

[34] Ibid. Toland. p.364

[35] Ibid. p.365

[36] Ibid. p.366

[37] Ibid. McMillan. p.61. Vouza, a native constable had actually been captured and interrogated by the Japanese, who bayoneted him and left him for dead.

[38] Ibid. pp.61-62

[39] Ibid. Griffith. p.84

[40] Ibid. p.86

[41] Ibid. Frank. p.156. Richard Tregaskis in Guadalcanal Diary reports that he heard there were 871 Japanese dead in the battle area. Tregaskis, Richard, Guadalcanal Diary, Originally published by Random House, 1943. Modern Library Paperback edition, Random House Publishers, NY 2000, with an introduction by Mark Bowden. p.130

[42] Ibid. Toland. p.367 Griffith reports that a Captain Tamioka survived. (p.87)

[43] Various accounts give slightly different figures for the Marine casualties. This number is taken from McMillan.

[44] Ibid. Griffith. pp.87-88. Griffith comments: “there was something more fundamental involved here than action taken on the basis of poor information, a reckless and stupid colonel, dedicated soldiers, and a disparity in weapons. This was ‘face.’ Once committed to the sword, Ichiki must conquer or die. This was the code of the Samurai, ‘The Way of the Warrior’: Bushido. (p.88)

[45] Ibid. McMillan. p.64

[46] Ibid. Griffith. p.88

[47] Ibid. Frank. p.218. Toland reports that he received intelligence that 5000 Marines were on the island but he believed that he could be victorious. (p.378)

[48] Ibid. Toland. p.376. Oka’s force was particularly hard hit by the air attacks during transit, losing 650 out of 1000 men, and his survivors had little food and ammunition and were not in good condition to attack.

[49] Ibid. Frank. pp.221-222. They also brought back documents, Kawaguchi’s dress uniforms and beer.

[50] Vandegrift rusted in the understanding that every Marine is a rifleman.

[51] Ibid. Griffith. p.115

[52] Ibid. Frank. p.229

[53] Ibid. p.231

[54] Ibid. p.232

[55] Ibid. Griffith. p.117

[56] Ibid. Frank. p.235 He still lacked the manpower to form a continuous line.

[57] Ibid. Griffith. p.117

[58] Ibid. Frank. p.235

[59] Ibid. Griffith. p.119

[60] Ibid. Frank. p.239

[61] Ibid. p.240

[62] This was III/124 under Colonel Wanatabe, suffering from old war wounds he failed to get his unit into the fight and Kawaguchi told him to commit Hari-Kari. (Griffith .121)

[63] Ibid. Griffith. p.121. The Marines lost 263 men of which 49 were killed and 10 missing. The Parachute battalion which began the campaign with 397 men had only 86 ambulatory after “Bloody Ridge” and were withdrawn. (Frank. p.241)

[64] Ibid. Costello. p.346 Frank also notes that another of Kawaguchi’s battalions, the Kuma battalion and his artillery fared even worse while trying to move to the west, becoming lost in the jungle for three weeks, losing all their weapons and becoming severely malnourished. (Frank. p.246)

[65] Ibid. Griffith. p.125

[66] Ibid. Toland. p.385 The Japanese began to call the island Starvation Island.

[67] Edson and Bailey both were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for their actions on the ridge. (McMillan p.81)

[68] Ibid. Griffith. pp.126-127

[69] Ibid. Spector. p.199 and Costello. p.348

[70] Ibid. Frank. p.269.

[71] Ibid.

[72] Ibid. Griffith. p.135. Griffith refers to this as the “Jap bridge.” I use Frank’s the name given by Frank.

[73] Ibid. Frank. p.272

[74] Ibid. Toland.p.390

[75] Ibid. Frank p.273-274. Frank analyzes: “In a retrospective assessment, the Marines found that the operation had an improvised purposeless flavor. It had been initiated without meaningful intelligence on the enemy situation or the terrain, and the attack was characterized by the commitment of battalions along unreconnoitered axes, beyond mutual support range, and without coordination of movements or of air and artillery support.” (p.274)Griffith comments: “Here Edson, as always supremely confident, had dispersed his force haphazardly to assault an enemy well armed, well concealed, and at each pointing superior strength. Second Matanikau hammered home to Vandegrift that a commander who allows himself or a subordinate, to drift aimlessly into any action will pay the price. (Griffith p.137)

[76] Ibid. Griffith. p.283. The Whaling Group consisted of 3rd Bn 6th Marines and the Scout Sniper detachment.

[77] Ibid. 289. The Division history of 1st Marine Division reported over 900 Japanese killed. (McMillan p.96)

[78] Ibid. McMillan. p.99

[79] Ibid. Griffith. p.148

[80] Ibid. p.338

[81] Ibid. Toland. p.392

[82] Ibid. Griffith. p.157. By the 15th the Marines only had 27 aircraft left, but by the evening a Navy fighter squadron had reinforced them.

[83] Artillery commander 17th Army.

[84] Ibid. Toland. p.393. Maruyama noted before the division departed from Japan that Guadalcanal was the “Decisive battle between Japan and the United States, a battle in which the fate of the Japanese Empire will be decided.”

[85] Ibid.p.340 Toland notes how this “road” had been hacked out of the jungle in the proceeding month. (Toland. p.393)

[86] Ibid. p.342. The 15 150mm guns targeted the airfield and the remaining 17, 75mm and 100mm guns and howitzers targeted the infantry.

[87] Ibid. Griffith. p.165-166

[88] Ibid. Frank. p.348

[89] Ibid. Griffith. pp.166-167. Sumiyoshi was not at fault as he had fallen into a coma brought on by Malaria. Kawaguchi was relieved by Hyatutake for this failure.

[90] Ibid. p.167

[91] Ibid. McMillan. p.105

[92] Ibid. Toland. p.401. Frank notes that even this discovery did not alert the Marine command to the Japanese presence south of the ridge and he credit’s Puller’s lack of complacency.

[93] Ibid. Frank. p.352

[94] Ibid. Frank. Shoji had relieved Kawaguchi.

[95] Ibid. Frank. pp.352-353

[96] Ibid.. p.355-356

[97] Ibid. p.356. Furimiya would eventually commit suicide when he had lost the rest of his troops. His diary, found by the Americans made a note that “we must not overlook firepower.” (p.366) Griffith notes the officer as Ishimiya and notes that only 9 men were with him. (p.169)

[98] Ibid. p.356. Basilone won the Congressional Medal of Honor.

[99] The day was marked by a fierce air-sea battle between American aircraft and a Japanese naval task force sent to shell Henderson Field and supporting fighters. A number of Japanese ships were damaged and the light cruiser Yura sunk. See Morison. History of Naval Operations in WWII vol V. pp.197-198

[100] Ibid. Frank. pp.364-365

[101] Ibid. pp.363-364. I met Paige in 2000 at Camp LeJeune. This icon of the Corps remained an outspoken Marine until the day that he died.

[102] Ibid. Toland. p.404

[103] Ibid. Liddle-Hart. p.361

[104] Ibid. Griffith. p.184

[105] Ibid. Frank. pp.421-424.

[106] Ibid. Morison. History of Naval Operations. p.182. Frank backs this number and Liddle-Hart gives 4000.

[107] Ibid. McMillan. p.135

[108] Ibid. Griffith. p.212-213

[109] Ibid. Frank. pp.495-497.

[110] The 1st Marine Division lost 621 KIA, 1,517 WIA and 5601 Malaria cases. Its Marines earned 5 Congressional Medals of Honor, 113 Navy Crosses and 4 Distinguished Service Medals. (McMillan pp.138-139)

[111] Ibid. Griffith. p.216

[112] Vandegrift would become Commandant of the Marine Corps in 1944.

[113] Johnston, Richard W. Follow Me! The Story of the Second Marine Division in World War II, Copyright 1948 by the 2nd Marine Division Historical Board and published by Random House, New York, NY. 1948. p.69

[114] Ibid. Frank. pp.528-534.

[115] Ibid. Johnston. p.72

[116] Ibid. Toland. pp. 421-426. Generals Sato and Tanaka engaged in a fist-fight ended by Tojo and the Emperor himself probed the High Command about the defeat and personal approved the Japanese withdraw.

[117] Ibid. Spector. p.213

[118] Ibid. Frank. p.557

[119] Ibid. p.560

[120] Ibid. p.566

[121] Ibid. p.567

[122] Bergerud, Eric. Touched With Fire: The Land War in the South Pacific, Penguin Books, New York, NY 1996. p.192

[123] Ibid. p.570

[124] Ibid. p.595 Depending on the source the Japanese withdrew anywhere from 10,000 to 13,000 troops from the island.

[125] Ibid. Griffith. p.244

[126] Ibid.

[127] Ibid. Morison. History of Naval Operations, p.371.

[128] Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. For the Common Defense: Fighting the Second World War, The Belknap Press or Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 2000. p.215

[129] Ibid. Toland. p.431

Bibliography

Bergerud, Eric. Touched With Fire: The Land War in the South Pacific, Penguin Books, New York, NY 1996

Costello, John. The Pacific War 1941-1945, Quill Publishers, New York, NY. 1981

Frank, Richard B. Guadalcanal: The Definitive Account of the Landmark Battle, Penguin Books, New York, NY 1990

Griffith, Samuel B II. The Battle for Guadalcanal originally published by Lippincott, New York, 1963, University of Illinois Press, Champaign IL, 2000

Johnston, Richard W. Follow Me! The Story of the Second Marine Division in World War II, Copyright 1948 by the 2nd Marine Division Historical Board and published by Random House, New York, NY. 1948

Liddle-Hart, B.H. History of the Second World War G.P. Putnam’s Son’s. New York, NY 1970

McMillan, George. The Old Breed: A History of the First Marine Division in WWII, The Infantry Journal Incorporated, Washington DC. 1949

Morison, Samuel Elliott, The Two Ocean War: A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War, Little, Brown and Company, Boston and Toronto, 1963

Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. For the Common Defense: Fighting the Second World War, The Belknap Press or Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 2000

Spector, Ronald H. Eagle Against the Sun: The American War With Japan, The Free Press, New York, NY

Toland, John. The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936-1945, Random House Publishers, New York, 1970

Tregaskis, Richard, Guadalcanal Diary, Originally published by Random House, 1943. Modern Library Paperback edition, Random House Publishers, NY 2000, with an introduction by Mark Bowden

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Military, us army, US Army Air Corps, US Marine Corps, US Navy, world war two in the pacific

The Bloody Battle of Savo Island: The Beginning of the Guadalcanal Campaign

USS_Quincy_CA-39_savo

USS Quincy under Attack off Savo Island 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

We continue to work in our house with contractors doing repairs and renovations. Likewise we have been thinning out our belongings and placing things that we want to keep but don’t currently in storage. My God the people at the Goodwill donation center absolutely love me. Tomorrow will be more of the same except that I will be doing some paining in the soon to be complete master bathroom and our guest room. The painting in the guest room is preparatory to ripping up the old laminate floor and laying down the new flooring, but I digress… 

So, for the next few days I will be posting some articles about the Guadalcanal campaign, a pivotal series of battles in the Second World War where the United States and its allies took the offensive against Imperial Japan. This article deals with the first naval engagement of that campaign which was the worst and most lopsided defeat ever suffered by the U.S. Navy in history.  I am posting these articles because they are forgotten by so many. Tomorrow I will begin posting articles on the Guadalcanal Campaign, but the story of “Bloody Savo” is here. Have a good night. 

Peace,

Padre Steve+

On August 8th 1942 the U.S. Task Force supporting the invasion of Guadalcanal was tired. The crews of the ships had been in continuous combat operations conducting naval gunfire support missions, fending off numerous Japanese air attacks and guarding against submarine attacks for two days. The force commanded by Admiral Richmond K. Turner was still unloading materials, equipment and supplies needed by the men of the 1st Marine Division who they had put ashore on the morning of the seventh.

On the afternoon of the eighth Turner was informed by Admiral Frank “Jack” Fletcher that he was pulling his carrier task force out of action. Fletcher alleged that he did not have enough fighter aircraft (79 remaining of an original 98) and as low on fuel. The carriers had only been in action 36 hours and Fletcher’s reasons for withdraw were flimsy. Fletcher pulled out and left Turner and his subordinate commanders the responsibility of remaining in the area without air support with the transports still full of badly needed supplies and equipment.

Gunichi_Mikawa

Admiral Gunichi Mikawa

As the American drama played out, the Japanese moved forces into position to strike the Americans. Admiral Gunichi Mikawa commander of the 8th Fleet and Outer South Seas Force based at Rabaul New Britain quickly assembled a force of 6 heavy cruisers, the 14,000 ton Atago Class Chokai, and the four smaller ships of the Kako Class, the Aoba, Kako, Kinugasa and Furutaka, the light cruisers Yubari and Tenryu and the destroyer Yunagi. Mikawa raised his flag aboard Chokai and the force sped down “the slot” which ran the length of the of the Solomon’s chain mid day on the seventh.

The Americans had warning of their coming. The first sighting was by B-17s before the Japanese forces had reached Rabaul. The second was the elderly U.S. Navy submarine S-38 at 2000 on the 7th when they were 550 miles away not far from Rabaul. This report was discounted because it would not be unusual to find a number of fleet units steaming near a major naval base and fleet headquarters. The last which should have alerted the allies was a sighting by a Royal Australian Air Force patrol aircraft on the morning of the 8th. However the pilot did not report the sighting until he returned from his mission returned to his base and had his tea. The eight hour delay in reporting the information as well as errors in it which reported 2 submarine tenders as part of the force lulled the Allied forces into believing that the Japanese were setting up a seaplane base and posed no threat to the invasion forces. It was a fatal error of reporting and judgment by the pilot.

USS_Astoria_(CA-34)_off_Guadalcanal_1942

USS Astoria on August 8th off Guadalcanal and USS Chicago (below)

CA-29_Chicago

In the absence of good information Turner deployed his support ships to cover the three entrances into what soon would be known as Iron Bottom Sound. He placed the Anti Aircraft Cruiser USS San Juan and Australian Light Cruiser HMAS Hobart to the east with two destroyers under the command of Rear Admiral Norman Scott. To protect the south west entrance into the sound south of Savo Island Turner placed the Heavy Cruisers USS Chicago, HMAS Australia and HMAS Canberra and two destroyers under the command of Rear Admiral R.A.C. Crutchley RN who in theory commanded the screening force. To the north of Savo he deployed the Heavy Cruisers USS Vincennes, USS Astoria and USS Quincy and two destroyers under the tactical direction of Captain Frederick Riefkohl aboard Vincennes. To the west of Savo he placed two destroyers to act as picket ships. Unfortunately these ships radar sets were insufficient and would fail to pick up the approaching enemy.

800px-SavoIslandMap

Allied Dispositions

During the early evening Turner recalled Crutchley to his flagship for consultations of what to do regarding Fletcher’s retreat. Crutchley came over in his flagship the Australia denuding the southern force of its commander as well as one of its three heavy cruisers. He left the commanding officer of Chicago Captain Howard D. Bode in tactical command but Bode did not have his ship take the lead position in the patrol assuming Crutchley would return bymidnight.

USS_Vincennes_(CA-44)_in_the_Solomons_1942

USS Vincennes (above) and USS Quincy (below)

ca__39_uss_quincy___1942.08.03___1a

HMAS Canberra Sydney Harbour

HMAS Canberra 

Mikawa launched float planes to scout the locations of the American ships and to provide illumination once the battle began. Some of these aircraft were spotted but no alert measures were taken as many assumed the Japanese to be friendly aircraft. Many commanding officers were asleep or resting away from the bridge of their ships, lookouts were tired and not expecting the Japanese and Condition Two was set in order to provide some of the tired crews a chance to rest.

