Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

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  • Boats-Ships--Torpedo Boat
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  • World War II 1939-1945
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Battle of Midway Plan of the Day Notes

by Robert J. Cressman, Naval History and Heritage Command

3 June 1942: On the night of 3 June 1942, Capt. Cyril T. Simard, CO of NAS Midway, told Lt. Cmdr. John Ford, USNR—famed Hollywood motion picture director called to the colors—that Midway expected to be attacked the next day. Used to “reporting, taking battle scenes and mob scenes and notice[ing] every detail,” Ford believed “that’s why I probably would notice a lot more than the layman” and led to his being tapped to being stationed atop the power house to report the size and strength of the incoming Japanese formations. The footage obtained by Ford and PhoM2c John A. MacKenzie, his assistant, during the battle on 4 June would be utilized in the documentary “The Battle of Midway,” which won an Academy Award.

3 June 1942: Capt. James W. Steele, on Adm. Chester W. Nimitz’s staff, noted in the CINCPAC War Diary at the end of the day on 3 June 1942: “The whole course of the Pacific War may hinge on the developments of the next two or three days.”

4 June 1942: After running a gauntlet of the Japanese combat air patrol that had splashed the other five planes of the Midway-based Torpedo Squadron 8 detachment and badly shot up his own Grumman TBF-1 Avenger, Ens. Albert K. “Bert” Earnest, USNR, fired his torpedo at what looked like a light cruiser. With his gunner, Sea1c Jay D. Manning, dead and RM3c Harry H. Ferrier, his radioman, unconscious, his hydraulic system smashed and his elevator wires shot away, his bomb bay doors hanging open, and his compass inoperative, Earnest nursed the crippled plane back, homing in on a pillar of smoke from the burning oil tanks at Midway. He was awarded one Navy Cross for carrying out his attack, and a second for bringing the plane back so that it could be studied after its baptism of fire.

4 June 1942: Ens. Milton C. Tootle IV, USNR, one of the last pilots to launch from Yorktown (CV-5) into a growing volume of antiaircraft fire to intercept rapidly approaching torpedo-carrying Nakajima B5N2 Type 97s from the Japanese carrier Hiryu, latched on to one Type 97 no more than a mile from the ship. Opening fire at short range, he saw his tracers hitting home, but soon noticed an increasing amount of smoke in his own cockpit. Having been hit by friendly fire, Tootle abandoned his pursuit of the Nakajima and climbed to 1,500 feet. He bailed out of the burning Wildcat, and the destroyer Anderson (DD-411) rescued him shortly thereafter in the wake of his first, eventful, aerial combat experience.

4 June 1942: With the Japanese attack on Midway over, the motor torpedo boats of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 1 returned to Sand Island. Although warned that the whole area was “extremely dangerous,” Lt. Clinton McKellar, Jr., CO of MTBRON 1, and MM2c R. H. Lowell, S2c J. B. Rodgers, and F3c V.J. Miastowski cut their way through barbed wire and gingerly made their way through a minefield to organize firefighting parties at the fuel oil dump.

4 June 1942: Lt. Cmdr. Eugene E. Lindsey, CO of Torpedo Squadron 6, made a bad landing when the Enterprise (CV-6) Air Group returned to the ship on 28 May 1942. His Douglas TBD-1 Devastator hit the ramp, and then caromed over the port side into the water. Fortunately, the destroyer Monaghan (DD-354) rescued Lindsey and his crew. Lindsey refused to let the chest injuries he sustained in the crash keep him from leading his squadron into battle. He perished at the head of VT-6 the morning of 4 June 1942.

4 June 1942: Although Lt. Cmdr. William H. Brockman Jr., CO of the submarine Nautilus (SS-168), had been given command of the boat without the usual PCO training, he foresightedly ordered his radiomen to monitor the aircraft search frequency in advance of the time provided in the operations orders. Thus prepared ahead of time, Nautilus intercepted the contact report that told of the enemy’s proximity. Nautilus would find herself in the middle of the Japanese carrier force, and cause such consternation that the Japanese destroyer Arashi was detached to drive her off or sink her. Assuming that she had succeeded, Arashi hastened to rejoin the main Japanese force, thereby attracting the attention of Lt. Cmdr. C. Wade McClusky, Enterprise Air Group Commander and former CO of Fighting Squadron 6, who decided to follow the enemy ship when he had not found the Japanese where expected. McClusky’s dive bombers and the Yorktown (CV-5) Air Group strike arrived almost simultaneously over the Japanese carrier force, and changed the course of the Pacific War soon thereafter.

4 June 1942: As Japanese planes roared low over Midway’s lagoon on 4 June 1942, TM2c Orville R. Mott manned one of the two twin-.50-caliber mounts on board motor torpedo boat PT-24. Despite badly burning his hands when changing the inboard barrel of the starboard .50-caliber mount, he simultaneously fired the outboard .50-caliber gun. Courage in the face of the enemy and a willingness to do what needed to be done was not the sole province of aviators.

4 June 1942: Lt. Cmdr. Maxwell F. Leslie, CO of Bombing Squadron 3, had once purportedly told a classmate at the US Naval Academy: “We can’t all be heroes, but we can all try.” En route to the Japanese carrier force from Yorktown (CV-5) on 4 June 1942, Leslie and three of his pilots lost their 1,000-pound bombs to electrical release malfunctions, leaving 13 of the 17 VB-3 planes with ordnance. Although Leslie had no bomb to drop, he led the squadron into the dive, strafing and drawing fire.

4 June 1942: During the attack by Japanese carrier Hiryu’s Nakajima B5N2 Type 97 carrier attack planes on the afternoon of 4 June, Task Force 17, reinforced and formed around Yorktown (CV-5), put up heavy antiaircraft fire. Capt. Frank L. Lowe, commanding the heavy cruiser Pensacola (CA-24), wrote later that his ship, on the port side of the formation, continued firing her starboard 20-millimeter and 1.1-inch guns at the attacking planes “as they passed between the Yorktown and the Pensacola, the Yorktown guns doing the same; both ships accepting the danger to each other in an effort to stop the planes.…”

4 June 1942: His Brewster F2A-3 Buffalo afire, Capt. Herbert T. Merrill, USMC, bailed out and landed in the water. Although suffering from second degree burns, he reached the reef off Sand Island after two hours’ swimming. Motor torpedo boat PT-20 found Merrill, nearly blinded and clinging to the sharp coral. Seeing the Marine obviously suffering from shock and burns, SM3c Edward J. Stewart dove into the water with a life ring at the end of a line, and braved the surf breaking over the jagged coral to help Merrill to safety.

4 June 1942: Known to his classmates as “The Naval Academy Peter Pan—The Little Boy Who Never Grew Up,” Cmdr. Dixie Kiefer had brought the carrier Yorktown (CV-5) “to a high state of morale, efficiency, and readiness for battle.” On 4 June, Kiefer led a firefighting party in battling the blaze consuming the ship’s photographic lab even though he had been unable to obtain a rescue breathing apparatus. Later that day, the energetic executive officer directed the abandonment of the ship, suffering severe burns to his hands while helping lower a man over the side. Later going over the side himself, his badly seared hands could not grasp the line firmly and he fell, caroming off the armor belt and suffering a compound foot and ankle fracture. Nevertheless, he helped push a life raft, laden with survivors, to a nearby destroyer. For his heroism, Kiefer received the Navy Cross.

4 June 1942: One high explosive bomb, dropped by an Aichi D3A1 Type 99 carrier bomber from the Japanese carrier Hiryu, struck home just abaft of the number two elevator on board Yorktown (CV-5), blowing a 12-foot hole in the flight deck and sending flying shards of metal that inflicted heavy casualties on the crews of nearby antiaircraft guns. Among the men at the four .50-caliber machine guns in battery number nine, GM3c Theodore B. Metcalf, although painfully wounded and unable to use one arm, repaired or replaced the damaged guns, and helped remove the dead and wounded. He then stationed and instructed new men in the operation of the guns. For his meritorious service, GM3c Metcalf received the Silver Star.

4 June 1942: Japanese Mitsubishi F1M2 Type 0 floatplanes from the seaplane carrier Chitose attacked the Consolidated PBY Catalina commanded by Lt. (j.g.) Robert S. Whitman about 340 miles west of Midway on 4 June. With Whitman and four other crewmen killed and one mortally wounded, and the plane set afire, AOM2c Philip L. Fulghum, one of the PBY’s waist gunners, continued to man his .50-caliber machine gun, and sent one of the attackers away trailing smoke. On his own initiative, with a crash imminent, Fulghum released the plane’s two 500-pound bombs. After the crash, AMM1c Virgil L. Marsh, despite the roaring flames, freed a rubber boat from the plane, which AMM2c John C. Weeks repaired. Fulghum then assisted the wounded into the raft. They were rescued by another PBY on 6 June.

5 June 1942: The new Gato-class submarine Grouper (SS-214), under Lt. Cmdr. Claren E. “Duke” Duke, had yet to make a war patrol, and when attempting to get close enough to carry out an attack on the Japanese ships, found herself frequently under attack from aircraft. Diving to avoid one such attack on the afternoon of 5 June, Grouper plunged to an estimated 600 feet, a depth to which she had never gone before. According to the war patrol report, the subsequent investigation for damage showed several electrical cables “pushed in a couple inches,” while cast iron plugs in the water manifolds for the generator coolers flew around the engine room “like machine gun bullets,” while water poured in through the stern tubes. The Mare Island Navy Yard product, however, proved tough, and survived the mishap, while “everyone had a few more gray hairs.”

5 June 1942: Lt. Cmdr. John W. “Spuds” Murphy, commanding the submarine Tambor (SS-198), had been in command of that boat since the start of the war, and had led Tambor on two war patrols. During the mid watch on 5 June 1942, ignorant of the location of friendly forces, Murphy spotted four ships on the horizon that proved to be four Japanese heavy cruisers. While carrying out emergency evasive maneuvers, two of the enemy ships, Mikuma and Mogami, collided. Without firing a torpedo, Tambor had caused damage to two ships, one of which, Mikuma, was sunk by U.S. carrier-based planes on 6 June.

6 June 1942: One of the oldest ships involved in the latter part of the Battle of Midway, the fleet tug Vireo (AT-144), commissioned as a minesweeper in 1919, began doggedly towing the damaged carrier Yorktown (CV-5) toward Pearl Harbor on 5 June 1942. Underpowered for such a job and possessing only a small rudder, however, Vireo could only keep her unwieldy charge headed into the wind, a job complicated by a heavy sea making up. The next day, the Japanese submarine I-168 torpedoed Yorktown and Hammann (DD-412), sinking the latter. Lt. James C. Legg, Vireo’s commanding officer, a “mustang” who had enlisted in 1919, thinking the carrier’s sinking imminent, had the tow line severed and his ship double back to go alongside the carrier, picking up Hammann survivors en route. For 40 minutes, Vireo lay alongside Yorktown, taking a “terrific pounding” as she did so, bringing off the last of the crew in “seamanship of the highest order” that resulted in Legg receiving the Navy Cross.

6 June 1942: Lt. (j.g.) Cleo J. Dobson, assistant landing signal officer on board Enterprise (CV-6) and a former member of Scouting Squadron 6, flew one of the two SBD Dauntlesses dispatched from the carrier on 6 June on a photographic flight, with CP J. A. Mihalovic in the rear seat. He overflew the doomed Japanese heavy cruiser Mikuma, pounded earlier that day by dive bombers from Enterprise and Hornet (CV-8), and later wrote in his diary: “Boy I sure would hate to be in the shoes of those fellows in the water. I shouldn’t feel so sorry for them because I might be in their shoes some day. I pray to God I’m not.”

9 June 1942: As part of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz’s plans to meet the expected Japanese attack on Midway, Rear Adm. Robert H. English gave a dozen submarines the basic task of defending the atoll. One of those boats, Trout (SS-202), had made three war patrols since the war began, and had an experienced commander, Lt. Cmdr. Frank W. “Mike” Fenno, the oldest of all the submarine COs involved in the Battle of Midway. Fenno’s boat had already earned fame for bringing out the gold from the Philippine treasury. The boat rescued two Japanese sailors on 9 June 1942, survivors of the sunken heavy cruiser Mikuma, who provided much useful intelligence material. Her retrieval of the enemy bluejackets proved the precursor of more involved submarine rescue efforts as the war progressed.

 

Published: Wed Nov 08 11:13:45 EST 2017