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.
1 April 1939: Mitsubishi Kokuki K.K. (Mitsubishi Aircraft Company) Chief Test Pilot Katsuzo Shima made the first flight of the prototype Mitsubishi A6M1 Navy Type 0¹ fighter at the Kagamigahara air field (now, Gifu Airbase).
Completed about ten days earlier, at the Mitsubishi Aircraft Company factory at Nagoya on the island of Honshu, the prototype fighter had been disassembled so that it could be transported by road approximately 22 miles (36 kilometers) to the airfield.
Beginning late in the afternoon with taxi tests and a brief “hop” to check control response, at 5:30 p.m., Shima took off on what would be a successful test flight.
The prototype S12, serial number 201, had been designed in response to an Imperial Japanese Navy requirement for a new, light-weight fighter for operation from aircraft carriers. The design team was led by Dr. Jiro Horikoshi, an engineering graduate from the Aviation Laboratory at the University of Tokyo.
The Type 0 (best known as the “Zero”) was a single-place, single-engine, low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear. It was of very light construction, being primarily built of a special aluminum alloy, although its control surfaces were fabric covered. The empty weight of the first prototype was just 1,565.9 kilograms (3,452.2 pounds). Its test weight on 1 April was 1,928 kilograms (4,251 pounds).
The two prototype A6M1s were powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 28.017 liter (1,709.7 cubic inch displacement) Mitsubishi MK2C Zuisen 13, a two-row, fourteen cylinder radial engine, rated at 780 horsepower for takeoff. The engine initially drove a two-bladed variable pitch propeller, but during testing this was replaced by a three-bladed Sumitomo constant-speed propeller, which was manufactured under license from Hamilton Standard.
The combination of very light weight and relatively low power made the Zero very maneuverable and capable of long distance flights.
After the success of the A6M1’s initial flight tests, a second prototype, c/n 202, was built and testing continued. In September 1939 the Japanese Navy accepted the new fighter, the Rei Shiki Sento Ki, or “Rei-Sen,” and it was ordered into production with few changes.
The first production model was the A6M2 Type 0 Model 21. The Mitsubishi engine was replaced by a more powerful Nakajima NK1C Sakae 12. The fighter’s wing tips could be folded upward for a slight improvement in storage aboard aircraft carriers.
Sources vary on the exact dimensions of the Zero fighters. The National Naval Aviation Museum at NAS Pensacola, Florida, which has an A6M2 in its collection, gives the airplane’s length as 29 feet, 8.6 inches (9.058 meters). The wingspan is 39 feet, 4.5 inches (12.002 meters), and the height is 10 feet, 0 inches (3.048 meters). It has an empty weight of 1,680 kilograms (3,704 pounds), and loaded weight of 2,796 kilograms (6,164 pounds), about half the weight of its rivals, the Chance Vought F4U Corsair and Grumman F6F Hellcat.
The A6M2 Type 0 was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 27.874 liter (1,700.962 cubic inch) Nakajima Hikoki K.K. NK1C Sakae 12, a two-row, fourteen-cylinder radial engine which was rated at 925 horsepower, and drove a three-bladed Sumitomo constant-speed propeller through a 1.71:1 gear reduction.
The Model 21 had a cruise speed of 207 miles per hour (333 kilometers per hour). Its maximum speed was 277 miles per hour (446 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 335 miles per hour (539 kilometers per hour) at 16,000 feet (4,877 meters). The service ceiling was 37,000 feet (11,278 meters) and maximum range, 1,175 miles (1,891 kilometers).
The A6M2’s armament was manufactured by Dai Nihon Heiki K.K. Two Type 97 7.7 mm (.303-caliber) machine guns were mounted on the forward upper fuselage, synchronized and firing through the propeller arc. These were licensed versions of the Vickers Type E .303 machine gun. There were 600 rounds of ammunition per gun. A Type 99 20 mm autocannon was mounted in each wing with 100 shells per gun. The Type 99 was a licensed version of the Oerlikon FF autocannon.
The Mitsubishi A6M Zero was one of the most successful fighters of World War II. Although its light construction made it vulnerable to the heavy machine guns of American fighters, in skilled hands, the highly maneuverable Zero was a deadly opponent.
The Mitsubishi A6M Type 0 was produced from 1940 through 1945. 10,939 Zeros were built. At the end of World War II, almost all of the surviving fighters were destroyed and only a very few remain.
An A6M2 was captured near Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands in June 1943. Known as the “Akutan Zero,” the fighter was extensively tested by the U.S. Navy and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) at NAS Anacostia. Under extreme secrecy, the airplane was also tested in the Full Scale Wind Tunnel at NACA’s Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory at Hampton, Virginia.
¹ The 0 (the numeral zero) in the fighter’s type designation refers to the the final digit of the year 2600 of the Imperial Japanese Calendar, which was 1940 AD by the Gregorian calendar. This gave the A6M2 its most common identification, simply, “the Zero.”
3 March 1942: A Koninklijke Nederlandsch-Indische Luchtvaart Maatschappij (KNILM) Douglas DC-3 airliner, registration PK-AFV, named Pelikaan, was flying from Bandoeng, Java, Dutch East Indies, to Broome, Western Australia. The flight was under the command of Captain Ivan Vasilyevich Smirnov, a World War I fighter ace of the Imperial Russian Air Service. There were three other crew members and eight passengers on board.
And A£300,000 in diamonds.¹
At about 10:30 a.m., as the DC-3 approached the shore of Western Australia, it was attacked by three Mitsubishi A6M2 Navy Type 0 Model 21 (“Zero”) fighters of the Third Kokutai, Imperial Japanese Navy, then based at Timor. The flight was lead by Lieutenant Zenjiro Miyano, IJN.
Captain Smirnov and several others were wounded and the airliner’s left engine caught fire. Smirnov made a crash landing on a beach at Carnot Bay, approximately 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Broome. The fighters continued to strafe the DC-3 on the beach.
The following day, 4 March, the airliner was bombed by a Kawanishi H6K “Mavis” four-engine flying boat, but there was no further injury or damage.
Over the next several days, four of the passengers died of wounds. The survivors were rescued on 9 March.
The diamonds disappeared.
A beach comber, John (“Diamond Jack”) Palmer, later turned in a parcel of diamonds which he said he had found on the beach. These were valued at A£20,447, but were only about 10% of the original amount. Palmer was charged with stealing the diamonds, and he and two others, John Arthur Mulgrue and Frank Archibald Robinson, were charged with unlawfully receiving the diamonds. They were prosecuted in 1943, but all were acquitted.
PK-AFV was a Douglas DC-3-194B, serial number 1965, built in 1937. It was one of twenty-three DC-3s operated by Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij N.V. (KLM, or Royal Dutch Airlines) and was originally registered PH-ALP. It was transferred to KNILM in the Dutch East Indies in June 1940.
The Douglas DC-3 was an all-metal, twin-engine civil transport with retractable landing gear. The airplane was operated by a pilot and co-pilot and could carry up to 21 passengers.
The DC-3-194B was 64 feet, 5 inches (19.634 meters) long with a wingspan of 95 feet (28.956 meters). It was 16 feet, 11 inches (5.156 meters) high. The airplane weighed approximately 18,000 pounds (8,165 kilograms) empty and had a gross weight of 25,200 pounds (11,431 kilograms). The -194Bs were built with the passenger door on the right side of the fuselage.
The DC-3-194B was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 1,829.39-cubic-inch-displacement (29.978 liter) Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp two-row, 14-cylinder radial engines. The specific engine variant is not known. The engines drove three-bladed Curtiss Electric propellers.
[Douglas C-47 Skytrains were equipped with the R-1830-92 (Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp S1C3-G). These had a maximum continuous rating for normal operation was 1,060 horsepower at 2,550 r.pm., up to 7,500 feet (2,286 meters), and 1,200 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m., at Sea Level, for takeoff. Each engine drives a three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed full-feathering propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 6 inches (3.505 meters) 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 DC-3 had a cruise speed of 150 miles per hour (241 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 237 miles per hour (381 kilometers per hour) at 8,500 feet (2,591 meters). The airplane had a service ceiling 24,000 feet (7,315 meters), and its range was 1,025 miles (1,650 kilometers).
The Douglas DC-3 was in production for 11 years with 10,655 civil and C-47 military airplanes built, and another 5,000 license-built copies. Over 400 are still in commercial service.
¹ Equivalent to approximately A$21,630,927 in 2017.
18 December 1941: First Lieutenant Boyd David (“Buzz”) Wagner, United States Army Air Corps, commanding officer of the 17th Pursuit Squadron (Interceptor) at Nichols Field, Pasay City, Commonwealth of the Philippines, shot down his fifth Japanese airplane, a Mitsubishi A6M2 Type Zero fighter, with his Curtiss-Wright P-40B Warhawk, near Vigan, Luzon. He became the first U.S. Army “ace” of World War II.
On 12 December 1941, “Buzz” Wagner was flying a lone reconnaissance mission over the airfield at Aparri, which had been captured by the invading Japanese. He was attacked by several Zero fighters but he evaded them, then returned and shot down two of them. As he strafed the airfield he was attacked by more Zeros and shot down two more, bringing his score for the mission to four enemy airplanes shot down.
