Destroyers standing by the Yorktown
Deck of the damaged Yorktown
0502 Enterprise launches search group. 0645 Plane reports enemy force of six ships, latitude 29°33' N., longitude 174°30' E. 0730 Plane reports by message drop two CA and two DD, latitude 28°55' N., longtitude 175°10' E. (sighted 50 min. earlier). 0757 Hornet launches first attack group. 0950 Hornet group attacks. 1045 Enterprise launches attack group. 1150-1300 Enterprise group attacks. 1330 Hornet launches second attack group. 1445 Hornet group attacks. 1553 Enterprise launches photographic plane.
Through the night of June 5th Task Force SUGAR followed course 280° at a speed of 15 knots.33 The morning of the 6th dawned clear, with a few light cumulus clouds. The sea was smooth and visibility excellent. A light wind from the southwest enabled our carriers to launch and recover with a minimum of deviation from the course the Task Force was to follow most of the day.
At 0502 the Enterprise launched a search group of 18 scout-bombers, each carrying one 500-pound bomb. These were to search to a distance of 200 miles to the west between 180° and 360°. At 0645 one of these planes found an enemy force on course 270°, position latitude 29°33' north, longitude 174°30'34 east. This force was reported to consist of
one battleship and five destroyers, but by a voice error "BB" was misunderstood as "CV", and it was at first reported to Admiral Spruance that the enemy force contained a carrier.35
At about 0730 another plane reported by message drop36 a contact with two heavy cruisers and two destroyers, course 215°, speed 15, at latitude 28°55' N., longitude 175°10' E. This placed the second group about 50 miles southeast of the first. Our Task Force took as its target the group to the north which was not only closer but contained, as it was thought, a battleship.37 The southern group was left for attack by long-range planes from Midway.
At Midway the patrol planes took off as usual by 0430 on the morning of the 6th, searching the sector 220° to 330° to a distance of 600 miles. Visibility and coverage were excellent, but apparently the first information received at Midway was at 1030 when CINCPAC relayed to the island the contacts reported by the Enterprise scouts.38
Several additional B-17's had been sent to Midway on the 5th and 6th, so that 26 were now available. This entire group was dispatched at 1145 to attack the enemy ships at the southern contact. Despite the excellent visibility, none of these planes found the enemy force. At 1640, a flight of 6 B-17's flying at more than 10,000 feet sighted a vessel about 25 miles east of the expected target. Identification of the type was difficult from that height. The first element of 3 planes dropped 4 bombs each, which seemed to hit the target, for it disappeared in 15 seconds.
There was no attack signal and the second element did not attack except that the leader's two wingmen by mistake dropped bombs which fell wide of the now submerged target. Some pilots thought they had sunk a cruiser in 15 seconds.39 Actually the "ship" was the submarine Grayling , which crash dived when the first bombs fell near her bow. Fortunately, she was not damaged. This was the only attack of the day by Midway planes.
Meanwhile, our Task Force had had considerably greater success.40 At 0757, soon after receipt of the second contact report, the Hornet began launching an attack group of 26 scout bombers. Eight fighters were sent too as a precaution against possible air opposition. This group found the enemy force without difficulty. To pilots it appeared to consist of a battleship,41 a heavy cruiser and three destroyers. Our planes attacked at 0950. The results were:
Two 1,000 pound hits.
One 500 pound hit.
Two 1,000 pound misses within 50 feet.
Two 1,000 pound hits on heavy cruiser. One 500 pound hit on stern of a destroyer, which sank.
Since there was no air opposition our fighters occupied themselves by strafing the destroyers, probably causing very heavy casualties. One bombing plane was shot down by antiaircraft fire during the attack, but the rest returned safely to the carrier by 1045. At once they were refueled and rearmed in preparation for a second attack.
