Archive for the 'Wars' Category

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.

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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.

 

 
Jun 6

A Reunion in the Water, Part 1

Thursday, June 6, 2013 2:19 PM

A Reunion In the Water

Peter L. Newberg on the Yorktown at Coral Sea and Midway

by Ronald Russell

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

The small town of Willmar, Minnesota is rather unique with regard to the Battle of Midway, for it is the home town of three of its veterans who by chance all wound up on the same ship during the battle One of the three was Pete Newberg, who joined the Navy on his 18th birthday in order to pursue education opportunities—an interest in amateur radio had fueled a desire for training in a related technical field. Training would have to come later, though, as the Navy needed seamen for its big new carriers. Thus upon completing boot camp in December 1940, Newberg was sent directly to the USS Yorktown (CV-5), where he requested and got assignment to “E” Division, the ship’s electricians.

During his first year aboard the Yorktown, the ship was engaged in neutrality patrols and convoy duty in the Atlantic, but transferred to the Pacific Fleet following the Pearl Harbor attack. Its first major taste of combat occurred in May 1942 in the Coral Sea. Newberg’s battle station was with the flight deck repair party, meaning that he had a front-row view of all the action occurring around the carrier. His most vivid recollection of the Coral Sea was a bizarre incident as darkness fell on the first day of the battle. Two Japanese pilots got their aircraft into the landing pattern for the Yorktown and were all set to trap aboard, thinking they had found their own carrier in the fading light! The first enemy pilot realized his error at the last possible second and abruptly banked away, passing directly over the landing signal officer. Newberg and the other topside personnel could plainly see the bright red insignia on the plane’s wingtips.

Newberg was topside again as Japanese bombs and torpedoes blasted the Yorktown at Midway. He was firing a .30-cal. machine gun on the port side catwalk when one of the torpedoes struck almost directly below him. He’s not certain exactly what happened for several minutes after that, because his next clear memory is of treading water near the listing carrier’s stern, kept afloat by his life jacket. A few minutes later he was amazed to see Harold Wilger, one his friends from Willmar, Minnesota, nearby in a small raft. Wilger was a radioman-gunner in one of the ship’s squadrons and had pulled the two-man raft out of his aircraft before abandoning ship. Newberg swam toward the raft and climbed aboard. Wondering exactly what to do next, the two looked out over the 2000-plus survivors in the water and miraculously spotted the third sailor from their home town, Bud Qualm, also from “E” division. Mere chance had brought the three Willmar men together in the oily water near the stricken Yorktown. Their raft was soon overwhelmed by other survivors, but the three made it to safety aboard the destroyer USS Benham (DD-397).

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

 Upon return to Pearl Harbor, Newberg was transferred to the USS West Virginia (BB-48), raised from the bottom of Pearl Harbor and undergoing repair. He served aboard the battleship for the remainder of the war. After the expiration of his enlistment in 1946, he earned an engineering degree at the University of California and began a lengthy career in the petroleum industry. 

 
Jun 6

Escaping the Yorktown

Thursday, June 6, 2013 9:18 AM

Escaping the Yorktown

Bryan A. Crisman

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)

 As an economics student at the University of Pennsylvania in 1940, Bryan Crisman was intrigued by a notice posted at the university’s school of finance. The solicitation from the U.S. Navy’s Supply Corps promised college graduates a commission in the Naval Reserve. That sounded fine to Bryan, so he signed up and found himself called to active duty only a few months after graduation. After training at the Navy’s Supply Corps school, he initially served aboard USS Ranger (CV-4), then in September 1941 became the disbursing officer and “S” division officer on USS Yorktown (CV-5).

The Yorktown’s first major test in combat came in May 1942 in the Coral Sea, in which it suffered bomb damage from a Japanese air attack. But there was no respite upon returning to Pearl Harbor from that battle—the men worked feverishly to repair the damage and reprovision the ship for a another major operation. As the Yorktown left port, the crew was informed that they were going to take on an enormous Japanese invasion fleet headed for Midway.

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Crisman in 1942, as an ensign aboard USS Yorktown

 As disbursing officer, Ensign Crisman’s assignment before leaving port had been to ensure enough cash was on hand to pay the crew upon arrival at Bremerton, Washington after the forthcoming action at Midway. The ship was slated for an overhaul to permanently repair its Coral Sea damage, and after more than three months away from the states, the men would have a lot of money due at Bremerton. Thus, before departure for Midway, Crisman had under his control over $500,000 in cash that was destined for the bottom of the sea. (That would be the equivalent of more than four million dollars in today’s money!)

