Japanese planes destroy the U.S.S Hornet

Japanese planes destroy the U.S.S Hornet

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On October 26, 1942, the last U.S. carrier manufactured before America’s entry into World War II, the Hornet, is damaged so extensively by Japanese war planes in the Battle of Santa Cruz that it must be abandoned.

The battle for Guadalcanal was the first American offensive against the Japanese, an attempt to prevent the Axis power from taking yet another island in the Solomon chain and gaining more ground in its race for Australia. On this day, in the vicinity of the Santa Cruz Islands, two American naval task forces had to stop a superior Japanese fleet, which was on its way to Guadalcanal with reinforcements. As was the case in the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942, the engagement at Santa Cruz was fought exclusively by aircraft taking off from carriers of the respective forces; the ships themselves were not in range to fire at one another.

Japanese aerial fire damaged the USS Enterprise, the battleship South Dakota, and finally the Hornet. In fact, the explosions wrought by the Japanese bombs that rained down on the Hornet were so great that two of the Japanese bombers were themselves crippled by the blasts, and the pilots chose to dive-bomb their planes into the deck of the American carrier, which was finally abandoned and left to burn. The Hornet, which weighed 20,000 tons, had seen battle during the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo (its commander at the time, Marc Mitscher, was promoted to admiral and would be a significant player in the victory over Japan) and the Battle of Midway.

While the United States losses at Santa Cruz were heavy, the cost in aircraft to the Japanese was so extensive—more than 100, including 25 of the 27 bombers that attacked the Hornet—that they were unable finally to reinforce their troops at Guadalcanal, paving the way for an American victory.


On June 21, 1942, the Imperial Japanese Navy submarine I-25 shells the U.S. Army's Fort Stevens coastal defenses on the Oregon side of the mouth of the Columbia River. The Japanese are retaliating for the U.S. bombing of Japan the prior April. The U.S. batteries do not return fire and there is no serious damage.

The mouth of the Columbia River was defended by three Army forts: Fort Stevens on the Oregon side and Forts Canby and Columbia on the Washington side. In 1942, Coast Artillery and National Guard units manned heavy guns and mortars dating from the turn of the twentieth century. The weapons covering the beaches dated from World War I.

On April 18, 1942, 16 U.S. Army B-25 bombers attacked the Japanese home islands after being launched from the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Hornet. The Doolittle Raid, as it came to be known, had little tactical effect and all the planes were lost. The episode did cause Japanese military leaders to adjust their disposition of forces throughout the Pacific. A number of I-class, long-range submarines were dispatched across the Pacific to raid shipping and the U.S. and Canadian West Coast.

The Japanese high command dispatched submarines I-25 and I-26 to the Pacific Northwest to look for naval vessels headed to Alaska and the Aleutians. On June 20, 1942, I-26 shelled the lighthouse at Estevan Point on Vancouver Island, and I-25, under the command of Commander Meiji Tagami, torpedoed and shelled the freighter S.S. Fort Camosun off Cape Flattery. The freighter did not sink and she was towed to safety in Neah Bay.

On the evening of June 21, 1942, the I-25 used a screen of fishing boats to avoid minefields off the Columbia and took position off Fort Stevens. On the surface, the crew fired its 14 cm (5.5 inch) deck gun at the shore without taking aim. At the first shot, soldiers at the fort manned their guns and searchlights, and lookouts could see the sub firing. But the enemy ship was plotted (erroneously) to be out of the range, and the artillerymen never received permission to return fire. Also, the fort's commander did not want to give away the precise location of the defenses.

The I-25's shells fell harmlessly in the sand and scrub around Battery Russell, damaging only the baseball diamond backstop and a power line. One soldier cut his head rushing to his battle station. At about midnight, firing ceased and the sub departed to the west, then north. The Japanese crew fired 17 rounds, but witnesses ashore only counted between 9 and 14 shots. Some shells might have been duds or might have fallen into the sea.

I-25 attacked the U.S. again in September 1942 when it launched an aircraft that dropped incendiary bombs in the forests in southern Oregon. There was no conflagration as was hoped by the high command. I-25 then attacked and sank two ships off the Oregon coast, and torpedoed a Soviet submarine by mistake in the mid-Pacific.

U.S. destroyers sunk the I-25 in 1943. Several of her crew had been transferred and they survived the war to relate their stories.

The attack on Fort Stevens illustrated a flaw in U.S. coastal defense strategy. Despite the efforts of military engineers, enemies could always develop weapons with longer ranges than coastal guns. The I-25's small deck gun could outshoot the big rifles and mortars in the fort.

By January 1944, most Coast Artillery units had been disbanded. In 1975, the property became a unit of the Oregon State Parks system.

10" disappearing rifle at Fort Stevens, ca. 1942

Courtesy Friends of Old Fort Stevens

Soldiers and Japanese shell crater, Fort Stevens, Oregon, June 1942

Courtesy National Archives, (ARC 299678)

Fort Stevens State Park, 2004

Courtesy Oregon State Parks


Bert Webber, Retaliation: Japanese Attacks and Allied Countermeasures on the Pacific Coast in World War II (Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 1975).
Note: This essay was corrected on November 7, 2011.


After expanding the war in the Pacific to include Western outposts, the Japanese Empire had attained its initial strategic goals quickly, taking the Philippines, Malaya, Singapore, and the Dutch East Indies (modern Indonesia). The latter, with its vital oil resources, was particularly important to Japan. Because of this, preliminary planning for the second phase of operations commenced as early as January 1942.

Because of strategic disagreements between the Imperial Army (IJA) and Imperial Navy (IJN), and infighting between the Navy's GHQ and Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto's Combined Fleet, a follow-up strategy was not formed until April 1942. [11] Admiral Yamamoto finally won the bureaucratic struggle with a thinly veiled threat to resign, after which his plan for the Central Pacific was adopted. [12]

Yamamoto's primary strategic goal was the elimination of America's carrier forces, which he regarded as the principal threat to the overall Pacific campaign. This concern was acutely heightened by the Doolittle Raid on 18 April 1942, in which 16 United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) B-25 Mitchell bombers launched from USS Hornet bombed targets in Tokyo and several other Japanese cities. The raid, while militarily insignificant, was a shock to the Japanese and showed the existence of a gap in the defenses around the Japanese home islands as well as the vulnerability of Japanese territory to American bombers. [13]

This, and other successful hit-and-run raids by American carriers in the South Pacific, showed that they were still a threat, although seemingly reluctant to be drawn into an all-out battle. [14] Yamamoto reasoned that another air attack on the main U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor would induce all of the American fleet to sail out to fight, including the carriers. However, considering the increased strength of American land-based airpower on the Hawaiian Islands since the 7 December attack the previous year, he judged that it was now too risky to attack Pearl Harbor directly. [15]

Instead, Yamamoto selected Midway, a tiny atoll at the extreme northwest end of the Hawaiian Island chain, approximately 1,300 miles (1,100 nautical miles 2,100 kilometres) from Oahu. This meant that Midway was outside the effective range of almost all of the American aircraft stationed on the main Hawaiian islands. Midway was not especially important in the larger scheme of Japan's intentions, but the Japanese felt the Americans would consider Midway a vital outpost of Pearl Harbor and would therefore be compelled to defend it vigorously. [16] The U.S. did consider Midway vital: after the battle, the establishment of a U.S. submarine base on Midway allowed submarines operating from Pearl Harbor to refuel and re-provision, extending their radius of operations by 1,200 miles (1,900 km). In addition to serving as a seaplane base, Midway's airstrips also served as a forward staging point for bomber attacks on Wake Island. [17]

Yamamoto's plan: Operation MI Edit

Typical of Japanese naval planning during World War II, Yamamoto's battle plan for taking Midway (named Operation MI) was exceedingly complex. [18] It required the careful and timely coordination of multiple battle groups over hundreds of miles of open sea. His design was also predicated on optimistic intelligence suggesting that USS Enterprise and USS Hornet, forming Task Force 16, were the only carriers available to the U.S. Pacific Fleet. During the Battle of the Coral Sea one month earlier, USS Lexington had been sunk and USS Yorktown suffered so much damage that the Japanese believed she too had been lost. [19] However, following hasty repairs at Pearl Harbor, Yorktown sortied and ultimately played a critical role in the discovery and eventual destruction of the Japanese fleet carriers at Midway. Finally, much of Yamamoto's planning, coinciding with the general feeling among the Japanese leadership at the time, was based on a gross misjudgment of American morale, which was believed to be debilitated from the string of Japanese victories in the preceding months. [20]

Yamamoto felt deception would be required to lure the U.S. fleet into a fatally compromised situation. [21] To this end, he dispersed his forces so that their full extent (particularly his battleships) would be concealed from the Americans prior to battle. Critically, Yamamoto's supporting battleships and cruisers trailed Vice Admiral Chūichi Nagumo's carrier force by several hundred miles. They were intended to come up and destroy whatever elements of the U.S. fleet might come to Midway's defense once Nagumo's carriers had weakened them sufficiently for a daylight gun battle. [22] This tactic was doctrine in most major navies of the time. [23]

What Yamamoto did not know was that the U.S. had broken parts of the main Japanese naval code (dubbed JN-25 by the Americans), divulging many details of his plan to the enemy. His emphasis on dispersal also meant none of his formations were in a position to support the others. [24] For instance, despite the fact that Nagumo's carriers were expected to carry out strikes against Midway and bear the brunt of American counterattacks, the only warships in his fleet larger than the screening force of twelve destroyers were two Kongō-class fast battleships, two heavy cruisers, and one light cruiser. By contrast, Yamamoto and Kondo had between them two light carriers, five battleships, four heavy cruisers, and two light cruisers, none of which saw action at Midway. [22] The light carriers of the trailing forces and Yamamoto's three battleships were unable to keep pace with the carriers of the Kidō Butai [nb 1] and so could not have sailed in company with them. The Kido Butai would sail into range at best speed so as to increase the chance of surprise, and would not have ships spread out across the ocean guiding the enemy toward it. If the other parts of the invasion force needed more defense, the Kido Butai would make best speed to defend them. Hence the slower ships could not be with the Kido Butai. The distance between Yamamoto and Kondo's forces and Nagumo's carriers had grave implications during the battle. The invaluable reconnaissance capability of the scout planes carried by the cruisers and carriers, as well as the additional antiaircraft capability of the cruisers and the other two battleships of the Kongō-class in the trailing forces, was unavailable to Nagumo. [25]

Aleutian invasion Edit

In order to obtain support from the Imperial Japanese Army for the Midway operation, the Imperial Japanese Navy agreed to support their invasion of the United States through the Aleutian Islands of Attu and Kiska, part of the organized incorporated Alaska Territory. The IJA occupied these islands to place the Japanese home islands out of range of U.S. land-based bombers across Alaska, making Japan the first foreign nation to occupy U.S. soil since the War of 1812. Similarly, most Americans feared that the occupied islands would be used as bases for Japanese bombers to attack strategic targets and population centers along the West Coast of the United States. The Japanese operations in the Aleutian Islands (Operation AL) removed yet more ships that could otherwise have augmented the force striking Midway. Whereas many earlier historical accounts considered the Aleutians operation as a feint to draw American forces away, according to the original Japanese battle plan, AL was intended to be launched simultaneously with the attack on Midway. A one-day delay in the sailing of Nagumo's task force resulted in Operation AL beginning a day before the Midway attack. [26]

American reinforcements Edit

To do battle with an enemy expected to muster four or five carriers, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas needed every available flight deck. He already had Vice Admiral William Halsey's two-carrier (Enterprise and Hornet) task force at hand, though Halsey was stricken with severe dermatitis and had to be replaced by Rear Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, Halsey's escort commander. [27] Nimitz also hurriedly recalled Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher's task force, including the carrier Yorktown, from the South West Pacific Area. [28]

Despite estimates that Yorktown, damaged in the Battle of the Coral Sea, would require several months of repairs at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, her elevators were intact and her flight deck largely so. [29] The Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard worked around the clock, and in 72 hours she was restored to a battle-ready state, [30] judged good enough for two or three weeks of operations, as Nimitz required. [31] [32] Her flight deck was patched, and whole sections of internal frames were cut out and replaced. Repairs continued even as she sortied, with work crews from the repair ship USS Vestal, herself damaged in the attack on Pearl Harbor six months earlier, still aboard. [33]

Yorktown ' s partially depleted air group was rebuilt using whatever planes and pilots could be found. Scouting Five (VS-5) was replaced with Bombing Three (VB-3) from USS Saratoga. Torpedo Five (VT-5) was also replaced by Torpedo Three (VT-3). Fighting Three (VF-3) was reconstituted to replace VF-42 with sixteen pilots from VF-42 and eleven pilots from VF-3, with Lieutenant Commander John S. "Jimmy" Thach in command. Some of the aircrew were inexperienced, which may have contributed to an accident in which Thach's executive officer Lieutenant Commander Donald Lovelace was killed. [34] Despite efforts to get Saratoga (which had been undergoing repairs on the American West Coast) ready, the need to resupply and assemble sufficient escorts meant she was unable to reach Midway until after the battle. [35]

On Midway, by 4 June the U.S. Navy had stationed four squadrons of PBYs—31 aircraft in total—for long-range reconnaissance duties, and six brand-new Grumman TBF Avengers from Hornet ' s VT-8. [36] The Marine Corps stationed 19 Douglas SBD Dauntless, seven F4F-3 Wildcats, 17 Vought SB2U Vindicators, and 21 Brewster F2A Buffalos. The USAAF contributed a squadron of 17 B-17 Flying Fortresses and four Martin B-26 Marauders equipped with torpedoes: in total 126 aircraft. Although the F2As and SB2Us were already obsolete, they were the only aircraft available to the Marine Corps at the time. [37]

Japanese shortcomings Edit

During the Battle of the Coral Sea one month earlier, the Japanese light carrier Shōhō had been sunk, while the fleet carrier Shōkaku had been severely damaged by three bomb hits and was in drydock for months of repair. Although the fleet carrier Zuikaku escaped the battle undamaged, she had lost almost half her air group, and was in port in Kure awaiting replacement planes and pilots. That there were none immediately available is attributable to the failure of the IJN crew training program, which already showed signs of being unable to replace losses. Instructors from the Yokosuka Air Corps were employed in an effort to make up the shortfall. [38]

Historians Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully believe that by combining the surviving aircraft and pilots from Shōkaku and Zuikaku, it is likely that Zuikaku could have been equipped with almost a full composite air group. They also note, however, that doing so would have violated Japanese carrier doctrine, which stressed that carriers and their air groups must train as a single unit. (In contrast, American air squadrons were considered interchangeable between carriers.) In any case, the Japanese apparently made no serious attempt to get Zuikaku ready for the forthcoming battle. [39]

Thus, Carrier Division 5, consisting of the two most advanced aircraft carriers of the Kido Butai, were not available, which meant that Vice-Admiral Nagumo had only two-thirds of the fleet carriers at his disposal: Kaga and Akagi forming Carrier Division 1 and Hiryū and Sōryū as Carrier Division 2. This was partly due to fatigue Japanese carriers had been constantly on operations since 7 December 1941, including raids on Darwin and Colombo. [40] Nonetheless, the First Carrier Strike Force sailed with 248 available aircraft on the four carriers (60 on Akagi, 74 on Kaga (B5N2 squadron oversized), 57 on Hiryū and 57 on Sōryū). [41]

The main Japanese carrier-borne strike aircraft were the D3A1 "Val" dive bomber and the B5N2 "Kate", which was used either as a torpedo bomber or as a level bomber. The main carrier fighter was the fast and highly maneuverable A6M "Zero". For a variety of reasons, production of the "Val" had been drastically reduced, while that of the "Kate" had been stopped completely and, as a consequence, there were none available to replace losses. [42] In addition, many of the aircraft being used during the June 1942 operations had been operational since late November 1941 and, although they were well-maintained, many were almost worn out and had become increasingly unreliable. These factors meant all carriers of the Kido Butai had fewer aircraft than their normal complement, with few spare aircraft or parts stored in the carriers' hangars. [43] [nb 2]

In addition, Nagumo's carrier force suffered from several defensive deficiencies which gave it, in Mark Peattie's words, a " 'glass jaw': it could throw a punch but couldn't take one." [45] Japanese carrier anti-aircraft guns and associated fire control systems had several design and configuration deficiencies which limited their effectiveness. The IJN's fleet combat air patrol (CAP) consisted of too few fighter aircraft and was hampered by an inadequate early warning system, including a lack of radar. Poor radio communications with the fighter aircraft inhibited effective command and control of the CAP. The carriers' escorting warships were deployed as visual scouts in a ring at long range, not as close anti-aircraft escorts, as they lacked training, doctrine, and sufficient anti-aircraft guns. [46]

Japanese strategic scouting arrangements prior to the battle were also in disarray. A picket line of Japanese submarines was late getting into position (partly because of Yamamoto's haste), which let the American carriers reach their assembly point northeast of Midway (known as "Point Luck") without being detected. [47] A second attempt at reconnaissance, using four-engine H8K "Emily" flying boats to scout Pearl Harbor prior to the battle and detect whether the American carriers were present, part of Operation K, was thwarted when Japanese submarines assigned to refuel the search aircraft discovered that the intended refueling point—a hitherto deserted bay off French Frigate Shoals—was now occupied by American warships because the Japanese had carried out an identical mission in March. Thus, Japan was deprived of any knowledge concerning the movements of the American carriers immediately before the battle. [48]

Japanese radio intercepts did notice an increase in both American submarine activity and message traffic. This information was in Yamamoto's hands prior to the battle. Japanese plans were not changed Yamamoto, at sea in Yamato, assumed Nagumo had received the same signal from Tokyo, and did not communicate with him by radio, so as not to reveal his position. [49] These messages were, contrary to earlier historical accounts, also received by Nagumo before the battle began. For reasons which remain unclear, Nagumo did not alter his plans or take additional precautions. [50]

U.S. code-breaking Edit

Admiral Nimitz had one critical advantage: U.S. cryptanalysts had partially broken the Japanese Navy's JN-25b code. [51] Since early 1942, the U.S. had been decoding messages stating that there would soon be an operation at objective "AF". It was initially not known where "AF" was, but Commander Joseph Rochefort and his team at Station HYPO were able to confirm that it was Midway: Captain Wilfred Holmes devised a ruse of telling the base at Midway (by secure undersea cable) to broadcast an uncoded radio message stating that Midway's water purification system had broken down. [52] Within 24 hours, the code breakers picked up a Japanese message that "AF was short on water". [53] No Japanese radio operators who intercepted the message seemed concerned that the Americans were broadcasting uncoded that a major naval installation close to the Japanese threat ring was having a water shortage, which could have tipped off Japanese intelligence officers that it was a deliberate attempt at deception. [54]

HYPO was also able to determine the date of the attack as either 4 or 5 June, and to provide Nimitz with a complete IJN order of battle. [55]

Japan had a new codebook, but its introduction had been delayed, enabling HYPO to read messages for several crucial days the new code, which took several days to be cracked, came into use on 24 May, but the important breaks had already been made. [56]

As a result, the Americans entered the battle with a good picture of where, when, and in what strength the Japanese would appear. Nimitz knew that the Japanese had negated their numerical advantage by dividing their ships into four separate task groups, so widely separated that they were essentially unable to support each other. [57] This dispersal resulted in few fast ships being available to escort the Carrier Striking Force, thus reducing the number of anti-aircraft guns protecting the carriers. Nimitz calculated that the aircraft on his three carriers, plus those on Midway Island, gave the U.S. rough parity with Yamamoto's four carriers, mainly because American carrier air groups were larger than Japanese ones. The Japanese, by contrast, remained largely unaware of their opponent's true strength and dispositions even after the battle began. [56]

Order of battle Edit

Initial air attacks Edit

  • 04:30 First Japanese takeoff against Midway Islands
  • 04:30 10 planes (Yorktown) begin to search for the Japanese ships
  • 05:34 Japanese ships detected by a PBY from Midway I.
  • 07:10 6 TBF Avengers and 4 USAAF B-26 (from Midway I.) attack
  • 07:40 American Naval Force spotted by Tone No. 4
  • 07:50 67 dive bombers, 29 torpedo bombers, 20 Wildcats take off (Spruance)
  • 07:55 16 dive bombers of the U.S. Navy (from Midway I.) attack
  • 08:10 17 B-17s (from Midway Islands) attack
  • 08:20 11 bombers of the U.S. Navy (from Midway I.) attack
  • 08:20 "The enemy is accompanied by what appears to be a carrier" by Tone No. 4.
  • 09:06 12 torpedo bombers, 17 dive bombers, 6 Wildcats take off (Yorktown)
  • 09:10 Tomonaga's strike force safely landed
  • 09:18 Nagumo to Northeast
  • 09:25 15 torpedo bombers (Hornet) attack
  • 09:30 14 torpedo bombers (Enterprise) attack
  • 10:00 12 torpedo bombers (Yorktown) attack
  • 10:25 30 dive bombers (Enterprise) attack Akagi and Kaga
  • 10:25 17 dive bombers (Yorktown) attack Soryū
  • 11:00 18 Vals and 6 Zekes take off from Hiryū
  • 11:30 10 planes (Yorktown) take off to search for remaining Japanese ships
  • 12:05 First attack on Yorktown
  • 13:30Hiryū detected by a Yorktown plane 24 dive bombers take off against Hiryū (Spruance)
  • 13:31 10 Kates and 6 Zekes take off from Hiryū
  • 13:40Yorktown again in service, making 18 knots
  • 14:30 Second attack on Yorktown
  • 15:00Yorktown abandoned
  • 16:10Soryū sunk
  • 17:00 Dive bombers attack on Hiryū
  • 19:25Kaga sunk
  • 05:00Akagi sunk
  • 09:00Hiryū sunk

At about 09:00 on 3 June, Ensign Jack Reid, piloting a PBY from U.S. Navy patrol squadron VP-44, [59] spotted the Japanese Occupation Force 500 nautical miles (580 miles 930 kilometers) to the west-southwest of Midway. He mistakenly reported this group as the Main Force. [60]

Nine B-17s took off from Midway at 12:30 for the first air attack. Three hours later, they found Tanaka's transport group 570 nautical miles (660 miles 1,060 kilometers) to the west. [61]

Harassed by heavy anti-aircraft fire, they dropped their bombs. Although their crews reported hitting four ships, [61] none of the bombs actually hit anything and no significant damage was inflicted. [62] Early the following morning, the Japanese oil tanker Akebono Maru sustained the first hit when a torpedo from an attacking PBY struck her around 01:00. This was the only successful air-launched torpedo attack by the U.S. during the entire battle. [62]

At 04:30 on 4 June, Nagumo launched his initial attack on Midway itself, consisting of 36 Aichi D3A dive bombers and 36 Nakajima B5N torpedo bombers, escorted by 36 Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighters. At the same time, he launched his seven search aircraft (2 "Kates" from Akagi and Kaga, 4 "Jakes" from Tone and Chikuma, and 1 short range "Dave" from battleship Haruna an eighth aircraft from the heavy cruiser Tone launched 30 minutes late). Japanese reconnaissance arrangements were flimsy, with too few aircraft to adequately cover the assigned search areas, laboring under poor weather conditions to the northeast and east of the task force. As Nagumo's bombers and fighters were taking off, 11 PBYs were leaving Midway to run their search patterns. At 05:34, a PBY reported sighting two Japanese carriers and another spotted the inbound airstrike 10 minutes later. [63]

Midway's radar picked up the enemy at a distance of several miles, and interceptors were scrambled. Unescorted bombers headed off to attack the Japanese carriers, their fighter escorts remaining behind to defend Midway. At 06:20, Japanese carrier aircraft bombed and heavily damaged the U.S. base. Midway-based Marine fighters led by Major Floyd B. Parks, which included six F4Fs and 20 F2As, [64] intercepted the Japanese and suffered heavy losses, though they managed to destroy four B5Ns, as well as a single A6M. Within the first few minutes, two F4Fs and 13 F2As were destroyed, while most of the surviving U.S. planes were damaged, with only two remaining airworthy. American anti-aircraft fire was intense and accurate, destroying three additional Japanese aircraft and damaging many more. [65]

Of the 108 Japanese aircraft involved in this attack, 11 were destroyed (including three that ditched), 14 were heavily damaged, and 29 were damaged to some degree. The initial Japanese attack did not succeed in neutralizing Midway: American bombers could still use the airbase to refuel and attack the Japanese invasion force, and most of Midway's land-based defenses similarly remained intact. Japanese pilots reported to Nagumo that a second aerial attack on Midway's defenses would be necessary if troops were to go ashore by 7 June. [66]

Having taken off prior to the Japanese attack, American bombers based on Midway made several attacks on the Japanese carrier force. These included six Grumman Avengers, detached to Midway from Hornet ' s VT-8 (Midway was the combat debut of both VT-8 and the TBF) Marine Scout-Bombing Squadron 241 (VMSB-241), consisting of 11 SB2U-3s and 16 SBDs, plus four USAAF B-26s of the 18th Reconnaissance and 69th Bomb Squadrons armed with torpedoes, and 15 B-17s of the 31st, 72nd, and 431st Bomb Squadrons. The Japanese repelled these attacks, losing three fighters while destroying five TBFs, two SB2Us, eight SBDs, and two B-26s. [67] [68] Among the dead was Major Lofton R. Henderson of VMSB-241, killed while leading his inexperienced Dauntless squadron into action. The main airfield at Guadalcanal was named after him in August 1942. [69]

One B-26, piloted by Lieutenant James Muri, after dropping his torpedo and searching for a safer escape route, flew directly down the length of Akagi while being chased by interceptors and anti-aircraft fire, which had to hold their fire to avoid hitting their own flagship. During the fly down the length, the B-26 strafed Akagi, killing two men. [70] [71] A B-26 that had been seriously damaged by anti-aircraft fire didn't pull out of its run, and instead headed directly for Akagi ' s bridge. [72] The aircraft, either attempting a suicide ramming, or out of control due to battle damage or a wounded or killed pilot, narrowly missed crashing into the carrier's bridge, which could have killed Nagumo and his command staff, before it cartwheeled into the sea. [73] This experience may well have contributed to Nagumo's determination to launch another attack on Midway, in direct violation of Yamamoto's order to keep the reserve strike force armed for anti-ship operations. [74]

While the air strikes from Midway were going on, the American submarine Nautilus (Lt. Commander William Brockman) found herself near the Japanese fleet, attracting attention from the escorts. Around 08:20, she made an unsuccessful torpedo attack on a battleship and then had to dive to evade the escorts. [75] At 09:10, she launched a torpedo at a cruiser and again had to dive to evade the escorts, with destroyer Arashi spending considerable time chasing Nautilus. [76]

Nagumo's dilemma Edit

In accordance with Yamamoto's orders for Operation MI, Admiral Nagumo had kept half of his aircraft in reserve. These comprised two squadrons each of dive bombers and torpedo bombers. The dive bombers were as yet unarmed (although this was doctrinal: dive bombers were to be armed on the flight deck). The torpedo bombers were armed with torpedoes should any American warships be located. [78]

At 07:15, Nagumo ordered his reserve planes to be re-armed with contact-fused general-purpose bombs for use against land targets. This was a result of the attacks from Midway, as well as of the morning flight leader's recommendation of a second strike. Re-arming had been underway for about 30 minutes when, at 07:40, [79] the delayed scout plane from Tone signaled that it had sighted a sizable American naval force to the east, but neglected to specify its composition. Later evidence suggests Nagumo did not receive the sighting report until 08:00. [80]

Nagumo quickly reversed his order to re-arm the bombers with general-purpose bombs and demanded that the scout plane ascertain the composition of the American force. Another 20–40 minutes elapsed before Tone ' s scout finally radioed the presence of a single carrier in the American force. This was one of the carriers from Task Force 16. The other carrier was not sighted. [81]

Nagumo was now in a quandary. Rear Admiral Tamon Yamaguchi, leading Carrier Division 2 (Hiryū and Sōryū), recommended that Nagumo strike immediately with the forces at hand: 16 Aichi D3A1 dive bombers on Sōryū and 18 on Hiryū, and half the ready cover patrol aircraft. [82] Nagumo's opportunity to hit the American ships [83] was now limited by the imminent return of his Midway strike force. The returning strike force needed to land promptly or it would have to ditch into the sea. Because of the constant flight deck activity associated with combat air patrol operations during the preceding hour, the Japanese never had an opportunity to position ("spot") their reserve planes on the flight deck for launch. [84]

The few aircraft on the Japanese flight decks at the time of the attack were either defensive fighters or, in the case of Sōryū, fighters being spotted to augment the combat air patrol. [85] Spotting his flight decks and launching aircraft would have required at least 30 minutes. [86] Furthermore, by spotting and launching immediately, Nagumo would be committing some of his reserves to battle without proper anti-ship armament, and likely without fighter escort indeed, he had just witnessed how easily the unescorted American bombers had been shot down. [87]

Japanese carrier doctrine preferred the launching of fully constituted strikes rather than piecemeal attacks. Without confirmation of whether the American force included carriers (not received until 08:20), Nagumo's reaction was doctrinaire. [88] In addition, the arrival of another land-based American air strike at 07:53 gave weight to the need to attack the island again. In the end, Nagumo decided to wait for his first strike force to land, and then launch the reserve, which would by then be properly armed with torpedoes. [89]

Had Nagumo elected to launch the available aircraft around 07:45 and risked the ditching of Tomonaga's strike force, they would have formed a powerful and well-balanced strike package that had the potential to sink two American carriers. [90] Furthermore, fueled and armed aircraft inside the ships presented a significant additional hazard in terms of damage to the carriers in an event of attack, and keeping them on the decks was much more dangerous than getting them airborne. [91] Whatever the case, at that point there was no way to stop the American strike against him, since Fletcher's carriers had launched their planes beginning at 07:00 (with Enterprise and Hornet having completed launching by 07:55, but Yorktown not until 09:08), so the aircraft that would deliver the crushing blow were already on their way. Even if Nagumo had not strictly followed carrier doctrine, he could not have prevented the launch of the American attack. [92]

Attacks on the Japanese fleet Edit

The Americans had already launched their carrier aircraft against the Japanese. Fletcher, in overall command aboard Yorktown, and benefiting from PBY sighting reports from the early morning, ordered Spruance to launch against the Japanese as soon as was practical, while initially holding Yorktown in reserve in case any other Japanese carriers were found. [93]

Spruance judged that, though the range was extreme, a strike could succeed and gave the order to launch the attack. He then left Halsey's Chief of Staff, Captain Miles Browning, to work out the details and oversee the launch. The carriers had to launch into the wind, so the light southeasterly breeze would require them to steam away from the Japanese at high speed. Browning, therefore, suggested a launch time of 07:00, giving the carriers an hour to close on the Japanese at 25 knots (46 km/h 29 mph). This would place them at about 155 nautical miles (287 km 178 mi) from the Japanese fleet, assuming it did not change course. The first plane took off from Spruance's carriers Enterprise and Hornet a few minutes after 07:00. [94] Fletcher, upon completing his own scouting flights, followed suit at 08:00 from Yorktown. [95]

Fletcher, along with Yorktown ' s commanding officer, Captain Elliott Buckmaster, and their staffs, had acquired the first-hand experience needed in organizing and launching a full strike against an enemy force in the Coral Sea, but there was no time to pass these lessons on to Enterprise and Hornet which were tasked with launching the first strike. [96] Spruance ordered the striking aircraft to proceed to target immediately, rather than waste time waiting for the strike force to assemble, since neutralizing enemy carriers was the key to the survival of his own task force. [95] [96]

While the Japanese were able to launch 108 aircraft in just seven minutes, it took Enterprise and Hornet over an hour to launch 117. [97] Spruance judged that the need to throw something at the enemy as soon as possible was greater than the need to coordinate the attack by aircraft of different types and speeds (fighters, bombers, and torpedo bombers). Accordingly, American squadrons were launched piecemeal and proceeded to the target in several different groups. It was accepted that the lack of coordination would diminish the impact of the American attacks and increase their casualties, but Spruance calculated that this was worthwhile, since keeping the Japanese under aerial attack impaired their ability to launch a counterstrike (Japanese tactics preferred fully constituted attacks), and he gambled that he would find Nagumo with his flight decks at their most vulnerable. [95] [96]

American carrier aircraft had difficulty locating the target, despite the positions they had been given. The strike from Hornet, led by Commander Stanhope C. Ring, followed an incorrect heading of 265 degrees rather than the 240 degrees indicated by the contact report. As a result, Air Group Eight's dive bombers missed the Japanese carriers. [98] Torpedo Squadron 8 (VT-8, from Hornet), led by Lieutenant Commander John C. Waldron, broke formation from Ring and followed the correct heading. The 10 F4Fs from Hornet ran out of fuel and had to ditch. [99]

Waldron's squadron sighted the enemy carriers and began attacking at 09:20, followed at 09:40 [100] by VF-6 from Enterprise, whose Wildcat fighter escorts lost contact, ran low on fuel, and had to turn back. [99] Without fighter escort, all 15 TBD Devastators of VT-8 were shot down without being able to inflict any damage. Ensign George H. Gay, Jr. was the only survivor of the 30 aircrew of VT-8. He completed his torpedo attack on the aircraft carrier Sōryū before he was shot down, but Sōryū evaded his torpedo. [101] Meanwhile, VT-6, led by LCDR Eugene E. Lindsey lost nine of its 14 Devastators (one ditched later), and 10 of 12 Devastators from Yorktown ' s VT-3 (who attacked at 10:10) were shot down with no hits to show for their effort, thanks in part to the abysmal performance of their unimproved Mark 13 torpedoes. [102] Midway was the last time the TBD Devastator was used in combat. [103]

The Japanese combat air patrol, flying Mitsubishi A6M2 Zeros, [104] made short work of the unescorted, slow, under-armed TBDs. A few TBDs managed to get within a few ship-lengths range of their targets before dropping their torpedoes—close enough to be able to strafe the enemy ships and force the Japanese carriers to make sharp evasive maneuvers—but all of their torpedoes either missed or failed to explode. [105] Remarkably, senior Navy and Bureau of Ordnance officers never questioned why half a dozen torpedoes, released so close to the Japanese carriers, produced no results. [106] The performance of American torpedoes in the early months of the war was scandalous, as shot after shot missed by running directly under the target (deeper than intended), prematurely exploded, or hit targets (sometimes with an audible clang) and failed to explode at all. [107] [108]

Despite their failure to score any hits, the American torpedo attacks achieved three important results. First, they kept the Japanese carriers off balance and unable to prepare and launch their own counterstrike. Second, the poor control of the Japanese combat air patrol (CAP) meant they were out of position for subsequent attacks. Third, many of the Zeros ran low on ammunition and fuel. [109] The appearance of a third torpedo plane attack from the southeast by VT-3 from Yorktown, led by LCDR Lance Edward Massey at 10:00 very quickly drew the majority of the Japanese CAP to the southeast quadrant of the fleet. [110] Better discipline and the employment of a greater number of Zeroes for the CAP might have enabled Nagumo to prevent (or at least mitigate) the damage caused by the coming American attacks. [111]

By chance, at the same time VT-3 was sighted by the Japanese, three squadrons of SBDs from Enterprise and Yorktown were approaching from the southwest and northeast. The Yorktown squadron (VB-3) had flown just behind VT-3, but elected to attack from a different course. The two squadrons from Enterprise (VB-6 and VS-6) were running low on fuel because of the time spent looking for the enemy. Air Group Commander C. Wade McClusky, Jr. decided to continue the search, and by good fortune spotted the wake of the Japanese destroyer Arashi, steaming at full speed to rejoin Nagumo's carriers after having unsuccessfully depth-charged U.S. submarine Nautilus, which had unsuccessfully attacked the battleship Kirishima. [112] Some bombers were lost from fuel exhaustion before the attack commenced. [113]

McClusky's decision to continue the search and his judgment, in the opinion of Admiral Chester Nimitz, "decided the fate of our carrier task force and our forces at Midway . " [114] All three American dive-bomber squadrons (VB-6, VS-6, and VB-3) arrived almost simultaneously at the perfect time, locations and altitudes to attack. [115] Most of the Japanese CAP was directing its attention to the torpedo planes of VT-3 and was out of position meanwhile, armed Japanese strike aircraft filled the hangar decks, fuel hoses snaked across the decks as refueling operations were hastily being completed, and the repeated change of ordnance meant that bombs and torpedoes were stacked around the hangars, rather than stowed safely in the magazines, making the Japanese carriers extraordinarily vulnerable. [116]

Beginning at 10:22, the two squadrons of Enterprise ' s air group split up with the intention of sending one squadron each to attack Kaga and Akagi. A miscommunication caused both of the squadrons to dive at Kaga. Recognizing the error, Lieutenant Richard Halsey Best and his two wingmen were able to pull out of their dives and, after judging that Kaga was doomed, headed north to attack Akagi. Coming under an onslaught of bombs from almost two full squadrons, Kaga sustained three to five direct hits, which caused heavy damage and started multiple fires. One of the bombs landed on or right in front of the bridge, killing Captain Jisaku Okada and most of the ship's senior officers. [117] Lieutenant Clarence E. Dickinson, part of McClusky's group, recalled:

We were coming down in all directions on the port side of the carrier . I recognized her as the Kaga and she was enormous . The target was utterly satisfying . I saw a bomb hit just behind where I was aiming . I saw the deck rippling and curling back in all directions exposing a great section of the hangar below . I saw [my] 500-pound [230 kg] bomb hit right abreast of the [carrier's] island. The two 100-pound [45 kg] bombs struck in the forward area of the parked planes . [118]

Several minutes later, Best and his two wingmen dove on Akagi. Mitsuo Fuchida, the Japanese aviator who had led the attack on Pearl Harbor, was on Akagi when it was hit, and described the attack:

A look-out screamed: "Hell-Divers!" I looked up to see three black enemy planes plummeting towards our ship. Some of our machineguns managed to fire a few frantic bursts at them, but it was too late. The plump silhouettes of the American Dauntless dive-bombers quickly grew larger, and then a number of black objects suddenly floated eerily from their wings. [119]

Although Akagi sustained only one direct hit (almost certainly dropped by Lieutenant Best), it proved to be a fatal blow: the bomb struck the edge of the mid-ship deck elevator and penetrated to the upper hangar deck, where it exploded among the armed and fueled aircraft in the vicinity. Nagumo's chief of staff, Ryūnosuke Kusaka, recorded "a terrific fire . bodies all over the place . Planes stood tail up, belching livid flames and jet-black smoke, making it impossible to bring the fires under control." [120] Another bomb exploded underwater very close astern the resulting geyser bent the flight deck upward "in grotesque configurations" and caused crucial rudder damage. [105] [120] [nb 3]

Simultaneously, Yorktown ' s VB-3, commanded by Max Leslie, went for Sōryū, scoring at least three hits and causing extensive damage. Gasoline ignited, creating an "inferno", while stacked bombs and ammunition detonated. [119] VT-3 targeted Hiryū, which was hemmed in by Sōryū, Kaga, and Akagi, but achieved no hits. [122]

Within six minutes, Sōryū and Kaga were ablaze from stem to stern, as fires spread through the ships. Akagi, having been struck by only one bomb, took longer to burn, but the resulting fires quickly expanded and soon proved impossible to extinguish she too was eventually consumed by flames and had to be abandoned. As Nagumo began to grasp the enormity of what had happened, he appears to have gone into a state of shock. Witnesses saw Nagumo standing near the ship's compass looking out at the flames on his flagship and two other carriers in a trance-like daze. Despite being asked to abandon the ship, Nagumo did not move and was reluctant to leave the Akagi, just muttering, "It's not time yet." Nagumo's chief of staff, Rear Admiral Ryūnosuke Kusaka, was able to persuade him to leave the critically damaged Akagi. Nagumo, with a barely perceptible nod, with tears in his eyes, agreed to go. [123] [124] At 10:46, Admiral Nagumo transferred his flag to the light cruiser Nagara. [125] All three carriers remained temporarily afloat, as none had suffered damage below the waterline, other than the rudder damage to Akagi caused by the near miss close astern. Despite initial hopes that Akagi could be saved or at least towed back to Japan, all three carriers were eventually abandoned and scuttled. [122] [nb 4] While Kaga was burning, Nautilus showed up again and launched three torpedoes at her, scoring one dud hit. [127]

Japanese counterattacks Edit

Hiryū, the sole surviving Japanese aircraft carrier, wasted little time in counterattacking. Hiryū ' s first attack wave, consisting of 18 D3As and six fighter escorts, followed the retreating American aircraft and attacked the first carrier they encountered, Yorktown, hitting her with three bombs, which blew a hole in the deck, snuffed out all but one of her boilers, and destroyed one anti-aircraft mount. The damage also forced Admiral Fletcher to move his command staff to the heavy cruiser Astoria. Damage control parties were able to temporarily patch the flight deck and restore power to several boilers within an hour, giving her a speed of 19 knots (35 km/h 22 mph) and enabling her to resume air operations. Yorktown yanked down her yellow breakdown flag and up went a new hoist—"My speed 5." [128] Captain Buckmaster had his signalmen hoist a huge new (10 feet wide and 15 feet long) American flag from the foremast. Sailors, including Ensign John d'Arc Lorenz called it an incalculable inspiration: "For the first time I realized what the flag meant: all of us—a million faces—all our effort—a whisper of encouragement." [128] Thirteen Japanese dive bombers and three escorting fighters were lost in this attack (two escorting fighters turned back early after they were damaged attacking some of Enterprise ' s SBDs returning from their attack on the Japanese carriers). [129]

Approximately one hour later, Hiryū's second attack wave, consisting of ten B5Ns and six escorting A6Ms, arrived over Yorktown the repair efforts had been so effective that the Japanese pilots assumed that Yorktown must be a different, undamaged carrier. [131] They attacked, crippling Yorktown with two torpedoes she lost all power and developed a 23-degree list to port. Five torpedo bombers and two fighters were shot down in this attack. [132]

News of the two strikes, with the mistaken reports that each had sunk an American carrier, greatly improved Japanese morale. The few surviving aircraft were all recovered aboard Hiryū. Despite the heavy losses, the Japanese believed that they could scrape together enough aircraft for one more strike against what they believed to be the only remaining American carrier. [133]

American counterattack Edit

Late in the afternoon, a Yorktown scout aircraft located Hiryū, prompting Enterprise to launch a final strike of 24 dive bombers (including six SBDs from VS-6, four SBDs from VB-6, and 14 SBDs from Yorktown ' s VB-3). Despite Hiryū being defended by a strong cover of more than a dozen Zero fighters, the attack by Enterprise and orphaned Yorktown aircraft launched from Enterprise was successful: four bombs (possibly five) hit Hiryū, leaving her ablaze and unable to operate aircraft. Hornet ' s strike, launched late because of a communications error, concentrated on the remaining escort ships, but failed to score any hits. [135]

After futile attempts at controlling the blaze, most of the crew remaining on Hiryū were evacuated and the remainder of the fleet continued sailing northeast in an attempt to intercept the American carriers. Despite a scuttling attempt by a Japanese destroyer that hit her with a torpedo and then departed quickly, Hiryū stayed afloat for several more hours. She was discovered early the next morning by an aircraft from the escort carrier Hōshō, prompting hopes she could be saved, or at least towed back to Japan. Soon after being spotted, Hiryū sank. Rear Admiral Tamon Yamaguchi, together with the ship's captain, Tomeo Kaku, chose to go down with the ship, costing Japan perhaps its best carrier officer. One young sailor reportedly tried to go down with the ship with the officers, but was denied. [135]

As darkness fell, both sides took stock and made tentative plans for continuing the action. Admiral Fletcher, obliged to abandon the derelict Yorktown and feeling he could not adequately command from a cruiser, ceded operational command to Spruance. Spruance knew the United States had won a great victory, but he was still unsure of what Japanese forces remained and was determined to safeguard both Midway and his carriers. To aid his aviators, who had launched at extreme range, he had continued to close with Nagumo during the day and persisted as night fell. [136]

Finally, fearing a possible night encounter with Japanese surface forces, [136] and believing Yamamoto still intended to invade, based in part on a misleading contact report from the submarine Tambor, [137] Spruance changed course and withdrew to the east, turning back west towards the enemy at midnight. [138] For his part, Yamamoto initially decided to continue the engagement and sent his remaining surface forces searching eastward for the American carriers. Simultaneously, he detached a cruiser raiding force to bombard the island. The Japanese surface forces failed to make contact with the Americans because Spruance had decided to briefly withdraw eastward, and Yamamoto ordered a general withdrawal to the west. [139] It was fortunate for the U.S. that Spruance did not pursue, for had he come in contact with Yamamoto's heavy ships, including Yamato, in the dark, considering the Japanese Navy's superiority in night-attack tactics at the time, there is a very high probability his cruisers would have been overwhelmed and his carriers sunk. [140]

Spruance failed to regain contact with Yamamoto's forces on 5 June, despite extensive searches. Towards the end of the day, he launched a search-and-destroy mission to seek out any remnants of Nagumo's carrier force. This late afternoon strike narrowly missed detecting Yamamoto's main body and failed to score hits on a straggling Japanese destroyer. The strike planes returned to the carriers after nightfall, prompting Spruance to order Enterprise and Hornet to turn on their lights to aid the landings. [141]

At 02:15 on the night of 5/6 June, Commander John Murphy's Tambor, lying 90 nautical miles (170 km 100 mi) west of Midway, made the second of the submarine force's two major contributions to the battle's outcome, although its impact was heavily blunted by Murphy himself. [142] Sighting several ships, neither Murphy nor his executive officer, Edward Spruance (son of Admiral Spruance), could identify them. Uncertain of whether they were friendly or not and unwilling to approach any closer to verify their heading or type, Murphy decided to send a vague report of "four large ships" to Admiral Robert English, Commander, Submarine Force, Pacific Fleet (COMSUBPAC). This report was passed on by English to Nimitz, who then sent it to Spruance. Spruance, a former submarine commander, was "understandably furious" at the vagueness of Murphy's report, as it provided him with little more than suspicion and no concrete information on which to make his preparations. [143] Unaware of the exact location of Yamamoto's "Main Body" (a persistent problem since the time PBYs had first sighted the Japanese), Spruance was forced to assume the "four large ships" reported by Tambor represented the main invasion force and so he moved to block it, while staying 100 nautical miles (190 km 120 mi) northeast of Midway. [144]

In reality, the ships sighted by Tambor were the detachment of four cruisers and two destroyers Yamamoto had sent to bombard Midway. At 02:55, these ships received Yamamoto's order to retire and changed course to comply. [144] At about the same time as this change of course, Tambor was sighted and during maneuvers designed to avoid a submarine attack, the heavy cruisers Mogami and Mikuma collided, inflicting serious damage on Mogami ' s bow. The less severely damaged Mikuma slowed to 12 knots (22 km/h 14 mph) to keep pace. [145] Only at 04:12 did the sky brighten enough for Murphy to be certain the ships were Japanese, by which time staying surfaced was hazardous and he dived to approach for an attack. The attack was unsuccessful and around 06:00 he finally reported two westbound Mogami-class cruisers, before diving again and playing no further role in the battle. [137] Limping along on a straight course at 12 knots—roughly one-third their top speed—Mogami and Mikuma had been almost perfect targets for a submarine attack. As soon as Tambor returned to port, Spruance had Murphy relieved of duty and reassigned to a shore station, citing his confusing contact report, poor torpedo shooting during his attack run, and general lack of aggression, especially as compared to Nautilus, the oldest of the 12 boats at Midway and the only one which had successfully placed a torpedo on target (albeit a dud). [142] [143]

Over the next two days, several strikes were launched against the stragglers, first from Midway, then from Spruance's carriers. Mikuma was eventually sunk by Dauntlesses, [146] while Mogami survived further severe damage to return home for repairs. The destroyers Arashio and Asashio were also bombed and strafed during the last of these attacks. [147] Captain Richard E. Fleming, a U.S. Marine Corps aviator, was killed while executing a glide bomb run on Mikuma and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. [148]

Meanwhile, salvage efforts on Yorktown were encouraging, and she was taken in tow by USS Vireo. In the late afternoon of 6 June, the Japanese submarine I-168, which had managed to slip through the cordon of destroyers (possibly because of the large amount of debris in the water), fired a salvo of torpedoes, two of which struck Yorktown. There were few casualties aboard since most of the crew had already been evacuated, but a third torpedo from this salvo struck the destroyer USS Hammann, which had been providing auxiliary power to Yorktown. Hammann broke in two and sank with the loss of 80 lives, mostly because her own depth charges exploded. With further salvage efforts deemed hopeless, the remaining repair crews were evacuated from Yorktown. Throughout the night of 6 June and into the morning of 7 June, Yorktown remained afloat but by 05:30 on 7 June, observers noted that her list was rapidly increasing to port. Shortly afterward, the ship turned onto her port side, and lay that way, revealing the torpedo hole in her starboard bilge—the result of the submarine attack. Captain Buckmaster's American flag was still flying. [149] All ships half-masted their colors in salute all hands who were topside stood with heads uncovered and came to attention, with tears in their eyes. Two patrolling PBYs appeared overhead and dipped their wings in a final salute. [149] At 07:01, the ship rolled upside-down, and slowly sank, stern first, with her battle flags flying. [150] [151]

Enterprise SBD Dauntless dive bomber pilot Norman "Dusty" Kleiss, who scored three hits on Japanese ships during the Battle of Midway (aircraft carriers Kaga and Hiryu and heavy cruiser Mikuma), wrote: "From the experience in the Marshalls, at Wake and at Marcus, I thought our fleet learned its lessons. We could not send TBDs into action unless they had adequate smoke protection and torpedoes that exploded more than 10 percent of the time." [152]

By the time the battle ended, 3,057 Japanese had died. Casualties aboard the four carriers were: Akagi: 267 Kaga: 811 Hiryū: 392 (including Rear Admiral Tamon Yamaguchi who chose to go down with his ship) Soryū: 711 (including Captain Yanagimoto, who chose to remain on board) a total of 2,181. [153] The heavy cruisers Mikuma (sunk 700 casualties) and Mogami (badly damaged 92) accounted for another 792 deaths. [154]

In addition, the destroyers Arashio (bombed 35) and Asashio (strafed by aircraft 21) were both damaged during the air attacks which sank Mikuma and caused further damage to Mogami. Floatplanes were lost from the cruisers Chikuma (3) and Tone (2). Dead aboard the destroyers Tanikaze (11), Arashi (1), Kazagumo (1) and the fleet oiler Akebono Maru (10) made up the remaining 23 casualties. [nb 5]

At the end of the battle, the U.S. lost the carrier Yorktown and a destroyer, Hammann. 307 Americans had been killed, including Major General Clarence L. Tinker, Commander, 7th Air Force, who personally led a bomber strike from Hawaii against the retreating Japanese forces on 7 June. He was killed when his aircraft crashed near Midway Island.

After winning a clear victory, and as pursuit became too hazardous near Wake, [155] American forces retired. Spruance once again withdrew to the east to refuel his destroyers and rendezvous with the carrier Saratoga, which was ferrying much-needed replacement aircraft. Fletcher transferred his flag to Saratoga on the afternoon of 8 June and resumed command of the carrier force. For the remainder of that day and then 9 June, Fletcher continued to launch search missions from the three carriers to ensure the Japanese were no longer advancing on Midway. Late on 10 June a decision was made to leave the area and the American carriers eventually returned to Pearl Harbor. [156]

Historian Samuel E. Morison noted in 1949 that Spruance was subjected to much criticism for not pursuing the retreating Japanese, thus allowing their surface fleet to escape. [157] Clay Blair argued in 1975 that had Spruance pressed on, he would have been unable to launch his aircraft after nightfall, and his cruisers would have been overwhelmed by Yamamoto's powerful surface units, including Yamato. [155] Furthermore, the American air groups had suffered considerable losses, including most of their torpedo bombers. This made it unlikely that they would be effective in an airstrike against the Japanese battleships, even if they had managed to catch them during the daytime. [158] Also, by this time Spruance's destroyers were critically low on fuel. [159] [160]

On 10 June, the Imperial Japanese Navy conveyed to the military liaison conference an incomplete picture of the results of the battle. Chūichi Nagumo's detailed battle report was submitted to the high command on 15 June. It was intended only for the highest echelons in the Japanese Navy and government and was guarded closely throughout the war. In it, one of the more striking revelations is the comment on the Mobile Force Commander's (Nagumo's) estimates: "The enemy is not aware of our plans (we were not discovered until early in the morning of the 5th at the earliest)." [161] In reality, the whole operation had been compromised from the beginning by American code-breaking efforts. [162]

The Japanese public and much of the military command structure were kept in the dark about the extent of the defeat: Japanese news announced a great victory. Only Emperor Hirohito and the highest Navy command personnel were accurately informed of the carrier and pilot losses. Consequently, even the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) continued to believe, for at least a short time, that the fleet was in good condition. [163]

On the return of the Japanese fleet to Hashirajima on 14 June the wounded were immediately transferred to naval hospitals most were classified as "secret patients", placed in isolation wards and quarantined from other patients and their own families to keep this major defeat secret. [164] The remaining officers and men were quickly dispersed to other units of the fleet and, without being allowed to see family or friends, were shipped to units in the South Pacific, where the majority died in battle. [165] None of the flag officers or staff of the Combined Fleet were penalized, and Nagumo was later placed in command of the rebuilt carrier force. [166]

As a result of the defeat, new procedures were adopted whereby more Japanese aircraft were refueled and re-armed on the flight deck, rather than in the hangars, and the practice of draining all unused fuel lines was adopted. The new carriers being built were redesigned to incorporate only two flight deck elevators and new firefighting equipment. More carrier crew members were trained in damage-control and firefighting techniques, although the losses later in the war of Shōkaku, Hiyō, and especially Taihō suggest that there were still problems in this area. [167]

Replacement pilots were pushed through an abbreviated training regimen in order to meet the short-term needs of the fleet. This led to a sharp decline in the quality of the aviators produced. These inexperienced pilots were fed into front-line units, while the veterans who remained after Midway and the Solomons campaign were forced to share an increased workload as conditions grew more desperate, with few being given a chance to rest in rear areas or in the home islands. As a result, Japanese naval air groups as a whole progressively deteriorated during the war while their American adversaries continued to improve. [168]

American prisoners Edit

Three U.S. airmen were captured during the battle: Ensign Wesley Osmus, [169] a pilot from Yorktown Ensign Frank O'Flaherty, [170] a pilot from Enterprise and Aviation Machinist's Mate Bruno Peter Gaido, [171] O'Flaherty's radioman-gunner. [172] [173] Osmus was held on Arashi O'Flaherty and Gaido on the cruiser Nagara (or destroyer Makigumo, sources vary) O'Flaherty and Gaido were interrogated and then killed by being tied to water-filled kerosene cans and thrown overboard to drown. [174] Osmus was slated for the same fate however, he resisted and was murdered on the Arashi with a fire ax, and his body was thrown overboard. [172] The report filed by Nagumo tersely states that Osmus, ". died on 6 June and was buried at sea" [175] O'Flaherty and Gaido's fates were not mentioned in Nagumo's report. [176] The execution of Osmus in this manner was apparently ordered by Arashi ' s captain, Watanabe Yasumasa. Yasumasa died when the destroyer Numakaze sank in December 1943 but had he survived, he would have likely been tried as a war criminal. [177]

Japanese prisoners Edit

Two enlisted men from Mikuma were rescued from a life raft on 9 June by USS Trout and taken to Pearl Harbor. After receiving medical care, at least one of these sailors cooperated during interrogation and provided intelligence. [178] Another 35 crewmen from Hiryū were taken from a lifeboat by USS Ballard on 19 June after being spotted by an American search plane. They were taken to Midway and then transferred to Pearl Harbor on USS Sirius. [179] [180]

70 years ago this week: Battle of Midway Island (June 4-7, 1942)

(Today our Navy command observed the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Midway as in commemoration of the recent Memorial Day holiday. This was a different take on Memorial Day observations as it took a look at a specific, historical battle.)

Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto

As was mentioned in my previous Memorial Day post, the Japanese fleet set off for Midway Island on May 27, 1942. Their intent was draw U.S. Navy carrier forces into a trap by attacking Midway Island, one of the few military installations U.S. forces occupied west of Pearl Harbor and the Hawaiian Islands. Once U.S. carriers responded to the Midway attack by seeking out Japanese carrier force, the hammer of Japanese battleship forces would then attack and destroy the U.S. carrier fleet. All the U.S. battleships assigned to the Pacific theatre had been destroyed or damaged just six months prior to the Battle of Midway when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

Several factors contributed to the eventual U.S. victory at Midway.

  • U.S. cryptologists had successfully figured out the Japanese code used for its operational forces. The Japanese had been delayed in fielding their own more advanced code in the weeks leading up to Midway. As a result, Allied forces in the Pacific were able to read Japanese message traffic, and knew both where and when – within a day or two – the Imperial Forces were expected to hit Midway Island.
  • Aircraft carrier U.S.S. Yorktown (CV-5), heavily damaged and thought by the Japanese to have been sunk during the Battle of the Coral Sea (May 7-8), limped back to Pearl Harbor on May 27 and was turned around in sufficient fighting condition in just 3 days! Yorktown was able to sail as the core of Task Force 17 on May 30.
  • On 29 May, seaplane tender (destroyer) USS Thornton (AVD-11) arrived at French Frigate Shoals to relieve light minelayer USS Preble (DM-20) on patrol station there. The presence of U.S. ships at French Frigate Shoals prevented the Japanese from refueling flying boats to reconnoiter Pearl Harbor. As a result, the Japanese had no intelligence on the departure and makeup of Task Forces 16 (U.S.S. Enterprise and U.S.S. Hornet) and 17 (U.S.S. Yorktown).
  • Radio silence insisted upon by Japanese Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto prevented what sporadic information Japanese intelligence could discern about Task Force departures from Pearl Harbor from reaching Vice Admiral Nagumo Chuichi‘s Carrier Strike Force.

Overview of the fighting during the Battle of Midway, as taken from the Naval History and Heritage Command, Battle of Midway link:

U.S. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz

Just after midnight on 4 June, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, based on patrol plane reports, advised Task Forces 16 and 17 of the course and speed of the Japanese “main body,” also noting their distance of 574 miles from Midway. Shortly after dawn, a patrol plane spotted two Japanese carriers and their escorts, reporting “Many planes heading Midway from 320 degrees distant 150 miles!”

The first attack on 4 June, however, took place when the four night-flying PBYs attacked the Japanese transports northwest of Midway with one PBY torpedoing fleet tanker Akebono Maru. Later that morning, at roughly 0630, Aichi D3A (“Val”) carrier bombers and Nakajima B5N (“Kate”) torpedo planes, supported by numerous fighters (“Zekes”), bombed Midway Island installations. Although defending U.S. Marine Corps Brewster F2A (“Buffalo”) and Grumman F4F (“Wildcat”) fighters suffered disastrous losses, losing 17 of 26 aloft, the Japanese only inflicted slight damage to the facilities on Midway. Motor Torpedo Boat PT-25 was also damaged by strafing in Midway lagoon.

Over the next two hours, Japanese “Zekes” on Combat Air Patrol (CAP) and antiaircraft fire from the Japanese fleet annihilated the repeated attacks by the American aircraft from Marine Corps Douglas SBD (“Dauntless”) and Vought SB2U (“Vindicator”) scout bombers from VMSB-241, Navy Grumman TBF (“Avenger”) torpedo bombers from VT-8 detachment, and U. S. Army Air Force torpedo-carrying Martin B-26 (“Marauder”) bombers sent out to attack the Japanese carriers. Army Air Force “Flying Fortresses” likewise bombed the Japanese carrier force without success, although without losses to themselves.

Between 0930 and 1030, Douglas TBD (“Devastator”) torpedo bombers from VT 3, VT-6, and VT-8 on the three American carriers attacked the Japanese carriers. Although nearly wiped out by the defending Japanese fighters and antiaircraft fire, they drew off enemy fighters, leaving the skies open for dive bombers from U.S.S. Enterprise and U.S.S. Yorktown. VB-6 and VS-6 “Dauntlesses” from Enterprise bombed and fatally damaged carriers Kaga and Akagi, while VB-3 “Dauntlesses” from Yorktown bombed and wrecked carrier Soryu. American submarine Nautilus (SS-168) then fired torpedoes at the burning Kaga but her torpedoes did not explode.

USS Yorktown – June 4, 1942

At 1100, the one Japanese carrier that escaped destruction that morning, Hiryu, launched “Val” dive bombers that temporarily disabled Yorktown around noon. Three and a half hours later, Hiryu’s “Kate” torpedo planes struck a second blow, forcing Yorktown’s abandonment. In return, “Dauntlesses” from Enterprise mortally damaged Hiryu in a strike around 1700 that afternoon. The destruction of the Carrier Strike Force compelled Admiral Yamamoto to abandon his Midway invasion plans, and the Japanese Fleet began to retire westward.

On 5 June, TF 16 under command of Rear Admiral Spruance pursued the Japanese fleet westward, while work continued to salvage the damaged Yorktown. Both Akagi and Hiryu, damaged the previous day, were scuttled by Japanese destroyers early on the 5th.

The last air attacks of the battle took place on 6 June when dive bombers from Enterprise and Hornet bombed and sank heavy cruiser Mikuma, and damaged destroyers Asashio and Arashio,as well as the cruiser Mogami. At Admiral Spruance’s expressed orders, issued because of the destruction of three torpedo squadrons on 4 June, “Devastators” from VT-6 that accompanied the strike did not attack because of the threat to them from surface antiaircraft fire. After recovering these planes, TF 16 turned eastward and broke off contact with the enemy. COMINT intercepts over the following two days documented the withdrawal of Japanese forces toward Saipan and the Home Islands.

Meanwhile, on the 6th, Japanese submarine I-168 interrupted the U.S. salvage operations, torpedoing Yorktown and torpedoing and sinking destroyer USS Hammann (DD-412). Screening destroyers depth-charged I-168 but the Japanese submarine escaped destruction. Yorktown, suffering from numerous torpedo hits, finally rolled over and sank at dawn on 7 June.

Luck also turned out to be on the American side as well but it was luck that was made possible through better intelligence gathering, cryptology breakthroughs, industrial capabilities (e.g. U.S.S. Yorktown’s quick shipyard turnaround), superior naval leadership and carrier tactics. Not the least of any of the aforementioned factors, the fighting spirit, dedication, and bravery of U.S. military personnel determined the course of the Battle of Midway and by doing so, defined the high-water of Japanese designs for the Western Pacific.

Casualties were relatively light for American forces (300 dead, U.S.S. Yorktown sunk) compared to the over 3000 dead and four aircraft carriers lost by the Japanese. The real measure of U.S. and Allied success was what the defeat did to Japanese designs to force the Allies out of the central Pacific so that Japanese forces could have their way in the western Pacific.

From Midway forward, the World War II Pacific Theatre would slowly but decidedly turn to the Allies favor. Due to the significant losses in aircraft carriers, airplanes, pilots, and even their trained aircraft mechanics, Japanese forces would suffer from the loss of air superiority. And Japanese weaknesses in manufacturing capacity and the flow of raw materials made replacing lost ships extremely difficult and virtually impossible in the case of aircraft carriers. As a result, Japanese military operations would turn from offensive to defensive in nature as the Allies slowly closed the circle around the Japanese homeland.

The Battle of Midway, along with those at Coral Sea and the Doolittle Raid over Japanese home islands, marked the beginning of the Age of the Aircraft Carrier, which after 70 years still serves as the backbone of any prolonged American military presence in oceans around the world.

So despite that our Memorial Day has already passed, take a few moments to reflect on what these men and their machines accomplished in interests of freedom and American interests 70 years ago this week.

Doolittle Raid Remembered for Impact

The “Doolittle Raid” as it came to be known in honor of its commander, Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, was a pivotal moment in World War II, resulting in strategic implications far beyond the modest damage it did to the Japanese homeland, according to Dr. Robert S. Ehlers, an authority on airpower and director of Angelo State University’s Center for Security Studies.

Eighty aviators, including 13 from Texas, one of whom was born in nearby Robert Lee, struck a retaliatory blow on a mission that marked the first time a foreign power had successfully attacked the island nation. The raid dramatically re-shaped Japanese strategy, disastrously as it turned out, in the early months of the American conflict in the Pacific.

“The raid led directly to the Japanese decision to attack Midway,” said Ehlers, “and the Battle of Midway became the turning point in the Pacific War, though the fighting would continue for more than three years.”

Mere hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked his military planners to come up with a way to hit back at Japan, primarily to give the home front something to cheer about. Japan was so far removed from American airfields that U.S. aircraft carriers offered the only chance of U.S. retaliation, but because four American aircraft carriers were basically all that stood between Japan and total domination of the Pacific, any move bringing them within flying distance of Japan put them within range and danger of Japanese land-based aircraft.

“Not a single man opted out when Lt. Col. Doolittle gave them the option to do so. They were extraordinarily courageous, committed to their mission and confident in their capabilities.”

Robert Ehlers

In addition to distance, the plan faced a severe technical problem as no medium- or long-range bomber had ever taken off from an aircraft carrier. Even if such a plane could go airborne from a carrier deck, landing was out of the question. In other words, the raid would be a one-way trip for the American fliers.

The B-25 medium bomber was selected for the mission, and Doolittle, a pilot with a national reputation and one of the best aeronautical engineers in the country, was chosen to lead the operation. Ehlers said Doolittle was the first pilot to successfully fly entirely on instruments, his cockpit being blacked out so that he could see nothing but his instrument panel from takeoff through landing. As a member of the board of Shell Oil Co., he had earlier convinced the federal government and the Army Air Corps to purchase 100-octane fuel, which provides higher performance and better mileage for aircraft, a decision that later would help save the lives of him and 68 other raiders.

“His engineering prowess, combined with brilliant flying exploits and a creative mind, allowed him to conceptualize and work the technical specifics of the raid in the planning and training stages,” Ehlers said.

Doolittle solicited volunteers for the dangerous but otherwise unspecified Special Aviation Project No. 1, then issued orders that the men were not even to speculate about the secret mission to come. Under normal flying circumstances, a fully-loaded B-25 required a thousand or more feet of runway to take off. For Special Aviation Project No. 1 to ever get airborne, the Army pilots would have to accomplish liftoff in half that distance or less from the deck of the U.S.S. Hornet, which by then was one of only three surviving U.S. carriers in the Pacific.

Eight of the mission’s sixteen B-25 bombers are visible on the flight deck of the USS Hornet. U.S. Naval History & Heritage Command Photograph

“Given the Hornet’s short deck,” said Ehlers, “the B-25s had to start at maximum power and be stripped of everything except bombs, fuel and other mission-essential items to succeed.”

To reduce weight, the first things to go from the bombers were armaments and ammunition. The machine guns were replaced with broomsticks painted black to give the appearance—but not the punch—of actual guns. By reducing all nonessentials, the planes could maximize the bomb and fuel loads for the one-way mission. The plan was for the carrier to launch them within range of China so the planes could attack their targets then land in China at prearranged airfields with homing devices.

Unfortunately, the details for the landings were never finalized with or implemented by the Chinese military, which had its hands full fighting Japanese invaders. In the end, the Doolittle Raiders would be on their own after bombing the home island.

The Army aviators boarded the Hornet in San Francisco where their planes were loaded by crane on the carrier deck. On the foggy morning of April 2, 1942, the Hornet sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge, accompanied by seven ships in her task force. It would be the last time the carrier would ever see the continental United States, fated to sink that October in the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands.

Once the carrier was at sea, Doolittle finally announced to his men that their destination was Tokyo and, as one airman remembered, that “the chances of you making it back are pretty slim.”

“Not a single man,” said Ehlers, “opted out when Lt. Col. Doolittle gave them the option to do so. They were extraordinarily courageous, committed to their mission and confident in their capabilities.”

Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle (left front), leader of the attacking force, and Captain Marc A. Mitscher, commanding officer of USS Hornet, pose with USAAF aircrew members during ceremonies on the Hornet’s flight deck. U.S. Naval History & Heritage Command Photograph

Two days later, the Hornet’s captain revealed the audacious plan to his crew. Four days after that, the U.S.S. Enterprise departed Pearl Harbor to provide air cover for the Hornet, which could neither launch nor land planes with the 16 B-25s strapped to its deck.

The two carriers retraced some of the same North Pacific waters that Japanese carriers had traversed to attack Pearl Harbor. This northern route was less active militarily and provided the best course for secrecy. The goal was to get within 450 miles of Japan and launch planes at dusk on April 19 so they would attack Tokyo at night, limiting their vulnerability to Japanese fighters and giving the Army air crews daylight to make their landings by the time they made it to China.

The farther from Japanese shores they launched the B-25s, the longer the odds. At 550 miles they had little margin for error. Any launch beyond 650 miles meant they would likely never reach China and the possibility of safety.

To reduce weight, the first things to go from the bombers were armaments and ammunition. The machine guns were replaced with broomsticks painted black to give the appearance of actual guns.

“This was a relatively risky maneuver,” Ehlers said, “but a calculated one based, ironically, on the same kind of logic the Japanese used for the Pearl Harbor attack that very little or no shipping would be present along the ‘northern route’ of the North Pacific Ocean. The plan worked until the task force ran into Japanese trawlers, which had orders to relay all intelligence to the Home Islands.”

At about 6:30 a.m. on April 18, a Japanese fishing trawler equipped with a military radio for just such occasions sent a communique to headquarters announcing the surprise visitors. The Enterprise picked up both the radio message and the ship on its radar. The American fleet was 688 miles from Japan and well within range of land-based bombers. After sinking the trawler, the fleet commander faced a difficult decision to either launch the planes and escape or to move in closer and risk the carriers.

Doolittle was for fulfilling his mission. He gave his men one last chance to back out. When none did, Doolittle and the other 79 airmen ran to their planes and prepared for takeoff. The Hornet turned into the wind, and one by one the 16 bombers lumbered down the deck and into the air with Doolittle leading the way.

Doolittle’s Raiders came from 34 states and Hawaii. Thirteen Texans flew with Doolittle, more than twice as many as the five from both Massachusetts and Oregon, the second most represented states. Plane two carried Texans from Temple and Mineola. Planes three, four and five carried Lone Star residents from Killeen, Pampa and Taylor, respectively. The towns of Greenville, Houston and Bowie were represented on Planes eight, nine and 11 while Planes 12, 13, 14 and 16 carried Texans from Archer City, Ennis, Sherman and Odell.

The ill-fated plane six was piloted by Dean Edward Hallmark, who had been born in Robert Lee and spent time as a kid in Bronte where his grandparents lived. Prior to 1930, he moved to Greenville, where he played high school football.

As soon as the 16th and final plane was launched, the American task force with the irreplaceable carries turned from Japan and high-tailed it back to Pearl Harbor, leaving the airborne Army pilots to their own devices. Ten of the planes bombed Tokyo, two each attacked Yokohama and Nagoya and one each hit Nagoya and Kobe. The 16 aircraft and 80 crewmen caused negligible material damage to their targets, but spawned a tremendous impact on the psyche of two nations.

Aboard the USS Hornet, Doolittle wires a Japanese medal to a bomb, for “return” to its originators in the first U.S. air raid on the Japanese Home Islands, April 1942. U.S. Naval History & Heritage Command Photograph

“The impact on American morale was tremendous,” said Ehlers. “My parents and in-laws talked all the time about what a huge morale-booster the raid was, and how their parents laughed at FDR’s comment that the bombers had come from Shangri-La. The Japanese who witnessed the event had a negative response, but the really decisive thing—and this is why the raid had such a huge grand strategic impact—was the effect it had on the Japanese leadership.”

“The raid led directly to the Japanese decision to attack Midway and, in the process, bring the American aircraft carriers to battle and destroy them,” he continued. “The strategy backfired.”

Ehlers explained that the Japanese Army and Navy high commands had different strategies for defeating the Allies. The army was heavily engaged in China, had advanced to the borders of India, and wanted the navy to support an Indian Ocean strategy that would allow the Japanese to capture Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), an island with major British naval and air bases at the time. Using Ceylon as a base for attacks on merchant shipping in the Indian Ocean, the army hoped to defeat the British force in India, then ultimately link up with the German Army and defeat the Allies with a unified force.

By contrast, the Japanese Navy wanted to maintain the integrity of the defensive barrier it had created in the Pacific and to take New Guinea and at least parts of Australia, along with all the islands in that region, to keep the Americans from sending reinforcements there, Ehlers said. Then the navy would go after the remaining American carriers to ensure Japanese naval mastery and freedom of action in the Pacific.

“The Doolittle Raid,” said Ehlers, “gave the Japanese Navy what it wanted, especially since the Emperor weighed in, a very rare thing, on the Navy’s side in an effort to ensure there wasn’t another American attack on the Japanese Home Islands. So, the raid set Japanese strategy in such a way that Midway became the decisive meeting point, and the Indian Ocean strategy went out the window.”

An Army Air Force B-25 bomber takes off from USS Hornet at the start of the Doolittle Raid, April 18, 1942. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives collection.

Not quite two months later, the Battle of Midway between June 4–7, 1942, would mark the turning point in the war. U.S. cryptologists had broken the Japanese naval code and set an ambush with the Navy’s three remaining Pacific carriers. Though the U.S. would lose one of the carriers, the U.S.S.Yorktown, the Japanese lost four large fleet carriers, all of which had been involved in the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. American forces sustained slightly more than 300 killed while the Japanese toll was more than 3,000, including the pilots to some 248 carrier-based aircraft and more than 40 percent of their trained aircraft mechanics and technicians. Today, the Battle of Midway is considered the turning point in the Pacific conflict.

Without the Doolittle Raid, Midway would likely never have occurred and the course of the war would have been changed. Most of the raiders overcame the slim odds their commander Doolittle had given them. All but 11 of the 80 survived the mission, though 12 of their planes crashed in China, three ditched in the China Sea and one landed in Russian-held Siberia. Of the 16 crews, 13 survived intact and a fourth lost only one man.

Plane six, named “Green Hornet” and piloted by Dean Edward Hallmark, originally of Robert Lee, was the unluckiest of all. Two enlisted crewmen drowned when the Green Hornet ditched in the China Sea three miles from shore. The three surviving officers were captured by the Japanese. Hallmark was one of three raiders executed by Japanese firing squads. A second survivor of the Green Hornet starved to death in a Japanese POW camp. The one Green Hornet survivor willed himself to live and one day testify against the Japanese tormentors of the Doolittle captives. After the war, Hallmark’s ashes were returned to the United States and buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Doolittle himself survived a crash landing and evaded capture by the Japanese to return to the United States and play an even bigger role in the war effort. Ehlers said Doolittle went on to earn three-star general rank, commanding strategic bomber forces in the North African and Italian campaigns, and then taking over command of 8th Air Force and leading that huge unit in its bombing of Germany. He, like his fellow raiders, was highly decorated for his bravery.

“When Doolittle won the Congressional Medal of Honor and received it from the president,” Ehlers said, “he told FDR that he was deeply honored, and that now he’d do his best to earn it! In other words, he was so self-effacing that he believed that what he’d done didn’t merit the Medal of Honor. He was, like the best men of any generation, dedicated to doing what was right, and what had to be done.”

Wreck of WWII aircraft carrier USS Hornet discovered in the South Pacific

A World War II aircraft carrier, best known for taking part in the Doolittle raid on Japan in April 1942, the USS Hornet, has been discovered off the coast of the Soloman Islands in the South Pacific. The wreck was found at a depth of nearly 17,500 feet. Hornet was sunk during the brutal battle of the Santa Cruz Islands that raged from Oct. 25 to Oct. 27, 1942.

The wreck of the World War II aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-8) has been discovered off the Solomon Islands by a research organization set up by the late billionaire Paul Allen.

The carrier was located in late January by the crew of the Research Vessel Petrel resting on the floor of the South Pacific, according to a statement released by Allen’s Vulcan organization on Tuesday. Vulcan oversees Allen’s network of organizations and initiatives, which includes R/V Petrel’s research.

Researchers used information from national and naval archives to find the ship, as well as action reports from other vessels involved in the fateful Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands in 1942. The wreck was found at a depth of nearly 17,500 feet.

“Positions and sightings from nine other U.S. warships in the area were plotted on a chart to generate the starting point for the search grid,” explained Allen’s organization, in a statement. “In the case of Hornet, she was discovered on the first dive mission of Petrel's autonomous underwater vehicle and confirmed by video footage from the remotely operated vehicle.”

5-inch gun director on USS Hornet's deck. (Navigea Ltd, R/V Petrel, Paul G. Allen's Vulcan Inc)

Hornet is best known for her role in the famous Doolittle raid on Japan in April 1942. The air attack was conceived in the wake of Pearl Harbor, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command, and was the first raid on the Japanese homeland by U.S. planes. While none of the 16 B-25 bombers launched from Hornet made it to their designated landing strip in China, the raid was an important boost to U.S. morale.

The aircraft carrier was also involved in the decisive battle of Midway in June 1942 when U.S. naval forces defeated a Japanese fleet.

Hornet was sunk during the brutal battle of the Santa Cruz Islands that raged from Oct. 25 to Oct. 27, 1942. After enduring relentless attacks from Japanese bombers and torpedo planes, Hornet’s crew was forced to abandon ship, Allen’s organization noted. Attempts to scuttle the carrier by the U.S. Navy were unsuccessful and it took four torpedoes launch by two Japanese destroyers to finally sink Hornet in the late evening of Oct. 26. Out of her crew of almost 2,200, 111 sailors lost their lives in the battle.

Oerlikon cannons on USS Hornet's port quarter deck. (Navigea Ltd, R/V Petrel, Paul G. Allen's Vulcan Inc)

USS Enterprise, another Yorktown-class carrier, suffered extensive damage in the battle. “With the loss of Hornet and serious damage to Enterprise, the Battle of Santa Cruz was a Japanese victory, but at an extremely high cost," said Rear Admiral (Ret.) Samuel Cox, director of Naval History and Heritage Command, in a statement. "About half the Japanese aircraft engaged were shot down by greatly improved U.S. Navy anti-aircraft defenses. As a result, the Japanese carriers did not engage again in battle for almost another two years."

"We had Hornet on our list of WWII warships that we wanted to locate because of its place in history as an aircraft carrier that saw many pivotal moments in naval battles," said Robert Kraft, director of subsea operations for Vulcan, in a statement. "Paul Allen was particularly interested in historically significant and capital ships, so this mission and discovery honor his legacy."

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen died in October 2018 from complications of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

ུ Packard Man

In our post about U.S.S. Hornet, CV-12, we wrote that the U.S. Navy has had a Hornet in its fleet almost since the beginning of the Navy. Today, we look at the predecessor of CV-12, the brief but glorious history of Hornet CV-8.

Hornet CV-8 was one of three aircraft carriers built in the Yorktown class. (U.S.S. Wasp, CV-7) was a scaled-down version of the Yorktown class, but is not generally counted as being among the class.) Yorktown, the lead ship in the class was CV-5. CV-6 was Enterprise and Hornet, CV-8. Of the three, only Enterprise was not lost in World War II. Enterprise became the most decorated ship of the war.

Aircraft carriers were still largely in their infancy when the Yorktown-class ships were built. The first carrier in the U.S. fleet was Langley, which was converted from the collier Jupiter in 1922. Langley was followed by Lexington and her sister, Saratoga, both of which had been converted from two unfinished battle cruisers. The first purpose-built carrier in the Navy was Ranger CV4 which was laid down in 1933. Yorktown entered service in 1937, followed by Enterprise in 1938. Hornet was laid down in 1939 and entered service in October of 1941, commanded by Admiral Marc Mitscher. The Yorktown-class carriers and their cousin, Wasp, were constructed at the Newport News Shipbuilding Company, Newport News, Virginia. It was the three Yorktown-class carriers that won the Battle of Midway. Midway is generally considered to be the point at which the tide began to turn against the Japanese in the Pacific War.

After being commissioned, Hornet conducted training exercises off the Chesapeake Bay for five weeks. The average age of the crewmen aboard Hornet was 18 and few of them had ever been at sea before.

With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December, Hornet returned to Norfolk and in January had its anti-aircraft armament substantially upgraded. Remaining in the Atlantic, the carrier conducted tests on 2 February 1942 to determine if a B-25 Mitchell medium bomber could fly from the ship. Though the crew was perplexed as to why this was being done, the tests were successful. On 4 March, Hornet departed Norfolk with orders to sail for San Francisco, CA. Transiting the Panama Canal, the carrier arrived at Naval Air Station, Alameda in San Francisco Bay on 20 March. While there, sixteen US Army Air Forces B-25s, 16 of them, were loaded onto Hornet‘s flight deck.

One of the Doolittle raiders’ B-25 bombers departingHornet

The B-25s had been prepared at McClelland Airfield northeast of Sacramento and flown to Alameda. Hornet was docked at Pier 3 where Hornet CV12 is now docked. There is a splendid view across San Francisco Bay from her stern, the view showing off San Francisco and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

Receiving sealed orders, Mitscher put to sea on 2 April before informing the crew that the bombers, led by Lieutenant Colonel Jimmie Doolittle, were intended for a strike on Japan. Steaming across the Pacific, Hornet united with Vice Admiral William Halsey’s Task Force 16 which was centered on the carrier U.S.S. Enterprise. With Enterprise‘s aircraft providing cover, the combined force approached Japan. On 18 April, the American force was spotted by the Japanese vessel No. 23 Nitto Maru. (Maru is Japanese for “ship.”) Though the enemy vessel was quickly destroyed by the cruiser U.S.S. Nashville, Halsey and Doolittle were concerned that it had sent a warning to Japan.

Still 170 miles short of their intended launch point, Doolittle met with Mitscher, Hornet‘s commander, to discuss the situation. The two men decided to launch the bombers early. Leading the raid, Doolittle took off first at 8:20 AM and was followed by the rest of his men. Reaching Japan, the raiders successfully struck their targets before flying on to China. Due to the early departure, none possessed the fuel to reach their intended landing strips and all were forced to bail out or ditch. Having launched Doolittle’s bombers, Hornet and TF 16 immediately turned and steamed for Pearl Harbor.

Although the Doolittle raid did little serious damage to Tokyo, the psychological effect of the raid was exactly what the U.S. intended: it put the Japanese war leaders on notice that the U.S. intended to fight. The Doolittle Raid was gutsy, innovative and unexpected. It also showed the value of the aircraft carrier as a part of the Navy fleet. The aircraft carriers repeatedly proved their value in the Pacific: the Doolittle Raid, the Battles of Coral Sea and Midway and the relentless pounding of Japanese targets across the Pacific right up to the end of the war. The “Battleship Admirals” got the word, word they were reluctant to accept, that the era of the battleship as the prime weapon of the Navy had ended.

After the Doolittle Raid in April, Hornet along with her sisters Yorktown and Enterprise in early June surprised the Japanese on their way to Midway Island. The Japanese plan had been to draw the U.S. carriers out from Pearl Harbor and sink them in a surprise attack at Midway. However, U.S. codebreakers had deciphered the Japanese code and the three Yorktown-class sisters were already at Midway, waiting for the Japanese. Yorktown had been seriously damaged at the Battle of Coral Sea, but limped to Pearl Harbor for repairs. Admiral Nimitz ordered round-the-clock work to repair her in anticipation of Midway. Yorktown arrived at Midway with repair crews still working on her. Although Yorktown was lost at Midway, the three sisters and their aircrews sank all four of the Japanese carriers (Akagi, Hiryu, Kaga, and Soryu) and the Japanese cruiser Mikuma.

VF-8 Wildcats launching fromHornet during the Battle of Midway

In October, Hornet was in support of the U.S. assault on Guadalcanal. In an attempt to drive Allied forces from Guadalcanal and nearby islands and end the stalemate that had existed since September 1942, the Imperial Japanese Army planned a major ground offensive on Guadalcanal for 20–25 October 1942. In support of this offensive, and with the hope of engaging Allied naval forces, Japanese carriers and other large warships moved into a position near the southern Solomon Islands. From this location, the Japanese naval forces hoped to engage and decisively defeat any Allied (primarily U.S.) naval forces, especially carrier forces, that responded to the ground offensive. Allied naval forces also hoped to meet the Japanese naval forces in battle, with the same objectives of breaking the stalemate and decisively defeating their adversary.

Hornet ablaze during the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands, Oct. 1942

The Japanese ground offensive on Guadalcanal was defeated by Allied ground forces in the bitterly fought Battle for Henderson Field. Nevertheless, the naval warships and aircraft from the two adversaries confronted each other on the morning of 26 October 1942, just north of the Santa Cruz Islands. After an exchange of carrier air attacks, Allied surface ships were forced to retreat from the battle area with one carrier sunk – Hornet – and another – Enterprise – heavily damaged. The participating Japanese carrier forces, however, also retired because of high aircraft and aircrew losses plus significant damage to two carriers. Although an apparent tactical victory for the Japanese in terms of ships sunk and damaged, the loss of many irreplaceable veteran aircrews first at Midway and now at Santa Cruz by the Japanese provided a significant long-term strategic advantage for the Allies, whose aircrew losses in the battle were relatively low, and were quickly redeemed. As such, it is considered a Japanese Pyrrhic victory, and as a result of the battle the Japanese carriers played no further significant role in the Guadalcanal campaign, which was ultimately won by the Allies.

Hornet on fire and under assault, Battle of Santa Cruz Island

Although Hornet was lost at Santa Cruz, she was a tough ship to sink. Japanese aerial assaults set her afire from stem to stern, but the fires were brought under control. In an effort to save Hornet, the carrier was taken under tow by the heavy cruiser USS Northampton. Only making five knots, the two ships came under attack from Japanese aircraft and Hornet was hit by another torpedo. Unable to save the carrier, Captain Charles P. Mason ordered the ship to be abandoned.

Hornet sinking. In service one year and seven days.

Major Pacific Naval Battles

This was the first naval battle in history where the majority of the participants were as such a distance that they could not be seen by the opposition force. The battle was a victory pushing back Japanese air cover. Allied code breaking and the Japan dividing its forces aided the Allied victory.

Battle of Midway (June 4-7, 1942)

This battle is often called the turning point in the Pacific (Guadalcanal is often also mentioned).

Savo Island, Solomon Islands (August 1942)

This battle was a Japanese victory that included sinking 4 Allied cruisers and left U.S. Marines on Guadalcanal stranded for several months. A nickname for the battle is “Iron Bottom Sound.”

Battle of Philippine Sea (June 19-20, 1944)

Battle of the Philippine Sea is often known as the “Marianas Turkey Shoot” due to the number of Japanese aircraft that were shot down. Among other things, proximity fuses aided the Allies in shooting down these planes. Japanese losses also included two aircraft carriers from torpedoes from U.S. submarines. This battle saw the most aircraft carrier action of any battle in the war.

Battle of Leyte Gulf (October 23-26, 1944)

This is the largest naval battle of WWII due to the number of ships and planes involved. After these Japanese defeat, its navy could not effective operate in large offensive operations.

Watch the video: USS Hornet Sunk by Japanese Torpedoes During 10-Hour Battle 1943. War Archives