Sunday, June 4, 2017

Fw: TheList 4470

The List 4470

To All,
I hope your weekend has been going well. This List is devoted to the Battle of Midway. Today it the 75th Anniversary of this pivotal battle in the Pacific.
This Day In Naval History - June 4
1934 - USS Ranger, first ship designed from the keel up as a carrier, is commissioned at Norfolk, VA
1942 - Battle of Midway (4-6 June) begins; during battle, the 4 Japanese carriers which attacked Pearl Harbor are sunk; this decisive U.S. victory is a turning point in the Pacific war
1944 - Hunter-killer group USS Guadalcanal captures German submarine, U-505
·         Today in History June 4
The fortress at Osaka, Japan, falls to Shogun Leyasu after a six-month siege.
Parliamentary forces capture King Charles I and hold him prisoner.
The Freemasons are founded in London.
Captain George Vancouver claims Puget Sound for Britain.
British troops capture Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Tripoli is forced to conclude peace with the United States after a conflict over tribute.
The French army, under Napoleon III, takes Magenta from the Austrian army.
Confederates under General Joseph Johnston retreat to the mountains in Georgia.
Gold is discovered in Alaska's Indian Creek.
French and American troops halt Germany's offensive at Chateau-Thierry, France.
The U.S. Senate passes the Women's Suffrage bill.
The British complete the evacuation of 300,000 troops at Dunkirk.
In Argentina, Juan Peron takes part in the military coup that overthrows Ramon S. Castillo.
The U-505 becomes the first enemy submarine captured by the U.S. Navy.
Allied troops liberate Rome.
Juan Peron is installed as Argentina's president.
North Korea accepts the United Nations proposals in all major respects.
The Taiwan island of Quemoy is hit by 500 artillery shells fired from the coast of Communist China.
Black activist Angela Davis is found not guilty of murder, kidnapping, and criminal conspiracy.
This is a great series of article on various aspects of the battle.
From:  Director of Naval History
To:  Senior Retired Navy Leadership
Subj: H-gram 006 Battle of Midway 75th Anniversary
The pre-publication reviews for this H-gram are already in; "Excellent.  Thanks so much.   It's information we can ALL use as we prepare for this commemoration of the greatest battle in Naval history" - CNO ADM Richardson.
Naturally, I am in complete agreement with the CNO.
From: Director of Naval History
To: Senior Navy Leadership
Subj: H-gram 006 Battle of Midway
Battle of Midway – 75th Anniversary
"…the enemy lacks the will to fight…" – Japanese Midway Operations Order, Commander's Estimate of the Situation.
     The Battle of Midway (4-6 June 1942) was one of the most critical battles of WWII, and one of the most one-sided battles in all of history, although achieved at a very high cost for the U.S. aircraft and aircrew responsible for the victory. It was not, however, a "miracle."  At the decisive point of contact, it was four Japanese aircraft carriers (248 aircraft) and 20 escorts against three U.S. aircraft carriers (233 aircraft) and 25 escorts and an island airfield (127 aircraft – 360 total U.S. aircraft.)  The Japanese had some significant qualitative advantages, principally the ability to rapidly launch a massive integrated multi-carrier strike package, fighter maneuverability, and better torpedoes.  However, the U.S. had some advantages as well, such as the element of surprise, radar, damage control, and the ability of U.S. aircraft to absorb damage.  Although the total number of Japanese forces committed to the Midway Operation (essentially, almost every operational ship in the Imperial Japanese Navy) far exceeded that of the U.S., none but the four carriers were in a position to effect the outcome of the battle at the critical point and time.  In terms of numbers and capabilities of the decisive weapon system of the battle, dive-bombers, the two sides were at rough parity.
    Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, based his plan on inadequate intelligence and an inaccurate understanding of American intent, specifically the incorrect assumption that the "demoralized" Americans would have to be drawn out to fight.  Therefore Yamamoto's force distribution was not optimized for mutual support, but rather for operational deception, to conceal the true extent of the forces employed so as to not prematurely spook the Americans into refusing to give battle.  To a degree, his plan worked, in that Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral Chester Nimitz did not know that Yamamoto's main body of battleships was trailing several hundred miles behind the Japanese carriers (with Yamamoto embarked on the new super-battleship Yamato,) intent on ambushing U.S. forces that took the bait of the Midway invasion force.  However, by doing so, the main body and other formations in the highly complex Japanese plan had no opportunity to engage U.S. forces in battle.  Yamamoto was further hampered by a poorly planned and executed surveillance and reconnaissance effort.  He had no idea the American carriers were already northeast of Midway waiting in ambush, and refused to consider the possibility that his plan might be compromised.  (In pre-battle war games, the Japanese commander playing the U.S. "OPFOR" did exactly what Nimitz did, with results that were remarkably close to what actually happened, but his actions were ruled "impossible" by the game umpire, and the Japanese game losses were resurrected.)
     Admiral Nimitz, on the other hand, had a very accurate understanding of Japanese intent, based on intelligence, of which code-breaking was only a part, albeit significant.  Based on breaking the Japanese Navy general operating code (JN-25B) and the work of Commander Joseph Rochefort's team in Station Hypo, Nimitz knew that Midway was the objective of Japanese Operation "MI," knew the approximate timing and approximate forces employed (four or five carriers,) and knew that the concurrent Aleutian operation ("AL") was not the Japanese main effort.  Armed with this useful, but still somewhat vague code-breaking intelligence, Nimitz nevertheless insisted that his Intelligence Officer, Commander Edwin Layton, produce a more precise estimate of where the Japanese carriers would be located when first detected.  Using all means of intelligence at his disposal, including his intimate understanding of Japanese thought-process from his years of language training in Japan, Layton came up with an estimated bearing, range and time from Midway Island (325 degrees, 175 nm, at 0600 4 Jun 42) that Admiral Nimitz later said was "five degrees, five miles, and five minutes off."  The actual location was a little father off than Nimitz said, but not by much.  Actually, the Japanese carriers arrived a day later than planned, but Layton's estimate had accounted for weather and the Japanese plan had not.  (see attachment H-006-1 "ISR at Midway")  Nimitz' decision, although audacious, was far from a desperate gamble that some accounts have portrayed, but rather was completely in accord with the principle of "calculated risk" which guided Nimitz and other operational commanders during the battle.
     Nimitz also later said that the battle was "essentially a victory of intelligence."  Up to a point, Nimitz' statement is true.  Forearmed with Layton's estimate, Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher's two carrier task forces  (TF-17 centered on USS Yorktown (CV-5) with RADM Fletcher embarked, and TF-16 centered on USS Enterprise (CV-6) and USS Hornet (CV-8) led by RADM Raymond Spruance, replacing VADM William Halsey, bed-ridden with shingles) were in the perfect position (designated "Point Luck") to ambush the Japanese carriers on the morning of 4 June 1942 while the Japanese air strike on Midway Island was recovering.  Once RADM Spruance made the decision to launch full strike packages from both Enterprise and Hornet as early (and at as long range) as he did, the die was cast.  Given the Japanese weakness in shipboard anti-aircraft defense and the inexperience of Japanese fighters, however numerous, in dealing with a protracted multi-axis attack, there were enough U.S. aircraft in the air (117) to deal a mortal blow to all of the Japanese carriers, so long as the American strikes actually found the Japanese carriers.  Once the Enterprise and Hornet launched their strikes, all the Japanese could do at that point would have been to even up the score had they been able to get a counterstrike airborne (which they weren't) before the U.S. strikes arrived over their targets.
     Nevertheless, although intelligence could set the stage for victory, the battle still actually had to be fought and won by the skill, courage, and blood of those who flew the planes, manned the anti-aircraft batteries, and peered through the periscopes.  The Japanese fought with great tactical prowess, and extreme tenacity and bravery, as evidenced by Japanese pilots who somehow held their flaming planes in the air long enough to drop their bombs and torpedoes.  Despite the initial U.S. advantage of surprise, the battle could have easily gone the other way, such as when Hornet's air group, except for the torpedo bombers, completely missed the Japanese; or had the Japanese carrier Akagi survived the one bomb that actually hit her, the Japanese counterstrike from Akagi could well have taken out all three U.S. carriers, based on how much damage was later inflicted on Yorktown by Hiryu's relatively small uncoordinated last-ditch strikes (three direct bomb hits and two torpedo hits).  Far from being indecisive as portrayed in many historical accounts, the Japanese carrier task force ("Kido Butai" – mobile strike force) commander, VADM Chuichi Nagumo moved aggressively, and in accordance with Japanese doctrine, to counter threats; and it was his extreme offensive mentality that typified Japanese naval officers that arguably cost him the battle.  However, with a little luck he might have finished off the American carriers despite his losses.  If there is any enduring lesson of Midway it is that never again should the U.S. and Japan face each other on opposite sides of a field of battle.
     In the end, the battle was won by the initiative, toughness, and incredible valor of the U.S. pilots who pressed home their attacks against great odds; in the face of staggering losses, not one U.S. bomber is known to have turned away before either delivering ordnance or being shot down.  Several Yorktown dive-bombers even attacked after they had accidentally jettisoned their bombs.  The ferocity of the Marine anti-aircraft fire on Midway Island and the valiant fight by the Marine's hopelessly outclassed fighters, shocked the Japanese by hitting almost half the early morning 108-plane Japanese strike on the island, downing 11 aircraft and seriously damaging 14.  This set in motion Nagumo's fateful decision to re-arm his 107-plane reserve strike package for a re-attack on Midway, before he knew U.S. carriers were present, in violation of Yamamoto's orders to keep his reserve armed for anti-ship strikes.
     Four waves of U.S. torpedo bombers (six new TBF Avengers and four USAAF B-26 Marauders from Midway, and 41 older TBD Devastators in three squadrons from the carriers) suffered grievous losses, likened to the Charge of the Light Brigade, each wave encountering between 15 and 30 Zero fighters, but not one torpedo bomber turned away.  One TBF and two B-26's crash-landed on Midway afterwards, and only six of the TBD's made it back to the carriers, only three of which were flyable.  Of the 99 men in the 42 torpedo planes that were lost, only three survived the battle.  The skipper of Torpedo Squadron Eight (VT-8,) off the Hornet, LCDR John Waldron, had told his squadron during the pre-launch brief that "if only one plane is left, I want that man to go in and get a hit." That's exactly what his squadron tried to do, following Waldron's direction to the last man.  As 14 of the 15 TBD's of VT-8 went down one after the other in flames, the last plane, piloted by ENS George "Tex" Gay stayed on course and dropped his torpedo at the carrier Soryu, before being shot down.  Soryu avoided the torpedo, and Gay was the sole survivor of the attack.  The other two torpedo squadrons (VT-6 and VT-3) displayed equal valor with the same result; no hits and great loss.
    The slaughter of the torpedo-bombers was not part of the American plan, but was the result of the U.S. inability to effectively coordinate a multi-carrier strike, or even a single air group strike.  Nevertheless, the sacrifice of the torpedo-bombers was not in vain; their attacks, and those of Midway-based USMC SBD Dauntless dive-bombers (8 of 16 lost) and SB2U Vindicator dive-bombers (4 of 11 lost) and USAAF B-17 Flying Fortresses, strung out over two and a half hours (all with numerous near misses but no hits), forced the Japanese carriers to constantly launch and recover fighter aircraft in between wild defensive maneuvering.  The result was that the Japanese carriers were unable to spot their decks for a counter-strike launch; the Japanese were still over 45 minutes from being ready to launch their dive-bombers and torpedo-planes (not five minutes as in early accounts) when the decisive attack by U.S. Navy dive-bombers commenced; two squadrons from Enterprise and one squadron from Yorktown (launched over an hour later) that arrived simultaneously over the Japanese carriers by complete coincidence.  (see H-006-2 "The Sacrifice.")
    The U.S. dive-bomber strike crippled the Japanese carriers Akagi, Kaga and Soryu.  Hiryu survived to get off two small strikes that left the Yorktown in sinking condition.  Late in the afternoon, dive-bombers from Enterprise and Yorktown (flying off Enterprise) crippled the Hiryu.  (See H-006-3 "The Victory - Barely.")  None of the Japanese carriers were actually sunk by U.S. bombs; although flaming wrecks, all four had to be dispatched by Japanese torpedoes to ensure the still-floating ships did not fall into U.S. hands.  Two days later, the Japanese heavy cruiser Mikuma, accompanying her more heavily damaged  sister Mogami, both damaged in a collision while avoiding the submarine USS Tambor (SS-198,) was sunk by carrier dive-bombers (mostly due to secondary explosions from her own oxygen-fueled torpedoes.)
    Over three thousand Japanese sailors were killed in the battle, most while valiantly trying to save their ships, including over 700 aircraft technicians/maintainers (a very limited skill in Japan.)  All 248 carrier aircraft were lost, most going down with their ship, along with several cruiser/battleship-launched float-planes.  However, most Japanese pilots were rescued; only 36 were lost on the carriers and 74 in the air, mostly from Hiryu.  Most of Japan's Pearl Harbor-veteran pilots would survive Midway only to perish in the meat-grinder battle of attrition in the skies around Guadalcanal later in the year, where over 2,000 Japanese aircraft would be lost.  It was not the loss of pilots at Midway that crippled Japan's ability to wage offensive naval operations, but rather the loss of the most important Japanese strategic asset, the irreplaceable aircraft carriers.  Only one new Japanese fleet carrier would make it into a major fleet action during the war, only to be sunk by a U.S. submarine in her first battle.
    ADM Nimitz, who had commanded several submarines early in his career, was disappointed in the performance of his submarines at Midway.  Of 19 U.S. submarines in Task Force 7, only three made contact with the Japanese (although seven were guarding the approaches to Hawaii).  The USS Grouper (SS-214) was repeatedly strafed, bombed and depth-charged, and was unable to close on the Japanese carriers.   For whatever reason, USS Tambor (SS-198) did not engage the heavily damaged cruisers Mikuma and Mogami (and her skipper was immediately relieved of command after the battle.)  The USS Grayling (SS-209 and host to ADM Nimitz' PACFLT change of command ceremony) was mistaken for a Japanese cruiser and bombed by USAAF B-17's (fortunately no bombs hit, which was also the case with over 320 bombs dropped by the B-17's on actual Japanese ships.)
    The USS Nautilus (SS-168), LCDR William Brockman commanding, tried to attack the Japanese carrier force and was strafed by an aircraft, tried again and was bombed by an aircraft, tried again, and was depth-charged by the light cruise Nagara while setting up an attack on the battleship Kirishima.  As soon as the depth-charging ceased, Brockman boldly came back to periscope depth and fired on the Kirishima with two torpedoes; one hung in the tube and the other missed, and Nautilus was then heavily depth-charged.  Later in the day Brockman tried yet again and succeeded in firing a spread of four torpedoes, all of which malfunctioned, at the dead-in-the-water and burning Kaga, only to barely survive another brutal depth charge attack (42 depth-charges, two of which clanged off her hull but did not explode.)  The one torpedo that hit the Kaga failed to explode and the buoyant after-body served as a flotation device for swimming Japanese sailors.  Brockman was awarded a Navy Cross.  Of note however, it was the Japanese destroyer Arashi, trying to catch up to the Japanese carriers after being left behind to depth-charge the Nautilus, that led Lieutenant Commander Clarence Wade McClusky and two Enterprise dive-bomber squadrons to the Japanese carriers and their doom.  Later in the war, however, armed with torpedoes that actually worked, more aggressive skippers like Brockman, and a steady stream of "Ultra" intelligence (derived from broken Japanese codes) U.S. submarines would go on to inflict significantly more losses to the Japanese than any other U.S. weapons system, at great cost (52 submarines) as well.
    At the end of 4 June, the gravely damaged and heavily listing USS Yorktown was still barely afloat.  Through the heroic damage control efforts of her crew, incorporating numerous hard lessons learned at the Battle of the Coral Sea, the carrier was still afloat on the morning of 6 Jun, under tow to Pearl Harbor.  (Of note, the Yorktown's air group, demonstrating the value of combat experience, was the only carrier air group to successfully execute a coordinated near-simultaneous torpedo-bomber, dive-bomber, and fighter strike on the Japanese carriers.)  However, in broad daylight, the skipper of the Japanese submarine I-168 (which had previously provided accurate, and ignored, intelligence on Midway Island's state of readiness, and had even shelled the island) picked his way through five escorting U.S. destroyers and torpedoed the Yorktown at point-blank range, sinking the destroyer USS Hammann (DD-412) that was alongside Yorktown, which went down in under four minutes, many of her swimming crew killed by the detonations of her own un-safed depth-charges (81 of 251 crew lost.)  Even with the two additional torpedo hits, Yorktown remained afloat until finally succumbing on the morning of 7 Jun.  I-168 survived, with heavy damage including leaking chlorine gas, an extensive U.S. depth charge attack (61 depth charges) by the U.S. destroyers.
    In addition to failing to protect the Yorktown from submarine attack, no Japanese aircraft were confirmed downed by anti-aircraft fire from any escorts, due primarily to the inadequacy of their AAA fit. (Japanese shipboard anti-aircraft fire was equally as ineffective.)  The AAA certainly did damage aircraft and disrupt bombers' aim.  Enterprise and Hornet were never located or attacked by Japanese bombers, so their escorts were never tested.  Nevertheless, the Japanese surface navy failed to get the memo that the tide of war turned at Midway, and the U.S. surface navy would get its chance to prove its mettle and extreme valor in the following months, persevering in several of the most savage and hard-fought ship-to-ship battles in naval history in "Ironbottom Sound" around Guadalcanal, at a cumulative cost of many more Sailors than Pearl Harbor.
   The Battle of Midway was not won by "Citizen-Sailors."  It was won mostly by volunteer, professional naval officers and Sailors (the draft had only been in effect for a little over a year.)  The more senior officers and enlisted Sailors had endured many years of inadequate resources, misguided treaty limitations, low pay, slow promotions, and in the intense isolationist and anti-war backlash from the carnage of WWI, a profound lack of appreciation and respect for U.S. military personnel in the interwar years by much of the U.S. population.  Yet it was these volunteers, and a few draftees, in many cases armed with obsolete inadequate weapons and hampered by fiscal constraints that severely curtailed realistic training, who held the line and paid with their lives to buy the time necessary for the United States to mobilize its massive resources in people and equipment that ultimately won the war.  Compared to the Japanese, the American cost in blood was much less, but still profound ; 307 Americans were killed in the battle.  The bulk of the losses fell upon the aviators, Marines, Army Air Forces, but mostly Navy.  Of the carrier aircraft that engaged the Japanese fleet on 4 June 1942, 40% were shot down, ditched due to battle damage or fuel exhaustion, or were no longer air-worthy despite recovering on a carrier.  Well over 150 U.S. aviators, most of them Navy, made the ultimate sacrifice in winning one of the greatest battles of all time.  Although only one Medal of Honor (posthumous) was awarded in the battle (Captain Richard Fleming, USMC,) approximately 170 Navy Crosses were awarded to Navy personnel, mostly aviators, many posthumously.
     Some historians argue that Midway was not "decisive" because (with 20/20 hindsight) the ultimate victory over Japan was never in doubt, Midway or no Midway, but was merely the inevitable application of overwhelming U.S. industrial power.  Although "what if" scenarios are generally frowned upon by professional historians, had the battle resulted in a military defeat for the U.S., President Roosevelt would have had an extremely difficult time maintaining his very politically unpopular "defeat Germany first" strategy.  Imagine a very different world in which the Nazi Germans had had time to develop an atomic bomb, or the Soviets had had time to overrun all of western Europe.  British Prime Minister Churchill's statement regarding the Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain, that "never had so much been owed by so many to so few" applied just as well to the few naval aviators who turned the tide at the Battle of Midway.
After the battle, the New York Times banner headline read, "US Army Fliers Blast Two Jap Fleets at Midway."
The headline in the Japan Times in Tokyo read, "(Japanese) Navy Wins Epochal Victory."
(Over the years I have read probably almost every book on Midway ever written, including the classics, "Incredible Victory" by Walter Lord, and "Miracle at Midway" by Gordon Prange, and of course, RADM Samuel Eliot Morison.  However, declassification of most intelligence records in the 1970's and newer access to Japanese sources have significantly changed many of the conclusions of those earlier works.  A relatively recent work, "Shattered Sword" by Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully is an extraordinary piece of research, telling the battle mostly from the Japanese side using many Japanese sources, and is probably the most comprehensive and accurate book on Midway I have read.  For this reason most of the numbers for casualties, etc. that I use are from this book, although other sources may vary.)
"ISR" in the Battle of Midway
S.J. Cox
17 May 17
"To Commander Joe Rochefort must forever go the acclaim of having made more difference at a more important time than any officer in history."  At least, that's what Captain Edward L. "Ned" Beach, Jr. (skipper of USS Triton's (SSNR-586) around-the-world submerged voyage and author of "Run Silent, Run Deep" and other submarine classics) said.  There is no question that CDR Rochefort, commander of Station Hypo at Pearl Harbor, had profound effect on the outcome of the battle.  He also had a lot of help, including from Japanese mistakes.
    Station Hypo was a short-hand term used for the U.S. Navy's code-breaking and signals intelligence operation, more formally known as the Combat Intelligence Unit embedded within the naval communications station in the basement of the 14th Naval District Headquarters (commanded by RADM Claude Bloch,) with CDR Rochefort as officer-in-charge of communications.  The 14th Naval District reported to the CNO, and Rochefort reported to OP-20G at Navy Headquarters in Washington DC.  Officially, any intelligence developed by Hypo was to be sent to Washington D.C. (Station Negat) for analysis and dissemination.  However, Rochefort had a long established relationship and friendship with the Pacific Fleet Intelligence Officer, LCDR Edwin Layton, when both underwent Japanese language training in Japan earlier in their careers.   Rochefort routinely passed intelligence directly to Layton (to the consternation of Washington) who was only one of two officers accorded immediate and direct access to Admiral Nimitz at any hour.
    Nimitz was a firm believer in the principle, first recorded by Sun Tzu and implemented by Julius Ceasar, that the commander should receive his intelligence direct from his intelligence sources, unfiltered by anyone else.  Despite the fact that both Layton and Rochefort had been in the same jobs for the Pearl Harbor debacle, Nimitz recognized Layton's unique talents and retained him, and made no effort to remove Rochefort (who technically didn't work for Nimitz anyway.)  Nimitz told Layton that his job was to think like Admiral Yamamoto and provide estimates of what he thought the Japanese intended to do.  Neither Layton nor Rochefort were intelligence officers (or codebreakers;) there was no such thing.  Both were line officers who had had a few intelligence assignments in between the line assignments necessary for promotion; intelligence work was generally considered non-career enhancing (junior officers assigned to an intelligence billet on a battleship were known to be made the ship's laundry officer) but was considered OK for a non-USNA officer like Rochefort.  Layton was a rare USNA line officer with exceptional talent, who had also willingly served in multiple intelligence assignments, and who, like Rochefort, spoke fluent Japanese.
     The U.S. Navy code-breaking effort dated back almost to WWI, and had progressed in fits and starts in the 1920's and 1930's, and had benefited greatly from Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) "black-bag jobs" such as breaking and entering the Japanese consulate to copy codebooks, etc. (which would be illegal now, and technically was illegal even then.)  By the time of Pearl Harbor, U.S. Navy and U.S. Army cryptologists (they took turns on alternate days) were breaking and reading the Japanese diplomatic code (called "Purple" and the program "Magic") faster than the Japanese embassy in Washington.  Initial inroads were being made on breaking the Japanese Navy general operating code, known at the time as the "5 num" code, and retroactively as the JN-25 series (JN-25B at the time leading up to Pearl Harbor and Midway – changed to JN-25C a week before Midway.)  Rochefort was not the "code-breaker."  He was in charge of code-breakers; he had some previous tours in signals intelligence and code-breaking, and was well-suited for the assignment.  The senior code-breaker in Station Hypo was actually LCDR Carter Ham.  At the time of Pearl Harbor, Hypo had been assigned to beat their heads against the wall trying to break the Japanese Flag Officers Code (which was never broken) while Station Negat in D.C. and Station Cast at Cavite, Philippines worked on JN-25B.
    After Pearl Harbor, Hypo was allowed to work on JN-25B, and began to have success.  Each raid by U.S. carriers on outlying Japanese garrison islands in early 1942 resulted in a flurry of Japanese communications (and communications security violations) tied to a specific, known event, which greatly aided the code-breaking effort, which in conjunction with "traffic analysis" (analysis of message externals; to, from, precedence, length, etc.) led to increasingly accurate estimates of Japanese force disposition and intent.  However, even at best, the U.S. was only intercepting about 60% of Japanese naval communications, analyzing about 40%, and actually breaking and reading only about 10-15%, frequently only fragments of message internals (the "text".)  Even when broken, the message was still in esoteric highly-technical jargon-laden "navalese" Japanese, i.e., very difficult to translate by even the best linguists (coupled with the fact that very many geographic locations in the Pacific had multiple different names.)  So, it was not as if ADM Nimitz before Midway had his own copy of the Japanese Operations Order.  All he had was fragments, amplified by traffic analysis, other signals intelligence (intercepted clear voice) and other basic intelligence analysis techniques, and the experience and intuition of Layton.
    Nevertheless, throughout the spring of 1942, Nimitz gained increasing confidence in the intelligence being provided by Layton and Rochefort.  It was intelligence that led him to commit the USS Yorktown (CV-5) and USS Lexington (CV-3) to counter the Japanese invasion attempt on Port Moresby, New Guinea, that resulted in the Battle of the Coral Sea on 7-8 May.  On 12 May, Rochefort's code-breakers got the first indications that the Japanese were planning a major operation in the Central Pacific, and Rochefort informed Layton that it was "really hot."  As more message traffic was intercepted, both Rocheforte and Layton became convinced that Midway Island was the target, and they convinced Nimitz as well.  Washington was not convinced, even though OP-20G/Negat and War Plans were analyzing the same intelligence.
    Before Pearl Harbor and well into the spring of 1942, the Intelligence situation in Washington D.C. was dysfunctional (contributing significantly to the disaster at Pearl Harbor.)  Four different Directors of Naval Intelligence in a little over a year (none with intelligence background; most who didn't want the job) didn't help, nor did the constant reorganizations.  The bitter long-running bureaucratic (and resource) battle between Naval Communications and Naval Intelligence over who should own "Communications Intelligence" (and code-breaking) had severe detrimental effect, and at the time Naval Communications was in the driver's seat.  After Pearl Harbor, the "father of U.S. Navy code-breaking," CDR Laurance Safford was removed and replaced by a line officer as OP-20G who had no experience in the subject.  ONI was also involved in a bitter losing battle with the War Plans Division, under RADM Richmond Kelly Turner, in which ONI was barred from providing "assessments" of intelligence, since Kelly convinced CNO's Stark and King that assessment was a War Plans operational function and ONI was just supposed to provide the raw intelligence.  Just prior to Pearl Harbor, Kelly officially assessed that the Japanese would not attack the United States but would attack Russia instead.  ONI held a different view.  Also, Layton and Rochefort had experienced the chaotic period after Pearl Harbor in which a flood of bogus rumors ("RUMINT") had paralyzed operational decision-makers.  Station Negat on the other hand, "under new management" still chased after and reported numerous false and contradictory leads, providing "worst case" analysis to King.
    Contrary to many books and movies, the famous "AF" gambit run by Rochefort was an attempt to get Washington to believe that "AF" stood for Midway, not to convince Nimitz.  With an idea provided by Jasper Holmes, one of his staff, Rochefort had a message sent via secure underwater cable to Midway for Midway to broadcast a phony radio message in the clear saying that Midway's fresh water-making capability was broken.  The Japanese intercepted the message and retransmitted the information, which was intercepted and broken by Hypo, confirming that AF stood for Midway.  Still, many in Washington were unconvinced under the "this is too-good-to-be-true" principle.  There were also a lot of good reasons why invading Midway Island seemed to make no sense.  In fact the Japanese Naval General Staff had made the same arguments in a losing battle against ADM Yamamoto's plan.  There was also considerable argument about the wisdom of basing a plan around Japanese intent rather than Japanese worst-case capability, and that it all might be an elaborate Japanese deception.  Eventually CNO King came around after ordering an assessment be provided to him direct from Rochefort.
    On 17 May, convinced that Midway was the main Japanese objective, Nimitz sent an eyes-only (and "no CNO") message to VADM Halsey, embarked on USS Enterprise (CV-6) directing him to deliberately expose Enterprise and TF-17 to Japanese reconnaissance aircraft in the vicinity of the Gilbert Islands, which Halsey dutifully did.  This accomplished several objectives.  By "blowing" Halsey's operation, Nimitz had a pretext to recall Enterprise and Hornet to Pearl Harbor (the damaged Yorktown was already en route Pearl Harbor for repair after Coral Sea) so that he could concentrate his forces at Midway, and get King off his back about keeping a carrier in the South Pacific to counter a possible Japanese thrust against the Fiji/Somoa area, which deeply concerned King.  It also fooled the Japanese into thinking at least one of the U.S. carriers was in the South Pacific, which would enable the Midway operation to defeat the U.S. carriers piecemeal.
    On 18 May, Nimitz directed Layton to provide his best estimate of where and when the Japanese carriers would first be detected.  Layton provided the estimate on 27 May (see Overview) and the same day Nimitz issued OPLAN 29-42, directing Enterprise and Hornet to proceed to the vicinity of Midway, and Yorktown to follow suit as soon as temporary repairs were complete at Pearl.  Nimitz also directed that TF-1, the battleships, several of which had been repaired after Pearl Harbor, to remain on the West Coast, to the dismay of TF1 Commander VADM Pye (and to some degree CNO King) because they were too slow, too vulnerable, and used up too much fuel.
    Nimitz also directed that Midway Island's defenses be significantly increased, including additional reconnaissance aircraft.  By early June, 1942, the 127 aircraft based on Midway Island included 31 PBY Catalina flying boats, a few rigged to carry a torpedo.  Seventeen USAAF B-17 bombers also provided additional reconnaissance capability.  The PBY's began to fly missions out to 700 miles from Midway, and on 3 Jun sighted the Japanese minesweeper group coming from Guam and also the Japanese invasion/occupation force, which was also sighted and reported by a U.S. submarine.  B-17's also bombed the invasion force with no hits (although many were claimed.)  Thick fog to the northwest of Midway, covered (and delayed) the Japanese carrier force.
   Before dawn on 4 Jun, 15 B-17's launched to attack the invasion force again, while 22 PBY's commenced reconnaissance flights, mostly to the northwest.  The Yorktown, at "Point Luck" northeast of Midway also launched 10 SBD Dauntless dive-bombers on a relatively short 100 nm search pattern to assure RADM Fletcher that no Japanese carriers were in close proximity.
    At 0530, a PBY flown by LT Howard P. Ady sighted Japanese ships northwest of Midway and issued a sighting report at 0534.  At 0545 another PBY, flown by LT William Chase sighted the inbound Japanese air strike and reported "many aircraft heading Midway." Several minutes later, at 0552, Chase sighted two of the Japanese carriers.  Midway radar detected the incoming strike at 0553.  Word of the Japanese carriers reached Fletcher, Spruance and Nimitz shortly after 0600 (almost right on Layton's estimate.)
