Navy PBY aircraft reported sightings of the Japanese Imperial Navy at around 5:30 on the morning of June 4th. The report was, “Many planes, heading Midway.” Vice Admiral Nagumo’s First Carrier Striking Force, four Japanese aircraft carriers, steamed 150 miles northwest of Midway atoll.
At dawn, with sightings confirmed, the pilots and ground crews of MAG-22, launched fighters from VMF-221, followed by the VT-8 detachment, the USAAF B-26s and the VMSB-241 Scout bombers. Three divisions of fighters, seven F2A-3s and five F4F-3s moved to intercept the Japanese aircraft. Another 12 F2A-3s and a lone F4F-3 were held in reserve, west of the island.
At 6:16 that morning, 30 miles from Midway, Marine fighter pilots spotted a Japanese formation of Nakajima Type 97 carrier attack planes, operating in the high-level bomber role. The two groups of Marine aircraft attacked, the
25 Marine fighters taking on 107 enemy aircraft in defense of their tiny atoll. Only 10 returned to Midway when the fighting subsided. Just two of those were fit to fly again.
On the island below this air melee, the 6th Defense Battalion stood ready to defend Midway. At 6:30, the Commanding Officer gave orders to “fire when targets are in range.” The radar station operators could see the enemy aircraft by then and reported their distance. By 0631 the guns on Midway atoll were fully engaged with enemy aircraft.
The Japanese bombers, guarded by Zero escorts, bombed the seaplane hangar and ramps, the fuel storage, and the barracks. Others struck the runway, mess halls and galley. Even the power station was hit. In between bomb explosions, the Zeros strafed gun pits, oil tanks and anything that moved.
The first attack was over by 6:48 in the morning. The Japanese, out of ammunition, returned to their carriers. Vice Admiral Nagumo’s attack had taken its toll, but had also cost the Japanese. VMF-221 and the Marine batteries destroyed at least five enemy planes, and another three ditched on the return flight to the carriers. Admiral Nagumo called the response, “vicious AA fire.”
But, VMSB-241, with 16 SBD-2s and 11 SB2U-3s, had yet to fight. The squadron was ordered to attack the Japanese carriers, doing so with gusto. They lost 11 in the fighting to flak and enemy aircraft, but scored no hits in attacks on one carrier and a battleship.
By evening dive bombers from USS Enterprise and USS Yorktown had found and damaged or destroyed the Japanese Carriers. At 6:30 the morning of the 5th, the Marines launched 12 bombers against two large enemy warships, the heavy cruisers, Mikuma and Mogami. During the attack Captain Richard E. Fleming, a participant in all the Marine actions at the Battle of Midway, attacked the Mikuma. Although his bomber was hit by AA on the way down and burst into flames, he stayed in his dive and released at 500 feet, getting a “near miss on the stern of the ship.” Unable to pull out, his plane crashed close aboard. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.
The United States Marine Corps fought with honor, courage and commitment at Midway.