Table of Contents ** Abbreviations * Military Map Symbols

Chapter 4: The Battle, 4-5 June 1942

At 0300 4 June, when reveille sounded on Midway, the Japanese Fleet was approaching its objective in two main forces, the Striking Force, commanded by Admiral Nagumo, Chuichi, IJN; and the Occupation Force, under over-all command of Vice Admiral Kondo, Nobutake, IJN. The former unit, as we have seen was composed of four carriers, plus an escort of battleships and smaller combatant ships; and the latter included a substantial portion of the Second Fleet: battleships, cruisers, and the amphibious shipping necessary to mount the projected landing operation against Midway, the objective now designated by the Japanese code term as "AF."[1]

At this time the striking force was approximately 20 miles northwest of the atoll, engaged in making final preparations to launch planes which were intended to wipe out Midway as an effective air base[2] and pave the way for its assault and occupation. The occupation force, which had been attacked from the air without appreciable damage during the day an d night previous, was almost due west of Midway, approximately 450 miles away.[3]

Two United States carrier task forces, including, altogether, three carriers, together with covering cruisers and destroyers, were in the area 250 miles northeast by north of Midway. The first of these, Task Force Sugar, Enterprise and Hornet, was under the command of Rear Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, USN; the second, Task Force Fox, built around the Yorktown, came under Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher, USN. Stationed about Midway, on radii of 200 miles and less, patrolled some 25 submarines of the Pacific Fleet.[4]

At 0430, only 15 minutes after an early dawn search group of 11 PBYs had been sent out from Midway to located his Striking Force, Admiral Nagumo headed carriers upwind and launched the Midway Attack Force, composed as follows:

These 108 planes were commanded by the air officer of the Hiryu, whose name has not survived.[5]

Meanwhile, after the PBYs had gone out, Midway devoted itself to final preparations for battle. Marines of the ground defense force were at general quarters, manning every weapon and warning device; the pilots and ground crews of MAG-22, which already had fighters aloft to cover the sortie of the PBYs, were standing by for orders. The latter were not long in coming.

At 0545, a PBY made what Admiral Nimitz

Map 2: Strikes by Marine Air Group 22 -- Battle of Midway, 4-5 June 1942

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afterward characterized as "the most important contact of the battle."[6] Its pilot had sighted planes of the enemy's Midway attack force, 150 miles out from the objective.

At 0552, moreover, after apparently trying to get this vital message through for almost a quarter of an hour (see footnote 6), a PBY reported visual contact with two enemy carriers and the balance of the Japanese main body, some 180 miles from Midway, bearing 320º."[7]

Three minutes later, at 0555, the 6th Defense Battalion logged a radar report, "Many planes, 89 miles, 320º."[8] Almost simultaneously, the Naval Air Station noted substantially the same contact, In a matter of seconds, the air-raid sirens were sounding, Condition One was set, and the pilots of MAG-22 were manning their planes.[9]

Within less than 10 minutes, both squadrons of the Marine Air Group[10] were in the air and being vectored toward their respective targets. VMF-221 was to intercept the massed carrier air of the Midway attack force, and VMSB-241 would rendezvous 20 miles east of Midway, at which point further instructions would be issued.

Commanded by Major Floyd B. Parks, VMF-221 was, as we have seen, a squadron of mixed composition, being equipped mainly with Brewster F2A-3s, augmented by a few F4F-3s of the type which had already drawn blood at Wake. On this morning, 26 airplanes were operational out of the squadron's 28.[11] Organized largely by performance and type into five unequal divisions, the fighter squadron was sent out in two major groups, one (Major Parks, eight F2A-3s and five F4F-3s) being vectored directly toward the incoming Japanese force, still on bearing 320º from Midway; and the other (Captain Kirk Armistead, 12 F2A-3s and one F4F-3s) was, for the time being, vectored slightly westward on bearing 310º, to be withheld temporarily against the contingency of a second enemy strike from another direction. Within a few minutes, however, Major Park's group had made contact, and Armistead's was immediately committed in support of the former.[12]

At 0616, approximately 30 miles from Midway, from an altitude of 14,000 feet, the pilots with Major Parks saw, 2,000 feet below them a large formation of Aichi Type 99 (Val) dive bombers screened by several divisions of Zero fighters. Captain John F. Carey, leading one of Park's divisions in an F4F-3, gave "Tally-ho," and pushed over into a dive to attack the bombers, followed by his wingmen, Captain Marion E. Carl and Second Lieutenant Clayton M. Canfield. As Carey and Canfield commenced high-side runs on the bombers, Carl and other pilots of the squadron mixed it with a swarm of Zero fighters which, they noted, climbed astoundingly even in comparison to the Grummans, let alone the F2A's.

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"TALLY-HO" FOR THE MARINE FIGHTERS. An official Navy photo-model concept of the first contact between Marine Fighting Squadron 221 and incoming Japanese fighters and bombers of the Midway Attack Force. Twenty-five Marine fighters tackled 108 enemy aircraft.

Inasmuch as only three of the original 12 Marine pilots of Major Parks' group[13] survived this unequal encounter, it is impossible to reconstruct details of the melee, but survivors' accounts, together with evident results observed subsequently, indicate that the first attack took a formidable toll of the enemy bombers and even a few of the 36 covering Zeros. To the three who survived, the duel was a brief moment of surprise for the enemy, followed by desperate dogfights to keep off the incessant Zeros, as the few remaining Marine pilots attempted to reform.

Approximately 10 minutes after Major Parks' gallant attack, Captain Armistead's 13 fighters--all old F2As but one--launched the second Marine strike against the enemy air groups, still disposed in two waves which Armistead counted to include 40 bombers each.[14]

Perhaps the best account of this second encounter is contained in Armistead's personal report, which is as follows:

At about 0620, I heard Capt. Carey transmit "Tally-ho" followed by "Hawks at angels 14, supported by fighters." I then started climbing, and sighted the enemy at approximately 14,000 feet at a

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distance of 5 to 7 miles out, and approximately 2 miles to my right. I immediately turned to a heading of about 70º and continued to climb. I was endeavoring to get a position above and ahead of the enemy and come down out of the sun. However, I was unable to reach this point in time. I was at 17,000 feet when I started by attack. The target consisted of 5 divisions of from 5 to 9 planes each, flying in division V's. I figured this group to consist of from 30 to 40 dive bombers of the Aichi Type 99. I was followed in column by 5 F2A-3 fighters and 1 F4F-3 fighter, pilot unknown. I made a head-on approach from above at a steep angle and at very high speed on the fourth enemy division which consisted of 5 planes. I saw my incendiary bullets travel from a point in front of the leader, up through his plane and back through the planes on the left wing of the V. I continued in my dive, and looking back, saw two or three of those planes falling in flames. Some of the planes in my division centered their attack on the fifth enemy division. After my pull-out, I zoomed back to an altitude of 14,000 feet; at this time I noticed another group of the same type bombers following along in their path. I looked back over my shoulder and about 2,000 feet below and behind me I saw 3 fighters in column, climbing up toward me, which I assumed to be planes of my division. However, they climbed at a very high rate, and a very steep path. When the nearest plane was about 500 feet below and behind me I realized that it was a Japanese Zero fighter. I kicked over in a violent split S and received three 20-mm shells, one in the right wing gun, one in the right wing root tank, and one in the top left side of the engine cowling. I also received about twenty 67.7-mm rounds in the left aileron, which mangled the tab on the aileron, and sawed off a portion of the aileron. I continued in a vertical dive at full throttle, corkscrewing to me left, due to the effect of the damaged aileron. At about 3,000 feet, I started to pull out, and managed to hold the plane level at an altitude of 500 feet.
Needless to say, at this juncture Armistead headed for base.

In terms of Marine casualties, the results of this second attack were somewhat better. Perhaps the outstanding factor in these two courageous onslaughts by VMF-221 was the almost incredible disparity between the outnumbering enemy Zeros--new airplanes of performance then quite extraordinary--and the old Marine F2As. This comparison seemed keenly evident to the pilots of VMF-221, one of whom stated in his action report:

I saw two Brewsters trying to fight the Zeros. One was shot down, and the other was saved by ground fire covering his tail, Both looked like they

SLEEK BUT SLOW, the obsolescent F2A-3 fighter of the type shown here was all that the Marine pilots of VMF-221 had (except a token group of Wildcat F4F-3s) to pit against the Zeroes and Nakajimas of Admiral Nagumo's Air Attack Force.

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were tied to a string while the Zeros made passes at them. I believe that our men with planes even half as good as the Zeros would have stopped the raid completely.
For better or for worse, however, the fighter defense of Midway had been expended. The problem now passed to he defense battalion's antiaircraft gunners on the ground.

Ever since the Marine fighters had gone out, Midway had been on the qui vive. At 0619, its visual observation post had seen two aircraft falling in flames, some 25 miles away, as VMF-221 slashed at the Japanese. With all guns manned, and fire controlmen steadily tracking in the enemy formation, the Marines awaited only the correct moment to commence firing. At 0629, the Midway attack force was but eight miles away, and at 0630 Colonel Shannon gave his orders: "Open fire when targets are in range."

One minute later, at 0631, every antiaircraft battery on Midway had commenced firing.

Of this instant, wrote an officer, then in the 3d Defense Battalion:[15]

The entire island was deathly silent after the buzz of the planes taking off. It was a beautiful sunny morning. The men all strained for a first glimpse, and I had to sharply remind the lookouts to keep the other sectors covered against surprise. Then we saw the Japs, and the tension snapped. A moment later we were in action.
Delivering a horizontal attack, the first wave,

BURNING DIESEL-OIL TANKS on the north end of Sand Island after aircraft from the enemy carrier, Kaga, had plastered the area with 500-pound bombs.

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which had originally numbered 36 bombers from the Kaga and Akagi,[16] now was counted by 3d and 6th Defense Battalion observers to contain only 22 aircraft,[17] two of which were promptly shot down at extreme range before they could release bombs. Evidently VMF-221 had drawn blood. The next wave, which struck just as the first sticks of bombs began to hit all the north shores of Sand and Eastern Island, was composed of Aichi 99 dive-bombers, which had also started out 36 strong. According to witnesses on the ground, they did not now exceed 18.[18]

The Kaga group in the first wave, whose mission was to attack the patrol-plane facilities on Sand Island, dropped nine 242-kg[19] bombs on and about the seaplane hangars, setting them afire and starting a large oil fire in the fuel-oil tanks 500 yards to the north. The Akagi group plastered the north shore of Eastern Island, destroying the Marine mess hall, galley, and post exchange, which the returning enemy pilots described as hangars.[20]

Battery D (3-inch antiaircraft), 6th Defense Battalion, located midway along the southeast coast of Sand Island, was one of the principal targets of the Soryu's group of Val dive-bombers, which duly reported that the battery had been silenced. Actually it had sustained a damaged

FIRES ON EAST SHORE OF SAND ISLAND resulted after Val dive bombers attacked the 3-inch battery located nearby.

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heightfinder. Other targets of the dive bombers included the already burning fuel storage at the north end of Sand Island, the Sand Island dispensary, and the Eastern Island powerhouse, which suffered direct hits from two 805-kg bombs, destroying virtually the entire plant. At the very end of the strike, the 6th Defense Battalion's Eastern Island command post received a direct hit which killed the Marine sector-commander, Major William W. Benson, and wounded several other personnel. As the dive bombers completed their runs, Zero and Nakajima 97 fighters from the Kaga, Akagi, Soryu, and Hiryu made numerous strafing passes at targets on both islands.

It should be understood, however, that all this enemy air activity had not been carried on without cost. All six Marine 3-inch antiaircraft batteries fired continuously, and every low-flying enemy attack was made through curtains of 37-mm, 20-mm, and .50-caliber antiaircraft fire. Admiral Nagumo, in his official action report, confirmed this by his mention of the Marines' "vicious AA fire."[21] Admiral Nimitz, praising the antiaircraft shooting, credited our batteries with 10 enemy planes, a total which may well have been exceeded since returning pilots reported seeing many damaged enemy aircraft down in the water and falling out of formation.[22]

At 0648, the enemy planes had expended their ammunition and were enroute back to the carriers. Twelve minutes later, the air officer of the Hiryu (who had been in command of the strike) radioed back to Admiral Nagumo: "There is need for a second attack wave."

This less than optimistic report, however, was to some extent canceled by a second message, sent

BOMBED-OUT EASTERN ISLAND COMMAND POST of the 6th Defense Battalion, where Maj. William W. Benson was killed by a direct hit from a Japanese dive bomber.

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at 0707, by one of the subordinate enemy aviation leaders, the air officer of the Kaga, who reported in a typically Japanese fashion: "Sand Island bombed and great results attained."[23]

Save for the brief appearance, at 0701, of one or two Zeros just south of Sand Island, when these were fired on by Batteries D and E for about 20 seconds, Midway had received its final air attack of the war.[24] At 0715, the "all clear" sounded, and, in the words of Colonel Kimes,[25] commanding officer of MAG-22:

* * * a message was broadcast, "Fighters land, refuel by divisions, 5th Division first." No answer was received although the message was broadcast repeatedly, so a message, "All fighters land and reservice" was broadcast several times. A pitifully few fighters returned in answer to this message, and it was strongly suspected that there were no more to land.
Of VMF-221 fighters which had participated in the battle, only 10 returned, of which in turn but two were still in condition for combat flight. Thirteen F2A-3s and two F4F-3s were missing.[26]

Meanwhile, almost an hour earlier, at 0605, Colonel Kimes, acting on the 0552 visual contact of the enemy carriers, had broadcast the following orders to his dive-bombers in VMSB-241:

Attack enemy carriers bearing 320º distant 180 miles course 135º speed 20 knots.
No acknowledgment of this vital message could be picked up, and it was feared that, for unknown reasons, the dive-bombers had not received their orders, and that the strike on the enemy carriers would never materialize.[27] Needless to say, the

"SAND ISLAND BOMBED AND GREAT RESULTS ATTAINED," reported a Japanese flight leader by radio to Admiral Nagumo, after looking over a view similar to this one, which shows fires burning on Midway just after the enemy strike.

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message was retransmitted periodically from 0605 on, and was, in fact, picked up not only by VMSB-241 but by several fighter pilots of VMF-221, some of whom actually set course for the enemy fleet, despite their damages and dwindling fuel and ammunition.

VMSB-241, was, like the fighter squadron, divided into two striking units, the first composed of 16 SBD-2s under Major Lofton R. Henderson,[*] the squadron commander; and the second, of 11 SB2U-3s, led by Major Benjamin W. Norris. The division of the squadron accorded with its mixed composition, inasmuch as the obsolescent SB2U-3s were far outmatched by the Douglas SBDs.[28]

THE CARRIER "AKAGI," UNDER ATTACK on the morning of 4 June 1942, attempts evasive action from the 20,000-foot bombing of Army B-17s. This is the only known photograph of this ship taken during the action, and is of particular interest because it was this carrier which VMSB-241 shortly afterward bombed and set afire in the day's first successful action against the enemy carriers.

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Divided into two bomber boxes, Major Henderson's group of SBDs climbed to 9,000-foot altitude and set out to locate the enemy carriers, which were even then coming under the gallant but unsuccessful[29] attack of the six Navy TBFs and four Army B-26s which had been sent out previously.

At 0755, through broken cloud formations below them, the Marine pilots sighted their target, Admiral Nagumo's striking force, four carriers, battleships, and numerous smaller combatant ships. Just below was the 26,900-ton Akagi, and it was this ship which Major Henderson determined to attack.

Because of the relative unfamiliarity of most of his pilots with the SBD-2 (a result of the curtailed fuel allowances during the week before), Henderson planned on a glide- rather than a dive-bombing run, and commenced a let-down to 4,000 feet, from which he intended to launch his attack. As the SBDs spiralled down, they began receiving violent fighter attacks from Nakajima 97s and Zeros, which were momentarily reinforced by more fighters from the carriers below. Aboard the Akagi, their target, Marine pilots could see three fighters take off. Heavy antiaircraft fire began to thicken the air, and, below, the Akagi commenced evasive maneuvers at flank speed.

The balance of the attack can best be described in the words of Capt. Elmer G. Glidden, leader of the second division in Major Henderson's group:

The first (enemy fighter) attacks were directed at the squadron leader in an attempt to put him out of action. After about two passes, one of the enemy put several shots through the plane of Major Henderson, and his plane started to burn. From the actions of the leader it was apparent that he was hit and out of action. I was leader of the second box immediately behind the Major. As soon as it was apparent that the Major was out of action I took over the lead and continued the attack. Fighter attacks were heavy so I led the squadron down through a protecting layer of clouds and gave the signal to attack. On emerging from the cloud-bank (sic) the enemy carrier was directly below the squadron, and all planes made their runs. The diving interval was about 5 seconds.

Immediately after coming out from the protection of the clouds the squadron was attacked again by fighter planes and heavy AA. After making my run I kept heading on for the water, and I headed on an approximate bearing home. Looking back I saw two hits and one miss that was right alongside the bow. The carrier was starting to smoke.[30]

Captain Glidden's observation of the two bomb hits (each by a 500-pound bomb) is confirmed by the commanding officer of the Akagi, who was interrogated after the war, as well as by other enemy sources. Until the end of hostilities, there had been some question as to which of the enemy carriers VMSB-241 had actually hit, but the Akagi's records, together with Admiral Nagumo's report of the battle, jibe quite accurately with the reports of the Marine squadron.

According to the Nagumo report, at 0800 the Akagi sighted "16 enemy planes bearing 85º, elevation 7º, distant 17,000 meters." At 0805, further, she launched three fighters, which were evidently those noticed taking off by the Marine pilots. Prior to 0810, reports of other ships in the task force indicated that Akagi had received bomb hits.[31] Under interrogation, her Captain stated that his ship's first damage had occurred by fire as a result of--

* * * two bombs by dive bombing, about 2 hours after sunrise (one started fire at after elevator). Planes were loaded up with bombs inside the hangar and caught fire.[32]
Since sunrise that day took place prior to 0600, it could only have been the 16 Marine dive-bombers which drew first blood from the enemy carriers.

The SBD-2's retirement was executed at masthead level or lower, in order to stave off incessant fighter attacks[33] which followed them clear of the enemy fleet, but only eight of the original group made the trip back to Midway. All of these, of course, had sustained battle damage of varying degree, mostly extensive, and one SBD (Bureau No. 2106, flown by First Lieutenant Daniel Iverson, Jr.) received 259 counted hits, but nevertheless

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succeeded in getting back for a one-wheel, no-flap landing.[34]

While Major Henderson's SBD-2s were pressing home their attack against the enemy carriers, Major Norris's aging SB2U-3s were approaching the enemy fleet at 13,000 feet, and B-17s from Midway were about to deliver a 20,000-foot bombing attack which, according to Admiral Nagumo's report, resulted only in a number of distant misses.[35]

At 0820, approximately 165 miles from Midway, the Norris group sighted the enemy fleet through an almost solid cloud cover. Before they could even commence their let-down, however, the SB2U-3s were hit by three Zero fighters on combat air patrol, one of which was promptly shot down by the combined fire of four Marine rear-gunners.[36] More fighters pressed in, however, and the group began to find itself seriously embarrassed. At this juncture, the Marine pilots crowded every knot of speed out of their old airplanes and then went into column for a standard glide-bombing let-down. As the Zeros slashed in, Major Norris led the formation to shelter within the clouds, emerging at only 2,000 feet, almost on

"MY PLANE WAS HIT SEVERAL TIMES,"a summarized 1st Lt. Daniel Iversion, Jr., in describing the attack by Marine SBDs on the carrier, Akagi. Iverson's dive bomber, shown here, sustained more than 259 counted hits, including one which shot his throat microphone off the pilot's neck.