    The Japanese Navy had a relatively robust intelligence capability, in particular a very effective shipboard radio intelligence capability that could intercept and translate U.S. clear voice communications in near-real-time providing useful tactical information to Japanese commanders even in the heat of battle.  The Japanese were also relatively proficient at traffic analysis.  Japanese radio intelligence picked up and reported the greatly increased volume of high-precedence U.S. messages in the days before Midway, but the significance was lost on senior Japanese commanders, who remained fixated on the plan and the belief that it could not have been compromised.   Japan's extremely long-range reconnaissance seaplanes were also very capable, although also very vulnerable to U.S. fighters. The Japanese, however, were not able to break U.S. Navy codes (but not for want of trying,) which left them at a significant disadvantage.  Also, the small but effective Japanese human intelligence network on Oahu was rolled up very quickly after Pearl Harbor, and Japanese-Americans (Nisei) in Hawaii (or the mainland U.S.) never engaged in espionage as feared.  (In fact the official ONI assessment was that the Nisei were not a threat and recommended against internment, but was overruled by the Army and President Roosevelt.)
    Without a human intelligence network in Hawaii, the Japanese plan depended on reconnaissance of Pearl Harbor by flying-boat, and a line of submarines between Hawaii and Midway.  Both operations failed miserably.  Operation K was to be a reconnaissance of Pearl Harbor by two Kawanishi H8K Type 2 "Emily" long-range flying-boats from the Marshall islands, which would refuel from submarines at French Frigate Shoals (midway between Oahu and Midway Island) specifically to determine whereabouts of the U.S. carriers.  The Japanese had done this before.  On the night of 3-4 March two Kawanishi flying-boats conducted a reconnaissance/bombing mission over Pearl Harbor.  Station Hypo provided advance warning of the operation, but night and overcast prevented intercept, but also precluded reconnaissance or accurate bombing by the Japanese.  One of the flying-boats dropped its bombs through the overcast onto the foothills near the Punchbowl.  No one knows where the other plane's bombs went.  (This is also the known as the "second air raid on Pearl Harbor.")  The Japanese tried another similar operation with one flying-boat on 9-10 March, but this was also compromised, and the flying-boat was shot down by a USMC fighter from Midway Island.  The Japanese did not catch on that this might be a bad idea.
    When Operation K was implemented, the Japanese submarine sent to conduct reconnaissance of French Frigate Shoals discovered a U.S. seaplane tender and destroyer camped out.  The U.S. ships were sent there deliberately by Nimitz to keep the Japanese from doing exactly what they were trying to do.  The two refueling submarines I-121 and I-123 lingered for a couple days hoping the U.S. ships would go away, but on 31 May, Operation K was cancelled, depriving the Japanese of critical intelligence on the U.S. carriers.  The implication that the U.S. might be forewarned was also ignored by senior Japanese commanders.
    The Japanese submarine reconnaissance line was an even bigger failure.  The plan called for seven submarines to be stationed along a line north of the Hawaiian Islands and seven more south of the Hawaiian islands, midway between Midway and Oahu, to detect and report the transit of U.S. carriers.  However, most of the submarines committed were among the oldest and least reliable in the Japanese Navy, although this was known, and ignored by senior Japanese commanders.  What Yamamoto and Nagumo did not know was that the entire submarine force had been held back by mechanical difficulties of several of them, and none of the submarines reached station when they were supposed to.  The politically-connected and royally-related RADM Marquis Teruhisa Komatsu, Commander of 6th Fleet (submarines) decided not to tell anyone about the late departure.  Actually it wouldn't have made any difference.  Even if the submarines had arrived on schedule, all three U.S. carriers had already gone past.
     The only Japanese submarine to distinguish itself in a reconnaissance role, was I-168 (which also later sank the Yorktown.)  I-168 observed Midway Island for several days before the battle, accurately reporting that Midway's defenses had been greatly beefed up, that the island was on high alert, and that numerous U.S. reconnaissance aircraft were flying missions out to extreme range, based on how long they were airborne.  This information was also filed under, "gee, that's nice" by Japanese commanders.
    On the morning of 4 Jun, the Japanese carrier force executed a woefully inadequate search plan.  Like the U.S., the Japanese knew very well from pre-war exercises that whichever carrier force found the other one first had a decisive advantage.  Yet despite this, the Japanese much preferred not to "waste" carrier-based strike aircraft on reconnaissance, preferring to rely instead on long-range land-based aircraft and catapult-launched float-planes from battleships and cruisers.  Relying on land-based aircraft did have an operational security advantage, in that reconnaissance by land-based aircraft did not give away the presence of an aircraft carrier.  This, however, was not an option for the Japanese at Midway.  It was an option for the U.S., which is why RADM Fletcher kept his morning reconnaissance flight close to his carriers (within 100 miles) so as to not give away is presence, relying on the Midway-based PBY Catalina's to find the Japanese carriers.   Given the complexity of the Japanese plan, float-plane capable escort ships were spread thin.  Within the Japanese carrier force, the two battleships, Haruna and Kirishima, carried three float-planes (of limited range) and the two cruisers Tone and Chikuma had been built to carry five longer range float-planes.
   Just before daybreak on 4 June, the Japanese launched seven aircraft to conduct a search of about a 200 degree sector, which resulted in Swiss cheese coverage, particularly given the cloud conditions to the east northeast, which is where the U.S. carriers were.  VADM Chuichi Nagumo and his staff understood that the search plan was weak, but accepted it.  They still believed they had the element of surprise, and they were fixated on maximizing the first strike on Midway Island.  They also still believed that it was unlikely any U.S. ships would be in the area, and if there was a carrier, there wouldn't be more than one.  The Japanese believed that the Lexington (CV-2) had been torpedoed and sunk by a submarine in January (actually it was the Saratoga (CV-3), but only damaged.)  The also believed they had sunk both the Yorktown and the Saratoga (because they'd already "sunk" her sister Lexington) at Coral Sea. One carrier had been spotted near the Gilberts (either Enterprise (CV-6) or Hornet (CV-8)) and although the Japanese didn't know for sure where the Ranger (CV-4) and Wasp (CV-7) were, they had last been located in the Atlantic.  That left one U.S. carrier to oppose the Midway strike, and the Japanese remained convinced, based on no evidence, that that carrier was cowering in Pearl and would need to be drawn out to fight.  Their complacency, a symptom of "victory disease," (the sense of their own invincibility coupled with the fatigue of six months of non-stop operations) would prove fatal.
    Tone's No. 4 scout (an Aichi E13A Type 0 "Jake") launched late, due to reasons that still remain unclear, to fly the #4 search line.  Her late launch has been cited by many historians as a key factor in the Japanese defeat by not detecting the U.S. carriers until it was too late.  Actually, Chikuma's No. 1 scout, launched on time, and flying #5 search line, should have seen TF-17 at approximately 0615, but did not, due to clouds or other factors that remain unclear.  Even if Chikuma No. 1 had found the U.S. carriers at 0615, it was already too late for Nagumo to launch the reserve strike (107 aircraft , armed with anti-ship weapons) before the U.S. carriers started launching.  Nagumo lost the battle as soon as he launched the first strike on Midway Island (in accordance with Yamamoto's plan) without knowing the U.S. carriers were in the vicinity.  Had Chikuma No.1 sighted the U.S. carriers earlier, the best Nagumo could have done would have been to trade blows (a typical outcome of pre-war U.S. exercises.)  If Tone No. 4 had launched on time and flown the prescribed route, she would have missed the U.S. carriers, and the first indication Nagumo would have had of U.S. carriers was the 15 TBD's of USS Hornet's Torpedo Squadron 8.
    Rochefort's reward for his success was to be recalled to Washington by OP-20G on a pretext, never to return to Hypo, and to be given command of a floating drydock.  Nimitz' recommendation that Rochefort be awarded the Distinguished Service Medal was denied by CNO King on the recommendation of Rochefort's Washington chain-of-command, who then took credit for having broken the Japanese code and predicted the Midway operation, even though they had done no such thing.  Nimitz tried to get King to reconsider, but got side-tracked by having a world war to run.  Not until Intelligence records become declassified in the 1970's did the real story become known to the public.  And not until after a years-long campaign by RADM Donald "Mac" Showers, who had been an ensign in Station Hypo with Rochefort, was Rochefort awarded the Navy Distinguished Service Medal by President Ronald Reagan in 1985, posthumously. 
S.J. Cox
18 Apr 17
Carrier vs. Carrier (Us vs. Them.)
     The greatest advantage the Japanese had in the first months of the war was the ability to quickly launch a massive multi-carrier coordinated and integrated strike package, under a single strike commander, and conduct a well-timed, coordinated, multi-axis attack on the target.  At the Battle of Midway, the Japanese launched a 108 plane strike from four carriers in seven minutes, formed up and enroute to the target (Midway Island) in 15 minutes, with a 107 planes in reserve to be launched against U.S. carriers should they be detected.  Japanese doctrine (like the U.S., frequently violated) called for each carrier to launch half its aircraft, that would form up into a single strike package under a single strike leader, while the other half of each carrier's air wing was held in reserve for contingency or to launch a second wave (as at Pearl Harbor.)  The U.S. could not remotely duplicate this feat, taking close to an hour to launch a similar size strike (90 aircraft) from two carriers that proceeded to the target (the Japanese carriers) in widely separated and uncoordinated groups.  Both the Japanese and the U.S. could spot about half their air group for a launch.  By integrating the aircraft from multiple carriers into one strike package, the Japanese could complete the launch and push to the target much faster than the U.S.  The Japanese could then re-spot the deck for a second wave, or to await updated contact information.  The American approach required the first half of the strike package to orbit and wait for the second half to be spotted and launched, and the second spot almost always had some complication that resulted in delay, and a serious fuel shortage amongst the aircraft from the first spot.
     U.S. doctrine (like the Japanese, frequently violated) called for each carrier and escorts to operate as an independent task force, and for each air group to launch their full complement of aircraft in an independent strike, that might be loosely coordinated in timing with another carrier air group.  The principle advantage of this approach was that it kept the enemy from finding (and destroying) all the carriers at once.  The major disadvantage was that it frequently resulted in uncoordinated strikes and diffused combat air patrol (fighter) defense.  The Japanese were even more fixated on the Mahanian principle of offense, and determined that massing their carriers into a single task force gave them the greatest offensive punch, and also allowed them to mass their fighters into a more coordinated defense.  Debate regarding which approach was better raged in both navies prior to the war.  The U.S. approach nearly cost the U.S. victory at Midway.  The Japanese approach significantly contributed to their defeat at Midway.
     In the Japanese Navy, a Carrier Division (two carriers) was a highly trained integrated tactical formation, unlike in the U.S. where a Carrier Division was mostly an administrative function.  CARDIV 1 (Akagi and Kaga), CARDIV 2 (Hiryu and Soryu), and CARDIV 5 (Shokaku and Zuikaku) constituted the Kido Butai (Mobile Striking Force.)  Each CARDIV could operate independently, but splitting a CARDIV (or crippling one of the two carriers) resulted in a severe degradation in combat capability, which is what happened at Coral Sea, and what prevented Zuikaku from participating at Midway. 
     U.S.: At the outbreak of WWII, the U.S. had seven aircraft carriers.  The Langley (CV-1) had been converted to a seaplane tender and was lost off Java in Feb 42 and is not counted.  Ranger (CV-4,) the first U.S. carrier built from the keel-up as a carrier, was not considered capable of operating as a front-line carrier against the Japanese, but did provide useful service in the Atlantic.  The Lexington (CV-2) and Saratoga (CV-3) were converted battlecruiser hulls and had served in the Pacific since being commissioned in 1927.  Saratoga was torpedoed by Japanese submarine I-6 in Jan 42 and was out-of-action until June 42, missing the battle of Midway, although significant parts of her air group did participate as replacements on board Yorktown.  Lexington was sunk on 8 May 1942 in the Battle of the Coral Sea.  The Wasp (CV-7) was a one-of-a-kind design (treaty-limited) that was not considered especially successful; she served in the Atlantic until Jul 1942 (including flying off British Spitfire fighters to assist in the defense of Malta)  before arriving off Guadalcanal to operate briefly before being torpedoed and sunk by Japanese submarine I-19 on 15 Sep 42.  The three Yorktown-class carriers (Yorktown (CV-5), Enterprise (CV-6), and Hornet (CV-8) were arguably the most-capable and best-designed of any carrier in any navy to that date.  Yorktown and the new Hornet were in the Atlantic at the start of the war and were brought around to the Pacific.  Yorktown was damaged at Coral Sea, quickly repaired, and then heavily damaged by Japanese dive bombers and torpedo bombers from the Japanese carrier Hiryu before being torpedoed and sunk by Japanese submarine I-168 at the Battle of Midway.  Hornet was sunk at the Battle of Santa Cruz in Oct 1942, while Enterprise survived the war as the most highly-decorated U.S. ship in history.  During WWII the U.S. commissioned 17 new Essex-class carriers, 9 new Independence-class light carriers (on converted light cruiser hulls) and over 100 smaller and much slower escort carriers; demonstrating a U.S. industrial shipbuilding capacity that the Japanese could not remotely match (in part, because of U.S. submarines sinking Japanese merchant ships carrying critical raw materials.) 
     Japan:  Japan began the war with 10 carriers, but only six were large "fleet" carriers comparable to the U.S. carriers, the others were a hodgepodge of medium and light carriers based on converted submarine tenders and other vessels, with limited capabilities.  Like the Lexington and Saratoga, the Akagi and Kaga were 1927/28 vintage converted battlecruiser (Akagi) and battleship (Kaga) hulls.  Like the Yorktown-class, the newer (late'30's vintage) Hiryu and Soryu were smaller than the converted carriers, but were very capable and very fast.  Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu and Soryu were all sunk at the Battle of Midway.  The newest Japanese fleet carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku were highly capable and the most successful Japanese carrier designs of the war; the Pearl Harbor strike was essentially the shakedown cruise for Zuikaku.  Both survived numerous battles before being sunk; Shokaku by U.S. submarine USS Cavalla (SS-244) at the Battle of the Philippine Sea (Jun 44) and Zuikaku by U.S. aircraft at the Battle of Leyte Gulf (Oct 44).  During the war, Japan only produced one large fleet carrier that made it into battle, the Taiho, sunk by U.S. submarine USS Albacore (SS-218) at the Battle of the Philippine Sea.  The Shinano, a conversion from the third huge Yamato-class battleship hull, was sunk by USS Archerfish (SS-311) in Nov 44 before she had even commenced sea-trials.  Several other fleet carriers were in various stages of (mostly suspended) completion when they were bombed, sunk or damaged by U.S. carrier aircraft in Japanese home ports in the last months of the war.
Carrier Air Groups (In the USN, Carrier Air Groups became Carrier Air Wings in 1963).
     U.S.:  USN carriers could generally carry more planes than Japanese carriers, and the USN was willing to keep numerous planes parked on the flight deck, so USN air groups were larger, with 60-70 aircraft.  In the first years of the war, USN air groups typically consisted of one fighter squadron (VF) of 18 F-4F Wildcats, one squadron (VT) of 12-18 TBD Devastator torpedo bombers, and two squadrons of SBD Dauntless dive bombers (16-21 aircraft each.)  One of the SBD squadrons was designated as a "Bombing" squadron (VB) and the other as a "Scouting" squadron (VS.)  In practice, there was little difference in the employment of the VB and VS squadrons; sometimes the VB would carry 1,000lb bombs (with shorter range) and the VS would carry 500lb bombs (with longer range) but both could do either.  The USN was generally fixated on the bombing capability and neglected scouting "ISR" capability (with significant negative effects in several battles) despite extensive exercise experience that showed that whichever carrier force found the other first had a decisive advantage.
    Initially, the numerical designation of each USN squadron matched the hull number of its parent carrier (torpedo squadron eight (VT-8) embarked on USS Hornet (CV-8) for example.)  An exception to this at Coral Sea was that the fighter squadron on Yorktown (CV-5) was VF-42 (the rest of the air group as VB-5, VS-5 and VT-5.)  The system began to further fall apart at Midway, when some Saratoga (CV-3) squadrons replaced battle-attrited Yorktown squadrons (VT-3 replaced VT-5 and operated off Yorktown (CV-5) at Midway for example.)  Air Groups were known by their parent carrier (e.g. "Enterprise Air Group") until later in 1942 when a number corresponding to the parent carrier was implemented (CAG 6 embarked on USS Enterprise (CV-6) for example.)  The whole system got too complicated and was abandoned during the war; air groups and squadrons thereafter retained their number regardless of which carrier they were embarked on.
     Japan.  Although Japanese carriers had two hangar decks (an upper and a lower), the Japanese did not keep planes parked on the flight deck as the U.S. did.  As a result, Japanese air groups were smaller, roughly 50-60 operational aircraft.   A typical Japanese carrier would carry 18 Mitsubishi A6M2 Type 0 fighters  (code-named "Zeke" but usually referred to as "Zero"), 21 Aichi D3A1 Type 99 "Val" dive bombers and 21 Nakajima B5N2 Type 97 "Kate" torpedo bombers, which could also be used as high-altitude horizontal bombers.  (The "Type XX" referred to the imperial calendar year in which the aircraft was introduced.  The "Zero" (actually "00") derived from imperial year 2600, which corresponded to 1940.)
      The basic unit of Japanese naval aviation organization was a three-plane "shotai" and nine-plane "chutai."  A Japanese rough equivalent to a "squadron" would generally consist of some multiple of three/nine, such as 18, 21, 27 aircraft.  Unlike U.S. air groups, Japanese air groups and associated maintenance personnel, were all integral "ship's company." The Japanese did not have the capability to rapidly shift groups or squadrons from carrier to carrier such as the U.S. did just before Midway, by putting squadrons from the Saratoga (left on the beach in Hawaii after she was torpedoed) onto the Yorktown, to replace and/or supplement losses incurred by Yorktown's squadrons at Coral Sea.  By contrast, even though the Zuikaku was undamaged at Coral Sea, the Japanese were unable to "cross-deck" and combine remnants of Shokaku and Zuikaku's air wings into an effective force in time for the Battle of Midway, so the undamaged Zuikaku missed Midway too because she could not reconstitute an air wing in time (although a case could be made that the over-confident Japanese didn't try hard enough to do so).  Also, although combat losses in the months after Pearl Harbor were low, operational attrition was already outstripping Japanese ability to replace aircraft.  So at the Battle of the Coral Sea, all Japanese carriers had fewer embarked aircraft than their maximum complement.  The same was true at Midway, but compensated by additional Zeros that had been embarked intended to be ferried to and flown from Midway after the Japanese captured it, according to the Japanese plan.  The Japanese were even more fixated on bombing instead of scouting than the U.S., preferring to leave the "search" mission to catapult-launched float planes from cruisers and battleships, and long-range flying boats, as much as possible.  Using carrier aircraft to conduct searches was viewed as a "waste" of an attack asset, even though the Japanese too clearly understood that whichever side found the other first would almost always "win" the exercise.  Like the U.S., the Japanese frequently paid for their inadequate attention to "ISR," dearly at Coral Sea and Midway
Plane vs. Plane.
     Fighters:  The F-4F Wildcat was significantly inferior to the Japanese Zero fighter in terms of maneuverability, dogfighting capability, and range.  Wildcats that attempted to "mix-it-up" with Zeroes usually met a quick end.  However the Wildcat had more powerful armament, more armor, self-sealing gas tanks, much better radio, and could withstand a lot more punishment than a Zero, which tended to turn into a flaming torch when hit with a few rounds.  With the right tactics (stressing teamwork and diving one-pass hit-and-run) and experienced pilots, Wildcats could make it an even fight.  If the Wildcats could get through the Zeros (or better yet, avoid them) they were quite capable of downing numerous Japanese dive and torpedo bombers.
     Torpedo Bombers:  At the start of the war, both U.S. and Japan viewed torpedoes as the true ship-killers (correctly.)  When the TBD Devastator entered the fleet in 1937 it was the most advanced, state-of-the-art carrier bomber in the world.  By 1942, it had been surpassed in capability by the much better Japanese B5N2 "Kate."  Comparison between the TBD and the Kate is somewhat meaningless since they didn't fight each other.  How they stood up to enemy defenses, particularly fighters, is what mattered.  The Kate was faster, and had a much better torpedo that could be dropped from higher altitude and at faster speed than the TBD, which gave it a significant survivability advantage.  However, if Wildcats could make the intercept, Kates would go down in flames even more readily than a TBD.  The most critical weakness of the TBD was its torpedo, which required the TBD to fly even slower than the TBD's too-slow maximum speed, and to fly so low that the TBD could not maneuver, and the torpedo was so slow (35kts) that most target ships could easily outrun it.  Faced with a torpedo attack, Japanese carriers would generally turn away at high speed, forcing the torpedo planes to make a very long run to get ahead of the carrier, providing much more time for the fighters to engage.  Like their sub and surface-launched counterparts, U.S. airdropped torpedoes frequently failed to detonate properly even when they hit the target.
     Dive Bombers: Both the SBD Dauntless and Val dive-bombers were great aircraft superbly suited to their mission.  The Val looked like a throw-back with fixed landing gear, but its performance approximated that of a SBD, but with longer range and smaller (but effective) payload.  The Val's lack of folding wings was one factor that constrained Japanese air group size.  Like the Wildcat, the SBD was a rugged aircraft that could absorb considerable punishment (which increased the vulnerability of attacking Zeros to defensive fire.)  The SBD was maneuverable enough that in some U.S. air wings it was used in an anti-torpedo bomber role (and anti-submarine role.)
     Anti-Aircraft Defense.  At the outset of WWII, U.S. carrier AAA defense was very poor.  Japanese carrier AAA defense was even worse.  Neither side had weapons that were effective against dive bombers, and only marginally effective against torpedo bombers.  In most cases, defensive weapons lacked the range to effectively engage the target aircraft before bomb or torpedo release.  At both Coral Sea and Midway, the vast majority of losses on both sides were due to enemy fighters (and running out of fuel).  Only a minimal number were lost to AAA fire.  By the time of Coral Sea and Midway, U.S. carriers and some cruisers were equipped with radar.  No Japanese ships had radar at either battle. Radar-directed fighter control was still in its infancy, but was used effectively by the U.S. in several instances, but was easily overwhelmed in a mass attack.  The U.S. kept cruisers and destroyer escorts in a circular formation close to the carrier to theoretically provide supporting AAA fire (later in the war, with better weapons, this worked well, but early in the war this generally only resulted in increased risk of collision once the carrier started maneuvering to avoid bombs and torpedoes, and Japanese aircraft easily found the gaps between ships.)  The Japanese, on the other hand, viewed radical maneuver as the best carrier defense against air attack (besides the fighters) and Japanese escorts would steer well clear to give the carrier plenty of sea room to maneuver.  Japanese escorts also didn't have enough AAA to defend themselves, let alone a carrier.  Also, because of lack of radar, Japanese escorts were stationed farther from the carrier, at the horizon, to provide visual early warning of incoming raids.  Upon detecting a raid, the escort would fire its main battery to alert the airborne fighters to the direction of attack, since the few radios the Japanese had in their fighters were very unreliable.
     Damage Control: U.S. damage control was greatly superior to the Japanese, although many hard lessons were learned from the loss of the USS Lexington at Coral Sea (and from the disaster at Pearl Harbor for that matter).  In the years since, many Sailors have spent many hours chipping paint to prevent the buildup that fueled horrific fires on U.S. ships early in the war. The U.S. also incorporated lessons learned much faster than the Japanese.  As an example, at Midway, the Yorktown flooded her aviation fuel lines with inert CO2 gas, almost certainly sparing her the secondary explosions that doomed the Lexington at Coral Sea.  The Japanese learned the vulnerability of the aviation fuel lines on Shokaku at Coral Sea, but were able to save the ship, but then didn't pass the lessons on, contributing to the loss of four carriers at Midway.
    On Japanese carriers, damage control was the responsibility of a specially trained cadre of engineering personnel (who were frequently killed by initial and secondary explosions) and no one else had received training.  The result was that fires would be fought ineffectively by untrained crew with extraordinary valor and extremely high cost in lives.  The Japanese had also not developed the system of "damage control conditions" that the USN had (they had no equivalent to Yoke, Zebra, etc., nor did they have an effective "damage control central.")  A critical design weakness of the Japanese carriers was that their hangar bays were completely enclosed.  U.S. hangar bays had rolling partitions that could be opened to the weather, which enabled aircraft engines to be warmed up in the hangar bay; Japanese carriers had no such thing.  The Japanese also fueled their aircraft in the hangar bay, then took the aircraft to the flight deck to warm up (U.S. carriers fueled aircraft on the flight deck.)  As a result, an explosion in a Japanese hanger bay would be unable to easily vent out of the ship as on a U.S. carrier, and in combination with fueled aircraft would have devastating consequences, which proved to be the case at Midway.
     The theme that runs throughout the above was that the Japanese viewed "Offense" as the supreme virtue, and disdained "Defense" to their ultimate detriment.  It worked well for the first six months of the war, then proved catastrophic.
The Sacrifice
S.J. Cox
17 May 17
    The first American strike aircraft to reach the Japanese carriers on the morning of 4 Jun 1942 were six new state-of-the-art U.S. Navy TBF torpedo-bombers and four U.S. Army Air Force B-26 Marauder twin-engine bombers, each rigged to carry a torpedo.  Upon PBY Catalina and radar warnings of the incoming 108-plane Japanese strike, every operational aircraft on Midway was launched.  The TBF's (the name "Avenger" would be bestowed after the battle) and the B-26's had only arrived on Midway a couple days previously.  The TBF's were led by Lieutenant Langston Kellogg Fieberling (commissioned as an aviation cadet), and were a detachment of USS Hornet's Torpedo Squadron Eight (VT-8) that had been left behind in Norfolk several months earlier to transition from the TBD Devastator to the TBF, that had made its way to Midway.  The B-26's, led by Captain James Collins, were from two different USAAF Bomb Groups, diverted from their transit to Australia.  None of the aircrews had combat experience, and none had ever dropped a live torpedo.
     Shortly after 0600 the TBF's launched immediately after the USMC fighters that would attempt to defend Midway, and the faster B-26's launched right after the TBF's.  Some accounts say LT Fieberling failed to wait to follow a plan to form up with USMC dive-bombers that launched after the B-26's.  Other accounts say there was no plan for a coordinated strike.  Regardless, CPT Collins independently made the exact same decision as LT Fieberling to attack immediately and separately.  Armed only with a range and bearing to a reported two Japanese carriers, both strike leaders led their flights on a direct line to the reported position.  Arriving at the Japanese carriers at the almost the same time, shortly after 0700, the TBF's and B-26's conducted a near-simultaneous, but not coordinated, attack.  They also ran headlong into 30 Japanese Zero fighters from four aircraft carriers.
    The Japanese had never seen TBF's before. (Ensign Albert "Bert" Earnest, was flying the first TBF off the Grumman production line.)  B-26's had flown their first combat mission in the Pacific only a month before, at Rabaul, but the Japanese carrier fighters had never encountered one before.  The Japanese were in for a rude shock as both types of aircraft proved incredibly difficult to shoot down.  As the swarms of Zeroes jockeyed for position for a kill, their 7.7mm nose-mounted machine guns appeared to have little effect, forcing the Zeroes to rely on their wing-mounted 20mm cannons, which required the Zeroes to remain steady for longer because it was harder to hit a target with a cannon.  This made the Zeroes more vulnerable to defensive fire.  The shocking result, for the Japanese, was that the first planes shot down were a Zero by a TBF and another by a B-26.  Nevertheless, the Zeroes continued to press their attacks, shooting the U.S. planes full of holes, killing and wounding defensive gunners, but were forced to fly into the anti-aircraft fire from their own ships in an increasingly desperate attempt to bring down the low-flying bombers, which identified them as ship-killing torpedo bombers to the Japanese.
    Fieberling led his strike against the Japanese carrier Hiryu, flagship of RADM Tamon Yamaguchi, commander of Carrier Division Two, while Collins led his B-26's against the Akagi, flagship of VADM Chuichi Nagumo, commander of the entire Kido Butai (mobile strike force.)  Had Fieberling and Collins concentrated on one carrier, they might have had a chance.  By going after two different carriers, neither group had adequate numbers to execute a doctrinal "hammer and anvil" torpedo attack (i.e. attacking the target from both port and starboard bow simultaneously.)  This gave the Akagi and Hiryu the opportunity to outmaneuver and outrun the torpedoes.  In addition, the cumulative damage from repeated hits took their toll.  One B-26 was shot down, and the TBF's began to go down one after the other.  Two of the TBF's got close enough to launch their torpedoes before being shot down, which the Hiryu avoided.
     One TBF, flown by wounded ENS Earnest, his instrument panel, hydraulics, and control surfaces shot away, his turret gunner dead and radioman-tunnel gunner unconscious, and believing he was about to crash, veered away from Hiryu, and launched his torpedo at the closer light cruiser Nagara (which later served as VADM Nagumo's flagship after Akagi was crippled) which missed.  Just before hitting the water, Earnest discovered he could still keep his aircraft aloft with only his trim tab, and despite several more firing passes by Zeroes, managed to nurse his crippled plane to a crash landing on Midway.  Earnest received two Navy Crosses, one for the attack and one for bringing his plane back despite being hit by nine 20mm cannon rounds and at least 69 7.7mm rounds.  Seven other Navy Crosses were awarded to Fieberling and the other pilots and two gunners, six posthumously.  Sixteen of the 18 aircrewmen on the mission were killed.  (The Avenger on display in the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola used to carry the name of ENS Bert Earnest until it was painted over in favor of LTJG George H. W. Bush.)
      The first two B-26's, still under fire by Zeroes and Japanese ships, dropped their torpedoes at the Akagi, which avoided them.  The second B-26, "Susie-Q," flown by First Lieutenant Jim Muri, then buzzed Akagi's flight deck, flying the entire length level with the Akagi's bridge, his wounded gunners strafing the deck, killing two Japanese anti-aircraft gunners.  The third heavily damaged B-26, which may or may not have dropped its torpedo, flew directly at Akagi's bridge and missed hitting VADM Nagumo and his entire staff by a matter of feet, before crashing in the water on the opposite side.  Whether the B-26 was out-of-control, or whether the pilot was trying to deliberately hit the bridge with his crippled aircraft remains unknown, but to Nagumo it certainly looked like the latter.  Collins and Muri managed to crash-land their bombers on Midway; Muri's B-26 had been hit over 500 times, and all three of his gunners were wounded.  The B-26 was an extremely difficult plane to fly, but able to absorb incredible punishment.  (The B-26 "Flak Bait," currently being restored at Udvar-Hazy, survived numerous hits in her record 207 combat missions in Europe.)  The mission by the B-26's at Midway was the first and last time U.S. Air Force aircraft ever attempted a torpedo attack.
