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Battle of Midway - 1942

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There doesn't seem to be much Midway blogging today, so I'll cross-post this entry from Murdoc Online. The loss of USS Yorktown was tragic, but penauts compared to the defeat suffered by the Japanese. The tide of the war in the Pacific was turned in the time it took a few squadrons of American dive bombers to make their runs on this day 64 years ago.

Battle of Midway, June 1942

USS Yorktown (CV-5) after being hit by Japanese bombs shortly after noon on 4 June 1942. This view was taken shortly after the ship lost power and stopped, while F4F-4 fighters were still spotted forward, their location during the attack. Fires are burning in Yorktown's uptakes.

I don't know that I'd ever seen this particular picture before. For many, many more, see Battle of Midway, 4-7 June 1942 -- Overview and Special Image Selection

UPDATE: For a great story about a survivor of the Yorktown's loss, see Port Charlotte man survived the Yorktown's sinking at Battle of Midway. Wilbur Kinney had a carrier torpedoed out from under him by the Japanese in the Pacific and a carrier torpedoed out from under him by the Germans in the Atlantic. Astounding.

(FWIW, the Wasp was not at the battle of Midway as he claims. The Wasp didn't transfer to the Pacific until 10 June 1942. One other nit to pick is that it wasn't a "seagoing tug" towing Yorktown back to Midway, but rather the minesweeper USS Verio towing her back to Pearl.)

Despite these minor quibbles, be sure to read Kinney's account. Astounding. (Did I say that already?)

UPDATE 2: Jay Tea at Wizbang has a Midway post up. Should have known Murdoc could count on him...

UPDATE 3: Blue Crab Boulevard lists the men of Torpedo 8 and Donald Sensing posts on Midway, too. He points out his most-excellent post from a couple of years ago, to boot. If you haven't read it, check it out. If you have read it, read it again.

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Tracked: June 4, 2006 7:07 PM
Midway from Murdoc Online
Excerpt: Battle of Midway, June 1942 USS Yorktown (CV-5) after being hit by Japanese bombs shortly after noon on 4 June 1942. This view was...

13 Comments

Astounding, and decisive, was the result of the battle itself!

The Wasp CV-7 was still sending Spitfires to Malta in May 1942

AFAIK the Yorktown had to be repaired in Pearl Harbour, so Big E and the Hornet did not wait for her, which was pretty fortunate because the japanese never discovered their position and hence could not attack them.

In fact you were pretty fortunate during most of the battle, but anyways it was a resonant victory. "The two minutes that changed the war in the Pacific" named a reporter the dive bombing carried out by the SBD Dauntless at the exact moment the Japanese carriers were in the most vulnerable position, with their decks packed with airplanes loaded with gasoline, torpedoes and bombs.

A desperate battle won gloriously.

The US was "pretty fortunate during most of the battle"?

That's the understatement of the day, my friend. But I'll take it.

And more than a bit of me thinks that "pretty fortunate" might have something to do with a bit of "fate" or "Providence" or "The Force"...

The destroyer, USS Hammond, was alongside of the Yorktown, taking off the crew of the Yorktown, after the order abandon ship was given. She was also hit by one of the torpedoes that was aimed at the Yorktown. She sank within a few minutes, while the Yorktown being too badly damaged, was sank by one of our own destroyers. The battlestar was added to the new Yorktown’s flag, after she had been commissioned.

Hmmm, as far as I can tell the "Block Island" took two torpedoes from the U-boat, but didn't go down. I don't think we lost any carriers in the Atlantic. But even that was more than I knew before I started reading. Great stuff; thanks for putting it up. And no, I don't think I've ever seen that picture before, either.

USS Block Island (CVE 21) was torpedoed by U-549. Most sources indicate that a third (and later) torpedo from the U-boat finished her off, but I've seen places claim that the escort ships gave her the coup de grace after it was determined that she couldn't be saved.

Not sure why we don't hear much about the Block Island. I had been unfamiliar with the story until not too long ago.

Actually, the destroyer was the Hammann, not the Hammond. Odd name, I admit...

J.

J. Aguilar: ""The two minutes that changed the war in the Pacific" named a reporter the dive bombing carried out by the SBD Dauntless at the exact moment the Japanese carriers were in the most vulnerable position, with their decks packed with airplanes loaded with gasoline, torpedoes and bombs."

They were also naked from above because their fight cover had gone down to the deck to massacre Devastator torpedo bombers. I wrote a bit on it last year on forbidden bl*gspot, link here:

The other squadrons had groped around before turning back, so Waldron would attack alone. By the time he attacked, VT-8 no longer had enough fuel to return to the Hornet. They lined up on the nearest carrier, eight miles distant, and dropped down to a few yards above the waves. Long before they got within the Mark 13 torpedo’s meager range, they were attacked by fifty Zeros.

The Mitsubishi Zero was an amazing thing. It was a purely Japanese thing: agile as a dancer, poetic and deadly. As they slashed down on Waldron’s men at 9:18 AM, they must have looked like fifty terrible swift swords. Evasion was impossible. The best the Devastator could do was a lazy fishtail, and Waldron’s pilots knew better than to do that. It only cuts your airspeed and makes you an even easier target. They concentrated on the impossible torpedo run instead.

Both of Waldron’s wingmen went down, and Waldron pressed on alone. Ensign George Gay, the sole survivor of VT-8, saw Waldron die. Before Waldron’s Devastator could crawl to the release point, one of Yamamoto’s samurai raked him head-on, bursting a fuel tank. Waldron opened his canopy and stood up. He was standing when his craft hit the Pacific and exploded.

