Midway Islands’ Undaunted Defenders
Outclassed by the approaching Japanese carrier task force, the American airmen at Midway prepared to do their best–unaware that a U.S. Navy carrier force was coming to their aid.By William B. AllmonNothing distinguished the dawn of June 2, 1942, from countless other dawns that had fallen over tiny Midway atoll in the North Pacific. Nothing, that is, except the 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 and Marine Corps personnel, along with a few Army Air Force aircrews, stood at battle stations in and near their fighters, bombers, torpedo planes and seaplanes, waiting for the Japanese attack they had been expecting for weeks. The carrier battle of Midway, one of the decisive naval battles in history, is well-documented. But the role played by the Midway garrison, which manned the naval air station on the 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 in diameter and consists of Sand and Eastern islands surrounded by a coral reef enclosing a shallow lagoon. Midway was discovered in 1859 and annexed by the United States in August 1867. Between 1903 and 1940, it served both as a cable station on the Honolulu Guam Manila underwater telegraph line and as an airport for the Pan American Airways China Clipper. In March 1940, after a report on U.S. Navy Pacific bases declared Midway second only to Pearl Harbor in importance, construction of a formal naval air station began.
Midway Naval Air Station was placed in commission in August 1941. By that time, Midway’s facilities included a large seaplane hangar and ramps, artificial harbor, fuel storage tanks and several buildings. Sand Island was populated by hundreds of civilian construction workers and a defense battalion of the Fleet Marine Force, while Eastern Island boasted a 5,300-foot airstrip. Commander Cyril T. Simard, a veteran naval pilot who had served as air officer on the carrier USS Langley and as executive officer at the San Diego Air Station, was designated the atoll’s commanding officer.
Along with the naval personnel manning the air station was a detachment of Marines. The first detachment was from the Marine 3rd Defense Battalion; it was relieved on September 11, 1941, by 34 officers and 750 men from the 6th Defense Battalion under the command of Lt. Col. Harold D. Shannon, a veteran of World War I and duty in Nicaragua, Panama and Hawaii. Shannon and Simard meshed into an effective team right away.
World War II began for Midway at 6:30 a.m. December 7, 1941, when the garrison received word of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. At 6:42 p.m., a Marine sentry sighted a flashing light out at sea and alerted the garrison. Three hours later, the Japanese destroyers Sazanami and Ushio opened fire, damaging a seaplane hangar, knocking out the Pan American direction finder and destroying a Consolidated PBY Catalina flying boat. The Japanese retired at 10 p.m., leaving four Midway defenders dead and 10 wounded.
On December 23, 1941, Midway’s air defenses were reinforced by 17 SB2U-3 Vought Vindicator dive bombers, 14 Brewster F2A-3 Buffalo fighters, and pilots and aircrews originally intended for the relief of Wake Island. The Buffaloes and Vindicators were cast-off aircraft, having been replaced by the Douglas SBD-2 Dauntless dive bombers and Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat fighters on U.S. aircraft carriers. The Buffaloes became part of Marine Fighter 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, and watch Midway’s famous albatrosses, nicknamed gooney birds, in action. Then, in May 1942, Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto, commander in chief of the Japanese Combined Fleet, came up with a plan, called Operation Mi, to draw out the U.S. Pacific Fleet by attacking Midway. Using Midway as bait and gathering a vast naval armada of eight aircraft carriers, 11 battleships, 23 cruisers, 65 destroyers and several hundred fighters, bombers and torpedo planes, Yamamoto planned 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, PacificCommand, flew to the atoll on May 2, 1942, to make a personal inspection. Following his inspection, Nimitz took Simard and Shannonaside and asked them what they needed to defend Midway. They toldhim their requirements.
“If I get you all these things, can you hold Midway against a major amphibious assault?” Nimitz asked the two officers.”Yes, sir!” Shannon replied.
It was good enough for Nimitz, who returned to Oahu. On May 20,Shannon and Simard received a letter from Admiral Nimitz, praising their fine work and promoting them to captain and full colonel,respectively. Then Nimitz 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, a sailor accidentally set off a demolition charge under Midway’s gasoline supply. The explosion destroyed 400,000gallons of aviation fuel, and also damaged the distribution system,forcing the defenders to refuel planes by hand from 55-gallondrums.
All the while the Marines continued digging gun emplacements,laying sandbags and preparing shelters on both islands.
Barbed wire sprouted along Midway’s coral beaches. Shannon believed that it would stop the Japanese as it had stopped the Germans in World War I. He ordered so much strung that one Marine exclaimed: “Barbed wire, barbed wire! Cripes, the old man thinks we can stop planes with barbed wire!” The defenders also had a large supply of blasting gelatin, which was used to make anti-boat mines and booby traps.
On May 25, while the work continued, Shannon and Simard got some good news. The Japanese attack would come between June 3 and 5,giving them another week to prepare. That same day, the lightcruiser St. Louis arrived, to deliver an eight-gun, 37mm anti-aircraft battery from the Marine 3rd Defense Battalion and two rifle companies from the 2nd Raider Battalion.
On May 26, the ferry USS Kittyhawk 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 22 pilots–most of them fresh out of flight school, May 29 saw the arrival off our Martin B-26 Marauder medium bombers from the 22nd Bomb Group,specially rigged to carry torpedoes and led by Captain James Collins.That same day, 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) and Commander Massie Hughes’VP-23 took off from Midway lagoon, then headed out in an arc stretching700 miles from Midway in search of the Japanese.
Midway got further air reinforcement on June 1 when six new Grumman TBF torpedo bombers, commanded by Lieutenant Langdon K. Fieberling,arrived. None of the TBF pilots had ever been in combat, and only a few had ever flown out of sight of land before. The TBF would later be named Avenger in honor of its combat introduction at Midway.
By June 1, both Sand and Eastern islands were ringed with coastal defenses. Six 5-inch guns, 22 3-inch guns and four old Navy 7-inchguns were placed along the coasts of both islands for use as anti-aircraft and anti-boat guns. As many as 1,500 mines and booby traps were laid underwater and along the beaches. Ammunition dumps were placed all around the islands, along with caches of food for pockets of resistance and an emergency supply of 250 55-gallon gasoline 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 yacht and four converted tuna boats stood by for rescue operations, and 19 submarines guarded 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 many blips that were more often albatrosses than aircraft. Also, there was no plan for coordinating Midway’s air operations, which were dependent on a mixture of Army Air Force, Navy and Marine pilots and crews.
With that in mind, Midway’s commanders believed their only chance was to attack the Japanese carriers as soon as they were located, in the hope of catching them with their planes on deck.”This meant exquisitely precise timing, a monumental dose of luck, or both,” Admiral Nimitz explained. “Balsa’s[Midway’s] air force must be employed to inflict prompt and early damage to Jap carrier flight decks if recurring attacks are to be stopped….”
By June 2, the Pacific Fleet’s three aircraft carriers–Enterprise,Hornet and Yorktown–were in position northeast of Midway,but only a 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 to take the Japanese by surprise.
Early on the morning of June 3, the PBYs of VP-44 and VP-23 took off on their 700-mile search missions, joined by B-17 Flying Fortresses on their own search and attack missions. The remaining aircraft on Midway were armed, fueled and waiting for orders to take to the air once the Japanese 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 enemy ship contact report of the battle.
Seven hundred miles west of Midway, Ensign Jack Reid flew hisPBY-5A across a largely empty ocean, nearing the end of the outward leg of his patrol. He found nothing of interest and started to turn back. Just as he did, Reid saw some specks on the horizon30 miles ahead. At first he thought they were dirt spots on the windshield. Then he looked again and shouted to his co-pilot,Ensign Gerald Hardeman, “Do you see what I see?””You’re damned right I do,” Hardeman replied.
At 9:25 a.m., Reid radioed, “Sighted main body,”to Midway and began tracking the Japanese ships. Midway ordered Reid to amplify his report, and at 9:27 he radioed, “Bearing262 degrees, distance 700.” At 10:40 he reported, “Six large ships in column….” At 11 a.m., “Eleven ships,course 090 degrees, speed 19.” At 11:30, Reid was ordered to return to Midway.
