Battle of Midway

Action Report: USS Hornet (CV-8)

Captain Marc. A. Mitscher to Admiral Chester A. Nimitz

  I have attempted to be faithful to the original document: reproducing the form, spellings, and punctuation (including errors), with one exception: ship names have been rendered in italics, rather than all upper-case as in the original.

CVS/A16-3> 0F10/Ld
  U.S.S. Hornet
Serial 0018  
  San Francisco, Calif.,
June 13, 1942.
From: Commanding Officer.
To: Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet.
Via: Commander Task Force SIXTEEN.
Subject: Report of Action -- 4-6 June 1942.
Reference: (a) U.S. Navy Regulations, Art. 712.
(b) CincPac despatch of 6 June 1942.
Enclosure: (A) Photograph of burning Japanese Cruiser.
(B) List of casualties.
(C) Recommendations for awards.
(D) Report of Commanding Officer, VF-3.
(E) Copy of reference (b) (paraphrased).
(F) Squadron track charts.
(H) Statement of Quillen, L. ARM3c, U.S. Navy.
(I) Constructive Time analysis of events of June 4, 1942.

1. In accordance with CinCPac Operation Plan 29-42, the Hornet got underway from Pearl Harbor at 1130, May 28, 1942, recovering the Air Group at sea, at 1530 the same afternoon. One SBD would not start at EWA Field, and the pilot was flown to the ship in the rear seat of a TBD. This particular Pilot, Lieutenant W J. Widhelm, U.S.N., was later credited with two direct 1000-lb. bomb hits on a battleship, or heavy cruiser, on June 6. An additional SBD, Ensign R.D. Milliman, U.S.N.R., pilot, was lost the following morning when it crashed about 15 miles from the ship while on intermediate air patrol, probably due to engine failure. No personnel were recovered. The air Group then consisted of 27 VF, 35 VSB, AND 15 VTB, which aircraft strength was maintained until contact was made with the enemy, except for temporary decommissionings for minor repairs.

2. After passing through KAUAI Channel, course 296° T. was maintained until the afternoon of May 31, when course was changed to 290° T., and maintained until arrival at Point "Luck" on 1 June. On the night of May 30 a CinCPac intelligence report, giving an accurate estimate of the Japanese Midway force organization, was received. During May 31 two reports were received that Japanese bombers had been sighted northwest of Midway. At 1630, June 2, Task Force 17 was sighted. The two forces remained separated, but usually within visual contact. Task Force 16 remained in the vicinity of Point "Luck" until June 3. Word having been received that the enemy main body had been sighted bearing 261° T., 700 miles from Midway, course was set to the southwest.

3. It was at about this time that several despatches were sent to the Task Force Commander in high command ciphers. It is strongly recommended that carriers be issued a class 5 cryptographic allowance; these ships may well become separated during continuous air operations and the carrier commanding officers require all available information. The receipt of this information will obviate the necessity for a large part of the visual traffic so difficult to deliver by semaphore from the Task Force Commander to the carriers.

4. The first indication of the possible location of another enemy force was received at 0810, June 4, in CinCPAC 041807 which reported the sighting of a seaplane bearing 320° T., 100 miles from Midway. Two minutes later came a report of many planes in the same vicinity, and 14 minutes later another of 2 enemy CV on the same bearing, distance 180 miles. This ship was called to General Quarters, and remained in that condition until after dark.

5. At 090 (all times given hereafter are zone plus 10) commenced launching the Air Group for attack; VSB loaded with 500-lb. bombs, VTB with torpedoes and VF with M.G. ammunition only. The objective, enemy carriers, was calculated to be 155 miles distant, bearing 239° T. from this Task Force; one division of 10 VF, Squadron Commander (Lieutenant Commander S.G. Mitchell, U.S.N.) in charge, was sent with 35 VSB and 15 VTB, to afford fighter protection. Deferred departure was used. A combat air patrol had been maintained since one half hour before sunrise. An unfortunate aerological feature of the day's action was the fact that the wind was light (about 4 knots) and directly away from the enemy; every time the combat patrol was relieved, or a forced landing was recovered, our attack planes had a longer run back to the ship, and increased the distance between this force and the enemy. Between 1320 and 2100, launching and recovery operations were being conducted almost continuously on a generally easterly heading and at high speed. The VSB returned from the search in groups, Scouting 8 and Commander Hornet Air Group together. One section of Bombing 8 returned alone. Thirteen planes of Bombing 8 landed at Midway due to lack of gas; two of these ran out of gas and landed in the Lagoon at Midway. The remaining eleven were gassed, ordered to attack the enemy, and return to Hornet if possible. They were unable to locate the enemy and landed on board at 1727.

6. None of Scouting 8 or Bombing 8 made contact with the enemy on the above flight. After searching the prescribed bearing the Squadrons turned south to search in the direction of enemy advance. As it turned out, had they turned north, contact would probably have been made. This was due to the fact that when planes took off, they took course to intercept the enemy, at that time reported headed on course 140° T., speed 25 knots. About one hour after the planes had departed the enemy reversed his course and started his retirement. We did not break radio silence to report this to the planes. None of Fighting 8 which went with the attack group returned to the ship. They remained with the VSB until forced to head for Midway due to lack of gas. Five pilots have been rescued; without information as to point of rescue. They are assumed to have landed in the water on a line running 320° T. from Midway.

7. Torpedo 8, led by Lieutenant Commander John C. Waldron, U.S.N., was lost in its entirety. This squadron flew at 100 knots below the clouds while the remainder of the group flew at 110 knots, climbing to 19,000 feet. Lieutenant Commander Waldron, a highly aggressive officer, leading a well trained squadron, found his target and attacked. Attention is invited to Enclosures (C) and (D) and to reference (b). This Squadron in deserving of the highest honors for finding the enemy, pressing home its attack, without fighter protection and without diverting dive bomber attacks to draw the enemy fire. Ensign G.H. Gay, A-V(N), U.S.N.R., is worthy of additional praise for making a torpedo hit and for the presence of mind he showed in hiding under his seat cushion, after being shot down, for several hours, thereby probably saving his own life and giving us an excellent eye-witness picture of the damage caused by the attack on the enemy carriers.

9. Very little was seen by this ship of the enemy attacks on the Yorktown. At 1410, enemy torpedo planes were reported to be attacking Task Force 17, which was almost hull down on the horizon to the northwestward. Many anti-aircraft bursts were clearly visible, and at least 3 planes were seen to fall in flames. Heavy columns of dark smoke soon rose from the direction of the Yorktown. Commander Task Force 17 and Portland plain language despatches reporting the air attack were intercepted shortly thereafter. During the attack VF-8 fighters shot down three enemy Zeroes and two dive bombers; one VF-8 plane was shot down. Yorktown planes were noted approaching this ship to land and one section of VSBs was, for a short while, thought to be enemy VTB. One Yorktown fighter plane, whose pilot was wounded in the foot, crash-landed aboard. He had not cut his gun switch. Upon crashing, all six of his machine guns commenced firing in the direction of the island and continued firing for about 2 seconds. .50 caliber bullets sprayed the after end of the island, killing the after 5-inch gun control officer, Lieutenant R.R. Ingersoll, U.S.N., (son of Vice Admiral Ingersoll), and 4 enlisted men, and wounding 20 others, the majority of whom were in Battle II behind one-inch especially hardened armor plate. The bullets penetrated not only this armor plate but also penetrated a 1/4" steel I-beam.

9. Aircraft operations on easterly courses shortly caused this ship to lose sight of the Yorktown. The VSBs were being rearmed. When the 11 planes of VB-8 returned from Midway they had only to be gassed. Had they located the enemy and made their attack prior to their return, they probably would not have been ready to send on the next flight.

10. At 1803 commenced launching the second attack group, consisting of 16 VSBs. The target was then assumed to bear 278° T., distant 162 miles and was supposed to consists of two or three burning CVs, 1 or 2 BBs, CAs and DDs. At 1930 the attack was commenced; three hits were made on one BB (2 1000-lb. bombs and 1 500-lb. bomb); 2 500-lb. bomb hits were made on a heavy cruiser. All planes returned from this attack, the last plane landing aboard at 2059. The one enemy CV sighted was not attacked, as it was burning throughout its entire length and was assumed to be of no further value as a target.

11. During the night of 4-5 June the task force retired to the eastward until 0200, 5 June, when course was changed to 000° T., and at 0348 to 270° T. At 0110, 3 June [sic: presumably this should read "5 June"] the casualties, resulting from the accidental firing of the VF machine guns, were buried at sea. During the night, information received indicated that an enemy force was bearing 320° - 340° T., 170 - 200 miles from Midway, on course West to Northwest, and that there was a probability that a carrier was still able to operate planes.

