Seventy years ago to day, the Battle of Midway began. Many Americans know at least something about the story of the massive naval battle that turned the tide in World War II.
But there is another story from Midway that few know about and is worth remembering.
In 1942, the American military broke the Japanese Navy’s top-secret code. They figured out that the Japanese were going to attack the strategically located Midway Island. Midway would be the jumping off point if the Japanese were going to try and attack Hawaii, so Midway had to be defended at all costs.
Marines were rushed to Midway Island to defend it against invasion. They had no illusions about what would happen if the Japanese got their invasion force ashore. Among the Marines, there was another group who knew the long odds they faced.
These were the Marine aviators.
They knew they would be facing the Japanese Zero, which at the time was the best fighter plane in the world. A few of the Marines flew modern Wildcat fighters, which could hold its own in a fight against a Zero. Most of the Marines flew old Buffalo fighters.
The Buffalo was an old, obsolete fighter that was being removed from service as fast as it could be replaced. It was no match for the Zero. The Marines at Midway were among the last combat units still flying the Buffalo.
On June 4, 1942, the radar units at Midway showed the approach of a large fleet of Japanese aircraft. The air raid alarm was sounded and the Marines in a few Wildcats and more of the old Buffalo aircraft took to the skies.
The Marines fought well and caused serious damage to the attacking Japanese.
Most of those Marine aviators who answered the call of duty that day gave their lives for this nation, seventy years ago today.
Their sacrifice was not in vain.
The Marines’ defense of Midway delayed the Japanese attack. The next day, the United States Navy attacked the Japanese, sinking four of their aircraft carriers and wiping out their corps of pilots.
The Japanese fleet never sailed that far east again.
It would take another three years and hundreds of thousands of American lives, but our enemy would be defeated.
Today, over 90% of that greatest generation are now gone. The few remaining survivors of those fateful days are now in their 90s.
Few today remember the sacrifices of those Marines seventy years ago. Today, we should take a moment to remember those fallen Marines and if you are fortunate enough to still have a relative who served during World War II take a moment to thank him.
We won’t have many more chances to express to them the thanks of a grateful nation.
My Dad, who passed away in '96, was the OOD aboard USS California (BB-44) at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 when the Japanese attacked. He was then reassigned as a gunnery officer aboard USS Columbia (CL-56). Columbia was one of the light cruisers mentioned in your post that fought so gallantly at the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Dad served 30 years active duty, retiring as a captain, then served 10 more years by commissioning the Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (NJROTC) unit at Norview High School in Norfolk, VA. He finally "retired retired" in 1970.
He was quite a guy and I miss him every day.
Thanks to all of the "Greatest Generation" whether they served in the military or not. All did their patriotic duty.
We lost allot of Navy aviators at Midway as well.
Of the three US carrier groups that were lying in wait for the Imperial Japanese Combined Fleet, only two had any combat experience - USS Yorktown (CV-5) and USS Enterprise (CV-6).The USS Hornet (CV-8) and it's airgroup had not tasted combat yet, though the Hornet was the carrier that launched the B-25's of the famous Doolittle Raids against Mainland Japan, with the Enterprise as it's escort providing top cover for the mission.
The first Naval air unit to make contact with the Japanese Combined fleet was the Hornets torpedo squadron (VT-8). VT-8 had gotten separated from it's fighter escort (VF-8 flying F4F Wildcats) early in their flight. Hornets Scout and Bomber squadrons (VS & VB-8 -flying SBD-2's and 3's) had flown a different route and had turned towards Midway to refuel, as did VF-8.
VT-8 was alone when it approached the Combined Fleet of 4 carriers and its escort ships. When the zeros pounced on their slow flying aircraft, they began to break formation - a fatal mistake. The Zero's shot them all down, one after the other before any of them could get a tropedo off. Of that entire squadron only one man survived, a pilot that had a front row seat to the devastation that would be leveled upon 3 of the 4 Japanese carriers, by the Scouting and Bomber squatrons from the Enterprise (VS-6 and VB-6 33 Dauntless SBD -2s and 3s) followed by more SDB dive bombers from the Yorktown (VS-5, VB-5), and what was left from the sunken Lexington (VS and VB- 2).
At this point the dive bombers had the advantage. They were appraoching from altitudes of between 15 and 20k feet. The Zero top cover was still down low from attacking the torpedo planes. Zero's did not have a very good climb rate, and they ended up meeting the DB's as they were coming down in their 70 degree dive. These squadrons also had their Fighter escorts with them to tie the Zero's up.
The standard bomb release altitudewas 2500 ft, but these pilots held out to 1500 ft before releasing their bombs, hoping to insure better chances of scoring hits on ships that were turning this way and that attempting avoid being hit. This also meant pulling out to level flight just feet above the ocean surface. This still worked out for them, because as long as they were down low the zero pilots were reluctant to press home an attack against them, especially after the SBD's formed back up almost immediately. Having several pair of 30 cal machineguns firing back at you from the rear seats of the SBD's was not something the Japanese pilots relished.
By the end of June 4, 3 Japanese carriers were ablaze, from bow to stern. The forth had been overlooked as it was hidden under a cloud bank. It was found and sunk on the 6th.
Of the 33 SBD's from the Enterprise, only 6 made it back and landed on the carrier deck. A handfull managed to get to the carrier group, but had to ditch near escort ships, as they ran out of fuel. The rest had run out of fuel on their way back from where they had found the Japanese forces. Some of the crews were found and picked up, others were never seen again.
WE also lost a carrier and destroyer. On june 4th a flight of Japanese attack planes followed Yorktowns torpedo squadron back to it. Yorktown picked this group up on radar and sent it's CAP to intercept. a few Betty dive bombers made it through and managed to get a couple of bombs to strike the base of the funnel, snuffing out all of Yorktowns boilers and starting a fire on deck. By the time the fires were put out and a few of the boilers refired, another wave of enemy planes came in. This time a couple of Kate torpedo planes scored hits on Yorktowns port side, causing a dangerous list to port. The skipper ordered abandon ship. IN the mean time, the destroyer USS Hamman laid along the starboard side of the Yorktown to render its pumps in salvage ops and take off the injured. Later that afternoon, a Japanese submarine found the Yorktown. It fire 4 torpedos at the ship; one missing, two hitting the Yorktown starboard aft, and the forth hit the Hamman center braodside, cutting her in half. The two halves went down quickly, taking those below deck down with her. Many of the sailors that had managed to get in the water before it went down were killed when depth charges that were on the Hammans' rear deck began to detinate below the surface. The Yorktown stayed afloat until the early morning of June 7th, when it rolled over and sank. The Enterprise and Hornet never came under attack by Japanese planes, though they did vector their CAP towards what is thought to have been Japanese scout planes.
There were also Army aircrews at Midway who flew B-17's and B-25's against both the Japanese carrier fleet and the assault fleet that wass approaching from the WSW. Their efforts were pretty dismal, as they attempted to drop bombs from high altitude on ships that were taking evassive actions to foil the bombers attacks. Navy and Marine crews also flew PBY's against the Japanese with similar results.
There was a small group of Marines that flew the new Avenger torpedo plane from Midway. These 6 new aircraft were to be the replacement for the old and slow Devastator that the carriers had launched against the Combined fleet. Of the six, only one returned, shot up badly and rear gunner dead, the pilot managed to crashland his Avenger back at Midway.
BTW, Judson, the F4F Wildcat could not hang with the Zero in manuverability. The Zero could turn inside the Wildcat. The only advantage the Wildcat had over the Zero was its durability. It was armored and had self-sealing fuel tanks, something the Japanese elected to forfiet to lighten the weight of the Zero (and many of its other planes) and give it its superior aerobatic ability. It was the F6F Hellcat that was the aerobatic match to the Zero, and it too was armored and had Self-sealing tanks as all of our planes had. It also sported 6 .50 cal wing guns. The Wildcat only had 4.
They have some interesting After Action reports from the aircrews of the USS Enterprise (CV-6) posted at www.cv6.org if you like to read them. They have the full history of the "Big E" there as well. It was the most decorated war ship of WWII.
Yes! Thanks, Judson, this is exactly what all loyal Americans should be doing right now - emphasizing the greatness of the people who defend and preserve our precious nation.
In that regard, hoping Romney is not still a sore point on Tea Party Nation, I was glad to see this quote from him: "America does not just exist for the people . . . it has been made exceptional by the people: a free people pursuing their own dreams and achieving success in their own ways."
Who better than those brave Marine aviators defending Midway Island to call us all into the best service we can do the USA!!
Semper Fi. You gotta love the tenacity of the Corps.