08 June 2007

New Site

I have shifted my pennant to a new site:

Looking forward to seeing you over there!

07 June 2007

Midway 65 Years Later - Lessons Learned

"I can run wild for six months … after that, I have no expectation of success." - Fleet Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto

In racing there is a saying - 'luck is where preparation meets opportunity' Perhaps there is no truer an example than the Battle of Midway. Popular literature seems to emphasize the American forces stumbling into a heaven-sent scenario of laden carrier decks and little to no opposition to the dive bombers, while giving short shrift to the preparation that enabled them to make use of that opportunity. How so?

COMINT: Communications Intelligence - the US code breakers labored mightily to figure out what the IJN was up to. Were it not for their efforts prior to Midway, and some particularly inspired thinking and risk taking, the US may well have fallen for the feint up to Alaska and end up caught in the trap laid by Yamamoto.

Damage Control: Had the crew of the Yorktown not been so proficient in DC, particularly something as seemingly mundane as draining the avgas lines and filling them with inert gas prior to the battle of Coral Sea, the Yorktown may very well have been lost, leaving CINCPAC with only two carriers facing four, forcing a different battle plan. Conversely, the almost lackadaisical approach the Japanese took in repairing Shokaku's damage or replinishing Zuikaku's air wing and repairing her light damage from Coral Sea's action ensured their nonavailability for Midway, keeping the balance of forces on a razor's edge.

Training: The contrast between USN and USMC effectiveness in employing dive bombers at Midway was signatory. Using the same platform (SBD-3's) USN pilots scored major hits while minimizing losses to AAA and fighters, whereas the Marines suffered significant losses for little, if any gain. The difference? Tactics, training and procedures or TTP (yes, we know -ugh, one of those modern terms...) - the Navy employed steep, usually 70-degree, dives on the target whereas the Marines used much shallower, gliding approaches. The former minimizes your exposure time and profile to AAA and fighters while increasing the likelihood of a hit. However, it requires considerable practice at obtaining the proper dive angle, avoiding target fixation and knowing how/when to pullout of the dive and avoid over-stressing the airframe. Lots of practice, underscoring the maxim about training like you are going to fight...

Employment of forces: The Japanese were the first to employ massed striking power using carriers and the strike at Pearl (and subsequent actions through SE Asia and the IO) validated the philosophy. The problem was the Japanese failed to comprehend the inherent flexibility of carrier-based air and thus eschewed opportunities to utilize it in other scenarios, such as scouting, which in turn, led to less than robust search plans and reliance on out-dated search aircraft and methodologies. Curiously, the Japanese broke this rule in planning the Aleutian invasion, diverting forces on a mission of questionable value and success for territory that would prove to be exceptionally harsh on man and machine while yielding little, if any strategic value outside of propaganda for an overly wrought plan of entrapment. This leads to questions of planning...

Planning/Command: In studied contrast to the run-up at Pearl, Japanese planning for Midway was poorly thought out, egregiously evaluated and gamed and haphazardly executed (cf: the entire submarine picket plan). Indeed, it was put together and executed in such a toxic atmosphere of arrogance and bluster that even when one of the final wargame sessions showed American forces gaining an upper-hand because of gaps in the air search pattern, referees for the wargame manipulated the environment and other factors to bring about a successful conclusion for Kido Butai. As for dealing with changing factors at sea, commanders were loath to step outside the boundaries of the plan and demonstrate initiative. In studied contrast were the actions of the Americans from Nimitz's orders based on calculated risk to Dick Best's last minute change in targets.

Luck indeed smiled on the Americans that day, but she did not grab them by the hand (or scruff of the neck) and tell them what must be done in PowerPoint bulletized format. She merely opened the door, a crack, and offered a fleeting moment to change the course of the battle...the Americans grasped it and changed the direction of the war.

Review the list above - these are timeless lessons learned, every bit as applicable today as they were 65 year ago. My observations lead me to believe we are ignoring them at our future peril.
(ed. This is the last in the Midway series, one that YHS has thoroughly enjoyed working on and fielding your comments. There are some other items of note in work - such as a Flightdeck Friday on the USS Macon with some interesting original source material passed my way and, hopefully soon, breaking out my pennant on a new site. More to follow. - SJS)

04 June 2007

65th Anniversary of the Battle of Midway: 4/5 June - Forces Engaged

In carrying out the task assigned … you will be governed by the principle of calculated risk, which you shall interpret to mean the avoidance of exposure of our forces without good prospect on inflicting, as a result of such exposure, greater damage on the enemy. (Extract from CINCPAC Operational Order to TF 17 Commander)

In every battle there is a moment when the combatants, and the world, seem to catch their breath. It is a fleeting moment, lost in the blink of an eye. But in that same blink, everything changes. Such moments are borne of desperation, of courage, of plain dumb luck. But they are pivotal - for what was before is forever changed afterwards.

Until 1019 on the morning of 4/5 June 1942, things had gone badly for the US and its allies. With few exceptions, the Allies were fighting a losing battle in the Pacific. Indeed, as events unfolded that morning, it appeared as of the rout was on. The attacks by land-based air forces from Midway had utterly failed culminating in the loss of many aircraft. The strikes by the torpedo aircraft were decimated - an entire squadron of TBDs shot down with only a sole survivor to claim witness. An entire airgroup missed the Japanese carriers and the battle altogether and of the remaining forces, they were scattered and disorganized. The future was looking grim.

At 1019, Hiryu's senior lookout shouted he had spotted dive bombers attacking Kaga from overhead. Despite being thrown into a hard turn, Kaga was struck by a 500 lb bomb and then successive strikes utterly crushed her...

At 1024 Soryu was struck a mighty series of blows...

At 1026, LT Dick Best led a flight of two other SBDs away from Kaga in an attack on Akagi. Attacking in a "V" formation from a right-hand turn, history held its breath as the first bomb missed and the third narrowly missed the carrier. But the second bomb, a 1,000 pounder from LT Best's aircraft bore through the aft edge of the elevator and exploded in the upper reaches of the Akagi's hangar bay, in the midst of the refueled/rearming aircraft parked there. In the blink of an eye, fate turned and three carriers lay burning.

To be sure the battle was not over and a dreadful price remained to be extracted from the American carriers. Likewise, Kido Butai had not seen the last of the Americans either and would pay the final price later in that day.

Across a seaborne canvass that stretched over 176,000 sq nm, larger than the country of Sweden (as Parshall & Tully observe) the battle see-sawed back and forth. No other naval engagment has seen such breath-taking distances involved and few, short of a Trafalgar, have seen such a decisive turn of events. We honor today those who fought and gave their all in this signatory battle.




1) Previous postings this series:

2) To appreciate the sweep of events and the timescale involved, the reader is recommended to view the history of the battle as laid out over at Historyanimated, located here for the Battle of Midway.

03 June 2007

Countdown to Midway: 3 June – First Contact


ALASKA: In an attempt to divert forces from the Midway area, a Japanese carrier-based bombers and fighters bomb and strafe Ft Mears and Dutch Harbor in several waves inflicting little damage but killing 52 US personnel. P-40s from Cold Bay trying to intercept them arrive 10 minutes after the last attack wave departs. Other P-40s at Umnak are notified too late due to communication failure. 9 P-40s and 6 B-26s fly a patrol but cannot find the fleet-l80 miles (288 km) S of Dutch Harbor- but 2 of the P-40s engage 4 carrier-based aircraft, shoot down one and damage another. An A6M2 Zero fighter crashes in the Aleutian Islands and is discovered intact five weeks later. It is shipped to the United States for testing and evaluation. (ed. – this is the Zero that the urban legend about the design of the F6F sprang from; in fact, the F6F will fly for the first time in a little over 3 weeks from today’s date)

  • Alaska - Japanese occupy Kiska and Attu in the Aleutians.

CHINA-BURMA-INDIA (CBI) THEATER OF OPERATIONS: A flight of 6 B-25s of the 11th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 7th Bombardment Group (Heavy), earmarked for China, take off from Dinjan, India for China. They bomb Lashio, Burma en route to Kunming, but afterward 9 crashed into an overcast-hidden mountain at 10,000 feet (3,048 m) and another is abandoned when it runs out of fuel near Chan-i, China. The remaining 2 B-25's reach Kunming, China, 1 with its radio operator killed by a fighter.


Preliminary action begins in the Battle of Midway …

On the morning of 3 June 1942 (4 Jun as the calendar was observed by the ships of Kido Butai), elements of Tanaka’s invasion force were discovered by PBYs flying out of Midway. Fist detection of the supporting minesweepers came @ 0830L and followed by another sighting by a different PBY forty-five minutes later (the infamous “Main Body” report). This was a good 700 nm from Midway and after Midway’s air commander satisfied himself it wasn’t the carriers, a long range strike by the Midway-based B-17’s was launched. Indicative of the distances the coming battle would be fought, the first attack force reached Tanaka’s ships around four hours later. Setting up for their runs from 8 to 12 thousand feet above the force, Tanaka’s ships did not react until the bombs were starting to explode around them. Maneuvering to avoid hits, all the ships escaped being hit, despite claims by the returning bombers of having hit and damaged or sunk five large ships.

As alluded to above, the distances in this theater of battle were huge – how each side developed and implemented their search surveillance plan would be critical. At this stage of the war, radar was not available for use in search aircraft with large, ungainly sets and antennas being the province of ships. Even then, the limitations of the radar horizon (straight-line distance to the Earths horizon. Below which surface and low flying targets could not be seen) which was approximately 30 -40 miles, severely constrained the employment of radar for now. Instead, scouting was to be carried out by land- and ship-based aircraft (ship-based only for Japan), one of the original missions envisioned for aircraft in their early naval days. Additionally, picket lines of submarines would be used to form a warning barrier that would be tripped by passage of the other side’s carriers.

The scouting aircraft used by the Japanese were either the Type 95 float plane (a range-limited bi-plane) or the fewer in number Aichi E31A Jake Type 0 float plane. Commonly found on heavy cruisers and battle ships, the former was found in far greater numbers the morning of 3 June. As such, because of the range demands, the limited numbers of Jakes were pressed into service. With a crew of three (pilot, bombardier and gunner) the Jake had a combat/search radius of about 600-650 nm. The search plan for Kido Butai had Jakes launching from Akagi, Kaga, Tone (2) and Chikuma (2). Flying out on assigned radials originating from Kido Butai’s center, each plane would fan out to 300 nm, turn left for 60 nm and then fly back to the origin point (see illustration below). At the patrol altitude of 1200-2000 ft, an optical search swath of about 25 nm, centered on the plane’s ground track could be maintained. Absent any other factors or tipper information, it was a chancy plan at best. Tipper information would come from tripwire notification passed by the submarine pickets as they picked up the carriers leaving Oahu. Except that by the time the subs arrived, the carriers had already left.

Contrast that search plan with the American plan – with 127 search aircraft (primarily PBYs backed up by thirty plus Marine SBDs as well as the B-17’s) on Midway, the Americans already had a more robust search capability. The PBY’s range was double that of the Japanese scouts and with a crew of 9, able to cover a search area. The American subs were also on station as well. But perhaps the most important distinction was the difference in employment of carrier air for scouting/search. Unlike the US, which had scouting squadrons assigned to the CVs (usually with SBDs assigned), the IJN did not employ carrier air. The primary reason goes back to operational philosophy and employment. The IJN was the first to use massed carriers to effectively employ carrier-based air. As such, they did not believe in dissipating any CV-based assets via scouting missions, preferring instead to reserve the force for massed attacks on the target(s) once located. The implications of this differing philosophy would be seen in the following day’s battle.

Later that evening, PBYs carrying jury-rigged torpedoes conduct a night attack on the supporting forces. One torpedo finds a target, impacting and detonating on the bow of a fleet oiler. Though slowed by the damage, it manages to rejoin the supporting fleet. Ironically, this would be the only successful airborne torpedo attack of the coming battle...

01 June 2007

Flightdeck Friday: Countdown to Midway - USN Carrier-based Air Order of Battle (AOB)

Task Force 17 - Rear Admiral Frank J. Fletcher in Yorktown

Task Group 17.5 Carrier Group - CAPT Elliott Buckmaster

  • USS Yorktown (CV-5) CAPT Buckmaster
    • CVG-5 - LCDR Oscar Pederson
      • VS-5 LT Wallace Clark Short, Jr. 19 (17) x SBD-3
      • VF-3 LCDR John Smith Thach 27 (25) x F4F-4
      • VB-3 LCDR Maxwell Franklin Leslie 18 (17) x SBD-3
      • VT-3 LCDR Lance Edward Massey 15 (12) x TBD-1

Task Force 16 - Rear Admiral Raymond A. Spruance in Enterprise

Task Force 16 - RADM Raymond Ames Spruance

  • Task Group 16.5 Carrier Group - CAPT George Dominic Murray
  • USS Enterprise (CV-6) CAPT Murray
    • CVG-6 - LCDR Clarence Wade McClusky, Jr. 1 (1) x SBD-3
      • VF-6 LT James Seton Gray, Jr. 27 (27) x F4F-4
      • VS-6 LT Wilmer Earl Gallaher 18 (18) x SBD-3
      • VB-6 LT Richard Halsey Best 18 (18) x SBD-2, -3
      • VT-6 LCDR Eugene Elbert Lindsey 14 (14) x TBD-1
  • USS Hornet (CV-8) RADM Marc Andrew Mitscher
    • CVG-8 - Cdr. Stanhope Cotton Ring 1 (1) x SBD-3
      • VF-8 LCDR Samuel Gavid Mitchell 27 (27) x F4F-4
      • VS-8 LCDR Walter Fred Rodee 16 (15) x SBD-3
      • VB-8 LCDR Robert Ruffin Johnson 18 (18) x SBD-3
      • VT-8 LCDR John Charles Waldron 15 (15) x TBD-1

Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat

The F4F began life somewhat inauspiciously as a two-time loser – to the Brewster F2A Buffalo of all planes. Initially designed as an unbuilt biplane design entered in a US Navy competition, it was beaten by the monoplane Brewster F2A-1 design. Subsequently remodeled as the monoplane XF4F-2 it was evaluated against the Buffalo, only to come up short again (although it was marginally faster) - the Buffalo was otherwise superior and was chosen for production. Fortunately Grumman persisted and the prototype was then rebuilt as the XF4F-3 with new wings and tail and a most importantly, a supercharged version of the Pratt & Whitney R-1830 "Twin Wasp" radial engine. Subsequent testing of the XF4F-3 led to an order for F4F-3 production models, the first of which was completed in February 1940 and armed four .50 caliber Browning machine guns, joined active units in later that year.

The definitive version and the one by far seeing the most action was the F4F-4, which entered service in 1942 with six guns and folding wings, allowing more to be embarked on a carrier. Interestingly enough, this version was less popular with American pilots, because the same amount of ammunition was spread over two additional guns, decreasing firing time. With the F4F-3's four 50-caliber guns and 450 rounds per gun, pilots had 34 seconds of firing time; six guns decreased ammunition to 240 rounds per gun, which could be expended in less than 20 seconds. The increase to six guns was attributed to the Royal Navy, who wanted greater firepower to deal with German and Italian foes – Jimmy Thach’s observation was, "A pilot who cannot hit with four guns will miss with eight." Extra guns and folding wings meant extra weight, and reduced performance: the F4F-4 was capable of only about 318 mph at 19,400 ft. Rate of climb was noticeably worse in the F4F-4, while Grumman optimistically claimed the F4F-4 could climb at a modest 1,950 feet per minute, in combat conditions, pilots found their F4F-4s capable of ascending at only 500 to 1,000 feet per minute. Moreover, the F4F-4's folding wing was intended to allow five F4F-4s to be stowed in the space required by two F4F-3s. In practice, the folding wings allowed an increase of about 50% in the number of Wildcats carried aboard US fleet aircraft carriers.

Note the TBD's Hung in the Overhead...

The Wildcat was outperformed by the Mitsubishi Zero, its major opponent in the early part of the Pacific Theater, but held its own by absorbing far more damage and with the adoption of tactics that took advantage of the Wildcat’s abilities (diving attacks) and mutual support (Thach Weave). With relatively heavy armor and self-sealing fuel tanks, the Grumman airframe could survive far more than its lightweight, unarmored Japanese rival. Many US Navy fighter pilots also were saved by the F4F's ZB homing device, which allowed them to find their carriers in poor visibility, provided they could get within the 30-mile range of the homing beacon.