This Hornet attack was followed by one from the Enterprise. Between 1045 and 1115 this carrier put into the air 31 scout bombers with one
1,000-pound bomb each, and 12 fighters for strafing.42 Soon after these planes were in the air they were instructed by radio to search for a battleship believed to be about 40 miles ahead of the group. They were told further that three torpedo planes were being sent to join them. The force maneuvered to await the torpedo planes, but contact with them was never made, and the torpedo planes did not take part in the attack.43 At 1200 the attack group passed at high altitude a force consisting of two heavy cruisers and two destroyers.44 Some planes attacked almost at
once, but most of the group continued about 30 miles farther in search of the battleship reported to be ahead of the group. In spite of the excellent visibility no ship was sighted, and our planes returned to attack the main group.45
The planes which had first begun the attack had taken as their target the heavy cruiser to the east, probably the Mikuma.46 During this attack the vessels turned to starboard and so were heading north as our other planes approached. These planes came out of the sun from 21,000 feet and dove steeply on the target. Most took the heavy cruiser, but a few chose the "light" cruiser. Antiaircraft fire was heavy, but diminished after the first bomb hit. Altogether, five direct hits were made on the heavy cruiser, with two near hits. Admiral Nimitz writes as follows: "From the stories of survivors of Mikuma it appears that the first planes at 1140 hit and disabled the Mikuma and the last ones about 1300 finished her off when a bomb amidships detonated her torpedoes. The Enterprise group reported one CA as 'dead in the water, burning furiously with heavy explosions,' shattered and abandoned. If they had waited a few minutes their account would have been different. She keeled over and sank very soon after the last hit."47 During the bombing attack our
fighters strafed the destroyers, firing about 4,000 rounds of .50-caliber ammunition into each. Large pieces of metal flew off, and there were explosions and fires on both.
The "light cruiser" (seemingly the Mogami) which had been behind the Mikuma also received several hits. When last seen she was smoking heavily but was moving westward at about 10 knots, leaving an oil slick behind her. She was accompanied by the two destroyers.48
After the Enterprise group returned, the Hornet launched its second attack group of the day - and the last of the battle, as it turned out. This group of 24 scout bombers armed with 1,000-pound bombs took off at 1330 to attack the enemy force now 110 miles away on bearing 264° from the Hornet. At 1645 this group found and attacked an enemy force which pilots described as consisting of four ships, a heavy cruiser, probably of the Kinugasa class, a second cruiser about which there was uncertainty as to whether it was heavy or light, and two destroyers.49
The results of the attack were reported to be:
One 1,000-pound hit on the heavy cruiser.
Six 1,000-pound hits on the second cruiser.
One 1,000-pound hit on a destroyer.
The direct hit on the heavy cruiser caused very heavy explosions and it was left "completely gutted by fire, personnel abandoning ship."50 The planes returned to the Hornet without loss at 1528.
Shortly afterwards the Enterprise launched two scout bombers at 1553 to photograph the damaged ship. These planes returned in a little over 3 hours with the excellent photograph reproduced with this narrative. It has hitherto been assumed that this was the Mogami, but if the view advanced in the footnotes is correct it could not be.51
Admiral Spruance writes of this as follows. "All through the day there had been no question in our minds that a BB was involved. That evening when questioning the pilots of the two photographic planes, I found one of them quite certain that a CA of the Mogami class, and not a BB, was involved. The photographs bore him out. The ship is the same as the one appearing in the 1940 Jane.52 Everyone who saw this ship says she appeared to be much larger than a CA. From this fact and from her toughness53 I suspect that her displacement may be considerably in excess of 10,000 tons.54 She was reported as definitely larger than the other cruiser accompanying her, which may have been a CL or DL.... I believe the larger ship sank during the night."55
The continued high-speed steaming had reduced fuel in the destroyers to a very low level. The Maury and Worden had to be detached for a rendezvous with the Cimmaron to refuel. This left only four destroyers to accompany two carriers. With Japanese submarines reported in the area it seemed unwise to go farther with such slight protection. A further consideration was that it would be dangerous to come within range of planes based at Wake, where the Japanese were known to have concentrated a large air force which they had expected to transfer to
Midway. Consequently, the task force turned about and began to retire to the northeast.
The following day a message from Admiral Spruance summarized the action and added: "Our carrier air groups have done a magnificent job in spite of the heavy losses suffered on Thursday forenoon in the initial attack, which decided the fate of the Battle of Midway. Their follow-up blows on our retreating enemy were carried out with great determination. The Japs' state of morale at the end of the battle was indicated by abandoning to their fate the crew of the Mogami class cruiser when the other ships of that group left without effecting rescue of personnel. The performance of our ships during this period leaves nothing to be desired. Task Forces SUGAR and FOX have again helped to make history. Well done to all hands."
33 A Hornet dispatch sent to Commander of Cruisers, Task Force SUGAR in the early morning of the 6th reads as follows: "Our air group yesterday (5 June) attacked only a single destroyer. No direct hits were observed. A large oil slick with men in it was seen. It appears that one enemy carrier capable of operating planes remains. Assume we are searching for it at present. Very disturbing to have so little information."