At 12:30, a flight of nine B-17 bombers, each armed with four600-pound bombs and led by Lt. Col. Walter C. Sweeney, took off.Three-and-a-half hours later, the B-17s found the Japanese ships570 miles from Midway and attacked from out of the sun. Sweeney reported seeing two ships burning after the strike.
In reality, Sweeney’s B-17s scored no hits on the Japanese ships, and the return flight to Midway proved every bit as harrowing as the attack itself. With their fuel almost exhausted, the B-17scame within sight of 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 PBY Catalinas, each armed with a torpedo and led by Lieutenant W.L. Richards, left Midway 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, killing13 sailors and wounding 11; the transport Kiosumi Maru lost a few crewmen to strafing.
June 4 began for Midway’s defenders at 3 a.m. with reveille.All gun positions on both islands were manned as pilots and aircrews stood by their planes. At 4 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 from VP-44, searching for the Japanese carriers, and 16 B-17s led by Sweeney that were to attempt another attack on the Japanese transports.
At 4:30 a.m., the carriers of Vice Adm. Chuichi Nagumo’s First Striking Force–Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu and Soryu–launched their aircraft. Fifteen minutes later, 36 Nakajima B5N2 Kate torpedo bombers, 36 Aichi D3A1 Val dive bombers and 36 Mitsubishi A6M2Zero fighters were on their way to Midway.
At 5:30, Lieutenant Howard P. Ady emerged from a cloud bank and spotted Nagumo’s carriers. Ady radioed Midway, “Carrier bearing 320 degrees, distance 180.” Ady ducked back into the clouds and circled the Japanese fleet, radioing again, “0553,Two carriers and main body of ships, carriers in front, course135 degrees, speed 34.”
Fifteen minutes after Ady’s sighting, Lt. j.g. William Chase, flying south of Ady’s sector, saw a formation of Japanese fighters and bombers. Chase quickly radioed: “Many enemy planes heading Midway bearing 320 degrees, distance 150.”On Midway, radar on Sand Island 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’ 21 Buffaloes and six Wildcats scrambled into the air, followed by Lieutenant Fieberling’s six TBFs and Captain Collins’ four B-26s. Major Henderson’s dive bombers were last to take off. By 6:16, all 66 of Midway’s aircraft were airborne.
While the bombers headed toward the Japanese carriers, Parks led six Buffaloes and three Wildcats to intercept the 108 oncoming Japanese planes. Captain John Carey, leading the three Wild catsin Parks’ flight, was first to sight the Japanese. “Tallyho!Hawks at angels twelve!” Carey radioed. The Japanese bombers flew in a large V formation, trailed by gaggles of Zeros. Carey rolled his Wildcat and screamed into the V, blowing a Kate apart with his four .50-caliber machine guns, then zoomed up for another attack. Japanese rear gunners raked his Wildcat, riddling Carey’s legs. Second Lieutenant Clayton M. Canfield followed Carey into his attack, destroying a Kate. Canfield saw Zeros diving on him.A 20mm cannon shell damaged his Wildcat, and he pulled up into the clouds and lost his pursuers. Coming out of the clouds, Canfield joined Carey and led him back to Midway. Captain Marion E. Carl,flying the third Wildcat, was jumped by several Zeros after attacking the Kates and was forced to break off his attack.
While the Wildcats fought for their lives, Parks led his six Buffaloe sin an attack on the Kates. The Marines managed one pass before they were overwhelmed by the Zeros. Parks and four other Marines were killed. Only Lieutenant Daniel J. Irwin survived. He managed to fly his damaged Buffalo back 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.Hennessy’s six Buffaloes smashed into the bombers and were jumped by the escorting Zeros, which destroyed four of them. Only two of Hennessy’s men survived. Armstead’s Buffaloes intercepted the Japanese a few miles from Midway and downed three Kates before the rampaging Zeros destroyed three of them. Observing the dogfight from the ground, Lieutenant Charles Hughes said that the Buffaloes “looked like they were tied to a string while the Zeros made passes at them.”
The Japanese pushed relentlessly toward Midway. To Marine Pfc Phillip Clark at D Battery on Sand Island, the Japanese 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 observer marveled at the “very calm…lackadaisicalair” with which the defenders waited for the strike, “as though they had been living through this sort of thing all their lives.”
“Open fire when targets are in range,” 6th Battalion headquarters notified all guns at 6:30 a.m. One minute later,Midway’s guns opened fire. A Kate erupted into flames and dove straight down. A second Kate crashed into the lagoon, missing the PT-boats. The remaining Kates struck Sand Island, destroying three oil tanks and setting fire to a seaplane hangar.
The attack on Eastern Island began with an unforgettable incident.”Suddenly the leading Jap plane peeled off,” an eyewitness wrote. “He dove down about 100 feet from the ground, turned over on his back and proceeded leisurely flying upside down over the ramp.” The Marines watched for a few seconds, then opened fire and shot him down.
Val dive bombers struck VMF-221’s arming pit, killing four mechanics and exploding eight 100-pound bombs and 10,000 rounds of .50-caliber machine-gun ammunition. Another Val demolished Eastern’s powerhouse, disrupting Midway’s electricity and water distillation plant. Japanese efforts to render Eastern’s runways useless were unsuccessful; only two small craters were left on the landing strips.
Midway’s defenders fought back with everything they had.Major Dorn E. Arnold of the 6th Defense Battalion fired a Browning Automatic Rifle at the enemy; a sailor on Sand Island used a Colt.45. Second Lieutenant Elmer Thompson and another Marine fired a .30-caliber machine gun from a crippled SB2U.
The Japanese attack ended at 6:48 a.m. The all-clear sounded on Midway at 7:15, and the process of picking up the pieces began.Kimes ordered VMF-221’s fighters to land. Six Buffaloes staggered in. Including four aircraft that landed during the raid,only 20 U.S. fighters had survived. Of those, only one Wildcat and a single Buffalo were fit to fly. Fifteen Buffaloes and two Wildcats were shot down, and 13 pilots were killed. Eleven Japanese aircraft were downed by the fighters and anti-aircraft fire, while53 were damaged.
Colonel Shannon’s trenches, bunkers and revetments proved effective. Only 11 of Midway’s ground defenders were killed and 18 wounded. None of Midway’s planes were caught on the ground except for an old utility biplane and a decoy plane made of crates and tin roofing called the “JFU” (Jap fouler-upper).
While Midway repaired its damage and its defenders licked their wounds, the aircraft 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 swarmed around 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.
Realizing that he could not reach the carriers, Ensign Albert K. Earnest loosed his torpedo at a cruiser, then broke away with two Zeros after him. Earnest flew his shot-up TBF back to Midway,navigating “by guess and by God.”
Close behind the TBFs, Captain James Collins led his fourB-26 Marauders into a gauntlet of anti-aircraft fire and six Zeros. Collins led his planes down to 200 feet above the water and,followed by Lieutenant James P. Muri, pressed on toward the carrier Akagi. 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 of Akagi’s flight deck.
Once Muri’s B-26 was clear of Akagi, the Zeros attacked with a vengeance, wounding two crewmen and riddling the landing gear, fuel tanks, propeller blades, radio and the top of one wing.Despite that punishment, Muri and Collins were the only survivors of the four-plane B-26 group. Then, at 7:48, the TBF and B-26attacks were followed by VMSB-241’s 16 Dauntless and Vindicator dive bombers led by Major Lofton Henderson. Henderson had divided the squadron into two flights, leading the SBDs himself while Major Benjamin W. Norris led the Vindicators. As Henderson led the squadron northwest, the faster Dauntlesses soon left the Vindicators behind. Henderson’s SBDs got their first look at the Japanese carriers at 7:25, and he radioed his Dauntless pilots, “Attack the two enemy CV on the port bow.”