800px-SavoIslandYubariSearchlight

Light Cruiser Yubari illuminating American cruisers at Savo Island

Admiral Mikawa now new the Allied disposition and ordered his ships to battle stations at 0045. At 004 he sighted and passed astern of USS Blue the southern picket which also failed to detect the Japanese force. Mikawa assumed that the destroyer might have reported his presence, briefly turned north but turned back to his original course when a lookout allegedly spotted a destroyer to his northeast. He gave the order to attack at 0132 and promptly spotted the American destroyer USS Jarvis which had been heavily damaged and without radio communications was making her way toAustralia for repair and passed her after some ships fired torpedoes and raced toward the southern force at 26 knots. With the southern force just a few miles away Mikawa ordered his ships to commence firing at 0136 and at 0138 torpedoes had been launched.

480px-SavoIslandMap1

Mikawa’s lookouts spotted the northern group at 0144 and changed course. The maneuver was badly executed and left the Japanese in two columns as they swiftly closed on the Americans. Mikawa’s flagship Chokai launched torpedoes at 0148 and Astoria the cruiser closest to the Japanese set general quarters at 0145 and at 0150 the Japanese illuminated her with searchlights and opened fire. Astoria under the direction of her gunnery officer returned fire at 0152 ½ just before her Captain came to the bridge unaware of the situation. He ordered a cease fire until he could ascertain who he was firing at assuming the Japanese to be friendly ships. He delayed 2 minutes and ordered fires commenced at 0154 but the delay was fatal. Astoria had opened fire on the Chokai which then had time to get the range on the American cruiser and hit her with an 8” salvo which caused fires which provided the other Japanese ships an aiming point.

SavoJapaneseWarArt

Japanese artist depiction of attack on US Navy Cruisers at Savo Island

Astoria was left burning and heavily damaged barely maintaining headway but attempted to fight on scoring a hit on Chokai’s forward turret even as the Japanese opened up on the next cruiser in line the USS Quincy. Quincy caught between the two Japanese columns. Aoba illuminated her with her searchlight and Japanese forces opened fire. The gunnery officer order Quincy to return fire getting two salvos off before her skipper Captain Samuel Moore came to the bridge, briefly ordered a cease fire assuming that he was firing on Americans and turned on his running lights. Quincy was ripped by salvo after salvo which killed Captain Moore and nearly everyone in the pilothouse just as a torpedo ripped into her engineering spaces turning them into a sealed death trap forcing the engineer to shut down the engines. Burning like a Roman candle Quincy was doomed she was ordered abandoned and capsized and sank at 0235. However Quincy did not die in vain, at 0205 two of her 8” shells hit Chokai causing enough damage the Admiral’s chart room that Mikawa would order a withdraw at 0220 which spared the now defenseless American transports.

633px-SavoIslandMap2A

Vincennes, the lead ship and flagship was next in the line of death. Captain Reifkohl order General Quarters sounded not long after the Japanese illuminated the southern group. At 0150 Vincennes was lit up by the searchlights of three Japanese ships which opened fire on her. Vincennes returned fire at 0153 hitting Kinugasa before she was hit starting fires on her scout planes mounted on their catapults. The Japanese mauled Vincennes, three possibly four torpedoes ripped into her as shells put ever gun out of action. At 0215 she was left burning and sinking by the Japanese who soon withdrew from the action. Ordered abandoned she sank at 0250.

Savo_Island canberra

HMAS Canberra being evacuated by the Patterson and Blue

Canberra struggled against the odds but was abandoned and was sent to the bottom by an American torpedo at 0800. Astoria also struggled for life but the damage was too great and she was abandoned sinking at 1215. Mikawa withdrew up the sound but on his return the Heavy Cruiser Kako 70 miles from home was sunk by torpedoes from the American submarine S-44 sinking in 5 minutes.

hqdefault (1)

The Americans and Australians lost 4 Heavy Cruisers sunk and one heavily damaged. Two destroyers were also damaged. Casualties were heavy; Quincy lost 389 men killed, Vincennes, 342, Astoria, 235, Canberra, 85, Ralph Talbot, 14, Patterson, 10, and Chicago, 2.

It was an unmitigated disaster, an allied force destroyed in less than 30 minutes time. Boards of inquiry were held and Captain Bode hearing that he shouldered much blame killed himself in 1943.

USSQuincy7

Wreck of the USS Quincy 

It was a rude awakening to a Navy which had believed that technical advances would give it victory and which  in the words of Admiral Ernest King  was not yet “sufficiently battle minded.” It was the first of many equally bloody battles in the waters around Guadalcanal which in the coming campaign became known as Ironbottom Sound.

2 Comments

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

“A Magic Blend of Skill, Faith, and Valor” The Battle of Midway

Battle%20of%20Midway%20flat_080817160843

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today we remember the Battle of Midway, the turning point of World War Two in the Pacific. By all empirical means the vastly superior Japanese fleet should have defeated the Americans, but success in war is not based on material alone. There are things unaccounted for, things that happen in the confusion of battle that The Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz wrote.

“War is the province of chance. In no other sphere of human activity must such a margin be left for this intruder. It increases the uncertainty of every circumstance and deranges the course of events.” 

Six months after Pearl Harbor the United States Navy met the Imperial Japanese Navy in battle on the seas and in the airspace around Midway Island. It was a battle between a fleet that had known nothing but victory in the months after Pearl Harbor and one with the exception of a few minor tactical successes was reeling.

AkagiDeckApril42

Akagi April 1942

The Japanese had swept across the Pacific and the Indian Oceans and decimated every Allied Naval forces that stood in their way. After Pearl Harbor they had sunk the HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse off of Singapore.  Next in a series of engagements destroyed the bulk of the US Asiatic Fleet in the waters around the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies culminating in the Battle of the Java Sea where the bulk of the American, British, Dutch and Australian (ABDA) naval forces engaged were annihilated attempting to fight superior Japanese forces.

Hermes_sinking

HMS Hermes sinking after Japanese Carrier air attack in the Indian Ocean

In the Indian Ocean Admiral Nagumo’s carriers dispatched a force of Royal Navy cruisers and the Aircraft Carrier HMS Hermes. In only one place had a Japanese Naval task force been prevented from achieving its goal. At the Battle of the Coral Sea where Task Force 11 and Task Force 17 centered on the Carriers USS Lexington and USS Yorktown prevented a Japanese invasion force from taking Port Moresby sinking the light carrier Shoho, damaging the modern carrier Shokaku and decimating the air groups of the Japanese task force.

Hornet_launches

USS Hornet launching B-25 Bombers during the Doolittle Raid

In May US Navy code breakers under the direction of Commander Joe Rochefort at Pearl Harbor discovered the next move of the Imperial Navy an attack on Midway Island and the Aleutian islands. Since the occupation of Midway by Japanese forces would give them an operational base less than 1000 miles from Pearl Harbor Admiral Chester Nimitz committed the bulk of his naval power, the carriers USS Enterprise CV-6USS Yorktown CV-5 and USS Hornet CV-8 and their 8 escorting cruisers and 15 destroyers, a total of 26 ships with 233 aircraft embarked to defend Midway. Nimitz also sent a force of 5 cruisers and 4 destroyers to cover the Aleutians.

images-42

SBU-2 Vindicator Dive Bomber landing on Midway (above) PBY Catalina (below)images-43

Land based air assets on Midway were composed of a mixed Marine, Navy and Army air group of 115 aircraft, many of which were obsolete. Aboard Midway there were 32 US Navy PBY Catalina Flying Boats, 83 fighters, dive bombers, torpedo planes and Army Air Force bombers piloted by a host of inexperienced pilots.

Nimitz’s instructions to his Task Force Commanders was simple “You will be governed by the principle of calculated risk, which you shall interpret to mean the avoidance of exposure of your force to attack by superior enemy forces without good prospect of inflicting … greater damage on the enemy.”

893594c746

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto commanded the Combined Fleet. The victor of Pearl Harbor and the triumph’s in the first six months of the Pacific War was determined to end the war with a decisive battle at Midway. His plans were opposed by many in the Imperial General Staff, especially those in the Army but when the US raid on Tokyo, the Doolittle Raid, all opposition to the attack was dropped.

10-japanese-carriers-coral-sea-midway

The Japanese sent a force of 7 battleships and 7 carriers against Midway. These included the elite First Carrier Striking Group composed of the Pearl Harbor attackers Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu and their highly trained and combat experienced air groups. Among the surface ships was Yamamoto’s flagship, the mighty Battleship Yamato, at 72,000 tons and armed with 9 18” guns, the most powerful and largest battleship ever to see combat.

The strike force included 273 aircraft and was escorted by 14 cruisers and 39 destroyers. They were to take Midway and then destroy the US Navy when it came out to fight. Yamamoto sent a force force of 4 battleships, 12 destroyers assigned screen to the Aleutian invasion force which was accompanied by 2 carriers 6 cruisers and 10 destroyers. The other carriers embarked a further 114 aircraft.

Despite this great preponderance in numbers Yamamoto’s plan was complex and his forces too far apart from each other to offer support should and get into trouble. The powerful Japanese Task forces were scattered over thousands of square miles of the Northern Pacific Ocean where they could not rapidly come to the assistance of any other group.

images-44

With the foreknowledge provided by the code breakers the US forces hurried to an intercept position northeast of Midway eluding the Japanese submarine scout line which the Japanese Commander Admiral Yamamoto presumed would find them when they sailed to respond to the Japanese attack on Midway.  Task Force 16 with the Enterprise and Hornet sailed first under the command of Rear Admiral Raymond A Spruance and Task Force 17 under Rear Admiral Frank “Jack” Fletcher with the Yorktown which had been miraculously brought into fighting condition after suffering heavy damage at Coral Sea. Fletcher assumed overall command by virtue of seniority and Admiral Nimitz instructed his commanders to apply the principle of calculated risk when engaging the Japanese as the loss of the US carriers would place the entire Pacific at the mercy of the Japanese Navy.

On June 3rd a PBY Catalina discovered the Japanese invasion force and US long range bombers launched attacks against it causing no damage. The morning of the 4th the Americans adjusted their search patterns in and the Japanese came into range of Midway and commenced their first strike against the island.

g17056

In response land based aircraft from Midway attacked the Japanese carrier force taking heavy casualties and failing to damage the Japanese task force. The American Carrier task forces launched their strike groups at the Japanese fleet leaving enough aircraft behind of the Combat Air Patrol and Anti-submarine patrol.  As the Americans winged toward the Japanese fleet the Japanese were in a state of confusion. The confusion was caused when a scout plane from the Heavy Cruiser Tone that had been delayed at launch discovered US ships but did not identify a carrier among them until later into the patrol. The carrier  was the Yorktown and TF 17, but for Nagumo who first expected no American naval forces, then received a report of surface ships without a carrier followed by the report of a carrier the reports were unsettling.

a5f7ab19-17c6-4928-90a4-5bb913d156eb

Aichi D3-A “Val” Dive Bomber 

Orders and counter-orders were issued as the Japanese attempted to recover their strike aircraft and prepare for a second strike on the island and then on discovery of the Yorktown task force, orders changed and air crews unloaded ground attack ordnance in favor of aerial torpedoes and armor piercing bombs. The hard working Japanese aircrew did not have time to stow the ordnance removed from the aircraft but by 1020 they had the Japanese strike group ready to launch against the US carriers.

g701850

As the Japanese crews worked the Japanese carriers were engaged in fending off attacks by the US torpedo bomber squadrons, VT-6 from Enterprise, VT-8 from Hornet and VT-3 from Yorktown. The Japanese Combat Air Patrol ripped into the slow, cumbersome and under armed TBD Devastators as they came in low to launch their torpedoes.  Torpedo Eight from Hornet under the command of LCDR John C Waldron pressed the attack hard but all 15 of the Devastators 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.

g66074

LCDR Lance Massey CO of VT-3

Page500_163_6

LCDR John Waldron CO of VT-8

220px-Eugene_Lindsey;h84903

LCDR Eugene Lindsey CO of VT-6

Torpedo 6 from Enterprise under the command of LCDR Eugene Lindsey suffered heavy casualties losing 10 of 14 aircraft with Lindsey being one of the casualties.  The last group of Devastators to attack was Torpedo 3 from Yorktown under the command of LCDR Lem Massey from the Yorktown. 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.

800px-tbd_attacking_at_midway_painting-1

There had been confusion among the Americans as to the exact location of the Japanese Carriers. Bombing 8 and Scouting 8 from Hornet did not find the carriers and had to return for lack of fuel while losing a number of bombers and their fighter escort having to ditch inn the ocean and wait for rescue. The Enterprise group composed of Bombing-6 and Scouting 6 under CDR Wade McClusky was perilously low on fuel when the wake of a Japanese destroyer was spotted.  McClusky followed it to the Japanese Task Force. The Yorktown’sgroup under LCDR Max Leslie arrived about the same time.

Dauntless_dive_bombers

When the American dive bombers arrived over the Japanese Carrier Strike Force they found the skies empty of Japanese aircraft. Below, aboard the Japanese ships there was a sense of exhilaration as each succeeding group of attackers was brought down and with their own aircraft ready to launch and deal a fatal blow to the American carrier wondered how big their victory would be. The war would soon be decided.

midway4

Akagi dodging bombs at Midway

At 1020 the first Zero of the Japanese attack group began rolling down the flight deck of the flagship Akagi, aboard Kaga aircraft were warming up as they were on the Soryu.  The unsuspecting Japanese were finally alerted when lookouts screamed “helldivers.” Wade McClusky’s aircraft lined up over the Akagi and Kaga pushing into their dives at 1022. There was a bit of confusion when the bulk of Scouting 6 joined the attack of Bombing 6 on the Kaga. That unprepared ship was struck by four 1000 pound bombs which exploded on her flight deck and hangar deck igniting the fully fueled and armed aircraft of her strike group and the ordnance littered about the hangar deck.  Massive fires and explosions wracked the ship and in minutes the proud ship was reduced to an infernal hell with fires burning uncontrollably. She was abandoned and would sink at 1925 taking 800 of her crew with her.

douglas-sbd5-dauntless-dive-bomber-battle-of-midway-01

LT Dick Best of Scouting 6 peeled off from the attack on Kaga and shifted to the Japanese flagship Akagi. On board Akagi were two of Japan’s legendary pilots CDR Mitsuo Fuchida leader of and CDR Minoru Genda the architect of the Pearl Harbor attack and subsequent string of Japanese victories. Both officers were on the sick list and had come up from sick bay to watch as the fleet was attacked. Seeing Kaga burst into flames they stood mesmerized until Akagi’slookouts screamed out the warning “helldivers” at 1026.  Best’s few aircraft hit with deadly precision landing two of their bombs on Akagi’s flight deck creating havoc among the loaded aircraft and starting fires and igniting secondary explosions which turned the ship into a witch’s cauldron.  By 1046 Admiral Nagumo and his staff were forced to transfer the flag to the cruiser Nagara as Akagi’s crew tried to bring the flames under control. They would do so into the night until nothing more could be done and abandoned ship at 2000.  Admiral Yamamoto ordered her scuttled and at 0500 on June 5th the pride of the Japanese carrier force was scuttled.

g701870

VB-3 under LCDR Max Leslie from the Yorktown stuck the Soryu with 17 aircraft, however only 13 of the aircraft had bombs due to an electronic arming device malfunction on 4 of the aircraft, including that of Commander Leslie.  Despite this Leslie led the squadron as it dove on the Soryu at 1025 hitting that ship with 3 and maybe as many as 5 bombs. Soryu like her companions burst into flames as the ready aircraft and ordnance exploded about her deck. She was ordered abandoned at 1055 and would sink at 1915 taking 718 of her crew with her.

h73065

The remaining Japanese flattop the Hiryu attained the same fate later in the day after engaging in an epic duel with the Yorktown which her aircraft heavily damaged. Yorktown would be sunk by the Japanese submarine I-168 while being towed to safety.