Ensign Crisman’s battle station was at Flight Control in the island, which shook violently from three bomb hits as the Battle of Midway commenced. One of the bombs hit at the base of the island, sending billowing smoke into Flight Control. The ship came to a halt as the crew furiously worked to repair damage to the flight deck and get the boilers restarted. Crisman left his battle station at that point to retrieve the vital pay records from the disbursing office, deep in the ship. He bagged and secured them with 200 feet of line to prepare for lowering into a boat, then moved them to his stateroom, which was more accessible in an emergency. (Saving the crew’s pay records was deemed more important than saving the cash!)

He returned to Flight Control, but the ship was struck again by aerial torpedoes, prompting the captain to give the “abandon ship” order. Crisman gathered the bagged pay records and proceeded toward his abandon ship station when he noticed three Marines isolated at their gun mount due to damage to the catwalk at the edge of the flight deck. The catwalk had been peeled up by a torpedo blast, leaving the men no way to exit their battle station. Sacrificing the vital pay records, he threw his 200-foot line to the Marines, tying off one end so that they could free themselves.

Now without his pay records or his line, he encountered an unconscious sailor in a squadron ready room, still alive. With the aid of another officer, the two carried the sailor to the fantail and lowered him into the sea where a third rescuer got him aboard a raft and eventually to safety on a destroyer. Crisman finally lowered himself into the oily water, and after four hours of swimming in a life jacket that was gradually losing its buoyancy, he was taken aboard the USS Anderson (DD-411), along with about 200 other Yorktown survivors. He eventually returned to Pearl Harbor aboard USS Fulton (AS-11). And as for his all-important pay records? The salvage crew aboard the Yorktown wisely rescued them two days later, transferring them for safekeeping to the destroyer USS Hammann (DD-412), tied up alongside. A short while later the Hammann and the Yorktown’s pay records slipped beneath the waves, the result of a Japanese submarine attack!

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Crisman in 2006

Crisman continued to serve in Supply Corps billets for the rest of the war and at its end was the supply officer for the U.S. embassy in London. Eventually promoted to lieutenant commander, he left the Navy in 1956 to commence a long career in real estate.

 
Jun 5

Remembrance of a Rear-Seater

Wednesday, June 5, 2013 6:41 PM

Remembrance of a Rear-Seater

by CAPT N. J.”Dusty” Kleiss, USN-Ret

27 April 2007

Note: the following post is from the Battle of Midway Roundtable andwas a letter from VS-6 pilot “Dusty” Kleiss in response to a Roundtable member seeking information on her uncle. The subject is Aviation Ordnanceman First Class Thurman Swindell, who was killed in his SBD as it dove on the Kaga at Midway.

* * *

Tracy Lewis asked the Roundtable if it could give her more information about her great uncle Thurman Randolf Swindell, AOM1/c, who was KIA in the Battle of Midway. Tracy is interested in knowing this man not only as a relative, but because she is taking a history class in college and must have a paper about a famous person of WWII. The Roundtable passed Tracy’s request to me to determine if I could give any additional information other than that given to her by the Roundtable.

I first met Thurman Swindell in the fall of 1941, when I was given a collateral duty as Education Officer of Scouting Six. One of my first assignments was scoring the official (closely secured) tests for enlisted personnel to meet qualifications to a higher rating. One of the first official tests I examined was for determining the necessary qualifications of moving from 2/c to 1/c status. There were only two enlisted men of Scouting Six who met possible advancement to that difficult promotion. Meeting official tests was not enough. The contenders also had to score on petty officer ratings, approval from their division officer, their executive officer…and they had to obtain approval of Chief Myers. Gaining approval from Chief Myers was about as difficult in reaching Mount Everest without stopping for breath.

Chief Myers, with a small crew, could repair a shot-up plane brought in on an afternoon and have it ready for flying at 0400 next morning; that was after replacing a wing or a tail and checking all items including the compass. If the plane was beyond repair, he would hoist it onto the overhead and bring down a new one and make certain that everything worked. Then he would repaint the plane and put in all markings and insignia. He would do everything except replacing an engine. That chore was left to Chief Dodge. Before the Pearl Harbor attack, Chief Myers’ hair was black. A few months later it was totally gray.

My little black book shows that Swindell made 3.54 on the official exam, 3.8 on petty officer ability, good ratings from all commissioned officers, and an OK from Chief Myers. That was the highest rating ever given by Myers. In contrast, the other applicant for possible advancement to first class made 3.1 on the official exam, a 3.2 rating for petty officer ability, and was not recommended for advancement by the division officer, the executive officer or by Chief Myers.

Douglas SBD Dauntless bombers

SBDs over the burning Japanese cruiser Mikuma, 6 June 1942

Now let me give some indication of what an AOM1/c [Aviation Ordnanceman First Class] was expected to do, and how he must train those under him. On the night of 7 December 1941, our Torpedo Squadron Six and five of us in SBDs (carrying hydrofluoric acid for TBD smoke screen), and some F4F fighters searched late into the night to hit Japanese carriers. We couldn’t find any. Those F4F fighters were shot down by our people on Pearl Harbor. We SBDs landed on our ship ahead of the TBDs. One new TBD pilot, who had never landed on a carrier at night, made a rough landing. The torpedo broke loose, its propeller started twirling, meaning that it was armed and needed only a little bump on the nose to explode. “Slim” Townsend, the flight deck officer, saw it coming towards him at high speed. Slim jumped on it like a bucking bronco, steered it away from the island, and stopped it. Two ordnance men ran to it, disarmed it in two or three seconds, and helped place it on a cart, out of the way, allowing the next plane to land without circling.

 Swindell was not on any SBD of those 7 December 1941 flights. He and his crew were too busy putting depth charges, bombs and ammunition on aircraft. On 20 February 1942, AOM2/c Swindell flew with ENS M. A. Merrill in 6-S-19 on our attack against Wake Island, which had been captured by the Japanese. We sunk one ship in the harbor and damaged another ship as we made a “dog leg” heading back to our Enterprise. (We never went directly back to our ship because that would show the enemy our position.) We were tearing that ship apart, using left over ammunition, when a U.S. cruiser several miles away saw what was happening. She fired one salvo, sinking that ship. Only four Japanese survived. We captured them, interrogated them, and made them the first Japanese prisoners of war. Lots of damage was done to Wake Island from our dive bombers and from shells from our cruisers.

On 4 March 1942 Swindell flew with ENS Merrill in 6-S-3, making an attack on Marcus Island. Based on heavy cloud cover and many AA batteries aiming at us, it was hard to tell how much damage was inflicted on their hangars, storehouses, and oil and gasoline tanks. One thing we knew for certain: we clobbered their radio station. We heard Tokyo repeatedly calling Marcus to answer. They continued for the next 24 hours. Marcus never replied.

A photograph of 13 May 1942 has a caption showing that Swindell was now AOM1/c. Apparently a vacancy had opened for that petty officer slot. Almost always a slot opened only when the previous recipient was lost in battle.

On the morning of 4 June1942, Swindell flew with ENS J. Q. Roberts. I watched them dive on the Kaga, two planes ahead of me. They were in the fifth plane to dive. I never saw them again. I was too busy aiming my bombs on the Kaga. The official battle report states, “forced landing near Kaga.” Neither Roberts nor Swindell were ever found. All available evidence indicates that their plane was shot down by AA gunfire.

It took only four hits, only seconds apart, to demolish the Kaga. Each of us carried a 500-pound bomb and two 100-pound incendiaries. Additional hits were made, but many SBDs had to select other targets because flames and smoke obscured the carrier. The Battle of Midway was won in less than five minutes. That’s all the time it took to make three of the best Japanese carriers into balls of flame.

It might be noted that only the very best people occupied the rear seat of our SBDs in battle. Don Hoff, of Fresno, California, who was a Radioman 3/c at that time, assures me that AOM1/c Swindell had flown numerous previous flights. He was an expert in gunnery, and was capable of operating all the numerous radio equipment in our SBDs. That included knowing how to operate the new YE-ZB homing equipment. Not all SBD plane crews from other carriers were able to operate the new YE-ZB homing system. They landed on the ocean. Fortunately, most of those crews were picked up at the end of the battle.

Statistics show that our dive bombers were the best in the world and they sunk more Japanese military ships than any other method, including attacks by submarines and surface ships. That great method paid a high price. More than half of our original Scouting Six crews were lost in the first six months of WW II. Just imagine sitting on the back seat of an SBD during combat. You would face to the rear, holding twin .30 caliber machine guns, scanning the sky for Zeros, ready to shoot them down before they shoot you. Then, suddenly, you are plunged downward vertically at 250 miles per hour, pushing downward on your seat with a force of one ton at eight “G’s” after the pilot has dropped his bomb. Then you must be ready to aim at more Zeros. Then the pilot tells you to go on the air, or switch to the homing frequency, or give hand signals to nearby crews in Morse code. All of this requires securing the guns, reaching forward, changing radio coils, and moving dials accurately and quickly.

We pilots always received medals when our airplane and crew did something important. The enlisted man in the back seat was rarely mentioned. I would have been killed long ago had it not been for the skills of my RM3/c, John Snowden. As Educational Officer, I had selected him before other pilots noticed his abilities. He scored number one in all categories for promotion, the highest ever recorded in my little black book.

 
Jun 5

Remembering Midway

Wednesday, June 5, 2013 2:21 PM

REMEMBERING MIDWAY

by Captain Roy P. Gee, USN-Ret

(The following post was written for the Battle of Midway Roundtable, in 2003. Note: CAPT Roy P. Gee passed away on 28 DEC 2009)

 Here I am, sitting at my computer, trying to recall the details of my involvement in a great naval battle that was fought 61 years ago. I’m 83 years old and as my recollections of combat fade, I seem to get braver and more heroic than I really ever was. I needed some help in remembering those long-ago events, so I’ve relied upon a letter that I wrote back in 1988 to Bill Vickrey, a Battle of Midway historian, detailing my participation in the battle. In addition, I’ve used certain dates, times, and facts contained in various Battle of Midway logs, reports, and books in order to maintain as much accuracy as I can. My flight log was not recovered when the Hornet was sunk in the Battle of Santa Cruz, which meant that I’d lost the most valuable resource a pilot can have in reporting what he did in the air.

With those qualifications then, here is my story at the Battle of Midway. 

 PREPARATION FOR WAR 

As I grew up in Salt Lake City Utah, I believe I was unknowingly preparing for war. I was a member of the Mormon Church, a very conservative Christian faith. I became a Cub Scout and eventually advanced to the Boy Scout program, where I reached the rank of Eagle Scout. As youngsters, my friends and I played war games between the Yanks and the Huns, or the Chinese. We dug trenches and then went “over the top,” which was a well-known phrase from World War I. That meant that the infantry troops came out of their trenches, rushed up and over their high, protecting walls of dirt and sand bags, and from that position made a frontal assault through “no man’s land” against the enemy’s frontline trenches. I remember playing that game many times in my early youth.

Also, I remember as a youngster having seen several movies about World War I aerial warfare, such as “Wings” and “The Dawn Patrol,” and from that I developed a great desire to learn how to fly an airplane. I visualized myself as a gallant young aviator, flying a Spad fighter, and dog-fighting with Baron Von Ritchhofen (the “Red Baron”) and his bright red Fokker triplane.

I participated in the ROTC program as a platoon commander in high school, and during the summer months I learned infantry strategy and tactics in the Citizens Military Training Program, provided by the U.S. Army at nearby Fort Douglas. I participated in that program during four consecutive summers, graduating as a Sergeant-Major and with a temporary commission as a 2nd lieutenant in the U.S. Army Infantry Reserve Corps.

But I still wanted to fly. During my sophomore year at the University of Utah, I completed an aviation class in pilot training, which was sponsored by the Civilian Pilot Training Program. That program was established by President Roosevelt in order to gather a very large cadre of young pilots who could quickly be inducted into the armed forces whenever necessary. I completed the program and earned a private pilot license.

One day in June of 1940, a U.S. Navy aviation recruiting team came to Salt Lake City. I took their flight physical exam with the belief that if I passed that tough test, I would be a cinch for acceptance by the U.S. Army Air Corps. Instead, as fate would have it, I was skillfully talked into becoming a naval aviator. Because of that decision, the course of my life has led me to this moment in time. I now know that I made the right decision on that June day so long ago.

Upon completing flight school at Pensacola in 1941, I eagerly awaited my orders to see whether I was staying there or going on to Miami. The patrol bomber and cruiser scout pilots were trained at Pensacola, while candidates for any of the fighter or attack squadrons were sent for advanced carrier training at NAS Miami. The orders came—Miami! I was destined for the air group of the brand-new USS Hornet (CV-8). 

DAY OF INFAMY 

Before boarding the Hornet, the air group was stationed at Norfolk, where my roommate was Grant Teats. During the first weekend of December, Grant and I took a trip with two other buddies to Washington, D.C. to see a pro football game between the Washington Redskins and the Philadelphia Eagles. During the course of the game we began hearing announcements for Admiral or General So-and-So to report to the War Department, or for Congressman or Senator So-and-So to report to their offices at the Capitol. There was a suspenseful feeling throughout the stadium that something awful had happened. Our fears came true when a man sitting in our vicinity with a portable radio exclaimed that reports were coming in from Hawaii about Japanese aircraft bombing and torpedoing Navy ships at Pearl Harbor. Many had been sunk or severely damaged. Scores of people quickly left the stadium, as did my three shipmates and me.

We drove back to the Naval Air Station at Norfolk, Virginia, and reported to the squadron duty officer for further orders. We felt nothing but hatred for the Japanese at that moment. Their navy had carried out a very dastardly and cowardly sneak attack against our navy on the morning of the Sabbath. President Roosevelt put the attack in perspective: “December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy!” When our country declared war on Japan and Germany in the following days, I was both mentally and physically prepared to do my duty to God and my country.

The Hornet pilots were like a group of race horses chomping at the bit. We were in a big hurry to get into combat against those “dirty Japs” who had attacked us in such a devious manner. In retrospect, though, I think that I wasn’t fully aware at that time of the enormity of the situation or the realities of war. 

ABOARD THE HORNET 

After the Hornet launched Jimmy Doolittle’s B-25s on 18 April 1942, task force commander RADM “Bull” Halsey, in the flagship USS Enterprise, ordered a 180 degree reversal of course back towards Hawaii. Our aircraft were moved from the hanger deck to the flight deck, and we pilots were able to get in a little flight time. I was with Bombing Squadron 8 (VB-8) while my former roommate Grant Teats had been assigned to Torpedo Squadron 8 (VT-8). Our two squadrons plus Fighting 8 (VF-8) and Scouting 8 (VS-8) flew CAP and search missions during the 7-day transit back to Hawaii.

g66129USS Hornet

USS Hornet att Pearl Harbor, 26 May 1942, just after the Battle of Coral Sea, and just before the Battle of Midway.

On the 25th of April, as Hornet approached Pearl Harbor, the air group flew to Ewa airfield on Oahu. After the fly-off, Hornet proceeded to its berth at Pearl Harbor. After four days in port, Hornet departed Pearl on the 30th, recovered the air group, and steamed to the South Pacific in order to aid USS Yorktown (CV-5) and USS Lexington (CV-2) at the Battle of the Coral Sea. While en route, the pilots of VB-8 and VS-8 flew many 200-mile search missions. During one such mission, LT(jg) Randal Gardner and his radioman-gunner (R/G) from VB-8 failed to return. They were never found.

The Battle of the Coral Sea was over before Hornet reached the scene, so the ship was ordered to return to Hawaii. We flew still more searches on the return leg, and tragedy struck VB-8 again when ENS Louis J. Muery and his R/G, Richter, failed to return. We later learned that they made a forced landing in the water as a result of engine failure and had spent 23 days in a rubber life raft before washing into the rough surf of an island. The raft capsized in the surf, and as the two weakened survivors struggled to get ashore, Richter drowned. Muery was later rescued.

Hornet arrived at Pearl on May 26th, but sailed again only two days later—we and our sister carriers were to repulse an expected Japanese fleet assault against Midway Atoll. 

PLOTTING THE ENEMY’S COURSE 

We went to general quarters at 0630 on the morning of June 4th. All Hornet pilots and crewmen were at flight quarters in their ready rooms. A PBY flying from Midway had spotted the Japanese task force. The teletype in VB-8’s ready room was steadily clicking away with navigational data that I diligently copied to my chart board, as did the other VB-8 pilots. The required information consisted of following elements: (1) enemy position, course, and speed, (2) own task force position, course, and speed, (3) wind speed on the surface and at various altitudes, (4) latitude and longitude of the operational area plus magnetic compass variation. Using these four elements, each pilot was responsible to prepare his own navigational solution for flying a relative motion course to intercept and attack the enemy, and also the return course back to our carrier.

CHAG (Commander, Hornet Air Group: Stanhope C. Ring) had his own navigation solution, as did our VB-8 CO, LCDR Ruff Johnson, the VS-8 CO, LCDR Walt Rodee, and the VT-8 CO, LCDR John Waldron. The VF-8 CO, LCDR Mitchell remarked that he would use the solution that was chosen. The squadron COs’ solutions were different from CHAG’s, but he overruled them and said that the air group would fly his navigational solution. LCDR Waldron strongly disagreed. (The conflict over our proposed navigation was explained in my 1988 letter to Bill Vickrey, and is reported on page 84 of A Glorious Page In Our History, published in 1990. Waldron subsequently decided that he’d follow his own solution, and told his Torpedo 8 boys to follow him—he would lead them to the enemy.) 

“PILOTS MAN YOUR PLANES” 

Suddenly, “Pilots Man Your Planes” was announced. We all wished each other good luck as we left the ready room for the climb to the flight deck and our SBDs. (And by the way, climbing up and down the ship ladders many times a day will get you in great physical condition! Carriers didn’t have escalators in those days.)

I met my R/G, Radioman First Class Canfield at our assigned SBD and went over our mission and recognition charts with him. I don’t know which particular aircraft (side number) we flew that day—my only record of that went down with the Hornet at the Battle of Santa Cruz.

After completing an inspection of the aircraft and its bomb, Canfield and I climbed into the cockpits. As I sat there waiting for the signal to start engines, I suddenly got the same feeling of apprehension and butterflies in the stomach that I got before the start of competition in high school and collegiate athletics. The butterflies left after takeoff as I focused on navigating and flying formation. Our two squadrons (VB-8 and VS-8) rendezvoused in two close-knit, stepped-down formations on each side of CHAG’s section, which consisted of CHAG and VS-8 wingman ENS Ben Tappman and VB-8 wingman ENS Clayton Fisher. CHAG’s section was flying above and somewhat separated from VB-8/VS-8 and was escorted by 10 VF-8 F4Fs. As we proceeded to climb to 19,000 ft, we soon lost visual contact with VT-8. We were maintaining absolute radio silence and were on oxygen, and our engines were on high blower. I eased my fuel mixture control back to a leaner blend in order to conserve fuel as we leveled out at 19,000 feet and proceeded on our assigned course.

We continued flying on a westerly heading for some time and were getting close to our point of no return without seeing anything of the Japanese fleet. LCDR Johnson decided to break away and fly towards Midway because some of our pilots didn’t have enough fuel to return to the Hornet. So we left CHAG, VS-8, and VF-8 and flew to Midway. Shortly after we turned towards Midway, LT Tucker, for some reason, turned his section of 3 SBDs away and headed in an easterly direction. As the remaining 14 VB-8 SBDs headed towards Midway, ENS Guillory suffered engine failure and made a forced water landing. He and his R/G, ARM2/c Cottrell were observed to safely leave the aircraft and get into a life raft. They were later rescued by a PBY.

As we approached Midway, the skipper signaled us to jettison bombs. Afterwards, as we continued our approach to the Eastern Island airfield, we received sporadic AA fire that caused minor damage to some of the planes, but it quickly ceased after our SBDs were recognized as friendly. Shortly thereafter, ENS T. J. Wood ran out of gas. He and his R/G, ARM3/c Martz were safely rescued after ditching their aircraft. ENS Forrester Auman ran out of fuel on his landing approach and safely ditched in the lagoon, where he and his R/G, ARM3/c McLean were rescued by a PT boat. After the remaining 11 SBDs had landed, we taxied to an area where our aircraft were refueled and rearmed with 500 lb. bombs. Refueling from gasoline drums was necessary due to fuel trucks being damaged from the Japanese air attack. The runways had not been damaged, but certain buildings and the water system had been hit.

Midway Air Operations had notified Hornet of the arrival of VB-8 at Midway. LCDR Johnson was ordered to return to the ship and to attack any Japanese ships that we might find while en route. So we departed Midway and returned to the Hornet without incident. We were recovered aboard at about 1400 with our 500 lb. bombs intact. When I entered the VB-8 ready-room, I was shocked to learn that none of VT-8’s 15 TBDs nor VF-8’s 10 F4Fs had returned, and that all the crews had been declared MIA. I went to the wardroom to get something to eat and paused to look at the empty chairs that were normally filled by my friends from VF-8 and VT-8. It was a sorrowful site, but I could only dwell on it for a moment—the announcement came for all VB-8 pilots to report to the ready room immediately.

 ATTACKING THE HIRYU

 Upon entering the ready room, I was informed that we were launching on a mission to attack the Japanese Carrier Hiryu. The attack group would consist of 9 VS-8 SBDs carrying 1000 lb. bombs and 7 VB-8 SBDs carrying the 500 lb. bombs that we’d loaded on Midway. No VF escort would be available. The enemy ships were located approximately 162 miles out, bearing 290 degrees. I plotted my course for intercepting the enemy formation and returning to the Hornet. LT(jg) Bates, the VB-8 flight leader for this mission, briefed us on tactics for the strike. We were ready to go.

Since we’d seen no action that morning, I thought that this could be VB-8’s first exposure to real combat. We were ordered to man our planes at about 1540. I met Canfield at our SBD for the second time that day, and we completed our same routine and boarded the aircraft. We went through the takeoff checklist after I started the engine, then we were ready to roll when our turn came. As I approached the take-off position, I was given the stop signal followed by the hold brakes signal, and was then handed over to the Takeoff Control Officer (TCO), who held a stick with a brightly colored flag in his right hand. When the deck ahead was clear, the TCO rotated the flag above his head, which was the signal for me to rev the engine to full takeoff power while holding the brakes and keeping the tail down with the elevators in the full-up position. The TCO made eye contact with me, then suddenly bent forward on his knee, pointing the flag towards the bow. That was my signal to release the brakes and let ‘er rip. It’s an exhilarating way to take off in an airplane, and old-time carrier pilots can recount many interesting tales.

We were safely airborne and proceeding to our rendezvous point. Our VB-8 SBDs, led by LT(jg) Bates joined up with VS-8 and LT Stebbins, who was the strike leader. The Enterprise had also launched a much larger strike group about 30 minutes before ours.

By the time we arrived in the target area, the Enterprise group had already finished their strike. That had cleared the upper altitudes of Zeroes, leaving our approach over the enemy force unopposed. The Hiryu was observed to be completely on fire, so LT Stebbins directed us toward other suitable targets. He took VS-8 toward one while signaling LT(jg) Bates that our squadron was to bomb a nearby cruiser. We maneuvered to make our attack out of the sun from 15,000 ft. There were puffs of AA fire all around us.

Hiryu (2)

Japanese aircraft carrier Hiryu burning, 5 June 1942. NHHC Photographic Collection #NH73064

Just as we were approaching the dive point, we noticed several explosions on the ocean’s surface, quite some distance from the target. Looking up, we saw a flight of B-17s high above us. They’d dropped their bomb loads right through our formation, missing us as well as the enemy ships!

We then tailed off into our dives. LT(jg) Bates had the lead plane (bomb 50 ft. off the starboard bow) followed by ENS Nickerson (100 ft. astern). I was next (hit astern). The second section dove next with ENS White first (miss), followed by ENS Friez (miss wide), followed by ENS Barrett (hit on starboard quarter), followed lastly by ENS Fisher (no release). During the dive, what looked like orange balls were popping up at me and continued coming from all directions during my high-speed retirement at sea level. Following the strike, all 16 of Hornet’s SBDs rendezvoused unscathed and returned to the ship, landing back aboard at dusk. VB-8 had at last lost its combat virginity.

 TRAGEDY ON THE FLIGHT DECK 

The Hornet’s deck log reported the following remarks on Friday, 5 June 1942: 

“Zone Description: plus 10

0 to 4

Ship darkened and in readiness condition three.

0110: held funeral service and buried the remains of the late Lieutenant R.R. INGERSOLL, U.S. Navy; the late CUMMINGS, W.B. JR. Pvt, USMC; the late HUMFLEET, L. E., Pvt, USMC; the late IGNATIUS, W.B. SGT, USMC; and late MAYER, E.A. Sea. 2c, USN, in Latitude 30 degrees- 19′ N, Longitude 174 degrees- 52′ W.” 

Thus, the Hornet’s deck log recorded the final resting place of five brave men who were mortally wounded at their battle stations during a tragic landing accident that had occurred the day before. Radar had observed many bogeys in the direction of Yorktown, which was reporting that she was under attack by enemy aircraft. The sky in her direction was filled with AA bursts. As the attack subsided, Yorktown’s fighters were low on gas and ammo and were ordered to land on either Hornet or Enterprise. A wounded pilot flying F4F, side number 5-F-4, crashed on landing aboard Hornet, which caused the plane’s machine guns to accidentally fire. That resulted in the five deaths noted above in the ship’s log, and it also wounded 20 other men at their battle stations.

 SEARCHING 

Hornet went to general quarters for an hour at 0530 on the morning of June 5th. Thereafter, readiness condition 2 was set in order to await strike scheduling from CTF 16, and by late afternoon we had been in the ready room for most of the day. Readiness condition 2 allowed the pilots to leave the ready room for meals so long as we kept updating our chart boards with the latest navigational data reported on the teletype.

A mission assignment from CTF 16 finally came in at about 1700. We were tasked to search for and attack a damaged Japanese aircraft carrier and its escorting ships bearing 315 degrees, about 300 miles out and on a westerly course with a speed of 12 knots. At about 1730, I launched in SBD no. 8-B-8 with an eleven-plane strike group consisting of CHAG and ten VB-8 SBDs. Clay Fisher was again flying CHAG’s wing, and our skipper, LCDR Ruff Johnson was leading a nine-plane division of three stepped-down sections, slightly separated from CHAG and Fisher. LT Tucker’s section was flying loosely on the LCDR Johnson’s left, while LT Moe Vose had positioned his 3rd section aft of Tucker’s and stepped down to facilitate maneuvering. I was flying number 3 on the right wing of Vose, and LT John Lynch was number 2 on his left wing.

We proceeded on course at 18,000 feet to search for our target. After about an hour, five B-17’s were sighted apparently returning to Midway. We continued on course, and at about 1910 a lone enemy cruiser was sighted heading west. We passed it by in order to locate the damaged carrier, but to no avail. At our maximum range, CHAG reversed course back toward the cruiser we’d previously sighted. We found it again shortly after 2000, and it began to increase speed and send up AA fire as we formed to attack. We followed CHAG down toward the cruiser, which skillfully maneuvered to avoid our bombs. CHAG’s bomb failed to release and none of the other ten hit the ship, although there were several near-misses.

We all turned toward home with little attempt to rendezvous after our dives. I was able to form up with Vose, and we flew back toward the Hornet together. By the time we approached the task force, darkness had enveloped the ships and it didn’t seem that a deck landing would be possible. Suddenly their lights came on and we were ordered to land. I followed LT Vose into the landing pattern, and Canfield and I went over the carrier landing checklist: wheels down and locked, flaps down, tailhook extended. I picked up the LSO and his lighted wands as I turned into the groove. My approach speed was good, but I was a little high. The LSO gave the high-dip signal, meaning I was to drop the nose, come down about ten feet, and resume my approach attitude. The LSO then gave me the Roger signal, followed shortly by the cut engine signal, and I landed the aircraft, catching the third wire. This was my first night carrier landing in the SBD, and I felt very good.

After my tailhook was cleared from the arresting wire and put in the up position, I revved the engine in order to quickly clear the landing area and move forward so that the barriers could be raised in time for the next plane to land. After the propeller stopped turning and the wheels were chocked, Canfield and I climbed down and proceeded to our ready rooms. As I went through the hatch and down the ladder, I felt uncomfortable with the surrounding bulkheads and passageways. Somehow, they looked strangely unfamiliar. And for good reason—as I entered what I though was VB-8’s ready room, I discovered that I’d landed on our sister ship, the Enterprise! And of course, LT Vose had done the same thing.

They told me I’d be assigned to fly another search on the following morning, so I was billeted in a room and told to go to sleep. Although three additional Hornet pilots (ENS Doug Carter of VB-8, ENS Jim Forbes of VS-8, and one other whose name I don’t remember) had also landed aboard Enterprise, I don’t recall having any contact with them while aboard.

 MOGAMI AND MIKUMA 

I awoke about 0500 on June 6th and remembered that I was on Enterprise and scheduled to fly a 200-mile search that morning. I hopped out of the bunk, washed myself a little, slipped into my flight suit, and hurried to the wardroom for breakfast where I encountered an atmosphere similar to the one in the Hornet’s wardroom the previous morning: many missing pilots would never again sit in the empty chairs. I have never forgotten that feeling.

I finished breakfast and went quickly to the ready room to prepare for the mission. The search group was launched at 0700, and Canfield and I were flying a sector to the southwest at 1500 ft. I was on autopilot, making it easy to keep track of my relative position from the task force as the search proceeded. After about an hour I noticed several silhouettes on the horizon ahead. As the distance closed, I could see that they were four ships in formation on a southwesterly course. I dropped down to 800 ft. and tracked them for several minutes in order to record their position, course, and speed, and also to determine their ship class from my IJN silhouette cards. The two larger ships were cruisers with pagoda-type superstructures, and the other two were destroyers. (I later learned that the two larger ones were the Japanese heavy cruisers Mogami and Mikuma.)

Remaining at a safe distance out of AA range, I dictated a message for CTF 16 to Canfield. The message contained the enemy formation’s composition, relative position, course, and speed. Canfield sent the message by radio but got no confirmation that it had been received. He was concerned that a problem with his radio transmitter might have prevented the task force from receiving the message. It was already 0835 and I decided to get out of there and back to task force ASAP. Arriving over the Enterprise at about 0930, I dropped them a message containing the data on the enemy cruiser formation that we’d located. I then returned to the Hornet’s air pattern to await recovery. After she launched a strike group, I was recovered aboard at about 1015. I proceeded to the bridge in order to brief RADM Mitscher on the details of my sighting. After reporting to the VB-8 ready room, I was told that I wouldn’t be flying any more that day.

 FINAL PATROL 

No flights had been scheduled for the VB-8/VS-8 pilots on June 7th, although half of us were on standby in our ready rooms from 0600-1300 while the other half did the same thing from 1300-1900. Our SBDs were also on standby, loaded with 500 lb. bombs and machine gun ammo. On June 8th we were tasked to provide intermediate air patrols covering sectors up to 50 miles out from Task Force 16 during ship refueling operations. I launched in 8-B-7 at 1340 to fly an intermediate patrol, and after a time I spotted a life raft with one man in it. I rocked my wings to let him know that I saw him and tried reporting his bearing and distance to CTF 16, but once again Canfield got no response. I noticed that I wasn’t receiving a ZB homing signal either. I reversed my course in order to fly back toward the task force, but it had become enveloped in a local storm and I couldn’t see it. With my ZB inoperative, I didn’t want to waste fuel waiting for the ships to break clear of the weather, so I decided to fly to Midway. I radioed CTF 16 with my decision and reasoning, and changed course for Midway, which wasn’t far.

I was directed to taxi to the Marine Air Group area upon landing, where Canfield and I reported to the air group commander, Lt. Col. Ira Kimes. He informed us that we would be temporarily assigned to the Marine bombing squadron pending further orders. A message was sent to the Hornet notifying them of our safe arrival on the island, and a reply was received that we were to turn our SBD over to the Marines and to await sea transport to back to Pearl Harbor.

Gee2005

Gee in 2005

z-vet-fishgee

Roy Gee (at right) with squadron mate Clay Fisher, 1941

Around June 20th, USS Pensacola (CA-24) put into Midway in order to pick up wounded personnel and other survivors of the battle for transport to back to Pearl Harbor. Canfield and I boarded the cruiser for the short transit to Hawaii, and rejoined our squadron a few days later. While en route, I asked the Pensacola’s communications officer about Canfield’s transmission concerning the man I’d spotted in the life raft. He did some checking and later told me the message had been copied and the man was rescued. I felt very relieved, but I never found out his name.

 

 

Editor’s note: In Gee’s narrative above, he reports two hits on a cruiser during the Hiryu mission, one by himself and one by ENS Barrett. Japanese records did not record a hit on any of the Hiryu’s screening vessels on the afternoon of June 4th, but Gee’s bomb was seen to strike a cruiser by his section leader, his R/G, and by ENS Fisher. Gee was awarded the Navy Cross for this action.

 
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