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Midway: Gracious Leadership and Brave Men
Self | June 6, 2012 | Retain Mike

Posted on 06/06/2012 9:14:02 AM PDT by Retain Mike

In late December 1941, Navy Secretary Frank Knox and FDR met and selected Chester Nimitz to command the Pacific Fleet now mostly at the bottom of Pearl Harbor. Roosevelt said, “Tell Nimitz to get the hell out to Pearl and stay there until the war is won”. Knox informed Nimitz by saying, “You’re going to take command of the Pacific Fleet, and I think you will be gone a long time”.

On Christmas Day 1941 Admiral Chester Nimitz arrived by Catalina flying boat to take command. When the door opened he was assailed by a poisonous atmosphere from black oil, charred wood, burned wiring, insulation and paint, and rotting flesh. The boat ride to shore engulfed the party in the panorama of sunken hulls and floating wreckage punctuated by the bodies of dead sailors still surfacing from the blasted ships.

Nimitz decided some very good men had taken a terrible beating and were now suffering terrible reminders. He spent the first days learning everything he could about his new assignment. When he officially took command December 31, he told the assembled staffs he had complete and unlimited confidence in every one of them. As head of officer personnel in the Pentagon, he knew they had been selected for their competence. But if any wanted to leave, he would individually discuss their futures and do all he could to get them the assignment they wanted. However, there were a few key staff members he wanted to stay with him. They included Commander Joe Rochefort, Jr. and Lieutenant Commander Edwin T. Layton who had failed to provide warning of the Pearl Harbor attack, but provided the key intelligence prior to the Battle of Midway.

Midway began with the gracious, quiet leadership of Nimitz bringing the fight to the enemy at long odds. It finished with the fearful sacrifice of a few brave men on that day. To understand Nimitz’s and the flyers tenuous position consider that gathering nearly every U.S. Navy ship left in the Pacific achieved the following order of battle.

Japan United States Heavy aircraft carriers 4 3 Light aircraft carriers 2 0 Battleships 11 0 Heavy cruisers 10 6 Light cruisers 6 1 Destroyers 53 17 -- -- Totals 86 27

This abbreviated narrative now leaves out the contribution of thousands, whose efforts provided the vital margin needed for victory. Preparing Midway for invasion and assembling the task forces at point “Luck” to attack the Japanese required prodigious achievements in logistics, ship repair and naval intelligence. The narrative also does not describe how making and/or paying the more bitter price for mistakes contributed heavily to the Japanese defeat.

The curtain rises on June 4 when PBY patrols by Lieutenant Howard Ady discovers the Japanese carriers and by Lieutenant William Chase reporting the Japanese planes heading towards Midway. The warnings enabled the 120 aircraft crammed onto Midway to get into the air and launch attacks against the carriers except for 25 Marine Brewster Buffalos and Hellcat fighters dedicated to repel the attackers. In the ensuing Japanese attack, 14 of the 25 pilots died prompting Captain Philip R. White to say, “It is my belief that any commander that orders pilots out for combat in a F2A-3 should consider the pilot lost before leaving the ground”.

Now began the attacks by land based planes on the Japanese carriers. First six TBF Devastator torpedo bombers lead by Lieutenant Langdon K. Fieberling obtained no hits, but five of six aircraft were destroyed including Fieberling’s. Next Army Captain James Collins lead four B-26 bombers rigged to carry torpedoes in the first ever attempt to attack enemy ships. Two of four planes were lost and no hits were obtained. Lieutenant Colonel Walter C. Sweeney lead 15 long range B-17’s in a level bombing attack from 20,000 feet and obtained no hits. Major Benjamin Norris lead eleven Vindicator dive bombers considered so ancient pilots called them “wind indicators”. They never reached the carriers and unsuccessfully attacked a battleship. Amazingly only two fell to enemy attacks and two were lost at sea because of low fuel.

