Task Force SUGAR
0045 Task Force SUGAR changes course to avoid possible contact. 0215 Submarine Tambor sights ships 90 miles west of Midway. 0420 Task Force SUGAR sets course to close Midway. 0600 Tambor reports (to Midway and Honolulu) 2 Mogami type cruisers bearing 272°, 115 miles from Midway, course 270°. 0630 Patrol plane reports two battleships (possibly Mogami cruisers) damaged and streaming oil, bearing 264°, distance 125 miles, course 268°. 0719 Patrol plane reports five ships bearing 325°, distance 200 miles, course 338°. 0800 Patrol plane reports two BB, one CV, on fire, three CA bearing 324°, distance 240 miles, course 310°. 0820 Patrol plane reports a CV, bearing 335°, distance 250 miles, course 245°. 1100 Task Force SUGAR sets course at 300° to close enemy force to northwest. 1500 Carriers launch planes. 1804 Planes attack a light cruiser or destroyer.
The Battle of Midway was decided on June 4th with the destruction of the enemy's air power. The 2 succeeding days were devoted to destroying as large a part as possible of the fleeing enemy forces. In this endeavor our success was limited. On the 5th our carrier-based planes made only one unimportant contact, and planes from Midway were responsible for the only damage inflicted on the enemy that day.
There were several reasons for the lack of success on the part of our surface forces on the 5th. The necessity for a conservative policy and concern for the defense of Midway were in a sense fundamental. The delay in reports which revealed the true situation was more directly responsible, and finally, generally reduced visibility, particularly to the north where the enemy's striking force was fleeing, prevented the location of some targets.
During the night of June 4th the situation was by no means clear. As noted above, that evening Major Blakey's six B-17's attacking a burning carrier and other Japanese ships at about 1830 had encountered several Zeros. These may have been left in the air from the Hiryu, which had
been attacked and set afire about an hour and a half earlier, but the possibility of a fifth carrier operating in the vicinity could not be disregarded. Neither was it certain that the loss of their air support would deter the Japanese from attempting a landing on Midway. There were indications that they were still coming, and at 2115 on the 4th our submarines were ordered to form on a circle at radius 100 miles from Midway. They were to arrive on station and dive before dawn.
Task Force FOX moved off to the eastward during the night and did not participate in the action on the 5th. Admiral Fletcher detached the Hughes to stand by the damaged Yorktown , with orders to prevent anyone from boarding her and to sink her if necessary to prevent her capture or if a serious fire should break out.
Task Force SUGAR moved to the east and then back to the west during the night. At sunset clouds began to gather. After the Enterprise and Hornet had recovered their planes the force followed an easterly course till 2400, when course was changed to 000°. At 0044 a radar contact caused "some unscheduled movements," first to the east and then to the south. At 0200 course was altered to 270°. As Admiral Spruance explains in his report, "I did not feel justified in risking a night encounter with possibly superior enemy forces, but on the other hand, I did not want to be too far away from Midway in the morning. I wished to have a position from which either to follow up retreating enemy forces or to break up a landing attack on Midway. At this time the possibility of the enemy having a fifth CV somewhere in the area, possibly with his occupation force or else to the northwestward still existed."
About 0217 the submarine Tambor reported "many unidentified ships" about 90 miles west of Midway. When this report was relayed to our ships, to Admiral Spruance "this looked like a landing, so we took a course somewhat to the northwest of Midway at 25 knots. As the forenoon drew on, reports began to come in which indicated a retreat and not an attack. While I had not believed that the enemy, after losing four carriers and all their planes, would remain in an offensive frame of mind, still that possibility could not be overlooked, especially with the uncertainty about a fifth carrier in the area. The Tambor's report might mean only that the retirement order had been slow in being issued or had failed to reach the ships sighted." Therefore at 0420
course was set at 230° to close Midway, and speed was increased to 25 knots.27
The commander of the Tambor at 0215 sighted and reported at once several ships with which he maintained contact till dawn before being able to identify them as hostile. He had been warned that our own ships might cross this area during the night, and his report of "many unidentified ships" was sent in the hope of being informed whether they could be ours. However, as we have seen, this report created the impression that the Japanese were coming in for a landing, and at 0715 a number of our submarines, already brought in to the 100-mile circle from Midway, were ordered in to a radius of 5 miles. As further information came in, this order was modified and the submarines involved formed on a 12-mile arc. With the approach of dawn, the Tambor was able to identify a part of the force as two Mogami type cruisers, which it reported as bearing 272° from Midway, distance 115 miles, course about 270°. At 0617 it received a receipt for this report from both Midway and Honolulu.