71380-004-B4724C34

USS Yorktown under attack from Kate Torpedo Bombers from Hiryu on June 4th 1942

In five pivotal minutes the course of the war in the Pacific was changed. Authors have entitled books about Midway Incredible Victory by Walter Lord and Miracle at Midway by Gordon Prange and those titles reflect the essence of the battle.

At Midway a distinctly smaller force defeated a vastly superior fleet in terms of experience, training and equipment. At the very moment that it appeared to the Japanese that they would advance to victory their vision disappeared. In a span of less than 5 minutes what looked like the certain defeat of the US Navy became one of the most incredible and even miraculous victories in the history of Naval warfare. In those 5 minutes history was changed in a breathtaking way. While the war would drag on and the Japanese still inflict painful losses and defeats on the US Navy in the waters around Guadalcanal the tide had turned and the Japanese lost the initiative in the Pacific never to regain it.

The Japanese government hid the defeat from the Japanese people instead proclaiming a great victory. The American government could not fully publicize the victory for fear of revealing the intelligence that led to the ability of the US Navy to be at the right place at the right time and defeat the Imperial Navy.

uss-enterprise-cv-6-1

USS Enterprise

The American victory at Midway changed the course of the war in the Pacific. The Battle of Midway established the aircraft carrier and the fast carrier task force as the dominant force in naval warfare which some would argue it still remains. Finally those five minutes ushered in an era of US Navy dominance of the high seas which at least as of yet has not ended as the successors to the EnterpriseHornet and Yorktown ply the oceans of the world and the descendants of those valiant carrier air groups ensure air superiority over battlefields around the world.

Walter Lord, whose history of the battle is still the classic presentation of it wrote:

“Even against the greatest of odds, there is something in the human spirit – a magic blend of skill, faith, and valor – that can lift men from certain defeat to incredible victory.” 

Peace

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

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

The Battle of Midway at 75

img_0063

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Midway, the epic “David versus Goliath” battle that ended Japan’s chance to win World War Two in the Pacific. It was a battle where skill, luck, good fortune and courage combined to allow the United States Navy to deliver a crushing defeat the previously undefeated Kido Butai, the Japanese First Carrier Striking Force which had run rampant across the Pacific and Indian Oceans in the six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Today, the youngest survivors of the battle are over ninety years old. Their generation, like the rest of what we remember as the Greatest Generation will soon pass from the bonds of this earth into eternity. As you read this remember their sacrifice and too remember the tragedy of the Japanese sailors and airmen that were lost at Midway due to their government’s aggression against their neighbors throughout Asia that led to their attack on the American Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Prelude to Battle

The Imperial Japanese Navy under the command of Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto had been humiliated. On April 18th 1942 16 B-25 bombers under the command of Colonel Jimmy Doolittle were launched from the deck of the USS Hornet and bombed Tokyo.  Though the physical damage was insignificant the psychological impact was massive on the Japanese military establishment. In response to the threat, Yamamoto was directed to bring the aircraft carriers of the U.S. Navy to battle and to destroy them.

Prior to the Doolittle Raid, Yamamoto and his deputy Rear Admiral Matome Ugaki had explored the possibility of attacking Midway. However, the Japanese armed forces were competing with each other to determine an overall strategy for the war effort. The Army was insistent on a China strategy while the Navy preferred expansion in the Western, South and Central Pacific.  Yamamoto’s idea envisioned seizing Midway and using it as a forward base from which an invasion of Hawaii could be mounted as well as the bait to draw the carrier task forces of the U.S. Navy into battle and destroy them. Until the Doolittle Raid shocked the Japanese leadership he was unable to do this.

“I Shall Run Wild for the First Six Months”

Yamamoto-Isoroku

Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto

Yamamoto was one of the few Japanese military or political leaders who opposed war with the United States. He had lived in the United States, gotten to know Americans and recognized the how the massive economic and industrial power of the United States would lead to the defeat of Japan. He told Premier Konoye in 1941 “I shall run wild for the first six months or a year, but I have utterly no confidence for the second or third years of the fighting.”

It is hard to imagine now, but in June of 1942 it seemed a good possibility that the Americans and British could be on the losing side of the Second World War.

True to Yamamoto’s words in 1942 the Japanese onslaught in the Pacific appeared nearly unstoppable. The Imperial Navy stormed across the Pacific and Indian Oceans in the months after Pearl Harbor decimating Allied Naval forces that stood in their way.  The British Battleships HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse were sunk by land based aircraft off of Singapore. A force of Royal Navy cruisers and the Aircraft Carrier HMS Hermes were sunk by the same carriers that struck Pearl Harbor in the Indian Ocean.  Darwin Australia was struck with a devastating blow on February 19th and on February 27th the Japanese annihilated the bulk of the American, British, Dutch and Australian naval forces opposing them at the Battle of the Java Sea. American forces in the Philippines surrendered on May 8th 1942 while the British in Singapore surrendered on February 15th.

In only one place had a Japanese Naval task force been prevented from its goal and that was at the Battle of the Coral Sea.  Between 4-8 May the US Navy’s Task Force 11 and Task Force 17 centered on the Carriers USS Lexington and USS Yorktown prevented a Japanese invasion force from taking Port Moresby. Their aircraft sank the light carrier Shoho, damaged the modern carrier Shokaku and decimated the air groups of the Japanese task force. But it was the unexpected raid by US Army Air Corps B-25 Bombers launched from the USS Hornet under command of Colonel Jimmy Doolittle on April 18th 1942 which embarrassed Yamamoto so badly that he ordered the attack to take Midway and destroy the remaining US Naval power in the Pacific.

Cracking the Code

Chester-W.-Nimitz-militarymuseum.org_

Admiral Chester Nimitz

United States Navy codebreakers had broken the Japanese diplomatic and naval codes in 1941, and in May the Navy code breakers under the command of Commander Joseph Rochefort at Pearl Harbor discovered Yamamoto’s plan to have the Imperial Navy attack Midway Island and the Aleutian Islands.  Knowing the Japanese were coming, and that the occupation of Midway by Japanese forces would give them an operational base less than 1000 miles from Pearl Harbor, Admiral Chester Nimitz, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet committed the bulk of his naval power, the carriers USS Enterprise CV-6, USS Yorktown CV-5 and USS Hornet CV-8 and their 8 escorting cruisers and 15 destroyers to defend Midway.  This force of 26 ships with 233 aircraft embarked to defend Midway while a force of smaller force 5 cruisers and 4 destroyers was dispatched to cover the Aleutians.  The forces on the ground at Midway had a mixed Marine, Navy and Army air group of 115 aircraft which included many obsolete aircraft, 32 PBY Catalina Flying Boats and 83 fighters, dive bombers, torpedo planes and Army Air Force bombers piloted by a host of inexperienced but resolute airmen with which to defend it. It also had a ground force of U.S. Marines, should the Japanese actually land on the island.

With the foreknowledge provided by the code breakers the US forces hurried to an intercept position northeast of Midway. They eluded the Japanese submarine scout line which the Japanese Commander Admiral Yamamoto presumed would find them when they sailed to respond to the Japanese attack on Midway.  Task Force 16 with the Enterprise and Hornet sailed first under the command of Rear Admiral Raymond A Spruance in place of the ailing William “Bull” Halsey. Task Force 17 under Rear Admiral Frank “Jack” Fletcher was built around the Yorktown which had been miraculously brought into fighting condition after suffering heavy damage at Coral Sea. Fletcher assumed overall command by virtue of seniority and Admiral Nimitz instructed his commanders to apply the principle of “calculated risk” when engaging the Japanese as the loss of the US carriers would place the entire Pacific at the mercy of the Japanese Navy.

On June 3rd a PBY Catalina from Midway discovered the Japanese invasion force transport group.  US long-range B-17 bombers launched attacks against these ships but inflicted no damage.

“Our hearts burn with the conviction of sure victory.”

On the night of June 3rd 1942 Nagumo’s First Carrier Strike Force sailed east toward the tiny Midway Atoll. Nagumo had seen many of the risks involved in the plan and considered it an “impossible and pointless operation” before the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo, but even the reluctant Nagumo fell in line as Yamamoto relentlessly lobbied for the operation.

As the First Carrier strike force closed within 300 miles of Midway on the night of June 3rd 1942 Nagumo and his staff prepared for the battle that they and many others believed would be the decisive battle. Aircraft received their final preparations, bombs were loaded and as night faded into early morning air crew arose, ate their breakfast and went to their aircraft. The ships had been observing radio silence since they departed their bases and anchorages in Japan the previous week. Honed to a fine edge the crews of the ships and the veteran aircrews anticipated victory.

The crews of the ships of the task force and the air groups embarked on the great aircraft carriers Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu as well as their escorts were confident. They had since the war began known nothing but victory. They had devastated the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor and roamed far and wide raiding allied targets and sinking allied shipping across the Pacific and deep into the Indian Ocean. Commander Magotaro Koga of the destroyer Nowaki wrote in his diary “Our hearts burn with the conviction of sure victory.

Chuichi_Nagumo

Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo

However, Nagumo and his sailors had no idea that most of what they knew about their American opponents was wrong. Nagumo and Yamamoto were confident that the Americans could field no more than two operational carriers to defend Midway. They had no idea that the Yorktown, which they believed had been sunk at Coral Sea was operational and her air group reinforced by the aircraft of the damaged Saratoga which was being repaired on the West Coast. Unknown to the Japanese the Yorktown and her escorts had joined Enterprise and Hornet northeast of Midway.

The Japanese were going into battle blind. They had planned to get aerial surveillance of US Fleet dispositions at Pearl Harbor, but that had been cancelled because the atoll at French Frigate Shoals that the Japanese flying boats would operate from had been occupied by a small US force. Likewise a line of Japanese submarines arrived on station a day too late, after the US carrier task forces had passed by them. Those aboard the First Carrier Strike Force, including Nagumo or his senior commanders and staff had no idea that the Americans not only knew of their approach but were already deployed in anticipation of their strike.

Within a day all of the Japanese carriers would be sunk or sinking. Thousands of Japanese sailors would be dead and the vaunted air groups which had wreaked havoc on the Allies would be decimated, every aircraft lost and the majority of pilots and aircrew dead. It would be a most unexpected and devastating defeat stolen out of the hands of what appeared to be certain victory.

There is a lesson to be learned from the Japanese who sailed into the night on June 3rd 1942 and saw the sunrise of June 4th. There is no battle, campaign or war that goes according to plan. Thousands of Japanese sailors and airmen went to bed on the night of the 3rd expecting that the following night, or within the next few days they would be celebrating a decisive victory. Thousands of those sailors would be dead by the night of the 4th of June 1942, and as their ships slid beneath the waves, the ambitions of Imperial of Japan to defeat the United States Navy and end the war were dealt a decisive defeat from which they never recovered.

VMF-221_Buffalos_intercepting_Japanese_formation

Hawks at Angles Twelve

One of the more overlooked aspects of the Battle of Midway is the sacrifice of Marine Fighter Squadron 221 on the morning of June 4th 1942.   The Marine aviators flying a mix of 21 obsolescent Brewster F2A-3 Buffalos and 7 Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats engaged a vastly superior force of Japanese Navy aircraft as they vectored toward the atoll 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.  They fighter pilots of VMF-221 scored their first victory shooting down a Japanese Kawanishi H8K2 “Emily” flying boat. The squadron which initially was composed of just 14 aircraft, all F2A-3’s was augmented by 7 more F2A-3s and 7 of the more advanced F4F-3s before the battle.

When the Japanese First Carrier Striking Group was spotted in the wee hours of June 4th the Marines and other aircrew aboard Midway scrambled to meet them.  The 18 SBD-2 Dauntless’ and 12 Vought SB2-U3 Vindicator dive bombers of VMSB-241, the 6 TBF Avengers of the Navy Torpedo Eight detachment, 4 Army Air Corps B-26 Marauders and 15 B-17 Flying Fortresses flew out to attack the Japanese carriers while the fighters rose to intercept the 108 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 which thoroughly outclassed the Marine opponents in speed, maneuverability and in the combat experience of their pilots.

F2A-3+Buffalo

The Marine fighters 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 raising his score to 18.5 Japanese aircraft shot down.  Other pilots like 2nd Lieutenant Clayton M. Canfield shot down two additional aircraft while flying with VMF-223. 2nd 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). 

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.

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 their squadron leader Major Henderson diving his mortally wounded aircraft into the cruiser’s number 4 8” gun turret. While the Marines’ actions are not as well known or as successful as those of their Navy counterparts they were brave.  Fighter pilots had to engage some of the most experienced pilots flying superior machines while the bomber crews had little to no experience before being thrown into combat.

Into the Valley of Death: The Last Ride of the Torpedo Bombers

800px-tbd_attacking_at_midway_painting-1

Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote in the Charge of the Light Brigade something that echoes to this day when we talk or write about men who charge the gates of death against superior enemies.

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 3, 6 and 8 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. The young pilots of the Midway based Torpedo 8 detachment under the command of LT Langdon Fieberling flew in the new TBF Avengers.

The TBD which first flew in 1935 entered service in 1937 and was possibly the most modern naval aircraft in the world when it entered service.  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.  129 were built and served in all pre-war torpedo bombing squadrons based aboard the Lexington, Saratoga, Ranger, Yorktown, Enterprise and Hornet with a limited number embarked aboard Wasp. 

tbd devastator

The Devastator saw extensive service prior to the war which pushed many airframes to the end of their useful service life and by 1940 only about 100 were operational by the beginning of the war.  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 performed adequately against minor opposition at Coral Sea and in strikes against the Marshalls but the squadrons embarked on Yorktown (VT3), Enterprise (VT-6) and Hornet (VT-8) were annihilated at Midway with only 6 of 41 aircraft surviving their uncoordinated attacks against the Japanese Carrier Strike Force.  They were too slow, had poor maneuverability, insufficient armor and defensive armament.

The Torpedo squadrons attacked independently of each other between 0920 and 1030 on June 4th 1942. The Japanese Combat Air Patrol ripped into the slow, cumbersome and under armed TBD Devastators as they came in low to launch their torpedoes.  Torpedo Eight from Hornet under the command of LCDR John C Waldron pressed the attack hard but all 15 of the Devastators 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 to be picked up later by a PBY Catalina patrol plane.

Torpedo Six from the Enterprise under the command of LCDR Eugene Lindsey suffered heavy casualties losing 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.  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.

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 and some remained in service in a civilian capacity to fight forest fires until 2012.

The Provence of Chance: Five Minutes that Changed the War

sbd dauntless midway

The land based aircraft from Midway attacked the Japanese carrier force taking heavy casualties and failed to damage the Japanese task force. When the results of the first strike of the Japanese bombers that hit Midway was analyzed Nagumo readied his second wave.

As this was happening the American carriers launched their strike groups at the Japanese fleet leaving enough aircraft behind as for Combat Air Patrol and Anti-submarine patrol missions.  As the Americans winged toward the Japanese fleet the Japanese were in a state of confusion. The confusion was caused when a scout plane from the Heavy Cruiser Tone that had been delayed at launch discovered US ships but did not identify a carrier among them until later into the patrol. The carrier was the Yorktown and TF 17, but for Nagumo who first expected no American naval forces, then received a report of surface ships without a carrier followed by the report of a carrier the reports were unsettling.

Aboard the Japanese ships, orders and counter-orders were issued as the Japanese attempted to recover their strike aircraft and prepare for a second strike on the island, but when the Yorktown task force was discovered, orders were changed and air crews unloaded ground attack ordnance in favor of aerial torpedoes and armor piercing bombs. In their haste to get their aircraft ready to strike the Americans, the hard working Japanese aircrews did not have time to stow the ordnance removed from the aircraft. But due to their hard work at 1020 they had the Japanese strike group ready to launch against the US carriers. Aircraft and their crews awaited the order to launch, their aircraft fully armed and fully fueled.

There had been confusion among the Americans as to the exact location of the Japanese Carriers. Bombing 8 and Scouting 8 from Hornet made a wrong turn and not find the Japanese carriers. The squadrons had to return due to a lack of fuel and a number of bombers and their fighter escort had to ditch in the ocean and wait for rescue. The Enterprise group composed of Bombing-6 and Scouting 6 under CDR Wade McClusky was perilously low on fuel when they spotted the wake of a Japanese destroyer steaming at high speed to catch up with the Japanese carriers.  Taking a chance, McClusky followed it straight to the Japanese Task Force arriving about 1020. The Yorktown’s group under LCDR Max Leslie arrived about the same time.

When the American dive bombers arrived over the Japanese Carrier Strike Force they found the skies empty of Japanese aircraft. Below, aboard the Japanese ships there was a sense of exhilaration as each succeeding group of attackers was brought down and with their own aircraft ready to launch and deal a fatal blow to the American carrier wondered how big their victory would be. The war would soon be decided.

At 1020 the first Zero of the Japanese attack group began rolling down the flight deck of the flagship Akagi, aboard Kaga aircraft were warming up as they were on the Soryu.  The unsuspecting Japanese were finally alerted to the threat of the American dive bombers when lookouts screamed “helldivers.” The Japanese fighters assigned to the combat air patrol were flying too low as the mopped up the last of the doomed torpedo bombers and were not in a position to intercept the Americans.

IJN_Akagi_World_War_II_Aircraft_Carrier_hit_by_Douglas_SBD_Dauntless_Dive_Bomber_at_Midway-1

Wade McClusky’s aircraft lined up over the Akagi and Kaga pushing into their dives at 1022. There was a bit of confusion when the bulk of Scouting 6 joined the attack of Bombing 6 on the Kaga. That unprepared ship was struck by four 1000 pound bombs which exploded on her flight deck and hangar deck igniting the fully fueled and armed aircraft of her strike group and the ordnance littered about the hangar deck.  Massive fires and explosions wracked the ship and in minutes the proud ship was reduced to an infernal hell with fires burning uncontrollably. She was abandoned and would sink at 1925 taking 800 of her crew with her.

LT Dick Best of Scouting 6 peeled off from the attack on Kaga and shifted to the Japanese flagship Akagi. On board Akagi were two of Japan’s legendary pilots CDR Mitsuo Fuchida leader of and CDR Minoru Genda the architect of the Pearl Harbor attack and subsequent string of Japanese victories. Both officers were on the sick list and had come up from sick bay to watch as the fleet was attacked. Seeing Kaga burst into flames they stood mesmerized until Akagi’s lookouts screamed out the warning “helldivers” at 1026.

SBDstoastjapcarrier

Best’s few aircraft hit with deadly precision landing two of their bombs on Akagi’s flight deck creating havoc among the loaded aircraft and starting fires and igniting secondary explosions which turned the ship into a witch’s cauldron.  By 1046 Admiral Nagumo and his staff were forced to transfer the flag to the cruiser Nagara as Akagi’s crew tried to bring the flames under control. They would do so into the night until nothing more could be done and abandoned ship at 2000.  Admiral Yamamoto ordered her scuttled and at 0500 on June 5th the pride of the Japanese carrier force was scuttled.

VB-3 under LCDR Max Leslie from the Yorktown stuck the Soryu with 17 aircraft, however only 13 of the aircraft had bombs due to an electronic arming device malfunction on 4 of the aircraft, including that of Commander Leslie.  Despite this Leslie led the squadron as it dove on the Soryu at 1025 hitting that ship with 3 and maybe as many as 5 bombs. Soryu like her companions burst into flames as the ready aircraft and ordnance exploded about her deck. She was ordered abandoned at 1055 and would sink at 1915 taking 718 of her crew with her.

The only Japanese carrier to survive the initial assault, Hiryu continued the fight.  Hiryu’s dive bombers found Yorktown and while they suffered heavy losses to the F4F Wildcats of Yorktown’s CAP, three Val’s from Hiryu scored hits which started fires and disabled Yorktown, causing her to lose power and go dead in the water.  Yorktown’s damage control teams miraculously got the fires under control, patched her damaged flight deck while her engineers restored power and Yorktown was back in action steaming at a reduced speed of 20 knots but able to conduct air operations again, but the plucky Hiryu and her depleted air group were not done.

yorktown under attack

Hiryu’s second strike composed of Kate Torpedo Bombers discovered Yorktown, and since she appeared undamaged the squadron leader assumed that she was another carrier. Yorktown’s reduced CAP was unable to stop the Kates and the Japanese scored 2 torpedo hits causing another loss of power and a severe list.  Thinking that she might capsize, her captain ordered that she be abandoned.

hiryu_via_hosho_ac

The Damaged Hiryu

As this was occurring a mixed attack group from the Enterprise and now “homeless” Yorktown aircraft attacked Hiryu. Like her sisters she was caught with her flight deck full of fueled and armed aircraft preparing for another strike against the Americans. The damage to the brave ship was mortal. Her crew abandoned ship and she sank the following day.

Yorktown would be sunk by a Japanese submarine, along with the destroyer Hamman a few days later as her crew attempted to get her to Pearl Harbor. In five pivotal minutes the course of the war in the Pacific was changed.

A Final Ignominy

mikuma

Admiral 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 strong personal doubts, ordered Vice Admiral Nobutake Kondo to prepare for a night surface engagement with the US Fleet and dispatched 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 then organized his fleet to attempt to find the American carriers and bring them to battle before dawn.

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.

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.

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. However, Marine Captain Richard Fleming, his Vindicator on fire dropped his bomb and then crashed his aircraft into Mikuma’s after turret. Sailors aboard Mogami were impressed, the American had sacrificed himself in a suicide attack worthy of the Samurai. The fire was sucked down air intakes into the starboard engine room with disastrous results. The Mikuma’s engineers were suffocated by the smoke and fumes and Mikuma was greatly reduced in speed.

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.

Epilogue

At Midway a distinctly smaller force defeated a vastly superior fleet in terms of experience, training and equipment. At the very moment that it appeared to the Japanese that they would advance to victory their vision disappeared. In a span of less than 5 minutes what looked like the certain defeat of the US Navy became one of the most incredible and even miraculous victories in the history of Naval warfare. In those 5 minutes history was changed in a breathtaking way. While the war would drag on and the Japanese still inflict painful losses and defeats on the US Navy in the waters around Guadalcanal the tide had turned and the Japanese lost the initiative in the Pacific never to regain it.

The Japanese government hid the defeat from the Japanese people instead proclaiming a great victory. The American government could not fully publicize the victory for fear of revealing the intelligence that led to the ability of the US Navy to be at the right place at the right time and defeat the Imperial Navy.

The American victory at Midway changed the course of the war in the Pacific. The Battle of Midway established the aircraft carrier and the fast carrier task force as the dominant force in naval warfare which some would argue it still remains. Finally those five minutes ushered in an era of US Navy dominance of the high seas which at least as of yet has not ended as the successors to the Enterprise, Hornet and Yorktown ply the oceans of the world and the descendants of those valiant carrier air groups ensure air superiority over battlefields around the world today.

1 Comment

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

The Guadalcanal Campaign: A Wave Top View of a Forgotten yet Epic Battle

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today is another day where I am posting an article dealing with the Guadalcanal campaign. The campaign is often forgotten in our day. It was featured during the mini-series The Pacific and the 1998 film The Thin Red Line. The campaign was long and bloody, but it allowed the United States to gain the initiative in the Pacific, and it was the first time that American Marines and Soldiers defeated the Japanese on land, even as the U.S. Navy fought a series of naval engagements which cost the Imperial Japanese Navy large numbers of ships and combat seasoned sailors that they could not replace. It was also the first time that the United States military began to operate in a joint manner. Thus it is important, and sadly it is all too often forgotten, even by military history buffs. I was able to meet Mitchell Paige who was awarded the Medal of Honor on Guadalcanal about three years before he died when I was stationed at Camp Lejuene North Carolina. He was spry and active, and it was an honor to meet him after hearing him speak. 

This is a “wave top” look at the campaign. Maybe someday when I finish my Civil War books I will do something about this campaign. That being said I hope this article might inspire my readers to read any of the fine books that deal with this campaign. Have a great night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Guadalcanal map 2

The Decision to Invade

Guadalcanal came to American attention in early 1942 as a result of the Japanese South Pacific advance, which “threatened the Allied line of communications with Australia.”[1] Admiral King believed that “the Japanese must not be permitted to consolidate the formidable prizes” that they were then in the course of gathering.”[2] General MacArthur and Admiral Nimitz both wanted to “exploit the Midway victory by a speedy change-over from the defensive to the counter offensive.”[3] MacArthur wanted to strike Rabaul directly using Navy carriers. The Navy, not wanting to give up control of its carriers proposed a strategy of working up through the Solomon Islands, under Navy control.[4] The debate was at times acrimonious. Eventually King and General Marshall worked out a compromise that divided the campaign between the Navy and MacArthur,[5] the Navy in charge of taking Guadalcanal and Tulagi.[6] OPERATION WATCHTOWER was approved in a Joint Chief’s of Staff directive on July 2nd 1942.[7]

turner and vandagrift

Partners Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner and Major General Alexander Vandegrift

The Japanese had not initially placed a high priority on the Solomons, “as they did not expect a counteroffensive in the Pacific for months.”[8] However, after Coral Sea and Midway, they authorized operation “SN” to “strengthen the outer perimeter of Japan’s advance by constructing airfields at key strategic points….”[9] The Japanese sent a contingent of troops, which arrived on June 8th[10] to build an airfield on Guadalcanal, in addition to the seaplane base on Tulagi, as part of a strategy to take the offensive in the South Pacific with an attack on Port Moresby in mid-August.[11]

coastwatchers

Coastwatchers

Japanese commanders were impatient for the airstrip to be completed, yet work began at a leisurely pace, with the Japanese unaware that every move was being “watched and reported to Allied headquarters in Australia,” by coast-watchers.[12] As the Japanese on Guadalcanal dithered the Americans rushed their preparations for the invasion[13] nicknamed “SHOESTRING” by American officers.

The Landings and Initial Actions through the Ilu (Tenaru) River

marines landing at guadalcanal

Marines coming ashore at Guadalcanal

Preparations, though rushed enabled the 1st Marine Division under General Vandegrift to embark on transports for Guadalcanal, despite not being combat loaded and having been assured that they “need not expect a combat mission before 1943.”[14] The invasion force under the overall command of Admiral Fletcher and Admiral Richmond “Kelly” Turner set sail on July 25th and cloaked by heavy rain and clouds[15] remained undetected by the Japanese until they arrived in the waters off Guadalcanal, achieving complete surprise.[16] The invasion force landed on both Tulagi and Guadalcanal. On Tulagi, 1st Raider Battalion under Colonel Edson and 2nd Battalion 5th Marines quickly drove off the 350 Japanese defenders of the 3rd Kure Special Naval Landing Force,[17] and in three days eliminated the Japanese garrison which resisted to the death, with only 23 prisoners.[18] On nearby Gavutu-Tanambogo 1st Parachute Battalion subdued the Japanese personnel operating the seaplane base, though not without difficulty, the naval bombardment was ineffective[19] and the Parachutists suffered heavy casualties[20] and forcing the commitment of the 1st and 3rd Battalions, 2nd Marines.[21] Across the sound the main force of 1st Marine Division went ashore near Lunga Point with 5 infantry battalions. The Marines rapidly ran into difficulty, not due to the Japanese garrison, which melted into the jungle,[22] but to a lack of maps, the thick jungle and kuni grass, their own “deplorable physical condition” from being shut up in the holds of the transports for two weeks and overburdened with full packs and extra ammunition.[23]

japanese aircraft guadalcanal

Japanese “Betty” Bombers attacking US Transports

While the Marines advanced inland, supplies built up on the landing beaches due to the limited number of cargo handlers. Additionally, the Japanese launched a number of heavy air raids which caused minimal damage to the destroyer Mugford on the 7th but were more successful on the 8th damaging a transport badly enough that it had to be abandoned.

GuadM3Tank

Marine M3 Stuart Light Tank and Crew at Guadalcanal

The Marines on Guadalcanal, comprised of the 1st and 5th Marine Regiments consolidated a bridgehead around the captured airfield on the 8th, but the next day found that their situation had changed dramatically. The Japanese Navy had attacked and mauled the covering force, sinking four cruisers and damaging one at the Battle of Savo Island.[24] The destruction of the covering force and Admiral Fletcher’s withdraw of the carriers forced the transports to depart on the 9th, still bearing much equipment, supplies and nearly 1800 men of the 2nd Marines.[25] Vandegrift was left with only 5 infantry and 3 artillery battalions, and the 3rd Defense battalion on the island as well as some tanks, engineers and Navy “Seabees.”[26] When the Navy left Vandegrift went over to the defensive and organized a line from the Ilu river on the east to Lunga point and the airfield to a point about 1000 yards past Kukum.[27] Defenses were prepared to defend against potential Japanese amphibious attacks. 1st Marines held the eastern perimeter and 5th Marines (-) the west. One battalion with tanks and half-tracks was reserve. The line was thin and not continuous, thus Vandegrift could only watch and wait for the Japanese strike and move “part of his mobile reserve to meet it when it came.”[28] On the 12th a prisoner reported that Japanese near Matanikau were willing to surrender and LtCol Goettge the G-2 led a 25 man patrol to investigate. The patrol was ambushed and decimated with only three survivors.[29] The Japanese landed the advance party of the 5th Special Naval Landing Force in broad daylight on the 16th, and Vandegrift decided to bring 2/5, and the Raider and Parachute battalions from Tulagi as soon as he had ships to do it.[30] On the 20th the airfield was opened and a squadron each of Marine Fighters and Dive Bombers landed on Guadalcanal.[31]

guadalcanal makeshift obstacle

Makeshift Obstacles: With no barbed wire the Marines used the ingenuity

General Hyakutake of the 17th Army was allotted 6,000 men of the Special Naval Landing Force, and the Kawaguchi and Ichiki detachments to re-take Guadalcanal. 17th Army also had the Sendai 2nd and the 38th Divisions, tank and artillery units, but they were scattered from Manchuria, to Borneo and Guam.[32] Hyakutake was ordered to use only the Ichiki detachment, a move which some at Imperial GHQ vigorously opposed.[33] Kawaguchi, recognized Guadalcanal’s importance and told a reporter that “the island would be a focal point in the struggle for the Pacific.”[34] On the 18th Colonel Ichiki landed with half of his unit, 915 men, 25 miles east of the Marines. Overconfident, he disobeyed orders to wait for the rest of his troops, left 125 men behind to guard his bridgehead and set off to attack.[35]

col ichiki

Colonel Ichiki whose elite 5th Special Naval Landing Force was annihilated at the Tenaru River