Next into the battle came Torpedo 3, Torpedo 6, and Torpedo 8 from the USS Yorktown, USS Enterprise, and USS Hornet respectively. In all Lt. Commander Lance E. Massey, Lt. Commander Gene Lindsey, and Lt. Commander John Waldron lead 41 Devastator torpedo bombers. The squadrons became separated (Waldron deliberately so) from their dive bombers and fighters that were intended to accompany them for coordinated attacks. These 100 mph torpedo bombers had to evade 500 mph Zero fighters, and withstand concentrated task force anti-aircraft fire long enough to launch effectively 33 knot torpedoes against 30 knot aircraft carriers.

In pressing home their attacks, 35 aircraft with their three man crews were lost, except for Lieutenant George H. Gay who crashed in the midst of the Japanese carriers and was rescued by a PBY the next day. The only fighters about were six from Fighting 3 lead by Lt. Commander “Jimmy” Thach that tangled with a horde of Zero fighters and lost one aircraft. Those from Fighting 6 lead by Lieutenant Jim Gray lost track of the torpedo bombers and kept circling at 20,000 feet to protect the dive bombers they never found. Eventually these fighters returned to the Enterprise in total frustration.

The USS Hornet fighters and dive bombers spent a fruitless morning. Commander Stan Ring lead Bombing 8, Scouting 8, and Fighting 8 exactly as directed and then searched to the south until fuel was critical and each squadron proceeded independently. Lt. Commander Russ Johnson leading Bombing 8 was unable to find the Hornet and landed on Midway, but 3 of the 14 aircraft had to ditch on the way for lack of fuel. Lieutenant Stan Ruehlow leading Fighting 8 remained determined to find the Hornet, but all had to ditch. That morning there were 29 empty seats in the Hornet ready room. Fifteen seats belonged to Torpedo 8 pilots slaughtered that morning by the Japanese. The 11 were for Bombing 8 that refueled at Midway and later returned to the Hornet.

The Japanese carrier task forces had withstood seven separate attacks without a single hit until Bombing 3 and Bombing 6 found the carriers. They arrived over the carriers while the Zero fighters were still at low altitude finishing off the last of the American torpedo bombers. The 17 planes of Commander Max Leslie’s Bombing 3 delivered three fatal hits to one carrier, probably the Soryu. For Bombing 6, Lieutenants Wade McClusky and Richard Best lead sections that obtained three hits on the Akagi and at least four hits on the Kaga. The Japanese task forces that had been impervious to harm for over three hours from 7AM to 10:23AM saw three of their heavy carriers turned into burning wreckage in six minutes. However, a price had to be paid. Max Leslie’s planes return safely, but Bombing 6 lost 8 of 18 two man crews.

There was still one heavy carrier unaccounted for, and at 3PM Lieutenant Sam Adams of Scouting 5 radioed Admiral Spruance its location. The Admiral had no fighters or torpedo bombers, but ordered Lieutenant Earl Gallaher aloft at 3:30PM to lead 24 planes from three dive bombers squadrons. A half hour later the Hornet launched 16 dive bombers lead by reserve Lieutenant Edgar Stebbins. These 40 aircraft encountered anti-aircraft fire, lighting attacks from Zeros, and superb evasive ship handling, but there were too many planes and bombs. At least four hits and many near misses transformed the Hiryu into the fourth blazing funeral pyre of the day.

There were attacks before and after at Midway costing the Japanese Combined Fleet other ships. However, the loss of these heavy four carriers achieved by the courage and sacrifice of these few men was lethal.

One could easily paraphrase Winston Churchill to say never have so many owed so much to so few. Not counting the B-17’s, about 370 flyers attacked the Japanese in around 180 aircraft of which nearly 90 were lost resulting in about 190 deaths. Walter Lord and Gordon W. Prange considered this an incredible, miraculous victory. For Mitsuo Fuchida and Masatake Okumiya, it was the battle that doomed Japan.


TOPICS: History; Military/Veterans
KEYWORDS: midway; nimitz; pearlharbor; wwii
This narrative is probably not ready for prime time. Yet it is the 70th anniversary of the battle, and the other half-dozen posts I have seen do not focus on Chester Nimitz’s leadership or those so few, so determined flyers.
1 posted on 06/06/2012 9:14:05 AM PDT by Retain Mike
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To: Retain Mike

I am sorry I could not get my table to post correctly. The bottom line was 86 Japanese against 27 U.S. Navy ships.


2 posted on 06/06/2012 9:16:54 AM PDT by Retain Mike
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To: Retain Mike

Good summary. And today is D-Day Normandy plus 68 yrs. June 4-6 were powerful days for the brave men in combat.
God bless them and may their souls rest in the peace they so dearly earned.


3 posted on 06/06/2012 9:22:10 AM PDT by SPI-Man (Remember the battle of Midway and VT8. Thank you brave souls!)
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To: Retain Mike

“500 mph Zero fighters”

< shakes head>

More like 330....


4 posted on 06/06/2012 9:31:42 AM PDT by M1903A1 ("We shed all that is good and virtuous for that which is shoddy and sleazy... and call it progress")
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To: Retain Mike

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CSm055a0394

B-26 former crews remember Midway.

That bombers stall speed was about the same as the maximum speed you could drop their mark 13 torpedoes.


5 posted on 06/06/2012 9:40:13 AM PDT by Snickering Hound
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To: Retain Mike

Would have been impossible if not for the code breakers. We owe SO MUCH to those guys.


6 posted on 06/06/2012 9:42:36 AM PDT by DManA
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To: Retain Mike

I did like that you gave time frames of the action (3hrs 23 min. to sink 3 carriers) and the time of the subsequent afternoon attack that got Hiryu.

That perspective is sometimes forgotten in the longer, more detailed, book decsriptions of the battle.


7 posted on 06/06/2012 9:45:03 AM PDT by ngat
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To: Retain Mike

Excellent post: retailing parts of the Midway battle I never knew - the high loss rate among US pilots.


8 posted on 06/06/2012 9:47:36 AM PDT by agere_contra
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To: agere_contra

Midway was the last time the obsolete TBD Devastator torpedo bombers saw action. The remaining ones were quickly withdrawn and used for training or simply scrapped.

The only “survivors” today are a handful of wrecks that have been located on the ocean floor.


9 posted on 06/06/2012 9:50:06 AM PDT by M1903A1 ("We shed all that is good and virtuous for that which is shoddy and sleazy... and call it progress")
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To: Retain Mike

Ping.


10 posted on 06/06/2012 10:01:07 AM PDT by oyez ( Affordable Health-care is neither affordable nor health-care.)
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To: agere_contra

I have read that the Japanese were astonished when several of the pilots of crashing planes deliberately crashed into carriers. Way before they thought of the kamikaze strategy.


11 posted on 06/06/2012 10:02:55 AM PDT by DManA
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To: agere_contra

I have read that the Japanese were astonished when several of the pilots of crashing planes deliberately crashed into carriers. Way before they thought of the kamikaze strategy.


12 posted on 06/06/2012 10:03:04 AM PDT by DManA
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To: DManA

It certainly wasn’t unknown among the Japanese...but it just as certainly wasn’t regarded as strategy in 1942.

Under Bushido, a warrior was to go into battle prepared for death should it come...if you were crippled, or you had no chance of returning to your base, then it made sense to use yourself (or your plane, in this instance) as a final weapon when you were going to die anyway. To go into battle *intending* to die, on the other hand, was viewed as madness.

The twisting of Bushido into the purposeful death of the Kamikazes had more to do with cynical exploitation of the strong Japanese cultural sense of obligation to one’s “betters”, and the desperate sense among the Japanese that civilization itself (their version of it anyway) was at stake.


