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The Last Of the Carriers that Held the Line Found: USS Hornet Discovered 17,000 Feet Below the Pacific

Quadruple 1.1 inch Anti-Aircraft Gun Mount on USS Hornet 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The crew and research teams on the late Paul Allen’s research vessel, the RV Petrel made a tremendous maritime discovery in late January near where Hornet sank following massive damage sustained during the Battle Of the Santa Cruz Islands on October 26th 1942.

 

USS Hornet CV-8 Building at Newport News VA

 

Hornet as Completed off Hampton Roads shortly after Her Commissioning

The USS Hornet CV-8 was the third ship of the Yorktown Class and is sometimes referred to as her own one ship Hornet Class.  Laid down on 25 September1939 under the Naval Expansion act of May 17th 1938, Hornet was part of the pre-war naval build up authorized by President and Congress.  The previous Yorktown design was used to speed construction.  Hornet was slightly modified from her sisters Yorktown and Enterprise being 15 feet longer, 5 feet wider in the beam and displacing about 1000 tons more than her near sisters.  Her anti-aircraft armament was also slightly improved.  As with her near sisters Hornet had good protection except that her underwater protection was weak.  However, as would be born out in combat Hornet like her sisters would prove to be extraordinarily tough.

Hornet in Rough Seas Preparing to Launch the Doolittle Raid

Hornet was launched on 14 December 1940 and commissioned 25 October 1941 with Naval Aviation pioneer Captain Marc A Mitscher Commanding. Hornet conducted her initial training and air group qualifications while operating out of Norfolk.  On February 2nd two Army Air Corps B-25 Medium Bombers were loaded aboard.  As Hornet put to sea the bombers were launched to the astonishment of the crew. Hornet departed Norfolk for the Pacific where she embarked 16 B-25s under the command of Colonel Jimmy Doolittle.  Hornet’s own air group was stowed in the hanger bay.  On April 2nd Hornet departed from San Francisco for a rendezvous with Admiral Halsey’s Task Force 16 and her sister ship Enterprise.  As the ship departed Mitscher informed the crew of their mission.  Hornet would launch Colonel Doolittle’s aircraft against the heart of the Imperial Japanese Empire, Tokyo.

Hornet Launching B-25

The plan was for the task force to sail to 400 miles from Japan and launch the bombers. Enterprise  was to provide air cover for the task force while Hornet’s air group was inaccessible while the bombers remained aboard.  On the morning of 18 April the task force was spotted by a Japanese patrol boat.  The craft was quickly dispatched by the heavy cruiser USS Nashville  but not before the craft had reported the presence of the task force.  Though the task force was still 600 some miles from Japan Halsey ordered that Doolittle’s aircraft be launched against Tokyo.  The attack while militarily insignificant came as a major surprise to the Japanese who anticipating a raid by naval aircraft believed that any attack could not take place until the following day.  Even more significantly the attack stunned the Japanese military establishment, especially the Navy. The attack would provoke Admiral Yamamoto to attack Midway in order to draw out the American carriers and destroy them.

Hornet Arrives at Pearl Harbor Before Midway

Hornet along with Task Force 16 sailed back to Pearl Harbor arriving a week later and the mission would remain secret for over a year.  The task force steamed to assist the Yorktown and Lexington at the Battle of Coral Sea but that battle was over before they could arrive.  The task force returned to Pearl Harbor on the 26th of May and sail on the 28th for Midway.  Hornet’s air group was plagued with bad luck.  Torpedo Squadron 8, or Torpedo 8 commanded by LCDR John Waldron found and attacked the Japanese task force losing all aircraft and all pilots save one.  6 new TBF Avengers from her air group operating from Midway met with heavy losses in their attack against the Japanese.  Only one pilot from Torpedo 8 with Waldron’s group survived, Ensign George Gay.  Hornet’s dive bombers followed bad reports of the location of the Japanese carriers and took no part in the action.  Many would have to ditch in the ocean as they ran out of fuel.  Hornet’s air group would help sink the Japanese Heavy Cruiser Mikuma and heavily damaged Mogami on the 6th.  The Battle of Midway was one of the major turning points of the war.  The Japanese had lost six carriers which had attacked Pearl Harbor along with their aircraft and many of their highly trained pilots and flight crews. Coupled with their losses at Coral Sea the Japanese suffered losses that they could ill afford and could not easily replace.

Following Midway Hornet had new radar installed and trained out of Pearl Harbor until order to the Southwest Pacific to take part in the struggle for Guadalcanal.  By the time she arrived she was the only operational American carrier in the Pacific. Enterprise had suffered bomb damage at the Battle of Easter Solomons on August 24th; Saratoga was damaged by a submarine torpedo on August 31stand the Wasp was sunk by a submarine on September 15th.  In the space of 3 weeks the United States Navy had lost 3/4ths of its operational carriers in the waters off of Guadalcanal. Hornet now faced the Japanese alone, providing much of the badly needed air support for the Marines fighting ashore.

Hornet Under Attack: Note “Val” Dive Bomber about to crash ship

The Enterprise rejoined Hornet following hasty repairs off the New Hebrides Islands on October 24th.  On the 26th they joined battle with a Japanese task force of 4 carriers centered on the veterans Shokaku and Zuikaku. The Hornet’s aircraft attacked and seriously damaged Shokaku even as Japanese torpedo planes and dive bombers launched a well coordinated attack against Hornet. Hornet was hit by three bombs, two torpedoes and had two bomb laden Val dive bombers.  On fire and without power her damage control parties fought to regain control of the ship and extinguish the fires that blazed aboard her.

Hornet’s Damaged Island and Main Mast

Assisted by the heavy cruiser Northampton which took her in tow her crew brought the fires under control and were close to restoring power when another Japanese strike group found her and put another torpedo into her.  This hit sealed the fate of Hornet. 

USS Northampton Preparing to take Hornet under Tow 

With this hit Hornet’s list increased and she was abandoned even as she was hit by another bomb.  With Japanese ships in the area it was decided to scuttle the ship. Escorting destroyers hit her with 9 torpedoes and over 400 rounds of 5” shells.  As Hornet blazed in the night her escorts withdrew and a Japanese surface force arrived. The destroyers Makigumu and Akigumo finished the heroic but doomed ship off with four of their 24” “Long Lance” torpedoes. She sank beneath the waves at 0135 hours on October 27th.

140 members of her crew went down with their ship.

Hornet Being Abandoned by Her Crew

In her last fight Hornet’s aircraft along with those of Enterprise mauled the air groups of Shokaku and Zuikaku, again inflicting irreplaceable losses among their experienced air crews.  In the battle Hornet  was hit by 4 bombs, two aircraft, 16 torpedoes and over 400 rounds of 5” shells, more hits than were sustained by any other US carrier in a single action during the war.  She was stuck from the Navy list on 13 January 1943 and her gallant Torpedo 8 was awarded the Navy Presidential Unit Citation “for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service beyond the call of duty” in the Battle of Midway.  Her name was given to the Essex Class carrier CV-12.

The new Hornet served throughout the war and served well into the Cold War.  She now rests as a Museum ship at Alameda California. There is currently no Hornet in commission today. With two new Gerald Ford Class carriers approved, one to be named Enterprise, it might be a a good thing to name the next of the class Hornet. 

The USS Hornet Association website is here:  http://www.usshornetassn.com/

The Museum site is here: http://www.uss-hornet.org/

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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

Wings of Gold: U.S. Navy Carrier Aircraft 1941-1945

F4F-4 Wildcat of VF-41 in 1942

In 1941 with war raging in Europe and with the Japanese continuing their war in China and occupying French Indo-China the United States rushed to build up its Naval Air Arm and the Arm Air Corps.  New models of aircraft of all types were being rushed into production to replace aircraft already known to be obsolescent.  The Navy brought aircraft already accepted into full production even as it planned more advanced models.  The events in Europe and Asia demonstrated that new fighter designs were needed quickly.

As 1940 dawned the standard fighter aircraft found on U.S. Navy carriers were the F2-A Brewster Buffalo, the Grumman F-3F biplane.  In February 1940 the Navy accepted its first F4F-3 Wildcat which in an earlier for had been rejected in favor of the Brewster Buffalo.  The new Grumman fighter was powered by a 1200 hp Pratt & Whitney R-1830-76 double row radial engine, mounted 4 .50 cal. Machine guns and was heavily armored.  It had a maximum speed of 331 mph range of 845 miles and ceiling of 39500 feet. This would serve it and its pilots well as they aircraft was incredibly tough, often amazing experienced Japanese pilots in their A6M2 Zeros in their ability to suffer heavy damage and remain in the air.  The plucky Wildcat would become the main line of defense in the Pacific against the advancing Japanese Imperial Navy in the months following Pearl Harbor.

