The Battle of Midway
My dad was Rotarian in my hometown of Coffeyville, Kansas. A couple of his friends
went down to nearby Claremore, Oklahoma and talked Will Rogers into speaking to
Now Cofeyville, Kansas would never have been heard of except the Dalton Gang came
to town to rob its two banks. They had to be the dumbest lads in the universe.
The kids in Coffeyville, learned how to shoot rabbits before they learned how
to chop firewood. The Dalton Gang robbed the banks and got onto their horses.
The word of the robbery got around, and the citizens shot down the Dalton Gang
before they reached the edge ofCoffeyville and that wasn't far away.
By the time of Will's visit not much had changed. Everybody still owned guns,
no crime, no bank robbers. My Aunt Helen was a typical Coffeyville Mom. Made delicious
cherry pies and was Women's Shotgun Champion of Kansas.
The only thing new was the six story Dale Hotel, four stories higher than all
the other buildings in town. It had a swanky dining room on the second floor and
the Rotary Club could hod their meetings there. A bunch of Rotarian buckaroo's
thought Will Rogers would feel more at home in his rodeo days if they prodded
a large bull up to the swankey second floor dining room. He might even do a few
Old Will started his patter after a nice lunch. Just as he was going well, there
was a large "PLOP" from the opposite side of the room.
He stopped, looked startled and puzzled. He went over to the big bull, carefully
looked it over from nose to tail and to the floor.
He shook his head and said "This is the first time I've ever encountered
REAL competition. "
Now I'll skip the BULL and head on to the Battle of Midway.
But first a quick view of Aircraft Carrier Operations in the 1940's.
The ENTERPRISE flight. deck was 800 feet long. The 400 foot landing area
had a retractable barrier to protect aircraft parked on the front half of the
To make a landing, pilots headed downwind on the port side of the ship, dropping
down to 100 feet above the waves, and slowing down to five knots above power-on
stalling speed, wiith landing flaps, wheels, and tailhook down. When even with
the stem of the ship, the pilot made a semi-circle to end in line of the flight
deck. As soon as the Landing Signal could be seen, the pilot followed
him explicitly. His paddles told the pilot whether to go slower, faster,higher,lower,
and finally they indicated a CUT or a WAVE-OFF. Steel cables caught the plane
with a force of two g's. The plane was then jerked backwards and the cable was
freed by two men. The pilot then blasted the plane past the barrier to the parking
area. The best speed Scouting Six could accomplish, was to land ten seconds between
landings. Average time was 30 seconds between landings.
Planes took off without catapults. Our Scouting Squadron Six SBD dive bombers
were usually at the head of the pack. We had a 300 foot run for takeoff, the same
length as a football field.
Planes usually dropped below the bow ontheir take-off run, trading the 65 foot
heighth of the flight deck to get enough speed to climb. We needed 30 knots wind
over the deck, either from natural wind or enough steam from boilers, for safe
landings or take- offs.
The B 25's of Jimmy Doolittle's raid needed the little drop below the HORNET's
bow to allow them to climb.
During the war ENTERPPRISE Scouting Six always kept radio silence. Planes flew
close enough to the next plane, day or night, to see hand signals. We flew 18
plane formations at night without any lights. The exceptions were joining night
formations, or making night carrier landings.
Prior to the Battle of Midway our only "200 mile out and 200 mile back"
searches relied on dead reckoning, using wind information, and revising wind changes
by watching ocean waves using the Beaufort Scale.
Just before the Battle ofMidway we had YE-ZB line of sight electronics equipment.
When we were up 4 miles high we could locate the carrier more than a hundred miles
After taking some Marine airplanes to Wake Island early December 1941, we encountered
a terrific storm as we headed back to Pearl Harbor. One destroyer broke a seam,
and we were one day late arriving into Pearl Harbor. Had we arrived on time at
our berth Fox Nine, on 6 December 1941, WW2 History would have been different.
The ENTERPR1SE would have gone down with the battleships. The Japanese would have
made more scheduled attacks, destroying ammunition depots, fuel depots and repair
Also there would have been no early raids in the Pacific, no Jimmy Doolittle Raid
and no victory in the Battle of Midway.
Because we were a day late, were carrying full loads of service ammunition and
were declared to be at war, (As stated in this 28 November order in my LogBook,
the ENTERPR1SE pilots tangled with the Japanese before the Japanese attack,tangled
with them during the attack, and chased them as they ran for home that night.
All this is recorded in THESE PAMPHLETS written by Dr. Cressman, a retired Navy
Many historians report that FUJITSU, the Japanese Air F orce Commander, sulked
in his cabin for a month afterwards because he was not allowed to make additional
attacks. On the other hand the Japanese Admiral was told that radar pictures indicated
that 59 aircraft were headed his way and he decided to scram for home.