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SAND ISLAND HANGAR BURNING AGAIN as a Navy fire and damage-control party plays a stream over the charred rafters and roof of the structure during the Battle of Midway.

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top of the Japanese battleship Haruna,[37] which was in company with a sister, Kirishima.

The position in which Norris now found himself called for an instant decision. Should he--or could he--attempt from this altitude to seek out the carriers, flying through the now intense flak of an entire fleet, or should he attack the target at hand? Reasoning[38] that his unit might readily be destroyed between fighters and flak, and that the carriers had been forewarned, Major Norris therefore elected to take advantage of surprise and hit the battleship. This he did in a gliding attack, described by one of the pilots, Second Lieutenant George Lumpkin, as follows:

Major Norris started his dive immediately from 13,500 feet. It was a fairly shallow dive with my air speed about 240 knots. We dove through the overcast, I was flying No. 2 on Major Norris and came out in the clear on the port side of a large battleship, Major Norris immediately peeled off to the right in a fairly steep dive, Lieutenant Campion, who was No. 3 man, followed him and I dove third. Antiaircraft fire from the Jap battleship was very close. In fact the air was so rough from the fire it was practically impossible to hold the ship in a true dive. The Jap battleship zigzagged frantically. I tried to release my bomb but the mechanism did not work. I pulled out of my dive and headed slightly south to keep from coming too close to a Japanese transport following the battleship. They were still shooting at me with antiaircraft, probably 3-inch shells.
Another pilot, Second Lieutenant Daniel L. Cummings, tells, in a similar action report, what happened to the Marine pilots as they completed their runs:
* * * because I was then well surrounded by Jap Zero fighters I did not see the results of my bomb. For the next 15 minutes I had nothing to do except try to get away from five fighters that were concentrating on me. In the hand and run dogfighting, which was my initiation to real war, my old, obsolete SB2U-3 was almost shot out from under me. I finally made my escape in the clouds. I flew back to Midway using full right rudder, right aileron and my elevator controls were frozen, and my instruments shot away. About 5 miles from Midway my gasoline gave out and I made a crash landing in the water.
As may be divined, the attack had hardly been launched under optimum conditions, what with the alertness of the enemy combat air patrol and the high quality of his antiaircraft. The results, therefore, despite claimed hits on the Haruna, appear from reliable enemy reports to have been negligible. The Kirishima actually did sustain minor damage from a very near miss off her stern, which drenched the after portion of the ship with water, but the Haruna was not hit.[39]

Three SB2U-3s were shot down, and the Norris group is credited officially with having destroyed two enemy fighters, plus two probables.[40]

By 1000, all surviving Marine aircraft had made their way back to Eastern Island, guided, in some instances by the soaring clouds of black smoke from the oil fires still raging.

Hardly had the survivors gotten in to land, however, when, at 1100, the air-raid sirens sounded again, as an unidentified flight of six dive-bombers appeared off Midway and jettisoned bombs in the water, an action which (although intended to be friendly, inasmuch as the flight actually consisted of Navy SBDs from the USS Hornet) hardly reassured the Marines on shore batteries prepared to reopen fire, and one perforated fighter plane from VMF-221 actually took to the air for an interception before the visitors could identify themselves.[41]

Both islands were now the scene of considerable damage and resultant activity. Due to bomb damage, which had ruptured fuel lines, over two-thirds

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SALVAGE PARTIES ON EASTERN ISLAND remove valuable supplies and provisions from gutted storehouses of the aviation gase. Note presence of volunteer civilian workers, some of whom elected to await battle beside the Marines.

of the available avgas supply was, for the time being, inaccessible. Resort had to be made to use of drums, to hand pumping, and a refueling barge sent over from Sand Island, a most cumbersome means of fueling airplanes. Labor for these operations, which were to continue around the clock for some 48 hours, was provided by Marine working parties from MAG-22, the defense battalions, and Company D, 2d Raider Battalion, the infantry reserve on that island.[42]

On the ground, the Marine defense forces had sustained 24 casualties, and four ordnancemen of VMF-221 had the misfortune to receive a direct hit from a 242-kg bomb which lit squarely in their rearming pit.

At 1700, a burning enemy carrier was reported 200 miles northwest of Midway on bearing 338º. At this time, VMSB-241 had six operational SBD-2s and five SB2U-3s.[43] It was the judgment of major Norris, now squadron commander, that a more successful attack could be pressed home by this small number of planes after dark when enemy fighter opposition would be absent, and take-off was accordingly delayed until darkness.[44] Divided by type into two units (SBD-2s under Capt. Marshall A. Tyler, and SB2U-3s again under Major Norris), the squadron took off at 1900, but could not intercept. Major Norris, however, unfortunately failed to return, although his more fortunate comrades were able to home in by the light of the oil fires and AA searchlights turned on as beacons.[45]

During the night, which was moonless and squally, the Japanese submarine, I-168, approached the south shores of Midway, to execute a mission of night harassing.[46] At 2154, she surfaced cautiously about 4,500 yards east of Battery B, on the eastern tip of Eastern Island, was observed, tracked but not fired on,[47] and coasted slowly offshore until 2221, when trackers were unable to follow her.

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Information is not available as to I-168's further movements until 0120, now 5 June. At this hour, gun-flashes were seen to the southeast of Sand Island, from the 6th Defense Battalion's observation post. Three minutes later, the 3-inch Antiaircraft Group of the battalion reported that a submarine was visible on bearing 110º, shelling the island. Within one minute, at 1024, searchlight No. 102 had picked up and illuminated the I-168, and Battery C had fired a 5-inch star-shell; by 0125, two 3-inch batteries (D and E, 6th Defense Battalion) and one 5-inch battery (B) were firing, with shell splashes going up close aboard the ship.

After firing eight rounds (all of which hit in the lagoon), the submarine submerged at 0128, having been the target of some 42 rounds of 3-inch and three of 5-inch. Although observers at the searchlight position claimed to have seen three hits registered by Battery E, it is definite that the target was not sunk,[48] especially as she in turn survived next day to deliver the torpedo coup de grâce to USS Yorktown.

Inasmuch as "The Battle of Midway was decided on June 4th with the destruction of the enemy's air power,"[49] operations on 5 June assumed the nature of pursuit and mopping up, in the course of which VMSB-241 struck the final Marine blow of the battle.

At 0700, the dive-bomber squadron, now composed of six SBD-2s (Captain Tyler) and six SB2U-3s (Captain Richard E. Fleming), was ordered out to intercept and attack two supposedly damaged battleships retiring almost due west of Midway, 170 miles away.[50]

GUTTED JAPANESE CRUISER, probably the Mikuma, after Marine and Navy dive-bombers had plastered her on the morning of 5 June. Encircled wreckage atop after turret may well be the remains of the Marine SB2U-3 which Captain Fleming deliberately dived in after sustaining mortal hits.

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After approximately 45 minutes in the air, the Marine pilots picked up a wide oil-slick trail, evidently the wake of a wounded ship, and pressing the pursuit down this track, VMSB-241 made contact with the enemy force 20 minutes later at 0805, when they saw below them two major combatant ships, both in damaged condition, escorted by two destroyers. These were not, however, battleships, as had been surmised, but were in fact the two powerful and new heavy cruisers, Mogami and Mikuma, which had sustained their injuries in a collision six hours before, taking evasive action while under attack by a United States submarine.[51] Now lagging behind the other retreating ships of their unit, Cruiser Division Seven, they were alone except for the destroyers.

CAPT. RICHARD E. FLEMING, posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for diving his obsolecsent bomber onto the after turret of the enemy cruiser, Mikuma, after he had been wounded by enemy flak.

Captain Tyler's plan of attack envisaged a dive-bombing attack by the SBD-2s from 10,000 feet, and a glide-bombing run by the SB2U-3s from 4,000 feet. As Tyler led his division out of the sun from astern of the cruisers, with the Mogami as his target, intense antiaircraft fire commenced and continued throughout the balance of the descent. The attack was resolutely pushed home, however, and the Mogami was bracketed by six very near misses which caused extensive topside damage.[52]

Meanwhile, Fleming's glide-bombing run had taken the Japanese by surprise,[53] although their antiaircraft fire was prompt and heavy once they attack was disclosed. As Fleming dove, his airplane was hit forward and smoke began pouring out of his engine. Notwithstanding this, he continued the run without faltering, retaining the lead in his division, and dropped his bomb. Just at the moment of pull-out, his plane burst into flames, and, in the words of Admiral Soji:

I saw a dive bomber dive in to the last turret (of the Mikuma) and start fires. He was very brave.
In this manner, Captain Fleming insured, at the cost of his life, that VMSB-241's final attack on the Japanese fleet achieved its utmost.[54]

This was the last Marine Corps action in the Battle of Midway. Other successful and important results were still to be attained by Navy and Army units, but to describe them is beyond the scope of this narrative.

The contribution of Marines to the defense of Midway, however, had been considerable, from the inception of base development to this moment. Not only had the 3d and 6th Defense Battalions contributed their share of backbreaking labor, unremitting vigilance and highly effective flak, but the aviation personnel of Marine Air Group 22, at a cost rarely surpassed in the history of United States Naval Aviation, had unhesitatingly faced an enemy superior in numbers and aircraft, and exacted more than a full return for their sacrifice.

At a cost of 49 Marines killed and 53

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MARINES BURY THEIR DEAD. After the battle, Midway's dead are placed on board PT boats under an honor guard of the 6th Defense Battalion, to be buried at sea, off the reef.

wounded,[55] Midway had been defended successfully. MAG-22 had destroyed some 43 enemy aircraft (25 Val dive-bombers and 18 Zekes), and the 6th Defense Battalion had shot down at least 10 more. On no occasion after 7 December 1941, was the defending garrison ever taken by surprise, and on no occasion did an attacker ever fail to draw prompt fire from Midway's defenses.

Again at Midway, just as at Wake, these results had been attained not by air, and not by ground, but by the Marine Corps amalgam of the two. Ground Marines had established the base and rendered it secure against direct attack in order that, on a subsequent day of battle, a Marine air group might shield the base in combat beyond the horizon.

Although directed solely to the Marine aviation units at Midway, Admiral Nimitz's despatch composed after the victory, could well apply in spirit to all Marines at Midway, and, as paraphrased, it is therefore quoted:

Please accept my sympathy for the losses sustained by your gallant aviation personnel based at Midway. Their sacrifice was not in vain. When the great emergency came, they were ready. They met unflinchingly the attack of vastly superior numbers and made the attack ineffective. They struck the first blow at the enemy carriers. They were the spearhead of our great victory. They have written a new and shining page in the annals of the Marine Corps. * * *


[1] ONI Review, pp. 3, 6, and 41; and Toyama, p. 249.

[2] ONI Review, p. 39.

[3] Battle of Midway, p. 10.

[4] Battle of Midway, frontispiece chart and pp. 3-5.

[5] ONI Review, p. 7.

[6] CinCPac action report to ComInch on Battle of Midway, p. 7, hereinafter cited as CinCPac Report. Other reports indicate that Midway had warning of the approach of enemy planes prior to this time. The first of these is the chronological log included in 6DB Report, which contains a radar report of unidentified planes on bearing 320, distant 100 miles, at 0528. The second is the statement in CO, MAG-22's preliminary report on the Battle of Midway, 8 June 1942 (cited as MAG-22 Report), that the patrol plane contact under discussion was made, not at 0545, but at 0525. Third, it is recorded in 6DB Report, p. 1, that, at 0537, the commanding officer of the Naval Air Station, Midway, informed Colonel Shannon's headquarters that an enemy carrier had been sighted on bearing 330º, 150 miles distant. Lieutenant Colonel McGlashan, who, as operations officer, was present in the defense battalion command post at this time, adds the following note: "I am sure that the first contact was about 0525, not 0545, as Admiral Nimitz * * * stated."

[7] CinCPac Report, p. 7.

[8] 6DB Report, p. 1.

[9] MAG-22 Report, p. 2.

[10] Verbal orders had likewise been delivered by Captain Burns for the six Navy TBFs and the four torpedo-carrying Army B-26s to take off and seek the enemy carriers. MAG-22 Report, p. 2.

[11] What seems to be insoluble contradiciton prevents positive knowledge of how many fighters VMF-221 had operational and took off on the morning of 4 June. VMF-221 Report, evidently written in haste after combat, contains internal contradicitons which cannot be resolved, and further cross-check of available casualty figures against reported plane losses produces yet more conflict. Twenty-six aircraft at take-off seems to be the figure supported by the weight of evidence, but Maj. Marion E. Carl, one of the surviving pilots, leans to 25, which may possibly be due to the fact that one F2A-3 suffered engine trouble after take-off and was forced to return to base prior to making contact with the enemy, as reported in CO, VMF-221 report to CO, MAG-22, 6 June 1946, herein cited as VMF-221 Report.

[12] MAG-22 Report, p. 2.

[13] Survivors were Captains Carey (wounded in action) and Carl; and Lieutenant Canfield. The squadron commander was lost in the first part of the flight. VMF-221 Report, encl. (A).

[14] VMF-221 Report, p. 1. These were actually the respective attack and bombing formations, 36 planes each, of the Midway Attack Force.

[15] This was Major James S. O'Halloran, who commanded Battery E, one of the 3d Defense Battlion's 3-inch units.

[16] ONI Review, p. 7.

[17] Maj. William S. McCormick, an experienced antiaircraft officer, counted 22, and so reported to CMC on 5 January 1948.

[18] VMF-221 Report, p. 1. Capt. Marshall A. Tyler, a VMSB-241 pilot with a grounded plane, made the count.

[19] One kilogram equals approximately 2.2 pounds.

[20] This and subsequent information as to the enemy air strike is derived from ONI Review, pp. 45-48. Unless otherwise noted, all information on the ground defense is from 6DB Report, pp. 1-8.

[21] ONI Review, p. 72.

[22] CinCPac Report, p. 8.

[23] This and preceding details from ONI Review, p. 17.

[24] 6DB Report, p. 4.

[25] MAG-22 Report, p. 3.

[26] Ibid., p. 3.

[27] Ibid., p. 2. According to Capt. Marshall A. Tyler, the senior surviving officer of the Marine dive-bombing squadron, the message was promptly received and acknowledged by both Majors Henderson and Norris, the respective unit commanders of VMSB-241 as it was divided. Report of CO, VMSB-241, 7 June 1942, hereinafter cited as VMSB-241 Report.

[*] The same Maj. Henderson for which "Henderson Field" on Guadalcanal would be named 2 months later.

[28] These and subsequent details regarding VMSB-241's attack are, unless otherwise noted, from VMSB-241 Report, pp. 1-2.

[29] ONI Review, p. 17.

[30] Statement of Capt. Elmer G. Glidden, 7 June 1942, p. 1; hereinafter cited as Glidden.

[31] ONI Review, p. 18.

[32] USSBS Interrogation Nav No. 4, Capt. Aoki, Tajiro, IJN, 9 October 1945; hereinafter cited as Aoki.

[33] The rear gunners of this strike group are credited with having shot down four enemy fighters plus two additional probables. Battle of Midway, p. 18.

[34] Information from photo caption submitted with accompanying photographs by CO, MAG-22 to CMC, 29 June 1942. Iverson, whose throat microphone was shot off his neck during the action, dismissed the subject in his report, dated 7 June 1942, with the statement; "My plane was hit several times." A brother officer commented afterward, "Without doubt, he was one of the most unperturbed war pilots who ever flew an airplane."

[35] ONI Review, p. 19.

[36] Statement of Capt. Leon M. Williamson, 7 June 1942; hereinafter cited as Williamson. The author was second in command of Major Norris's group, and senior surviving pilot at the close of the battle.

[37] ONI Review, p. 19, which reported in Admiral Nagumo's chronological log, "0830: 10 enemy planes dive on the Haruna * * * Friendly fighters engaged in air combat with the enemy." This was the Japanese battleship previously reported sunk by Army Air Force B-17s in the first days of Japan's invasion of the Philippines.

[38] MAG-22 Report, p. 2; and 1948 comments by Maj. Leon Williamson and Capt. Jack Cosley. Although Major Norris survived this attack he was missing in action after another strike to be described shortly, and, while no written statement by him is known to exist, he was, of course, interviewed by Colonel Kimes upon his return, and information is thus available as to his reasoning at this juncture.

[39] ONI Review, p. 19, and USSBS Interrogation Nav No. 2, Capt. Kawaguchi, Susumu, IJN, 10 October 1945. Thus the Haruna survived another battle. She was finally sunk in Japanese waters by Navy carrier planes on 28 July 1945. JANEC, p. 27.

[40] Battle of Midway, p. 19. Although this account states that only two SB2U-3s were lost, VMSB-241 Report, in conjunction with MAG-22 Report, agree on a figure of three SB2U-3s.

[41] Letter from Maj. Thomas F. Moore to CMC, 31 January 1948.

[42] McGlashan, p. 27.

[43] VMSB-241 Report, p. 2 and Battle of Midway, p. 34.

[44] MAG-22 Report, p. 4.

[45] VMSB-241 Report, p. 3, and Booth.

[46] USSBS Interrogation Nav No. 108, Commander Fujimore, Yasuo, IJN, 23 November 1945, p. 466.

[47] Information as to enemy capabilities was not yet at hand on Midway, and it was feared that firing on this submarine might disclose active battery positions to a subsequent pre-landing bombardment in the event of an enemy landing. McGlashan II p. 28.

[48] All information on this attack from 6DV Report, pp. 8-9, and from Booth. the I-168 was finally sunk north of the New Hebrides by United States surface craft on 2 September 1943. JANEC, p. 7.

[49] Battle of Midway, p. 35.

[50] This and subsequent information as to this strike are from VMSB-241 Report,, p. 3, unless otherwise indicated.

[51] USSBWS Interrogation Nav No. 83, Rear Adm. Soji, Akira, IJN, 13-14 November 1945, p. 363. Admiral Soji had command of the Mogami during the Battle of Midway.

[52] Ibid., p. 363. One bomb missed the ship by "only 10 meters."

[53] Ibid.

[54] For this feat, Captain Fleming was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, being the first Marine Corps aviator of this war to be so honored.

[55] Break-down of Marine casualties in the defense of Midway (including the action of 7 December 1941 is as follows:

Marine Air Group 22
Officers Enlisted Total
Killed in action 1 6 7
Missing, presumed dead 23 12 35
Wounded in action 13 12 25
6th Defense Bn. (Reinf.)
Killed in action 3 4 7
Wounded in action 1 27 28
Total Marine casualties 102

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