Archive for the 'Navy' Category

Aug 7

Remembering ‘Generational Lessons Learned’ — Guadalcanal

Wednesday, August 7, 2013 9:47 AM

(Until recently, The U.S. Pacific Fleet participated in Talisman Saber in and around Australia. Meantime the surface Navy in Hawaii recently finished integrated at-sea certification near the Hawaiian Islands. From his office overlooking historic Pearl Harbor, Rear Adm. Rick Williams, Commander, Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific puts the training in context near the anniversary of the beginning of the Guadalcanal Campaign of World War II. They’re already planning for more training and support at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam (on Oahu) and Pacific Missile Range Facility (at Barking Sands, Kauai) for next summer’s Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise. Hawaii is center point for rebalancing in the Pacific.)

 As we consider how we translate the CNO’s priority of “Warfighting First” into action, it is important that we reach back to the valuable lessons learned from our rich naval history. For example, consider the significance of WWII surface actions in the Solomon Islands and how they align to the operations we are conducting today.

 Aug. 7 marks the 71st anniversary of the beginning of the Guadalcanal Campaign of August 1942 to February 1943. The strategic and tactical importance of these decisive six months is significant. What the June 1942 Midway battle meant for carrier operations, the battle for the Solomons meant for our Surface Navy.

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USS San Juan at New Caledonia, August 3, 1942

The ultimate victory and lessons learned were written in blood with over 5,000 Sailors killed, 24 U.S. ships sunk and both task force leaders, Rear Adm. Callaghan and Rear Adm. Scott, lost in November during this campaign. The fighting was so intense that during the course of the battles, the channel to the straits was reconfigured with scores of sunk ships on both sides into what is now called the “Iron Bottom Sound.”  

The first encounters with the enemy in early August 1942 would be most telling for the U.S. and our Australian partners as HMAS Canberra and U.S. ships Astoria, Quincy, Vincennes were sunk and USS Chicago was badly damaged by a better prepared adversary. There were lessons learned for both the U.S. and our Australian partners realizing the importance of command and control, integrated tactics and mastery of advanced technologies, for unlike the allied surface forces, the enemy drilled in live-fire tactics, operated extensively in night steaming configurations, developed radar targeting skills and established effective multi-ship maneuvers.

The six month Guadalcanal Campaign saw high losses on both sides in personnel, aircraft and ships, but the United States soon recovered, while our adversary did not. At Guadalcanal the United States took the offensive and continued the advance that started after the Battle of Midway, forcing the enemy into a retreat that eventually led to capitulation and surrender less than three years later.

Admirals

As our MIDPAC team realizes the benefits gained from integrated at-sea certifications as well as participation by some of our ships with our Australian partners in Talisman Saber, these generational lessons learned make our training all the more meaningful and relevant.

By Rear Adm. Rick Williams, Commander, Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific

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Rear Adm. Richard L. Williams Jr., right, shakes hands with Rear Adm. Frank L. Ponds after a change of command ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, July 10, 2013.

For additional information on the Guadalcanal Campaign, visit the NHHC WWII Pacific Battles Showcase: http://www.history.navy.mil/special%20Highlights/WWiiPacific/WWIIPac-index.htm

 
Jul 30

First WAVES

Tuesday, July 30, 2013 10:11 AM
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WAVES in a R4D transport plane, Nov. 1944

On July 30, 1942 President Roosevelt signed into law the establishment of the WAVES (Woman Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). Establishing the WAVES was a lengthy effort. Inter-war changes in the Naval Reserve legislation specifically limited service to men, so new legislation was essential. The next few months saw the commissioning of Mildred McAfee, and several other prominent female educators and professionals, to guide the new organization. Just one year later in July 1943, 27,000 women wore the WAVES uniform.

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WAVE aircraft mechanic turns over the propeller of a SNJ, 1943

The WAVES performed jobs in fields such as aviation, clerical, medical, communication, legal, intelligence, and science and technology. The wartime Navy’s demand for them was intense as it struggled to defeat Hitler and Mussolini in Europe and the Japanese in the Pacific. At the end of the conflict, there were well over 8,000 female officers and some ten times that many enlisted WAVES, about 2 ½ percent of the Navy’s total strength. In some places WAVES constituted a majority of the uniformed naval personnel and many remained in uniform to help get the Navy through, the post-war era. On June 12, 1948, President Harry Truman signed Public Law 625, the “Women’s Armed Services Integration Act”, which approved regular and Reserve component status for women in the military and disbanded the WAVES.

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WAVES visiting USS Missouri, 1944

 Women are an essential part of our nation’s military tradition. Throughout the U.S. Navy’s 238 years’ of history, its female Sailors have steadily integrated into jobs that were once opened only to males. Earlier this year, following a unanimous recommendation by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Former Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta announced the end of the direct ground combat exclusion rule for female service members. As part of the new policy, the services are reviewing about 53,000 positions now closed by unit but that will be open to women who meet standards developed for the positions. Women make up about 15 percent, or nearly 202,400, of the U.S. military’s 1.4 million active-duty personnel. Over the past decade, more than 280,000 women have deployed in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and 152 of them have died*. Today is a great day to celebrate the accomplishments of Women through our nation’s history.

*Pellerin, Cheryl (2013). Dempsey: Allowing Women in Combat Strengthens Joint Force. American Forces Press Service.

For more information on the history of women in the Navy, please visit the NHHC website: http://www.history.navy.mil/special%20Highlights/Women/Women-index.htm

 
Jul 19

Set Sail With the USS Constitution

Friday, July 19, 2013 7:14 AM

As I stepped across the brow onto the deck of USS Constitution the sense of history was almost overwhelming.

It was on these decks that the Sailors from past ages had fought and died for the colors that were whipping in the warm breeze above my head.

 

Guests of the USS Constitution boarding, 4 July, 2013

Guests of the USS Constitution boarding, 4 July, 2013

 

It’s July 4th, and time for Old Ironsides to get underway once again as she always does on Independence Day. The maneuvering watch is set and they are preparing their charts and instruments to plot the course down the Charlestown River to Castle Island, a familiar course, but still the motions are required as a Sailor assigned to Constitution must be proficient in these skills in order to be called a Constitution Sailor.

I introduce myself to the Sailors on watch and they say “Welcome aboard the Constitution and just let us know if there is anything we can do to help sir!”

Finding a place on deck, aft, near the Quartermaster’s station, , a simple table with a chart of Boston Harbor and a few tools of the Quartermaster rating and I begin to take a few quick photos.

Among my first impressions was the size of Constitution, it is a real surprise to me, not having ever seen her up close I quickly realized that she was as large as a WW II Destroyer Escort and slightly wider.

As I look around I see the details one misses in simple photographs of the ship. The mooring lines dressed out on deck, the smooth bore Cannon surrounding the deck perimeter and the fighting tops almost 100 feet above my head speak to me, knowing that it was at these locations some of the real fighting took place with Marine sharpshooters taking aim at the enemy’s gun crews and the officers as they knew that by taking these targets out of action the chances for victory increased with each and every well placed round.

After a short time I hear the order to cast off all lines and within moments Constitution begins to move slowly out of her berth, then the order is announced “Underway, shift colors” as a Sailor slowly lowers a perfect replica of the first Navy Jack, “Don’t Tread On Me” in brilliant and bold letters that can be easily seen.

As we pull away from the pier I found myself thinking about Constitution’s great engagements with the British warships that she fought and defeated. Ships with names like Guerriere, Java, Pictou, Cayne and Levant, it was in the engagement with Guerriere that Constitution earned her nickname “Old Ironsides”.

 I watch as the crew raises a large American Flag with 15 stars and 15 bars and everyone begins to cheer, USS Constitution is underway once again.

Constitution - Shift Colors !

The crew is busily moving around deck, seemingly oblivious to the hundreds of eyes watching their every move as they stow mooring lines and equipment, their pride is obvious to all however, as this is a special day for them as well.

I check the chart as the navigation team is busy marking it with the ships position in the channel and hear them discussing their trade, “no, says one Sailor, the measurement must be taken this way”

as he attempts to teach a younger subordinate the correct method of marking the ship’s position every couple of minutes and I find myself thinking that in today’s Navy these tasks are much simpler with advanced digital charts and the benefit of a GPS enhanced moving map display.

The Constitution Sailors of old did not have these tools and would probably view them as magic if they could see them in action today.

Looking out across the channel one can see the “chase boats” of all sizes and bigger harbor cruisers alongside keeping pace with the ship as she slowly makes her way toward Castle Island.

Occasionally a helicopter will fly over or a large commercial airliner as Logan Airport is just a few miles away, I find myself imagining that the sailors of old Constitution would think this technology was magic as well.

As Constitution approaches Castle Island a reminder is announced that the Gun crews will be firing a 21 Gun salute and that hearing protection is advised. Within a few moments the guns are readied and the order to fire is passed, within seconds the ship shakes from the concussion of the guns firing from the bow in sequence, port and starboard, one can hear the order to fire from below on the gun deck and feel the force of the blasts as the ship is slowly rotating in front of the hundreds of onlookers on Castle island.

The cheers from the crowd both on board and ashore can easily be heard between each shot and the feeling of patriotic pride is heavy in the air.

Constitution is showing her stuff once again and there is no denying that she is the focus of thousands of people who have made it a special point to be there to witness this display.

While cruising back to her berth we pass the US Coast Guard Station, Boston, the site of Constitution’s construction and the cannons sound with a 17 Gun salute as we pass by and again the cheers are raised and unmistakable, the “Coasties” ashore and on their vessels waving American Flags and cheering along with Constitution’s riders.

 

Constitution's 17 Gun salute while passing USCG Station Boston.

Constitution’s 17 Gun salute while passing USCG Station Boston.

 

 At approach to the pier and Constitution is turned so that she enters her berth stern first and is slowly backed into position with the precision of a skilled surgeon who has done this operation a hundred times before. After a few moments the announcement is made “Moored, shift colors” and history is recorded once again aboard the USS Constitution, America’s Ship of State!

Rod Doty
Volunteer,
NHHC Communication & Outreach Div.
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View USS Constitution’s 4 July Underway
Photo Album on their Facebook Fan Page:
“Underway, 4 July 2013″
http://goo.gl/TMGxa

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Jul 5

John Paul Jones’s 266th Birthday

Friday, July 5, 2013 3:27 PM
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John Paul Jones, Father of the U.S. Navy
Born 6 July 1747

As an officer of the Continental Navy of the American Revolution, John Paul Jones, born July 6, 1747, helped establish the traditions of courage and professionalism that today’s Sailors of the United States Navy proudly maintain. John Paul was born in a humble gardener’s cottage in Kirkbean, Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland, went to sea as a youth, and was a merchant shipmaster by the age of 21. Having taken up residence in Virginia, he volunteered early in the War of Independence to serve in his adopted country’s young navy and raised with his own hands the Continental ensign on board the flagship of the Navy’s first fleet. He took the war to the enemy’s homeland with daring raids along the British coast and the famous victory of the Bonhomme Richard over HMS Serapis. After the Bonhomme Richard began taking on water and fires broke out on board, the British commander asked Jones if he had struck his flag. Jones replied, “I have not yet begun to fight!” In the end, it was the British commander who surrendered.

Jones is remembered for his indomitable will and his unwillingness to consider surrender when the slightest hope of victory still burned. Throughout his naval career, Jones promoted professional standards and training. Sailors of the United States Navy can do no better than to emulate the spirit behind John Paul Jones’s stirring declaration: “I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast for I intend to go in harm’s way.”

Although John Paul Jones is often credited with being the “father” of the U.S. Navy, there are many men who are responsible for the Navy’s establishment. Naval records show that the Continental Congress created the Navy in the resolution in Philadelphia on Oct. 13, 1775, a date now recognized as the Navy’s birthday, so members of Congress must collectively receive credit for the creation of the Continental Navy, the forerunner of the modern U.S. Navy.

The importance of the sea as a highway, a source of food, or a battlefield, if necessary, was well understood by the American colonists. When the American Revolution came, there were many who played prominent roles in the founding of the U.S. Navy, including George Washington, John Barry, John Paul Jones, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and many others.

Should John Paul Jones be considered the “Father” of the U.S. Navy? If not, who do you believe earns this title?

CAPTION: Battle between Bonhomme Richard and HMS Serapis. Painting by Thomas Mitchell

CAPTION: Battle between Bonhomme Richard and HMS Serapis. Painting by Thomas Mitchell

The next time you are in Annapolis, MD, stop by the US Naval Academy to view the corporal remains of John Paul Jones which were interred into the crypt beneath the Naval Academy Chapel in 1906 in a ceremony presided over by President Theodore Roosevelt. From the point of his death in 1792 until then, John Paul Jones’ remains had been in a grave in France, where he died.

 

 
Jun 20

Navy Innovation

Thursday, June 20, 2013 7:01 AM

There’s been plenty of discussion about the Navy’s recent approach to ship building, and the promise of capability and capacity – see Littoral Combat Ship. What can history tell us about nurturing at sea innovation? It is never easy. On June 20, 1815, the Navy’s first steam-driven warship, the Fulton I, underwent initial trials in New York. Fulton, named in honor of her designer, Robert Fulton, was intended to be a heavily-armed and stoutly built mobile fort for local defense. Put into service in 1816, she missed action in the War of 1812 and only performed a single day of active service in 1817 when she carried President James Monroe on a cruise in New York Harbor, before eventually being utilized as a floating barracks at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. You can learn more about this ship by visiting: http://www.history.navy.mil/danfs/f5/fulton-i.htm and http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/sh-usn/usnsh-f/fulton.htm .

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Steam Battery “Fulton”. Lithograph by Ostervald, Paris, France, depicting the ship’s launching, at New York City, 29 October 1814.

 Despite her auspicious service, “Fulton the First” demonstrates the challenge – but also the promise – of developing new ways in accelerating our Navy’s advantage. So we ask: Can ‘perfect’ be the enemy of ‘good enough’ when it comes to achieving and sustaining progress in naval warfare? Or are we relearning the lessons of our shipbuilding history in spiral development? Before you answer that, see: http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=74922 .

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USS Freedom (LCS 1), March 1, 2013. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class John Grandin/Released)

 

 
Jun 17

U.S. Navy recipients of the Medal of Honor: Korean War

Monday, June 17, 2013 12:07 PM

Posted by Michael Ford

Tomorrow, the Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, dedicates a Korean War display in the Pentagon. In honor of those who served and gave their life protecting freedom, today we remember the Navy Medal of Honor recipients for actions during the Korean conflict: Hospital Corpsman Third Class Edward C. Benfold; Hospital Corpsman Third Class William R. Charette; Hospital Corpsman Richard David De Wert; Hospital Corpsman Francis C. Hammond; Lieutenant (j.g.) Thomas Jerome Hudner, Jr.; Hospital Corpsman John E. Kilmer; and Lieutenant (j.g.) John Kelvin Koelsch. (For more information on naval history during the Korean War see http://www.history.navy.mil/special%20Highlights/Korea/index.htm and http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/events/kowar/kowar.htm

USS Missouri firing 16 guns at Changjin, Korea, Oct 1950

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Hospital Corpsman Third Class Edward C. Benfold, United States Navy

For gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving in operations against enemy aggressor forces. When his company was subjected to heavy artillery and mortar barrages, followed by a determined assault during the hours of darkness by an enemy force estimated at battalion strength, HC3c. Benfold resolutely moved from position to position in the face of intense hostile fire, treating the wounded and lending words of encouragement. Leaving the protection of his sheltered position to treat the wounded when the platoon area in which he was working was attacked from both the front and rear, he moved forward to an exposed ridge line where he observed 2 marines in a large crater. As he approached the 2 men to determine their condition, an enemy soldier threw 2 grenades into the crater while 2 other enemy charged the position. Picking up a grenade in each hand, HC3c. Benfold leaped out of the crater and hurled himself against the on-rushing hostile soldiers, pushing the grenades against their chests and killing both the attackers. Mortally wounded while carrying out this heroic act, HC3c. Benfold, by his great personal valor and resolute spirit of self-sacrifice in the face of almost certain death, was directly responsible for saving the lives of his 2 comrades. His exceptional courage reflects the highest credit upon himself and enhances the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for others.

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Hospital Corpsman Third Class William R. Charette, United States Navy

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty in action against enemy aggressor forces during the early morning hours. Participating in a fierce encounter with a cleverly concealed and well-entrenched enemy force occupying positions on a vital and bitterly contested outpost far in advance of the main line of resistance, HC3c. Charette repeatedly and unhesitatingly moved about through a murderous barrage of hostile small-arms and mortar fire to render assistance to his wounded comrades. When an enemy grenade landed within a few feet of a marine he was attending, he immediately threw himself upon the stricken man and absorbed the entire concussion of the deadly missile with his body. Although sustaining painful facial wounds, and undergoing shock from the intensity of the blast which ripped the helmet and medical aid kit from his person, HC3c. Charette resourcefully improvised emergency bandages by tearing off part of his clothing, and gallantly continued to administer medical aid to the wounded in his own unit and to those in adjacent platoon areas as well. Observing a seriously wounded comrade whose armored vest had been torn from his body by the blast from an exploding shell, he selflessly removed his own battle vest and placed it upon the helpless man although fully aware of the added jeopardy to himself. Moving to the side of another casualty who was suffering excruciating pain from a serious leg wound, HC3c. Charette stood upright in the trench line and exposed himself to a deadly hail of enemy fire in order to lend more effective aid to the victim and to alleviate his anguish while being removed to a position of safety. By his indomitable courage and inspiring efforts in behalf of his wounded comrades, HC3c. Charette was directly responsible for saving many lives. His great personal valor reflects the highest credit upon himself and enhances the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.