The early F4F-3s were superseded by the F4F-4 model which incorporated folding wings, additional armor and an extra two machine guns.  This decreased its maximum speed to 320 mph, rate of climb and ceiling but nonetheless the aircraft gave a good account of itself in Navy and Marine Corps service.  F4F-3’s and F4F-4s served in the British Royal Navy where it was called the Martlet until the end of the war.  When Grumman closed out F4F production in 1943 to concentrate on its replacement the F6F Hellcat production was continued by General Motors and Eastern Aircraft as the FM1 and FM2 Wildcat. The FM1 was identical to the F4F-4 but armament was reduced to 4 machine guns and bomb racks for two 250 lb bombs or depth charges were added.  The FM2 was based on an updated version of the F4F and had a more powerful engine as well as a higher tail assembly to account for the increased torque of the engine.  These aircraft served aboard the tiny Escort Carriers and performed valiantly, especially in the Battle off Samar during the Battle of Leyte Gulf.  A total of 7860 Wildcats of all varieties were built.  They accounted for 1327 enemy aircraft shot down with the loss of only 191 Wildcats.

Aces Capt Joe Foss USMC and CAPT David McConnell USN both Medal of Honor Winners and CDR Jimmy Thatch (below)

The top aces who flew the Wildcat were all Marines, CAPT Joe Foss (26 victories) MAJ John Lucian Smith (19 victories) and MAJ Marion Carl (16 victories in the F4F and 2 in the F4U Corsair). Foss and Smith both won the Medal of Honor.  Foss would go on to become Governor of South Dakota and the first Commissioner of the American Football League in 1959. Smith retired as a Colonel in 1960 and Carl as a Major General.  Other distinguished F4F aces included LT Butch O’Hare, the first U.S. Navy ace and Medal of Honor winner and LCDR Jimmy Thatch who developed the highly successful “Thatch Weave” which enabled the U.S.pilots whose machines were slower and less maneuverable than the speedy and nimble Zeros to achieve good success against their Japanese foe.  Thatch retired as an Admiral in 1967.  O’Hare rose to become commander of the Enterprise Air Group and was killed in action in November 1943. Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport is named for this brave aviator.

F6F Hellcat

The Grumman F6F Hellcat took over front line fighter duties on the Fleet Carriers from the Wildcat in early 1943 and established itself as the dominant fighter in the Pacific Theater of Operations.  Although it had a resemblance to the F4F the F6F was a totally new design built on combat experience against the Japanese.  The aircraft was built around the powerful Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engine which produced 2000 hp.  The Hellcat mounted six .50 caliber machine guns and had a rate of climb of 3500 feet per minute and a 37300 ft operational ceiling.

Faster than the Zero and other Japanese fighters and piloted by more experienced pilots the Hellcats took a brutal toll of Japanese aircraft.  They accounted for more Japanese aircraft kills than any other with 5163 confirmed kills with a loss of 270 aircraft an overall 19:1 kill ratio. They were piloted by 305 Navy and Marine Corps aces including Meal of Honor winner Captain David McConnell the Navy’s Ace of Aces, and highest surviving United States ace of the war that scored all 34 of his victories in the Hellcat.  The greatest achievement of the Hellcats were when they swept the rebuilt Japanese Naval Air Arm from the skies in the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot. By November 1945 12275 Hellcats had been built with 1263 going to the British Royal Navy. After the war the Hellcat was replaced by the F8F Bearcat as the primary fighter and served in a night fighter and trainer role until the 1950s.  The French Navy used the Hellcat in to provide heroic close air support to beleaguered French Soldiers in Indochina.

USMC F4U-4 Corsair providing close air support

Flying alongside the F6F was the Vaught F4U Corsair. The Corsair first flew in 1940 and the Navy was slow to adopt it due to difficulties in carrier operations and negative reviews of Navy pilots.  However Marine Corps aviators flying the Corsair had great success and legendary aviators like MAJ Gregory “Pappy” Boyington and VMF-214 the Black Sheep.  The Navy would adopt the aircraft later in the war as the Corsair’s carrier operation deficiencies were remedied, but its real success was a land based aircraft operated by the Marines.  Likewise the first squadrons to operate the aircraft successfully from carriers were the Marine Corps VMF-124 and VMF-213.

Early F4U-1

The Corsair mounted the same Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engine as the F6F but had a highly streamlined gull wing design as well as a turbo-charger which allowed it a top speed of 425 mph.  Later models such as the F4U-4 had a top speed of 445 mph. The F4F was armed with six .50 cal machine guns as well as rockets and a bomb load of 2000 pounds and the F4U-4 could carry 4000 pounds of ordnance.

Less than 10000 of the over 64000 combat sorties flown by F4Us were flown from carriers, the vast bulk of the sorties coming from land based Marine Corps squadrons.  The Corsair was often used as a fighter bomber where its capabilities to drop sizable amounts of ordinance including rockets, bombs and the nearly developed Napalm in a close air support role cemented the importance of Marine Air for future generations.  They were beloved by the Marine Corps and U.S. Army infantrymen in their brutal battles with the Japanese on many hellish island battlefields.  Corsairs accounted for 2140 confirmed kills during the war against a combat loss of 189 aircraft. The aircraft remained in production until 1952 with 12571 aircraft of all variants being built.  Many Japanese pilots considered the Corsair to be the best fighter of the war.

During the war many Corsairs served in the British Royal Navy and Royal New Zealand Air Force with good success, and after the war the French Navy had success with them in a close air support role in Indochina and Algeria.  Following the war the Corsair remained in service for many years in the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps as well as the French Navy and other smaller navies and air forces until the 1960s.

The Douglas SBD Dive Bomber was arguably the most effective Naval dive bomber of World War II, and possibly the best single engine dive bomber of all time. Other aircraft may have been faster or carried a larger bomb load, but the SBD, which served at a time when the U.S. Navy did not have air superiority and battled seasoned Japanese pilots and aircrews, achieved remarkable results,

The SBD was developed from the Northrop BT-2, after Douglas took over Northrop. The first model of the Dauntless, the SBD-1 began operations with the U.S. Marine Corps In 1940, the SBD-2 with the U.S. Navy in 1941. The SBD-3 which included more armor for the crew, and self sealing fuel tanks began entering service in late 1941.

The SBD combined a heavy bomb load, excellent bombing optics, great defensive armament, rugged construction, excellent handling characteristics and maneuverability, and superb dive bombing capabilities. It became the workhorse of the U.S. Navy between 1941 and 1944, flying about 25% of all missions flown from Navy carriers during that time. SBDs sank or damaged six Japanese Aircraft carriers, one Japanese and one French battleship, 14 cruisers, 6 destroyers, and many other ships including transports and submarines. It was the Dauntless which turn the tide of the Pacific war when at Midway they sank the Japanese aircraft carriers Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, and Hiryu and the heavy cruiser Mikuma. The SBD also accounted for more enemy aircraft in aerial combat than were lost to enemy aircraft, an amazing accomplishment by any bomber of any type.

In late 1944 after the Battle Of the Philippine Sea the Dauntless was phased out of U.S. Navy squadrons by the SB2C Helldiver. Though the Helldiver was bigger, faster, and carried a higher bomb load, many pilots preferred the Dauntless due to its superior handling characteristics, especially at low speeds, essential to landing on a carrier. It is hard to believe that the United States would have prevailed in 1942 without the Dauntless.

It was used in combat by other allies, a variant, the A-24 Banshee was built for the U.S. Army Air Force. The French operates it from the carrier Arromanches in Indochina until 1949.

SBD Dauntless Dive Bomber above and at Midway below

TBF Avenger above and below

The TBF Avenger torpedo bomber was developed as a replacement for the TBD Devastator by in 1940 by Leroy Grumman of Grumman aircraft. Production began in 1941 and the first combat by the aircraft was at the Battle of Midway. During that battle, 6 aircraft from VT-6, based at Midway while the rest of the squadron flying TBD Devastators from the USS Hornet attacked the Japanese carrier strike force. All of the TBD were shot down, as well as 5 of the 6 TBFs.

Despite the inauspicious start the TBFs became one of the deadliest aircraft of the Second World War. They helped sink the largest Battleships ever constructed, the Japanese Musashi and Yamato, as well as many other warships and auxiliaries. They conducted bombing missions of land targets, and operated from Escort Carriers in Anti-Submarine Warfare operations and supporting invasions and shore operations. The Avenger was particularly effective in the ASW role and was credited with sinking about 30 German U-Boats and Japanese submarines during the war.

