Archive for the 'World War II' Category

Jun 5

D-Day invasion of Normandy Q & A

Thursday, June 5, 2014 9:34 PM

Capt. Henry Hendrix, (Ph.D) Naval History and Heritage Command director and Robert Cressman, NHHC historian answer questions about the D-Day invasion of Normandy, codenamed Operation Neptune in this four part series.

 

Question 1: How important was the element of surprise during D-Day operations?

Question 2: How does D-Day compare to how we conduct joint partnership/ combined operations today?

Question 3: In terms of logistics what did it take to pull off the D-Day invasion?

Question 4: How important was naval gunfire support during D-Day – the invasion of Normandy?

Question 5: What could the Navy have done differently during D-Day?

Stay tuned for more great content celebrating the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.

 
Apr 18

Doolittle Raid – Lesson in joint innovation, resilience

Friday, April 18, 2014 7:18 AM

Editors Note: The first portion of this blog comes from Rear Adm. Rick Williams, with the second portion from NHHC for a more in-depth historical perspective. Friday is the 72nd anniversary of the Doolittle Raid, an early example of joint operations led by Army Air Force and Navy. Rear Adm. Williams is commander, Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific, where he has oversight of all surface ships home-ported in Hawaii as well as two key installations. As CNRH, he oversees Pacific Missile Range Facility, Kauai and Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, where the Air Force and Navy serve side-by-side today.

Lesson in joint innovation, resilience

 

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

Less than 19 weeks after the U.S. Navy was attacked at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the American military struck back. On April 18, 1942 – 72 years ago today – sixteen Army Air Force bombers launched from a Navy aircraft carrier to attack the enemy’s homeland.

Led by Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, the raid was launched from USS Hornet, commanded by Capt. Marc Mitscher and escorted by ships under the command of Vice Adm. “Bull” Halsey aboard his flagship, USS Enterprise.

The extraordinary joint Doolittle Raid showed Imperial Japan’s military leaders their vulnerability and America’s resolve.

The raid also demonstrated innovation, courage and resilience.

The five-man B-25 crews trained relentlessly prior to their mission, with specialized training led by Navy flight instructor Lt. Henry F. Miller. The Army Air Force made ingenious modifications so the bombers could have extra fuel but less weight.

Pilots, all volunteers, needed to be extremely fearless, taking off in their huge planes from a short flight deck. On rough seas they launched in bitter cold, 75-knot winds and foam-flecked spray, as Sailors aboard recalled.

Doolittle, as his team’s leader, took off first. His success inspired the other pilots just as their entire mission would inspire the nation – putting action to the nationwide words of resolve heard throughout the world: “Remember Pearl Harbor!”

The innovation, courage and resilience demonstrated by Halsey and Doolittle and countless others carried over into the weeks and months that followed – first in the Battle of the Coral Sea and then, in the big turning point of the War in the Pacific – the Battle of Midway.

Historians tell us that the Doolittle Raid contributed strategically to our victory at Midway, as the enemy felt humiliated and overextended to try to prevent another attack on their homeland.

The Doolittle Raid is also an early example of the evolution of “air sea battle,” integrating air and naval capabilities across domains, where collaboration and cooperation helped win the day – and eventually win the war. We remember the heroes of the Doolittle Raid.

This strategically important event is particularly meaningful to our joint team today. This uniquely shared accomplishment is a reminder of what we have the potential to accomplish when we mutually support each other.

 

USS Hornet (CV 8) launches Army Air Force B-25B bombers, at the start of the first U.S. air raid on the Japanese home islands, April 18, 1942. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives - Courtesy of the NHHC Photo archives.)

USS Hornet (CV 8) launches Army Air Force B-25B bombers, at the start of the first U.S. air raid on the Japanese home islands, April 18, 1942. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives – Courtesy of the NHHC Photo archives.)

The Doolittle Raiders – The Mission

By Naval History and Heritage Command

 

On April 18, 1942, it was a “nice sun-shiny day overcast with anti-aircraft fire,” according to Army Air Force Tech. Sgt. Eldred V. Scott.

Over Tokyo, anyway.

Scott’s weather quip signaled the near completion of the Doolittle Raiders’ mission on that day 72 years ago today. But it was just the beginning of the unknown for the 80 men and their 16 planes.

Seven of those airmen would never return home. None of the planes did. While the bombing mission itself was relatively minor in terms of damage inflicted, the raid set into motion what would become a pivotal naval victory for the U. S. at the Battle of Midway.

The Doolittle Raid featured Army Air Force pilots and planes, but it was a joint effort with the Navy. The raid itself was concocted by Navy Capt. Francis Lowe. Another Navy officer, Lt. Henry L. Miller, is one of two men named as “Honorary Tokyo Raiders.” Miller supervised the take-off training the pilots received at Eglin Field, Fla., and was there for the raid launch. The other was Tung Sheng Liu, a Chinese engineer who helped several Tokyo Raiders escape to safety.

And it was the Navy that provided the transportation – via USS Hornet  (CV 8) and her escorts – to the launch point.

The Navy wasn’t without its losses for the Tokyo Raid. One patrol plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire, landing in the water, but the crew was recovered uninjured. Another patrol plane was lost during patrol operations, with both the plane and crew lost. And during the hour-long launch, a Sailor lost his arm after being hit by the final B-25 when it rolled backward out of position, striking him with its propeller.

From Conception to Launch

After Pearl Harbor, there was pressure from the commander-in-chief to strike back at Japan. Using carrier-capable aircraft to strike the enemy’s homeland would put a carrier task force into harm’s way for a counterattack, since the lighter Navy planes didn’t have the range of land-based bomb-delivering aircraft. And with only three aircraft carriers left in the Pacific fleet after Pearl Harbor, the U.S. needed to protect every asset.

Navy Capt. Francis Lowe, assigned to U.S. Fleet Commander Adm. Ernest J. King, had seen B-25s taking off from Norfolk, Va., using airstrips shaped a little like a carrier deck, minus the rolling waves. The Mitchell medium bombers, which had never been used in combat before, had the range and the wing-span that would allow for carrier takeoff. Lt. Col. James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle, an air racer who had helped develop instrument flying, was brought in to investigate the feasibility of such a mission, along with Adm. King’s Air Ops officer, Capt. Donald B. “Wu” Duncan.

The newly-commissioned aircraft carrier Hornet left Norfolk under the command of Capt. Marc Mitscher to join a convoy to the Panama Canal. Meanwhile Doolittle had chosen his raiders, 5-man crews for the 16 planes, and was training for 500-foot takeoffs at Eglin Field, Fla., under the guidance of Lt. Miller. At the end of March, Hornet docked at Alameda, Calif. Using cranes, 16 B-25s were loaded onto the ship’s deck. With all of the planes loaded and lashed to the deck, the Hornet moored in the bay for the night. It was April 1.

The following morning, Hornet’s crew was made aware of their mission.

Army B-52's onboard the USS Hornet while en route to their launching point April 18, 1942. (NH 53426 Courtesy of the NHHC Photo archives)

Army B-25′s onboard the USS Hornet while en route to their launching point April 18, 1942. (NH 53426 Courtesy of the NHHC Photo archives)

On April 7, naval operation plan No. 20-42 was issued, creating Task Force 16, with Task Group 16.1 under Vice Adm. William “Bull” Halsey with flagship carrier Enterprise (CV 6) and her escorts. Task Group 16.2 was headed by Capt. Mitscher with his carrier Hornet (CV 8) and her escorts.

The instructions were simple. Proceed after joining up to carry out the attack; upon completion return to Pearl Harbor; destroy enemy forces as long as it doesn’t jeopardize the attack. The two task groups met up April 13 and proceeded to steam toward a point 500 miles east of Tokyo, where they would launch the attack.

To prepare each B-25, loaded with a one-ton bomb, for its mission and flight to a safe zone in China, engineers removed the tail gunner section, painting broomsticks to look like machine guns. A rubber fuel tank was installed in the tail section, along with 10 5-gallon gas cans for manual fuel addition during the flight to a tank installed where the lower gun turret was, and a larger tank located in the bomb bay. The total fuel payload was 1,141 gallons for a 2,000-mile range.

Air patrols scouted the sea looking for enemy ships that could relay their location back to Japan, and submarines Trout and Thresher kept a steady surveillance.

After plowing through gale-force winds of 36 knots during the afternoon of April 17, enemy vessels were picked up on radar at 3:12 a.m. April 18. A light on the horizon confirmed their presence. The task group changed direction by 350 degrees and 30 minutes later, the vessels left the radar screen.

At 7:15 a.m., an Enterprise search plane reported an enemy patrol vessel and the task force sighted it at 7:44 a.m. Nashville dispatched the vessel with gunfire. Over concern the vessel had alerted the Japanese of their presence, Doolittle decided to launch the planes immediately, still 400 miles from their original launch destination.

The first B-25, flown by Lt. Col. Doolittle, launched at 8:20 a.m. The take-offs were timed for when the ship’s bow pitched highest to give the Mitchell more loft. The average time between takeoffs was less than four minutes. The last B-25 left at 9:19 a.m.

Around 2 p.m., aircraft from Enterprise picked up two more enemy vessels, sinking one and damaging the other.

It wasn’t until after the war the Navy was able to confirm crew on the patrol boat had alerted the Japanese of their location. But when they requested confirmation, there was no answer since the vessel had already been sunk. Getting no response, the Japanese government chose to ignore the message.

The Doolittle Raiders faced some resistance from antiaircraft fire, but most were able to hit their 10 civilian and military targets in Japan. The repercussions of the U.S. hitting the Japanese homeland set in motion a tsunami-like strategic response that would ultimately change the tides of war to an American victory.

Army Air Force Raid That Set Up Naval Victory

After Doolittle’s Raiders dropped bombs on Tokyo, the Japanese military reaction was swift and vengeful. Japanese Combined Fleet commander Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto decided to strike the United States’ mid-Pacific base at Midway atoll and turn it into a Japanese air field. Yamamoto knew the U.S. had insufficient strength to defeat his Royal Imperial Navy, which could generally choose where and when to attack.

The Americans, however, had deduced Yamamoto’s attack through communications intelligence. Adm. Chester Nimitz, the U.S. Pacific Fleet commander, established an ambush and was waiting for the Imperial Navy. The second of the Pacific War’s great carrier battles began June 4, 1942, and by the end, Yamamoto’s forces lost four fleet carriers compared to just one for the United States.

The Battle of Midway had leveled the naval playing field for the American naval force. The base at Midway, though damaged by Japanese air attack, remained operational and later became a vital component in the American trans-Pacific offensive, which soon had the Japanese Imperial Navy on the ropes.

An Army Air Force B-25B bomber takes off from USS Hornet (CV 8) at the start of the raid, April 18, 1942. Note men watching from the signal lamp platform at right. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives - Courtesy of the NHHC Photo archives)

An Army Air Force B-25B bomber takes off from USS Hornet (CV 8) at the start of the raid, April 18, 1942. Note men watching from the signal lamp platform at right. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives – Courtesy of the NHHC Photo archives)

Best Laid Plans…

After completing their bombing mission, finding safe haven would be the Raiders’ toughest task. Taking off 400 miles sooner than planned had the planes nearly empty on fuel as they headed toward China. Of the 16 planes, 15 either crash-landed or crew bailed out. Only one plane landed – in Russia – where the crew was held as prisoners with liberal privileges. They escaped 13 months after the raid to a British consulate in Iran.

Seven Doolittle Raiders were killed in the mission: Two drowned and a third was killed by the fall after bailing out; eight were captured by the Japanese. Three of the eight POWs were executed Oct. 15, 1942, and another died of malnutrition Dec. 1, 1943. The surviving four POWs were released in August 1945.

The Raiders who landed in China were assisted by American missionary Rev. John M. Birch, whose contacts within Japanese-occupied China helped the Raiders to escape. Afterward, Birch was commissioned a lieutenant in the Army Air Force, continuing his work as a missionary while gathering intelligence on the Japanese. He was killed Aug. 25, 1945, at the age of 27, during a confrontation with Chinese Communists. The John Birch Society honors Birch, a recipient of both the Legion of Merit and the Distinguished Service Medal.

Even though the Doolittle Raiders bombed Tokyo, it was the Chinese who suffered the most from the raid. Furious the Chinese nationalists were protecting the Americans, the Japanese retaliated against several coastal cities suspected of harboring the Americans, killing an estimated 250,000 Chinese citizens.

Doolittle was so convinced his mission had been a failure, he was convinced he would face a court-martial upon his return to the United States. Instead, he was promoted to general, skipping the rank of colonel. He and all of his Raiders were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Mitscher served in a variety of command leadership positions for the rest of World War II, earning the rank of admiral and title as Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet.

Capt. Lowe, a submariner, was promoted to rear admiral and as Chief of Staff of the 10th Fleet, guided the Atlantic anti-submarine effort. He was also commander of the Cruiser Division 16, which supported the Okinawa invasion and participated in several strikes against the Japanese. After the war, he supervised the surrender and neutralization of Japanese installations in the Pacific. By his retirement in 1956, Lowe had achieved the rank of admiral due to his leadership and combat actions.

Flight instructor Miller earned a Legion of Merit for his duties in training the Doolittle Raider pilots. He served with distinction throughout his career in the Navy, serving in Vietnam and launching the first aircraft carrier strikes on North Vietnam from the decks of Ranger (CV 61), Coral Sea (CV 43) and Hancock (CV 19). On Dec. 2, 1965, he engaged the first nuclear powered Task Force Enterprise (CVN 65) and Bainbridge (DLGN 25) against Vietnam. Miller retired as a Rear Admiral in 1971.

Just weeks after Doolittle’s Raiders flew off her deck, Hornet fought gallantly in the Battle of Midway, where her aircraft shared in the sinking of a Japanese cruiser. During the fight for Guadalcanal, Hornet was the only remaining operational carrier to oppose the enemy.

It was during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, while Hornet’s aircraft attacked and damaged a Japanese carrier, the carrier suffered irreparable damage from torpedoes and kamikazes. After her crew was forced to abandon ship and American attempts to scuttle her failed, Hornet remained afloat until she was torpedoed and sunk by Japanese ships Oct. 27, 1942.

Of the more than 260 American deaths during the battle, 118 came from Hornet, the last U.S. fleet carrier ever sunk by enemy fire.

Hornet was awarded four service stars for her World War II action and Torpedo Squadron 8 earned a Presidential Unit Citation for extraordinary heroism during the Battle of Midway.

As for Tech. Sgt. Scott, he successfully bailed out over Chun King, China. Upon his return to the U.S. in Aug. 1942, Scott entered officer candidate school, and then served overseas as an aircraft maintenance officer for the rest of World War II, and through both the Korean and Cold wars, retiring from active duty in 1959 as a lieutenant colonel. He died in 1978 at the age of 71.

Brig. Gen. James Doolittle poses beside an Air Corps recruiting poster that alludes to his bombing raid on Japan in April 1942. (c) 1943

Brig. Gen. James Doolittle poses beside an Air Corps recruiting poster that alludes to his bombing raid on Japan in April 1942. (c) 1943

 
Jan 3

Return of USS HOUSTON Artifacts to NHHC

Friday, January 3, 2014 11:41 AM

Last week, the Naval History & Heritage Command (NHHC) Underwater Archaeology Branch (UAB) received a trumpet and ceramic cup and saucer from World War II cruiser USS HOUSTON. The artifacts were returned to the US Naval Attaché in Canberra, Australia after their unsanctioned removal from the wreck site and made a journey of more than 10,000 miles to reach NHHC headquarters in Washington, DC. The artifacts will undergo documentation, research and conservation treatment at the UAB Archaeology & Conservation Laboratory.

Trumpet and ceramics recovered from USS HOUSTON. (UAB Photo).

Trumpet and ceramics recovered from USS HOUSTON. (UAB Photo).

 

USS HOUSTON, nicknamed the “Galloping Ghost of the Java Coast”, was a Northampton-class heavy cruiser that played an important role in the Pacific during WWII. The ship and her crew saw significant action and served in the Battle of Makassar Strait and the Battle of the Java Sea along with allied vessels from Australia, Britain and the Netherlands. On 1 March 1942, USS HOUSTON, fighting gallantly alongside HMAS PERTH during the Battle of Sunda Strait, was sunk by enemy gunfire and torpedoes, taking the lives of nearly 700 US Navy sailors and Marines. 

 

USS Houston anchored off San Pedro, California, 18 April 1935. Photo # 80-CF-21337-1

USS Houston anchored off San Pedro, California, 18 April 1935. Photo # 80-CF-21337-1.

After nearly 72 years under water off the coast of Indonesia, the wreck of USS HOUSTON remains the property of the US Government and serves as a military gravesite. Underwater sites often allow for excellent preservation of archaeological material, however without conservation treatment after recovery artifacts can suffer permanent damage and sometimes complete destruction from unmitigated physical and chemical stresses. The HOUSTON artifacts are poignant reminders of an incredible chapter in US Navy history and the importance of scientific recovery and preservation for future generations to experience, study and appreciate.

A detail of the trumpet's mother of pearl buttons. (UAB Photo).

A detail of the trumpet’s mother of pearl buttons. (UAB Photo).

 

The safe return of these artifacts to the US Navy is the culmination of collaborative efforts by NHHC, Department of Navy and Department of State colleagues at the US Embassy in Canberra, Australia. NHHC is particularly grateful to CAPT Stewart Holbrook and ETC Jason Vaught for their assistance with the recovery, safe storage and packaging of the artifacts. NHHC also extends its thanks to the Naval Historical Foundation for assistance with the expedited transportation of the artifacts to NHHC for conservation treatment.

 Please stay tuned for further updates on the USS HOUSTON artifacts!

 
Dec 20

First female Navy captain oversaw greatest growth of Nurse Corps

Friday, December 20, 2013 1:22 PM
On Dec. 14, 1945, Capt. Sue Dauser (left) was presented the Distinguished Service Medal by Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, who later served as the first Secretary of Defense. She retired from active duty on Jan. 1, 1946.

On Dec. 14, 1945, Capt. Sue Dauser (left) was presented the
Distinguished Service Medal by Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, who later served as the first Secretary of Defense. She retired from active duty on Jan. 1, 1946.

 

 

By André Sobocinski, U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery historian

This Day in History, Dec. 22, 1942: The First Female Captain in the U.S. Navy

Nurse Corps Superintendent Sue Dauser (1888-1972) was promoted to the “relative rank” of captain, becoming the first woman in United States Navy history to achieve this status, Dec. 22, 1942.[1]

Just two years later, when Public Law No. 238 granted full military “wartime” rank to Navy nurses, Dauser became the first woman commissioned as a captain in the U.S. Navy.

Sue S. Dauser, the fifth Superintendent of the Navy Nurse Corps, which position she held from 1939 until her retirement Jan. 1, 1946. Dauser was the first superintendent to hold the rank of captain.

Sue S. Dauser, the fifth Superintendent of the Navy Nurse
Corps, which position she held from 1939 until her retirement Jan. 1, 1946. Dauser was the first superintendent to hold the rank of captain.

 Throughout her long and accomplished career (1917-1946), Dauser served across the globe, both aboard ship and ashore. In World War I, she acted as chief nurse at the Naval Base Hospital 3, Leith, Scotland, where she oversaw care of both British and American service personnel evacuated from the trenches of the Western Front. Following the war, Dauser earned distinction as one of the first women to serve at sea, serving aboard USS Argonne (1922) as well as the hospital ship USS Relief (1924-1926).

In 1923, Dauser was one of two nurses assigned to duty aboard the transport USS Henderson to care for President Warren G. Harding on his goodwill tour to Alaska. Dauser would later be one of Harding’s attending nurses during his final illness and ultimate death Aug. 2, 1923, in San Francisco, Calif.

Dauser was appointed superintendent of the Navy Nurse Corps, Jan. 30, 1939, following tours of duty at Naval Hospitals Canacao, Philippines; Puget Sound, Wash.; Mare Island, San Diego; and at the Naval Dispensary Long Beach, Calif.

During her tenure as the Navy’s chief nurse, Dauser lead the Nurse Corps through its largest growth — from 439 nurses in 1939 to 10,968 nurses at the close of World War II. By the end of the war, Navy Nurses were serving at 364 stations at home and overseas[2] including fleet hospitals in the Pacific, medical units in North Africa and aboard 12 hospital ships.

 For her administrative achievements and steadfast leadership, Dauser was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal by Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal in December 1945. Her citation read in part: “Captain Dauser maintained a high morale and splendid efficiency in the Navy Nurse Corps, and her constant devotion to duty throughout reflects the highest credit upon herself, her command and the United States Naval Service.”

Dauser retired from service on April 1, 1946. Just a year after her retirement, the Army-Navy Nurses Act (Public Law 36) of April 16, 1947 made the Navy Nurse Corps an official staff corps of the U.S. Navy and gave its members permanent officer status with commensurate pay and allowances. Under this law, Dauser’s former position of “Superintendent” was changed to “Director of the Nurse Corps.”

 


[1]Public Law 654 of July 3, 1942 granted Navy nurses “relative rank” of commissioned officers. Dauser was given the “relative rank” of Lieutenant Commander. For the first 34 years of the Navy Nurse Corps, nurses considered part of the Navy but neither officers or enlisted.

 [2] Dauser, Sue. Memorandum (undated). Sue Dauser Biographical File, BUMED Archives.

 

 

 
Aug 7

Remembering ‘Generational Lessons Learned’ — Guadalcanal

Wednesday, August 7, 2013 9:47 AM

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

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

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

k00555_USS San Juan

USS San Juan at New Caledonia, August 3, 1942

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

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

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

Admirals

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

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

130710-N-IU636-247

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

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

 
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).

CV-6 Enterprise (2)

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.

CV-5 Yorktown (3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Robert J. Cressman

May 2009

 
Jun 7

Midway Tactical Lessons

Friday, June 7, 2013 12:44 PM

Tactical Lesson of Midway: The Thach Weave

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

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

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

g64831 Thach

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Robert J. Cressman

May 2009

 
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.

g466244 Nimitz

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.

h63430 Yamamoto

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

 
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