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Hospital Corpsman Richard David De Wert, United States Navy

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a HC, in action against enemy aggressor forces. When a fire team from the point platoon of his company was pinned down by a deadly barrage of hostile automatic weapons fired and suffered many casualties, HC De Wert rushed to the assistance of 1 of the more seriously wounded and, despite a painful leg wound sustained while dragging the stricken marine to safety, steadfastly refused medical treatment for himself and immediately dashed back through the fireswept area to carry a second wounded man out of the line of fire. Undaunted by the mounting hail of devastating enemy fire, he bravely moved forward a third time and received another serious wound in the shoulder after discovering that a wounded marine had already died. Still persistent in his refusal to submit to first aid, he resolutely answered the call of a fourth stricken comrade and, while rendering medical assistance, was himself mortally wounded by a burst of enemy fire. His courageous initiative, great personal valor, and heroic spirit of self-sacrifice in the face of overwhelming odds reflect the highest credit upon HC De Wert and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

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Hospital Corpsman Francis C. Hammond, United States Navy

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as a HC serving with the 1st Marine Division in action against enemy aggressor forces on the night of 26-27 March 1953. After reaching an intermediate objective during a counterattack against a heavily entrenched and numerically superior hostile force occupying ground on a bitterly contested outpost far in advance of the main line of resistance. HC Hammond’s platoon was subjected to a murderous barrage of hostile mortar and artillery fire, followed by a vicious assault by onrushing enemy troops. Resolutely advancing through the veritable curtain of fire to aid his stricken comrades, HC Hammond moved among the stalwart garrison of marines and, although critically wounded himself, valiantly continued to administer aid to the other wounded throughout an exhausting 4-hour period. When the unit was ordered to withdraw, he skillfully directed the evacuation of casualties and remained in the fire-swept area to assist the corpsmen of the relieving unit until he was struck by a round of enemy mortar fire and fell, mortally wounded. By his exceptional fortitude, inspiring initiative and self-sacrificing efforts, HC Hammond undoubtedly saved the lives of many marines. His great personal valor in the face of overwhelming odds enhances and sustains the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

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Lieutenant (j.g.) Thomas Jerome Hudner, Jr., United States Navy

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as a pilot in Fighter Squadron 32, while attempting to rescue a squadron mate whose plane struck by antiaircraft fire and trailing smoke, was forced down behind enemy lines. Quickly maneuvering to circle the downed pilot and protect him from enemy troops infesting the area, Lt. (j.g.) Hudner risked his life to save the injured flier who was trapped alive in the burning wreckage. Fully aware of the extreme danger in landing on the rough mountainous terrain and the scant hope of escape or survival in subzero temperature, he put his plane down skillfully in a deliberate wheels-up landing in the presence of enemy troops. With his bare hands, he packed the fuselage with snow to keep the flames away from the pilot and struggled to pull him free. Unsuccessful in this, he returned to his crashed aircraft and radioed other airborne planes, requesting that a helicopter be dispatched with an ax and fire extinguisher. He then remained on the spot despite the continuing danger from enemy action and, with the assistance of the rescue pilot, renewed a desperate but unavailing battle against time, cold, and flames. Lt. (j.g.) Hudner’s exceptionally valiant action and selfless devotion to a shipmate sustain and enhance the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.

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Hospital Corpsman John E. Kilmer, United States Navy

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty in action against enemy aggressor forces. With his company engaged in defending a vitally important hill position well forward of the main line of resistance during an assault by large concentrations of hostile troops, HC Kilmer repeatedly braved intense enemy mortar, artillery, and sniper fire to move from 1 position to another, administering aid to the wounded and expediting their evacuation. Painfully wounded himself when struck by mortar fragments while moving to the aid of a casualty, he persisted in his efforts and inched his way to the side of the stricken marine through a hail of enemy shells falling around him. Undaunted by the devastating hostile fire, he skillfully administered first aid to his comrade and, as another mounting barrage of enemy fire shattered the immediate area, unhesitatingly shielded the wounded man with his body. Mortally wounded by flying shrapnel while carrying out this heroic action, HC Kilmer, by his great personal valor and gallant spirit of self-sacrifice in saving the life of a comrade, served to inspire all who observed him. His unyielding devotion to duty in the face of heavy odds reflects the highest credit upon himself and enhances the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for another.

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Lieutenant (j.g.) John Kelvin Koelsch, United States Navy

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with a Navy helicopter rescue unit. Although darkness was rapidly approaching when information was received that a marine aviator had been shot down and was trapped by the enemy in mountainous terrain deep in hostile territory, Lt. (j.g.) Koelsch voluntarily flew a helicopter to the reported position of the downed airman in an attempt to effect a rescue. With an almost solid overcast concealing everything below the mountain peaks, he descended in his unarmed and vulnerable aircraft without the accompanying fighter escort to an extremely low altitude beneath the cloud level and began a systematic search. Despite the increasingly intense enemy fire, which struck his helicopter on 1 occasion, he persisted in his mission until he succeeded in locating the downed pilot, who was suffering from serious burns on the arms and legs. While the victim was being hoisted into the aircraft, it was struck again by an accurate burst of hostile fire and crashed on the side of the mountain. Quickly extricating his crewmen and the aviator from the wreckage, Lt. (j.g.) Koelsch led them from the vicinity in an effort to escape from hostile troops, evading the enemy forces for 9 days and rendering such medical attention as possible to his severely burned companion until all were captured. Up to the time of his death while still a captive of the enemy, Lt. (j.g.) Koelsch steadfastly refused to aid his captors in any manner and served to inspire his fellow prisoners by his fortitude and consideration for others. His great personal valor and heroic spirit of self-sacrifice throughout sustain and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.

 
Jun 7

Midway Operational Lesson

Friday, June 7, 2013 5:08 PM

MIDWAY’S OPERATIONAL LESSON: THE NEED FOR MORE CARRIERS

The Japanese employing six aircraft carriers at one time, as they did in the attack on Oahu on 7 December 1941, proved a radical undertaking. The U.S. Navy’s carriers, by contrast, had never numbered more than two or three during infrequent maneuvers, and the war’s coming in 1941 found only three in the Pacific, Lexington (CV-2), Saratoga (CV-3), and Enterprise (CV-6).

Carriers had been a part of the U.S. Fleet since Langley (CV-1), nicknamed “The Covered Wagon” pioneered such operations in 1922, and forward-thinking naval officers employed them in the annual maneuvers, or Fleet Problems, with varying degrees of success. The war that descended with such suddenness on the Pacific Fleet on 7 December 1941, however, found that arm of the fleet relatively outnumbered by the Japanese. The six carriers whose planes had attacked Oahu outnumbered the U.S. Navy’s flattops two to one. The Japanese carriers were concentrated – the American were scattered: one on the way to Midway (Lexington); another at San Diego, preparing to return to Hawaiian waters (Saratoga); and the third returning from Wake Island (Enterprise).

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USS Enterprise (CV-6), circa 1940. NHHC Photographic Collection #19-N-29688

The three U.S. carriers involved at Midway differed in experience and in how they operated. Yorktown (CV-5), the first Atlantic Fleet carrier to deploy to the Pacific, had been operating under wartime conditions in the Atlantic during much of 1941; her squadrons at Midway, however, came from two different air groups: her own (VB-5), and those from Saratoga. The latter warship had been put out of action by a submarine torpedo in January 1942 and had landed her squadrons on Oahu (VB-3, VT-3, and VF-3). Only VB-5 had served in Yorktown for any length of time, from the operations in the Atlantic in 1941 through the Marshalls-Gilberts Raids, Lae-Salamaua, and the Coral Sea.

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USS Yorktown operating at sea, April 1942. NHHC Photographic Collection #80-G-640553

Enterprise had been involved from 7 December 1941, when elements of her air group encountered Japanese planes over Oahu; she had then participated in the Marshalls-Gilberts Raids, and had attacked Wake and Marcus, and had rode shotgun for Hornet (CV-8), the second Atlantic Fleet CV transferred to the Pacific, when that carrier took Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle’s B-25s to bomb targets in Japan. Of her squadrons, VB-6, VF-6, and VT-6 had served since the beginning; VS-6 had taken heavy losses early in the war, and had been spelled during the Halsey-Doolittle mission by VB-3.

Hornet, only commissioned in October 1941, had come to the Pacific and immediately taken part in the Halsey-Doolittle Raid; she was easily the least experienced carrier of the three.

It must be remembered that carrier operations in the U.S. Navy were in a state of flux – the air groups learning as they went along, and in the crucible of combat. On 4 June 1942, Enterprise and Hornet, in Task Force 16 (Rear Admiral Raymond A. Spruance), launched their respective attack groups employing a “deferred departure” plan, which sent off the fighters first, then the scout-bombers, then the torpedo planes. All loitered about the ship until the entire group was airborne before setting out for the enemy en masse. As the Japanese steamed at the extreme range of their fighter and torpedo planes’ fuel capacities this left no margin for error. Hornet’s fighters launched first and wasted much of their fuel over the ship while the rest of the strike slowly got airborne, one aircraft at a time. None of the fighters ever returned to the ship, or sighted the enemy. Enterprise’s fighters attached themselves to the Hornet’s torpedo planes (the ill-fated VT-8), while Enterprise’s torpedo planes went unescorted. Hornet’s dive bombers did not find the enemy, VS-8 returning to the ship directly and VB-8 returning to the ship via Midway.

Yorktown, however, operated differently. Her attack group, less VB-5 which Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher, Commander, Task Force 17, retained on board as a reserve strike and search group, launched according to a “running rendezvous,” the dive bombers taking off first, followed by the torpedo planes, with the higher speed fighter escort launching last. VT-3, VB-3, and VF-3 proceeded directly toward the target immediately after launch, with the torpedo squadron at low altitude, the dive bombers high, and the fighters closing in from behind. The group then merged together well along its base course, with all elements arriving over the enemy fleet simultaneously – Yorktown’s air group was the only one of the three to attack as a group. Their providential arrival simultaneously with that of Enterprise’s VB-6 and VS-6 spelled the doom of Akagi, Kaga, and Soryu.

The separation of Task Forces 16 and 17, meanwhile, proved detrimental when the only Japanese carrier that survived the initial destructive attacks, Hiryu, managed to cobble together the strike that stopped Yorktown and forced Rear Admiral Fletcher to transfer his flag and turn over tactical command to Rear Admiral Spruance. The Japanese carriers tended to separate during battle, each with their own screen, spreading out and lessening the impact of antiaircraft fire and dispersing the combat air patrol (CAP). The American carriers at Midway did likewise to a degree, so that TF-17 had fewer fighters and fewer antiaircraft guns afloat to defend Yorktown than would have been the case if Enterprise and Hornet were operating in company. Yet the need to concentrate the carriers, to put up a formidable combat air patrol and take advantage of the gunfire of the screening cruisers and destroyers with their 5-inch batteries (as well as the 1.1-inch, later 40-millimeter, and 20 millimeter guns in profusion) could not be fully realized until carriers were built in sufficient numbers to group several in one formation. Until the war construction programs of Essex (CV-9) class carriers and Independence (CVL-22) class small carriers would make themselves felt, one or two carriers and their respective screens would have to suffice.

Nevertheless, the employment of aircraft carriers at Midway proved crucial, for without them, ships of either side could find themselves at the mercy of an opponent’s planes. The destruction of the Japanese carriers on 4 June left one group of Japanese warships, detached to bombard Midway, totally unprotected, and when a collision damaged two heavy cruisers and impaired their speed, they could only proceed slowly, with two destroyers for a screen. Consequently, dive bombers from Hornet and Enterprise pounded Mogami and Mikuma, sinking the latter and inflicting further damage on the former.

America’s overwhelming capacity for production, something Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku feared at the outset of hostilities, eventually produced carriers in such numbers that task groups of four carriers (three CV-9 class and a CVL-22 class) would be the norm rather than the exception. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet, had promised to “do the best we can with what we have.” Nimitz and his subordinates achieved victory with the weapon that had been forged since the 1920’s, the aircraft carrier and her embarked air group, that possessed the ability to project power over long distances, the power that aircraft carriers possess today of unprecedented utility.

For further information and links to related resources, seeFrequently Asked Questions: Battle of Midway, 4-7 June 1942.

By Robert J. Cressman

May 2009

 
Jun 7

Midway Tactical Lessons

Friday, June 7, 2013 12:44 PM

Tactical Lesson of Midway: The Thach Weave

When the U.S. Navy entered the war in the Pacific, fighting squadron aircraft strength stood at 18 planes. Operational experience, showed that more fighters were needed, to (1) protect the carrier herself and (2) to protect the attack groups composed of dive/scout bombers and torpedo bombers. Even when temporarily augmented to 27 planes, there were too few fighters to adequately perform both missions. Since neither the Enterprise’s nor the Hornet’s fighters accompanied their respective attack groups only Yorktown’s experience proved instructive. First, only six Wildcat fighters accompanied the attack group and they were relatively ineffective against the Japanese combat air patrol onslaught. But even in numbers on defense, they did not do well as Japanese carrier [dive] bomber and torpedo plane crews fought their way through the U.S. combat air patrol (even though augmented by fighters from TF-16) to twice cripple Yorktown and, after the second attack, force her temporary abandonment.

The story of the fighter escort for the torpedo bombers and dive bombers from the carriers, with the exception of that concerning the Yorktown’s group, was altogether dismal. Indeed, the small number of fighters from VF-3 that attempted to cover VT-3’s attack on the morning of 4 June had found the Americans overwhelmed by the Zeroes. The only silver lining was the survival of most American fighters, a result owed in part to the successful implementation of the “beam defense” tactic of Lt. Comdr. John S. “Jimmy” Thach (of Yorktown’s VF-3), a tactic later named the “Thach Weave” in his honor.

“It is indeed surprising,” Jimmy Thach wrote on the evening of 4 June 1942, “that any of our pilots returned alive. Any success our fighter pilots may have against the Japanese Zero fighter is not [Thach’s italics] due to the performance of the airplane we fly [the Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat] but is the result of the comparatively poor marksmanship of the Japanese, stupid mistakes made by a few of their pilots and superior marksmanship and team work of some of our pilots. The only way we can ever bring our guns to bear on the Zero fighter is to trick them into recovering in front of an F4F or shoot them when they are preoccupied in firing at one of our own planes.” Thach warned that unless the Wildcat’s performance was improved, the F4F pilots could not carry out their mission, which would have a “definite and alarming effect on the morale of most of our carrier based VF [fighter] pilots. If we expect to keep our carriers afloat,” he concluded, “we must provide a VF airplane superior to the Japanese Zero in at least climb and speed, if not maneuverability.”

g64831 Thach

LtCdr John S. Thach, Commanding Officer of Fighting Squadron Three. NHHC Photographic Collection 80-G-64831

The problem was that on 4 June 1942, and for some time thereafter, there was no way to improve the performance of the F4F. The Vought F4U Corsair and the Grumman F6F Hellcat were under development, but a long time away from equipping first-line carriers. Admiral Nimitz, in reviewing Thach’s comments, noted an important distinction: in the Battle of Midway, the Japanese fighters outnumbered the American. Finding that 27 fighters (a temporary expedient) proved too few, the fighter strength was increased to 36. “If the F4Fs were not equal to Zeros on a one-to-one basis,” historian John B. Lundstrom has noted in his magnificent work The First Team, “Nimitz at least would see to it that there were more F4F-4s available to fight.”

Providentially, while Jimmy Thach enjoyed 30 days leave at his home in Coronado, he met with Lt. Comdr. James Flatley, who had been exec of VF-42 in Yorktown in the Battle of the Coral Sea and who was commanding the new VF-10, training at North Island. The two men, good friends, “freely exchanged experiences and ideas.” Flatley had, almost simultaneous with Thach, pondered fighter tactics in the wake of his own combat experience at Coral Sea.

“Our planes and our pilots, if properly handled,” Flatley declared, “are more than a match for the enemy.” He praised the F4F-4 Wildcat’s “excellent armament [six .50-caliber machine guns], protected fuel system, and greater strength…Let’s not condemn our equipment. It shoots the enemy down in flames and gets most of us back to our base…Remember the mission of the fighter plane, the enemy’s VF mission is the same as our own. Work out tactics on that basis. We should be able to out smart him…”

Thach spent some of his leave revising the section on “fighter tactics” in Current Carrier Orders and Doctrine, U.S. Fleet Aircraft, Volume One, Carrier Aircraft USF-74 (Revised), and substituted two-plane sections and four-plane divisions in place of the old three-plane divisions. He also inserted sketches of the “beam defense formation” and explained how it had been proved successful at Midway. Thach’s work, Lundstrom notes, “offered the first steps in providing the Navy’s fighter pilots concrete tactics to counter fighters with superior speed and maneuverability.” For those significant efforts, setting forth and describing tactics proved in the crucible of combat at Midway, Jimmy Thach would receive the Distinguished Service Medal.

For further information and links to related resources, see Frequently Asked Questions: Battle of Midway, 4-7 June 1942

By Robert J. Cressman

May 2009

 
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