Ichiki’s force attacked shortly after 0100 on the 21st. He thought that he had achieved surprise[36], but, opposing him was 2nd Battalion 1st Marines under LtCol. Al Pollock. Warned by patrols that encountered the oncoming Japanese, and by Sergeant Major Vouza,[37] the Marines were on alert, well dug in, though lacking barbed wire, of which a single strand was emplaced across their front. The Japanese ran into the barbed wire and were mowed down as they attempted to cross the sandspit against G/2/1 and a weapons platoon. About 0300 artillery joined the action, catching the Japanese bunched together near the sandspit inflicting heavy casualties.[38] Around 0500 Ichiki made another attempt, sending a company through the surf, which was engulfed in machine gun and artillery fire.[39] At daylight the Marines counter attacked. Colonel Cates ordered Lt.Col. Cresswell’s 1st Battalion 1st Marines, to envelop the Japanese along the beach. Pollock’s Marines ranged mortars and small arms fire on Japanese survivors to their front, picking them off “like a record day at Quantico”

battle of tenaru river

Dead Japanese of the Ichiki Detachment at the Tenaru

[40] Marine aircraft made their first appearance, strafing the Japanese survivors. A light tank platoon crossed the Ilu and began to mop up the Japanese with 1/1 at 1530. At 1630 Ichiki burned his regimental colors and committed suicide. The Battle of the Ilu was over, the Japanese suffering at least 777 dead,[41] 15, 13 of whom were wounded were captured, only a Lt. Sakakibara and one soldier escaped to join those at the landing site.[42] The Marines suffered 35 dead and 74 wounded.[43] Ichiki made critical mistakes; he failed to reconnoiter, made a frontal attack against a dug in enemy and repeated it, with disastrous results.[44] Hyakutake informed Tokyo: “The attack of the Ichiki detachment was not entirely successful.”[45] The Americans were shocked at the Japanese fight to the death, and Griffith would note: “from this morning until the last days on Okinawa, the fought a ‘no quarter’ war. They asked none for themselves. They gave none to the Japanese.”[46]

Bloody Ridge

mitchpaige

Artists depiction of Sgt Mitchell Paige assaulting attacking Japanese units at Bloody Ridge

A round of minor engagements was fought in late August and early September as each side sent reinforcements. Kawaguchi’s brigade landed between August 29th and September 4th, but many troops were lost due to air attacks on the destroyers, transports and barges. Kawaguchi received the remainder of Ichiki’s force, bringing his force to 6200 men. He refused Hyakutake’s offer of an additional infantry battalion, believing intelligence that only 2000 Marines remained on Guadalcanal.[47] In fact Vandegrift had already moved the Raiders, Parachutists from Tulagi to Guadalcanal. Most of Kawaguchi’s force was east of the Marines; elements of 4th Regiment under Colonel Oka were on the Matanikau.[48] Vandegrift used the Raiders to attack Kawaguchi’s rear areas, capturing Tasimboko and killing 27 Japanese, destroying many of his troop’s supplies and foodstuffs.[49] Kawaguchi was infuriated by the attack and 17th Army prepared to send troops from the Sendai 2nd Division to the island.

vandegrift and staff

Vandergrift and Key Marine Leaders

The Raiders and Parachutists took positions on a ridge south of Henderson field on their return from the raid against Kawaguchi’s rear. Vandegrift placed his “Amtrackers” to the west of the ridge with 1st Pioneer Battalion.[50] Colonel deValle’s artillery was emplaced to give close support and observers attached to Edson’s battalion. The artillery was registered on pre-plotted points.[51] Edson’s force had little time to prepared defenses and due to the ridge and jungle prevented him from having “anything like a continuous line.”[52] First Marines held the line from Edson’s left to the sea along the Ilu. Unlike Ichiki, Kawaguchi avoided an attack on the strong 1st Marines position, and headed across the jungle to attack the airfield from the south with the 124th Infantry Regiment. Due to the difficult approach his battalions had a hard time reaching their start positions, two of the three reached the assembly areas two and three hours after the start time. When they did attack they lost their way, became scattered and intermingled; and Kawaguchi his battalion commanders lost all control.[53] The attack on the 12th was frustrating to Kawaguchi who later wrote “In all my life I have never felt so helpless.”[54] The attack was so ineffective that Edson thought the Japanese were “testing” him.[55]

11th marines 155mm howitzer

Marine Artillery on Guadalcanal

Kawaguchi regrouped as did Edson, who pulled back his line 200 yards to a stronger point on the ridge, reorganizing the line and command and control.[56] This improved fields of fire for his automatic weapons.[57] 2nd Battalion 5th Marines, the only reserve was moved south of the airfield so it could relieve Edson on the 14th.[58] As darkness fell, the Japanese attacked. I/124 attacked the ridge and the area to the west. Marines withdrew up the ridge under heavy pressure supported by artillery, which dropped fires almost on top of the Raider positions.[59] During the withdraw the Parachutists became confused and continued to withdraw, and only stopped when Edson’s operations officer, Major Bailey stepped in and halted it.

bloody ridge

Artists depiction of the Battle of Bloody Ridge

Artillery pounded I/124 and halted its attack even as companies of the reserve, 2nd battalion 4th Regiment attacked forcing the Raiders back to a knoll, the last defensive position before Henderson Field.[60] Edson exhorted the Marines who threw the Japanese back, and parachutists under Captain Torgerson counterattacked. Two more attacks were repulsed with assistance from 2/5 which had moved up in support.[61] The third Japanese battalion did not get into action[62] and Colonel Oka in the west made a weak attack that was handily defeated. The Japanese lost over 1200 men in their attack on the ridge.[63] The demoralized Japanese retreated west to join Oka’s men, taking a week and costing even more casualties.[64] Short on food, Oka pushed the survivors west and so he could defend the river line.[65]On the 18th Vandegrift was reinforced with 4700 men of the 7th Marines along with trucks, heavy equipment and supplies.[66] Edson was promoted to command 5th Marines.[67]

Matanikau Battles and the Fight for Henderson Field

wildcat on henderson field

Marine F4F Wildcat on Henderson Field

The Japanese now decided to send the Sendai and 38th divisions and heavy artillery to the island. Hyakutake went to the island to direct the campaign. The decision resulted in the suspension of 17th Army’s offensive against Port Moresby.[68] Admiral Yamamoto committed the fleet to cover the operations[69] setting up a major air, land and sea confrontation with the Americans. However before these forces could reach the island Vandegrift launched a series of attacks against Oka’s force on the Matanikau using the Raiders, and elements of 5th and 7th Marines.[70] The first attacks took place 24-27 September. The Matanikau position was important to future Japanese operations as their artillerymen stressed that they could not effectively shell the airfield unless guns were emplaced across the river.[71] The Raiders attacked at the log bridge[72] supported by C/1/7 and were repulsed by Oka’s 12th Company with heavy casualties.[73] Puller’s attack by 2/5 and parts of 1/7 at the mouth of the river was rebuffed by 9th Company. An amphibious assault by three companies of 1/7 was ordered by Edson who mistakenly believed that his Marines had crossed the river.[74] The force isolated by Oka’s II/124 and 12th Company, its commander killed and the Marines had to be rescued by Navy units.[75]

litter_bearers_on_guadalcanal

Navy Corpsmen preparing to evacuate a wounded Marines (above) and the 1st Marine Divsion Field Hospital

1st mardiv field medical

A second attack by the Marines on the Japanese, now reinforced by 4th Infantry Regiment on 6-9 October dealt them a crushing blow. An attack by 2/5 and 3/5 along the coast met heavy Japanese resistance and General Nasu decided to push across the river. While this was taking place, 7th Marines and the Whaling Group[76] outflanked the Japanese on the river and pushed to the coast. The Marines mauled the 4th Infantry, a Japanese report noting at least 690 casualties.[77] The action had decisive impacts on the next phase of Japanese operations.

General Hyakutake

General Hyakutake Commander of the Japanese 17th Army defending Guadalcanal

7th Marines and the 164th Regiment of the Americal Division arrived allowing Vandegrift to mount a full perimeter defense while Admiral Halsey replaced Ghormley as COMSOPAC.[78] Arriving on 10 October with the Sendai Division and 17th Army Artillery, Hyakutake, was notified that “American artillery had ‘massacred” the Fourth Infantry Regiment”[79] and found Ichiki and Kawaguchi’s units in an emaciated condition, the total effectives of the 6 battalions numbering less than a full strength battalion.[80] He radioed Rabaul “SITUATION ON GUADALCANAL IS MUCH MORE SERIOUS THAN ESTIMATED, and asked for more reinforcements and supplies at once.”[81] The Navy turned back a Japanese bombardment group on the 12th, but battleships and cruisers blasted Henderson Field on the 13th, 14th and 15th, destroying many aircraft.[82]

kongo

The 14″ guns of the Japanese Battleship Kongo and her sister Haruna pounded Henderson Field

Hyakutake received reinforcements including tanks and an infantry-artillery group and prepared to attack. General Sumiyoshi[83] was to make a diversionary attack along the coast with Army artillery and 5 infantry battalions. The Sendai Division under General Maruyama[84] with 9 infantry battalions moved inland along a route “the Maruyama road,”[85] to make the main effort to attack the airfield from the south. Sumiyoshi divided his artillery to support the bombardment of Henderson Field and support his infantry attacks, but was short ammunition.[86] The Marines had fortified the eastern side of the Matanikau and Sumiyoshi probed the Marines with infantry and tanks and artillery fire on the 20th and 21st, giving the Marines their first taste of concentrated artillery.[87] Sumiyoshi’s demonstration on the coast was effective, and Maruyama’s division remained undetected throughout its advance avoiding Marine and native patrols.[88]

bloody ridge aftermath

Japanese dead after the failed attack on Henderson Field

The attack began on the 23rd with Sumiyoshi attacking on the Matanikau; but he did not get the word that the attack for that night had been postponed until the 24th since Kawaguchi’s units had not gotten to assembly areas on the right of Sendai division.[89] His tanks advanced at 1800 and all but one were destroyed by deValle’s artillery as soon as they moved across the sandspit. The supporting infantry withdrew, and most never went forward as they were hit hard in assembly areas by Marine artillery losing over 600 men.[90] The action succeeded in the Marines shifting 2/7 and 3/7 north leaving Puller’s 1/7 alone on “Bloody Ridge.”[91] Fortunately for the Marines these Japanese forces were detected by Scout-Sniper’s[92] and Puller dug in his battalion deeper and set out a platoon in an outpost 1500 meters south of his position.[93]

puller1

Chesty Puller

On the 24th Maruyama’s Sendai troops attacked the ridge. He divided his force into two wings each of three infantry battalions commanded by General Nasu on the left and Colonel Shoji[94] on the right, three battalions served as a reserve. He advanced at 1900 but a storm turned the jungle into a vast mud bog exhausting the Japanese. Shoji’s wing advanced tangential to the Marine line and only one battalion made contact with Puller’s battalion.[95] Nasu’s troops hit Puller’s who realized that he was facing a major attack; he fed platoons from 3rd Battalion 164th Infantry, a National Guard unit into his lines and requested reinforcements.[96] The Marines and Guardsmen beat back all but one attack, that of LtCol. Furimiya of III/29 who got into the Marine perimeter and held out 48 hours, colors flying, leading Hyakutake to believe that they had captured the airfield.[97] The Japanese were driven off 9th Company of the 29th Regiment was wiped out primarily by the efforts of Sgt. John Basilone’s machine gun section.[98]

wrecked aircraft

Wrecked Aircraft on Henderson Field

The next day was known as “Dugout Sunday”[99] and that night the Japanese renewed the attack. This was better coordinated, but the Marines, reinforced by 3/164 and 3/2, and backed by artillery, devastated the Sendai division. Nasu and the commander of 16th Infantry were killed with at least 2000 of their soldiers.[100] Colonel Oka attacked 2/7 and was driven off with heavy casualties. Marine Sgt. Mitchell Paige won the Medal of Honor for single handedly manning his platoon’s machine guns after his troops became casualties, going gun to gun.[101] The attacks were crushed leaving more than 3000 dead or dying Japanese on the battlefield.[102]

On the Offensive

Guadalcanal

Marines pause during advance

As the Japanese struggled out of jungle to the coast the Marines began preparations to attack as each side brought in reinforcements, the Americans receiving the 8th Marine Regiment and 2nd Raider Battalion of 2nd Marine Division, as well as the 2nd Marines who had been on Tulagi and more of the Americal Division.[103] On November 1st and 5th Marines attacked across the Matanikau and by the 4th had eliminated a Japanese pocket on Point Cruz.[104] To the east 1/7 and 2/7 along with 2/164 and 3/164 attacked Col. Shoji’s force and fresh troops sent to relieve him near Koli Point. The battle lasted until the 9th when Shoji broke through the American cordon with 3000 men pursued by 2nd Raider Battalion. Shoji eventually made it back to 17th Army with 700-800 soldiers, most unfit for combat after battling the Raiders and the jungle.[105] The Japanese attempted to reinforce the island during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal from 13-15 November. Out of 11,000 troops of 38th Division on 11 transports only 2000 got ashore after 7 of the 11 were sunk enroute by Henderson Field aircraft and the surviving ships beached.[106]

jap transport and mini sub

Grounded Japanese Transport and Midget Submarine on Guadalcanal

The Americans received the rest of 2nd Marine and Americal Divisions and parts of 25th Division and Vandegrift decided to attack, his command now being a de-facto Corps.[107] Though they still numbered 30,000 the Japanese were incapable of offensive operations but still full of fight.[108]On 18 November the 8th Marines and the Army and elements of the 164th and 182nd regiments attacked on the Matanikau. They met heavy resistance from Col. Sakai’s 16th Infantry and in a 6 day battle and lost 134 dead with minimal gains.[109] The new arrivals allowed 1st Marine Division to be withdrawn[110] as it was no longer combat effective.[111] On 9 December Vandegrift[112] turned over command to General Alexander Patch of the Americal Division.

crossing a bridge

Advancing across a improvised pontoon bridge

Patch used early December to conduct aggressive patrolling[113] and decided to clear the Japanese from Mt Austen, which they had nicknamed “Gifu” and in a 22 day battle the 132nd Infantry eliminated the 38th Infantry Group.[114] With the 25th, Americal and 2nd Marine Division Patch now headed XIV Army Corps.[115] Although the Americans were unaware the Japanese had decided to withdraw from Guadalcanal on 31 December, after a heated debate.[116]

vandegrift edson paige and basilone

Major General Vandegrift, Colonel Edson, 2nd Lt Mitchell Paige and Sgt John Basilone all awardees of the Medal of Honor

The final offensive began on 10 January. Patch hoped to clear out the Japanese by April.[117] The 2nd Marine Division attacked along the coast while General Lawton Collins led his 25th Division in a flanking movement heavily supported by artillery and air. 6th Marine Regiment relieved 2nd Marines flanking the Japanese enveloped the majority of the 4th and 16th Regiments.[118] The Japanese began withdrawing on the 17th moving west shielded by the Yano battalion.[119] Collins troops finally reduced and eliminated the Japanese on the Gifu by the 23rd.[120] “The annihilation of Japanese detachments from regimental size down” characterized operations over the final phase of the command.[121] A characteristic of American operations now included the use of heavy massed artillery including time on target or “TOT” missions.[122] On the 22nd the Japanese began to extricate their troops via the Tokyo Express at Cape Esperance.[123] On 1 February Patch landed 2/132 at Verahue on the southwest tip of the island and the 25th and Americal Divisions continued their push to the west against the rearguards of 17th Army. On the 8th of February the last survivors were withdrawn[124] in a move described by the Chief of Staff 17th Army as a “minor miracle.”[125] The Japanese were shocked that the Americans “press them hard” and turn the withdraw “into a bloody rout.”[126] Still expecting a fight Patch’s troops found nothing on Cape Esperance but abandoned boats and supplies.[127]

JapanesePrisonersGuadalcanal

Japanese Prisoners

The Guadalcanal campaign had ended with the loss of nearly 30,000 Japanese. Japan lost the psychological advantage it had possessed from the beginning of the war.[128] It was an action that was an offensive won with defensive actions. The Americans seized a strategic point that the Japanese could not afford to lose and then fought a defensive battle of attrition to grind the Japanese down. The American Marines and Soldiers showed themselves to be the equals of the Japanese in one of the most demanding campaigns of the war. Kawaguchi would comment to a reporter in Manila; “We lost the battle. And Japan lost the war.”[129]

Appendix: Leaders On Guadalcanal

Major General Alexander A. Vandegrift: (1887-1973) Commander of 1st Marine Division on Guadalcanal. He served in the Corps 40 years and retired in 1949 as Commandant of the Marine Corps. After Guadalcanal he commanded 1st Marine Amphibious Corps at Empress Augusta Bay. He was a key player in the congressional debates regarding the Marine Corps in 1946 when President Truman supported by the Army pushed to eliminate the Marine Corps as a ground combat force. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his service at Guadalcanal. USS Vandegrift FFG-48 was named after him. That ship made the first visit of a US warship to Vietnam since the Vietnam War in 2003.