34 Some reports give this as 174°00'.
35 On the pilot's return he dropped a message on the Enterprise seemingly correcting the report to "one BB and five DD's," although Captain Mitscher of the Hornet writes that the returning pilot "reported correctly 5 BB, 1 CA, 3 DD by message drop and verbally." This is probably correct, as the plane landed on the Hornet. Admiral Spruance says that this force was subsequently found to consist of two heavy Cruisers (Mogami class), one light cruiser or destroyer, and two destroyers, but this is based on a reconstruction of the action which may be in error. Although minor discrepancies in reports are common, those of our pilots on the 6th contain more contradictions than usual, as will he seen. At 0843 the Commander of Cruisers remarks: "Composition of enemy force is still not clear."
36 When radio silence must be preserved the practice is for planes to return and drop a message to report contacts within 100 miles. A contact at a greater distance is reported when the plane returns from its search. In this case radio silence had already been broken in reporting the first contact.
37 At 0720, before the second contact report had been received, Admiral Kinkaid ordered the Minneapolis and New Orleans to launch two SOC's each to locate and track the enemy force and advised that our Task Force would close the enemy reported at lat. 29°33' N., long. 174°30' E. The Minneapolis and New Orleans each launched two SOC's at 0746.
38 At 1030 Midway received from CINCPAC information fixing position of enemy: One battleship and five destroyers bearing 278°, distance 510, course 270°, speed 10; two heavy cruisers, two destroyers bearing 263°, distance 460, course 215°, speed 15.
39 Others suspected the truth in regard to the type of vessel and its disappearance.
40 The map, p.43, illustrating the action on the 6th is based on the Hornet and Enterprise plots, except that Hornet's plot is moved about 35' to the east to accord with the statement that the enemy was only about 110 miles distant at the time of the last attack, and with evidence that the two enemy groups were in proximity about noon. It is not in agreement with the composite chart of the battle which appears at the end of this narrative. The composite arbitrarily transposes positions to accord with the hypothesis that the Enterprise and Hornet attacked a single enemy force.
41 Pilots returned convinced that their "principal target" was a battleship, probably of the Kirishima class, and not a heavy cruiser, but a subsequent Hornet dispatch speaks of it as "a BB or possibly a CA." This dispatch also says that one of the ships attacked (apparently this BB or CA) was left turning in uncontrolled circles to the right. At 1305 an SOC from the New Orleans reported a battleship burning, position lat. 29°31' N., long. 172°43' E.
42 The objective was given as two BB, two CA and several DD at lat. 29°33' N., long. 175°35' E. course 270°, speed 15. Why it was thought at this time that the enemy force was so composed does not appear in the reports. The position appears to be an error for 173°35' E., toward which our planes actually headed.
43 These torpedo planes were ordered to attack only after the bombing attack. After failing to make contact with our bombing planes, they found an enemy ship independently and circled an hour awaiting our bombers which did not appear. Finally lack of fuel forced them to return to the Enterprise. This clearly indicates the presence of two enemy groups.
44 This is according to the report of Captain Murray. A separate report of Scouting SIX and Bombing SIX says they found one CA, one CL and two DD's. It will be remembered that the Hornet group had sunk one destroyer, reducing the enemy force to four ships. However, it will also be noticed that Captain Murray's description corresponds exactly to that of the group originally sighted to the south. This may be significant in view of the following considerations:
- This original "southern group" was not found in the expected position by Midway planes. Assuming that it had changed its course to the northwest sometime after being sighted, it might well have been in the position of the force found by the Enterprise attack group.
- The Hornet and Enterprise plots of this action do not agree.
- At 1100 a Minneapolis SOC reported: "Carrier sunk. Two CA's, two DD's on course 275° speed 22 knots." The report of the carrier may be explained by the fact that at the time the SOC was launched the enemy group was thought to include a carrier. When none was found, the pilots may have assumed that it had been sunk.
Subsequently the Minneapolis reported that its two planes had found the enemy at 0915 lat. 29°30' N., long. 173°25' E. Both pilots were quite certain that the four ships were Mogami class cruiser, a Nachi class cruiser, and two DD's. The only damage apparent was a slight oil leak from one CA and one DD. The pilots approached within 5 miles to make their identification and then circled the enemy group at 25 miles to make certain that there were only four ships. At 1545 all cruiser planes were ordered to return to their ships, but it is not clear whether the Minneapolis planes left the enemy force at once, for the report says that at 1215 the force was on a course of 225°. The planes returned to the cruiser at 1320, so that they may have remained tracking the enemy force till 1215. The report also remarks that the planes arrived after the first attack and left before the second.
It is difficult to say which enemy group the pilots were tracking. It is said that they arrived after the (Hornet's) first attack, which had sunk a destroyer, leaving two larger vessels and two destroyers; but if it was the group left by the Hornet, more damage ought to have been visible. Moreover, the SOC's found the enemy force at 0915, and the Hornet attack did not take place till 0950. The position given by the Minneapolis pilots is about 50 miles east of the point where the Hornet plot places its first attack, and, as may be seen from the accompanying chart makes it appear more probable that this group was the one attacked by the Enterprise at noon. The Commander of Cruisers, referring to the Minneapolis report, remarks: "This group was attacked by the Enterprise Group." But if the Minneapolis pilots remained on the scene after the order to return at 1145 they ought to have seen the beginning of the Enterprise attack.
45 At 1105 a PBY from Midway reported that it was investigating suspicious vessels bearing 280°, distance 500. At 1145 the same plane reported four unidentified ships being attacked by aircraft, bearing 277°, distance 525, course 200°, speed 30. At 1330 the same PBY reported that the force which it had previoudy described as an enemy battleship and cruiser was now opposed by friendly cruisers and destroyers, bearing 277°, distance 550. Apparently our plane had sighted both enemy groups and mistook one of them for friendly.
46 To the fighter pilots, who came very low, the two larger vessels appeared to be battleships, a natural mistake for Mogami class cruisers.
47 The story of the survivors of the Mikuma reads as follows: The first attack on the ship was on June 4th. "The following day the ship received no attacks, but on the 6th about noontime, she was again attacked by two-engine bombers [two-engine is obviously a mistake] and received hits on the fo'cas'le, bridge area and amidships. The hit on the fo'cas'le put the forward guns out of commission. The hit near the bridge area set off some ready service antiaircraft shells, causing considerable damage to bridge structure and personnel. Several torpedoes were exploded amidships by the hit in that vicinity. The ship caught fire and two destroyers tried to come alongside to rescue personnel, but were driven away and forced to abandon the attempt to rescue survivors when attacked by an additional flight of American aircraft. One of these destroyers received a hit on the stern and broke out into flames aft . . . [The prisoner] did not know if this destroyer sank. The Mikuma capsized and sank within an hour and a half after initial bombing this date..."
It will be noticed that, except for the story of the hit on the destroyer's stern, everything in this account indicates that the Mikuma was not bombed by both the Hornet and the Enterprise groups; i. e., the Hornet and the Enterprise did not attack the same enemy force. The initial bombing of the Mikuma was "about noon," i. e., the very time that the Enterprise planes that first abandoned the search for the battleship to the west began their attack. The "additional flight" of planes which drove away the rescuing destroyers are obviously those Enterprise planes which pushcd their search farther before returning to attack.
Lt. Clarence E. Dickinson, Jr., of the Enterprise Scouting SIX describes this action on the 6th as follows: "The next day, the 6th, the Hornet's group was launched [and] attacked a big cruiser of the Mogami type, which, from the pictures and measurements we feel is probably at least double its listed 8,500 tons. . . . Several hits were obtained. Then the Enterprise group was launched and found another group, which consisted apparently of another Mogami type cruiser, the Mikuma, and one other light cruiser and five destroyers." It is interesting that he assumed that our two carriers were attacking different groups, although his account of the composition of the group attacked by the Enterprise is probably mistaken.
Enterprise pilots upon their return generally believed that they had not attacked the same group attacked by the Hornet. The ships attacked by the Hornet had been reported moving slowly, while those attacked by the Enterprise were steaming at high speed. Furthermore, the Hornet had reported several hits, but the group attacked by the Enterprise did not appear to have sustained any important damage.
48 Of this CINCPAC says, "The other CA, apparently the Mogami, was also hit but proceeded westward making an oil slick and smoking heavily. Two destroyers accompanied her." A survivor of the Mikuma also confirms the fact that at the time the Mikuma sank the Mogami was on fire. This is evidence, too, that both ships were in the same group.
At 1325 the New Orleans recovered two SOC's. The pilots "reported seeing a CV and one DD sink, several DD's hit. CA still afloat. Reported position about 40 miles south of previously reported position of enemy." The report appears unreliable, and it is difficult to know what they did see. Judging by the time they were recovered by the cruiser, they must have left the scene of action too early to have seen the results of the Enterprise attack. Moreover, the Enterprise group did not sink a destroyer and hit several, as there were only two destroyers in the group attacked by the Enterprise. Possibly they saw the results of the Hornet's morning attack which did sink a destroyer. But no carrier was bombed or sunk at all, and the Hornet seemingly did not sink any large ship which could have been mistaken for a carrier.
49 This could scarcely have been the same group that the Enterprise had attacked 3 or 4 hours earlier, for of that group the Mikuma had been sunk, leaving only a damaged cruiser (presumably the Mogami) and two destroyers. It fits perfectly, however, with the description of the group the Hornet had previously attacked. That consisted of a BB, a CA, and three DD's, of which one DD was sunk, leaving two larger ships of slightly different size and two destroyers. This is still further evidence that the Enterprise and Hornet were not attacking the same enemy group on the 6th and may explain the disagreement in their plots of the action.
There is a further argument supporting this view. On the evidence of a survivor of the Mikuma, both the Mikuma and the Mogami were in the same group. They were sister ships, presumably of the same size and general appearance. Now, while the attack pilots speak of a heavy cruiser and a light, only the Enterprise attacked an enemy group which by any report contained two large ships of the same type. It will be remembered that Enterprise fighter pilots thought that the two large ships looked like battleships, as Mogami class cruisers might very well. On the other hand, the Hornet pilots on their first attack thought they found a BB, a CA, and three DD; i.e., the two heavy ships were not of the same class either in the group attacked in the morning or afternoon.
A dispatch by the Commander of Task Force SUGAR at about 1330 remarks on the uncertainty concerning the position of the target and says that a second position has been reported some 40 miles southeast of the first. He suggests there may be two groups of targets. Apparently he is referring to the report of the New Orleans' scout, made five minutes before.
50 Of this CINCPAC writes that the Hornet group attacked "leaving the Mogami gutted and abandoned, and reporting hits on another CA or CL and one hit on a destroyer. A photographic plane, which obtained the pictures accompanying enclosure, while over the Mogami hulk about 1730 saw a CL and a destroyer fleeing to the westward."
In these footnotes it has been suggested that the Hornet and Enterprise were not attacking the same group of enemy ships. It appears that both the Mikuma and Mogami were in the group attacked by the Enterprise at noon and that it was the Mogami which fled burning and streaming oil accompanied by two destroyers. If this analysis is correct, the heavy cruiser left gutted and abandoned by the Hornet's second attack was not the Mogami, though it may have been of the Mogami class.
This would mean, too, that more enemy ships were damaged than was previously supposed. So long as it was believed that both Hornet and Enterprise were attacking the same group, it was assumed that one attack merely added to the damage already inflicted by the other, and it had to be assumed that the other enemy group escaped without damage when the Midway planes failed to find it. The view here advanced means that both groups came under attack and received serious damage.
51 It seems probable that the ship photographed by the Enterprise planes was the cruiser left "gutted and abandoned" by the Hornet's last attack; in fact, that was the only ship left in such a condition. The fact that the pilots of the photographic planes saw a CL and a destroyer fleeing westward confirms this, for there had been a smaller cruiser with the one left dead by the Hornet.
But as we have seen, this ship could not have been the Mogami, for the Mogami had not been in this group, but in the group attacked by the Enterprise at noon. Far from being left "gutted and abandoned" she had last been seen shortly after noon, damaged and burning, it is true, but proceeding westward under her own power at 10 knots. She was not, therefore, sunk as reported, but almost certainly returned damaged to Japan. It seems probable, however, that we did sink the ship photographed, which may have been of the same class.
The identification of the hulk photographed as the Mogami rested upon the assumption that the Enterprise and Hornet were attacking the same group. The Mikuma was known to have been sunk; therefore, the remaining large ship must (it seemed) necessarily be the Mogami. This seemed to be confirmed by the Mikuma survivor who said that the photograph could not be the Mikuma, which was damaged chiefly in the forward section. This identification collapses, however, if we assume that we have to deal not with one but with two groups of enemy ships.
52 It will be remembered that all four cruisers of the Mogami class, the Mikuma, Mogami, Suzuya, and Kumano, were in the Japanese supporting force. The fact that this ship was not the Mogami does not preclude its being another of the same class. It means merely that we sank not the Mikuma and Mogami, but the Mikuma and another of the same class.
53 Her toughness may have been less than the Admiral supposed, since the ship did not take a pounding from both the Enterprise and Hornet, as he imagined, but only from the Hornet's two attacks.
54 Captain Murray of the Enterprise goes further: "A close scrutiny of the excellent photographs, the observations of an experienced photographer, and a direct comparison with our 8-inch cruisers, leads to the firm belief that this Mogami class heavy cruiser is in reality a battle cruiser of at least 20,000 tons." It is easy to see why these cruisers were mistaken for battleships by our aviators.
55 There is no definite evidence of her sinking.
Last updated: March 1, 2003Transcribed and formatted by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation