Nothing distinguished the dawn of June 2, 1942, from countless other dawns thathad fallen over tiny Midway atoll in the North Pacific. Nothing, that is, exceptthe tension, the electric tension of men waiting for an enemy to make his move.On Midway’s two main islands, Sand and Eastern, 3,632 United States Navy andMarine Corps personnel, along with a few Army Air Force aircrews, stood atbattle stations in and near their fighters, bombers, and seaplanes, waiting forthe Japanese attack they had been expecting for weeks. The carrier battle ofMidway, one of the decisive naval battles in history, is well documented. Butthe role played by the Midway garrison, which manned the naval air station onthe atoll during the battle, is not as well known. Midway lies 1,135 miles west-northwest of Pearl Harbor, Oahu.
The entire atoll is barely six miles indiameter and consists of Sand and Eastern islands surrounded by a coral reefenclosing a shallow lagoon. Midway was discovered in 1859 and annexed by theUnited States in August 1867. Between 1903 and 1940, it served both as a cablestation on the Honolulu GuamManila underwater telegraph line and as an airportfor the Pan American Airways China Clipper (Miracle 5). In March 1940, after areport on U.S.
Navy Pacific bases declared Midway second only to Pearl Harbor inimportance, construction of a formal naval air station began. Midway Naval AirStation was placed in commission in August 1941. By that time, Midway’sfacilities included a large seaplane hangar and ramps, artificial harbor, fuelstorage tanks and several buildings. Sand Island was populated by hundreds ofcivilian construction workers and a defense battalion of the Fleet Marine Force,while Eastern Island boasted a 5,300-foot airstrip. Commander Cyril T. Simard, aveteran naval pilot who had served as air officer on the carrier USS Langley andas executive officer at the San Diego Air Station, was designated the atoll’scommanding officer. Along with the naval personnel manning the air station was adetachment of Marines.
The first detachment was from the Marine 3rd DefenseBattalion; it was relieved on September 11, 1941, by 34 officers and 750 menfrom the 6th Defense Battalion under the command of Lt. Col. Harold D. Shannon,a veteran of World War I and duty in Panama and Hawaii.
Shannon and Simardmeshed into an effective team right away. World War II began for Midway at 6:30a.m. December 7, 1941, when the garrison received word of the Japanese attack onPearl Harbor. At 6:42 p.m.
, a Marine sentry sighted a flashing light out at seaand alerted the garrison. Three hours later, the Japanese destroyers Sazanamiand Ushio opened fire, damaging a seaplane hangar, knocking out the Pan Americandirection finder and destroying a consolidated PBY Catalina flying boat. TheJapanese retired at 10:00 p.m., leaving four Midway defenders dead and 10wounded.
On December 23, 1941, Midway’s air defenses were reinforced with 17SB2U-3 Vought Vindicator dive bombers, 14 Brewster F2A-3 Buffalo fighters, andpilots and aircrews originally intended for the relief of Wake Island. TheBuffaloes and Vindicators were cast-off aircraft, having been replaced by theDouglas SBD-2 Dauntless dive bombers and Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat fighters on U.S.aircraft carriers. The Buffaloes became part of MarineFighter Squadron 221 (VMF-221), while the Vindicators were put into Marine Scout Bombing Squadron 241(VMSB-241), both making up Marine Air Group 22 (MAG-22) under Lt. Col. Ira B.Kimes.
Midway settled into a routine of training and anti-submarine flights,with little else to do except play endless games of cards and cribbage, andwatch Midway’s famous albatrosses, nicknamed gooney birds, in action (Stevens56). Then, in May 1942, Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto, commander in chief of theJapanese Combined Fleet, came up with a plan, called Operation Mi, to draw outthe U.S.