The morning of June 5th was overcast and visibility poor. Six o'clock found Task Force SUGAR on a southwesterly course about 130 miles northeast of Midway.28 During the next 2½ hours Midway patrol planes reported a series of contacts which indicated that the two main groups of enemy forces were retiring in the directions from which they had come.29
The most important of these reports were as follows:
0630 2V55 reports two battleships (possibly the Mogami cruisers reported by Tambor) bearing 264°, distance 125 miles, course 268°, speed 15. 0632 2V55 reports ships damaged, streaming oil. 0700 4V51 reports two enemy cruisers, bearing 286°, distance 174, course 310°, speed 20. 0719 7V55 reports five ships bearing 325°, distance 200. 0735 7V55 reports five ships, course 338°, speed 25, lat. 310°15' N., long. 179°55'W.
0800 6V55 reports two battleships and one carrier afire, three heavy cruisers, bearing 324°, distance 240, course 310°, speed 12. 0815 6V55 reports cruiser and destroyer screening burning carrier, battleship well ahead. 0820 8V55 reports one carrier bearing 335°, distance 250, course 245°.
It appears from these reports that two enemy carriers were still afloat and had escaped to the north. One of these was almost certainly the Hiryu which, according to survivors, sank very shortly afterward. It has been suggested that the two reports (that of 6V55 at 0800 and that of 8V55 at 0820) dealt with the same carrier. However, the positions given are some distance apart, and one carrier was reported screened by several ships, while the other was apparently alone.
During the forenoon Task Force SUGAR followed a westerly course to the north of Midway. The only incident was the picking up of the crew of a patrol plane found on the water about 0900 by the Monaghan , which was then ordered to join the Yorktown.
"As the general situation (and the weather) cleared," reports Admiral Spruance, "it became evident that a choice of objectives for chase and attack was the next matter for decision. We had reports of two groups, either of which contained good targets. One was to the west of Midway, the other to the northwest. I chose the one to the northwest. It was farther away, but it contained the crippled CV and 2 BB's, one of them reported damaged." However, about 500 miles to the northwest of Midway there was known to be a weather front, toward which the remnant of the enemy striking force was retreating. With a full night's head start, the Japanese had an excellent chance of reaching it.
At 1100 course was changed to 300° to close this Japanese force, and, except for necessary changes when the carriers launched at 1500, this course was maintained till sunset at 1900. Then, shortly after the 180th meridian was crossed, course was altered to the westward.
The chase continued at 25 knots through the afternoon. At 1232 4 PT boats were sighted, returning from their unsuccessful night's search for the enemy. At 1420 Admiral Spruance received from Admiral Nimitz a contact report of 2 battleships, 3 cruisers, 5 to 10 destroyers, 1 burning carrier and 1 carrier smoking badly in latitude 32° N., longitude 179°32' E., as of 0800, course 310°, speed 12 knots. At about 1400 a flight of B-17's passed over. Admiral Spruance signaled his intention of launching an attack about 1500. The planes did not reply, but were heard
reporting the position of the Task Force to Midway. Later Admiral Spruance received the "disquieting information" that the B-17's had failed to find the enemy force. His last report of the enemy's position was based on a morning contact, and as the afternoon wore on prospects became less and less promising.
At 1500, when the enemy force was estimated to be about 230 miles distant, the Enterprise began launching 32 scout-bombers,30 armed with one 500-pound bomb each. The Hornet followed at 1512 by putting 26 scout bombers into the air. There was a heavy overcast, and visibility was poor. The Enterprise group pushed their search to 265 miles without making any contacts. On the return a light cruiser (Katori class) was sighted at 1830 and attacked. The cruiser maneuvered at full speed and its antiaircraft fire was exceptionally heavy. Our planes made several near hits but could claim no direct hits. The Hornet group fared no better. After an unsuccessful 315-mile search, they attacked a light cruiser or destroyer at 1804. No hits were observed.
With fuel nearly exhausted by their long search, all planes returned safely except for one which landed out of gas near the Enterprise. Personnel were rescued by Aylwin . For most of the pilots this was the first landing on a carrier by night.
Our planes had found no enemy force for 250 miles ahead. Moreover, our task force was approaching the bad weather area into which it was futile to follow the Japanese forces. There remained the chance that the enemy striking force might turn west toward Japan, or southwest to join the transport forces. Admiral Spruance therefore fixed his course at 280° for the night and reduced speed to 15 knots, both to save fuel for the destroyers and to avoid overtaking any enemy battleships in the dark.
0130 Midway shelled by submarine. 0415 Patrol planes take off. 0430 B-17's take off. 0630 MAG-22 ordered to attack enemy "battleships" to the west. 0805 MAG-22 attacks one of two Mogami cruisers. 0830 B-17's attack two Mogami class cruisers. 1305 7 B-17's (Flight 92) take off on second mission. 1545 5 B-17's (Flight 93) take off.
1815 Flight 92 attacks a cruiser. 1825 Flight 93 attacks a cruiser.
At Midway on the night of June 4th the same uncertainty as to the enemy's intention prevailed. The probability of a landing attempt seemed greater when at 0130 on the 5th a submarine shelled the island. Our batteries answered and claimed a hit. In the words of Captain Ramsey, "At this time our estimate of the situation was that he (the submarine commander) was following the original plan to create a diversion to cover the attack of a landing party. However, in view of the losses sustained by the Japanese, it was felt, when nothing further developed, that a retreat had been ordered and that the Japanese commander was the proverbial one who didn't get the word."
The night was spent in hard work. The gasoline system had not yet been repaired, and all available men from the Marine air group, Patrol Squadron FORTY-FOUR, and two raider companies worked all night loading 45,000 gallons of gasoline in 55-gallon drums and transferring it by hand pumps to the planes. In addition they hung 85 500-pound bombs.
About midnight two PBY-5A planes, each with a torpedo, were sent to attack the transport group to the west. Presumably they failed to find their target, for none of the available reports mentions them further, except that one requested MO's (radio signals on which they might take bearings) at 0510. At 0130 the submarine shelled Midway without causing any damage. At 0140 four B-17's no longer fit for combat left for Oahu. At 0300 all hands were called to the alert.
Shortly before dawn the search planes took the air. Search was concentrated in the sector 250° to 20° to a distance of 250 miles. Coverage was excellent, and within 2 hours contact reports began to come in.
The 12 remaining B-17's followed the patrol planes into the air at 0430. They were already on a westward course when they were ordered by radio to attack two "battleships" on bearing 270°. At 0615 these B-17's (Flight 92) reported their failure to find the target. They were told to return to Kure and await further orders. As more contact reports came in the B-17's eventually found the two ships, but not before they had already been bombed by the remnants of the Marine dive bombing squadron.
At 0630 the remaining planes of Marine Aircraft Group TWENTY-TWO were ordered to attack two enemy battleships (possibly the
Mogami class cruisers), one of which was crippled, bearing 268°, distance 170 miles. Only 12 planes were fit for the mission, 6 SBD-2's under the command of Capt. Marshall A. Tyler, and 6 SB2U-3's commanded by Capt. Richard E. Fleming. The plan was for the first group to make a dive bombing attack from 10,000 feet, to be followed by the SBU's in a glide bombing attack from 4,000 feet.
These planes took off at 0700. Weather was clear with scattered clouds at 8,000 feet. After flying about 45 minutes they found an oil slick leading off to the west. Following this for 40 miles they found their targets and attacked at 0805. Captain Tyler's unit was at 10,500 feet and began nosing down to pick up speed when the ships were sighted. Choosing the damaged cruiser as their target, our planes soon met heavy and accurate antiaircraft fire. They had to weave and dodge on their approach, and some were buffeted about by the bursts. As they dropped their bombs several near hits probably inflicted additional damage on the ship, but no direct hits were observed.
The glide-bombing attack followed shortly. Captain Fleming's own section attacked from the stern. As he began his glide his plane was hit and smoke poured from his engine. He held to his glide, however, and released his bomb at 500 feet for a near hit at the stern. At the pull-out his plane burst into flames and he went down.31 Other planes of the section kept cloud cover as long as possible on their glides.
