1500 Four B-17's take off. 1600 Two B-17's take off. 1610 B-17's from Oahu ordered to target. 1710 Four B-17's attack CA. 1810 Two B-17's attack BB and damaged CV. 1830 Six B-17's attack damaged CV and DD.
Midway had received the first blow of the day, and the battered island was to strike the last. But in the interval were hours of acute anxiety. During the forenoon our patrol planes continued to report enemy vessels. At 0843 a plane reported four cruisers, two cargo ships, two tankers, and many destroyers bearing 265°, distance 400. At 0910 another reported eight cruisers, bearing 265°, distance 320. At 0951 a third reported a large vessel, possibly an aircraft carrier, and a destroyer, bearing 262°, distance 330.
Only fragmentary news of our attack on the enemy carriers had come in. At 0900 Lt. Col. Sweeney had reported that the B-17 attack was completed and one enemy carrier had been damaged. At 0930 the report came that only one TBF and two B-26's had returned. They had launched their torpedoes at carriers but had been unable to observe results. At 0958 the Marine dive bomber group reported two hits on a carrier and one on a battleship. Before noon (1115) there was an air-raid alarm, and the seven B-17's that were fueled and ready for flight took off for Hickam Field. This left only eight on Midway, of which four were immediately fit for service. Later two more were repaired.
In the words of Capt. Logan C. Ramsey, Air Defense Operations Officer, "At this time (early afternoon) things looked very black. While the reports of damage to Japanese carriers are noted as being made earlier, those from the Marine air group were made by voice to Eastern Island and had not been received at the command center. Our estimate at this time was as follows: One Japanese carrier had been damaged by the Army. The losses of the Marine air group were so heavy that it appeared their attack had been broken up before reaching the enemy. The Yorktown had been hit . . . [The enemy forces reported by our patrol planes] were all boring in. Three enemy carriers appeared to be left to deal with Task Force SUGAR. . . . It appeared that it was quite possible we would be under heavy bombardment from surface vessels before sunset. Arrangements had been made to evacuate nonessential personnel and some planes when news of our attacks on the enemy carriers drastically and happily changed the picture.
Refueling and servicing of planes was extremely slow because of damage to the gasoline system and other equipment. This prevented the striking force which remained from making repeated attacks on the enemy during the afternoon. The four serviceable B-17's, commanded by Lt. Col. Sweeney, were ordered at 1500 to attack the enemy convoy approaching
on bearing 265°, thought then to be about 265 miles distant. En route to this target orders were received to attack a carrier on bearing 334°, 185 miles distant from Midway. The carrier found in this area was burning and appeared to have been abandoned. A nearby battleship was also burning. Consequently, it was decided to attack a heavy cruiser. They reported that at least one hit was scored, and the ship was left smoking heavily. A transport was also attacked, with unobserved results.
Two B-17's, delayed by engine trouble, took off an hour later under the command of Capt. Carl E. Wuertele, U.S.A. Air Corps. These planes found what was evidently a part of the same enemy force. In view were two damaged carriers, two battleships or heavy cruisers, and six or eight light cruisers or destroyers. Bombing from 9,600 feet, the B-17's reported that they hit a battleship twice and dropped two more bombs on a damaged carrier.
While these two planes were bombing the battleship, six more B-17's were seen below. This squadron, commanded by Maj. George A. Blakey, U.S.A. Air Corps, was en route from Molokai to Midway when it was ordered at 1610 to attack before landing. To save gas, it attacked from its cruising level of 3,600 feet. This was about 1830. Several enemy Zero fighters, possibly from the Hiryu, were encountered and four were shot down. The Fortresses reported that they scored a hit on a damaged carrier and on a destroyer and strafed the decks of several ships as they passed. They reached Midway after sundown.
Midway made other less successful attempts that evening. When burning enemy carriers were reported bearing 338°, distance 200 at 1700, Major Norris (C.0. VMSB-241) was ordered to attack with all available dive bombers. In order to avoid enemy fighters it was decided to delay the attack until night. Because the B-17's were serviced and fueled first, this squadron was not ready till 1900. Then the six remaining flyable SBD's under Capt. Marshall A. Tyler, USMC, and 5 SBU-3's under Major Norris took off. Rain squalls and clouds were encountered and the enemy force was not found. All planes returned safely except that of Major Norris, which plunged into the sea on the return.
About 1930 the 11 PT boats left Midway to attack the damaged carrier and other Japanese forces in the same locality. Although the squally weather and bad visibility provided excellent conditions for such an attack, it also prevented the finding of the target. Having found nothing before dawn, the PT's returned to Midway on June 5th. In the morning a
Japanese scout-observation plane strafed and bombed one of the boats without causing any serious damage.
Last updated: March 1, 2003Transcribed and formatted by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation