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.