0705 Four B-26's sight and attack enemy carriers. 0705 Six Navy TBF's attack carriers. 0755 Marine SBD's make glide-bombing attack. 0810 Army B-17's bomb carriers. 0820 Marine SBU's attack enemy BB.
The four B-26's and the six TBF's found the enemy force simultaneously on the morning of June 4th. The weather was good with a spotty overcast between 1,000 and 2,300 feet; beneath this, visibility was excellent.
The crews of the B-26's and their commander, Captain Collins, had been standing by their planes since 0315 that morning. At 0600 orders came to warm up the engines. Fifteen minutes later they were ordered to attack the enemy carriers, and shortly afterwards the formation was on its way, each plane armed with a torpedo. The enemy force, consisting of three carriers, one battleship, several cruisers and about
six destroyers, was sighted at 0705. As our planes approached from the southeast and maneuvered sharply to pass through the heavy antiaircraft fire thrown up by the vessels, Captain Collins caught sight of the six Navy torpedo planes, which had left Midway a few minutes before his own unit. In passing through the ack-ack the B-26's met six Zero fighters head-on, and dove steeply to avoid their guns. It was probably at this point that the Nos. 2 and 3 planes were lost. Approaching from about 20° on the port bow of the central carrier, Captain Collins in the leading plane released his torpedo at about 800 yards from about 220 feet, as the carrier swung to starboard well in its path. The navigator of the No. 4 plane, slightly below and to the left, saw it running true for the target. This plane, piloted by Lt. James P. Muri, U.S.A. Air Corps, came in close and dropped its torpedo at about 450 yards from 150 feet, and then pulled up over the carrier.
Of the two B-26's lost, one was seen to launch its torpedo and then to strike the flight deck of the carrier and hurtle into the sea. The two remaining planes pulled away at full throttle, attacked by several of the 50 Zeros which swarmed over the enemy ships. Although gunners in both planes had difficulty with their machine guns, they shot down three or four Zeros as they withdrew. There was no opportunity to observe the results of this attack, but the returning pilots believed that the carrier had been damaged by two torpedo hits near the bow. One of the returning B-26's crashed on landing, and both were so badly shot up that they were unfit for duty.
The six Navy TBF planes, commanded by Lt. Fieberling, made a gallant attack at the same time as the B-26's. Of this flight only one badly shot-up plane returned to make a landing with one wheel retracted. Because of the heavy fighter opposition the surviving pilot, Ensign Albert K. Earnest, was not able to observe the results of the attack or to tell what had happened to the others in the unit. It appears that at least two were shot down before launching their torpedoes, but a B-17 pilot on reconnaissance reported seeing one of the remaining torpedo bombing planes score a hit.
At 0755 VMSB-241 began its attack. This squadron was divided into two attack groups: one commanded by Maj. Lofton R. Henderson, with 18 SBD-2 planes, and a second under Maj. Benjamin W. Norris with 12 SB2U-3's. Ten of the pilots had joined the squadron only a week before and there had been very little opportunity for training flights.
Only 3 of the pilots had had experience in SBD-type planes. Because of the inexperience of his pilots, Major Henderson had decided to make a glide-bombing attack, rather than attempt to dive-bomb without training.
Between 0610 and 0620 these units took off, minus 2 SBD's which developed engine trouble and an SB2U-3 which was forced to return when a cowling came loose. The 16 SBD's climbed to 9,000 feet en route to their target. At 0755 the enemy was sighted and our planes made a wide circle at high speed to lose altitude. At once a number of Nakajima 97 and Zero fighters attacked and heavy antiaircraft fire was opened from below. Rear seat gunners in our planes sent down 4 Japanese fighters in flames and possibly 2 more. As our planes came in for their glide, Major Henderson's ship was hit and it was obvious that he was badly wounded, so Capt. Elmer G. Glidden, Jr., took the lead. The squadron dove through a cloud, emerging to encounter heavy anti-aircraft fire from a large Kaga19 class carrier which was maneuvering violently below. Bombs were released at 500 feet or less. Three direct hits were seen and several near hits. As our planes returned low over the water they could see her smoking badly. Of the 16 SBD's which engaged in this attack, 8 returned to the base, and of these only 6 remained fit for service. Two were seen to go down in flames, and 1 went out of control before reaching Midway. The pilot jumped and was picked up by a PT boat. Another was forced down 100 miles west of Midway, but both pilot and gunner were rescued 2 days later.
The B-17's of Flight 92 were the next to strike. This group of 15 planes was commanded by Lt. Col. Sweeney, U.S.A. Air Corps. Two planes carried eight 600-pound bombs each and the rest eight 500-pound bombs each. These planes had cleared Midway about 0415 shortly after the patrol planes had been sent out. They were proceeding to the west to attack the enemy forces sighted the preceding day when a message was received in plain language telling of the discovery of the enemy carrier force on bearing 325° from Midway.
Climbing to 20,000 feet, the Fortresses changed course to find the carriers. The enemy force was located at 0732, but the carriers, circling under a cloud formation, were not found till 0810. The B-17's had skirted the fleet and approached from the northwest; i. e., from the stern of the targets. They attacked by flights, two elements concentrating on
each of two carriers and a single element on a third. Antiaircraft fire was heavy and found the altitude, but was generally behind. The Japanese fighters did not dare press home their attacks, which were ineffectual. The results of this attack were reported to be three hits on two carriers. Probably two of these hits were on the Soryu, which may have been the carrier left smoking by the Marine SBD's only a few minutes before.
Scarcely had the B-17's left the scene when the second unit of the Marine group arrived, the 11 SB2U-3's under the command of Major Norris. These sighted the enemy at 0820 and shortly afterwards were engaged by large numbers of enemy fighters. So severe was this opposition that Major Norris decided not to press the search for the carriers, but chose a battleship as his target. A high-speed approach was made at low level through antiaircraft fire and fighter opposition, and bombs were released at very low altitude. Two direct hits were scored and two very near hits. The battleship began to smoke heavily and listed. Two enemy planes were shot down and two more probably destroyed. Two of our planes were forced to land in the water before reaching Midway, but two pilots and a gunner were rescued.
19 Possibly this identification was mistaken. It may have been the Soryu.
Last updated: March 1, 2003Transcribed and formatted by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation