4 June 1942: The Battle of Midway: By the afternoon American planes had heavily damaged three Japanese Aircraft carriers. They would later sink. Planes from the fourth carrier, IJN Hiryu, were launched to attack the American aircraft carriers.
USS Yorktown (CV-5) was hit by two aerial torpedoes from Nakajima B5N torpedo bombers. She listed sharply, lost power and was out of action. She would later be sunk by the Japanese submarine I-168. Hiryu was attacked by U.S. Navy SBD Dauntless dive bombers and was badly damaged, set on fire, and sank later in the day.
The Battle of Midway was not over. It would go on until 7 June. However, the outcome was clear. Midway was a decisive American victory.
The Americans lost 1 aircraft carrier and 1 destroyer, about 150 aircraft, with 307 soldiers, sailors and airmen killed. The island outpost was saved and would never again be seriously threatened.
The Imperial Japanese Navy lost 4 aircraft carriers and one cruiser, with other warships, including battleships, so heavily damaged that they were out of the war for some time. Also lost were 248 aircraft and 3,057 sailors and airmen killed.
For the rest of the War, the Japanese Navy suffered from the loss of these highly experienced naval aviators. Though they could replace the men, they could not replace their years of combat experience. From this point forward, the Empire of Japan was on the defensive with its defeat inevitable.
The Battle of Midway was the most decisive naval battle in history. It was fought almost entirely by aircraft.
Very Highly Recommended: History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Volume IV, Coral Sea, Midway and Submarine Actions, May 1942—August 1942, by Samuel Eliot Morison, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, September 1949. The entire 15-volume series has TDiA’s highest possible recommendation.
4 June 1942: At the Battle of Midway, beginning at 0702 hours, fifteen Douglas TBD-1 Devastator torpedo bombers were launched from the United States Navy aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-8) along with squadrons of Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers and Grumman F4F Wildcat fighters.
Led by Lieutenant Commander John C. Waldron, Torpedo Squadron Eight (VT-8) flew at low altitude toward the expected position of the attacking Japanese fleet, while the fighters escorted the dive bombers at high altitude. Waldron sighted the enemy fleet at a distance of 30 miles and ordered his squadron to attack. Without any fighter escort, the slow flying torpedo bombers were attacked by Japanese Navy A6M2 Type 0 fighters and defensive anti-aircraft fire from the warships. All fifteen TBDs were shot down.
A detachment of VT-8, flying Grumman TBF-1 Avengers, had been sent ahead to Midway from Pearl Harbor. These six torpedo bombers, led by Lieutenant Langdon K. Fieberling, also attacked the Japanese fleet. Five were shot down by intercepting Zero fighters. The sixth, flown by Ensign Albert Kyle Earnest, was badly damaged and its gunner killed. The torpedo bomber was able to return to Midway but crash-landed. It was the only aircraft of Torpedo Eight to survive the Battle of Midway.¹
Only one man, Ensign George H. Gay, of the thirty pilots and gunners of Torpedo Eight who had launched from USS Hornet, survived. Ensign Earnest and Radioman Harry Hackett Ferrier, were the only survivors of the 18 men from the Midway detachment of VT-8. The torpedo bombers failed to score any hits on the Japanese ships, and their machine guns did not bring down any of the Zeros.
In the enigmatic ways of warfare, the attack by Torpedo Eight caused all of the Japanese fighters defending their aircraft carriers to descend to low altitude in their efforts to shoot down the American torpedo bombers. When the SBD Dauntless dive bombers from USS Enterprise and USS Yorktown arrived a few minutes later, there were no Japanese fighters at high altitude to interfere with their attack.
The dive bomber attack was devastating. The aircraft carriers Akagi, Kaga and Hiryu were bombed and sunk. Soryu received major damage, and was sunk by its escorting destroyers later in the day.
The Imperial Japanese Navy, up to this time on the offense all over the Pacific and Indian Oceans, never recovered from the loss of the experienced pilots that died when those carriers went down.
In his After Action Report, Hornet‘s commanding officer, Captain Marc A. Mitscher (later, Admiral) wrote:
“Beset on all sides by the deadly Zero fighters, which were doggedly attacking them in force, and faced with a seemingly impenetrable screen of cruisers and destroyers, the squadron drove in valiantly at short range. Plane after plane was shot down by fighters, anti-aircraft bursts were searing faces and tearing out chunks of fuselage, and still the squadron bored in. Those who were left dropped their torpedoes at short range.”
¹ In a 2008 U.S. Naval Institute article, survivor Commander Harry H. Ferrier (then Aviation Radioman 3/c) wrote that following the Battle of Midway, TBF-1 Bu. No. 00380 was returned to Pearl Harbor for inspection. It had been hit by at least nine 20 mm cannon shells and sixty-four 7.7 mm machine gun bullets.
4 June 1942: The Battle of Midway: The Japanese naval task force (First Mobile Force) under Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, consisting of the aircraft carriers IJN Agagi, IJN Kaga, IJN Hiryu and IJN Soryu, along with their escorts of battleships, cruisers, destroyers and supporting tankers, launched the first attack at 0430 against the United States base at Midway Island. The attackers consisted of 36 Aichi D3A dive bombers, 36 Nakajima B5N torpedo bombers and 36 Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighters as escort.
The incoming aircraft were detected by radar on the island and defending U.S. Marines fighters—obsolescent Grumman F4F Wildcats and obsolete Brewster F2A Buffalos—were launched to defend the island’s airstrip and facilities. 15 U.S. Army Air Force B-17E Flying Fortress heavy bombers and 4 Martin B-26 Marauder medium bombers took off to attack the Japanese carriers.
The Marine fighters were outnumbered and technologically inferior. 4 of the F4Fs and all 12 F2As were shot down. The Japanese lost 4 torpedo bombers and 3 Zero fighters. Facilities on the island were heavily damaged by the dive bomber attack, but it was not put out of action.
3 June 1942: After a U.S. Navy PBY patrol bomber sighted a task force of the Japanese fleet approaching Midway Atoll, nine U.S. Army Air Force Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress heavy bombers of the 431st Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 11th Bombardment Group (Heavy), under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Walter C. Sweeney, Jr., launched from the island at 1230 hours.
The B-17s were equipped with bomb bay “Tokyo tanks” and each was armed with four 600 pound (272 kilogram) bombs.
At 1624 hours, the bomber force located Admiral Raizo Tanaka’s Midway Occupation Group 570 miles (917 kilometers) west of the island. They attacked in three flights of three, at 8,000, 10,000 and 12,000 feet (2,440, 3,050 and 3,660 meters). Although they reported damage to several ships, in fact none were hit.
3 June 1942: At dawn, twenty-two U.S. Navy PBY-5A Catalina patrol bombers launched from Midway Island to search for a Japanese fleet which was expected to be heading toward the American island base. One of them, 44-P-4, (Bu. No. 08031) commanded by Ensign Jewell Harmon (“Jack”) Reid of Patrol Squadron 44 (VP-44), sighted Admiral Raizo Tanaka’s Midway Occupation Force, 700 nautical miles (1,296 kilometers) west of the atoll, shortly before 9:00 a.m.
The Catalina scouted the enemy task force, which they believed to be the “main body” of the Japanese fleet and radioed information back to their base. The task force consisted of 1 light cruiser, 12 transports carrying 5,000 soldiers, 11 destroyers, 2 seaplane tenders, 1 fleet oiler and 4 patrol boats.
The Consolidated PBY Catalina made its first flight on 28 March 1935, with chief test pilot William B. Wheatley in command. It was a twin-engine flying boat produced from 1936 to 1945. It was utilized primarily as an anti-shipping and anti-submarine patrol bomber and for search and rescue operations.
The PBY-5A was an amphibious variant equipped with retractable tricycle landing gear. It was 63 feet, 10-7/16 inches long (19.468 meters) with a wing span of 104 feet, 0 inches (31.699 meters) and overall height of 20 feet, 2 inches (6.147 meters). The parasol wing was mounted above the fuselage on a streamlined pylon and supported by four external braces. The wing has 6° incidence and the center section has no dihedral or sweep. The outer wing panels are tapered. There are no flaps. The total wing area is 1,400 square feet (130 square meters). The PBY-5A had an empty weight of 20,910 pounds (9,485 kilograms), and gross weight in patrol configuration of 33,975 pounds (15,411 kilograms). Its maximum takeoff weight (land) was 35,420 pounds (16,066 kilograms).
The PBY-5A was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 1,829.4-cubic-inch-displacement (29.978 liter) Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp S1C3-G (R-1830-92) two-row 14-cylinder radial engines. These were rated at 1,200 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. at Sea Level for takeoff. The maximum continuous rating for normal operation was 1,060 horsepower at 2,550 r.pm., up to 7,500 feet (2,286 meters). The engines drove three-bladed Hamilton Standard controllable-pitch propellers with a 12 foot, 1 inch (3.683 meter) diameter through a 16:9 gear reduction. The R-1830-92 is 48.19 inches (1.224 meters) long, 61.67 inches (1.566 meters) in diameter, and weighs 1,465 pounds (665 kilograms).
The PBY-5A Catalina had a cruise speed of 124 miles per hour (200 kilometers per hour). Its maximum speed was 169 miles per hour (272 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 179 miles per hour (288 kilometers per hour) at 7,000 feet (2,134 meters). The service ceiling was 14,700 feet (4,481 meters) and maximum range was 2,545 miles (4.096 kilometers) at 117 miles per hour (188 kilometers per hour.).
The patrol bomber could carry 4,000 pounds (1,814 kilograms) of bombs or depth charges, or two torpedoes on hardpoints under its wing. Two Browning M2 .30-caliber air-cooled machine guns were mounted in a nose turret with 2,100 rounds of ammunition. A third .30-caliber machine gun was positioned in a ventral hatch with 500 rounds of ammunition. Two Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber heavy machine guns were mounted in the waist with 578 rounds of ammunition per gun.
3,305 Consolidated PBY Catalina’s were built, of which 802 were the PBY-5A variant. In addition to United States service, many other countries operated the Catalina during and after World War II. The last PBY in U.S. service was a PBY-6A which was retired 3 January 1957.