But enough of previous history.
The Battle of Midway foundation started in the code room of Admiral Nimitz's headquarters
in Honolulu. His experts had broken the latest Japanese code, knew that a giant
armada was being assembled in total secrecy, but couldn't figure out the code
word designated for the United States target.
The code breakers guessed that Midway Island might be the target but they weren't
at all sure.
Admiral Nimitz gave them a go-ahead to have a fake, unclassified signal sent from
Midway Island. It said that the fresh water distilling system was out of commission
and fresh water supplies were running low.
The Japanese bought this garbage and reported, in their new code, that target
X was running short of fresh water. Midway Island was definitely the target.
At that point in time, the ENTERPR1SE was dropping off planes and pilots at Efate
Island. The Battle of the Coral Sea was in progress. We arrived there just as
the battle ended.
The United States won, but the old LEXINGTON was sunk and the YORKTOWN barely
made it afloat to get back to Pearl Harbor. The repair facility said that her
repairs would take several months. Admiral Nimitz said the YORKTOWN had to be
repaired as best as could be accomplished in a days.
Like the ENTERPRISE, the YORKTOWN was to lie in ambush for the midway attack.
The movie named the "Battle ofMidway" depicted the YORKTOWN pilots
singing and playing guitars to pump up their spirits for the forthcoming battle.
As a matter of fact the YORKTOWN pilots were trying to get a little badly needed
hours of sleep, and the ship's crew ere trying to get some things working.
Our Captain Murray outlined our ambush strategy, and said that the Japanese
would make a feint attack on Dutch Harbor, Alaska, intending that we would send
all our forces there.
The one thing he didn't tell us was the Japanese were sending 189 ships and we
were ambushing with ___.They had eight of their aircraft carriers and we had the
HORNET, the ENTERPRISE and the battle damaged YORKTOWN.
Vice Admiral "Bull" Halsey was unable to go with us. He was hospitalized
with hives. Our shipmates revered him. Ensign Tom Eversole and his torpedo bomber
plane got lost in fog and bad weather enroute to attack Wake Island. Halsey turned
his entire fleet around, found the rubber raft of Eversole and crew, and clobbered
Wake Island a day later than scheduled.
Halsey chose Admiral Spruance to replace him. Spruance was not an aviator, but
he matched exactly Halsey's evaluation of risk philosophies. He knew the abilities
and limitations of carriers and the abilities and limitation of other ships. Admiral
Kimmel, by contrast, understood neither.
Halsey knew that our cruisers had only 8 inch guns and the Japanese had some 18
inch guns. Both the US and the Japanese signed the Washington Conference Treaty.
We trashed our 18 inch guns, the Japanese built theirs. As Will Rogers said, "America
never lost a war or won a peace conference. "
On 3 June 1942 we waited in ambush. All pilots were ready for take-off on a minutes
notice. Later in the day we were told that an Air Force pilot had reported,
"Enemy sighted. Main body", nothing further. Finally we pilots were
told to get a few hours of sleep and get a hasty breakfast.
Next day our ready room speaker reported that a PBY pilot flying through clouds
had spotted a number of aircraft carriers below him. He calmly reported Latitude,
Longitude and course and speed of the enemy. Later some pilots would also argue
whether he added, "Please notify next of kin." Somehow the PBY was not
observed by the Japs.
We immediately launched our dive bombers at 0945. LCDR McClusky headed the Air
Group with Lt. Earl Gallaher just behind him. I led the next section to the right
of Earl. We had 16 SBD's.
Just behind and below us were 15 SBD'S led by LT. Dick Best. Thirty-one ENTERPRISE
planes in all. A similar number was launched from the YORKTOWN and from the HORNET.
Shortly after we took off, a scout from Midway reported that the Japanese carriers
had reversed course. Now they were coming closer to the ENTERPRISE instead of
going farther away.
The TBD torpedo planes were now within range. They were launched immediately from
our three carriers. Hopefully these slower aircraft, with a closer target distance,
would arrive just as our dive bombers made their attacks. Strict Radio Silence kept our dive bombers from learning about the new location
and direction of the enemy.
Now let us think about things as Admiral Yamamoto, head of the armada, saw them.
The Midway Island attack would be a piece of cake. The easy capture of this important
base would cause the United States to sue for peace.
His plan had worked perfectly and he had taken every precaution. His huge
armada had travelled farther north than normal sea lanes. No submarines had detected
him. Midway was unaware, and ill-prepared for an attack. The side attack of Dutch
Harbor would surely send U.S. forces to head directly there. He would ambush and
As he expected, our U.S. Midway scouts finally detected his main body forces.
All U.S. forces would go there. His undetected four best carriers a safe distance
away, could wreck Midway at will. Then his battleships would clobber what was
left, and his 5,000 troops from his transports would come in.
Admiral Naguma, in charge of the Japanese carriers, had taken every precaution.
He didn't think that any U.S. carriers were present, but to make sure he sent
planes 360 degrees for all possibiltties. One scout in one sector was delayed
a couple of hours. Engine trouble. The other scouts returned to Naguma assuring
him that no U.S. ships were present.
The flustered, hurried, remaining scout, covering this missing sector, flew directly
over the cloud cover on top of our aircraft carriers. He reported to Naguma
that no U.S. Ships were present.
Nagurna wasn't worried even if U.S. carriers were present. He had his best carriers
and his best pilots with him. His aircraft torpedoes were vastly better than ours.
Our torpedoes would malfunction if dropped higher than a hundred feet or dropped
at a speed faster than 100 knots. Ours had a tiny explosive warhead. Japanese torpedoes
worked well when dropped from 200 feet and at speeds up to 200 knots. They also
had a deadlier war head.
His carrier pilots bombed Midway exactly as planned. They told him that they
severely damaged the installation and they had encountered little oppostion.
Still Nagumo had that sixth-sense feeling that all was not well. Some SBD's and
TBF's had been sighted. Were they coming from Midway? He ordered his planes loaded
with torpedoes and carrier-type bombs.
No sooner than this was accomplished than his scouts reported that the U.S. Air
Force was bombing his transports. Urgent help was needed to bomb Midway a second
time to keep B 17's from using Midway. The combat loads of his carrier planes
were removed, and exchanged for bombs to make holes in runways.
No sooner was this accomplished than a Japanese scout reported finding our ENTERPRISE
and YORKTOWN carriers. Japanese planes were again reloaded with torpedoes
and different type bombs. Bombs and ammo were stacked everywhere.
In the midst of all this confusion, all three squadrons of U.S. torpedo planes
arrived. Japanes fighter planes slaughtered them. All TBD's had attempted to drop
their torpedos. Only a handful of torpedo planes escaped. No torpedo hit any carrier.
The Japanese had learned from the Battle of the Coral Sea that our torpedoes could
only speed at 31 knots. Jap carriers moved at 30 knots, so they just sped away
from torpedoes being launched. Our loaded TBD's could only fly at 100 knots. Jap
fighters easily picked them off as the TBD's tried to get ahead of the carrier.
Now fast track to our SBD's. McClusky found an empty ocean where the enemy carriers
were supposed to be. He figured that the Japanese must have reversed course.
Soon he saw a destroyer going at high speed. This had to be a picket ship going
to catch up with his fleet.
Suddenly we saw the KAGA, the AKAGI and the SORYU almost below us, in an open
stretch of clouds.
"Earl and I will take the one on the right. Dick, you take the one on the left."
We went into eschelon formation. McClusky and his two wing men dived first, then
Gallaher and two wingmen, then me and then the rest of Scouting Six, all heading
for the KAGA. Dick Best and Bombing Six dived for the AKAGI. The YORKTOWN dive
bombers dived for the SORYU.
The situation was a carrier pilot's dream. No anti-aircraft, all three carriers
heading straight into the wind. Two fighters were above us, but they were not making an
MClusky and his two wingmen missed. Earl Gallaher's 500 pound bomb hit squarely
on a plane starting its take-off. His two 100 pound incendaries hit just beside
it. Immediately the whole pack of planes at the stern were in flames 50 feet high.
I couldn't see the bombs landing from the next two planes, but flames had spread.
to the middle of the ship.
My bombs landed exactly on the big red circle forward of the bridge. Seconds later
the flames were 100 feet high. Walter Lord later learned from the Japanese that
my bomb splashed a gasoline cart, throwing its flaming contents into the KAGA's
A fighter attacked us as I pulled out of my dive. John Snowden, my gunner, disposed
of him in five seconds. A second fighter came at us.
John disposed of him. Then it was a survival to escape anti-aircraft fire while
passing near a dozen ships until I'd reached ten miles toward Midway.
Ten minutes after the attack I saw a large explosion amidship on the KAGA. Rockets
of flame, pieces of steel bolted upward to about three or four thousand feet high.
Dick Best's squadron had bombed the The KAGA and the YORKTOWN bombers hit the
SORYU. Both were burning fiercely
The KAGA then sent up a huge brown cloud of smoke. I could no longer see the ship
and presumed it was sunk. The other two fires were visible 30 miles away.
As directed, I headed 40 miles toward Midway before heading to our carrier.
As I climbed slowly up to cloud level I saw a Jap fighter heading at me. I headed
directly at him and he ducked away into a cloud.
Then I saw a Bombing Six plane land in the sea and the crew getting their rubber
raft. I marked their position
Then on my left a few miles away I saw several dozen planes from the HIRYU
flying at high speed toward our carriers. I'd glimpsed this 4th carrier, about
20 miles away, during my dive.
I had used every trick I knew to get every mile out of each drop of gas. The ENTERPRISE
saw me coming, headed into the wind. I landed on the carrier without circling.
I landed with five gallons of gas. We had launched 16 SBD's. Eight made it back
As soon as our SBD's were loaded and gassed, we took off for the HIRYU.
Before I got back to the Big E, the Japanese from the HIRYO had exploded torpedoes
on the YORKTOWN, setting her temporarily on fire and causing her to be abandoned.
Her airplanes landed on the ENTERPRISE and HORNET .
We added these additional YORKTOWN SBD's to our group, making a total of 24 planes
for our second attack and headed for the HIRYU. None of the HORNET's dive bombers
were with us becase they were not able to find the enemy carriers.
Our second attack was different. Lots of fighters everyhere. Four of them attacked
the plane ahead. Adkins, the radioman-gunner started aiming at them. Somehow his
twin machine gun broke loose. He shot down the first fighter holding the twin
machine guns like a shotgun. The three other three fighters ran away. Previously
Adkins needed help to carry this weapon.
Gallaher was first to dive. He and the next pilot missed because the HIRYO made
a tight semi-circle. The third pilot made a hit directly in the center of the
flight deck. Mine landed on the same spot. More hits were made. Explosions and
flames appeared but they were mild as compared with the damage witnessed on the
KAGA and the other carriers.
We launched 24 planes for this attack. We lost none of them.
During the middle of the night Nagurna sent out a message to his fleet to take
Midway regardless of all cost.
Meantime a U.S. submarine reported seeing a silhouette of a Jap Carrier. It could
by the damaged HIRYU or maybe a 5th carrier.
Admiral Spruance wasn't about to trade 8" guns against 18" guns in a night
battle. He also might encounter an unknown Jap carrier.
By daylight it became obvious that the entire armada had headed for home.
Why Naguma changed his mind is uncertain. It might have been the report he received
from an interpreter who had drawn information of Ensign O'Flaherty and Peter Gaido,
lst Class Machinist Mate of our Scouting Six squadron.
Their SBD had been forced down. They were rescued from their rubber raft by
the Japanese. They knew they would be questioned, and had time to set their stories
straight. Neither had even seen Midway.
Independently, under death threats, they had to describe the fortifications of
Midway. Each told about the hundreds of five inch guns that ringed Midway, the
dozens of PBY's there, the thousands of Marines there and all the extra reenforcements.
The Japanese sent the information to the Naguma, killed both of them, and dumped
their bodies in the ocean.
At dawn we found only an empty ocean, The Japanese had headed hell-bent for home.
On the fifth of June we could only catch up with a small cruiser at dusk. She
did everything right. We scored no hits. She shot down one of our planes. On the
sixth of June we caught up with the battle cruiser MIKUMI and sank it. Her
picture is in my log book, with its few survivors on its stern, just before
she sank. Some destroyers were badly damaged.
The HORNET dive bombers found some more large cruisers, sinking at least one.
Then we could no longer chase the Japanese. The destroyers were bone dry.
We were ready to head for Dutch Harbor to give them some help, but we were told
that the Japanese had left, and no help was needed.
So we headed back to Pearl Harbor for a beer.
And now I will mention the REAL heroes of the Battle of Midway.
The Marine pilots who flew our discarded, shot-up SBD's attacking the Jap
carriers. Of the entire squadron, only one pilot survived.
Of the TBF pilots from Midway, only one survived.
The Air Force B-17 pilots like Dave Hassimer, of Air Force Village I who scouted
the Japanese foces and engaged in combat with their planes, bombed transports,
and made our dive bombing attacks possible. They let us sneak in the back door
and do the mischief.
Let us not forget the valient torpedo crews who unflinchedly gave their lives
to give a great shot at the laps. Also let us pray for the dive bomber crews who
knew they had no chance of reaching our carrier.
Remember also the shipboard crews of the YORKTOWN and the ENTERPRISE who did their
Particular kudo's go for the boiler-tenders of the ENTERPRISE, who totally
rebricked her boilers with the ship underway. A hot, dangerous operation. One I'd never
heard of before. They gave us 30 knots of speed which helped us dodge a submarine torpedo.
It passed astern 50 feet behind the ship.
We, the survivors, had the easy part. The tough ones are the wives and family
members who lost everything.