Major General Alexander Patch: (1889-1945) Commander of XIV Army Corps at Guadalcanal. He assumed command of forces on island from Vandegrift on 9 December 1942. General Marshall ordered him to Europe in 1943 to take command of 7th Army from General Patton. He commanded 7th Army in the south France and the Rhone campaign of 1944, leading that army across the Rhine in 1945. He was to take command of 4th Army in the United States but died of Pneumonia. He was considered a very good commander in both the Pacific and Europe. Patch Barracks in Stuttgart Germany is named after him.

Major General Lawton Collins: (1896-1987) “Lightning Joe” Collins commanded 25th Infantry Division (Tropical Lightening) at Guadalcanal. He commanded VII Corps and distinguished himself in France and was instrumental in Operation COBRA and the breakout from Normandy. He was considered by many to be one of the outstanding Corps commanders in the Second World War. During Korea he was Army Chief of Staff and later served with NATO and as a special representative to Vietnam.

Lieutenant Colonel Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller: (1898-1971) “Chesty Puller commanded 1st Battalion 7th Marines at Guadalcanal and was instrumental in the fight for Henderson Field against the Sendai Division. His early career was marked by much time in Haiti and Nicaragua where he was awarded his first and second Navy Crosses. He served with the “China Marines” (the 4th Marines) He was wounded on Guadalcanal and later served as Executive Officer 1st Marine Regiment and commanded that Regiment at Peleliu. In Korea he again commanded 1st Marines at the epic Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. He was promoted to Brigadier General and served as Assistant Division Commander for that Division. He was promoted to Major General and Lieutenant General prior to his retirement in 1955. He is considered one of the most iconic and beloved Marines who have ever lived earning 5 Navy Crosses and numerous other awards for valor in combat include the Bronze and Silver Stars and Distinguished Service Medal and the Purple Heart. The USS Puller (FFG-23) a Perry Class Frigate was named after him. His uniforms and many of his medals and citations were displayed at the former Marine Corps Barracks, Naval Weapons Station Yorktown until 2006 when they were transferred to the custody of the Marine Corps Museum following the death of his wife Virginia who insisted that they be displayed in Yorktown.

General Harukichi Hyakutake: (1888-1947) Commanded 17th Army on New Guinea and Guadalcanal. He was an infantry officer who studied crypto analysis and served with the Kwantung Army in Manchuria before the war and following Guadalcanal he remained in command of Japanese Troops in the Solomons. He returned to Japan at the end of the war and died in 1947.

Major General Kiyotake Kawaguchi: (1892-1961) Commanded 35th Infantry Brigade on Guadalcanal and was senior officer until the arrival of General Hyakutake and the Sendai Division. Led the unsuccessful battle at “Bloody Ridge” and was relieved of his command just prior to the October attack on Henderson Field. Was one of the few Japanese officers who expressed an early understanding of the importance of Guadalcanal to the overall war effort. Following his evacuation from Guadalcanal and return to Japan he was transferred to the reserve. Convicted of war crimes in 1946 for actions committed in the Philippines in 1941-42 he was released in 1953 and died in 1961.

Notes

[1] Spector, Ronald H. Eagle Against the Sun: The American War With Japan, The Free Press, New York, NY p.185
[2] Morison, Samuel Elliott, The Two Ocean War: A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War, Little, Brown and Company, Boston and Toronto, 1963. p.164

[3] Liddle-Hart, B.H. History of the Second World War G.P. Putnam’s Son’s. New York, NY 1970. 356

[4] Ibid. Spector. p.185

[5] Ibid. Spector comments that “MacArthur declared that the navy’s obstinacy was part of a long time plot to bring about ‘the complete absorption of the national defense function to the Navy, the Army being regulated to merely base, training, garrisoning, and supply purposes.’” (p.185)

[6] Toland, John. The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936-1945, Random House Publishers, New York, 1970. p.346

[7] Ibid. Morison. p.165

[8] Ibid. p.350

[9] Frank, Richard B. Guadalcanal: The Definitive Account of the Landmark Battle, Penguin Books, New York, NY 1990. p.30

[10] Ibid. p.31

[11] Ibid. Morison. p.166

[12] Griffith, Samuel B II. The Battle for Guadalcanal originally published by Lippincott, New York, 1963, University of Illinois Press, Champaign IL, 2000. p.19

[13] Costello, John. The Pacific War 1941-1945, Quill Publishers, New York, NY. 1981. p.320.

[14] Ibid. Spector. p.186

[15] Ibid. Frank. p.60

[16] Ibid. Spector. p.191

[17] Ibid. Frank. p.72

[18] Ibid. Costello. p.323

[19] Ibid. Griffith. p.49

[20] Ibid. Frank. p.72. 1st Raider Battalion took 22% casualties and 1st Parachute Battalion 50-60%.

[21] Ibid. Frank. p.74. Frank notes that of the 536 Japanese defenders that only about 50, a platoon from the 3rd Kure Naval Landing force were trained for ground combat.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid. Griffith. p.45

[24] Savo Island was the worst defeat suffered by the US Navy. In a short engagement the heavy cruisers Astoria, Quincy and Vincennes and the RAN Canberra were sunk and the Chicago badly damaged, leaving the covering force but one heavy cruiser and some AA Cruisers and Destroyers to cover the transports. Over 1000 sailors lost their lives.

[25] Ibid. Frank. p.125

[26] Costello notes the presence of the Seabees, but neither Franks nor Griffith mentions them by name. The discrepancy appears to be the date of their arrival on the island. Morrison notes that 387 men of the 6th Seabee Battalion landed on September 1st with 2 bulldozers and other equipment and that they then took over the improvement of Henderson Field. Morison, Samuel Elliott. The Struggle for Guadalcanal: August 1942-February 1943, Volume V of History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Copyright 1949, Samuel Elliott Morison, Castel, Books New York, NY 2001, published in arrangement with Little Brown and Company. p.76

[27] Ibid. Griffith. p.68

[28] McMillan, George. The Old Breed: A History of the First Marine Division in WWII, The Infantry Journal Incorporated, Washington DC. 1949. p.50

[29] Ibid. Frank. p130, Griffith. p.70. McMillan pp.52-56. This incident is still shrouded in mystery as no Japanese records survive to record the outcome of the incident. According to McMillan, when Goettge went out he believed he was also on a humanitarian mission and took the assistant division surgeon and a language officer. The Goettge Field House at Camp LeJeune NC is named in his honor.

[30] Ibid. Griffith. p.74

[31] Ibid. McMillan. pp.56-57

[32] Ibid.. p.59

[33] Ibid. Griffith. pp.79-80 some believed the commitment of small numbers inadequate to the task would repeat the defeats suffered at the hands of the Russians and in China. Ichiki himself was given poor intelligence stating that there were only about 2000 Americans on the Island and that they suffered from low morale and were trying to flee Guadalcanal to Tulagi. (p.81)

[34] Ibid. Toland. p.364

[35] Ibid. p.365

[36] Ibid. p.366

[37] Ibid. McMillan. p.61. Vouza, a native constable had actually been captured and interrogated by the Japanese, who bayoneted him and left him for dead.

[38] Ibid. pp.61-62

[39] Ibid. Griffith. p.84

[40] Ibid. p.86

[41] Ibid. Frank. p.156. Richard Tregaskis in Guadalcanal Diary reports that he heard there were 871 Japanese dead in the battle area. Tregaskis, Richard, Guadalcanal Diary, Originally published by Random House, 1943. Modern Library Paperback edition, Random House Publishers, NY 2000, with an introduction by Mark Bowden. p.130

[42] Ibid. Toland. p.367 Griffith reports that a Captain Tamioka survived. (p.87)

[43] Various accounts give slightly different figures for the Marine casualties. This number is taken from McMillan.

[44] Ibid. Griffith. pp.87-88. Griffith comments: “there was something more fundamental involved here than action taken on the basis of poor information, a reckless and stupid colonel, dedicated soldiers, and a disparity in weapons. This was ‘face.’ Once committed to the sword, Ichiki must conquer or die. This was the code of the Samurai, ‘The Way of the Warrior’: Bushido. (p.88)

[45] Ibid. McMillan. p.64

[46] Ibid. Griffith. p.88

[47] Ibid. Frank. p.218. Toland reports that he received intelligence that 5000 Marines were on the island but he believed that he could be victorious. (p.378)

[48] Ibid. Toland. p.376. Oka’s force was particularly hard hit by the air attacks during transit, losing 650 out of 1000 men, and his survivors had little food and ammunition and were not in good condition to attack.

[49] Ibid. Frank. pp.221-222. They also brought back documents, Kawaguchi’s dress uniforms and beer.

[50] Vandegrift rusted in the understanding that every Marine is a rifleman.

[51] Ibid. Griffith. p.115

[52] Ibid. Frank. p.229

[53] Ibid. p.231

[54] Ibid. p.232

[55] Ibid. Griffith. p.117

[56] Ibid. Frank. p.235 He still lacked the manpower to form a continuous line.

[57] Ibid. Griffith. p.117

[58] Ibid. Frank. p.235

[59] Ibid. Griffith. p.119

[60] Ibid. Frank. p.239

[61] Ibid. p.240

[62] This was III/124 under Colonel Wanatabe, suffering from old war wounds he failed to get his unit into the fight and Kawaguchi told him to commit Hari-Kari. (Griffith .121)

[63] Ibid. Griffith. p.121. The Marines lost 263 men of which 49 were killed and 10 missing. The Parachute battalion which began the campaign with 397 men had only 86 ambulatory after “Bloody Ridge” and were withdrawn. (Frank. p.241)

[64] Ibid. Costello. p.346 Frank also notes that another of Kawaguchi’s battalions, the Kuma battalion and his artillery fared even worse while trying to move to the west, becoming lost in the jungle for three weeks, losing all their weapons and becoming severely malnourished. (Frank. p.246)

[65] Ibid. Griffith. p.125

[66] Ibid. Toland. p.385 The Japanese began to call the island Starvation Island.

[67] Edson and Bailey both were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for their actions on the ridge. (McMillan p.81)

[68] Ibid. Griffith. pp.126-127

[69] Ibid. Spector. p.199 and Costello. p.348

[70] Ibid. Frank. p.269.

[71] Ibid.

[72] Ibid. Griffith. p.135. Griffith refers to this as the “Jap bridge.” I use Frank’s the name given by Frank.

[73] Ibid. Frank. p.272

[74] Ibid. Toland.p.390

[75] Ibid. Frank p.273-274. Frank analyzes: “In a retrospective assessment, the Marines found that the operation had an improvised purposeless flavor. It had been initiated without meaningful intelligence on the enemy situation or the terrain, and the attack was characterized by the commitment of battalions along unreconnoitered axes, beyond mutual support range, and without coordination of movements or of air and artillery support.” (p.274)Griffith comments: “Here Edson, as always supremely confident, had dispersed his force haphazardly to assault an enemy well armed, well concealed, and at each pointing superior strength. Second Matanikau hammered home to Vandegrift that a commander who allows himself or a subordinate, to drift aimlessly into any action will pay the price. (Griffith p.137)

[76] Ibid. Griffith. p.283. The Whaling Group consisted of 3rd Bn 6th Marines and the Scout Sniper detachment.

[77] Ibid. 289. The Division history of 1st Marine Division reported over 900 Japanese killed. (McMillan p.96)

[78] Ibid. McMillan. p.99

[79] Ibid. Griffith. p.148

[80] Ibid. p.338

[81] Ibid. Toland. p.392

[82] Ibid. Griffith. p.157. By the 15th the Marines only had 27 aircraft left, but by the evening a Navy fighter squadron had reinforced them.

[83] Artillery commander 17th Army.

[84] Ibid. Toland. p.393. Maruyama noted before the division departed from Japan that Guadalcanal was the “Decisive battle between Japan and the United States, a battle in which the fate of the Japanese Empire will be decided.”

[85] Ibid.p.340 Toland notes how this “road” had been hacked out of the jungle in the proceeding month. (Toland. p.393)

[86] Ibid. p.342. The 15 150mm guns targeted the airfield and the remaining 17, 75mm and 100mm guns and howitzers targeted the infantry.

[87] Ibid. Griffith. p.165-166

[88] Ibid. Frank. p.348

[89] Ibid. Griffith. pp.166-167. Sumiyoshi was not at fault as he had fallen into a coma brought on by Malaria. Kawaguchi was relieved by Hyatutake for this failure.

[90] Ibid. p.167

[91] Ibid. McMillan. p.105

[92] Ibid. Toland. p.401. Frank notes that even this discovery did not alert the Marine command to the Japanese presence south of the ridge and he credit’s Puller’s lack of complacency.

[93] Ibid. Frank. p.352

[94] Ibid. Frank. Shoji had relieved Kawaguchi.

[95] Ibid. Frank. pp.352-353

[96] Ibid.. p.355-356

[97] Ibid. p.356. Furimiya would eventually commit suicide when he had lost the rest of his troops. His diary, found by the Americans made a note that “we must not overlook firepower.” (p.366) Griffith notes the officer as Ishimiya and notes that only 9 men were with him. (p.169)

[98] Ibid. p.356. Basilone won the Congressional Medal of Honor.

[99] The day was marked by a fierce air-sea battle between American aircraft and a Japanese naval task force sent to shell Henderson Field and supporting fighters. A number of Japanese ships were damaged and the light cruiser Yura sunk. See Morison. History of Naval Operations in WWII vol V. pp.197-198

[100] Ibid. Frank. pp.364-365

[101] Ibid. pp.363-364. I met Paige in 2000 at Camp LeJeune. This icon of the Corps remained an outspoken Marine until the day that he died.

[102] Ibid. Toland. p.404

[103] Ibid. Liddle-Hart. p.361

[104] Ibid. Griffith. p.184

[105] Ibid. Frank. pp.421-424.

[106] Ibid. Morison. History of Naval Operations. p.182. Frank backs this number and Liddle-Hart gives 4000.

[107] Ibid. McMillan. p.135

[108] Ibid. Griffith. p.212-213

[109] Ibid. Frank. pp.495-497.

[110] The 1st Marine Division lost 621 KIA, 1,517 WIA and 5601 Malaria cases. Its Marines earned 5 Congressional Medals of Honor, 113 Navy Crosses and 4 Distinguished Service Medals. (McMillan pp.138-139)

[111] Ibid. Griffith. p.216

[112] Vandegrift would become Commandant of the Marine Corps in 1944.

[113] Johnston, Richard W. Follow Me! The Story of the Second Marine Division in World War II, Copyright 1948 by the 2nd Marine Division Historical Board and published by Random House, New York, NY. 1948. p.69

[114] Ibid. Frank. pp.528-534.

[115] Ibid. Johnston. p.72

[116] Ibid. Toland. pp. 421-426. Generals Sato and Tanaka engaged in a fist-fight ended by Tojo and the Emperor himself probed the High Command about the defeat and personal approved the Japanese withdraw.

[117] Ibid. Spector. p.213

[118] Ibid. Frank. p.557

[119] Ibid. p.560

[120] Ibid. p.566

[121] Ibid. p.567

[122] Bergerud, Eric. Touched With Fire: The Land War in the South Pacific, Penguin Books, New York, NY 1996. p.192

[123] Ibid. p.570

[124] Ibid. p.595 Depending on the source the Japanese withdrew anywhere from 10,000 to 13,000 troops from the island.

[125] Ibid. Griffith. p.244

[126] Ibid.

[127] Ibid. Morison. History of Naval Operations, p.371.

[128] Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. For the Common Defense: Fighting the Second World War, The Belknap Press or Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 2000. p.215

[129] Ibid. Toland. p.431

Bibliography

Bergerud, Eric. Touched With Fire: The Land War in the South Pacific, Penguin Books, New York, NY 1996

Costello, John. The Pacific War 1941-1945, Quill Publishers, New York, NY. 1981

Frank, Richard B. Guadalcanal: The Definitive Account of the Landmark Battle, Penguin Books, New York, NY 1990

Griffith, Samuel B II. The Battle for Guadalcanal originally published by Lippincott, New York, 1963, University of Illinois Press, Champaign IL, 2000

Johnston, Richard W. Follow Me! The Story of the Second Marine Division in World War II, Copyright 1948 by the 2nd Marine Division Historical Board and published by Random House, New York, NY. 1948

Liddle-Hart, B.H. History of the Second World War G.P. Putnam’s Son’s. New York, NY 1970

McMillan, George. The Old Breed: A History of the First Marine Division in WWII, The Infantry Journal Incorporated, Washington DC. 1949

Morison, Samuel Elliott, The Two Ocean War: A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War, Little, Brown and Company, Boston and Toronto, 1963

Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. For the Common Defense: Fighting the Second World War, The Belknap Press or Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 2000

Spector, Ronald H. Eagle Against the Sun: The American War With Japan, The Free Press, New York, NY

Toland, John. The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936-1945, Random House Publishers, New York, 1970

Tregaskis, Richard, Guadalcanal Diary, Originally published by Random House, 1943. Modern Library Paperback edition, Random House Publishers, NY 2000, with an introduction by Mark Bowden

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Military, world war two in the pacific

The Guadalcanal Campaign: Bloody Savo

USS_Quincy_CA-39_savo

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

For the next few days I will be posting some articles about the Guadalcanal campaign, a pivotal series of battles in the Second World War where the United States and its allies took the offensive against Imperial Japan. This article deals with the first naval engagement of that campaign which was the worst and most lopsided defeat ever suffered by the U.S. Navy in history.  I am posting these articles because they are forgotten by so many. Tomorrow I will begin posting articles on the Guadalcanal Campaign, but the story of “Bloody Savo” is here. Have a good night. 

Peace,

fletcPadre Steve+

On August 8th 1942 the U.S. Task Force supporting the invasion of Guadalcanal was tired. The crews of the ships had been in continuous combat operations conducting naval gunfire support missions, fending off numerous Japanese air attacks and guarding against submarine attacks for two days. The force commanded by Admiral Richmond K. Turner was still unloading materials, equipment and supplies needed by the men of the 1st Marine Division who they had put ashore on the morning of the seventh.

On the afternoon of the eighth Turner was informed by Admiral Frank “Jack” Fletcher that he was pulling his carrier task force out of action. Fletcher alleged that he did not have enough fighter aircraft (79 remaining of an original 98) and as low on fuel. The carriers had only been in action 36 hours and Fletcher’s reasons for withdraw were flimsy. Fletcher pulled out and left Turner and his subordinate commanders the responsibility of remaining in the area without air support with the transports still full of badly needed supplies and equipment.

Gunichi_Mikawa

Admiral Gunichi Mikawa

As the American drama played out, the Japanese moved forces into position to strike the Americans. Admiral Gunichi Mikawa commander of the 8th Fleet and Outer South Seas Force based at Rabaul New Britain quickly assembled a force of 6 heavy cruisers, the 14,000 ton Atago Class Chokai, and the four smaller ships of the Kako Class, the Aoba, Kako, Kinugasa and Furutaka, the light cruisers Yubari and Tenryu and the destroyer Yunagi. Mikawa raised his flag aboard Chokai and the force sped down “the slot” which ran the length of the of the Solomon’s chain mid day on the seventh.

The Americans had warning of their coming. The first sighting was by B-17s before the Japanese forces had reached Rabaul. The second was the elderly U.S. Navy submarine S-38 at 2000 on the 7th when they were 550 miles away not far from Rabaul. This report was discounted because it would not be unusual to find a number of fleet units steaming near a major naval base and fleet headquarters. The last which should have alerted the allies was a sighting by a Royal Australian Air Force patrol aircraft on the morning of the 8th. However the pilot did not report the sighting until he returned from his mission returned to his base and had his tea. The eight hour delay in reporting the information as well as errors in it which reported 2 submarine tenders as part of the force lulled the Allied forces into believing that the Japanese were setting up a seaplane base and posed no threat to the invasion forces. It was a fatal error of reporting and judgment by the pilot.

USS_Astoria_(CA-34)_off_Guadalcanal_1942

USS Astoria on August 8th off Guadalcanal and USS Chicago (below)

CA-29_Chicago

In the absence of good information Turner deployed his support ships to cover the three entrances into what soon would be known as Iron Bottom Sound. He placed the Anti Aircraft Cruiser USS San Juan and Australian Light Cruiser HMAS Hobart to the east with two destroyers under the command of Rear Admiral Norman Scott. To protect the south west entrance into the sound south of Savo Island Turner placed the Heavy Cruisers USS Chicago, HMAS Australia and HMAS Canberra and two destroyers under the command of Rear Admiral R.A.C. Crutchley RN who in theory commanded the screening force. To the north of Savo he deployed the Heavy Cruisers USS Vincennes, USS Astoria and USS Quincy and two destroyers under the tactical direction of Captain Frederick Riefkohl aboard Vincennes. To the west of Savo he placed two destroyers to act as picket ships. Unfortunately these ships radar sets were insufficient and would fail to pick up the approaching enemy.

800px-SavoIslandMap

Allied Dispositions

During the early evening Turner recalled Crutchley to his flagship for consultations of what to do regarding Fletcher’s retreat. Crutchley came over in his flagship the Australia denuding the southern force of its commander as well as one of its three heavy cruisers. He left the commanding officer of Chicago Captain Howard D. Bode in tactical command but Bode did not have his ship take the lead position in the patrol assuming Crutchley would return bymidnight.

USS_Vincennes_(CA-44)_in_the_Solomons_1942

USS Vincennes (above) and USS Quincy (below)

ca__39_uss_quincy___1942.08.03___1a

HMAS Canberra Sydney Harbour

HMAS Canberra 

Mikawa launched float planes to scout the locations of the American ships and to provide illumination once the battle began. Some of these aircraft were spotted but no alert measures were taken as many assumed the Japanese to be friendly aircraft. Many commanding officers were asleep or resting away from the bridge of their ships, lookouts were tired and not expecting the Japanese and Condition Two was set in order to provide some of the tired crews a chance to rest.

800px-SavoIslandYubariSearchlight

Light Cruiser Yubari illuminating American cruisers at Savo Island

Admiral Mikawa now new the Allied disposition and ordered his ships to battle stations at 0045. At 004 he sighted and passed astern of USS Blue the southern picket which also failed to detect the Japanese force. Mikawa assumed that the destroyer might have reported his presence, briefly turned north but turned back to his original course when a lookout allegedly spotted a destroyer to his northeast. He gave the order to attack at 0132 and promptly spotted the American destroyer USS Jarvis which had been heavily damaged and without radio communications was making her way toAustralia for repair and passed her after some ships fired torpedoes and raced toward the southern force at 26 knots. With the southern force just a few miles away Mikawa ordered his ships to commence firing at 0136 and at 0138 torpedoes had been launched.

480px-SavoIslandMap1

Mikawa’s lookouts spotted the northern group at 0144 and changed course. The maneuver was badly executed and left the Japanese in two columns as they swiftly closed on the Americans. Mikawa’s flagship Chokai launched torpedoes at 0148 and Astoria the cruiser closest to the Japanese set general quarters at 0145 and at 0150 the Japanese illuminated her with searchlights and opened fire. Astoria under the direction of her gunnery officer returned fire at 0152 ½ just before her Captain came to the bridge unaware of the situation. He ordered a cease fire until he could ascertain who he was firing at assuming the Japanese to be friendly ships. He delayed 2 minutes and ordered fires commenced at 0154 but the delay was fatal. Astoria had opened fire on the Chokai which then had time to get the range on the American cruiser and hit her with an 8” salvo which caused fires which provided the other Japanese ships an aiming point.

SavoJapaneseWarArt

Japanese artist depiction of attack on US Navy Cruisers at Savo Island

Astoria was left burning and heavily damaged barely maintaining headway but attempted to fight on scoring a hit on Chokai’s forward turret even as the Japanese opened up on the next cruiser in line the USS Quincy. Quincy caught between the two Japanese columns. Aoba illuminated her with her searchlight and Japanese forces opened fire. The gunnery officer order Quincy to return fire getting two salvos off before her skipper Captain Samuel Moore came to the bridge, briefly ordered a cease fire assuming that he was firing on Americans and turned on his running lights. Quincy was ripped by salvo after salvo which killed Captain Moore and nearly everyone in the pilothouse just as a torpedo ripped into her engineering spaces turning them into a sealed death trap forcing the engineer to shut down the engines. Burning like a Roman candle Quincy was doomed she was ordered abandoned and capsized and sank at 0235. However Quincy did not die in vain, at 0205 two of her 8” shells hit Chokai causing enough damage the Admiral’s chart room that Mikawa would order a withdraw at 0220 which spared the now defenseless American transports.

633px-SavoIslandMap2A

Vincennes, the lead ship and flagship was next in the line of death. Captain Reifkohl order General Quarters sounded not long after the Japanese illuminated the southern group. At 0150 Vincennes was lit up by the searchlights of three Japanese ships which opened fire on her. Vincennes returned fire at 0153 hitting Kinugasa before she was hit starting fires on her scout planes mounted on their catapults. The Japanese mauled Vincennes, three possibly four torpedoes ripped into her as shells put ever gun out of action. At 0215 she was left burning and sinking by the Japanese who soon withdrew from the action. Ordered abandoned she sank at 0250.

Savo_Island canberra

HMAS Canberra being evacuated by the Patterson and Blue

Canberra struggled against the odds but was abandoned and was sent to the bottom by an American torpedo at 0800. Astoria also struggled for life but the damage was too great and she was abandoned sinking at 1215. Mikawa withdrew up the sound but on his return the Heavy Cruiser Kako 70 miles from home was sunk by torpedoes from the American submarine S-44 sinking in 5 minutes.

The Americans and Australians lost 4 Heavy Cruisers sunk and one heavily damaged. Two destroyers were also damaged. Casualties were heavy; Quincy lost 389 men killed, Vincennes, 342, Astoria, 235, Canberra, 85, Ralph Talbot, 14, Patterson, 10, and Chicago, 2.

It was an unmitigated disaster, an allied force destroyed in less than 30 minutes time. Boards of inquiry were held and Captain Bode hearing that he shouldered much blame killed himself in 1943.

It was a rude awakening to a Navy which had believed that technical advances would give it victory and which  in the words of Admiral Ernest King  was not yet “sufficiently battle minded.” It was the first of many equally bloody battles in the waters around Guadalcanal which became known as Ironbottom Sound..

2 Comments

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

Unlikely and Incredible: Victory at Midway

SBDstoastjapcarrier

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

As I mentioned that I would be writing about a number of watershed events this week. Today is the 74th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of Midway. As a Navy officer and having grown up in a Navy family, this battle is still something that I find fascinating. It was a battle that could have easily been lost, and with it the war in the Pacific significantly lengthened, and which had the Japanese won, forced a change in strategy that might have allowed Hitler to strengthen his grip on Europe and maybe even defeat the Soviet Union.

It was a watershed event because it was the first real defeat that the Japanese Imperial Navy sustained in the war, and it ensured that the Japanese would not be able to win the war, except by exhausting the United States.

So it still remains important even today. If you are interested in books about Midway I recommend Walter Lord’s classic “Incredible Victory” and Gordon Prange’s “Miracle at Midway.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Prelude to Battle

The Imperial Japanese Navy under the command of Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto had been humiliated. On April 18th 1942 16 B-25 bombers under the command of Colonel Jimmy Doolittle were launched from the deck of the USS Hornet and bombed Tokyo.  Though the physical damage was insignificant the psychological impact was massive on the Japanese military establishment. In response to the threat, Yamamoto was directed to bring the aircraft carriers of the U.S. Navy to battle and to destroy them.

Prior to the Doolittle Raid, Yamamoto and his deputy Rear Admiral Matome Ugaki had explored the possibility of attacking Midway. However, the Japanese armed forces were competing with each other to determine an overall strategy for the war effort. The Army was insistent on a China strategy while the Navy preferred expansion in the Western, South and Central Pacific.  Yamamoto’s idea envisioned seizing Midway and using it as a forward base from which an invasion of Hawaii could be mounted as well as the bait to draw the carrier task forces of the U.S. Navy into battle and destroy them. Until the Doolittle Raid shocked the Japanese leadership he was unable to do this.

“I Shall Run Wild for the First Six Months”

yamamoto-isoroku1

Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto

Yamamoto was one of the few Japanese military or political leaders who opposed war with the United States. He had lived in the United States, gotten to know Americans and recognized the how the massive economic and industrial power of the United States would lead to the defeat of Japan. He told Premier Konoye in 1941 “I shall run wild for the first six months or a year, but I have utterly no confidence for the second or third years of the fighting.”

It is hard to imagine now, but in June of 1942 it seemed a good possibility that the Americans and British could be on the losing side of the Second World War.

True to Yamamoto’s words in 1942 the Japanese onslaught in the Pacific appeared nearly unstoppable. The Imperial Navy stormed across the Pacific and Indian Oceans in the months after Pearl Harbor decimating Allied Naval forces that stood in their way.  The British Battleships HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse were sunk by land based aircraft off of Singapore. A force of Royal Navy cruisers and the Aircraft Carrier HMS Hermes were sunk by the same carriers that struck Pearl Harbor in the Indian Ocean.  Darwin Australia was struck with a devastating blow on February 19th and on February 27th the Japanese annihilated the bulk of the American, British, Dutch and Australian naval forces opposing them at the Battle of the Java Sea. American forces in the Philippines surrendered on May 8th 1942 while the British in Singapore surrendered on February 15th.

In only one place had a Japanese Naval task force been prevented from its goal and that was at the Battle of the Coral Sea.  Between 4-8 May the US Navy’s Task Force 11 and Task Force 17 centered on the Carriers USS Lexington and USS Yorktown prevented a Japanese invasion force from taking Port Moresby. Their aircraft sank the light carrier Shoho, damaged the modern carrier Shokaku and decimated the air groups of the Japanese task force. But it was the unexpected raid by US Army Air Corps B-25 Bombers launched from the USS Hornet under command of Colonel Jimmy Doolittle on April 18th 1942 which embarrassed Yamamoto so badly that he ordered the attack to take Midway and destroy the remaining US Naval power in the Pacific.

Cracking the Code

Chester-W.-Nimitz-militarymuseum.org_

Admiral Chester Nimitz

United States Navy codebreakers had broken the Japanese diplomatic and naval codes in 1941, and in May the Navy code breakers at Pearl Harbor discovered Yamamoto’s plan to have the Imperial Navy attack Midway Island and the Aleutian Islands.  Knowing the Japanese were coming, and that the occupation of Midway by Japanese forces would give them an operational base less than 1000 miles from Pearl Harbor, Admiral Chester Nimitz, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet committed the bulk of his naval power, the carriers USS Enterprise CV-6, USS Yorktown CV-5 and USS Hornet CV-8 and their 8 escorting cruisers and 15 destroyers to defend Midway.  This force of 26 ships with 233 aircraft embarked to defend Midway while a force of smaller force 5 cruisers and 4 destroyers was dispatched to cover the Aleutians.  The forces on the ground at Midway had a mixed Marine, Navy and Army air group of 115 aircraft which included many obsolete aircraft, 32 PBY Catalina Flying Boats and 83 fighters, dive bombers, torpedo planes and Army Air Force bombers piloted by a host of inexperienced but resolute airmen with which to defend itself. It also had a ground force of U.S. Marines, should the Japanese actually land on the island.

With the foreknowledge provided by the code breakers the US forces hurried to an intercept position northeast of Midway. They eluded the Japanese submarine scout line which the Japanese Commander Admiral Yamamoto presumed would find them when they sailed to respond to the Japanese attack on Midway.  Task Force 16 with the Enterprise and Hornet sailed first under the command of Rear Admiral Raymond A Spruance in place of the ailing William “Bull” Halsey. Task Force 17 under Rear Admiral Frank “Jack” Fletcher was built around the Yorktown which had been miraculously brought into fighting condition after suffering heavy damage at Coral Sea. Fletcher assumed overall command by virtue of seniority and Admiral Nimitz instructed his commanders to apply the principle of “calculated risk” when engaging the Japanese as the loss of the US carriers would place the entire Pacific at the mercy of the Japanese Navy.

On June 3rd a PBY Catalina from Midway discovered the Japanese invasion force transport group.  US long-range B-17 bombers launched attacks against these ships but inflicted no damage.

“Our hearts burn with the conviction of sure victory.”

On the night of June 3rd 1942 Nagumo’s First Carrier Strike Force sailed east toward the tiny Midway Atoll. Nagumo had seen many of the risks involved in the plan and considered it an “impossible and pointless operation” before the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo, but even the reluctant Nagumo fell in line as Yamamoto relentlessly lobbied for the operation.

As the First Carrier strike force closed within 300 miles of Midway on the night of June 3rd 1942 Nagumo and his staff prepared for the battle that they and many others believed would be the decisive battle. Aircraft received their final preparations, bombs were loaded and as night faded into early morning air crew arose, ate their breakfast and went to their aircraft. The ships had been observing radio silence since they departed their bases and anchorages in Japan the previous week. Honed to a fine edge the crews of the ships and the veteran aircrews anticipated victory.

The crews of the ships of the task force and the air groups embarked on the great aircraft carriers Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu as well as their escorts were confident. They had since the war began known nothing but victory. They had devastated the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor and roamed far and wide raiding allied targets and sinking allied shipping across the Pacific and deep into the Indian Ocean. Commander Magotaro Koga of the destroyer Nowaki wrote in his diary “Our hearts burn with the conviction of sure victory.

PERSON JAP Nagumo1

Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo

However, Nagumo and his sailors had no idea that most of what they knew about their American opponents was wrong. Nagumo and Yamamoto were confident that the Americans could field no more than two operational carriers to defend Midway. They had no idea that the Yorktown, which they believed had been sunk at Coral Sea was operational and her air group reinforced by the aircraft of the damaged Saratoga which was being repaired on the West Coast. Unknown to the Japanese the Yorktown and her escorts had joined Enterprise and Hornet northeast of Midway.

The Japanese were going into battle blind. They had planned to get aerial surveillance of US Fleet dispositions at Pearl Harbor, but that had been cancelled because the atoll at French Frigate Shoals that the Japanese flying boats would operate from had been occupied by a small US force. Likewise a line of Japanese submarines arrived on station a day too late, after the US carrier task forces had passed by them. Those aboard the First Carrier Strike Force, including Nagumo or his senior commanders and staff had no idea that the Americans not only knew of their approach but were already deployed in anticipation of their strike.

Within a day all of the Japanese carriers would be sunk or sinking. Thousands of Japanese sailors would be dead and the vaunted air groups which had wreaked havoc on the Allies would be decimated, every aircraft lost and the majority of pilots and aircrew dead. It would be a most unexpected and devastating defeat stolen out of the hands of what appeared to be certain victory.

There is a lesson to be learned from the Japanese who sailed into the night on June 3rd 1942 and saw the sunrise of June 4th. There is no battle, campaign or war that goes according to plan. Thousands of Japanese sailors and airmen went to bed on the night of the 3rd expecting that the following night, or within the next few days they would be celebrating a decisive victory. Thousands of those sailors would be dead by the night of the 4th of June 1942, and as their ships slid beneath the waves, the ambitions of Imperial of Japan to defeat the United States Navy and end the war were dealt a decisive defeat from which they never recovered.

Hawks at Angles Twelve

F2A-3+Buffalo

One of the more overlooked aspects of the Battle of Midway is the sacrifice of Marine Fighter Squadron 221 on the morning of June 4th 1942.   The Marine aviators flying a mix of 21 obsolescent Brewster F2A-3 Buffalos and 7 Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats engaged a vastly superior force of Japanese Navy aircraft as they vectored toward the atoll 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.  They fighter pilots of VMF-221 scored their first victory shooting down a Japanese Kawanishi H8K2 “Emily” flying boat. The squadron which initially was composed of just 14 aircraft, all F2A-3’s was augmented by 7 more F2A-3s and 7 of the more advanced F4F-3s before the battle.

When the Japanese First Carrier Striking Group was spotted in the wee hours of June 4th the Marines and other aircrew aboard Midway scrambled to meet them.  The 18 SBD-2 Dauntless’ and 12 Vought SB2-U3 Vindicator dive bombers of VMSB-241, the 6 TBF Avengers of the Navy Torpedo Eight detachment, 4 Army Air Corps B-26 Marauders and 15 B-17 Flying Fortresses flew out to attack the Japanese carriers while the fighters rose to intercept the 108 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 which thoroughly outclassed the Marine opponents in speed, maneuverability and in the combat experience of their pilots.

The Marine fighters 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 raising his score to 18.5 Japanese aircraft shot down.  Other pilots like 2nd Lieutenant Clayton M. Canfield shot down two additional aircraft while flying with VMF-223. 2nd 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). 

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.

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 their squadron leader Major Henderson diving his mortally wounded aircraft into the cruiser’s number 4 8” gun turret. While the Marines’ actions are not as well known or as successful as those of their Navy counterparts they were brave.  Fighter pilots had to engage some of the most experienced pilots flying superior machines while the bomber crews had little to no experience before being thrown into combat.

800px-tbd_attacking_at_midway_painting-1

Into the Valley of Death: The Last Ride of the Torpedo Bombers

Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote in the Charge of the Light Brigade something that echoes to this day when we talk or write about men who charge the gates of death against superior enemies.

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 3, 6 and 8 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. The young pilots of the Midway based Torpedo 8 detachment under the command of LT Langdon Fieberling flew in the new TBF Avengers.

he TBD which first flew in 1935 entered service in 1937 and was possibly the most modern naval aircraft in the world when it entered service.  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.  129 were built and served in all pre-war torpedo bombing squadrons based aboard the Lexington, Saratoga, Ranger, Yorktown, Enterprise and Hornet with 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 and by 1940 only about 100 were operational by the beginning of the war.  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 performed adequately against minor opposition at Coral Sea and in strikes against the Marshalls but the squadrons embarked on Yorktown (VT3), Enterprise (VT-6) and Hornet (VT-8) were annihilated at Midway with only 6 of 41 aircraft surviving their uncoordinated attacks against the Japanese Carrier Strike Force.  They were too slow, had poor maneuverability, insufficient armor and defensive armament.

The Torpedo squadrons attacked independently of each other between 0920 and 1030 on June 4th 1942. The Japanese Combat Air Patrol ripped into the slow, cumbersome and under armed TBD Devastators as they came in low to launch their torpedoes.  Torpedo Eight from Hornet under the command of LCDR John C Waldron pressed the attack hard but all 15 of the Devastators 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 to be picked up later by a PBY Catalina patrol plane.

Torpedo Six from the Enterprise under the command of LCDR Eugene Lindsey suffered heavy casualties losing 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.  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.

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.

eneterprise vt-6 midway

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 and some remained in service in a civilian capacity to fight forest fires until 2012.

img_0064

The Provence of Chance: Five Minutes that Changed the War

The land based aircraft from Midway attacked the Japanese carrier force taking heavy casualties and failed to damage the Japanese task force. When the results of the first strike of the Japanese bombers that hit Midway was analyzed Nagumo readied his second wave.

As this was happening the American carriers launched their strike groups at the Japanese fleet leaving enough aircraft behind as for Combat Air Patrol and Anti-submarine patrol missions.  As the Americans winged toward the Japanese fleet the Japanese were in a state of confusion. The confusion was caused when a scout plane from the Heavy Cruiser Tone that had been delayed at launch discovered US ships but did not identify a carrier among them until later into the patrol. The carrier was the Yorktown and TF 17, but for Nagumo who first expected no American naval forces, then received a report of surface ships without a carrier followed by the report of a carrier the reports were unsettling.

Aboard the Japanese ships, orders and counter-orders were issued as the Japanese attempted to recover their strike aircraft and prepare for a second strike on the island, but when the Yorktown task force was discovered, orders were changed and air crews unloaded ground attack ordnance in favor of aerial torpedoes and armor piercing bombs. In their haste to get their aircraft ready to strike the Americans, the hard working Japanese aircrews did not have time to stow the ordnance removed from the aircraft. But due to their hard work at 1020 they had the Japanese strike group ready to launch against the US carriers. Aircraft and their crews awaited the order to launch, their aircraft fully armed and fully fueled.

There had been confusion among the Americans as to the exact location of the Japanese Carriers. Bombing 8 and Scouting 8 from Hornet made a wrong turn and not find the Japanese carriers. The squadrons had to return due to a lack of fuel and a number of bombers and their fighter escort had to ditch in the ocean and wait for rescue. The Enterprise group composed of Bombing-6 and Scouting 6 under CDR Wade McClusky was perilously low on fuel when they spotted the wake of a Japanese destroyer steaming at high speed to catch up with the Japanese carriers.  Taking a chance, McClusky followed it straight to the Japanese Task Force arriving about 1020. The Yorktown’s group under LCDR Max Leslie arrived about the same time.

When the American dive bombers arrived over the Japanese Carrier Strike Force they found the skies empty of Japanese aircraft. Below, aboard the Japanese ships there was a sense of exhilaration as each succeeding group of attackers was brought down and with their own aircraft ready to launch and deal a fatal blow to the American carrier wondered how big their victory would be. The war would soon be decided.

At 1020 the first Zero of the Japanese attack group began rolling down the flight deck of the flagship Akagi, aboard Kaga aircraft were warming up as they were on the Soryu.  The unsuspecting Japanese were finally alerted to the threat of the American dive bombers when lookouts screamed “helldivers.” The Japanese fighters assigned to the combat air patrol were flying too low as the mopped up the last of the doomed torpedo bombers and were not in a position to intercept the Americans.

Wade McClusky’s aircraft lined up over the Akagi and Kaga pushing into their dives at 1022. There was a bit of confusion when the bulk of Scouting 6 joined the attack of Bombing 6 on the Kaga. That unprepared ship was struck by four 1000 pound bombs which exploded on her flight deck and hangar deck igniting the fully fueled and armed aircraft of her strike group and the ordnance littered about the hangar deck.  Massive fires and explosions wracked the ship and in minutes the proud ship was reduced to an infernal hell with fires burning uncontrollably. She was abandoned and would sink at 1925 taking 800 of her crew with her.

LT Dick Best of Scouting 6 peeled off from the attack on Kaga and shifted to the Japanese flagship Akagi. On board Akagi were two of Japan’s legendary pilots CDR Mitsuo Fuchida leader of and CDR Minoru Genda the architect of the Pearl Harbor attack and subsequent string of Japanese victories. Both officers were on the sick list and had come up from sick bay to watch as the fleet was attacked. Seeing Kaga burst into flames they stood mesmerized until Akagi’s lookouts screamed out the warning “helldivers” at 1026.

Best’s few aircraft hit with deadly precision landing two of their bombs on Akagi’s flight deck creating havoc among the loaded aircraft and starting fires and igniting secondary explosions which turned the ship into a witch’s cauldron.  By 1046 Admiral Nagumo and his staff were forced to transfer the flag to the cruiser Nagara as Akagi’s crew tried to bring the flames under control. They would do so into the night until nothing more could be done and abandoned ship at 2000.  Admiral Yamamoto ordered her scuttled and at 0500 on June 5th the pride of the Japanese carrier force was scuttled.

VB-3 under LCDR Max Leslie from the Yorktown stuck the Soryu with 17 aircraft, however only 13 of the aircraft had bombs due to an electronic arming device malfunction on 4 of the aircraft, including that of Commander Leslie.  Despite this Leslie led the squadron as it dove on the Soryu at 1025 hitting that ship with 3 and maybe as many as 5 bombs. Soryu like her companions burst into flames as the ready aircraft and ordnance exploded about her deck. She was ordered abandoned at 1055 and would sink at 1915 taking 718 of her crew with her. A few hours later Hiryu, which had succeeded in launching strikes that seriously damaged Yorktown met the fate of her sisters. Yorktown would be sunk by a Japanese submarine, along with the destroyer Hamman a few days later as her crew attempted to get her to Pearl Harbor. In five pivotal minutes the course of the war in the Pacific was changed.

A Final Ignominy

Sinking_of_japanese_cruiser_Mikuma_6_june_1942

Admiral 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 strong personal doubts, ordered Vice Admiral Nobutake Kondo to prepare for a night surface engagement with the US Fleet and dispatched 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 then organized his fleet to attempt to find the American carriers and bring them to battle before dawn.

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.

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.

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. However, Marine Captain Richard Fleming, his Vindicator on fire dropped his bomb and then crashed his aircraft into Mikuma’s after turret. Sailors aboard Mogami were impressed, the American had sacrificed himself in a suicide attack worthy of the Samurai. The fire was sucked down air intakes into the starboard engine room with disastrous results. The Mikuma’s engineers were suffocated by the smoke and fumes and Mikuma was greatly reduced in speed.

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.

Epilogue

At Midway a distinctly smaller force defeated a vastly superior fleet in terms of experience, training and equipment. At the very moment that it appeared to the Japanese that they would advance to victory their vision disappeared. In a span of less than 5 minutes what looked like the certain defeat of the US Navy became one of the most incredible and even miraculous victories in the history of Naval warfare. In those 5 minutes history was changed in a breathtaking way. While the war would drag on and the Japanese still inflict painful losses and defeats on the US Navy in the waters around Guadalcanal the tide had turned and the Japanese lost the initiative in the Pacific never to regain it.

The Japanese government hid the defeat from the Japanese people instead proclaiming a great victory. The American government could not fully publicize the victory for fear of revealing the intelligence that led to the ability of the US Navy to be at the right place at the right time and defeat the Imperial Navy.

The American victory at Midway changed the course of the war in the Pacific. The Battle of Midway established the aircraft carrier and the fast carrier task force as the dominant force in naval warfare which some would argue it still remains. Finally those five minutes ushered in an era of US Navy dominance of the high seas which at least as of yet has not ended as the successors to the Enterprise, Hornet and Yorktown ply the oceans of the world and the descendants of those valiant carrier air groups ensure air superiority over battlefields around the world today.

 

1 Comment

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