The second section came in from the sun on the beam of the damaged cruiser. Two near hits were seen off the starboard bow, then a hit on the forward part of the ship. It was left listing and turning in circles to starboard as our planes returned low over the water, followed for some distance by antiaircraft fire. Only Captain Fleming's plane was lost, but two others were damaged by "flak."
Within a few minutes the Japanese cruisers were attacked again, this time by the B-17's commanded by Major Blakey. After some difficulty in finding their target, 8 of the 12 planes which left Midway sighted the Japanese cruisers at 0830. At this time the two ships were 4 or 5 miles apart. As our planes approached they turned to port to head south.
The first element of four planes took the cruiser to the right; i. e., to the north, coming in at 20,000 feet from the morning sun on a course of
270°. Their pattern of 19 500-pound bombs was well placed, yielding three near hits and two possible hits.
The second element took the ship to the south, also coming in from the sun. Antiaircraft fire was too low to be effective. Most of the pattern of twenty 500-pound demolition bombs fell 100 to 150 feet from the target, but one was seen to strike the stern.
Our Army pilots had little rest. After refueling and rearming, Flight 92, this time with 7 planes, took off again at 1305. Their objective was the two carriers reported to the northwest, distance 400 miles from Midway. As they flew northward visibility diminished and the enemy force was not found. On the return contact was made at 1815 with a large cruiser on a northerly course. The first element of four planes came in at 16,000 feet on a course of 85°, attacking from the ship's port bow. Thirty-two 500-pound demolition bombs fell with two reported hits and three near hits. The second element of three planes attacked from the east on the ship's starboard beam. One plane's bombs would not release. Of the 16 which were dropped, one is reported to have hit the target and one was a near hit. Antiaircraft fire was very light and did no damage.
The last attack of the day from Midway was made by five B-17's (Flight 93) commanded by Capt. Donald E. Ridings, which took off at 1545. Again the objective was the enemy carriers to the northwest. By this time clouds had gathered in the north to a heavy overcast at 12,000 feet, and Flight 93 had no better fortune than Flight 92 in finding their target. Their only contact was a cruiser which they found bearing 325° about 425 miles from Midway and which they attacked at 1825. The ship maneuvered violently and threw up heavy antiaircraft fire, which was ineffective at the 11,000 foot altitude from which our attack was made. Thirty-two bombs were dropped, with 2 near hits, but no direct hits were seen.
On the second run over the target the bomb bay gasoline tank fell with the bombs from Capt. Robert S. Porter's plane,32 which left the formation. The squadron commander followed him down to render any aid he could, and saw him head for Midway. About 2330 the plane radioed "out of gas and landing" and was not seen afterwards. On the return the planes became separated in the clouds and could not find Midway until guided in by radar. Capt. Glen H. Kramer's plane
exhausted its gasoline before reaching the island and landed 50 miles out at sea with the loss of Sgt. F. E. Durrett, radio operator. These two were the only B-17's lost in the entire Midway battle.
The results of the day's operations were reported as follows:One heavy cruiser..... 1 hit
One heavy cruiser..... 1 hit
(Both hits may have been on the same cruiser.)
One large cruiser..... 3 hits
27 In the early morning of June 5th the Commander of Task Force SUGAR sent the following dispatch: "The Japanese striking force attacked yesterday by TF SUGAR and FOX believed to have comprised four carriers, two battleships, four cruisers, five destroyers. Our attacks left the four carriers severely damaged and burning. At least one battleship and one heavy cruiser were seriously damaged and on fire. Other enemy vessels received undetermined damage. Our plane losses were heavy. Plan now to close Midway to attack enemy force believed 50 miles west of there. Cruisers and destroyers gave splendid support to the superb work of our carriers."
28 Position lat. 29°50' N., long. 175°44' W.
29 Presumably these reports were intercepted by Task Force SUGAR, as similar reports had been on the previous day.
30 From Bombing Squadron THREE, Bombing SIX, Scouting FIVE, and Scouting SIX.
31 Captain Fleming was the first Marine Corps aviator of this war to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. The medal, awarded posthumously, was presented by President Roosevelt to the flyer's mother on November 24th, 1942.
32 This was the 'City of San Francisco," given by citizens of that city.
Last updated: March 1, 2003Transcribed and formatted by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation