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-- EVENTS -- World War II in the Pacific -- Battle of Midway

U.S. Carrier Planes Disable Akagi, Kaga and Soryu
4 June 1942



As the Japanese prepared to attack the newly-discovered enemy ships, the U.S. carriers already had a strong striking force in the air. Launched between 0700 and 0900, the American planes included three squadrons of torpedo bombers and five squadrons of dive bombers, plus escorting fighters. However, due to the urgent need to hit the Japanese before they could launch their own attack, this force was badly coordinated and exposed to defeat in detail.

At about 0915, the Japanese made a sharp change in course to get closer to the American ships, and the first U.S. Navy carrier planes sighted their targets. Shortly thereafter, fifteen TBD-1 "Devastators" of Lieutenant Commander John C. Waldron's Torpedo Squadron Eight (VT-8), from USS Hornet, bravely pressed their attack against a swarm of nimble and deadly "Zero" fighters. All were shot down, and only one man, Ensign George Gay, survived.

During the next hour, two more torpedo attacks came in, with similar results. USS Enterprise's Torpedo Squadron Six (VT-6), led by Lieutenant Commander Eugene E. Lindsey, unsuccessfully pursued Kaga, losing all but five of fourteen TBDs to the Japanese defenses. Only two planes escaped from Lieutenant Commander Lance E. Massey's Torpedo Squadron Three (VT-3), from USS Yorktown. Six Fighting Squadron Three (VF-3) F4F-4 "Wildcats", led by Lieutenant Commander John S. Thach, tried to help VT-3, but were so badly outnumbered by "Zeros" that they could not be of much assistance.

While VT-3 was making its doomed effort, three squadrons of SBD-3 "Dauntless" bombers arrived high overhead. Two, Bombing Squadron Six (VB-6) and Scouting Squadron Six (VS-6) from Enterprise, led by Lieutenant Commander Clarence W. McClusky, had been fruitlessly searching for the Japanese carriers when they found and followed the destroyer Arashi as she sped to join her fleet after depth charging USS Nautilus. The third, Yorktown's Bombing Squadron Three (VB-3), led by Lieutenant Commander Maxwell F. Leslie, arrived virtually simultaneously from another direction. At about 1025, with the Japanese fighters still at low altitude fighting off torpedo planes, and blessed with an extremely lucky degree of coordination, these squadrons commenced one of history's most dramatically decisive attacks.

The SBDs plunged down on the startled Japanese, who were turning into the wind to fly off their own striking force. Flight decks were crowded with armed, fueled planes, and hangar decks held other planes and much unstowed ordnance. Multiple bomb hits ignited fatal conflagrations on three of the four Japanese carriers, which were immediately put out of action, ending any realistic hope of Japanese victory in this battle. As they burned, Lieutenant Commander William H. Brockman, undeterred by earlier depth charge attacks, brought USS Nautilus in submerged and fired torpedos at Kaga. However, as would commonly be the case until more than half-way through 1943, the only "fish" that hit failed to explode. Consumed by fires and explosions, Kaga and Soryu sank late in the afternoon. Akagi followed them before dawn the next day.

This page presents views of the dive bomber and submarine attacks on the three Japanese carriers.

For views of launching of U.S. Navy planes for this attack and of related activities on the American aircraft carriers, see:

  • U.S. Navy Ships in Action during the Battle, 4 June 1942
  • USS Yorktown Operating on 4 June 1942
  • Scenes on USS Yorktown, 4 June 1942
  • Links to pictures relating the other attacks on the Japanese carriers:

  • U.S. Attacks on the Japanese Carrier Striking Force, 4 June 1942
  • Links to views of other aspects of the Battle of Midway:

  • Battle of Midway, Overview and Special Image Selection

  • Click photograph for a larger image.

    Photo #: 80-G-701869

    Battle of Midway, June 1942


    Diorama by Norman Bel Geddes, depicting the attack by USS Enterprise (CV-6) and USS Yorktown (CV-5) dive bombers on the Japanese aircraft carriers Akagi, Kaga and Soryu in the morning of 4 June 1942.
    The diorama was created during World War II on the basis of information then available. It is therefore somewhat inaccurate in scope and detail.
    This angle of view depicts Soryu (attacked by Yorktown aircraft) in the middle distance, with Kaga and Akagi (both attacked by Enterprise aircraft) as the closer two burning ships.

    Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

    Online Image: 73KB; 740 x 380 pixels

    Reproductions may also be available through the National Archives.

     
    Photo #: 80-G-701870

    Battle of Midway, June 1942


    Diorama by Norman Bel Geddes, depicting the attack by USS Yorktown (CV-5) and USS Enterprise (CV-6) dive bombers on the Japanese aircraft carriers Soryu, Akagi and Kaga in the morning of 4 June 1942.
    The diorama was created during World War II on the basis of information then available. It is therefore somewhat inaccurate in scope and detail.
    This angle of view is essentially the reciprocal of that shown in Photo # 80-G-701869. It depicts Soryu (attacked by Yorktown aircraft) in the center foreground, with Kaga and Akagi (both attacked by Enterprise aircraft) as the two most distant burning ships. The burning ship at far right is a light cruiser, which had been erroneously reported to have been hit.

    Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

    Online Image: 95KB; 740 x 445 pixels

    Reproductions may also be available through the National Archives.

     
    Photo #: 80-G-701871

    Battle of Midway, June 1942


    Diorama by Norman Bel Geddes, depicting the attack by USS Nautilus (SS-168) on a burning Japanese aircraft carrier during the early afternoon of 4 June 1942, as seen through the submarine's periscope.
    Nautilus thought she had attacked Soryu, and that her torpedoes had exploded when they hit the target. Most evidence, however, is that the ship attacked was Kaga, and that the torpedoes failed to detonate. The ship shown in this wartime diorama does not closely resemble either of those carriers.

    Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

    Online Image: 75KB; 740 x 605 pixels

    Reproductions may also be available through the National Archives.

     


    One of the Great Mysteries of the Sea?
    A Frequently Asked Question, and its None-Too-Pleasant Answer.


    After going through our pictorial coverage of the Battle of Midway, researchers often ask "So, where are all the photographs of Kaga, Akagi and Soryu during and after the attacks that sank them?". To which we reply, sadly, "Well, there don't seem to be any!"

    The unfortunate fact of the matter is that the only existing views of Japanese ships during the Battle of Midway are those taken by the Army B-17s as they tried to hit the Japanese carriers on 4 June 1942, two photos of the wrecked Hiryu taken from a Japanese aircraft early on 5 June, and several photographs of the cruiser Mikuma after she was bombed on 6 June.

    Undoubtedly, there were photographers on board the Japanese carriers during the Battle of Midway, as there were on earlier and later operations. However, either their pictures were destroyed with the ships, or afterwards, when the Japanese Navy went to great lengths to conceal the disaster from the rest of their nation. In addition, some of the attacking U.S. planes carried cameras, but most apparently did not have an opportunity to use them.

    It has been related, in a particularly unhappy tale, that a Bombing Squadron Six SBD flown by Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Wilbur E. Roberts and Aviation Machinist's Mate First Class W.B. Steinman had a camera, and that Steinman took a number of photographs. This plane was one of two Enterprise SBDs to land on USS Yorktown shortly before she was bombed. Later in the day, after Yorktown was torpedoed, LtJG Roberts took the camera and film with him as he abandoned ship. After reaching USS Portland (CA-35), he had the film developed and printed. He has reported that the resulting photographs showed a Japanese carrier, which would probably have been Kaga. However, while he examined the freshly developed prints, a more-senior officer came along, saw what they represented, and confiscated them. Roberts never saw them again.

    There the trail ends. No such photographs were included in any of the Midway action reports, and they are not with the Portland photography that became part of the Navy's official photographic collection that is now held by the National Archives.




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