When John C. Waldron gave his life, we were losing the war with Japan. One hour after he died, we won it. At about 10:20 AM, Wade McClusky’s Dauntless dive bombers found an almost empty sky over the Japanese fleet. The Zeros were down on the deck, where they had gone to kill Waldron and two successive Devastator attacks launched by the Enterprise and the Yorktown. With nothing in their way, the Dauntlesses dived and in six minutes they destroyed three Japanese fleet carriers, broke the back of Yamamoto’s armada, and turned the tide of the Pacific War. The sacrifice of Waldron and his fellow torpedo men, attempting the impossible, had made total victory possible.
John Charles Waldron's last letter to his squadron (of whom died save one):
Just a word to let you know that I feel we are ready. We have had a very short time to train and we have worked under the most severe difficulties. But we have truly done the best humanly possible. I actually believe that under these conditions we are the best in the world. My greatest hope is that we will encounter a favorable tactical situation, but if we don’t, and the worst comes to worst, I want each of us to do his utmost to destroy our enemies. If there is only one plane left to make a final run in, I want that man to go in and get a hit. May God be with all of us. Good luck, happy landings and GIVE ‘EM HELL.

Thanks for the picture and the narrative, Murdoc. At Scylla & Charybdis, BummerDietz offers a good appreciation of the Battle of Midway, and of what it meant for the Pacific Theater and the war.

There are many myths regarding the battle of Midway. This weekend I had the good fortune to be able to borrow from a friend a recent book, Shattered Sword, an excellent publication telling the battle from the Japanese perspective.

From the website about the book:
All great battles develop their own unique mythos. That is to say, they become wrapped in a set of popular beliefs, "the common wisdom," that interprets the battle and its meanings. In many cases, this mythology centers on a pivotal event, some noteworthy occurrence that captures the imagination, thereby crystallizing what the battle was all about. This has certainly been true of Midway, whose defining moment will always be the devastating and seemingly last-minute attack of American dive-bombers against the Japanese carrier task force at 1020 on the morning of 4 June. The image of American Dauntlesses hurtling down from the heavens to drop their bombs on helpless Japanese carriers, their decks packed with aircraft just moments away from taking off, has been emblazoned on the American consciousness since the day the battle was fought.
Yet, this precise version of the events surrounding the decisive attack, a rendition that would be accepted in any contemporary history book, is but one, and perhaps not the greatest, of the misconceptions surrounding Midway. In fact, the 1020 attack did not happen in this way, in that it did not catch the Japanese in any way ready to launch their own attack. Other myths of the battle include:

The Americans triumphed against overwhelming odds at the Battle of Midway.
The Aleutians Operation was conceived by Admiral Yamamoto, the commander in chief of Combined Fleet, as a diversion designed to lure the American fleet out of Pearl Harbor.
During the transit to Midway, Admiral Yamamoto withheld important intelligence information from Admiral Nagumo, the operational commander of the carrier striking force. As a result, Nagumo was in the dark concerning the nature of the threat facing him.
Had the Japanese implemented a two-phase reconnaissance search on the morning of 4 June, they would have succeeded in locating the American fleet in time to win the battle.
The late launch of cruiser Tone's No. 4 scout plane doomed Admiral Nagumo to defeat in the battle.
Had Admiral Nagumo not decided to rearm his aircraft with land-attack weapons, he would have been in a position to attack the Americans as soon as they were discovered.
The sacrifice of USS Hornet's Torpedo Squadron Eight was not in vain, since it pulled the Japanese combat air patrol fighters down to sea level, thereby allowing the American dive-bombers to attack at 1020.
Japan's elite carrier aviators were all but wiped out during the battle.

Shattered Sword website

Ditto on pedrog's recommendation of Parshall & Tully's Shattered Sword. The numerous diagrams of the battle really help bring home what was happening when, and there's a lot of little details which were fun to find out about (for example, that Hiryu was found to be still floating by Japanese recon flights the day after the battle after supposedly being scuttled).

Also, another fun read is this debunking of the theory that Hawaii would have fallen to the Japanese if Midway had gone the other way

Murdoc (#2)

audentis fortuna iuvat (luck helps those who are audacious)

I don't think that being fortunate diminishes the glory of the Americans in Midway, on the contrary. In both the Coral Sea and Midway the US Navy showed daring initiative against better equiped and trained forces. In the first, it lost the Lexington (CV-2) but the second one was a resonant victory 4 to 1.

Please noted that those two battles were the first ones ever where the fighting ships did not see each other: an entire new way of fighting.

Tagryn,

AFAIK torpedoes aimed against the Hiryu to scuttle her opened new waterways that suffocated some of the fires, but it was without power and damaged beyond repair.

Fortunate? I dunno, I would say that the US and the Japanese were pretty comparatively fortunate in the battle of Midway. The US had some advantages, the Japanese others. The biggest difference was that the Americans were able to make maximum use out of their luck, while the Japanese squandered theirs. Consider that the Japanese were able to get two full bombing runs against the American carriers. The first time they hit the Yorktown. But American carriers had such good fire control that the Yorktown was able to stop the uncontrolled fires and get running at something like 3/4 of full steam. So when the Japanese planes came back, they saw the Yorktown again and it looked like a perfectly good carrier, so they hit it again. That hit put it out of commission but still didn't sink it.

If the Americans had made as many mistakes and had carriers as fragile as the Japanese, the battle would have almost certainly not gone in their favor, regardless of "luck".

Excellent post here! Congratulations to WOC for remembering this battle day, and giving it so much production with links and other points of interest.

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