The TBF was the largest single engine aircraft of the war, only the P-47 Thunderbolt was anywhere close to its size. Despite this the TBF was able to operate from the smallest aircraft carriers. Powered by a 1900 HP Wright R-2600-20 Twin Cyclone 14 Cylinder radial engine it could cruise at over 30,000 feet at a top speed of 275 MPH while carrying 2,000 pounds of bombs or a Mark 13 Aerial Torpedo. They also carried racks for 5″ High Velocity Aircraft Rockets and depth charges.

After the war it served in a variety of roles in the U.S. Navy, Royal Navy, Canadian Navy, French Navy, and other militaries until the 1960s. In peacetime it was used for many years as a fire fighting aircraft in the United States and Canada.

LTjg. George H. W. Bush in the cockpit of his Avenger

The most famous man to pilot a TBF/TBM was LTjg George H. W. Bush, later the President of the United States whose aircraft was shot down over Chuchi Jima In 1944.

SB2C Helldiver above and in French Service below

The replacement for the Dauntless was the SB2C Curtiss Helldiver. The Helldiver was bigger and faster than the Dauntless but for its size it was underpowered, and had a shorter range that the beloved Dauntless. The Helldiver had very poor performance in flight, had unreliable electrical and hydraulic systems and frequently was poorly manufactured. The defects made it less than popular among the aircrews which had previously flown the Dauntless who came to call it the Beast. The problems would lead to a Congressional investigation headed by Senator Harry Truman. During the hearings Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Air, Artemis Gates said: “When we needed the SB2C Helldiver neither we nor it was ready.”

The British Royal Navy and Australian Air Force evaluated the Helldiver and rejected it for service, cancelling their orders for it.

Despite the many flaws of the aircraft the superbly trained pilots and air crews made the most of it, sinking hundreds of Japanese ships and watercraft. From late 1944 until the end of the war it established a good combat record, though it never had to fight against the well trained Japanese pilots that the Dauntless aircrews had to face.

However, the Navy, and most air forces were moving away from the dive bomber as an attack aircraft. The U. S. Navy found that its F6F Hellcats, and F4U Corsairs could carry as heavy as payload in rockets and bombs as the Helldiver though the ordnance decreased their range. But even so the fighters were far better able to defend themselves against enemy fighter aircraft.

The aircraft served in the U. S. Navy and Naval Reserve until 1950. It also served in Greece where it was used in counter-insurgency (COIN) missions during the Greek Civil War, and by the French Navy during the Indochina campaign, including providing closer air support to French troops at Dien Bien Phu. The Italian Air Force was the last to operate the Helldiver, retiring it in 1959.

With the advent of rockets the dive bomber was replaced by single seat fighters and attack aircraft. The Helldiver was the last purpose built dive bomber. In the U.S. the Hellcat, Corsair, the postwar F8F Bearcat, the P-51 Mustang, and the P-47 Thunderbolt took over ground attack missions. The A4D Skyraider was designed as a ground attack aircraft, and eventually jet powered fighter-bombers would enter service.

These amazing aircraft and the men that flew them established a tradition of excellence that the Naval Aviators of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps continue today.

Peace

Padre Steve

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Filed under aircraft, History, Loose thoughts and musings, Military, US Navy, World War II at Sea, world war two in the pacific

The Ships at Pearl Harbor, December 7th 1941: A Brief History of Each Ship

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The attack on Pearl Harbor is one of the seminal moments in the history of the United States where at one time the nation rose up as one to the challenge of an attack against it and against its armed forces. Sadly, for most Americans today no matter what their political ideology the concept of coming together in a crisis is a foreign and possibly even a hateful idea.

However, in December 1941 the Pacific Fleet of the United States Navy was attacked at Pearl Harbor of the nation came together as it never had before. On the morning of December 7th 1941 there were over ninety ships of the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. While over twenty percent of these ships were sunk or damaged in the attack, almost all returned to service in the war. Likewise, many of the surviving shipswere lost in action during the war. Only two ships or craft remain of the ships present on December 7th 1941, the tug USS Hoga and the Coast Guard Cutter USCG Taney which is now a museum ship in Baltimore Maryland. The rest, lost in action, sunk as targets or scrapped. Of the gallant men who served as their crews during the war and at Pearl Harbor very few remain. They are part of what we now refer as the “Greatest Generation.” 

In 1978 I had the opportunity to visit Pearl Harbor and visit the USS Arizona and USS Utah Memorials during what was a nearly three week long cruise and visit to Pearl Harbor while a Navy Junior ROTC Cadet.  I cannot forget forget that experience, as the visits to both memorials, sited above the wrecks of the two sunken ships in which more than 1000 Americans remain entombed to this day left a mark on me.

Today I remember all of the ships present, from the greatest to the most humble, as well as their gallant crews, many of whom were volunteers who had gone into service not long before the attack, because they believed that the nation was in danger who were present at Pearl Harbor on December 7th 1941. I also remember a government which though torn by by ideological differences decided to unite to meet the threat of advancing enemies even before they targeted the United States.

The fact ids that only two of the ships present at the Pearl Harbor attack are still afloat, and the vast majority of their crews have passed away. Very few survivors of that day of infamy remain and it is our sad task to keep reminding the nation and the world of the price of arrogance.

This is the story of the ships that were at Pearl Harbor that fateful morning of December 7th 1941.

Peace

Padre Steve+

A few years ago I wrote a piece called The Battleships of Pearl Harbor. I have added to it, and recently republished it. I followed that with an article entitled “Forgotten on the Far Side of Ford Island: The USS Utah, USS Raleigh, USS Detroit and USS Tangier.

Of course most anyone that has see either Tora! Tora! Tora! or Pearl Harbor is acquainted with the attack on “Battleship Row” and the airfields on Oahu.  What are often overlooked in many accounts are the stories of some of the lesser known ships that played key roles or were damaged in the attack.  Since none of the articles that I have seen have discussed all of the U.S. Navy ships at Pearl Harbor on that fateful morning I have taken the time to list all the ships with the exception of yard and patrol craft present at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941.I have also excluded Coast Guard cutters in Honolulu. A brief account of each ship’s war service and final disposition is included.  I believe that this is the only site that has this information in a single article.

During the attack 18 ships were sunk or damaged but only three, Arizona, Oklahoma and Utah never returned to service.  During the war a further 18 ships were sunk or written off as losses during the war. All ships lost in the war are marked with an asterisk. One ship, the USS Castor remained in active service until 1968 serving in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. One ship, the Light Cruiser Phoenix was sunk in the Falklands War while serving as the Argentine ship General Belgrano. No U.S. Navy ships apart from the Yard Tug Hoga (not included in this article) remain today.  It is unfortunate that the Navy or any organization had the foresight to save one of these ships. It would have been fitting for one of the battleships that survived the war to be preserved as a memorial ship near the Arizona Memorial. While the USS Missouri serves this purpose symbolic of the end of the war it is a pity that no ship at Pearl Harbor was preserved so that people could see for themselves what these gallant ships was like.

Battleships

uss Nevadab36

Nevada (BB-36) Nevada was the only Battleship to get underway during the attack.  As she attempted to escape the harbor she was heavily damaged and to prevent her sinking in the main channel she was beached off Hospital Point.  She would be raised and returned to service by the May 1943 assault on Attu.  She would then return to the Atlantic where she would take part in the Normandy landings off Utah Beach and the invasion of southern France in July 1944.  She then returned to the Pacific and took part in the operations against Iwo Jima and Okinawa where she again provided naval gunfire support.  Following the war she would be assigned as a target at the Bikini atoll atomic bomb tests, surviving these she would be sunk as a target on 31 July 1948. She received 7 battle stars for her WWII service.

uss_oklahoma1

USS Oklahoma

*Oklahoma (BB-37) During the Pearl Harbor attack Oklahomawas struck by 5 aerial torpedoes capsized and sank at her mooring with the loss of 415 officers and crew. Her hulk would be raised but she would never again see service and sank on the way to the breakers in 1946.  She was awarded one battle star for her service during the attack.

USS Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania (BB-38) Pennsylvania was the Pacific Fleet Flagship on December 7th 1941 and was in dry dock undergoing maintenance at the time of the attack. Struck by two bombs she received minor damage and would be in action in early 1942. She underwent minor refits and took part in many amphibious landings in the Pacific and was present at the Battle of Surigo Strait.  Heavily damaged by an aerial torpedo at Okinawa Pennsylvania would be repaired and following the war used as a target for the atomic bomb tests. She was sunk as a gunnery target in 1948.  She received 8 battle stars for her WWII service.

USS_Arizona_(BB-39)_-_1930s

The USS Arizona before the attack

*Arizona (BB-39) Arizona was destroyed during the attack.  Hit by 8 armor piercing bombs one of which penetrated her forward black powder magazine she was consumed in a cataclysmic explosion which killed 1103 of her 1400 member crew.  She was decommissioned as a war loss but her colors are raised and lowered every day over the Memorial which sits astride her broken hull.  She received one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

Tennessee (BB-43) Tennessee was damaged by two bombs and was shield from torpedo hits by West Virginia. After repairs she conducted operations in the Pacific until she reported to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in August 1942 for a complete rebuild and modernized with the latest in radar, fire control equipment and anti-aircraft armaments. She returned to active service in May 1943. She provided Naval Gunfire support in numerous amphibious operations and was a key ship during the Battle of Surigo Strait firing in six-gun salvos to make careful use of her limited supply of armor-piercing projectiles, Tennessee got off 69 of her big 14-inch bullets before checking fire.  Her gunfire helped sink the Japanese Battleships Fuso and Yamishiro and other ships of Admiral Nishimura’s Southern Force.  She was damaged by a Kamikaze off Okinawa on 18 April 1945 which killed 22 and wounded 107 of her crew but did not put her out of action.  Her final assignment of the war was to cover the landing of occupation troops at Wakayama, Japan.  She was decommissioned in 1947 and remained in reserve until 1959 when she was sold for scrap. Tennessee earned a Navy Unit Commendation and 10 battles stars for World War II service.

USSCalifornia

USS California transiting the Panama Canal

California (BB-44) California was hit by two torpedoes but had the bad luck to have all of her major watertight hatches unhinged in preparation for an inspection. Hit by two torpedoes and two bombs she sank at her moorings suffering the loss of 98 killed and 61 wounded. She was refloated and received temporary repairs at Pearl Harbor before sailing to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard to be completely rebuilt and modernized with the latest in radar, fire control equipment and anti-aircraft armaments. She returned to service in January 1944. She saw her first action in the Marianas and was in continuous action to the end of the war. She played an important part in the Battle of Surigo Strait and in the amphibious landings at Guam and Tinian, Leyte, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.  She was decommissioned in 1947 and placed in reserve finally being sold for scrap in 1959. She received 7 battle stars for her WWII service.

Maryland (BB-45) At Pearl Harbor Maryland was moored inboard of Oklahoma and was hit by 2 bombs.  She would be quickly repaired and returned to action and receive minimal modernization during the war. She would participate in operations throughout the entirety of the Pacific Campaign providing naval gunfire support to the landings at Tarawa, Kwajalein, Saipan, where she was damaged by an aerial torpedo, Palau, Leyte where she was damaged by a Kamikaze, Okinawa and the battleship action at Surigo Strait.  Decommissioned in 1947 she was placed in reserve and sold for scrap in 1959. On 2 June 1961 the Honorable J. Millard Tawes, Governor of Maryland, dedicated a lasting monument to the memory of the venerable battleship and her fighting men. Built of granite and bronze and incorporating the bell of “Fighting Mary,” this monument honors a ship and her 258 men who gave their lives while serving aboard her in WWII.  This monument is located on the grounds of the State House, Annapolis, Md. Maryland received seven battle stars for World War II service.

The USS West Virginia before the war and after her salvage and reconstruction

West Virginia (BB-48) West Virginia suffered some of the worst damage in the attack. Hit by at least 5 torpedoes and two bombs she was saved from Oklahoma’s fate by the quick action of her damage control officer to counter flood so she would sink on an even keel.  She would be raised, refloated and taken back to the West Coast for an extensive modernization on the order of the Tennessee and California. The last Pearl Harbor battleship to re-enter service she made up for lost time as she lead the battle line at Surigo Strait firing 16 full salvos at the Japanese squadron helping sink the Japanese Battleship Yamashiro in the last battleship versus battleship action in history West Virginia was decommissioned in 1947, placed in reserve and sold for scrap in 1959.

Heavy Cruisers

New Orleans (CA-32) Minor shrapnel damage from near miss. Fought throughout the war in the Pacific; bow blown off by Japanese torpedo at Battle of Trassafaronga in November 1942, repaired. 17 battle stars for WWII service, decommissioned 1947 and sold for scrap in 1957.

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USS San Francisco CA-38

San Francisco (CA-38 Undamaged at Pearl Harbor, fought through Pacific war, most noted for actions at the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal fighting Japanese Battleship Hiei. Decommissioned 1946 and sold for scrap in 1959. San Francisco earned 17 battle stars during World War II. For her participation in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, she was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. For the same action, three members of her crew were awarded the Medal of Honor: Lieutenant Commander Herbert E. Schonland, Lieutenant Commander Bruce McCandless , and Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Reinhardt J. Keppler (posthumous). Admiral Daniel Callaghan was also awarded the Medal of Honor (posthumous).  During the November 1942 repair at Mare Island, it was necessary to extensively rebuild the bridge. The bridge wings were removed as part of that repair, and are now mounted on a promontory in Lands End, San Francisco at Golden Gate National Recreation Area overlooking the Pacific Ocean. They are set on the great circle course from San Francisco  to Guadalcanal.  The old ship’s bell is housed at the Marines Memorial Club in San Francisco.

Light Cruisers

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Raleigh (CL-7) Heavily damaged by torpedo, repaired served throughout war mainly in North Pacific . Decommissioned 1945 and scrapped 1946

Detroit (CL-8) Undamaged and got underway during attack. Mainly served in North Pacific and on convoy duty earning 6 battle stars for WWII service, decommissioned and sold for scrap 1946

USS Phoenix

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The Argentine Navy Cruiser General Belgrano, the former USS Phoenix sinking during the Battle of the Falklands 1982

Phoenix (CL-46) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor and served throughout war and at the Battle of Surigo Strait she helped sink the Japanese Battleship Fuso.  She earned 9 battle stars for WWII service. Decommissioned 1946 and transferred to Argentina 1951. Served as General Belgrano and sunk by submarine HMS Conqueror on 2 May 1982 during the Falklands War.

Honolulu (CL-48) Suffered minor hull damage from near miss. Served in Pacific and fought several engagements against Japanese surface forces in the Solomons. At the Battle of Kolombangara on the night of 12-13 July 1943 she was damaged by a torpedo but sank the Japanese Light Cruiser Jintsu. Earned 9 battle stars for WWII service, decommissioned 1947 and sold for scrap 1949

USS St. Louis

St. Louis (CL-49) St. Louis got underway at 0930 nearly torpedoed by Japanese midget sub. She served throughout war in numerous operations and was damaged at the Battle of Kolombangara. She earned 11 battle stars for WWII service. She decommissioned 1946 and transferred to Brazil where she was renamed Tamandare stricken in 1976 sold for scrap in 1980 but sank while under tow to Taiwan.

*Helena (CL-50) Damaged and repaired. Engaged in many battles around Solomon Islands where at the Battle of Cape Esperance at Guadalcanal she sank the Japanese Heavy Cruiser Furutaka and destroyer Fubiki. She was engaged during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal and was sunk at Battle of Kula Gulf 6 July 1943.  She was the first ship to be awarded the Naval Unit Commendation and was awarded 7 battle stars for her WWII service.

Destroyers

Allen (DD-66) Undamaged during attack spent war in local operations in Oahu area. Decommissioned 1945 and scrapped 1946

Schley (DD-103) Being overhauled on December 7th was undamaged in attack. Converted into High Speed Transport (APD) in 1942, earned 11 battle stars for WWII service and decommissioned in 1945 and scrapped in 1946

Chew (DD-106) Undamaged during attack and conducted local operations in Oahu operations for remainder or war, decommissioned 1945 and scrapped 1946.

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USS Ward

*Ward (DD-139) Ward was underway patrolling Channel entrance to Pearl Harbor on December 7th, sank Japanese midget submarine. Converted to APD in 1943 and served in numerous operations prior to being heavily damaged by Japanese bombers at Ormoc Bay off Leyte in December 1944 starting fires that could not be controlled. She was sunk by USS O’Brien (DD-725) after survivors were rescued. By a strange twist of fate the C.O. of O’Brien LCDR Outerbridge who had commanded Ward when she sank the Japanese submarine at Pearl Harbor. Ward earned 10 battle stars for WWII service.

Dewey (DD-349) Being overhauled on December 7th Dewey served throughout the war earning 13 battle stars escorting carriers, convoys and supporting amphibious operations. Decommissioned October 1945 and sold for scrap 1946

Farragut (DD-348) Got underway during attack suffered minor damage from strafing. During the war she operated from the Aleutians to the South Pacific and Central Pacific escorting carriers and supporting amphibious operations. She earned 14 battle stars for WWII service. Decommissioned 1945 and sold for scrap 1947

*Hull (DD-350) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor she operated from the Aleutians to the South Pacific and Central Pacific escorting carriers and supporting amphibious operations. She earned 10 battle stars before sinking in “Halsey’s Typhoon” on 18 December 1944.

MacDonough (DD-351) MacDonough got underway during attack and was undamaged, during war served in North and Central Pacific escorting carriers and supporting amphibious operations. She earned 13 battle stars for her WWII service. Decommissioned October 1945 and sold for scrap 1946

*Worden (DD-352) Worden got underway during attack and went to sea with ships searching for Japanese strike force. Served at Midway and the South Pacific before being transferred to the Aleutians where she grounded on a pinnacle due to winds and currents at Constantine Harbor Amchitka Island on 12 January 193, she broke up in the surf and was written off as a total loss. Wordenwas awarded 4 battle stars for her WWII service.

Dale (DD-353) Dale got underway immediately under the command of her Command Duty Officer, an Ensign and joined ships searching for Japanese strike force. During war served in North and Central Pacific and took part in the Battle of the Komandorski Islands on 26 March 1943.  Earned 12 battle stars for WWII service, decommissioned October 1945 sold for scrap December 1946.

*Monaghan (DD-354)  Monaghan was the Ready destroyer on December 7th and ordered underway when Ward sank the midget submarine. On way out of harbor rammed, depth charged and sank a Japanese midget submarine that had gotten into Pearl Harbor. She participated in Coral Sea, Midway, Aleutians, the Battle of the Komandorski Islands and Central Pacific operations before sinking with the loss of all but 6 crewmen during the great Typhoon of November 1944 sinking on 17 November. She received 12 battle stars for her WWII service.

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USS Aylwin

Aylwin (DD-355) Got underway within an hour of the beginning of the attack with 50% of her crew and four officers, all Ensigns manning her leaving her Commanding Officer and others behind in a launch as she was under direction not to stop for anything. This incident was captured in the movie In Harm’s Way. During the war Aylwin saw action at Coral Sea, Midway, Guadalcanal, the Aleutians, and the Central Pacific up to the Okinawa and due to the action of her crew survived the great typhoon of November 1944. She earned 13 battle stars for her WWII service and was decommissioned in October 1945. She was sold for scrap in December 1946.

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USS Selfridge

Selfridge (DD-357) Manned by a crew from 7 different ships Selfridge got underway at 1300 and was undamaged in the attack. Throughout war she served primarily as an escort to carriers and transports. Torpedoed by Japanese destroyer and lost her bow at Battle of Vella Lavella on 6 October 1942. Repaired and finished war. Earned 4 battle stars for WWII service and was decommissioned in October 1945 and sold for scrap in December 1946.

Phelps (DD-360) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Phelps was credited with shooting down one enemy aircraft. She was in action at Coral Sea, Midway, Guadalcanal, the Aleutians and the Central Pacific picking up 12 battle stars for her WWII service. Decommissioned in October 1945 and scrapped 1947.

Cummings (DD-365) Sustained minor damage from bomb fragments but got underway quickly. During war served on convoy escort, with fast carrier task forces and provided Naval Gunfire Support from the Aleutians to the Indian Ocean where she operated with the Royal Navy. On 12 August 1944, President Roosevelt broadcast a nationwide address from the forecastle of Cummings after a trip the Alaska. Cummings was decommissioned in December 1945 and sold for scrap in 1947.

*Reid (DD-369) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Reid escorted convoys and amphibious operations throughout the Pacific until she was sunk by Kamikazes at Ormoc Bay in the Philippines on 11 December 1944. On 31 August 1942 she sank by gunfire the Japanese submarine RO-1 off Adak Alaska. She received 7 battle stars for her WWII service.

Case (DD-370) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Case escorted the fast carrier task forces throughout much of the war as well as conducted Anti-Submarine Warfare operations and Naval Gunfire Support. She sank a Midget submarine outside the fleet anchorage at Ulithi on 20 November 1944 and a Japanese transport off of Iwo Jima on 24 December 1944. She earned 7 battle stars for her WWII service and was decommissioned in December 1945 and sold for scrap in December 1947.

Conyngham (DD-371) Undamaged during attack she was underway that afternoon. Spent most of war on convoy escort, escorting carrier task forces and conducting Naval Gunfire Support missions she was damaged twice by strafing Japanese aircraft she earned 14 battle stars for her WWII service. Used in 1946 Atomic Bomb tests and destroyed by sinking in 1948.

Cassin (DD-372) Destroyed in drydock but salvaged returned to service 1944 escorting convoys and TG 38.1 the Battle Force of the fleet at Leyte Gulf as well as supporting amphibious operations. She earned 6 battle stars for her WWII service.  Decommissioned December 1945 and sold for scrap 1947

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USS Shaw

Shaw (DD-373) Sustained massive damage due to magazine explosion, salvaged and repaired served throughout war and awarded 11 battle stars. Damaged by Japanese dive bombers off Cape Gloucester on 25 December 1943 with loss of 3 killed and 33 wounded. Decommissioned October 1945 and scrapped 1947

*Tucker (DD-374) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Tucker conducted convoy escort operations and was sunk when she struck a mine escorting a transport to Espiritu Santo on 1 August 1942 sinking on 4 August. She received one battle star for her WWII service.

Downes (DD-375) Destroyed in drydock and salvaged. Decommissioned June 1942, rebuilt and recommissioned 1943. After she was recommissioned and used to escort convoys and conduct Naval Gunfire Support to amphibious operations. She earned 4 battle stars for her WWII service. Decommissioned 1947 and sold for scrap.

USS Bagley

Bagley (DD-386) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Bagley conducted convoy escort operations and supported amphibious landings throughout the Pacific earning 1 battle stars ended the war on occupation duty at the Sasebo-Nagasaki area until returning to the United States. She earned 12 battle stars for her WWII service and was decommissioned in June 1946 and sold for scrap in October 1947.

*Blue (DD-387) Blue was undamaged and got underway during the attack under the direction of 4 Ensigns.  Served on convoy escort duties, present at Battle of Savo Island on 9 August 192 and was torpedoed off Guadalcanal by Japanese destroyer Kawakaze on 21 August and was scuttled 22 August. She earned five battle stars for her WWII service.

Helm (DD-388) Helm was underway, nearing West Loch at the time of the attack. Helm served in the Solomons and the South Pacific until February 19. She joined the fast carrier task forces of 5thFleet in May 1944. On 28 October at Leyte Gulf 28 October 1944 Helm and companion destroyer Gridley made sank the Japanese submarine I-46. She was used for a target during Operation Crossroads and scrapped in 1946. She received 11 battle stars for her WWII service.

Mugford (DD-389) Mugford was on standby status and had steam up which allowed her to get to sea during the attack in which she shot down Japanese aircraft. She spent much of 1942 on convoy duty between the U.S. and Australia. She took part in the Guadalcanal invasion and was struck by a bomb which killed 8 men, wounded 17 and left 10 missing in action. She would go on to serve in the Central and South Pacific being damaged by a near miss from a bomb on 25 December off Cape Gloucester and was stuck by a Kamikaze on 5 December 1944 in Surigo Strait. She escorted the fast carriers of TF 8 and 58 and later served on anti-submarine and radar picket duty. She decommissioned 1946 and was used in the Atomic Bomb tests and after use as a test ship for radioactive decontamination was sunk on 22 March 1948 at Kwajalein. She received 7 battle stars for her WWII service.

Ralph Talbot (DD-390) Ralph Talbot got underway by 0900 on the morning of the attack and joined other ships at sea attempting to find the Japanese strike force. She spent much of 1942 engaged in escort duties and took part in the Battle of Savo Island where she engaged the Japanese as part of the Northern Group and was damaged by Japanese shellfire. She spent the war in the South and Central Pacific escorting convoys and supporting amphibious operations and was damaged by a Kamikaze off Okinawa. She remained in service until 1946 when she was assigned to JTF-1 and the Operations Crossroads Atomic Bomb test. She survived the blast and was sunk in 198. She earned 12 battle stars for her WWII service.

*Henley (DD-391) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Henley was already at General Quarters when the attack began because a new sailor sounded the General Quarters alarm instead of Quarters for Muster. As a result her weapons were manned. She got underway during the attack under the command of a junior Lieutenant and joined other ships patrolling outside of Pearl Harbor. Henley carried out convoy and anti-submarine patrols mainly around Australian continuing those duties through the Guadalcanal campaign. She was torpedoed and sunk by Japanese bombers on 3 October 1943 while conducting a sweep in support of troops ashore near Finshafen New Guinea. Henley earned 4 battle stars for her WWII service.

Patterson (DD-392) Patterson was undamaged during the attack and proceeded to sea conducting anti-submarine warfare patrols. She would spend the bulk of the war as an escort for fast carrier task forces. She was with the Southern Group during the Battle of Savo Island and suffered a hit on her #4 gun mount that killed 10 sailors.  She was awarded 13 battle stars for her WWII service. Decommissioned in November 1945 she was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register in 1947 and sold for scrap.

*Jarvis (DD-393) Jarvis survived Pearl Harbor undamaged and got underway to join other ships in patrols around Oahu.  She served as an escort for carriers and convoys and the invasion of Guadalcanal. She was heavily damaged by an aircraft launched torpedo during the landings but her crew made temporary repairs and restored power. She was ordered to Efate New Hebrides but evidently unaware of the order her Commanding Officer set sail for Sidney Australian and repairs from the Destroyer Tender USS Dobbin. She passed south of Savo Island as the Japanese cruiser force approached and refused assistance for the USS Blue.  She was last seen on the morning of 9 August 1942 by a scout plane from Saratoga. Already heavily damaged and having little speed, no radio communications and few operable guns was attacked by a force of 31 Japanese bombers sinking with all hands at 1300 on 9 August. Jarvis was awarded 3 battle stars for her WWII service.

Submarines

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USS Narwhal

Narwhal (SS-167) Narwhal was one of a class of three large cruiser submarines that was built in the mid 1920s. Narwhal was 14 years old at the time of the attack. She was undamaged at Pearl Harbor and was used primarily to support special missions and special operations forces in raids against Japanese shore installations. Narwhal earned 15 battle stars for her service in the Pacific and was decommissioned in February 1945 and sold for scrap in May. Her 6” guns are enshrined at the Naval Submarine Base Groton.

Dolphin (SS-169) Undamaged in the Pearl Harbor attack Dolphin made 3 war patrols in late 1941 and early 1942 before being withdrawn from combat service and used for training due to her age. She was decommissioned in October 1945 and sold for scrap in 1946. She received 2 battle stars for her service in WWII.

Cachalot (SS-170) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Cachalot conducted three war patrols damaging an enemy tanker before being withdrawn from combat service in the fall of 1942 being judged too old for arduous combat service. She served as a training ship until June 1945 and was decommissioned in October 1945 and sold for scrap in January 1947. She was awarded 3 battle stars for her WWII service.

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USS Tautog

Tautog (SS-199) Tautog was undamaged at Pearl Harbor and made the Japanese pay for not sinking her. She helped avenge the Pearl Harbor attack sinking 26 enemy ships of 71,900 tons including the submarines RO-30 and I-28 and destroyers Isoname and Shirakumo in 13 war patrols. She was withdrawn from combat service in April 1945 and served and operated in conjunction with the University of California’s Department of War Research in experimenting with new equipment which it had developed to improve submarine safety. She was decommissioned in December 1945. Spared from the Atomic Bomb tests she served as an immobile reserve training ship in the Great Lakes until 1957 and was scrapped in 1960.  Tautog was awarded 14 battle stars and a Naval Unit Commendation for her service in WWII.

Minelayer

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USS Oglala

Oglala (CM-4) Sank due to concussion from torpedo hit on Helena. Raised and repaired, converted to internal combustion repair ship. Decommissioned 1946 transferred to Maritime Commission custody and scrapped 1965

Minesweepers

Turkey (AM-13) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor she was redesignated as a Fleet Tug in 1942. She was decommissioned in November 1945 and sold for scrap in 1946. She received one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

Bobolink (AM-20) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor and redesignated as an Ocean Going Tug in 1942. She decommissioned in 1946 and sold through the Maritime Administration. She received one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

Rail (AM-26) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Rail was redesignated as a Ocean Going Tug in June 1942. She supported operations throughout the Pacific earning 6 battle stars for her WWII service. She was decommissioned in 1946 and transferred to the Maritime Administration for disposal in 1947.

Tern (AM-31) Undamaged in the attack Tern was redesignated as an Ocean Going Tug in June 1942 and supported the fleet for the remainder of the war. She was decommissioned and struck from the Navy List in December 1945. She earned one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

*Grebe (AM-43) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Grebe was redesignated as an Ocean Going Tug in June 1942.  On 6 December 1942 Grebe grounded while attempting to float SS Thomas A. Edison at Vuanta Vatoa, Fiji Islands. Salvage operations were broken up by a hurricane that destroyed both ships 1-2 January 1943.

Vireo (AM-52) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Vireo was designated an Ocean Going Tug in May 1942. At the Battle of Midway she was assisting USS Yorktown CV-5 when that ship was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine and sunk.  She was damaged in a Japanese air strike off Guadalcanal on October 15th 1942 abandoned but recovered by U.S. Forces and repaired supporting damaged fleet units. She was decommissioned in 1946 and disposed of by the Maritime Administration in 1947. Her final disposition is unknown. She was awarded 7 battle stars for her WWII service.

Coastal Minesweepers

Cockatoo (AMC-8) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Cockatoooperated in the 14th Naval District from Pearl Harbor throughout the war. She was transferred to the Maritime Commission 23 September 1946.

Crossbill (AMC-9) Undamaged in the attack she operated in an in-service status attached to the 14th Naval District from 1941 to 1947.

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USS Condor

Condor (AMC-14) Undamaged in the attack she operated in the Hawaiian Islands throughout World War II. Placed out of service 17 January 1946, she was transferred to the Maritime Commission for disposal 24 July 1946.

Reedbird (AMC-30) Undamaged during the attack she operated in Hawaiian waters throughout World War II. Then ordered inactivated, Reedbird returned to San Diego where she was stripped and placed out of service 14 January 1946. Her name was struck from the Navy list 7 February 1946 and on 8 November 1946 she was delivered to the Maritime Commission for disposal.

Light Minelayers (Note: All of these ships were WWI era “four piper” destroyers converted to Mine Warfare ships in the 1920s and 1930s)

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USS Gamble

*Gamble (DM-15) Gamble was undamaged at Pearl Harbor and served throughout the Pacific. On 29 August 1942 she sank Japanese submarine I-123 near Guadalcanal. On 6 May 1943 she mined the Blackett Strait with her sisters USS Preble and USS Breese. On the night of 7-8 May a Japanese destroyer force entered the minefield one of which Kurashio, went down and two others Oyashio and Kagero were sunk by Allied aircraft the next day. The sinking of Kagero provided a measure of revenge as that ship was part of the Japanese Carrier Strike Group that attacked Pearl Harbor. On 18 February 1945 Gamble was damaged by two bombs while operating off of Iwo Jima. Badly damaged she was towed to Saipan but salvage was impossible and she was decommissioned sunk off of Apra Harbor Guam on 16 July 1945. She was awarded 7 battle stars for her WWII service.

Ramsay (DM-16) Ramsey got underway during the attack and dropped depth charges in the vicinity of what was believed to be a midget submarine. She served in the Solomons and Aleutians and was redesignated as a Miscellaneous Auxiliary (AG-98) in 1944 operating around Pearl Harbor. She was decommissioned in October 1945 and scrapped in 1946. She received 3 battle stars for her WWII service.

*Montgomery (DM-17) Undamaged in the attack Montgomeryconducted ASW operations in the wake of the attack. She operated throughout the Pacific until she was damaged by a mine while anchored off Ngulu on 17 October 1944. She was decommissioned on 23 April 1945 and sold for scrap in 1946. She was awarded 4 battle stars for her WWII service.

Breese (DM-18) Breese got underway during the attack and assisted in sinking a midget submarine. She was engaged throughout the war in the Pacific and operated with Gamble and Preble to mine the Blackett Strait in May 1943, an operation that resulted in the sinking of 3 Japanese destroyers. She was decommissioned and sold for scrap in 1946. She was awarded 10 battle stars for her WWII service

Tracy (DM-19) Tracy was being overhauled during the attack and all machinery and armament was dismounted.  After the overhaul she operated around the Pacific and in February 1943 she Tracy, as task group leader, led Montgomery (DM-17) and Preble (DM-20) in laying a field of 300 mines between Doma Reef and Cape Esperance. That night, Japanese destroyer Makigumo struck one of these mines and was damaged so badly that she was scuttled. Tracy was decommissioned and scrapped in 1946. She received 7 battle stars for her WWII service

Preble (DM-20) Preble was being overhauled on December 7thand took no part in the action. During the war she operated throughout the Pacific and in company with Gamble and Breeselaid a minefield on 6 May 1943 which resulted in sinking 3 Japanese destroyers. She was redesignated as a Miscellaneous Auxiliary (AG-99) and she was regulated to convoy escort duties until the end of the war. She was decommissioned in December 1945 and sold for scrap in 1946. She was awarded 8 battle stars for WWII service.

Sicard (DM-21) Sicard was under overhaul at the Naval Shipyard during the attack. During the war she primarily served on convoy escort duty with and in some mine laying operations. She was reclassified a miscellaneous auxiliary, AG-100, effective 5 June 1945, decommissioned in December 1945 and sold for scrap in 1946. She was awarded 2 battle stars for her WWII service.

Pruitt (DM-22) Pruitt was being overhauled during the attack and served throughout the Pacific during the war. She was reclassified a miscellaneous auxiliary, AG-101, effective 5 June 1945, decommissioned November and stricken from the Navy List in December 1945 being scrapped at Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. She was awarded 3 battle stars for her WWII service.

High Speed Minesweepers (Note: All of these ships were WWI era “four piper” destroyers converted to Mine Warfare ships in the 1920s and 1930s)

Zane (DMS-14) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Zane saw much service in the South and Central Pacific in WWII. She conducted minesweeping, convoy escort and ASW operations from Pearl Harbor to the Marianas campaign. She was damaged in a firefight with Japanese destroyers at Guadalcanal in 1942.  After the invasion of Guam she was reassigned to target towing duties. Reclassified from high-speed minesweeper to a miscellaneous auxiliary, AG-109, on 5 June 1945 she decommissioned in December 1945 and sold for scrap in 1946. She was awarded 6 battle stars and a Naval Unit Commendation for her service in WWII.

*Wasmuth  (DMS-15) Wasmuth was undamaged during the attack and spent 1942  conducting patrol and convoy escort duties in the Aleutians and the West Coast. On 27 December 1942 while escorting a convoy in heavy seas two of her depth charges were ripped off their racks and exploded under her fantail blowing off her stern.  Despite repair attempts her crew was evacuated and she sank on 29 December 1942. She was awarded one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

Trever (DMS-16) Trever got underway during the attack without her Commanding Officer. During the war she saw extensive service. In 1945 she was regulated to training and local operations around Pearl Harbor. On 4 June 1945, she was reclassified as a miscellaneous auxiliary and designated as AG-110 and decommissioned in December 1945 and sold for scrapping in 1946. She received 5 battle stars for her WWII service.

*Perry (DMS-17) Perry got underway during the attack and was undamaged. During the war she engaged in numerous minesweeping and escort duties. She struck a mine during the Peleliu invasion off Florida Island and sank on 6 September 1944. She was awarded 6 battle stars for her WWII service.

Gunboat

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USS Sacramento

Sacramento (PG-19) The elderly Sacramento was undamaged during the attack and participated in rescue and salvage operations after the attack. During the war she served as a tender for PT Boats and an air sea rescue vessel.  Sacramento was decommissioned on 6 February 1946 at Suisun Bay, Calif., and simultaneously transferred to the War Shipping Administration for disposal. She was sold on 23 August 1947 for mercantile service, initially operating under Italian registry as Fermina. She received one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

Destroyer Tenders

USS Dobbin with USS Lawrence and three other destroyers

Dobbin (AD-3) Dobbin received minor damage from a bomb burst alongside which killed 2 crewmembers.  During the war she would serve in the South Pacific supporting Pacific Fleet Destroyer Squadrons. She was decommissioned and transferred to the Maritime Administration in 1946. She was awarded one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

Whitney (AD-4) Whitney was moored with a nest of destroyers during the attack and helped them prepare for sea during the attack issuing supplies and ammunition to help them get underway. Her sailors helped in repair and salvage operations on several ships during and after the attack.  She would provide vital support to destroyer squadrons during the war and serve until 1946 when she was decommissioned and transferred to the Maritime Administration and scrapped in 1948. She received one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

Seaplane Tenders

Curtiss (AV-4) Damaged by bomb and repaired. She served throughout the war and was damaged by a  Kamikaze in 1945 while operating off Okinawa. Repaired she finished the war and served on active duty until 1956 when she was decommissioned and placed in reserve. She was scrapped 1972. Curtiss received 7 battle stars for her WWII service.

Tangier (AV-8) Moored just past the USS Utah Tangier was undamaged in the attack and contributed her guns to the air defense as well as shooting at a Japanese midget submarine that had penetrated the harbor. She maintained a very active operational carrier in the Pacific. Decommissioned in 1946 Tangier was sold for scrap in 1961. She earned 3 battle stars for her WWII service.

Seaplane Tenders (Small)

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Avocet (AVP-4) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Avocet Avocetserved in the Alaskan and Aleutian theatres of operations as a unit of Patrol Wing 4. During the years, she tended patrol squadrons, transported personnel and cargo, and participated in patrol, survey, and salvage duties. She was decommissioned in December 1945 and sold in 1946. She received one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

Swan (AVP-7) Swan was on the Marine Railway drydock during the attack and was undamaged. During the war she was primarily used on target towing duties. She was decommissioned in December 1945 and disposed of by the Maritime Commission in 1946. She received one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

Seaplane Tenders (Destroyer) (Note: All of these ships were WWI era “four piper” destroyers converted to Seaplane Tenders in the 1920s and 1930s)

Hulbert (AVD-6) Hulbert was undamaged during the attack and spent 1942-1943 conducting support missions for flying boats. Reclassified DD-342 she was used as an escort and plane guard for new Escort Carriers at San Diego until the end of the war. She was decommissioned in November 1945 and sold for scrap in 1946. She received 2 battle stars for her WWII service.

USS Thornton

*Thornton (AVD-11) Thornton contributed her guns to the defense of Pearl Harbor and served in varying locales in the Pacific supporting the operations of flying boats. She was lost during the Okinawa invasion when collided with Ashtabula (AO-51) and Escalante (AO-70). Her starboard side was severely damaged. She was towed to Kerama Retto. On 29 May 1945 a board of inspection and survey recommended that Thornton be decommissioned, beached stripped of all useful materiel as needed, and then abandoned. She was beached and decommissioned on 2 May 1945. Her name was struck from the Navy list on 13 August 1945. In July 1957, Thornton’s abandoned hulk was donated to the government of the Ryukyu Islands. She received 3 battle stars for her WWII service.

Ammunition Ship

Pyro (AE-1) Pyro was undamaged in the attack and served the war transporting ammunition to naval bases around the Pacific. She was decommissioned in 1946 and scrapped in 1950. She was awarded one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

Oilers

Ramapo (AO-12) Ramapo was not damaged at Pearl Harbor and due to her slow speed was regulated to fuel transport operations between the Aleutians and the Puget Sound. She was decommissioned in 1946 and transferred to the Maritime Administration.

*Neosho (AO-23) Undamaged during the attack her Captain alertly moved her from her berth near Battleship Row to a less exposed part of the harbor.  She operated with the carrier task forces and was heavily damaged at the Battle of Coral Sea by Japanese aircraft. Her crew kept her afloat for 4 days until she was discovered and her crew rescued before she was sunk by gunfire from USS Henley on 11 May 1942. Neosho was awarded 2 battle stars for her WWII service.

Repair Ships

Medusa (AR-1) Medusa was undamaged at Pearl Harbor and spent the war throughout the South Pacific repairing numerous vessels damaged in combat. After the war she served to prepare ships for inactivation before being decommissioned in 1947 and turned over to the Maritime Administration. She was scrapped in 1950. She received one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

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USS Vestal after the attack

Vestal (AR-4) Vestal was damaged while moored adjacent to USS Arizona. Repaired following the attack Vestal served throughout war in the Pacific and was vital during the critical days of 1942 when she and her crew performed valiant service on major fleet units damaged during the Guadalcanal campaign and actions around the Solomon Islands. Carriers Enterprise and Saratoga, battleships South Dakota and North Carolina, cruisers San Francisco, New Orleans, Pensacola and St. Louis were among the 5,603 jobs on 279 ships and 24 shore activities that she completed in a 12 month tour at Espiratu Santo. She would continue to perform this level of service the remainder of the war. During a stint at Ulithi she completed 2,195 jobs for 149 ships including 14 battleships, 9 carriers, 5 cruisers and 5 destroyers.  She continued her vital work even after the war into 1946 when she was finally decommissioned.  She was sold for scrap in 1950. She received 1 battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

Rigel (AR-11) Rigel was at Pearl Harbor completing her transformation from Destroyer Tender to Repari Ship. She incurred minor damage and she served throughout the war conducting vital repairs to numerous ships. She was decommissioned and transferred to the Maritime Administration in 1946.  Her ultimate fate is unknown. She was awarded 4 battle stars for her WWII service.

