Sunday, May 30, 2010

Memorial Day & Midway

The pilots of Torpedo Squadron Eight. By nightfall of 4 June 1942, all but one -- plus all their radiomen/gunners -- would be dead.

Vin Suprynowicz gives us a Memorial Day column on the battle that changed everything. Read it and I will have some comments afterward.

The slow, obsolescent TBD-1 Devastator Torpedo Bomber similar to the ones flown by Torpedo Squadrons Three, Six and Eight at Midway. They suffered a 90% loss rate.

May. 30, 2010

Las Vegas Review-Journal

VIN SUPRYNOWICZ: The battle that changed everything

When war is thrust upon us -- as it was on Dec. 7, 1941, and again on Sept. 11, 2001 -- we ask our young men to put their lives on the line. Then the college debate squad in charge at the White House proceeds to spend more time worrying about how to avoid civilian casualties (actually proposing to award medals, now, to soldiers who manage to avoid hurting anyone) -- than they do mobilizing to grind our brutal assailants into the dust of history.

As our leaders suck their thumbs and decline to commit "too much force" because the polls might turn against them, one can't help but wonder if America has anyone left in long pants still willing to take over. (A few years back, it was Mr. Aspin refusing to send tanks to back up the Rangers in Mogadishu, today it's an Afghan "war" with a pre-designated surrender date.)

In such moments, it bears remembering that within living memory, a desperate nation entrusted to untested Rear Adms. Jack Fletcher and Ray Spruance three of its four remaining front-line aircraft carriers (the Saratoga arriving two days late) in a desperate gamble to turn the tide of Japanese conquest at a little mid-ocean sandspit called Midway Island.

On June 4, 1942 -- 68 years ago -- a few dozen lonely fliers aboard the USS Enterprise, Yorktown and Hornet were America's last line of defense. A more timid commander might have hoarded those minimal forces until the war factories, just churning into high gear, could supply him with some reserves.

Not Chester Nimitz. He had had enough. He sent Spruance and Fletcher to Midway -- the workers still aboard the Yorktown, trying to patch up the damage she'd sustained in the Coral Sea just a month before. The Japanese hoped to lure the last remnants of the American fleet out of Pearl Harbor to defend Midway. But the American code-breakers intercepted their plans, and Spruance and Fletcher were in position early enough to ambush the ambushers. If only, by some miracle, the green American pilots could get their bulky planes through the vaunted air defenses of the four front-line carriers of Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo's First Air Wing.

At 4:30 in the morning of June 4, 240 miles northwest of Midway, Nagumo's four carriers began launching more than 100 planes to attack the U.S. base there. But just as Nagumo was re-arming his planes for a second strike at Midway, a tardy Japanese scout plane reported the startling presence of an American carrier only 215 miles away. Changing his plans on the fly, Nagumo ordered the planes on his carriers' decks rearmed with torpedoes to attack what he now correctly saw as the primary threat, the "lone" offensive American warship.

Spruance launched first. Struggling fully loaded into the air between 7 and 9 a.m., three squadrons of torpedo bombers and five squadrons of dive bombers, plus a pitiful few F-4 fighter escorts, vectored toward the Japanese fleet's last known position. But these slapped-together forces were badly coordinated.

At 9:15 a.m., the first U.S. carrier planes sighted their targets and began their attacks. Fifteen TBD-1 Devastators of Lt. Cmdr. John C. Waldron's Torpedo Squadron Eight from the Hornet dove without hesitation into combat against the more maneuverable Zeroes of the Japanese combat air screen.

They were all shot down.

They scored not a single hit.

One man, Ensign George Gay, bailed out and survived, acquiring history's greatest (if not necessarily most comfortable) box seat as he watched the rest of the battle from sea level, bobbing in his life vest.

The Enterprise's Torpedo Squadron Six, led by Lt. Cmdr. Eugene E. Lindsey, bored in next. Lindsey's squadron scored no hits, while losing all but five of its 14 TBDs.

Lt. Cmdr. Lance E. Massey's Torpedo Squadron Three from the USS Yorktown was next. Two planes survived. No hits.

It was a disaster. Would you have kept on? Dozens of precious, brave, American planes and air crews lost -- nearly the last of their kind between Tokyo and San Francisco -- and nothing accomplished.

Unless you count one thing, so seemingly insignificant. Through their dogged, relentless, suicidal attacks, the slow and outdated Yankee torpedo planes had pulled down the Japanese air cover to sea level, where the covering Zero fighters now skipped off at wave top height, chasing the last, escaping American stragglers. That and the fact that the desperate maneuvering of the Japanese carriers had slowed the rearming and refueling of their planes on deck, so the fuel hoses and piles of bombs and torpedoes still being off-loaded and on-loaded were piled everywhere.

If only the Americans had just a few more planes in reserve, somewhere up in those clouds. Just a few.

Nagumo knew that was impossible, of course. His scouts had spotted just the one enemy carrier. The Americans couldn't possibly have sent every attack carrier they had left on the face of the Earth to this one featureless spot in the middle of the God-forsaken Pacific Ocean. America was a nation of soft-headed cowards. Who there would authorize such a gamble?

Led by Lt. Cmdr. Clarence W. McClusky, the Enterprise's luckless Bombing Squadron Six and Scouting Squadron Six had missed the Japanese carriers entirely, steering too far south. They did finally spot the little Japanese destroyer Arashi, speeding north with a bone in her teeth. But she wasn't much of a target, and McClusky's planes were nearing the point of fuel depletion, which would require them to turn back. McClusky could have turned for home.

Instead, on a hunch, he decided to take a bearing from the course of the fast-moving destroyer, turning north to see where she was headed in such a rush. The Arashi, speeding north to rejoin her fleet after depth-charging the USS Nautilus, led him directly to four Japanese aircraft carriers, their decks littered with bombs, torpedoes and fuel -- and no air cover in sight.

At the same moment, Lt. Cmdr. Maxwell F. Leslie arrived from the east, with Bombing Squadron Three from the carrier the Japanese believed was sunk at the Coral Sea: the USS Yorktown.

And so at about 10:25, with the Japanese fighter cover still down at wave top height chasing off the last American torpedo planes, "blessed with an extremely lucky degree of coordination" (in the gentle words of official U.S. naval historians) McClusky and Leslie "commenced one of history's most dramatically decisive attacks."

It took five minutes. By 10:30 a.m., the battle -- and the eventual course of the naval war in the Pacific -- was decided. The carriers Soryu, Kaga and Akagi erupted in flames and perished. Of the once proud Japanese First Air Wing, only the carrier Hiryu remained.

With the Japanese top cover pulled down to the deck by the sacrifice of the Devastators, the SBD Dauntless dive bombers had a clean shot at the Japanese carriers.

A flight of Yorktown SBDs found her at 5 p.m. And then there were none.

A stunned Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto called off the invasion of Midway the next day.

June 4, 1942. Lt. Cmdr. John C. Waldron. Lt. Cmdr. Eugene E. Lindsey. Lt. Cmdr. Lance E. Massey. Lt. Cmdr. Clarence W. McClusky. Lt. Cmdr. Maxwell F. Leslie.

Will we live to see their like again?

I think so.

Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Review-Journal, and the author of "Send in the Waco Killers" and the novel "The Black Arrow." See

Here is Ensign George Gay's description of the sacrifice of Torpedo Squadron Eight.

No flowers mark these brave men's graves. They are remembered only in obscure, and these days largely unread, history books. So we must remember them and pass their story on to our children, lest one day the Republic needs such men and falls for the lack of them.

Here are the names of the dead of VT-8, 4 June 1942.

* Lt. Commander John C. Waldron
* Lt. Raymond A. Moore
* Lt. James C. Owens, Jr.
* Lt.(jg) George M. Campbell
* Lt.(jg) John P. Gray
* Lt.(jg) Jeff D. Woodson
* Ens. William W. Abercrombie
* Ens. William W. Creamer
* Ens. Harold J. Ellison
* Ens. William R. Evans
* Ens. Henry R. Kenyon
* Ens. Ulvert M. Moore
* Ens. Grant W. Teats
* Robert B. Miles, Aviation Pilot 1c
* Horace F. Dobbs, Chief Radioman
* Amelio Maffei, Radioman 1
* Tom H. Pettry, Radioman 1
* Otway D. Creasy, Jr. Radioman 2
* Ross H. Bibb, Jr., Radioman 2
* Darwin L. Clark, Radioman 2
* Ronald J. Fisher, Radioman 2
* Hollis Martin, Radioman 2
* Bernerd P. Phelps Radioman 2
* Aswell L. Picou, Seaman 2
* Francis S. Polston, Seaman 2
* Max A. Calkins, Radioman 3
* George A. Field, Radioman 3
* Robert K. Huntington, Radioman 3
* William F. Sawhill, Radioman 3

Remember them, and the men of VT-3 and VT-6 who fell with them on 4 June 1942, and remember their sacrifice that turned the tide of the war in the Pacific.



Abram said...


Vin Suprynowicz is a favorite author and columnist of mine, and I appreciate you posting his article here, and your comments. Reading this brought tears to my eyes. Forwarding it to friends and family nearly had me crying. Your comments at the end broke my heart, because I believe they are true.

Memorial Day hits home this year in a way it never has before, as my lovely wife enlisted in the United States Navy, and is presently at Great Lakes, Illinois, going through boot camp. Never Give Up.

Washington State

Anonymous said...

It's sinful how ignorant this nation is of our history and the blood that was shed in writing it.

May our Glorious Fallen rest in peace.

Moe Death said...

God bless them all.

skybill said...

Hi Mike,
I don't know what the divy-up is here between soldier and us salt water soaked squids but I'z a squid. Vietnam Cruise of '68 USS Princeton LPH-5 cruised those waters. I was aboard, V-6 DIV. Para loft. the seas were calm then, but the Captain came up on the 1-MC (Ships' Commo) and mentioned viginetts of what happened back when. I'd heard various war stories from old men in the local bars back home, not much really, but you could read what really happened from the look in their eyes. And there I was, where it all happened, calm seas, blue skyz and a few puffy clouds on the horizon. Princeton went on to fight another battle, different war but, except for the name, the war was the same, Freedom vs Tyrany, the same today.


aughtsix said...

If but one eloquent, proven, stainless Leader would but stand and tell the truth...

Such men would again appear.

The Enemy has very successfully divided us and obscured, tainted, even erased the history of the Founding and Defense of Liberty, so that the very knowing of them is tenuous.

Who can know how or when to rise in their defense today, when each of us questions the doctrine and motives of the other? The seeds of doubt are sown amongst us by fifty years of politically correct bullshit.

Are the Kanes not Americans? Does the Principle of One Hundred Heads not apply to them because their particular economic and political views?

Divided we are. Divided we Fall.

My Father died in WW II.

I would rather die than to live to see his sacrifice , and that of all those men and boys, come to nothing, even less than nothing.



Ideological Purity is the province of Utopians. All our Enemies are Utopians.

Only force can establish a "utopia."

Only force can prevent it.

J.McDermott said...

Them along with millions of other American souls that perished in the last hundred years are rolling in their graves. I certainly will not cower down to these beasts of satan. I'd rather fight the good fight. Im sure their are millions of others that will step up to the plate.

Uncle Lar said...

Such men and yes women we have always had with us since the first took up flintlocks those many years ago. What changes is the perception and support from the rest of our citizens.
And may a just and righteous God damn the teachers who will not teach the truth and those in the media who lie to our faces about our brave service people, past and present.

neal said...

Memorial Day is something I take very seriously. My father fought in the Pacific and had two cruisers torpedoed out from under him. I am named after his best friend who perished below decks on the U.S.S. Helena.

So this day means a lot to me.

Anonymous said...

If President Barry or his successor declares WWIII on the Middle East to distract from the domestic crash due to overspending, will you go because you are law-abiding?

Ken said...

...just a Thank You...


Toastrider said...

When I was much younger, I had a 'young adults' book about the Battle of Midway.

I remember being struck by how blunt it was about the losses among those torpedo squadrons. About the bravery and defiance of the American Navy -- from the bombers who came in just at the right time to ruin the Japanese Navy's day, to those crazy bastards at Puget Sound who got the Yorktown battle ready in three days.

So long as they are not forgotten, then their deaths were not in vain.

straightarrow said...

God bless our service members. Lord knows we don't. Shame on us.

Toastrider said...

Addendum: Three cheers for the Internet!

I believe the book was 'The Battle Off Midway Island' by Theodore Taylor (the cover appears to be the same as the one I recall, and it was published in '81 -- that seems to fit).

Dennis308 said...

A simple thank you is not enough but is all I have to give to these brave men and women who have given all in defence of our country.