The Battle of Midway, day 3…

June 5th was a day of retrenchment, with the Japanese withdrawing to the west, and the tattered American aviators trying to find them.

This video is directed by John Ford, and shot by actual Navy combat photographers both on Midway and aboard ships and airplanes on the 4th of June.

As they retreat, with U.S. ships in pursuit, two remaining Japanese cruisers are bombed and further damaged by aircraft launched from Midway, who finally get a piece of the action and at least get a little payback for those lost on the islands.

Yorktown, still listing with the Hughes (DD-410) standing by her, ready to torpedo the carrier, if required, through the night, reported the carrier appeared salvageable on the morning of the 5th, and by 1426, Yorktown was under tow by the minesweeper Vireo (AM-52). A salvage party, led by Yorktown‘s Captain Buckmaster, arrived, boarded the ship, and began stripping her of equipment to reduce her list. Additional destroyers, including Hammann (DD-412) arrived to cover her withdrawal.

The Japanese debacle had not yet ended. At 0342, June 5, the US submarine Tambor (SS-198) startled Kurita’s cruisers, which were then 90 miles west of Midway, retiring westward. In executing an emergency turn away from the sub, cruiser Mogami rammed her sistership Mikuma, buckling Mogami‘s bow and opening Mikuma‘s fuel tanks to the sea. By dawn, the two damaged cruisers, screened by two destroyers, were making 12-14 knots, a long slick of oil from Mikuma trailing behind them.

At dawn, June 5, Task Force 16 was steaming westward at 15 knots. In thick weather, and with too few SBDs to both scout and mount a strike, RADM Spruance gave his airmen a well-deserved rest, while waiting for contact reports from Midway’s planes. At 0700, Spruance received Tambor‘s report of “many unidentified ships” from earlier that morning. With a Japanese landing on Midway seemingly in the offing, Task Force 16 increased speed to 25 knots and proceeded to pass north of Midway. An hour later, a Midway-based PBY reported a damaged carrier with two battleships and three cruisers retiring to the northwest. As the morning wore on, an enemy assault on Midway seemed less likely, so Spruance turned northwest, to pursue the reported carrier.

With the trail growing cold, in Enterprise, CDR Browning proposed launching all available Dauntlesses at 1400, armed with 1000-pound bombs, to attack the enemy carrier. The airmen, catching wind of the plan, revolted. Their objection was not to the attack itself, but to the 240 mile gap estimated to lie between TF-16 and the enemy. Lugging a 1000-pound bomb, there was no hope the SBDs would have enough fuel to return to their carriers. A tense moment followed on the Flag bridge: Enterprise Air Group Commander McClusky supported by VS-6 Commander Earl Gallaher and Enterprise Captain George D. Murray, confronted Browning in front of RADM Spruance. In the end, Spruance overrode Browning, telling McClusky, “I will do what you pilots want.”

The plan was modified to launch the strike at 1500, with the SBDs carrying 500-pound bombs. Once again, Hornet was not kept fully apprised of the plans, and was not quite ready to launch when the first of 32 SBDs – planes from both Enterprise and Yorktown squadrons – rumbled down the Big E’s flight deck at 1512. By 1543, however, groups from both carriers were in the air and cruising northwest.

The mission itself was inconsequential. Failing to find the reported carrier, first Hornet‘s and then Enterprise‘s attack groups dove on destroyer Tanikaze. Tanikaze zigzagged furiously and fired “a large volume of small caliber and anti-aircraft fire.” Not a hit was scored, a credit to the destroyer’s commander, CDR Motoi Katsumi. In Enterprise‘s group, LT Samuel Adams of Scouting Five was shot down, with his gunner Joseph Karrol, ARM 2/c: a high price to pay for no good end, but the only US losses on 5 June.

The attack groups didn’t return to Task Force 16 until after nightfall. Spruance endeared himself to his aviators by ordering TF-16 to illuminate the ships, so the Dauntlesses could land. Enterprise recovered four more SBDs than it had launched. Five from Hornet landed on the Big E, while Hornet took in one Scouting Six bomber. There was not a single accident, though many of the pilots were not qualified for night landings.

The night of June 5-6, Task Force 16 steamed west-northwest, arriving at a position 340 miles northwest of Midway by dawn.

 NOTE: Much has been said of Marc Mitscher’s decision to “turn on the lights” late June 20, 1944, the end of the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Mitscher commanded Hornet at Midway, and he may have later been inspired by Spruance’s actions on June 5, 1942. Normally, warships operated in complete darkness at night: the glow of a cigarette was enough to alert a submarine to a ship’s presence.



The Battle of Midway, day 3… — 10 Comments

  1. Another good post. The video was a cleaned up propaganda version of what really happen. Of course they couldn’t tell the people back home of the total losses of the US fleet and airmen. I’ve been to Midway Island and it sure was a high price to pay for such a small parcel of land.

  2. CP- Yes, it was. I have walked Eastern Is. and it is eerie… They walked away from it in 1947, and we saw guns, wrecked jeeps, etc. still sitting where they were left.

  3. It was a high price to pay for the tactical goal of retaining Midway. This was also a strategic goal – but arguably less so.

    On the other hand this one Naval engagement gutting the Japanese ability to field aircraft carriers, and it never fully recovered from the loss there in.

    Sometimes you have to pay the price. We paid, and won. I’m not sure this country is as politically ready to pay such a price if we are called to do so.

    God Bless all those who put on the uniform then and since.

  4. In the first six to twelve months of a war with the United States and Great Britain I will run wild and win victory upon victory. But then, if the war continues after that, I have no expectation of success. – Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto

    Six months. That’s all they got.

  5. Hey Old NFO;

    I wouldn’t mind visiting Midway but I am not sure that that is a viable option. It was small and inconsequential island, but if the Japanese had captured it, it would have threatened Hawaii, the reasons for the Japanese going for the island were sound, but providence smiled upon the Americans and we won.

  6. Very interesting post, and yesterday’s.

    The only other place I saw any mention about Midway was on the OAN channel, on Sunday, which had a pretty good report.

    Sad to have so little attention paid to our history.

  7. What a lot of folks don’t realize is that after Midway, the US Navy suffered similar losses during several naval battles off Guadalcanal later that year.

    After the loss of Yorktown at Midway the USN was left with four operational carriers in the Pacific – Enterprise, Hornet, Wasp, and Saratoga.

    Enterprise was damaged so extensively during the battle of the Eastern Solomons on August 24th, and then later at the battle of Santa Cruz on October 25th, that she had to leave the area and return to the west coast for repairs – essentially a mission kill.

    Wasp was sunk on September 15th when she was the victim of the single most devastating torpedo attack of the war.

    On September 15th, the Hornet and Wasp task forces were steaming north toward Guadalcanal when the Japanese submarine I-19 spotted Wasp and fired a spread of 6 torpedoes at her. Two of those torpedoes hit and ultimately sank the Wasp. The four that missed continued onward toward the six mile distant Hornet task force that also included USS North Carolina and USS O’Brien. The O’Brien was struck and later sank. North Carolina was also struck and was damaged bad enough to require six weeks of shipyard repair at Pearl Harbor.

    Finally, USS Hornet was also lost at the battle of Santa Cruz on October 25th.

    At the close of the Guadalcanal campaign, the USN was left with *one* operational carrier in the Pacific – USS Saratoga.

    Of course, the difference between the Japanese losses at Midway and the US losses at Guadalcanal was that the Japanese lost their carriers all at once, while the US lost theirs over about three months. Also, the US could replenish their losses while the Japanese could not.

    It’s also worth noting that even though the Guadalcanal campaign is mostly known as a heroic action by the US Marine Corps, the Navy fought just as hard and actually suffered over twice as many casualties over the course of the campaign. (Total KIA for the Army & Marine Corps was 1592. Total KIA for the US Navy during the course of the campaign was 5041.)

    Sobering isn’t it. Coral Sea and Midway notwithstanding, 1942, however you look at it, was a very bad year for our forces in the Pacific. However, Midway & Guadalcanal did indeed stop the Japanese advance, and 1943 saw us turn the tide of the war and start the advance towards victory.

  8. LL- Agreed!

    Jon- Excellent point. And 3000+ vs. 350 deaths is STILL a large price to pay.

    Stretch- Pretty much came to pass…

    Bob- I’m not sure they allow visitors anymore. And definitely not to Eastern Is. It’s a ‘nature’ preserve now.

    Suz- Soundbite generation… sigh

    Roy- All excellent points. And you’re right, the saving grace was our manufacturing capability. And Henry Kaiser’s modularization of ship assembly.

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