Submarine Tender

USS Pelias with 5 Submarines

Pelias (AS-14) Undamaged during the attack Pelias supported submarine squadrons based in the Pacific throughout the war. She was placed in commission in reserve 6 September 1946, and in service in reserve 1 February 1947. On 21 March 1950 she was placed out of service in reserve but later performed berthing ship duty at Mare Island until she decommissioned 14 June 1970. She was scrapped in 1973.

Submarine Rescue Ship

Widgeon (ASR-1) Widgeon conducted salvage, rescue and fire fighting operations on the sunk and damaged battleships on battleship row. During the war she served as the duty submarine rescue ship at Pearl Harbor and San Diego.  After the war she supported the Operation Crossroads. She was decommissioned and sold for scrap in 1947. She received on battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

Hospital Ship

Solace (AH-5) Solace was undamaged in the attack and provided medical care to many of the wounded after the attack. She served throughout the war caring for the wounded and dying in the Gilberts, the Marshalls, Guam, Saipan, Palau, Peleliu, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.  Solace was decommissioned at Norfolk on 27 March, struck from the Navy list on 21 May, and returned to the War Shipping Administration on 18 July 1946. She was sold to the Turkish Maritime Lines on 16 April 1948 and renamed SS Ankara, rebuilt as a passenger liner. SS Ankara was laid up in 1977 and scrapped at Aliaga, Turkey, in 1981. Solace received seven battle stars for World War II service.

Cargo Ship

Vega (AK-17) Vega was at Honolulu offloading ammunition when the attack occurred. She served in the Aleutians and in the Central Pacific during the war. Decommissioned and scrapped in 1946. She received 4 battle stars for her WWII service.

General-Stores-Issue Ships

Castor (AKS-1) Castor was strafed by Japanese aircraft during the attack but suffered little damage. She would go on to an illustrious career in WWII, Korea and Vietnam before being decommissioned 1968 and scrapped in Japan in 1969. She was awarded three battle stars for World War II service, two for Korean War service and six campaign stars for Vietnam War service.

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USS Antares 

Antares (AKS-3) Antares was at the Pearl Harbor entrance and spotted a midget submarine. She reported the contact to the USS Ward which sank the sub.  During the war Antares made many supply runs in the Pacific and was at Okinawa. Sailing from Saipan to Pearl Harbor she was attacked by the Japanese submarines I-36, whose torpedoes missed their target and the kaiten-carrying I-165. She opened fire on one of the subs forcing it to dive. She was decommissioned in 1946 and sold for scrap in 1947. She was awarded 2 battle stars for her WWII service.

Ocean-going Tugs

Ontario (AT-13) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Ontario would support operations in the Pacific throughout the war. She was decommissioned in 1946 and sold in 1947. She received one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

Sunnadin (AT-28) Undamaged in the attack she operated at Pearl Harbor for the duration of the war. She was decommissioned in 1946 and transferred to the Maritime Administration. Her final disposition is unknown. She was awarded one battle star for her service during the Pearl Harbor attack.

Keosanqua (AT-38) Keosanqua was at the Pearl Harbor entrance preparing to transfer a tow from the USS Antares. She took the tow to Honolulu during the attack. She operated at Pearl Harbor and in the Central Pacific conducting towing operations. She was decommissioned in 1946   ransferred to the Maritime Commission 11 July for disposal, she was sold the same day to Puget Sound Tug & Barge Co., Seattle, Wash. Resold to a Canadian shipping firm in 1948, she was renamed Edward J. Coyle. In 1960 she was renamed Commodore Straits.

*Navajo (AT-64) Navaho was 12 miles outside Pearl Harbor entrance when the attack occurred. She operated in the South Pacific until 12 December 1942 when she was torpedoed and sunk by the Japanese submarine I-39 while towing gasoline barge YOG-42 150 miles east of Espiritu Santo, 12 December 1943 with the loss of all but 17 of her crew of 80.  She earned 2 battle stars for her WWII service.

Miscellaneous Auxiliaries

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USS UTah AG-16

*Utah (AG-16 ex-BB-31) Sunk at her moorings and righted 1944 but not raised, wreck is now a memorial at Ford Island.

USS Argonne as a Submarine Tender

Argonne (AG-31) A former Submarine Tender, Argonne was undamaged during the attack and served in a variety of capacities during the war supporting operations in the Pacific. For a time she was Admiral Halsey’s flagship as Commander Southwest Pacific in 1942 during the Guadalcanal Campaign.  On 10 November 1944, Argonne lay moored to a buoy in berth 14, Seeadler Harbor, when the ammunition ship Mount Hood (AE-11) blew up, 1,100 yards away causing damage to her and other ships which she assisted after the explosion. She was decommissioned in 1946 and transferred to the Maritime Administration. She was scrapped in 1950. Argonne was awarded one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

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USS Sumner (ex-Bushnell)

Sumner (AG-32) Sumner was undamaged during the attack and was redesignated as a Survey Ship AGS-5. She was damaged by a Japanese shell off Iwo Jima on 8 March 1945. She was decommissioned in 1946 and transferred to the Maritime Administration. She was awarded 3 battle stars for her WWII service.

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

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote:

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

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

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

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LCDR Lem Massey Commanding Officer of Torpedo 3

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

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

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

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

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

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LCDR John Waldron Commanding Officer of Torpedo Eight

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

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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.

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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.

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

Peace

Padre Steve+

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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LCDR Lance Massey CO of VT-3

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LCDR John Waldron CO of VT-8

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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+

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Unlikely and Incredible: Victory at Midway

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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”

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

 

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

Improbable and Unlikely: Victory at Midway

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

As I mentioned earlier in the week I am publishing a number of articles on Greatest Generation as we remember the anniversaries of the Battle of Midway in 1942 and the D-Day landings in 1944.

This article is a compilation of a number of articles that I have done in the past with a bit of edition. It deals with the battle of Midway. I hope to do some really serious writing on the topic someday, but most of my writing and research time has been devoted to the Battle of Gettysburg and the American Civil War. Too bad I am not like LCDR Data in Star Trek the Next Generation. Image the productivity, but I digress…

I grew up in a Navy family when it was not popular for people to “support the troops” back during the Vietnam War and in the post-Vietnam era. That being said I developed a love for all things Navy and buried myself in the library, reading and checking out books. My friends probably remember he hauling armloads of books too and from class and too and from school  on the buses that we rode. One of those books was Walter Lord’s classic Incredible Victory about the Battle of Midway. Through it and other books I felt as if I had come to know the men who fought that battle, the men of both sides, gaining an appreciation for their bravery and humanity. As I have mentioned time and time again on this site, people matter the most in history, especially in war. In the intervening years I have spent over 34 years in the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy serving at sea and ashore in combat operations. As such I have a connection to these men, I can imagine what they were going through.

As we get further away from these events we have fewer people who even know about them, and that is really sad because they are so important, and the sacrifices of the men who fought those battles helped secure an opportunity freedom for so many. I know that after the war that the United States has not always lived up to the ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence, nor how our founders believed that we should pursue relations with other countries. In fact, they would not recognize what we have become. Even so, it is important for us to reexamine these events, to remember the men and women who served, and to remember their sacrifice, even as we acknowledge the tragedy of war and all that it brings.

I hope that you enjoy this and trust that you will have a good day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Doolittle Raid

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”

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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

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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.

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The Japanese Fleet and was built around the elite First Carrier Striking Group, the Kido Butai composed of the Pearl Harbor attackers Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu. Led by Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo its highly trained and combat experienced air groups composed of 273 aircraft. This force was escorted by 2 Battleships, 3 Cruisers 12 Destroyers. Yamamoto commanded a force of 2 light carriers, 5 Battleships, 11 cruisers and 27 destroyers.  Meanwhile a 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.  The Japanese plan was ambitious but it was so ambitious that the Japanese Task forces were scattered over thousands of square miles of the Northern Pacific Ocean from which they could not rapidly come to the support of each other.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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USMC Vought SB2-U3 Vindicators

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.

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VMF-221 Attacks

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

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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LCDR John Waldron (above) LCDR Lem Massey (below)

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.

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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.

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The men of Torpedo 8 only one survived 

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

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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.

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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.

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CDR Wade McClusky 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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LCDR Max Leslie ditches his aircraft near a cruiser 

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

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IJN 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.

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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.

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Mikuma shattered, note wreckage of Captain Fleming’s Vindicator on turret 

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.

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Survivors abandoning Mikuma

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.

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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.

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