13 posted on 06/06/2012 10:27:35 AM PDT by M1903A1 ("We shed all that is good and virtuous for that which is shoddy and sleazy... and call it progress")
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To: M1903A1; DManA
Joining these subjects together - obsolete torpedo planes and the Japanese possibly picking up tactics from the enemy - the successful raid by Fairey Swordfish biplanes on the Italian port of Taranto was reported to be the inspiration for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (by which I mean: it was the inspiration for the tactic, not the inspiration for starting a war with the US).

All in all the Fairey Swordfish had a rather good war: Taranto, Matapan and a lucky hit on the Bismarck, and then a second careeer as an ASW plane later in the war.

To be fair to the Devastator, the Swordfish was two years more modern than the Devastator despite being a biplane. And it was equally vulnerable to modern fighters.

14 posted on 06/06/2012 10:30:55 AM PDT by agere_contra
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To: M1903A1
“500 mph Zero fighters”
< shakes head>
More like 330....

I think there was a variant that was capable of 370 - 400. They had a stall speed of around 70 though and that made them incredibly maneuverable and their light weight gave them a very good rate of climb. But they were no match for the Lightning or Corsair

Sorry, WW2 aviation geek here.

15 posted on 06/06/2012 10:31:02 AM PDT by Cowman (How can the IRS seize property without a warrant if the 4th amendment still stands?)
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To: DManA
I remember reading in one book about Midway this quote by a Japanese officer on the bridge of one of their ships, later used in the movie where it sounded contrived and made up: "These pilots die like Samurai!"

Most Japanese who may have visited or attended college in the US before the war never made it east of California and the rest based their opinions on Hollywood films. Few if any ever met a mean ass Alabama Bubba or had any inkling of what individual(istic) American warriors or our collective organizational and productive genius, harnessed to unimaginable resources, were capable of.

But they learned.

16 posted on 06/06/2012 10:41:17 AM PDT by katana (Just my opinions)
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To: M1903A1

You are sooooo right. I wrote down kph as mph.


17 posted on 06/06/2012 10:52:28 AM PDT by Retain Mike
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To: DManA

Yep. I couldn’t help mentioning them specifically even if it wasn’t the focus of the narrative.


18 posted on 06/06/2012 11:03:11 AM PDT by Retain Mike
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To: oyez; DManA; agere_contra; ngat; SPI-Man; Snickering Hound; M1903A1

I did warn everyone this post was probably not ready for prime time. M1903A1 pointed out that I had pick up the Zero speed in kph for my miles per hour comparison. Its top speed was actually 330mph.


19 posted on 06/06/2012 11:13:18 AM PDT by Retain Mike
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To: ngat

Thank you. That is one thing I picked up at the last minute. I finally realized how two dimentional the narrative was. I think the key for me was over 3 hours successfully evading attacks compared to the 6 minutes for disaster to strike.


20 posted on 06/06/2012 11:22:49 AM PDT by Retain Mike
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To: Retain Mike
M1903A1 pointed out that I had pick up the Zero speed in kph for my miles per hour comparison. Its top speed was actually 330mph

Another interesting thing about the A6M Zero is that it was almost a carbon copy of a Vought design that was sold to Japan in the late thirties and it was another Vought aircraft that was the primary fighter used by the US Marines to fight them. The F4U Corsair.

21 posted on 06/06/2012 11:23:27 AM PDT by Cowman (How can the IRS seize property without a warrant if the 4th amendment still stands?)
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To: Retain Mike

Good post. No apologies necessary.


22 posted on 06/06/2012 11:27:26 AM PDT by DManA
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To: ngat

I thought the movie gave a good sense of the timing of it.


23 posted on 06/06/2012 11:29:32 AM PDT by DManA
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To: SPI-Man

Here is the letter I send out annually on the anniversary of D-Day.

General Dwight Eisenhower arrived in London to head Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) during the last five months of planning for D-Day. He achieved much more than the popular portrayal of managing a political/military alliance. Though he never led troops in combat, his leadership sustained many unprecedented initiatives for the successful Normandy landings. The air assault examples the frightful uncertainties plaguing critical hazards run on this “Day of Days”.

