The Battle At Midway

.. rey and led him back to Midway. Captain Marion E. Carl, flying the third Wildcat, was jumped by several Zeros after attacking the Kates and was forced to break off his attack. While the Wildcats fought for their lives, Parks led his six Buffaloes in an attack on the Kates.

The Marines managed one pass before they were overwhelmed by the Zeros. Parks and four other Marines were killed. Only Lieutenant Daniel J. Irwin survived. He managed to fly his damaged Buffalo back to Midway with Zeros after him all the way. “Their gunnery was very good,” Irwin reported, “and I doubt if on any run they missed hitting my plane.” VMF-221’s 12 reserve fighters, led by Captains Daniel J.

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Hennessy and Kirk Armstead, also attacked the Japanese planes (Lucas 104). Hennessy’s six Buffaloes smashed into the bombers and were jumped by the escorting Zeros, which d! estroyed four of them. Only two of Hennessy’s men survived. Armstead’s Buffaloes intercepted the Japanese a few miles from Midway and downed three Kates before the rampaging Zeros destroyed three of them. Observing the dogfight from the ground, Lieutenant Charles Hughes said that the Buffaloes “looked like they were tied to a string while the Zeros made passes at them.” The Japanese pushed relentlessly toward Midway. To Marine Pfc Phillip Clark at D Battery on Sand Island, the Japanese formations looked like “three wisps of clouds far out on the horizon.” On Sand and Eastern, the Marines and sailors waited for the attack.

An observer marveled at the “very calmlackadaisical air” with which the defenders waited for the strike, “as though they had been living through this sort of thing all their lives”(Stevens 98). “Open fire when targets are in range,” 6th Battalion headquarters notified all guns at 6:30 a.m. One minute later, Midway’s guns opened fire. A Kate erupted into flames and dove straight down. A second Kate crashed into the lagoon, missing the PT-boats. The remaining Kates struck Sand Island, destroying three oil tanks and setting fire to a seaplane hangar. The attack on Eastern Island began with an unforgettable incident. “Suddenly the leading Jap plane peeled off,” an eyewitness wrote.

“He dove down about 100 feet from the ground, turned over on his back and proceeded leisurely flying upside down over the ramp.” The Marines watched for a few seconds, then opened fire and shot him down. Val dive bombers struck VMF-221’s arming pit, killing four mechanics and exploding eight 100-pound bombs and 10,000 rounds of .50-caliber machine-gun ammunition. Another Val demolished Eastern’s powerhouse, disrupting Midway’s electricity and water distillation plant. Japanese efforts to ren! der Eastern’s runways useless were unsuccessful; only two small craters were left on the landing strips. Midway’s defenders fought back with everything they had. Major Dorn E. Arnold of the 6th Defense Battalion fired a Browning Automatic Rifle at the enemy; a sailor on Sand Island used a Colt .45.

Second Lieutenant Elmer Thompson and another Marine fired a .30-caliber machine gun from a crippled SB2U. The Japanese attack ended at 6:48 a.m. The all-clear sounded on Midway at 7:15, and the process of picking up the pieces began. Kimes ordered VMF-221’s fighters to land. Six Buffaloes staggered in. Including four aircraft that landed during the raid, only 20 U.S.

fighters had survived. Of those, only one Wildcat and a single Buffalo were fit to fly. Fifteen Buffaloes and two Wildcats were shot down, and 13 pilots were killed. Eleven Japanese aircraft were downed by the fighters and anti-aircraft fire, while 53 were damaged. Colonel Shannon’s trenches, bunkers and revetments prov! ed effective.

Only 11 of Midway’s ground defenders were killed and 18 wounded. None of Midway’s planes were caught on the ground except for an old utility biplane and a decoy plane made of crates and tin roofing called the “JFU” (Jap fouler-upper)(Robertson 15). While Midway repaired its damage and its defenders licked their wounds, the aircraft that were sent out to attack the Japanese carriers made contact. Lieutenant Langdon Fieberling’s six TBFs reached the Japanese fleet at 7:10, dropped to low altitude and bore on toward the carriers. So many Zeros swarmed around the vulnerable torpedo planes that the fighters got in each other’s way. Two TBFs were destroyed in the first attack, followed by three more.

Realizing that he could not reach the carriers, Ensign Albert K. Earnest loosed his torpedo at a cruiser, then broke away with two Zeros after him. Earnest flew his shot-up TBF back to Midway, navigating “by guess and by God.” Close behind the TBFs, Captain James Collins led his four B-26 Marauders into a gauntlet of anti-aircraft fire and six Zeros. Collins led his planes down to 200 feet above the water and, followed by Lieutenant James P. Muri, pressed on toward the carrier Akagi.

Collins released his torpedo 850 yards from th! e carrier and pulled away. Muri released his torpedo at 450 yards, then turned and flew down the middle of Akagi’s flight deck. Once Muri’s B-26 was clear of Akagi, the Zeros attacked with a vengeance, wounding two crewmen and riddling the landing gear, fuel tanks, propeller blades, radio and the top of one wing. Despite that punishment, Muri and Collins were the only survivors of the four-plane B-26 group. Then, at 7:48, the TBF and B-26 attacks were followed by VMSB-241’s 16 Dauntless and Vindicator dive bombers led by Major Lofton Henderson. Henderson had divided the squadron into two flights, leading the SBDs himself while Major Benjamin W.

Norris led the Vindicators. As Henderson led the squadron northwest, the faster Dauntlesses soon left the Vindicators behind. Henderson’s SBDs got their first look at the Japanese carriers at 7:25, and he radioed his Dauntless pilots, “Attack the two enemy CV on the port bow.” Henderson had led his squadron down to 4,000 feet when the Japanese combat air patrol attacked. The Dauntlesses also met with heavy anti-aircraft fire from the Japanese ships. Henderson’s plane was hit, and his port wing caught fire.

He tried to keep his burning Dauntless in the lead, but finally lost control and plunged into the sea. Captain Elmer C. Glidden quickly took command of the Dauntlesses. “Fighter attacks were heavy,” he wrote, “so I led the squadron down through a protecting layer of clouds”(Stevens 102). The Zeros followed the Marines into the clouds. Glidden came out of the clouds and foun! d two Japanese carriers, Kaga and Hiryu, 2,000 feet below. The 10 remaining Dauntlesses dived to 500 feet or lower before releasing their bombs, then sped away at full throttle, hounded by Zeros.

Three SBDs crashed at sea near Midway. Their crews were later rescued. The remaining six, some badly shot up, reached Midway. Eight SBDs, including Henderson’s, were lost, with the Japanese sustaining no damage. Sweeney’s 15 Flying Fortresses arrived over Nagumo’s fleet at 8:10, as the Dauntlesses finished their attacks. Seen from 20,000 feet, the Japanese fleet was “an astonishing sight,” recalled B-17 pilot Don Kundinger. “A panoramic view of the greatest array of surface vessels any of us had ever seen–they seemed to stretch endlessly from horizon to horizon.” Each three-plane B-17 element attacked on its own. Lieutenant Colonel Brooke Allen’s element unloaded its bombs on the carrier Soryu, but all fell short.

Sweeney targeted Kaga, bracketing her stern with, he believed, “one bo! mb hitcausing heavy smoke” (Robertson 22). Three Zeros ganged up on Captain Cecil Faulkener’s bomber, riddling its fuselage and wounding the tail gunner. Another Zero dueled with Captain Paul Payne’s Fortress but never closed in. “The Zeros barely touched the B-17s,” Captain Paul Gregory reported. “Enemy pursuit appeared to have no desire to close on B-17E modified”(Young 25).

The B-17s finished their attack by 8:20 and returned to Midway. Sweeney believed his B-17s had hit at least one of the Japanese carriers. In reality, they had not. Shortly after the B-17s left, Major Benjamin Norris’ 11 Vindicators arrived and Zeros swarmed over them(Miracle 45). Norris, with no illusions about his old “Vibrators,” decided not to press on toward the carriers. He led his men into some clouds. Coming out of the cloud cover, Norris discovered a battleship below.

It was Haruna, supposedly sunk in December 1941. “Attack target below,” Norris radioed, and he led the Vindicators into a high-speed glide. Anti-aircraft guns on Haruna opened fire with an “extremely heavy and troublesome but inaccurate barrage”(Stevens 121). Only two of Major Norris’ Vindicators were lost during the attack. Three ditched at sea near Midway because of battle damage. Despite reports that they had scored two direct hits and three near-misses, the Vindicator pilots had not even scratched Haruna.

If the Battle of Midway had ended with the return of VMSB-241’s Vindicators, it would have been another victory for the Japanese. Midway had sent 52 aircraft against the Japanese and lost 19 without scoring a single hit. “From the time of the attack and the known position of the enemy carriers, we estimated they would be back in three or four hours,” Kimes wrote (Stevens 54). Only six Dauntlesses, seven! Vindicators, one Buffalo and a single Wildcat were left to oppose the Japanese. The defenders of Midway steadied themselves for another air raid. Nothing happened. The only aircraft to show up were 11 Dauntlesses from the carrier Hornet at 11:00 a.m.

Some Marine gunners, believing they were Japanese planes, opened fire on the SBDs before recognizing their silhouettes. The Dauntlesses were refueled and back in the air by 2:00 p.m. At 3:58, Midway’s defenders received an indication that the Japanese were taking a beating when a PBY pilot reported “three burning ships.” At 5:45 he reported, “The three burning ships are Jap carriers.” The stricken vessels–Akagi, Kaga and Soryu–were the victims of SBD Dauntlesses from the American carriers Enterprise and Yorktown. At the same time out at sea, B-17s from Midway, along with six more Flying Fortresses from Hawaii, attacked the Japanese carrier Hiryu, which had been damaged and set afire by dive bombers from Enterprise and Hornet. The B- 17s claimed hitting the burning Hiryu, as well as a cruiser and battleship,! and sinking a destroyer.

In fact, the land-based bombers were no more successful in the afternoon than they had been in the morning. With all four of Nagumo’s carriers destroyed, Yamamoto decided he could not proceed with his plan to occupy Midway, and ordered his fleet to withdraw. Midway’s defenders, however, still expected the Japanese to invade. Captain Simard dispersed his PBYs, evacuated nonessential personnel and warned his PT-boats to expect a night attack. At 1:20 a.m., the Japanese submarine I-168 opened fire on Midway with its 5-inch deck gun. Batteries B and E on Eastern Island, along with Battery D on Sand Island, returned fire with their 3- and 5-inch guns, lobbing 42 shells at I-168, which lobbed eight shells back.

The brief exchange resulted in no damage to either side. Most of I-168’s shells fell in the lagoon. The submarine submerged at 1:28, the Marine gunners ceased firing and Midway settled back into uneasy silence (Miracle 68). June 5, 1942, began for Midway’s defenders at 4:15 a.m., after Sand Island’s radio picked up a report from the submarine USS Tambor of a large enemy force possibly within striking distance. The Midway garrison still had every reason to believe that an invasion was imminent. Within 15 minutes, eight B-17s took off from Eastern Island to counter the threat.

The Army pilots could not locate the enemy ships in the early morning fog, and by 6:00 a.m. the B-17s were circling nearby Kure Atoll waiting for information. At 6:30, a Midway-based PBY reported, “Sighted 2 battleships bearing 256 degrees, distance 125 miles, course 268 degrees, speed 15.” Two minutes later the PBY added, “Ships damaged, streaming oil.” The Japanese ships were retreating, and the island’s defenders breathed a collective sigh of relief. Marine Aircraft Group 22 sent up two flights from VMSB-241, six Dauntlesses under Captain Marshall A. Tyler and six Vindicators led by Captain Richard E. Flemming, to attack! the two “battleships,” actually the heavy cruisers Mikuma and Mogami, damaged in a collision the night before. Forty-five minutes later, the Marine pilots spotted the oil slick left by the damaged cruisers and followed it to Mogami and Mikuma. Tyler led his six Dauntlesses into an attack on Mogami amid heavy anti-aircraft fire.

The Marines dropped their bombs, scoring a few near-misses. At 8:40, minutes after Tyler’s attack, Flemming led his Vindicators out of the sun, through heavy flak from the Japanese ships, against Mikuma. Captain Leon M. Williamson, a pilot in Flemming’s flight, saw Flemming’s engine smoking during his dive. As Flemming pulled out, his Vindicator burst into flames.

Flemming–either by accident or design–crashed his blazing Vindicator into Mikuma’s aft 8-inch gun turret. The crash started a fire that was sucked into the cruiser’s starboard engine room air intakes, suffocating the engineers. After the Marines finished their attacks, the eight B-17s from ! Midway, led by Lt. Col. Brooke Allen, appeared and dropped their bombs, scoring a near-miss on Mogami. The damaged cruisers continued limping westward, and Mikuma sank at sunset the next day after attacks by aircraft from Enterprise and Hornet.

At 10:45 on June 6, 1942, Captain Simard dispatched 26 B-17s from Midway in search of Japanese cruisers reported heading southwest. The bombers did not locate the cruisers, but six B-17s dropped their bombs on what they thought was a Japanese ship. The pilots reported that they had hit a cruiser, which “sunk in seconds.” It was actually the submarine USS Grayling, which submerged when the Flying Fortresses dropped their bombs. While Midway’s bombers continued attacking the retreating Japanese, Simard had his PBYs and PT-boats searching for downed pilots. Between June 4 and 9, Midway’s PBYs picked up 27 airmen. By June 7, it had become apparent that Midway was secure.

The island’s garrison, for all the damage it had suffered, had contributed its fair share to the victory over the Japanese. This Battle had ended the Japanese offensive in the pacific ocean.


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