12. At 0930, speed was changed to 25 knots and the force maintained generally westerly courses throughout the day. At 1712, commenced launching the attack group, consisting of 26 VSBs. The enemy force at this time was thought to bear 325° T., distant 240 miles from Midway, and to consist of 2 BBs, 4 CAs, 1 CV and some DDs. At 2004, having failed to sight any major enemy force after conducting a 315-mile search, the attack group attacked an enemy CL or DD in a position 278 miles bearing 315° T. from the Hornet position at time of launching. No direct hits were observed; it is estimated that 5 500-lb. bombs landed within 100 feet of the target. All planes returned with the exception of one which landed in the water near the Enterprise due to fuel exhaustion; personnel were recovered in a fine manner in the darkness by the Aylwin. Most of the landings were made after complete darkness had set in. Few of the pilots had previous night carrier landing experience. All planes returned with very little gas; one plane landed, out of fuel, in our arresting gear.

13. Course 280° T., speed 15 was maintained during the night, the enemy having been reported to be heading slightly south of west, probably to join the Southern forces. Shortly before sunrise Enterprise launched a reconnaissance flight to search the area from 180° through West to 360° for a distance of 200 miles. Contact was made by the pilot in the section 230°-240° T., the enemy bearing 239° T., distance 150 miles from this force. The contact report made by radio and due to voice error the expression "BB" was heard as "CV". Accordingly, 1 CV was reported to Commander Task Force 16. The pilot immediately returned to base and reported correctly 1 BB, 1 CA, 3 DD, by message drop and verbally. Cruisers were then ordered to gain and maintain contact with their SOCs, track the enemy and keep the OTC informed.

14. At 0957, commenced launching air group of 26 VSB and 8 VF. The latter were ordered along in case of previously undetected air opposition. They aided in the attack by effectively strafing destroyers. At 1150 the air group commenced its attack on the enemy force which consisted of 1 BB, 1 CA, and 3 DDs, 142 miles bearing 235° T. from Hornet 1015 position, resulting in the following: 2 1000-lb. bombs and 1 500-lb. bomb on the BB plus two 1000-lb. hits on a CA; one 500-lb. hit on the stern of a DD. Four VF strafed one DD which probably sustained heavy personnel casualties on the bridge and upper works. One of Hornet VSB was apparently hit and shot down by AA fire in this attack. All pilots of this attack insist that the principal target was definitely a BB (probably Kirishima class) and not a CA. All planes except the one shot down were recovered at 1245 and rearmed.

15. At 1239 Enterprise launched her first attack of this day; interceptions on the voice attack frequency indicated a large measure of success.

16. The wind was light but favorable throughout the day, blowing straight from the enemy; launching was conducted occasionally without deviation from Fleet course or speed.

17. Upon the return of the Enterprise Group, 24 VSB were launched at 1530 for what proved to be the final attack of the three-day action. One deferred forced landing returned at 1602. At 1645, the attack was begun on the enemy force consisting of 1 CA (probably Kinugasa class), 1 CA or CL, and 2 DDs. The enemy force was at this time about 110 miles 264° T. from Hornet position. Results of this attack are as follows: One 1000-lb. bomb hit on CA, six 1000-lb. bomb hits on CA or CL, 1 1000-lb. bomb hit on DD. Very heavy explosions were seen in the CA, and it was left completely gutted by fire, personnel abandoning ship. At 1728 the attack group returned, without losses, and was recovered. Retirement was commenced on a northeasterly course. Cruiser seaplanes assumed the inner air patrol.

18. The Commanding Officer desires to commend the entire crew of the Hornet to the Commander-in-Chief as deserving of high praise for their performance of duty during the subject action. All hands conducted themselves in a manner fitting the Navy's best traditions. There were no outstanding individuals, as the action was purely an air action, and there is no cause for censure. Recommendations for awards to the Air Group are contained in Enclosure (C).

19. Recapitulation of own and enemy losses follows (personnel casualties by name are included in Enclosure (B)):

20. Following are conclusions drawn from the action which are particularly applicable to aircraft:

21. Attention is particularly invited to Enclosure (C). Inasmuch as the action covered by this report was an action involving actual combat by aircraft only, as far as this vessel was concerned, and considering the strategic importance of the battle, it is urged that the awards recommended in Enclosure (C) be granted. In particular, the Commanding Officer feels that the conduct of Torpedo Squadron Eight, led by an indomitable Squadron Commander, is one of the most outstanding exhibitions of personal bravery and gallantry that has ever come to his attention in the records of the past or present.


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