The night before D-Day, 20,400 American and British paratroopers dropped behind the Normandy beaches from 1,250 C-47 aircraft plus gliders. This massive assault was attempted just 17 years after Charles Lindberg had flown the Atlantic solo for the first time.

To the last moment Ike’s air commander, British Air Chief Marshall Leigh-Mallory, saw only tragic forebodings reinforced by memories of American problems in North Africa and Sicily, and the German catastrophe on Crete. The German losses were so severe that Hitler forbid any further massive air assaults. Leigh-Mallory anticipated hundreds of unarmed planes and gliders being destroyed with surviving paratroopers fighting isolated until killed or captured.

The planes would arrive over Normandy the night of June 5 in three streams with each 300 miles long, allowing the Germans up to two hours to reposition night fighters and anti-aircraft artillery for maximum slaughter of the transports. Most pilots were flying their first combat mission. Leigh-Mallory had specific intelligence the German 91st Air Landing Division, specialists in fighting paratroopers, and the 6th Parachute Regiment had inexplicably moved into the area around St. Mere-Eglise, where the American divisions were to land. Could these movements mean the deception plan for D-Day directing attention to Pas de Calais was breaking down?

Ike remained strategically committed to the airborne assault, but compassionately devoted to the men. The evening before D-Day, Eisenhower left SHAEF headquarters at 6 PM, traveling to Newbury where the 101st Airborne was boarding for its first combat mission. Ike arrived at 8 PM and did not leave until the last C-47 was airborne over three hours later.

In My Three Years with Eisenhower Captain Harry C. Butcher says, “We saw hundreds of paratroopers with blackened and grotesque faces, packing up for the big hop and jump. Ike wandered through them, stepping over, packs, guns, and a variety of equipment such as only paratroop people can devise, chinning with this and that one. All were put at ease. He was promised a job after the war by a Texan who said he roped, not dallied, his cows, and at least there was enough to eat in the work. Ike has developed or disclosed an informality and friendliness with troopers that almost amazed me”.

In Crusade in Europe General Dwight Eisenhower says, “I found the men in fine fettle, many of them joshingly admonishing me that I had no cause for worry, since the 101st was on the job, and everything would be taken care of in fine shape. I stayed with them until the last of them were in the air, somewhere about midnight. After a two hour trip back to my own camp, I had only a short time to wait until the first news should come in”.

One of the first D-Day reports was from Leigh-Mallory with news only 29 of 1,250 C-47’s were missing and only four gliders were unaccounted for. That morning Leigh-Mallory sent Ike a message frankly saying it is sometimes difficult to admit that one is wrong, but he had never had a greater pleasure than in doing so on this occasion. He congratulated Ike on the wisdom and courage of his command decision.

The above represents only one of many crushing anxieties Eisenhower persevered through. President Roosevelt understood the enormous risks, and asked the nation to pray for the coming invasion. Resting today in the luxury of historical certainty prevents us from imagining the dark specters hovering about nearly all invasion planning aspects.


24 posted on 06/06/2012 11:58:57 AM PDT by Retain Mike
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To: katana

“...Few if any ever met a mean ass Alabama Bubba...”

Or as Richard Pryor put it, “What were the Japanese thinking?...they only knew of California White People...they didn’t know about the kind of White people in Alabama that have to be kept chained-up in the basement...”


25 posted on 06/06/2012 12:59:12 PM PDT by Monterrosa-24 (...even more American that a French bikini and a Russian AK-47.)
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To: Retain Mike

Thank you for posting!


26 posted on 06/06/2012 2:47:54 PM PDT by fortheDeclaration (Pr 14:34 Righteousness exalteth a nation:but sin is a reproach to any people)
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To: Retain Mike

Thanks for posting.


27 posted on 06/06/2012 2:50:18 PM PDT by fortheDeclaration (Pr 14:34 Righteousness exalteth a nation:but sin is a reproach to any people)
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To: Snickering Hound

Now that is quite a point. In the four sources I read for the narrative I checked again and found no mention of that dilemma. I wonder now if that difficulty was even discussed? Maybe this was a case of Navy and Army speaking different languages?


28 posted on 06/06/2012 3:17:34 PM PDT by Retain Mike
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To: katana
Few if any ever met a mean ass Alabama Bubba or had any inkling of what individual(istic) American warriors or our collective organizational and productive genius, harnessed to unimaginable resources, were capable of.

And many of those were the grandsons of Confederate soldiers who fought so hard in the War between the States. I know, my Father was one of those at Midway.

29 posted on 06/06/2012 3:41:35 PM PDT by Inyo-Mono (My greatest fear is that when I'm gone my wife will sell my guns for what I told her I paid for them)
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To: Retain Mike
for 25 Marine Brewster Buffalos and Hellcat fighters

No Hellcats...yet. Wildcats.

30 posted on 06/06/2012 4:04:51 PM PDT by xone
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To: Cowman
370 - 400.

Don't confuse airspeed measured in knots vs mph. 330knots is about 380mph. Most aircraft airspeed is measured in knots.

31 posted on 06/06/2012 4:11:40 PM PDT by central_va ( I won't be reconstructed and I do not give a damn.)
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To: Cowman
370 - 400.

Don't confuse airspeed measured in knots vs mph. 330knots is about 380mph. Most aircraft airspeed is measured in knots.

32 posted on 06/06/2012 4:11:58 PM PDT by central_va ( I won't be reconstructed and I do not give a damn.)
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To: xone

Right, they were Wildcats. As I said it was not quite ready for prime time.


33 posted on 06/06/2012 4:15:09 PM PDT by Retain Mike
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To: central_va
Don't confuse airspeed measured in knots vs mph. 330knots is about 380mph. Most aircraft airspeed is measured in knots.

I realize that Airspeed is usually measured in knots but ground speed specs are usually in MPH. I was thinking of a hopped up version of the A6M that was designed to compete with the Corsair which had set a new record of 405 MPH. I looked it up. THe A6M5 was fitted with a supercharger and was capable of speeds over 400 mph but only in a dive. there was a high speed version that was proposed (A6M8)that would probably have broken 400 MPH but it was never completed.

That'll teach me to rely on memory when the slow leak in my head starts acting up.

34 posted on 06/06/2012 4:40:33 PM PDT by Cowman (How can the IRS seize property without a warrant if the 4th amendment still stands?)
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To: Retain Mike

On a picture-perfect day, the Imperial Japanese Army and Imperial Japanese Navy wouldn’t speak to each other. They regarded each other as enemies second only to the Allies.


35 posted on 06/06/2012 5:14:56 PM PDT by M1903A1 ("We shed all that is good and virtuous for that which is shoddy and sleazy... and call it progress")
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To: Retain Mike

“...now mostly at the bottom of Pearl Harbor...”

No.

http://www.pearlharbor.org/ships-and-aircraft.asp


36 posted on 06/06/2012 5:26:43 PM PDT by Born to Conserve
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To: Born to Conserve

You are correct. That was overstated. The precious carriers and escorts had escaped.


37 posted on 06/06/2012 5:39:04 PM PDT by Retain Mike
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To: Retain Mike

“In late December” only four of the eight battleships were sunk. Only a few other smaller ships were sunk.

The Pacific fleet was in no way “at the bottom of Pearl Harbor.”


38 posted on 06/06/2012 6:05:27 PM PDT by Born to Conserve
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To: Born to Conserve

One area in which things could have turned out much worse...the alternate anchorage on the west/southwest side of Oahu was in deep water. If the fleet had been there on December 7th instead of in the harbor, all the ships sunk would have been permanently lost.


39 posted on 06/07/2012 8:30:40 AM PDT by M1903A1 ("We shed all that is good and virtuous for that which is shoddy and sleazy... and call it progress")
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