Henderson had led his squadron down to 4,000 feet when the Japanese combat air patrol attacked. The Dauntlesses also met with heavy anti-aircraft fire from the Japanese ships. Henderson’s plane was hit, and his 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. Glidden quickly took command of the Dauntlesses. “Fighter attacks were heavy,”he wrote, “so I led the squadron down through a protecting layer of clouds.” The Zeros followed the Marines into the clouds.
Glidden came out of the clouds and found two Japanese carriers,Kaga and Hiryu, 2,000 feet below. The 10 remaining Dauntlesses dived to 500 feet or lower before releasing their bombs, then sped away at full throttle, hounded by Zeros. Three SBDs crashed at sea near Midway. Their crews were later rescued. The remaining six, some badly shot up, reached Midway. Eight SBDs, including Henderson’s, were lost, with the Japanese sustaining no damage.
Sweeney’s 15 Flying Fortresses arrived over Nagumo’s fleet at 8:10, as the Dauntlesses finished their attacks. Seen from 20,000 feet, the Japanese fleet was “an astonishing sight,” recalled B-17 pilot Don Kundinger. “A panoramic view of the greatest array of surface vessels any of us had ever seen–they seemed to stretch endlessly from horizon to horizon.”Each three-plane B-17 element attacked on its own. Lieutenant Colonel Brooke Allen’s element unloaded its bombs on the carrier Soryu, but all fell short. Sweeney targeted Kaga, bracketing her stern with, he believed, “one bomb hit…causing heavy smoke.”
Three Zeros ganged up on Captain Cecil Faulkener’s bomber,riddling its fuselage and wounding the tail gunner. Another Zero dueled with Captain Paul Payne’s Fortress but never closed in. “The Zeros barely touched the B-17s,” Captain Paul Gregory reported. “Enemy pursuit appeared to have no desire to close on B-17E modified.” The B-17s finished their attack by 8:20 and returned to Midway. Sweeney believed his B-17s had hit at least one of the Japanese carriers. In reality,they had not.
Shortly after the B-17s left, Major Benjamin Norris’ 11Vindicators arrived and Zeros swarmed over them. Norris, with no illusions about his old “Vibrators,” decided not to press on toward the carriers. He led his men into some clouds.Coming out of the cloud cover, Norris discovered a battleship below. It was Haruna, supposedly sunk in December 1941. “Attack target below,” Norris radioed, and he led the Vindicators into a high-speed glide. Anti-aircraft guns on Haruna opened fire with an “extremely heavy and troublesome but inaccurate barrage.” Only two of Major Norris’ Vindicators were lost during the attack. Three ditched at sea near Midway because of battle damage. Despite reports that they had scored two direct hits and three near-misses, the Vindicator pilots had not even scratched Haruna.
If the Battle of Midway had ended with the return of VMSB-241’sVindicators, it would have been another victory for the Japanese.Midway had sent 52 aircraft against the Japanese and lost 19 without scoring a single hit.
“From the time of the attack and the known position of the enemy carriers, we estimated they would be back in three or four hours,” Kimes wrote. Only six Dauntlesses, seven Vindicators,one Buffalo and a single Wildcat were left to oppose the Japanese.The defenders of Midway steadied themselves for another air raid.Nothing happened. The only aircraft to show up were 11 Dauntlesses from the carrier Hornet at 11 a.m. Some Marine gunners, believing they were Japanese planes, opened fire on the SBDs before recognizing their silhouettes. The Dauntlesses were refueled and back in the air by 2 p.m.
At 3:58, Midway’s defenders received an indication that the Japanese were taking a beating when a PBY pilot reported “three burning ships.” At 5:45 he reported, “The three burning ships are Jap carriers.” The stricken vessels–Akagi, Kaga and Soryu–were the victims of SBD Dauntlesses from 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, attacked the Japanese carrier Hiryu, which had been damaged and set afire by dive bombers from Enterprise and Hornet. The B-17s claimed hitting the burning Hiryu,as well as a cruiser and battleship, and sinking a destroyer.In fact, the land-based bombers were no more successful in the afternoon than they had been in the morning.
With all four of Nagumo’s carriers destroyed, Yamamoto decided he could not proceed with his plan to occupy Midway, and ordered his fleet to withdraw. Midway’s defenders,however, still expected the Japanese to invade. Captain Simard dispersed his PBYs, evacuated nonessential personnel and warned his PT-boats to expect a night attack.
At 1:20 a.m., the Japanese submarineI-168 opened fire on Midway with its5-inch deck gun. Batteries B and E on Eastern Island, along with Battery D on Sand Island, returned fire with their 3- and 5-inchguns, lobbing 42 shells at I-168, which lobbed eight shells back.The brief exchange resulted in no damage to either side. Most of I-168’s shells fell in the lagoon. The submarine submerged at 1:28, the Marine gunners ceased firing and Midway settled back into uneasy silence.
June 5, 1942, began for Midway’s defenders at 4:15 a.m.,after Sand Island’s radio picked up a report from the submarine USS Tambor of a large enemy force possibly within striking distance.The Midway garrison still had every reason to believe that an invasion was imminent. Within 15 minutes, eight B-17s took off from Eastern Island to counter the threat. The Army pilots could not locate the enemy ships in the early morning fog, and by 6a.m. the B-17s were circling nearby Kure Atoll waiting for information.
At 6:30, a Midway-based PBY reported, “Sighted 2 battleships bearing 256 degrees, distance 125 miles, course 268 degrees, speed15.” Two minutes later the PBY added, “Ships damaged,streaming oil.” The Japanese ships were retreating, andthe island’s defenders breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Marine Aircraft Group 22 sent up two flights from VMSB-241, six Dauntlesses under Captain Marshall A. Tyler and six Vindicators led by Captain Richard E. Flemming, to attack the two “battleships”–actually the heavy cruisers Mikuma and Mogami, damaged in a collision the night before. Forty-five minutes later, the Marine pilots spotted the oil slick left by the damaged cruisers and followed it to Mogami and Mikuma. Tyler led his six Dauntlesses into an attack on Mogami amid heavy anti-aircraft fire. The Marines dropped their 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 the Japanese ships, against Mikuma. Captain Leon M. Williamson, a pilot in Flemming’s flight, saw Flemming’s engine smoking during his dive. As Flemming pulled out, his Vindicator burst into flames. Flemming–either by accident or design–crashed his blazing Vindicator into Mikuma’s aft 8-inch gun turret.The crash started a fire that was sucked into the cruiser’s starboard engine room air intakes, suffocating the engineers.
After the Marines finished their attacks, the eight B-17s fromMidway, led by Lt. Col. Brooke Allen, appeared and dropped theirbombs, scoring a near-miss on Mogami. The damaged cruisers continuedlimping westward, and Mikuma sank at sunset the next day afterattacks by aircraft from Enterprise and Hornet.
At 10:45 on June 6, 1942, Captain Simard dispatched 26 B-17s fromMidway in search of Japanese cruisers reported heading southwest.The bombers did not locate the cruisers, but six B-17s droppedtheir bombs on what they thought was a Japanese ship. The pilotsreported that they had hit a cruiser, which “sank in seconds.”It was actually the submarine USS Grayling, which submerged whenthe Flying Fortresses dropped their bombs.
While Midway’s bombers continued attacking the retreatingJapanese, Simard had his PBYs and PT-boats searching for downedpilots. Between June 4 and 9, Midway’s PBYs picked up 27airmen.
By June 7, it had become apparent that Midway was secure. Theisland’s garrison, for all the damage it had suffered,had contributed its fair share to the victory over the Japanese.
Author William B. Allmon writes from Jefferson City, Mo. For furtherreading: Incredible Victory, by Walter Lord; Miracle at Midway,by Gordon W. Prange; and History of United States Naval Operationsin World War II, Vol. IV, Coral Sea, Midway and Submarine Actions,May 1942-August 1942, by Samuel Eliot Morison.