Archive for the 'Wars' Category

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.

 

 
Jul 3

July 3rd, 1898: Remembering the Battle of Santiago

Wednesday, July 3, 2013 11:51 AM

On this date in 1898, Rear Admiral William T. Sampson’s squadron destroyed the Spanish fleet at the Battle of Santiago, Cuba. The article Sampson and Shafter at Santiago, by Commander Louis J. Gulliver, U.S. Navy, which detailed the battle and aftermath, was originally published in The Proceedings in June, 1939.

SAMPSON AND SHAFTER AT SANTIAGO

The inherent and ancient difficulties involved in joint operations of army and naval forces in war have never been more unhappily illustrated than in the war with Spain when army troops under General William R. Shafter, U. S. Army, encircled Santiago, and the Fleet commanded by Admiral William T. Samp­son blockaded the port during the months of June and July, 1898. Here where success of joint action depended vitally on the sine qua non of swift and sure communications and the maximum in co-op­eration, one observes evidence of lamen­tably poor communications from shore to ship and vice versa, a condition that can be understood and partially excused. Not so easy to account for, however, are the relations-not making for co-operation ­that existed between General Shafter and Admiral Sampson. It is with these relations, as they are revealed in the communications between the two officers, that this article is concerned.

USS Oregon bombarding Cuban fortifications

USS Oregon bombarding Cuban fortifications

The question most likely to puzzle the reader as he examines the Sampson­-Shafter communications, as each strove, for the most part at cross purposes with the other, to capture or destroy the enemy, is why the two commanders in chief neg­lected to employ the conference method for composing their radically differing opinions instead of standing apart and firing letters, telegrams, telephone mes­sages, and bridge signals at each other. They conferred only once during the pe­riod of hostilities and then only for a short time on the day that Shafter arrived in Cuba, before co-operative joint action could be effectively got under way.

The reasons why the two commanders never conferred thereafter are not easy to understand. Only a few miles of relatively smooth water on which no enemy could threaten separated the General’s headquarters tent at Siboney on the coast and the Admiral’s blockading station outside Santiago. Conceivably, General Shafter could have come out to the flagship, though the boat trip for one of his reported excessive weight might be considered hazardous. Absences from the fleet to engage in conferences on shore were forbidden to Admiral Sampson at the outset by the exigencies of the situation; he never left the blockading line but once and that, the fates alone can explain, was on the morning of July 3, when he set out in the ‘ flagship New York for Siboney to confer with General Shafter. At that precise moment, the Spanish Admiral Cervera de­cided to lead his fleet out of Santiago Harbor.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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 14

1813 Don’t Give Up The Ship Exhibit opens at the National Museum of the US Navy

Friday, June 14, 2013 7:23 AM

A new exhibit, “1813 Don’t Give Up the Ship” opens at the National Museum of the United States Navy at the Washington Navy Yard, on June 17. The exhibit will be on display until mid-October 2013 .

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During the War of 1812, the Navy’s primary responsibility was providing indirect and direct support to the Army on inland waters. These actions included Oliver Hazard Perry’s victory on Lake Erie which altered the strategic situation in the Midwest, reversing the year-long British tide of victories in that theater of operations. This victory allowed US Army General William Henry Harrison to launch an offensive that recaptured Detroit and shattered the British-Canadian-Indian army at the battle of the Thames in Ontario. Perry’s victory shares the stage with the strategic naval victories at Baltimore, Lake Champlain and New Orleans. The Navy defended the nation, laid the basis for the recovery of eastern Michigan and the successful invasion of Ontario, and raised national morale, which had declined following the capture of the frigate USS CHESAPEAKE and the death of her captain James Lawrence.

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This new temporary exhibit at the National Museum of the United States Navy features a newly acquired model of Oliver Hazard Perry’s flagship NIAGARA along with an array of remarkable artifacts from state and private collectors, including the only surviving intact example of the “secret weapon” of the War of 1812 – the Navy’s seven barreled “Chambers Gun.” One of the centerpieces of the exhibit, the Chambers Gun, was a multi-barrelled gun that was developed for the US Navy during the War of 1812 and patented by its creator gunsmith Joseph Chambers in 1814. The shots came out of the seven barrels in sequence, so that the gun could be mounted on a frigate’s fighting top and swept along the decks. Once the museum takes down the exhibition it may never come back because a lot of the armaments are on loan.

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All the more reason to come visit the “1813 Don’t Give Up The Ship” Exhibit at the National Museum of the United States Navy from mid-June to mid-October 2013 at the Washington Navy Yard, DC.

For more information please visit: http://www.history.navy.mil/branches/org8-1.htm

 
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.”

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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

 
Jun 7

Midway Strategic Lessons

Friday, June 7, 2013 7:22 AM

Midway’s Strategic Lessons

“We are actively preparing to greet our expected visitors with the kind of reception they deserve,” Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet, wrote to Admiral Ernest J. King, the Commander in Chief, U.S. Fleet and Chief of Naval Operations, on 29 May 1942, “and we will do the best we can with what we have.” How did Admiral Nimitz plan to fight the Battle of Midway? His opposing fleet commander, Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku, Commander in Chief of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Combined Fleet, had formulated his strategy for Operation MI, the reduction of Midway to entice Nimitz to expose his few aircraft carriers to destruction. The Japanese plan proved incredibly complex.

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ADM Chester W. Nimitz, USN, circa 1942. NHHC Photographic Collection #80-G-466244

When one compares the convoluted nature of Yamamoto’s plan to Nimitz’s, the latter emerges as simple and economical. Aware of the nature of the Japanese operation that ranged from the Aleutians to Midway, and involved aircraft carriers in both areas, Nimitz concentrated his forces at the most critical location, poised to attack the enemy when long-range flying boats operating from Midway would locate him. The actual sighting of the Japanese on 3 June, heading for Midway, vindicated Nimitz’s trust in the intelligence information he possessed, information that had been vital to the formulation of his strategy.

Yamamoto, by contrast, could only hazard a guess where his opponent was: the American placement of ships at French Frigate Shoals and other islets in the Hawaiian chain, in addition to a swift exit of carrier task forces (Task Force 16 under Rear Admiral Raymond A. Spruance and Task Force 17 under Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher) from Pearl Harbor, meant that (1) Japanese submarine-supported flying boat reconnaissance could not originate at French Frigate Shoals and (2) the submarines deployed to watch for American sorties arrived on station too late.

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Admiral Isoroku Yamomoto, Japanese Navy. NHHC Photographic Collection NH63430

Knowing Japanese intentions and the forces involved, Nimitz maintained the emphasis on the central Pacific, and sent cursory forces, sans aircraft carriers, to the Aleutians. The Pacific Fleet’s battleships, on the west coast of the United States, played no role in the drama, because Nimitz’s primary goal was the same of his opponent: sink the enemy aircraft carriers. While the Japanese hoped to draw the U.S. carriers, that had operated out of range through most of early 1942, so too Nimitz desired to bring the Japanese carriers, that had operated in much the same fashion from Pearl Harbor through the Indian Ocean (and thus well beyond reach) to the same end: destruction.

Nimitz’s strategy was direct and to the point; the Japanese’ involved operations that were to divert American strength from the main battle. Nimitz’s knowledge of the Japanese intentions and deployment of forces, however, meant that he had no need to employ diversions to keep the enemy guessing. Nimitz knew where the enemy was to be and employed what forces he had to be there to meet him; he had faith in his commanders: Fletcher, victor of Coral Sea, enjoyed his confidence, and Spruance had come highly recommended by Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., his commander during the early eastern Pacific raids. When Lt.Col. Harold F. Shannon,. USMC, commanding the USMC garrison at Midway, declared he would hold Midway, Nimitz sent him what reinforcements he could, and provided them to Capt. Cyril T. Simard, who commanded the overall defense forces at Midway. Popular legend has made much of the Japanese having four carriers and the U.S. Navy three. Midway itself proved to be the equalizer, serving as base for long-ranged aircraft that could not be taken to sea – four-engine heavy bombers (B-17) and flying boats in sufficient quantity for reconnaissance and attack. Nimitz gave Midway “all the strengthening it could take,” exigencies of war dictating the numbers and types of planes employed.

Additionally, Admiral Yamamoto opted to go to sea to exercise direct control over Operation MI, embarking in the battleship Yamato. Admiral Nimitz, by contrast, exercised what control he did from Pearl Harbor, from his shore headquarters at the Submarine Base. Nimitz quite rightly chose to exercise command and control from an unsinkable flagship, and boasted far better communication and intelligence facilities than one could find at sea. Such an idea was, however, not novel; his predecessor, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, had moved his headquarters ashore in the spring of 1941, as had Admiral Thomas C. Hart, Commander in Chief, U.S. Asiatic Fleet, at Manila, P.I., around the same time.

Nimitz clearly possessed tremendous faith in his subordinates, who were nevertheless guided by very clear instructions. His principle of calculated risk is, perhaps, his most brilliant contribution to the battle, in that it precisely and economically conveyed his intentions to his task force commanders. There was no doubt about what they were supposed to do, how they were supposed to do it, and what level of risk was acceptable. Nimitz’s operations plan for the defense of Midway is a model for effective macro-management, spelling out essential tasks in general terms, with a minimum of detail-specific requirements. Nimitz’s plan for the Battle of Midway avoided long-range micro-management and allowed the commanders on the battlefield to make key operational and tactical decisions.

One can contrast the simplicity of Nimitz’s OpPlan with the voluminous orders Yamamoto produced prior to the battle, many of which served little purpose in the final analysis. Nimitz, arguably a better strategist, possessed a clear vision of what he wanted to do – basically, to bring the Kido Butai to battle and to destroy it — and he clearly communicated those intentions to his operational commanders. Good strategy, however, is useless without quality operational commanders who thoroughly understand the plan and are able to put that strategy into action.

Although Naval War College analysts believed that plans needed to be formed in light of enemy capabilities and not intentions, something for which they castigated Yamamoto, Admiral Nimitz’s battle planning benefited enormously from having a very good notion of enemy intentions derived from excellent radio-intelligence. Such precise and economic employment of forces could not have occurred unless he possessed the ability to gather strategic intelligence on the enemy. Indeed, one can argue that the battle would never have taken place at all had Japanese intentions been cloaked in mystery.

Nimitz’s active preparations for the Battle of Midway indeed provided a momentous reception for the enemy, and once he had issued his operations orders, he entrusted the fighting of the battle to subordinates. Knowing your enemy is coming is one thing, but meeting him on the battlefield and defeating him, is altogether another. In the actions of 4-6 June 1942, those subordinates, from flag officer to fighter pilot, more than justified his faith in them. They had written, Nimitz declared afterward, “a glorious page in our history.”

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

 
Jun 6

A Reunion in the Water, Part 2

Thursday, June 6, 2013 2:20 PM

A Reunion In the Water, Part 2

E. R. “Bud” Quam on the Yorktown at Coral Sea and Midway

by Ronald Russell

 (The following post is from the Battle of Midway Roundtable and originally appeared in Veterans Biographies, distributed during the annual Battle of Midway commemoration in San Francisco, June 2006)

At the age of 15, young Bud Quam was severely injured in a hunting accident, and two years later he was nearly lost in a blizzard that inundated the area near his home town of Willmar, Minnesota. Consequently, when his 18th birthday rolled around in 1940, his parents had no reservations about sending him off to the Navy—they thought he might actually be safer there!

After boot camp at Great Lakes, Illinois, Quam was sent directly to the deck force of the USS Yorktown (CV-5). After toiling for some months with the usual drudgery experienced by apprentice seamen on the deck force, he requested a transfer to the Engineering Department and became a striker (trainee) in “E” Division, which was the ship’s electricians and interior communications technicians. His battle station was in the magazine for one of the five-inch guns, and it was a terrifying place to be when a Japanese bomb hit the ship during the Battle of the Coral Sea.

In the Battle of Midway, the tensions mounted tenfold as the ship was battered during two enemy air attacks. “You didn’t feel too scared when you only heard the five-inch guns firing,” he says. “That meant the enemy planes were still pretty far out. Things got a little more tense when the 1.1-inch mounts started up, and then when you heard those machine guns chatter, you knew you were about to get hit.”

When the order to abandon ship came, Quam went into the oily water while still wearing his heavy anti-flash coveralls, required for ammo handlers in the magazine. He was struggling to stay afloat with little success, when he was surprised to be pulled aboard a small raft by ARM3/c Harold Wilger and EM3/c Peter Newberg, both former high school friends from Willmar! Chance had gotten the two men and their raft to Quam, one of nearly 2000 Yorktowners then in the water, at precisely the critical moment. The three were rescued by the destroyer USS Benham (DD-397) and eventually returned to Pearl Harbor.

At Pearl, Quam was reassigned to the USS California (BB-44), salvaged after the Pearl Harbor attack and undergoing repairs. He worked aboard the battleship during its passage to Bremerton for major overhaul, then requested and was granted a transfer to the submarine service. He sailed on war patrols aboard USS Pilotfish (SS-386) until 1944 when he became available for assignment to another sub. An Electrician’s Mate Third Class at the time, he was set to go aboard USS Seawolf (SS-197), when an EM2/c abruptly pulled rank on him and took the billet instead. The Seawolf was lost on its next patrol.

z-vet-quam

Quam at the 64th BOM anniversary commemoration in San Francisco, 2006

 Quam then finished the war aboard USS Segundo (SS-398), serving as the pointer on the five-inch gun during several battle-surface engagements in the Yellow Sea. He left the service in 1947 to begin a long career with the Sperry-Univac corporation, with whom he helped develop computer systems for the Trident missile submarine.

 

 
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