The preliminary patrols and search from Midway were governed by the following considerations: the greatest danger was that our planes might be caught on the ground and destroyed, or the runways and facilities so damaged as to make it impossible for them to get off. It was imperative, therefore, that the enemy be discovered at the earliest possible moment and his carriers attacked before they had approached within launching distance. It was expected that the carriers would not launch planes at a distance greater than 200 miles. It was necessary, therefore, that each day's search be conducted to such a distance that any enemy force which might be undiscovered just beyond could not approach within 200 miles of Midway before the next day's search. A search to 700 miles seemed adequate to meet these conditions.
However, because an area of poor visibility prevailed 300 to 400 miles to the northwest, it might be impossible to discover enemy carriers the day before they reached attacking range if they approached from that direction. On the other hand, the same bad weather area would also be likely to
prevent navigation sufficiently accurate to enable the enemy to launch a night attack. It seemed probable that upon passing from the weather area in the early hours of morning he would wait for dawn to fix his position before launching his planes. This would occur between 0430 and 0500 and Midway could, therefore, expect an attack about 0600. This analysis8 proved to be accurate, and the first bomb fell on Midway at 0630.
Because of the threat of a dawn attack on Midway, searching planes were sent out as early as possible each day - usually about 0415. To safeguard them from destruction on the ground and to have our striking force instantly available, the B-17's took off immediately afterwards. They remained in the air for about 4 hours, by which time the progress of the search and the reduction of their fuel load made it safe for them to land. The four B-26's, the six TBF's, and other planes remained on the ground but fully alert until the search had reached a distance of 400 miles.
The Commander in Chief, United States Pacific Fleet, believed that the enemy planned a rendezvous about 700 miles west of Midway and ordered that this area be searched by B-17's on May 31st and June 1st, if possible. This was done with negative results. On June 2d a B-17 without bombs searched 800 miles to the west without making any contacts. These searches were conducted in part by two groups of six B-17's flown in from Hawaii on May 30th and 31st, respectively. Consequently their crews were in the air about 30 hours in the 2 days before actual combat, and, in addition, serviced their own planes.
On these days PBY's searched to a distance of 700 miles to the north and west. Coverage was excellent except beyond 300 miles to the northwest, where visibility was extremely poor. Two incidents during these days revealed the unsuitability of our PBY's for scouting in areas where air opposition might be encountered. On May 30th contact was made at about 500 miles from Midway with two Japanese patrol planes from Wake. The enemy planes attacked, wounding several men and putting two PBY's out of commission. On June 1st, when a similar contact was made, one of our patrol planes was probably saved by the presence of a second PBY.9
8 This analysis is found in the report of Capt. Logan C. Ramsey, Operations Oflicer, Naval Air Station, Midway.
9 Faster, better armed types are now being supplied. Also B-17's are being used for scouting wherever practicable.
Last updated: February 28, 2003Transcribed and formatted by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation