Friday, February 05, 2010

The Battle of Midway


I was talking to a family member last night who attended a lecture last night on the War in the Pacific during World War II, and in specific the Battle of Midway. I therefore thought it would be fun to re post several articles I have posted before on this blog on the battle and to reedit it into a new posting since I am fascinated with this battle.

First a brief summary of the battle from Wikipedia:

The Battle of Midway was a naval battle in the Pacific Theater of World War II. It took place from June 4, 1942 to June 7, 1942, approximately one month after the Battle of the Coral Sea, about five months after the Japanese capture of Wake Island, and six months after the Empire of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor that had led to a formal state of war between the United States and Japan. During the battle, the United States Navy defeated a Japanese attack against Midway Atoll, losing one aircraft carrier and one destroyer, while destroying four Japanese carriers and a heavy cruiser.

The battle was a decisive victory for the Americans, widely regarded as the most important naval engagement of the Pacific Campaign of World War II

The Japanese plan of attack was to lure America's remaining carriers into a trap and sink them.[4] The Japanese also intended to occupy Midway Atoll to extend Japan's defensive perimeter farther from its home islands. This operation was considered preparatory for further attacks against Fiji and Samoa, as well as an invasion of Hawaii
(To read more click on the title for a link)


All members of Torpedo Squadron 8 who flew from the USS Hornet during the battle perished in the action, with the exception of Ensign George Gay.

From Wikipedia:
The squadrons first and best-known combat mission came during the Battle of Midway on 4 June 1942. Flying the vulnerable Douglas TBD Devastators, Commander John C. Waldron's 15 planes were all shot down during their unescorted torpedo attack on four Japanese aircraft carriers. The squadron did not destroy any enemy aircraft with their rear .30-caliber machine guns, nor did they damage any of the Japanese carriers.

(The last of Torpedo Eight's planes take off from the USS Hornet,on June 4,1942, flown by squadron commander John C. Waldron with Horace Franklin Dobbs, CRMP, in the rear seat, a short time later they would both be dead along with the rest of the squadron)

Famous Academy Award wining Director John Ford ("The Grapes of Wrath" & "How Green Was my Valley") was in the navy and at Midway during the battle. A few year ago for Christmas I received the "Ford At Fox" collection of his movies on DVD and it had as a "special feature" the documentaries John Ford made during World War II while he was in the U.S. Navy. They include the well know Academy Award winning documentaries on "Pearl Harbor" and the "Battle of Midway." It also included a little known, and not distributed, documentary called "Torpedo Squadron 8" a documentary made only for the family's of the squadron members who died in the Battle of Midway. Torpedo Squadron 8 (VT-8) was a United States Navy squadron of torpedo bombers operating from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet. It is an emotional experience watching this color documentary, showing these young American navy flayers taken shortly before their deaths. So young ... so "boy next door" joking and smiling." I've seen a few excerpts from the documentary in the Documentary "John Ford Goes to War" but until now no one has seen the entire film except the producers and a few families on the home front.

Ford was on the island of Midway during the battle in 1942 and personally supervised, or himself filmed, the action there. Others of his crew were at sea aboard carriers. A good deal of color footage was shot. By happenstance, some of the footage focused on the pilots and crew members of Torpedo Squadron 8 who all except one died a few hours later. Some of the shots showed them as a group, and others showed them as individuals, going about their business, laughing and joking around their airplanes. The Navy men flew obsolete torpedo planes, called Devestators. Because of what Clausewitz called "the fog of war," they arrived at their targets unescorted by fighters and all of the torpedo planes were shot down. There was only one survivor. Of course, Ford knew this when he was assembling the film, so among the opening credits is a plaque reading, "In Memoriam." Releasing a film like this for general distribution was out of the question in wartime, so, as I understand it, Ford saw to it, or tried to see to it, that copies of the film were only given to the families of Torpedo Squadron 8. (from the IMDB)

Now 65 years later it's available on DVD in the Ford At Fox Collection.

A List of Fallen:

Lt. Commander John C. Waldron
Lt. Raymond A. Moore
Lt. James C. Owens, Jr.
Lt.(jg) George M. Campbell
Lt.(jg) John P. Gray
Lt.(jg) Jeff D. Woodson
Ens. William W. Abercrombie
Ens. William W. Creamer
Ens. Harold J. Ellison
Ens. William R. Evans
Ens. Henry R. Kenyon
Ens. Ulvert M. Moore
Ens. Grant W. Teats
Robert B. Miles, Aviation Pilot 1c
Horace F. Dobbs, Chief Radioman
Amelio Maffei, Radioman 1
Tom H. Pettry, Radioman 1
Otway D. Creasy, Jr. Radioman 2
Ross H. Bibb, Jr., Radioman 2
Darwin L. Clark, Radioman 2
Ronald J. Fisher, Radioman 2
Hollis Martin, Radioman 2
Bernerd P. Phelps Radioman 2
As well L. Picou, Seaman 2
Francis S. Polston, Seaman 2
Max A. Calkins, Radioman 3
George A. Field, Radioman 3
Robert K. Huntington, Radioman 3
William F. Sawhill, Radioman 3

From Wikipedia:

Failure of the Hornet's captain and air group commander to provide proper coordination led to the disaster, though in fairness, VT-3 from Yorktown (CV-5) and VT-6 from Enterprise (CV-6) fared little better. Of all 41 torpedo planes which sortied that day, only six survived. However, it is possible that the act of drawing away the Japanese Zero fighters during the doomed attack allowed a subsequent wave of American dive bombers to later sink three of the four Japanese carriers.

Author Herman Wouk in his novel "War and Remembrance" has listed the members of torpedo squadron 8 and two other torpedo squadrons from the U.S.S. Yorktown and U.S.S. Enterprise and said this about the naval aviators that attacked the Japanese aircraft carriers that day

"So long as men choose to decide the turns of history with the slaughter of youths--- and even in a better day, when this form of human sacrifice has been abolished like the ancient superstitious, but no more horrible form--- the memory of these three American torpedo plane squadrons should not die. The old sagas would halt the tale to list the names and birthplaces of the men who fought so well. Let this romance follow the tradition. These were the young men of the three squadrons, their names recovered from an already fading record."

Wouk then lists the names and home town of all of the crew member in the three squadrons with those who died outlined in black. It is the most haunting section of his great novel.

All together, these three torpedo Squadrons lost 33 pilots and 45 radiomen-gunners that day. The slow obsolete American torpedo planes were slaughtered by Japanese Zeroes and AA fire. Herman Wouk had this to say:

"In a planned coordinated attack, the dive-bombers were supposed to distract the enemy fighters, so as to give the torpedo planes their chance to come in. Instead the torpedo planes had pulled down the Zeroes and cleared the air for the dive-bombers. What was not luck, but the soul of the United States of America in action, was this willingness of the torpedo plane squadrons to go in against hopeless odds. This was the extra ounce of martial weight that in a few decisive minutes tipped the balance of history."

The Japanese lost four aircraft carriers and the U.S. lost the Yorktown in this naval battle fought from the air.