The 6th of June continued the Battle of Midway…
At 0510, Enterprise launched 18 SBDs (Scout Bomber- Douglas) – including planes from VS-6, VB-3, and the five Hornet SBDs – to search westward out to 200 miles. At 0645, a Hornet SBD reported an enemy battleship, accompanied by a cruiser and three destroyers, steaming slowly west. (Poor transmission caused the report to be received as one carrier and five destroyers.) Forty-five minutes later, a second Hornet SBD dropped a message on Enterprise‘s flight deck, reporting two heavy cruisers and two destroyers, in approximately the same position as the earlier report.
This time, Hornet was the first to launch, and on Saturday, June 6, her airmens’ luck changed. Launching at 0757, Hornet put 25 Dauntlesses in the air, eight armed with 500-pound bombs, the rest with 1000-pounders. At 0930, Hornet Air Group commander CDR Stanhope Ring located the enemy ships, and at 0950 initiated the attack. His victims were the hapless cruisers Mogami and Mikuma.
Mogami took two bomb hits in this first attack, Mikuma several more. As Hornet recovered her strike at 1035, Enterprise prepared to launch her own: 31 Dauntless dive bombers, accompanied by the last three Torpedo Six Devastators, and an escort of 12 VF-6 Wildcats. Spruance, while convinced the torpedo planes could inflict critical damage on the enemy ships, could not accept further losses.Accordingly he instructed LT(jg) Robert Laub, who was to command VT-6, “if there is one single gun firing out there, under no circumstances are you to attack.”
Enterprise‘s attack got underway at 1045. Led by LT Wallace Short of Yorktown‘s Scouting Five, the group passed over what appeared to be two cruisers and two destroyers at noon. After flying on another 30 miles in search of the non-existent battleships, Short turned back and commenced attack on the cruisers – Mogami and Mikuma – at 1215. Again Mogami absorbed two hits, but Mikuma took at least five, leaving her dead in the water, her topside utterly wrecked. Fighting Six got in the action as well, making repeated strafing runs on the destroyers, expending 4000 rounds of ammunition and “knocking off huge pieces of metal”. Laub’s three torpedo planes hung back and never attacked. All three returned safely to the Big E.
As Enterprise and Hornet worked over the Japanese cruisers, I-168, the enemy submarine ordered to shell Midway early June 5 found Yorktown. By this time, a little after noon, June 6, things were looking up for the hard-hit carrier.
By 1237, June 6, I-168 had slipped to within 500 yards of the carrier, which made only three knots in tow by the straining Vireo. Poor acoustical conditions impeded the sonar equipment aboard the destroyers, enabling I-168 to fire four torpedoes at about 1334. One torpedo missed, one caught Hammann amidships and broke her in half, while the last two ripped open Yorktown‘s battered port side. The damage was more than the salvage crew could overcome, and at 0458, June 7, Yorktown – sistership of Enterprise and Hornet – rolled over and settled beneath the waves.
Even as I-168 delivered the fatal blow to Yorktown, Hornet again struck at the wrecked enemy cruisers, launching 24 SBDs armed with 1000-lb bombs which attacked at 1445. Shortly afterwards, Enterprise launched her last mission of the battle, two SBDs equipped with cameras, to photograph the enemy ships. Mogami managed to escape, eventually reaching Truk, and out of action for over a year.
The SBDs found Mikuma settling quickly: the photos they took rank among the best known of the Pacific War.
The attacks on the IJN cruisers were the last piece of the Battle of Midway. RADM Spruance concluded it would be best to break off pursuit of the enemy, as he would soon be in range of enemy planes based on Wake Island. At 1900, Task Force 16, its ships full of exhausted but victorious aviators and sailors, turned east, first to rendezvous with oilers, and then to proceed southeast to Pearl Harbor, arriving late June 13.
The impact of the Battle of Midway is still being argued over today, but regardless of which side you come down on, it was a MAJOR turning point in the war against Japan. The loss of four IJN carriers, plus pilots, crewmen, and, more importantly, maintenance personnel, did crimp the IJN’s capability to counter the US carriers.
A half a world away, and two years later, another definitive battle started… Operation Overlord, better known as D-Day was underway, link HERE.