On 18 December, Lieutenant Wagner lead a flight of four P-40s to attack the enemy-held airfield at Vigan. He and Lieutenant Russell M. Church strafed and bombed the field while two other P-40s covered from overhead. Wagner destroyed nine Japanese aircraft on the ground, but as he passed over the field a Zero took off. Wagner rolled inverted to locate the Zero, then after spotting him, chopped his throttle and allowed the Zero to pass him. This left Wagner in a good position and he shot down his fifth enemy fighter. Lieutenant Church was shot down by ground fire and killed.
This fifth shoot down made Buzz Wagner the first U.S. Army Air Corps ace of World War II. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Purple Heart for injuries sustained in an air battle, 22 December 1941. He was evacuated to Australia in January 1942.
Boyd David Wagner was born 26 October 1916 at Emeigh, Pennsylvania. He was the first of two children of Boyd Matthew Wagner, a laborer, and Elizabeth Moody Wagner. After graduating from high school, Wagner enrolled in the University of Pittsburgh, where he majored in aeronautical engineering.
After three years of college, Boyd Wagner enlisted as a flying cadet in the U.S. Army Air Corps, at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 26 June 1937. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, Air Corps Reserve, 16 June 1938. Lieutenant Wagner received advanced flight training and pursuit training, and on 1 October 1938 his commission as a reserve officer was changed to Second Lieutenant, Army Air Corps.
Wagner was promoted to First Lieutenant, Army of the United States, on 9 September 1940. Lieutenant Wagner was assigned to the 24th Pursuit Group in the Philippine Islands, 5 December 1940.
Lieutenant Wagner was promoted to the rank of Captain, A.U.S., 30 January 1942. On 11 April 1942, Captain Wagner was again promoted, bypassing the rank of Major, to Lieutenant Colonel, A.U.S. He was assigned to the 8th Fighter Group in New Guinea. On 30 April 1942, while flying a Bell P-39 Airacobra, Wagner shot down another three enemy airplanes. In September 1942, Colonel Wagner was sent back to the United States to train new fighter pilots.
On 29 November 1942, Colonel Wagner disappeared while on a routine flight from Eglin Field, Florida, to Maxwell Field, Alabama, in a Curtiss-Wright P-40K Warhawk, 42-10271. Six weeks later, the wreck of his fighter was found, approximately 4 miles north of Freeport, Florida. Lieutenant Colonel Boyd David Wagner, United States Army Air Corps, had been killed in the crash. His remains are buried at Grandview Cemetery, Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
The Curtiss-Wright Corporation Hawk 81B (P-40B Warhawk) was a single-seat, single-engine pursuit. It was a low-wing monoplane of all-metal construction and used flush riveting to reduce aerodynamic drag. It had an enclosed cockpit and retractable landing gear. Extensive wind tunnel testing at the NACA Langley laboratories refined the airplane’s design, significantly increasing the top speed.
The P-40B Warhawk was 31 feet, 8¾ inches (9.671 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet, 4 inches (11.379 meters) and overall height of 10 feet, 7 inches (3.226 meters). Its empty weight was 5,590 pounds (2,536 kilograms), and 7,326 pounds (3,323 kilograms) gross. The maximum takeoff weight was 7,600 pounds (3,447 kilograms).
The P-40B was powered by a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,710.597ubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Co. V-1710-C15 (V-1710-33), a single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine, which had a Continuous Power Rating of 930 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., from Sea Level to 12,800 feet (3,901 meters), and 1,150 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. to 14,300 feet (4,359 meters) for Take Off and Military Power. The engine drove a three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller through a 2:1 gear reduction. The V-1710-33 was 8 feet, 2.54 inches (2.503 meters) long, 3 feet, 5.88 inches (1.064 meters) high, and 2 feet, 5.29 inches (0.744 meters) wide. It weighed 1,340 pounds (607.8 kilograms).
Heavier than the initial production P-40, the P-40B was slightly slower, with a maximum speed of 352 miles per hour (567 kilometers per hour) at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). It had a service ceiling of 32,400 feet (9,876 meters). Its range was 730 miles (1,175 kilometers).
Armament consisted of two air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns mounted in the cowling and synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc, with 380 rounds of ammunition per gun, and four Browning AN-M2 .30-caliber aircraft machine guns, with two in each wing.
Curtiss-Wright produced 13,738 P-40s between 1939 and 1944. 131 of those were P-40B Warhawks.
¹ The Warhawk in the photograph may be P-40C 41-13471, s/n 16351.