     Only minutes before the attack by the TBF's and B-26's, VADM Nagumo had received a code-word message from LT Joichi Tomonaga, leader of the Midway strike, signifying that a second strike on Midway would be required.  Nagumo would not know until the strike recovered aboard just how badly it had been shot up by Midway's defenses; eleven aircraft shot down, 14 severely damaged, and 29 hit, (almost half the strike lost or damaged) and 20 aviators killed or missing.  Expecting to catch Midway by surprise, the Japanese strike was caught by surprise by the airborne USMC fighters, 21 obsolete F-2A Brewster Buffalos and seven F-4F Wildcats of VMF-221 (sources conflict on how many USMC fighters got airborne.)  The Marine fighters downed and damaged three Japanese Kate torpedo bombers (being used as horizontal bombers in the strike) before the surprised Japanese Zeros turned the tables, shooting down most of the USMC fighters (13 F-2A's and 3 F-4F's). Of the Marine fighters that recovered on Midway, only two would still be flyable.  The Japanese bombers were in turn astonished by the intensity of AAA fire over Midway, suffering even more losses to ground fire, while they nevertheless pummeled structures on the island.  Nagumo knew none of this detail, but having barely survived being killed by the B-26, needed no further convincing that the Midway defenses were extremely dangerous and needed to be dealt with immediately.  As a result of Tomonaga's message, the nearly fatal attack by the TBF/B-26's, and the fact the his scout aircraft had not located any U.S. ships (and should have done so by then), at 0715 Nagumo promptly ordered that the 107-plane reserve on the four carriers be re-armed from anti-ship weapons to land attack (i.e., torpedoes to bombs on the Kates.)
     Nagumo's decision went against ADM Yamamoto's previous verbal guidance that the reserve should remain armed with anti-ship weapons in the unlikely event U.S. ships were in the area.  Neither Yamamoto nor Nagumo knew that the Japanese submarine screen had arrived on station too late to detect the passage of the American carriers from Pearl Harbor to Midway.  With 20/20 hindsight, Nagumo's decision became one of the most criticized in all of naval history.  Yet, Yamamoto's guidance was based on the assumption that Midway would be caught by surprise and only one strike would be needed.  Nagumo opted to deal with a very real, immediate, and apparently very dangerous threat (land-based bombers), rather than a hypothetical one (U.S. carriers.)  The result was a chain of events that led to disaster.  What Nagumo did not know was that the USS Enterprise (CV-6) and USS Hornet (CV-8) were already launching 117 aircraft to strike him from a different direction.
    At 0740, the Number 4 scout floatplane from the Japanese cruiser Tone, flown by Petty Officer First Class Hiroshi Amari, reported sighting ten U.S. surface ships northeast of Midway.  The late launch of Tone No. 4, due to unknown reasons, has been widely viewed as a significant contributing factor to the Japanese defeat.  The reality is that had Tone No. 4 catapulted on time and flown the prescribed search route (instead of cutting it short) it would have completely missed the U.S. task groups.  The late launch was actually one of Nagumo's few lucky breaks, and had he chosen caution and opened the range to the U.S. surface contacts while ascertaining the true force composition, he might have taken his carriers out of range of the undetected incoming Enterprise and Hornet strikes.  Instead, steeped in the Japanese Navy's offensive mindset, he turned toward the possible threat, and closed the range.  Nagumo quickly ordered the scout plane to determine if U.S. carriers were present; so urgent was this transmission that it was sent in the clear and intercepted by U.S. radio intelligence.
    Around 0800, as the Japanese Midway strike force, with many damaged aircraft, neared the Japanese carriers for recovery, a second wave of U.S. bombers from Midway attacked; Sixteen USMC SBD-Dauntless dive-bombers of VMSB-241, led by squadron commander Major Lofton Henderson (whose name would be immortalized as Henderson Field on Guadalcanal,) which had launched after the B-26's but taken a long time to form up.  None of Henderson's pilots had more than a few hours in the SBD and none had sufficient experience to conduct a true dive-bomb attack.  Henderson was forced to lead his squadron on a shallower glide-bomb approach, which both decreased accuracy and increased vulnerability compared to dive-bombing.  Henderson was aided because the Japanese fighter combat air patrol was at a momentary low ebb, with only nine Zeroes airborne.  Nevertheless, the Zeroes attacked, and Henderson's plane was the first to go down.  Six SBD's were shot down during the attack, and two more were so badly damaged they did not make it back to Midway, but yet again the Zeroes had to pursue the SBD's into their own shipboard AAA envelope to do it, and the SBD's shot down a Zero in the process.  All of the surviving dive-bombers pressed their attacks and straddled the carrier Hiryu with numerous near-misses, which to the amazement of even the Japanese, came through unscathed.  One of the surviving SBD's, BuNo 2106, hit 219 times, is now on display at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola (after being raised from the bottom of Lake Michigan in 1994.)
    Following the SBD's was a flight of 11 older, obsolete SB2U Vindicator dive-bombers, lead by VMSB-241 XO, Major Benjamin Norris.  As the SBD's were being cut to ribbons, Norris prudently opted to attack the Japanese battleship Haruna, on the periphery of the Japanese formation, rather than attempt to penetrate with his vulnerable aircraft to the Japanese carriers.  Norris' decision, coupled with the Zeroes being low on ammunition, enabled all but four of his aircraft to survive, two were shot down and two ditched while returning to Midway due to battle damage.  However, the Haruna, like the Hiryu, came through multiple near-misses undamaged.
     While the U.S. Marine attack was developing, a flight of 12 Midway-deployed B-17 Flying Fortress four-engine bombers, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Walter Sweeney, arrived overhead the Japanese carrier force and commenced high-altitude bombing.  Fifteen B-17's had been launched before dawn to attack the Japanese invasion force west of Midway, which had been sighted the day before, and then attacked by the B-17's later that day without result.  (Overnight, four Midway-deployed PBY Flying Boats conducted a daring nighttime attack on the invasion force, with a new and untried capability to carry torpedoes.  At 0153 one of the PBY's, flown by ENS Gaylord Probst, hit a Japanese tanker, the Akebono Maru, the only U.S. torpedo to damage a Japanese ship in the entire battle.)  When the Japanese carriers were sighted, Sweeney's bombers were diverted in the air to attack the carriers, and arrived about the same time as the Marine strikes.  Several Japanese Zeroes attempted to challenge the B-17's but at that altitude the Zero's performance dropped off markedly, and the B-17's defensive firepower was quite formidable, and the Zeroes' weapons had little effect, so they gave up.  During the course of the day, the mostly unmolested B-17's would drop over 320 bombs on Japanese ships, not one of which hit.  Nevertheless, although high-altitude level bombing was already known to be notoriously ineffective against maneuvering warships, the fact is the target ships had to actively maneuver to avoid the bombs; the bombs could not just be ignored, and a wildly maneuvering carrier cannot conduct flight operations, contributing to cascading delays and disruptions on board the Japanese carriers. 
     As the Japanese ships maneuvered violently to avoid bombs from the SBD's, Vindicators and B-17's, the USS Nautilus (SS-168) under the command of LCDR William Brockman (the first war patrol for both sub and skipper), stuck her periscope up in the middle of the Japanese formation, and was quickly strafed by an alert Japanese fighter and then bombed by an alert Japanese float-plane.  Brockman had been drawn to the location by smoke from the first attack by Midway aircraft.   On his second attempt, he was depth-charged again before he finally got off two torpedoes at the Japanese battleship Kirishima; one hung in the tube and the other missed.  His tenacity was rewarded with yet another sustained depth-charge barrage.  As the Japanese carriers moved away toward the northeast, the destroyer Arashi stayed behind to keep the pesky U.S. submarine under, and her last depth-charges would nearly do in the Nautilus.  Arashi's high-speed transit to catch up to the Japanese carriers would prove fateful.    
    Also in the midst of multiple air and submarine attacks, and preparations to recover the Midway strike that had been loitering to wait out the attacks, Tone No. 4 scout plane reported sighting a carrier at 0820.  Nagumo and his staff immediately grasped the grave implications of this, and he promptly ordered that the re-arming of the torpedo bombers in his reserve strike be halted, and those that had already been re-armed with bombs, be re-armed with torpedoes.  Nagumo immediately understood the danger; it was obvious the Americans knew where he was, and any carrier in range would have almost certainly already launched a strike (which was true…by then two U.S. carrier strikes had pushed, and the Yorktown would commence launching a 35-plane strike at 0838, after recovering her morning scouts, which had seen nothing.) 
    Nagumo was faced with a number of unpalatable options.  If he were to immediately spot his decks with the full reserve strike, while violently maneuvering under fire from bombs and strafing (not recommended by NATOPS) some would still be carrying inappropriate weapons. More importantly, Nagumo's Midway strike (half his aircraft) would run out fuel and have to ditch.  RADM Yamaguchi actually recommended this solution, so dire did he perceive the threat.  Another option was to get off a relatively small quick strike with only the ready dive-bombers, which were still struck below due to the constant cycling of fighters on the flight deck, and still had to be armed, with minimal or no fighter escort.  In hindsight, this is what Nagumo probably should have done, although it violated well-established Japanese doctrine and training, which was to strike with a coordinated multi-dimensional attack (dive and torpedo-bombers, with a strong fighter escort.)  Armchair historians have postulated all manner of creative solutions to solve Nagumo's dilemma (e.g. bring the carrier strike on deck, pull forward of the barricade, recover the Midway strike aft of the barricade and strike it below, pull back and launch – never mind that the returning Midway strike had many badly damaged and potentially uncontrollable aircraft, making this option a recipe for disaster too, nor was it something the Japanese had ever trained to do.)  Nagumo also probably reasoned that nothing he could do at that point could prevent the launch by the one U.S. aircraft carrier he knew about, so he might was well wait until he had a full-strike package fully and correctly armed to attack the U.S. carrier, relying on his fighter CAP to protect him, which so far had been effective enough at dealing with squadron-sized attacks.  By not knowing that three U.S. carriers were already waiting for him, Nagumo was in extremis from the moment he launched the strike on Midway Island just before dawn, but at 0900 he had no idea the full extent of his danger, and was about to pay for the lackluster Japanese scouting effort.
     Because of battle damage to aircraft, the recovery of the Midway strike took even longer than normal, and was only completed on all four carriers between 0900 and 0910.  Nagumo could now begin to spot the deck for the launch of the full carrier strike, which would take about 45 minutes.  The Japanese fueled their aircraft in the hanger, but could not warm them up there because the hanger decks (an upper and lower on each carrier) were fully enclosed, which would prove a major design flaw.  By Japanese doctrine, torpedo-bombers were loaded while in the hanger, while the dive-bombers were loaded on the flight deck.  However, given the urgency, some of the torpedo bombers that had not yet completed re-re-arming with torpedoes were ordered to launch with bombs.
    At 0918, as the Japanese were about to begin spotting their decks to launch the anti-ship strike, fifteen low-flying aircraft were sighted coming in from the north-northeast (almost opposite the direction from Midway.)  These aircraft were TBD Devastator torpedo-bombers of Torpedo Squadron Eight (VT-8) that had launched from USS Hornet, led by the squadron skipper, Lieutenant Commander John C. Waldron.  Waldron was a highly respected naval aviator, proud of his Lakota Sioux heritage, whose leadership was revered by his squadron; the kind of leader people would willingly follow into hell, which is exactly what they did.
    The night before the battle, the Hornet's air group commander, Commander Stanhope Ring, had decided that all the escorting fighters would remain with the dive-bombers, over the heated objections of Waldron and the fighter squadron (VF-8) commander, LCDR Samuel "Pat" Mitchell,  but Ring was supported by Hornet's skipper, Captain (and Rear Admiral-select) Marc "Pete" Mitscher.  The reason for the decision is unknown; it may have been that the F-4F Wildcats had a better chance against the Zeroes if they were high, and it may also have been a "lesson learned" from Coral Sea, where the Japanese fighters went after the dive-bombers and none of the torpedo bombers were lost.  Actually, the real lesson learned was that whoever got to the Japanese first would pay the price.  So, no matter what Waldron did, he would not have fighter escort.
    Just prior to launch, Ring and Mitscher agreed that the strike would proceed on a course almost due west.  Waldron objected again, as that course would not lead to the Japanese carriers, but was overruled again by Mitscher.  The reason for this decision is also unknown, but a plausible explanation is that Mitscher and Ring were "mirror-imaging" Japanese carrier operations with those of the U.S. Navy.  Up to that point, none of the PBY scouts had seen more than two carriers at once, leaving two, or three, unaccounted for (based on the intelligence estimate of 4 or 5 carriers.)  Neither Mitscher nor Ring knew that the Japanese operated all carriers in a single formation, and not in multiple independent task groups as the U.S. did, and may have assumed that the unaccounted carriers might have been operating some distance behind (i.e., further NNW) than the carriers that had been sighted.  If so, Mitscher did not communicate this intent to RADM Spruance, nor did Ring communicate such intent to his own air group.
     Once airborne, as Ring led Hornet's 59-plane strike on what would come to be known as the "Flight to Nowhere," Waldron broke radio silence to tell Ring he was going the wrong way.  Ring ordered Waldron to maintain course.  Waldron replied with some version of an expletive, followed by "I know where the Japanese are," and turned his squadron southwest, and led them on a beeline direct to the Japanese carriers.  Waldron did not necessarily expect his squadron to arrive at the Japanese carriers first, and alone.  He may have expected that the strike from Enterprise would have already arrived on target. Had not Enterprise's dive-bombers missed and overshot the Japanese to the south, and had not Enterprise's torpedo-bombers launched late, Waldron would have been right.  Waldron also did not know that he did in fact have fighter escort.  Enterprise's fighters of VF-6, led by LT James Gray, had mistakenly followed Waldron's torpedo bombers at higher altitude instead of those of Enterprise.  But not knowing that, Waldron did not know to call down Enterprise's fighters when he ran into trouble, not that it would have made any difference.  When Waldron sighted the Japanese he radioed his position and that he was commencing attack; the Hornet Air Group heard the transmission (but Ring still held his westerly course), but the Enterprise fighters did not.  The number of Zeroes airborne when Waldron's squadron was first sighted was down to about 18.  However, the Japanese quickly launched more fighters (which further delayed spotting the counter-strike on deck.)  So not only did VT-8 run into about 30 Zeroes, it happened that the pilots of those Zeroes were a "who's who" of Japanese naval aces.
    The torpedo-bombers of VT-8 never had a chance, but many began to get uncomfortably close to the northern-most Japanese carriers (Soryu and Hiryu) as the swarm of Japanese Zeroes interfered with each other trying to get a kill, but were also somewhat more cautious due to the earlier losses from defensive fire.  The Japanese carriers turned away at high speed (Soryu and Hiryu were the fastest Japanese carriers, capable of 35Kts, the same top speed of the U.S. MK13 air-launched torpedo) in order to put the torpedo planes into a protracted tail chase to get ahead of the carriers, giving the Zeroes even more time to engage.  The slow TBD's (which had been "state-of-the-art" only four years previously,) were limited even further by the speed and altitude restriction of the MK13 torpedo (100Kts, 100 Ft), and they began to go down one after the other.  The TBD's got close enough that Waldron ordered the squadron to split in order to attempt a hammer and anvil attack on the carrier Soryu, but the Zeroes were able to herd the TBD's back into one ever-smaller group.  Despite the massacre, not one TBD pilot deviated from his attack course.  All were shot down by Japanese fighters, none by shipboard AAA. When Waldron was last seen, he was standing with one leg on his wing root and one in his flaming cockpit, possibly still trying to keep his plane airborne to the last.  Waldron would never know that the detachment he left behind in Norfolk had managed to get to Midway Island and had been the first to attack the Japanese, and whose young pilots had displayed the same valor and determination as if he had been with them.
    As the last remaining TBD got in range of the Soryu, ENS George "Tex" Gay tried to maneuver around the Soryu for the best shot, which was taking evasive action herself; the Soryu won and the torpedo missed.  Gay flew directly over the Soryu (his gunner already dead or incapacitated) and was jumped by five Zeroes on the far side and shot down.  Gay had stayed true to his skipper's direction before the strike that "if only one plane is left, I want that man to go in a get a hit." Gay had done his utmost, against a highly skilled Japanese carrier skipper (Captain Yanagimoto) who knew what he was doing.  For the remainder of the day, Gay prudently avoided being seen by the Japanese while treading water, thereby avoiding the fate of three other aviators from other squadrons who would later be "rescued" by the Japanese, and interrogated, tortured, tied with weights and thrown over the side to drown.  Gay also had a ringside seat to the disaster that befell the Japanese an hour later.
    Shortly after the Zeroes finished off Torpedo Eight, the Japanese sighted 14 low-flying aircraft coming in from the southeast around 0940.  What this meant to the Japanese was that another torpedo attack was coming in, that they were up against at least two U.S. carriers, and that their swarm of Zeroes were almost 30 miles out of position.  As the Zeroes raced to intercept, many with depleted 20mm cannon ammunition, the 14 TBD's from Torpedo Squadron Six (VT-6) off the Enterprise, led by squadron skipper LCDR Eugene "Gene" Lindsey, took aim at the southern Japanese carrier division (CARDIV 1, Akagi and Kaga.)  Meanwhile, the carriers began to race away from the torpedo planes to give the fighters more time to engage, which were initially mostly ineffective probably due to lack of cannon ammunition.  As Japanese fighters engaged, Lindsey made the pre-arranged call for support from his fighter escort, which however was orbiting much further north having followed Waldron instead of Lindsey, and never heard the call.  All of the escort fighters would return to the Enterprise without firing a shot; they could see some of the Japanese carriers on the horizon, but did not know what was happening below the clouds to either VT-8 or VT-6, nor did any Japanese fighters engage them. 
    More of Lindsey's planes got closer to the Japanese carriers than Waldron had, and the squadron was able to execute a hammer and anvil split targeting Kaga.  Just as it appeared VT-6 would put Kaga in the vice, nine freshly-launched, fully-armed, Zeroes off the Akagi and Kaga shot down Lindsey and disrupted the timing of the attack, and proceeded to do to VT-6 what had been done to VT-8.  Kaga was able to first outmaneuver two torpedoes coming in from her port side, and then outmaneuver three torpedoes from the starboard side.  By the time VT-6's attack was over around 1000, nine TBD's had been shot down, and five torpedoes failed to hit Kaga, although VT-6 did take one Zero down with them.  Somewhat inexplicably, the Zeroes seemed to let some of the five surviving TBD's go, one of which had to ditch on the way back to Enterprise, and its two-man crew drifted for 17 days before being rescued.  Four TBD's recovered on Enterprise.  VT-6's impact on the battle was the same as VT-8, by forcing continuing launch and recovery of fighters, and forcing the carriers into evasive maneuvers, they furthered the disruption and delay in Japanese attempts to spot and launch their counter-strike package.
    At around 1010, the Japanese sighted yet another wave of 12 low-flying aircraft approaching from the east, heading for the northern group, Hiryu and Soryu.  These aircraft were TBD Devastators from Torpedo Squadron 3 (VT-3), transferred from the USS Saratoga (CV-3) Air Group to replace Yorktown's torpedo squadron following the Battle of the Coral Sea, while Yorktown was undergoing rapid damage repair at Pearl Harbor.  Led by LCDR Lance M. "Lem" Massey, VT-3 had launched from Yorktown almost and hour after VT-8 left the Hornet and a half hour after the delayed launch of VT-6 from Enterprise.  Unlike VT-8 and VT-6, VT-3 did have a fighter escort, two F-4F Wildcats in close proximity and four more Wildcats at higher altitude, led by VF-3 squadron skipper, the great Navy ace, LCDR James "Jimmie" Thach.  It made no difference.
    The initial Zeroes to intercept went after the Wildcats, quickly stripping them away from the TBD's.  The two Wildcats providing close escort were badly shot up and barely managed to survive, although they shot down one Zero and flew another into the water.  Thach's greatly outnumbered quartet immediately lost one Wildcat.  In a desperate move, Thach executed a tactic that he had previously devised, but had not implemented or practiced with his squadron.  Using hand signals with his other two Wildcat pilots he improvised what he called a "beam defense maneuver" which later became more popularly known as the "Thach Weave."  The tactic, which relied on cooperation and discipline amongst the Wildcats, was stunningly successful, as Thach shot down three Zeroes and his wingman shot down another.  The result was that more and more Zeroes, infuriated by their losses, piled into the fight.  The Zeros had already shown the fatal weakness of Japanese fighter defense, which was the strong propensity to play the Japanese term for "little kids' soccer." With no radar, unreliable radios, and no real shipboard fighter direction of any kind, the Japanese fighters were pretty much on their own once they left the deck, and Thach's fight with the Zeroes resulted in a further breakdown in Japanese fighter discipline in covering other sectors.  Thach's fight for survival, however, left Massey's TBD's on their own, and the Japanese did to VT-3 what they had done to the previous torpedo squadrons.
     Virtually every Zero airborne that was not engaged with Thach went after the TBD's, with the Wildcats and TBD's occupying the attention of roughly 30 Zeroes.  Massey led his TBD's against the carrier Hiryu, already steaming at maximum speed in the opposite direction, resulting in yet another lengthy tail chase.  Massey was one of the first to be shot down, and Zeros picked off the other TBD's one by one.  At least five got close enough to execute the hammer and anvil split, but the timing was off, and Hiryu went into an effective high-speed circle, resulting in three torpedoes from one side and two from the other missing.  Like Soryu's skipper, Captain Kaku of Hiryu knew his business.  The cost was 10 TBD's shot down, for no hits, and one Zero shot down by "friendly fire" from the Hiryu.  Only one man would initially survive from the 10 downed TBD's, however Ensign Wesley Osmus would be captured, interrogated, and later killed by the Japanese.  At 1020, the Japanese were still at least 45 minutes from being able to launch a full counterstrike, the same position they had been in when the first TBF's and B-26's attacked just after 0700.   However, with the cloud cover and their attention focused on the low-altitude fight, and strung out horizontally as well, what none of the Zeroes saw was the arrival overhead of 50 SBD Dauntless dive-bombers converging from two directions.
The Victory – Barely
S.J. Cox
17 May 17
     The near simultaneous arrival of three U.S. dive-bomber squadrons overhead the Japanese carriers at 1020 4 Jun 1942 was a total fluke.  Sixty-to-45 minutes earlier, the "Incredible Victory" and "Miracle at Midway" was shaping up to be an unmitigated disaster for the Americans.  As wave after wave of uncoordinated attacks by Navy and USAAF torpedo-bombers and USMC dive-bombers were slaughtered one after the other without a single hit, the air group from Hornet was on a course to completely miss the Japanese carriers to the north, while the air group from Enterprise was on a course to completely miss the Japanese carriers to the south.  Yorktown's air group, minus the scout bomber squadron(VS-5) that RADM Fletcher held back, was launched almost an hour later but was on a direct course to the Japanese carriers.  However with only one dive-bomber squadron and the torpedo-bomber squadron, the size of the Yorktown strike was well within the numbers that the Japanese fighters had already proven they were able to handle.
     When the first contact reports on the Japanese carriers were received, RADM Spruance, in command of Task Force 16, embarked on USS Enterprise (CV-6), made the aggressive decision to launch full strikes from both Enterprise and USS Hornet (CV-8) commencing at 0700, while the Japanese force was still at close to maximum range for his strike aircraft.  Spruance's intent was to hit the Japanese while they were in the middle of recovering their aircraft that had just struck Midway Island, and he intended to close the range to the Japanese so the U.S. strike aircraft would not have to fly so far back to recover.
      To launch a full strike from a U.S. carrier required two deck spots, and could take almost an hour to launch the first deckload, then bring up the next deckload from the hanger and launch it too.  The coordination of the American strike began to break down almost immediately.  Hornet's two launches went relatively normally (i.e., slowly.)  However the second launch from the Enterprise, which included the torpedo-bombers, took so long that Spruance ordered the dive-bombers to depart without waiting for them.  Meanwhile the Enterprise escort fighters mistakenly followed Hornet's torpedo-bombers, so neither Enterprise's dive-bombers nor torpedo-bombers had fighter escort.
     Unbeknownst to Spruance, the Hornet Air Group commander, Commander Stanhope Ring, with the concurrence of Hornet's skipper, Captain Marc "Pete" Mitscher, had decided to take his strike on a course that would take them well north of the reported Japanese position.  Even after VT-8's skipper, LCDR John Waldron, flying far below Ring's formation, broke away to the southwest (followed by the fighters from Enterprise,) Ring continued to the west.  Even after Waldron radioed that he had made contact with the Japanese carriers, Ring continued to the west.  Even after his fighters passed the point of no return, Ring continued west in search of nonexistent ships.  Too late, and without asking permission, the fighters turned back toward Hornet; all ten ran out of gas and had to ditch.  Two fighter pilots were never recovered.  Then the skipper of Hornet's dive-bomber squadron (VB-8,) also running low on fuel, unilaterally decided to break from Ring's formation and head toward where Waldron had reported Japanese carriers; unfortunately they were already too far west, and they too missed the Japanese.  The VB-8 formation fell apart as three aircraft headed toward Hornet, and made it, while the others headed for Midway; two ditched short of fuel and 11 landed, after being fired upon by Marine gunners without being hit.  As Ring still continued west, at 0940, the skipper of the Scout Squadron (VS-8) unilaterally turned back toward Hornet.  Shortly after, Ring's two wingmen bailed on him and turned back, and for several minutes Ring flew on alone on his westerly course, before turning back.  Ring and VS-8 recovered on Hornet, barely, and the planes from VB-8 that landed on Midway returned to Hornet later in the afternoon.  With the exception of Hornet's torpedo squadron that had been wiped out, none of Hornet's morning strike even sighted the Japanese. 
    Hornet Air Group's "Flight to Nowhere" remains controversial to this day, because Hornet's official after-action report (and accompanying chart,) signed by CAPT Mitscher, states that the Hornet Air Group flew on a southwest course toward the reported position of the Japanese carriers, but missed them to the south, in the same way that the Enterprise Air Group initially did, and that Waldron's squadron broke to the northwest and encountered the Japanese.  In the report, no mention is made that Ring nearly ran the entire air group out of gas, nor does it mention the "insubordination" of Waldron, and the flight leads of the fighter, bomber, and scout squadrons who broke from Ring's formation.  Although Ring's wingman maintained until his death that the Hornet Air Group flew southwest, every other account by survivors of the mission says they flew west.  However, other than the one report filed by Mitscher, none of Hornet's squadrons submitted a separate after-action report, which was not in accordance with standard procedure.  Even an account written by Ring found in Ring's personal papers after his death is not clear on which direction he really flew.  Probably the most significant evidence is that Japanese reports all say Waldron's attack came from a northerly direction at the northernmost carriers (Hiryu and Soryu.)  It is almost certain that Mitscher and Ring falsified their after-action report, to cover up that they had deliberately not flown toward the reported Japanese position, but presumably had flown to a position where they thought other Japanese carriers might be.   It is also pretty clear that Spruance doubted the accuracy of Mitscher's report, stating in his report to Admiral Nimitz that in any case of discrepancy between the Hornet and Enterprise reports, Enterprise's was to be taken as the authoritative account.  None of this kept Rear-Admiral select Mitscher from making three-stars and serving as the much revered commander of U.S. carrier task forces (TF-58) later in the war, but does explain why Spruance never really trusted him.
     Meanwhile, as Ring was taking Hornet's Air Group out of the battle, the Enterprise Air Group Commander, LCDR Clarence Wade McClusky was doing the same with his 33-plane dive-bomber strike.  However, in McClusky's case, this was because Nagumo had aggressively turned his force to the northeast, in response to the first report of U.S. surface ships, to close the distance to the American ships, rather than continue on his course toward Midway.  As a result, McClusky was too far south and overshot that Japanese force.  McClusky turned to the northwest, under the assumption that the Japanese carriers might have back-tracked from their original course, but still no sighting.  Unbeknownst to McClusky, Hornet's dive-bomber squadron, VB-8, was heading in roughly the reciprocal direction from the north, but both groups were by then were too far west.
    McClusky's fuel state had reached a critical point, and he faced a decision, whether to turn back toward the Enterprise or to take the shorter, and presumably safer option, to land at Midway.  At that point, McClusky spotted a lone Japanese ship at 0955, transiting at high speed toward the northeast.  McClusky made the assumption, proved correct, that the ship was trying to catch up to the Japanese task force.  The ship was the destroyer Arashi, which had been left behind to depth-charge the USS Nautilus (SS-168) which had made multiple unsuccessful attempts to attack Japanese ships.
    McClusky's 33 SBD Dauntless dive-bombers (16 in Bombing Six (VB-6,) led by LT Wilmer Gallaher, and 16 in Scouting Six (VS-6, led by LT Richard Best,) plus McClusky's command plane) approached the Japanese from the southwest and came across Carrier Division 1 (Akagi and Kaga) first.  Carrier Division 2 (Hiryu and Soryu) were hidden by clouds further north, and the Enterprise Air Group never saw them.  Japanese fighters were still down low attacking Yorktown's torpedo-bomber squadron (VT-3) which had launched much later than Hornet or Enterprise, but had made a direct transit to the Japanese carriers and were attacking the Hiryu.  There were enough Japanese fighters airborne, by then around 45, to reach the altitude of the dive-bombers, but clouds blocked the view and neither the fighters nor shipboard anti-aircraft directors saw the dive-bombers until it was two late.
    It was at this point that McClusky, the hero of the Battle of Midway, made a critical mistake.  McClusky had only recently transitioned from fighters to dive bombers, and he gave an order that was contrary to established doctrine.  In the event of two squadrons finding two high-value targets, the lead squadron was supposed to attack the far target and the trail squadron would attack the near target.  McClusky directed the lead squadron to take the Kaga, which was the near target, while the trail squadron followed doctrine and attacked the near target.  As a result, both squadrons commenced dives on the Kaga and none on the Akagi.  The first several bombs missed the Kaga, and Kaga shot down one SBD, the only U.S. plane shot down by Japanese carrier AAA fire in the battle.  But then Kaga was deluged by hits, at least four, probably five before the Japanese lost count and the explosions of bombs became indistinguishable from secondary explosions aboard the ship.  (One of the pilots who hit the Kaga was LTJG N. Jack "Dusty" Kleiss, who would later hit the carrier Hiryu, and then the heavy crusier Mikuma.  He was the only U.S. pilot to hit three different ships at the Battle of Midway.  Dusty died in 2016 at the age of 100, the last surviving Midway dive-bomber pilot – a great account of his life is in a just-released book, "Never Call Me a Hero.")
     Contrary to most early accounts of the battle, the Japanese carriers' flight decks were not packed with aircraft about to take off for the counter-carrier strike.  The strike aircraft were still below in the hangers, as fighters cycled on and off the flight deck to deal with the stream of U.S. torpedo-bomber raids.  The aircraft in the hanger were fully fueled, and in the case of Kaga (and Akagi,) some of the torpedo-bombers were armed with torpedoes and some still had bombs.  The resulting explosions of fueled aircraft inside the enclosed hangers were devastating. In addition, one of the first bombs to hit Kaga was a direct hit on the bridge, which killed Captain Okuda and effectively decapitated Kaga's leadership, with direct impact on Kaga's ability to fight the fires.
    Fortunately for the U.S., as soon as the skipper of Bombing Six (VT-6) LT Dick Best realized that both squadrons were attacking the Kaga, he pulled out of his dive, along with his two wingmen, and flew toward the Akagi, but it was too late to divert the rest of the squadron.  As a result, 28 or so SBD's dive-bombed the Kaga and three attacked the Akagi.  Unable to regain enough altitude for a textbook dive-bomb attack, Best led his three-plane section into a shallower than normal approach.  Best planted his bomb dead-center on the Akagi's flight deck, which penetrated into the upper hanger deck, touching off secondary explosions amongst fueled and armed aircraft.  The other two bombs were damaging near misses, one forward and one aft, and the one aft eventually resulted in Akagi's rudder being jammed hard over.  Unlike Kaga (and Soryu) which were so badly damaged by the initial bombs that there was virtually no hope of containing the fires, the Akagi did have a chance, and her crew waged an incredibly valiant, and incredibly costly, nine-hour battle to try to contain the fires and save the ship.  Initially, VADM Nagumo refused to transfer his flag to another ship, because at first, the damage to Akagi did not seem so bad.  The initial damage was sufficient to prevent further flight operations.  Had it not been for Best's quick thinking, Akagi would have come through the attack undamaged, and her air group alone, which had suffered the least loss during the Midway strike, had enough combat power to have seriously damaged or even sunk all three U.S. carriers had she been able to launch a counterstrike.
    While the Enterprise Air Group was attacking the southern Japanese carriers, 17 SBD's of Yorktown's dive-bomber squadron (VB-3,) led by LCDR Maxwell "Max" Leslie, was commencing its attack on the northern Japanese carriers, Hiryu and Soryu, and none of them saw the southern group.  Yorktown's Air Group had launched much later than Enterprise and Hornet.  TF-17 Commander, RADM Frank Jack Fletcher had sent ten SBD scout bombers aloft in the early morning, on a relatively short search pattern to ensure the Japanese weren't waiting to ambush him.  He opted to recover his scouts before launching Yorktown's strike against the Japanese.  As a result, the Enterprise strike commenced launch at 0700 and pushed shortly before 0800, and Yorktown didn't commence launch until 0838.  While the Enterprise air group flew its circuitous route, the Yorktown's air group flew what turned out to be a direct route, and the near-simultaneous arrival over target was sheer coincidence.
   Of the three carriers, Yorktown had the most battle experience, including surviving the battle of the Coral Sea.  (Hornet, on the other hand, had no battle experience, except launching Doolittle's bombers.)  As a result, Yorktown's air group was the only one that conducted some semblance of a coordinated attack.  Yorktown's dive-bombers (VB-3,) torpedo-bombers (VT-3), and fighter escort from VF-3, all flew the same path and arrived at the Japanese carrier force at about the same time, the torpedo-bombers and fighters at lower altitude and the dive-bombers at high attitude.  However, what Leslie did not know, because of radio silence, was that Yorktown's second launch was cancelled and the SBD dive-bombers of VS-5 held on deck.  Fletcher was concerned that no scout aircraft thus far had seen more than two Japanese carriers, and Fletcher held VS-5 to have a reserve strike ready, in case other Japanese carriers turned up in an unexpected place.  While prudent, this action arguably led to the almost total destruction of Torpedo Squadron Three, and had not the Enterprise Air Group belatedly found their way to the southern Japanese carriers, the Yorktown strike would have been insufficient to sink more than one carrier, which would have left Fletcher (and Spruance) facing three fully-alerted, and highly capable carrier air groups to his three (and with Hornet's fighter defenses severely depleted.)  In addition, due to an electrical problem with a new-type arming switch, Leslie and three other of his 17 dive-bombers accidentally jettisoned their bombs instead of arming them (they pressed with the attack to draw fire away from those that still had bombs.)
    In a textbook strike by U.S. (and Japanese) doctrine, the dive-bombers would strike just before the slower and more vulnerable (but also more dangerous) torpedo-bombers.  Fighters would keep the opposing fighters off the bombers, or strafe ships for AAA suppression if there were no enemy fighters.  However, as Yorktown's Air Group approached the northern Japanese carriers, Leslie led VB-3 toward the far target, the Soryu, in accordance with doctrine, assuming that VS-5 trailing him would take the near target, the Hiryu.  Had VS-5 actually been there and attacked the Hiryu, and drawn away some Japanese fighters, the torpedo-bombers of VT-3 might have had a prayer as they were attacking the first target they saw, the Hiryu.  With visibility unlimited at the horizon, but obscured at higher altitudes, the Japanese fighters saw the torpedo-bombers and the escorting fighters coming at great distance, but never saw the dive-bombers.  As a result, while VB-3 was rolling in on the Soryu, VT-3 was being cut to ribbons attempting to torpedo the Hiryu.  Soryu took three solid direct hits from bombs, with the same devastating effect as on Kaga, while the Hiryu came through unscathed, for which the Yorktown would pay.   In the space of five minutes, three Japanese carriers were turned into flaming wrecks, and the course of World War II changed. 
    Although only one U.S. dive-bomber was lost to AAA fire, many were damaged, and Japanese fighters were still airborne and took a toll of SBD's trying to return to Enterprise and Yorktown, and a about half the SBD's from Enterprise were forced to ditch due to battle damage or running out of fuel.  Seventy U.S. carrier-based aircraft were lost in the morning strikes, 37 torpedo planes, 21 dive-bombers, and 12 fighters – 40% of the planes involved.
    The undamaged carrier Hiryu, flagship of the very aggressive Carrier Division Two commander, RADM Tamon Yamaguchi, launched a counterstrike by 1040, led by LT Kobayashi, only 15 minutes after the devastating U.S. attack.  The Hiryu's 18 "Val" dive-bombers had not participated in the Midway strike, and Yamaguchi had ordered them armed in the hangar rather than on deck as was standard practice, and therefore was able to launch the counter-strike very quickly.  However, Hiryu's "Kate" torpedo bombers had participated in the Midway strike (as horizontal bombers,) and had suffered several losses and extensive damage, and would take much longer to re-arm, refuel and be ready for launch.  Yamaguchi opted for a quick one-dimensional (dive-bomb) strike now, rather than a coordinated bomb-torpedo strike later.  Eighteen Val dive-bombers and six escorting zero fighters were on the way to attack the U.S. carriers, which the Japanese knew by then to be at least three, based on how many torpedo squadrons had attacked them, and by sighting reports from their own float-plane scouts.  Both carrier forces had been closing on each other while the U.S. air groups were in the air, and were only about 90 miles apart by then.
    The Japanese were able to get their counter-strike off so fast that their fighter escort caught up with a group of six damaged SBD stragglers from Enterprise, led by LT Charles Ware.  In a serious tactical error, the Zeroes left their dive-bomber charges and attacked the SBD's.  Ware led his section through an innovative tactic that maximized the group's defensive firepower, and two of the Zeroes were badly shot up; one had to ditch and the other managed to make it back to the Hiryu.  The others broke off the ill-advised attack.  One of the damaged SBD's ran out of fuel and ditched, its crew of ENS Frank O'Flaherty and AMM1/C Gaido was picked up, interrogated and later killed by the Japanese (see H-Gram 004 for the Bruno Gaido story.)  One other SBD was able to ditch near the Yorktown and its crew was rescued.  The other four SBD's, with eight men, missed the Enterprise and vanished into the Pacific without a trace.  Before the Zeroes could catch up to the Japanese dive bombers, 20 U.S. F-4F Wildcats off the Yorktown, aided by early radar detection, intercepted the unescorted dive-bombers and shot most of them down before the four remaining Zeroes could intervene.  Only seven of the Val dive-bombers made it through the fighter gauntlet, but those seven would set a stunning example of dive-bombing proficiency.  Undeterred intense by AAA fire from the Yorktown's escorts, the dive-bombers attacked the Yorktown from multiple directions at once.
    In a perfectly executed Japanese dive-bomb attack, the first plane to roll in normally carried a bomb fuzed to detonate immediately on impact to suppress the target's AAA fire.  In this attack, the first Japanese plane to dive on the Yorktown approached from the stern, and was hit by fire from the two quad 1.1" mounts located aft of the island, but before the plane broke up, the pilot released his bomb which scored a direct hit on the AAA mounts that had just shot him down, killing almost their entire crews, 19 men.  The second plane was also hit, but scored a damaging near miss off the stern before crashing.  By the time the attack was over, the seven dive-bombers had scored three direct hits and two damaging near misses, leaving the Yorktown billowing black smoke and slowing down.  The five surviving Japanese dive-bombers reported that they left the Yorktown in sinking condition.
    Meanwhile the Hiryu was preparing to launch her Kate torpedo-bombers.  However, due to losses and damage inflicted by the Marine air defenses on Midway only 10 torpedo-bombers were available instead of 18.  The strike would be led by LT Joichi Tomonaga, who had led the strike on Midway that morning.  His plane had been damaged in the initial encounter with Marine fighters near Midway, but he had still carried out the strike and made it back to the Hiryu.  However, the damage to his plane could not be completely fixed and it was still leaking fuel.  Tomonaga knew before he launched that he would not be able to make it back.  More junior pilots tried to get him to trade aircraft, but he refused.  Launched at 1330, Tomonaga's strike was under orders to attack one of the undamaged U.S. carriers.  However, by the time Tomonaga's strike reached the U.S. carriers, the Yorktown, although severely damaged, had put out her fires, regained a fair amount of speed, and could still launch aircraft.  From an approaching aircraft, the Yorktown appeared undamaged.
    Tomonaga's inbound low-level strike was detected later (at 1355) and the fighter defenses were more effective than the earlier dive-bomber attack.  Yorktown F-4F's downed one of the ten Kates with two F-4F's shot down by Zeroes.  Tomonaga went after the first carrier he saw, which appeared undamaged, but was the Yorktown.  A section of Enterprise F-4 Wildcats was directed by Enterprise's fighter direction officer to assist Yorktown's fighters against Kates that had gotten through.  However, the flight leader's guns jammed, and in a hand-signal mix up, the other three fighters broke off the intercept instead of pursuing the torpedo-bombers.  Equally undeterred by ineffective shipboard AAA fire, the Kates pressed their attack, splitting to attack Yorktown from different sides.  At the last minute, Yorktown was able to launch several more fighters, and Tomonaga ran headlong into none other than the great Jimmy Thach, who hit Tomonaga's plane, which caught fire.  Thach would later express respect for the incredible skill and bravery of the Japanese pilot (Tomonaga) who held his flaming aircraft in the air and steady, drawing fire away from other aircraft, long enough to launch his torpedo, which missed, before he crashed and was killed.  Other Kates were downed by fighters, and one damaged Kate made an unsuccessful suicide run at the Yorktown.  Yorktown avoided two torpedoes, but two torpedoes hit her amidships on the port side.  Unlike U.S. torpedoes, the Japanese torpedoes exploded, with devastating effect.  Yorktown came to a stop, and quickly developed an extremely serious list that could not be corrected.  Thirty-five of Yorktown's crew had been killed in the two raids.  As the risk of capsizing increased, Captain Elliott Buckmaster gave the order to abandon ship as dusk approached.  RADM Fletcher shifted his flag to USS Astoria (CA-34,) with limited command and control capability, and transferred tactical control of the entire force to RADM Spruance.  Five Kates and four Zeroes made it back to Hiryu.
    As the Yorktown wallowed with apparently fatal damage, Hiryu's number would soon be up, as she was sighted at 1430 by one of Yorktown's airborne scouts.  Spruance ordered a strike, and Enterprise launched a polyglot strike package at 1525 made up of 26 aircraft from various squadrons including her own aircraft and Yorktown aircraft that had recovered on Enterprise (VB-3, VS-6, VB-6), led by LT Wilmer Gallaher.  Hornet's woes continued, as she was recovering her aircraft that had previously landed at Midway Island from the morning strike, when the order came.  As a result, Hornet's 16 SBD strike, led by LT Edgar Stebbins, launched almost half an hour after the one from Enterprise.
    When the combined Enterprise/Yorktown flight reached the Hiryu around 1700, the Japanese carrier was trying to launch a desperation dusk strike with her ten remaining operational aircraft.  The airborne Japanese fighters put up intense resistance to defend their last flight deck, pursuing U.S. dive-bombers into their dives, shooting down two and disrupting several others.  At this time the USAAF B-17's returned, six from Midway and six that had flown direct from Hawaii, and proceeded to drop their bombs through the dive-bomber formation, hitting nothing, as Captain Kaku skillfully avoided the bombs, although several of the B-17's flew low enough to hit Hiryu with machine gun fire.  The Enterprise/Yorktown strike had initially divided, with half to take the Hiryu and the other half to take the battleship Haruna.  However the dive-bombers attacking the Hiryu kept missing as the Hiryu continued evasive maneuvers.  Concerned that the Hiryu might not get hit, the dive-bombers targeting the Haruna diverted and attacked Hiryu.  In the end, Hiryu took four direct hits on her forward flight deck, leaving her burning furiously and out-of-action, but afloat and still able to make considerable speed.  One of the hits was by LT Best, hitting his second carrier of the day.  By the time Hornet's strike arrived it seemed that Hiryu was finished, so Hornet's dive bombers attacked the heavy cruisers Tone and Chikuma, but scored no hits, leaving Hornet's air group with a perfect score for the day, zero hits.  To add insult to injury, a refugee fighter from Yorktown, with a wounded pilot, made a hard recovery on Hornet and the plane's un-safed machine guns sprayed Hornet's flight deck, killing LT Royal Ingersoll II, son of VADM Royal Ingersoll (Commander-in-Chief Atlantic Fleet) and four of Hornet's Marine detachment, with 20 other crewmen wounded.
    As darkness fell on 4 June 1942, all five damaged carriers were still afloat.  RADM Spruance, with delegated tactical command from RADM Fletcher, withdrew U.S. forces to the east, leaving the destroyer USS Hughes(DD-410) behind to torpedo the abandoned and listing Yorktown in the event Japanese ships arrived in the vicinity.  Spruance was concerned that if he continued to pursue the Japanese to the west, he could wind up in a night fight with superior Japanese surface forces, a fight that the U.S. neither needed nor was prepared for, as demonstrated by the early battles near Guadalcanal several months later.  Spruance's caution was subsequently widely criticized, but Japanese records confirm his concern, because VADM Nagumo, flying his flag in the light cruiser Nagara, was steaming easterly at high speed with his two battleships, two heavy cruisers, and whatever destroyers were not standing by the stricken carriers.  VADM Nagumo's intent was to force exactly the night surface action that RADM Spruance was intent on avoiding.  Further to the southwest, four other Japanese heavy cruisers, under the command of VADM Takeo Kurita, were racing toward Midway Island intent on bombarding the airfield at night to preclude any further flight operations the next day.  The submarine I-168 was ordered to shell Midway Island, which it did, with minimal damage. 
     As the night wore on, with no sign of American surface forces, both Nagumo and Yamamoto came to the conclusion that further pursuit to the east would leave Nagumo's force vulnerable to air attack at daybreak, and Nagumo commenced withdrawal to the northwest.  The same situation applied to the four cruisers en route Midway as they would not be able to complete their mission before daybreak, and were ordered to reverse course.  Although all four carriers were still burning, they remained afloat because their hull integrity had not been breached, since none had been hit by torpedoes, except Kaga that had been hit by a torpedo from USS Nautilus (SS-168) that failed to explode.  The Japanese still harbored hope that Hiryu could be saved, and Akagi was only given up after a lengthy fight to try to save her.  Soryu and Kaga were so badly damaged that saving them was not realistic, but that didn't stop their crews from trying.  Nagumo ordered Kaga, Soryu and Akagi to be sunk by torpedoes from Japanese destroyers.  Yamamoto initially countermanded the order to scuttle the Akagi, considered the crown jewel of the Japanese Navy, until he too was finally convinced that she could not be saved.
    Captain Okuda of the Kaga had been killed on the bridge by one of the first bombs to kit.  CAPT Yanagimoto of Soryu decided to go down with his ship; his crew attempted to forcibly remove the highly popular and respected skipper, but he stared them down and he remained on board as his ship was torpedoed and sunk.  CAPT Aoki of the Akagi also initially elected to go down with his ship, but after remaining alone on board for several hours while the scuttling was delayed, some of his crew went back on board to convince him to relent, which he finally did.  The order to scuttle Hiryu came later, and both RADM Yamaguchi and CAPT Kaku elected to go down with the ship after a surrealistic abandon ship ceremony which included Hiryu's several hundred surviving crewmembers in formation on the flight deck listening to speeches and toasts, and singing songs, before conducting a most orderly abandon ship.  Nevertheless, after the Hiryu had been torpedoed by a Japanese destroyer, approximately 30-40 Hiryu crewmen who had been trapped in the engineering spaces made their way topside.  However, the Japanese destroyer on-scene commander elected to leave them behind.  Upon learning this, Nagumo ordered a different destroyer, the Tanikaze, to proceed to the Hiryu's location to retrieve survivors.  Meanwhile, the survivors embarked in a cutter, in which 34 survived until 17 June when they were rescued and captured by the seaplane tender USS Ballard (AVD-10.)  After daybreak, an aircraft off the Japanese light carrier Hosho (Japan's first carrier, and still embarking biplanes) covering Yamamoto's battleship Main Body, discovered that the Hiryu was still afloat.  Hiryu finally went down later in the morning on 5 Jun.
    As the Japanese carriers were being scuttled, the four cruisers withdrawing from the cancelled Midway bombardment encountered the submarine USS Tambor (SS-198) in the just after midnight  5 Jun.  In the ensuing evasive action, the Mogami collided with the Mikuma, and forty feet of Mogami's bow was sheared off, dramatically reducing her speed.  As the Kumano and Suzuya continued west at high speed, the Mikuma remained behind to aid the limping Mogami.  Fully expecting to be attacked by aircraft from Midway at daybreak, and unable to maneuver defensively, the skipper of the Mogami elected to jettison all his Type 93 oxygen-fueled torpedoes (later known as "Long Lance") to preclude them exploding on board in the event of a bomb hit.  Mikuma did not follow suit, which would seal her fate the next day.
     At daybreak on 5 June, RADM Spruance reversed course and began a westerly pursuit of the Japanese, but most were already out of range (hence the after-the-fact criticism.)  The U.S. could only muster about one air group's worth of aircraft from the three carriers, and only a handful of aircraft on Midway Island were still flyable.  Nevertheless, aircraft from the Enterprise and Hornet scouted to the northwest of Midway looking for the possible fifth carrier that had been estimated by U.S. naval intelligence.  (The Shokaku had not participated in Midway due to heavy damage at the Battle of the Coral Sea, and the Zuikaku had not participated due to Japanese inability to reconstitute her air group following losses at the Coral Sea.  The Japanese were trying to figure out how to get the light carrier Zuiho (the "fifth carrier") into the battle.  Zuiho had been well back covering the Invasion Force west of Midway, and her 24 aircraft (12 fighters and 12 torpedo-bombers) weren't likely to change the outcome of the battle.)  Throughout the day, the only Japanese ship the U.S. carrier aircraft spotted was the destroyer Tanikaze, which was trying to catch up to what was left of Nagumo's force following a fruitless search for the survivors of Hiryu who had been left behind the night before.  Having found nothing else, over fifty dive-bombers from Enterprise and Hornet (VB-3, VB-6, VS-6, VS-5), along with nine B-17's in two waves attacked the solitary destroyer.  The skipper of the Tanikaze, CDR Motoi Katsumi, skillfully, and luckily, avoided every one of 90 bombs, although splinters from a near miss penetrated his after turret and killed six men.  One SDB crashed diving on Tanikaze.  During the attack, one of the B-17's also accidentally jettisoned its auxiliary bomb-bay fuel tank, and the bomber ran out of fuel and was lost with all hands returning to Midway.  Another B-17 ran out of fuel that day on a search mission and was also lost with her crew.  Some of Hornet's aircraft returned after dark, and CAPT Mitscher turned on the Hornet's lights, an action he would become even more famous for during the Battle of the Philippine Sea in Jun 44.
    Meanwhile, eight B-17's and the few flyable USMC dive-bombers from Midway (six SBD and six SB2U) attacked the Mogami and Mikuma.  The B-17's, flying at high altitude, hit nothing.  The big, powerful heavy cruisers (the Japanese had cheated on Washington Naval Treaty limitations) put up a ferocious anti-aircraft barrage, and shot down the SB2U flight lead, Captain Richard E. Fleming, USMC.  Fleming led the section of VMSB-241's remaining SB2U's after both the skipper (Henderson) and XO (Norris) had been lost the previous day.  Fleming pressed his attack with great determination and crashed alongside the Mikuma.  Many books on Midway, with photos of the Mikuma, identify wreckage on top of an after turret as being Fleming's SB2U Vindicator, which erroneous reports said hit the Mikuma after being damaged.  The wreckage is actually not Fleming's plane.  Nevertheless, for his courageous attack flying an obsolete aircraft, Fleming was awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously, which was somewhat amazingly the only Medal of Honor awarded in the entire battle. The six Marine SDB's had attacked Mogami and the six SB2U's had attacked Mikuma.  No bombs hit.
     During the day on 5 Jun, Captain Buckmaster led damage-control parties back on to the still-floating Yorktown, jettisoning everything possible in an attempt to bring the list into more manageable parameters, with some success.  It increasingly appeared the Yorktown could be saved, weather permitting.  However, the Yorktown's position was reported by a Japanese cruiser-launched float-plane, and the submarine I-168, under the command of LCDR Yahachi Tanabe, was ordered to proceed to that position and attack.  The position proved quite accurate, and Tanabe sighted the Yorktown before dawn on 6 Jun.  Tanabe carefully and skillfully picked his way through the five screening destroyers, taking most of the morning to do so, apparently aided by abysmal acoustic conditions that seriously degraded U.S. sonar.  When Tanabe put his scope up for what he thought would be the final time, he discovered he was too close to the Yorktown; his calculation had been thrown off because by then the Yorktown was moving under tow.  Finally Tanabe fired four torpedoes in a tight spread.  One torpedo missed aft.  One torpedo hit the destroyer Hammann (DD412,) alongside Yorktown, and blew her in half. Two other torpedoes passed under the Hammann and hit the Yorktown on her starboard side.  Sailors on Hammann were seen to make a valiant effort to reach the depth-charge racks on the stern and disarm the depth-charges, however the ship sank too fast.  When the depth charges detonated underwater, virtually all of Hammann's crew that had been blown or jumped into the water were killed, and the shock broke legs and ankles of damage control parties on Yorktown (81 of Hammann's 251 crew were lost.)
    Tanabe escaped by taking I-168 directly under Yorktown, and then survived 61 depth charges with severe damage to the sub.  With insufficient battery power to remain under until sunset, and leaking chlorine gas, Tanabe surfaced and prepared for a surface gun duel.  U.S. destroyers initially pursued and fired on I-168, but Tanabe generated a smoke screen to obscure him from the U.S. destroyers in the dusk, and was able to get just enough charge on his batteries to resubmerge, and then make good his escape under cover of darkness.  I-168 returned to Japan for a heroes' welcome, one of the few Japanese ships, if not the only one, to do so.  Despite the damage from I-168's torpedoes, the Yorktown remained afloat, but too low in the water to attempt to continue the tow.  The tough ship finally went under after dawn on 7 Jun.
    Also on 6 Jun, U.S. carrier aircraft caught up to the Mogami and Mikuma, still trying to reach the perceived protection of Japanese aircraft based at Wake Island.  The first strike was carried out by 14 SBD dive bombers off Hornet, led by CDR Ring.  The strike was complicated by the fact that a previous sighting had reported a battleship in the area.  (Japanese heavy cruisers were constantly misidentified as battleships by aviators and submariners throughout the war.)  This time, Ring correctly identified the Mogami and Mikuma as heavy cruisers, and flew past them in a vain attempt to find the non-existent battleship, before finally reversing course and attacking the cruisers.  The cruisers shot down two SBD's, and only two bombs hit Mogami and none hit the Mikuma.  A second strike launched from Enterprise (a mix of Enterprise and Yorktown aircraft) also flew by the Mogami and Mikuma is search of the unicorn battleship, before reversing course and attacking the heavy cruisers.  This time Mikuma sustained five direct hits and two near misses.  The three surviving flyable U.S. torpedo bombers accompanied the raid, but were under orders not to attack if there was any AAA opposition at all, so all three stayed clear.  The Mikuma absorbed enormous punishment but still continued her slow escape attempt, demonstrating just how hard it was to sink ships using only bombs, until fires set off Mikuma's torpedoes, initiating a massive secondary explosion resulting in the loss of the ship.  Most of Mikuma's crew of 888 would go down with the ship.  Twenty-three more SBD's from Hornet attacked later in the afternoon at 1500.  One bomb hit Mogami, another hit the still-floating Mikuma, and one hit the destroyer Arashio, killing many of the few Mikuma survivors that had been rescued from the water. Mogami, despite severe damage from collision and air attack, and the two destroyers escaped to fight another day.  Two survivors of Mikuma would be picked up by the USS Trout (SS-202.)
    It took awhile for ADM Yamamoto to come to grips with the catastrophic scale of the Japanese loss, and throughout the 5th and 6th of June his staff concocted all manner of desperate and unrealistic plans to salvage some semblance of victory out of a monumental defeat.  In the end, the Japanese decided the best solution was to lie about it and claim a great victory, which was trumpeted in the Japanese press.  The only person Yamamoto and senior navy leaders told the truth to was Emperor Hirohito himself; Prime Minister Tojo and Army leadership were kept in the dark.  When they did learn the truth, the Army leaders reacted in accord with the poisonous inter-service relationship that had existed for many years, believing that the Navy got what was coming to it.  To maintain the deception, neither Yamamoto nor Nagumo or any other senior officers were relieved of command.  Nagumo remained in command of the Dai-Ichi Kido Butai (First Mobile Strike Force) now reduced to Shokaku and Zuikaku, redesignated as Carrier Division One, until after the Battle of Santa Cruz in October 1942.  The Japanese Navy went to great lengths to isolate the survivors of Midway, especially the wounded, who were treated in an appalling manner as disgraced losers; all were barred from writing to or visiting family after the battle, before being shipped out to the far reaches of the Empire, where the great majority would ultimately die.
    Although the Japanese did manage some lessons learned from the battle, the need to cover up the results resulted in many being lost.  For example, the new Japanese carrier Taiho incorporated one lesson learned (an armored flight deck) but not others, like damage control, and was destroyed by the same aviation fuel line ruptures that sank the Lexington at Coral Sea and contributed to the loss of four carriers at Midway.  It was not until after the war that any serious Japanese introspection began concerning the cause of their defeat at Midway (and even then they did not suspect their codes had been broken.)  Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, Akagi's air group commander who had led the attack on Pearl Harbor but had been too ill to fly at Midway, attributed the loss to "victory disease."  After six months of constant operations racking up one overwhelming victory after another, the judgment of Japanese naval leaders was clouded by a fatal combination of fatigue and hubris, a belief in their own superiority and invincibility that caused them to ignore all kinds of warning signs that their plans had been compromised and that the enemy was alert and waiting for them.  They completely failed to understand that after the humiliation of Pearl Harbor, the Sailors of the U.S. Navy not only had the will to fight, but were prepared to take stunning losses and still keep coming without faltering.  Had they taken note of how tenaciously U.S. ships had fought in the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies, this would not have come as a surprise.  Although I am not a big fan of the German philosopher Nietzche, one of his quotes is applicable, "Victory makes the victor stupid and the vanquished vengeful."  Or, as Commander Minoru Genda, planning architect of Pearl Harbor, remarked to Fuchida as they watched their carriers burning on 4 June 1942, "Shimatta" (roughly, "we screwed up.")
SBD-2 Dauntless BuNo 2106 – Battle of Midway Veteran
Hill Goodspeed, National Naval Aviation Museum Historian
May 17
     Rolling off the Douglas Aircraft Company assembly line in El Segundo, California, in December 1940, SBD-2 Dauntless (Bureau Number 2106) was delivered to Bombing Squadron (VB) 2 at Naval Air Station (NAS) San Diego, California, on the last day of 1940.  For the better part of the following year the aircraft flew with that squadron, logging hours flying from the deck of the aircraft carrier Lexington (CV 2) and participating in large-scale military maneuvers in Louisiana.
     During the first week of December 1941, with Lexington earmarked to deliver aircraft of a Marine scout bombing squadron to Midway Atoll, the aircraft was off loaded from the carrier to make room for the additional aircraft and left at Pearl Harbor when "Lady Lex" put to sea.  Thus, on the morning of 7 December 1941, it was on Ford Island in the middle of Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked.  Put back aboard Lexington when she returned to Pearl, the aircraft embarked in the carrier to the South Pacific.  On 10 March 1942, flown by Lieutenant (junior grade) Mark T. Whittier with Aviation Radioman Second Class Forest G. Stanley as his gunner, the aircraft joined 103 other planes from Lexington and Yorktown (CV 5) in a raid against Japanese shipping at Lae and Salamaua in New Guinea. Credited with pressing home his attack against a Japanese ship, Whittier received the Navy Cross.
     When Lexington returned to Pearl Harbor following the raid, the museum's SBD-2 was again put ashore and earmarked for transfer to Marine Scout Bombing Squadron (VMSB) 241 on Midway Atoll, arriving there with eighteen other SBD-2s on 26 May 1942, on board the aircraft transport Kitty Hawk (APV 1).
    On the morning of 4 June 1942, with 1st Lieutenant Daniel Iverson as pilot and Private First Class Wallace Reid manning the .30-caliber machine gun in the aft cockpit, the museum's aircraft was one of sixteen SBD-2s of VMSB-241 launched to attack Japanese aircraft carriers to the west of Midway.  Approaching the enemy carrier Hiryu, the Marine planes came under fire from antiaircraft gunners and fighters of the enemy combat air patrol.  Iverson, with two Japanese Zero fighters following him down in his dive, released his bomb at an altitude of 800 feet.  During his egress from the target area, the Zeroes on Iverson's tail were joined by two others, which pursued the Dauntless for miles.  Enemy fire holed Iverson's plane 219 times, knocking out his hydraulic system and wounding Reid. One bullet came so close that it clipped Iverson's throat microphone cord.  Nevertheless, the pilot managed to return to Midway, making a one-wheel landing on the atoll.  His was one of only eight SBD-2s of VMSB-241 to return from the attack against the Japanese fleet.  For their actions, Iverson received the Navy Cross and Reid was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
     Returned to the United States, the museum's SBD-2 was repaired and eventually assigned to the Carrier Qualification Training Unit (CQTU) at NAS Glenview, Illinois.  On the morning of 11 June 1943, with Marine 2nd Lieutenant Donald A. Douglas, Jr. at the controls, the aircraft ditched in the waters of Lake Michigan during an errant approach to the training carrier Sable (IX 81).  Douglas was retrieved from the water by a Coast Guard rescue boat, but his aircraft sank to the bottom of the lake.
    Recovered in 1994, the aircraft underwent extensive restoration at the museum before being placed on public display in 2001.  Elements of its original paint scheme when delivered to the fleet are still visible on its wings and tail surfaces.  A survivor of the Pearl Harbor attack and two combat actions, including the famous Battle of Midway, it is one of the most historic aircraft in existence anywhere in the world.

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