Pacific Fleet by attacking Midway. Using Midway as bait and gathering avast naval armada of eight aircraft carriers, 11 battleships, 23 cruisers, 65destroyers and several hundred fighters, bombers and torpedo planes, Yamamotoplanned to crush the Pacific Fleet once and for all. Alerted by his code-breakers that the Japanese planned to seize Midway, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz,commander in chief, Pacific Command, flew to the atoll on May 2, 1942, to make apersonal inspection. Following his inspection, Nimitz took Simard and Shannonaside and asked them what they needed to defend Midway. They told him theirrequirements. “If I get you all these things, can you hold Midway against amajor amphibious assault?” Nimitz asked the two officers.
“Yes, sir!” Shannonreplied. It was good enough for Nimitz, who returned to Oahu (Robertson 58). OnMay 20, Shannon and Simard received a letter from Admiral Nimitz, praising theirfine work and promoting them to captain and full colonel, respectively. ThenNimitz informed them that the Japanese were planning to attack Midway on May 28;he outlined the Japanese strategy and promised all possible aid. On May 22, asailor accidentally set off a demolition charge under Midway’s gasoline supply.The explosion destroyed 400,000 gallons of aviation fuel, and also damaged thedistribution system, forcing the defenders to refuel planes by hand from 55-gallon drums.
All the while the Marines continued digging gun emplacements,laying sandbags and preparing shelters on both islands. Barbed wire sproutedalong Midway’s coral beaches. Shannon believed that it would stop the Japaneseas it had stopped the Germans in World War I. He ordered so much strung that oneMarine exclaimed: “Barbed wire, barbed wire! Cripes, the old man thinks we canstop planes with barbed wire” (Miracle 27)! The defenders also had a largesupply of blasting gelatin, which was used to make anti-boat mines and boobytraps. On May 25, while the work continued, Shannon and Simard got some goodnews. The Japanese attack would come between June 3 and 5, giving them anotherweek to prepare. That same day, the light cruiser St. Louis arrived, to deliveran eight-gun, 37mm anti-aircraft battery from the Marine 3rd Defense Battalionand two rifle companies from the 2nd Raider Battalion.
On May 26, the ferry USSKittyhawk arrived with 12 3-inch guns, 5 M-3 Stuart light tanks, 16 Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless dive bombers, and 7 Grumman F4F Wildcat fighters, along with 22pilots–most of them fresh out of flight school, May 29 saw the arrival of fourMartin B-26 Marauder medium bombers from the 22nd Bomb Group. These planes werespecially rigged to carry torpedoes and led by Captain James Collins. That sameday, 12 Navy PBY-5A Catalinas joined the 12 PBY-5s stationed on Midway.Beginning on May 30, Midway’s planes began searching for the Japanese. Twenty-two PBYs from Lt. Cmdr.
Robert Brixner’s Patrol Squadron 44 (VP-44) andCommander Massie Hughes’ VP-23 took off from Midway lagoon, then headed out inan arc stretching 700 miles from Midway in search of the Japanese. Midway gotfurther air reinforcement on June 1 when six new Grumman TBF torpedo bombers,commanded by Lieutenant Langdon K. Fieberling, arrived. None of the TBF pilotshad ever been in combat, and only a few had ever flown out of sight of landbefore. The TBF would later be named Avenger in honor of its combat introductionat Midway. By June 1, both Sand and Eastern islands were ringed with coastaldefenses. Six 5-inch guns, 22 3-inch guns and four old Navy 7-inch guns wereplaced along the coasts of both islands for use as anti-aircraft and anti-boatguns.
As many as 1,500 mines and booby traps were laid underwater and along thebeaches. Ammunition dumps were placed all around the islands, along with cachesof food for pockets of resistance and an emergency supply of 250 55-gallongasoline drums. Midway had practically everything it needed for its defense.Along with the 121 aircraft crowding Eastern Island’s runways, Midway had 11 PT-boats in the lagoon to assist the ground forces with anti-aircraft fire. A yachtand four converted tuna boats stood by for rescue operations, and 19 submarinesguarded Midway’s approaches.
Even with those preparations, there were problems.The air station’s radar, an old SC-270 set installed on Sand Island, showed manyblips that were more often albatrosses than aircraft. Also, there was no planfor coordinating Midway’s air operations, which were dependent on a mixture ofArmy Air Force, Navy and Marine pilots and crews. With that in mind, Midway’scommanders believed their only chance was to attack the Japanese carriers whenthey were located, in the hope of catching them with their planes on deck. “Thismeant exquisitely precise timing, a monumental dose of luck, or both,” AdmiralNimitz explained.
“Balsa’s Midway’s air force must be employed to inflictprompt and early damage to Jap carrier flight decks if recurring attacks are tobe stopped….” By June 2, the Pacific Fleet’s three aircraft carriers–Enterprise, Hornet and Yorktown–were in position northeast of Midway, but onlya few key officers were aware that Midway’s defenders would be supported by them.Midway’s Navy pilots were told not to “expect any help from the U.S.
carriers;they’re off defending Hawaii.” Midway’s only chance was for Nimitz’s carriers totake the Japanese by surprise. Early on the morning of June 3, the PBYs of VP-44and VP-23 took off on their 700-mile search missions, joined by B-17 FlyingFortresses on their own search and attack missions. The remaining aircraft onMidway were armed, fueled and waiting for orders to take to the air once theJapanese carriers were located.
At 9:04 a.m., Ensign Charles R. Eaton,patrolling 470 miles from Midway, sighted three ships and got a burst of anti-aircraft fire for his trouble.
Eaton quickly radioed Midway with the first enemyship contact report of the battle. Seven hundred miles west of Midway, EnsignJack Reid flew his PBY-5A across a largely empty ocean, nearing the end of theoutward leg of his patrol. He found nothing of interest and started to turn back.Just as he did, Reid saw some specks on the horizon 30 miles ahead. At first hethought they were dirt spots on the windshield. Then he looked again and shoutedto his co-pilot, Ensign Gerald Hardeman, “Do you see what I see?” “You’re damnedright I do,” Hardeman replied (Miracle 49). At 9:25 a.
m., Reid radioed, “Sightedmain body,” to Midway and began tracking the Japanese ships. Midway ordered Reidto amplify his report, and at 9:27 he radioed, “Bearing 262 degrees, distance700.” At 10:40 he reported, “Six large ships in column…” At 11 a.
m., “Elevenships, course 090 degrees, speed 19.” At 11:30, Reid was ordered to return toMidway (Stevens 96). At 12:30, a flight of nine B-17 bombers, each armed withfour 600-pound bombs and led by Lt. Col.
Walter C. Sweeney, took off (Lucas 28).Three-and-a-half hours later, the B-17s found the Japanese ships 570 miles fromMidway and attacked from out of the sun.
Sweeney reported seeing two shipsburning after the strike. In reality, Sweeney’s B-17s scored no hits on theJapanese ships, and the return flight to Midway proved every bit as harrowing asthe attack itself. With their fuel almost exhausted, the B-17s came within sightof Eastern Island at 8:30 p.m. The last Flying Fortress landed at 9:45 p.m.While Sweeney’s B-17s returned from their attack, another strike of four PBYCatalinas, each armed with a torpedo and led by Lieutenant W.
L. Richards, leftMidway at 9:15 p.m. to attack the Japanese. All four PBYs returned safely,claiming three torpedo hits.
One torpedo hit the bow of the tanker Akebono Maru,killing 13 sailors and wounding 11; the transport Kiosumi Maru lost a fewcrewmen to strafing. June 4 began for Midway’s defenders at 3:00 a.m. withreveille. All gun positions on both islands were manned as pilots and aircrewsstood by their planes. At 4:00 a.m., six F4F Wildcats from Major Floyd B.
“Red”Parks’ VMF-221 took off on combat air patrol. They were followed by 11 PBYs fromVP-44, searching for the Japanese carriers, and 16 B-17s led by Sweeney thatwere to attempt another attack on the Japanese transports. At 4:30 a.
m., thecarriers of Vice Adm. Chuichi Nagumo’s First Striking Force–Akagi, Kaga, Hiryuand Soryu–launched their aircraft. Fifteen minutes later, 36 Nakajima B5N2 Katetorpedo bombers, 36 Aichi D3A1 Val dive bombers and 36 Mitsubishi A6M2 Zerofighters were on their way to Midway. At 5:30, Lieutenant Howard P. Ady emergedfrom a cloud bank and spotted Nagumo’s carriers.
Ady radioed Midway, “Carrierbearing 320 degrees, distance 180.” Ady ducked back into the clouds and circledthe Japanese fleet, radioing again, “0553, Two carriers and main body of ships,carriers in front, course 135 degrees, speed 34.” Fifteen minutes after Ady’ssighting, Lt. j.g. William Chase, flying south of Ady’s sector, saw a formationof Japanese fighters and bombers. Chase quickly radioed: “Many enemy planesheading Midway bearing 320 degrees, distance 150.” On Midway, radar on SandIsland picked up the approaching Japanese planes at 5:53.
Air raid sirens wailed,and all personnel raced to their dugouts and gun positions. Major Parks’ 21Buffaloes and six Wildcats scrambled into the air, followed by LieutenantFieberling’s six TBFs and Captain Collins’ four B-26s. Major Henderson’s divebombers were last to take off. By 6:16, all 66 of Midway’s aircraft wereairborne.
While the bombers headed toward the Japanese carriers, Parks led sixBuffaloes and three Wildcats to intercept the 108 oncoming Japanese planes.Captain John Carey, leading the three Wildcats in Parks’ flight, was first tosight the Japanese. “Tallyho! Hawks at angels twelve!” Carey radioed. TheJapanese bombers flew in a large V formation, trailed by gaggles of Zeros. Careyrolled his Wildcat and screamed into the V, blowing a Kate apart with hisfour.
50-caliber machine guns, then zoomed up for another attack. Japanese reargunners raked his Wildcat, riddling Carey’s legs. Second Lieutenant Clayton M.Canfield followed Carey into his attack, destroying a Kate. Canfield saw Zerosdiving on him. A 20mm cannon shell damaged his Wildcat, and he pulled up intothe clouds and lost his pursuers. Coming out of the clouds, Canfield joinedCarey and led him back to Midway.
Captain Marion E. Carl, flying the thirdWildcat, was jumped by several Zeros after attacking the Kates and was forced tobreak off his attack. While the Wildcats fought for their lives, Parks led hissix Buffaloes in an attack on the Kates.
The Marines managed one pass beforethey were overwhelmed by the Zeros. Parks and four other Marines were killed.Only Lieutenant Daniel J. Irwin survived. He managed to fly his damaged Buffaloback to Midway with Zeros after him all the way. “Their gunnery was very good,”Irwin reported, “and I doubt if on any run they missed hitting my plane.” VMF-221’s 12 reserve fighters, led by Captains Daniel J.
Hennessy and Kirk Armstead,also attacked the Japanese planes (Lucas 104). Hennessy’s six Buffaloes smashedinto the bombers and were jumped by the escorting Zeros, which destroyed four ofthem. Only two of Hennessy’s men survived. Armstead’s Buffaloes intercepted theJapanese a few miles from Midway and downed three Kates before the rampagingZeros destroyed three of them. Observing the dogfight from the ground,Lieutenant Charles Hughes said that the Buffaloes “looked like they were tied toa string while the Zeros made passes at them.” The Japanese pushed relentlesslytoward Midway. To Marine Pfc Phillip Clark at D Battery on Sand Island, theJapanese formations looked like “three wisps of clouds far out on the horizon.”On Sand and Eastern, the Marines and sailors waited for the attack.
An observermarveled at the “very calmlackadaisical air” with which the defenders waitedfor the strike, “as though they had been living through this sort of thing alltheir lives”(Stevens 98). “Open fire when targets are in range,” 6th Battalionheadquarters notified all guns at 6:30 a.m. One minute later, Midway’s gunsopened fire.
A Kate erupted into flames and dove straight down. A second Katecrashed into the lagoon, missing the PT-boats. The remaining Kates struck SandIsland, destroying three oil tanks and setting fire to a seaplane hangar. Theattack on Eastern Island began with an unforgettable incident. “Suddenly theleading Jap plane peeled off,” an eyewitness wrote. “He dove down about 100 feetfrom the ground, turned over on his back and proceeded leisurely flying upsidedown over the ramp.
” The Marines watched for a few seconds, then opened fire andshot him down. Val dive bombers struck VMF-221’s arming pit, killing fourmechanics and exploding eight 100-pound bombs and 10,000 rounds of .50-calibermachine-gun ammunition. Another Val demolished Eastern’s powerhouse, disruptingMidway’s electricity and water distillation plant. Japanese efforts to renderEastern’s runways useless were unsuccessful; only two small craters were left onthe landing strips. Midway’s defenders fought back with everything they had.
Major Dorn E. Arnold of the 6th Defense Battalion fired a Browning AutomaticRifle at the enemy; a sailor on Sand Island used a Colt .45. Second LieutenantElmer Thompson and another Marine fired a .30-caliber machine gun from acrippled SB2U. The Japanese attack ended at 6:48 a.m.
The all-clear sounded onMidway at 7:15, and the process of picking up the pieces began. Kimes orderedVMF-221’s fighters to land. Six Buffaloes staggered in. Including four aircraftthat landed during the raid, only 20 U.S. fighters had survived.
Of those, onlyone Wildcat and a single Buffalo were fit to fly. Fifteen Buffaloes and twoWildcats were shot down, and 13 pilots were killed. Eleven Japanese aircraftwere downed by the fighters and anti-aircraft fire, while 53 were damaged.Colonel Shannon’s trenches, bunkers and revetments proved effective.
Only 11 ofMidway’s ground defenders were killed and 18 wounded. None of Midway’s planeswere caught on the ground except for an old utility biplane and a decoy planemade of crates and tin roofing called the “JFU” (Jap fouler-upper)(Robertson 15).While Midway repaired its damage and its defenders licked their wounds, theaircraft that were sent out to attack the Japanese carriers made contact.Lieutenant Langdon Fieberling’s six TBFs reached the Japanese fleet at 7:10,dropped to low altitude and bore on toward the carriers. So many Zeros swarmedaround the vulnerable torpedo planes that the fighters got in each other’s way.Two TBFs were destroyed in the first attack, followed by three more.
Realizingthat he could not reach the carriers, Ensign Albert K. Earnest loosed historpedo at a cruiser, then broke away with two Zeros after him. Earnest flew hisshot-up TBF back to Midway, navigating “by guess and by God.” Close behind theTBFs, Captain James Collins led his four B-26 Marauders into a gauntlet of anti-aircraft fire and six Zeros.
Collins led his planes down to 200 feet above thewater and, followed by Lieutenant James P. Muri, pressed on toward the carrierAkagi. Collins released his torpedo 850 yards from the carrier and pulled away.
Muri released his torpedo at 450 yards, then turned and flew down the middle ofAkagi’s flight deck. Once Muri’s B-26 was clear of Akagi, the Zeros attackedwith a vengeance, wounding two crewmen and riddling the landing gear, fuel tanks,propeller blades, radio and the top of one wing. Despite that punishment, Muriand Collins were the only survivors of the four-plane B-26 group. Then, at 7:48,the TBF and B-26 attacks were followed by VMSB-241’s 16 Dauntless and Vindicatordive bombers led by Major Lofton Henderson. Henderson had divided the squadroninto two flights, leading the SBDs himself while Major Benjamin W. Norris ledthe Vindicators. As Henderson led the squadron northwest, the faster Dauntlessessoon left the Vindicators behind.
Henderson’s SBDs got their first look at theJapanese carriers at 7:25, and he radioed his Dauntless pilots, “Attack the twoenemy CV on the port bow.” Henderson had led his squadron down to 4,000 feetwhen the Japanese combat air patrol attacked. The Dauntlesses also met withheavy anti-aircraft fire from the Japanese ships.
Henderson’s plane was hit, andhis port wing caught fire. He tried to keep his burning Dauntless in the lead,but finally lost control and plunged into the sea. Captain Elmer C. Gliddenquickly took command of the Dauntlesses.
“Fighter attacks were heavy,” he wrote,”so I led the squadron down through a protecting layer of clouds”(Stevens 102).The Zeros followed the Marines into the clouds. Glidden came out of the cloudsand found two Japanese carriers, Kaga and Hiryu, 2,000 feet below. The 10remaining Dauntlesses dived to 500 feet or lower before releasing their bombs,then sped away at full throttle, hounded by Zeros. Three SBDs crashed at seanear Midway. Their crews were later rescued. The remaining six, some badly shotup, reached Midway. Eight SBDs, including Henderson’s, were lost, with theJapanese sustaining no damage.
Sweeney’s 15 Flying Fortresses arrived overNagumo’s fleet at 8:10, as the Dauntlesses finished their attacks. Seen from20,000 feet, the Japanese fleet was “an astonishing sight,” recalled B-17 pilotDon Kundinger. “A panoramic view of the greatest array of surface vessels any ofus had ever seen–they seemed to stretch endlessly from horizon to horizon.”Each three-plane B-17 element attacked on its own. Lieutenant Colonel BrookeAllen’s element unloaded its bombs on the carrier Soryu, but all fell short.Sweeney targeted Kaga, bracketing her stern with, he believed, “one bomb hitcausing heavy smoke” (Robertson 22). Three Zeros ganged up on Captain CecilFaulkener’s bomber, riddling its fuselage and wounding the tail gunner. AnotherZero dueled with Captain Paul Payne’s Fortress but never closed in.
“The Zerosbarely touched the B-17s,” Captain Paul Gregory reported. “Enemy pursuitappeared to have no desire to close on B-17E modified”(Young 25). The B-17sfinished their attack by 8:20 and returned to Midway. Sweeney believed his B-17shad hit at least one of the Japanese carriers.
In reality, they had not. Shortlyafter the B-17s left, Major Benjamin Norris’ 11 Vindicators arrived and Zerosswarmed over them(Miracle 45). Norris, with no illusions about his old”Vibrators,” decided not to press on toward the carriers. He led his men intosome clouds. Coming out of the cloud cover, Norris discovered a battleship below.It was Haruna, supposedly sunk in December 1941.
“Attack target below,” Norrisradioed, and he led the Vindicators into a high-speed glide. Anti-aircraft gunson Haruna opened fire with an “extremely heavy and troublesome but inaccuratebarrage”(Stevens 121). Only two of Major Norris’ Vindicators were lost duringthe attack. Three ditched at sea near Midway because of battle damage. Despitereports that they had scored two direct hits and three near-misses, theVindicator pilots had not even scratched Haruna. If the Battle of Midway hadended with the return of VMSB-241’s Vindicators, it would have been anothervictory for the Japanese. Midway had sent 52 aircraft against the Japanese andlost 19 without scoring a single hit. “From the time of the attack and the knownposition of the enemy carriers, we estimated they would be back in three or fourhours,” Kimes wrote (Stevens 54).
Only six Dauntlesses, seven Vindicators, oneBuffalo and a single Wildcat were left to oppose the Japanese. The defenders ofMidway steadied themselves for another air raid. Nothing happened. The onlyaircraft to show up were 11 Dauntlesses from the carrier Hornet at 11:00 a.m.Some Marine gunners, believing they were Japanese planes, opened fire on theSBDs before recognizing their silhouettes. The Dauntlesses were refueled andback in the air by 2:00 p.m.
At 3:58, Midway’s defenders received an indicationthat the Japanese were taking a beating when a PBY pilot reported “three burningships.” At 5:45 he reported, “The three burning ships are Jap carriers.” Thestricken vessels–Akagi, Kaga and Soryu–were the victims of SBD Dauntlessesfrom the American carriers Enterprise and Yorktown. At the same time out at sea,B-17s from Midway, along with six more Flying Fortresses from Hawaii, attackedthe Japanese carrier Hiryu, which had been damaged and set afire by dive bombersfrom Enterprise and Hornet. The B-17s claimed hitting the burning Hiryu, as wellas a cruiser and battleship, and sinking a destroyer.
In fact, the land-basedbombers were no more successful in the afternoon than they had been in themorning. With all four of Nagumo’s carriers destroyed, Yamamoto decided he couldnot proceed with his plan to occupy Midway, and ordered his fleet to withdraw.Midway’s defenders, however, still expected the Japanese to invade. CaptainSimard dispersed his PBYs, evacuated nonessential personnel and warned his PT-boats to expect a night attack. At 1:20 a.m., the Japanese submarine I-168opened fire on Midway with its 5-inch deck gun. Batteries B and E on EasternIsland, along with Battery D on Sand Island, returned fire with their 3- and 5-inch guns, lobbing 42 shells at I-168, which lobbed eight shells back.
The briefexchange resulted in no damage to either side. Most of I-168’s shells fell inthe lagoon. The submarine submerged at 1:28, the Marine gunners ceased firingand Midway settled back into uneasy silence (Miracle 68). June 5, 1942, beganfor Midway’s defenders at 4:15 a.m., after Sand Island’s radio picked up areport from the submarine USS Tambor of a large enemy force possibly withinstriking distance. The Midway garrison still had every reason to believe that aninvasion was imminent. Within 15 minutes, eight B-17s took off from EasternIsland to counter the threat.
The Army pilots could not locate the enemy shipsin the early morning fog, and by 6:00 a.m. the B-17s were circling nearby KureAtoll waiting for information. At 6:30, a Midway-based PBY reported, “Sighted 2battleships bearing 256 degrees, distance 125 miles, course 268 degrees, speed15.
” Two minutes later the PBY added, “Ships damaged, streaming oil.” TheJapanese ships were retreating, and the island’s defenders breathed a collectivesigh of relief. Marine Aircraft Group 22 sent up two flights from VMSB-241, sixDauntlesses under Captain Marshall A. Tyler and six Vindicators led by CaptainRichard E.
Flemming, to attack the two “battleships,” actually the heavycruisers Mikuma and Mogami, damaged in a collision the night before. Forty-fiveminutes later, the Marine pilots spotted the oil slick left by the damagedcruisers and followed it to Mogami and Mikuma. Tyler led his six Dauntlessesinto an attack on Mogami amid heavy anti-aircraft fire. The Marines droppedtheir bombs, scoring a few near-misses. At 8:40, minutes after Tyler’s attack,Flemming led his Vindicators out of the sun, through heavy flak from theJapanese ships, against Mikuma.
Captain Leon M. Williamson, a pilot inFlemming’s flight, saw Flemming’s engine smoking during his dive. As Flemmingpulled out, his Vindicator burst into flames. Flemming–either by accident ordesign–crashed his blazing Vindicator into Mikuma’s aft 8-inch gun turret. Thecrash started a fire that was sucked into the cruiser’s starboard engine roomair intakes, suffocating the engineers.
After the Marines finished their attacks,the eight B-17s from Midway, led by Lt. Col. Brooke Allen, appeared and droppedtheir bombs, scoring a near-miss on Mogami. The damaged cruisers continuedlimping westward, and Mikuma sank at sunset the next day after attacks byaircraft from Enterprise and Hornet.
At 10:45 on June 6, 1942, Captain Simarddispatched 26 B-17s from Midway in search of Japanese cruisers reported headingsouthwest. The bombers did not locate the cruisers, but six B-17s dropped theirbombs on what they thought was a Japanese ship. The pilots reported that theyhad hit a cruiser, which “sunk in seconds.” It was actually the submarine USSGrayling, which submerged when the Flying Fortresses dropped their bombs. WhileMidway’s bombers continued attacking the retreating Japanese, Simard had hisPBYs and PT-boats searching for downed pilots. Between June 4 and 9, Midway’sPBYs picked up 27 airmen. By June 7, it had become apparent that Midway wassecure.
The island’s garrison, for all the damage it had suffered, hadcontributed its fair share to the victory over the Japanese. This Battle hadended the Japanese offensive in the pacific ocean.Category: History