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Skip to comments.Midway: Gracious Leadership and Brave Men
Posted on 06/06/2012 3:06:57 PM 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, Youre 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 Nimitzs and the flyers tenuous position consider that gathering nearly every U.S. Navy ship left in the Pacific achieved an order of battle where Nimitz had heavy 3 carriers against 6 heavy/light carriers for the Japanese, no battleship against 11 for the Japanese, 24 cruisers/destroyers against 69 for the Japanese.
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 Fieberlings. 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-17s 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 300 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 Leslies 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 Leslies 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-17s, 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.
Do you remember having posted this same thing this morning?
I was mid-way through my dinner when I saw this reposted but I read it again and again.
Do you remember dozens of FReepers asking JimRob being to ban you for your incessant thread disruption?
Knock. It. Off.
Midway was a miracle. Every time I re-read the story, I shake my head in awe. It was staggering courage from many, many men, plus sheer Grace.
Really, dead bodies were still floating around rotting 18 days after the attack? That's impossible unless they were Japs
I agree. Like i said It was probably not ready for prime time.