General characteristics

* Crew: 1
* Length: 28 ft 9 in (8.8 m)
* Wingspan: 38 ft 0 in (11.6 m)
* Height: 9 ft 2.5 in (2.8 m)
* Wing area: 260 ft² (24.2 m²)
* Empty weight: 5,760 lb (2,610 kg)
* Max takeoff weight: 7,950 lb (3,610 kg)
* Powerplant: 1× Pratt & Whitney R-1830-86 double-row radial engine, 1,200 hp (900 kW)


* Maximum speed: 320 mph (290 knots, 515 km/h)
* Range: 770 mi (670 nm, 1,240 km)
* Service ceiling: 39,500 ft (12,000 m)
* Rate of climb: 1,950 ft/min (9.9 m/s)


* Guns: 6× 0.50 in (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns, 240 rounds/gun
* Bombs: 2× 100 lb (45 kg) bombs

Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless

The Douglas SBD Dauntless was the U.S. Navy's main dive bomber from mid-1940 until late 1943, when it was supplemented (although not entirely replaced) by the SB2C Helldiver. Derived from the Northrop Model 8 attack bomber developed for the Army and export market, the Dauntless was developed at the Douglas Northrop facility at El Segundo, Calif., and featured a novel “Swiss Cheese” style dive flap arrangement. Slow but rugged (the aircraft was tagged as the “Slow But Deadly” Dauntless by her aircrew) the Dauntless when used in a steep dive profile was proved deadly to shipping, accounting for more ships sunk in the Pacific theater than any other US or Allied aircraft.

The SBD was involved in combat from the first day of the Pacific War, as Dauntlesses arriving at Hawaii from USS Enterprise were caught in the Pearl Harbor attack. The type's first major use was in the Battle of the Coral Sea, when SBDs and TBDs sank the Japanese aircraft carrier Shōhō. SBDs were also used as anti-torpedo combat air patrol and scored several times against Japanese aircraft trying to attack USS Lexington and USS Yorktown. the SBD's most important contribution to the American war effort probably came during the Battle of Midway (early June 1942), when SBD dive bomber attacks sank all four of the Japanese aircraft carriers (the Akagi, Kaga, Sōryū, and Hiryū) as well as heavily damaging two Japanese cruisers (including the Mikuma, which sank before a Japanese destroyer could scuttle it.). 5,936 SBDs were produced in WWII.

General characteristics

* Crew: Two
* Length: 33 ft 1 in (10.08 m)
* Wingspan: 41 ft 6 in (12.65 m)
* Height: 13 ft 7 in (4.14 m)
* Wing area: 325 ft² (30.19 m²)
* Empty weight: 6,404 lb (2,905 kg)
* Loaded weight: 10,676 lb (4,843 kg)
* Max takeoff weight: 10,700 lb (4,853 kg)
* Powerplant: 1× Wright R-1820-60 radial engine, 1,200 hp (895 kW)


* Maximum speed: 255 mph (410.38 km/h)
* Range: 773 mi (1243.8 km)
* Service ceiling: 25,530 ft (7,780 m)
* Rate of climb: 1,700 ft/min (8.6 m/s)
* Wing loading: 32.8 lb/ft² (160.4 kg/m²)
* Power/mass: 0.11 hp/lb (0.18 kW/kg)


* 2x 0.5 in (12.7 mm) forward-firing machine guns
* 2x 0.3 in (7.62 mm) flexible-mounted machine guns
* 2,250 lb (1,020 kg) of bombs

Douglas TBD-1 Devastator

While the Dauntless may have earned the moniker "Slow But Deadly," the Douglas TBD Devastator just turned out to be deadly – to her crews at Midway. The TBD was ordered in 1934, first flew in 1935 and entered service in 1937. At that point, it was the most advanced plane flying for the USN and possibly for any navy in the world. However, the fast pace of aircraft development caught up with it, and by the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor the TBD was already outdated. It performed well in some early battles, but in the Battle of Midway the Devastators launched against the Japanese fleet were almost totally wiped out. The type was immediately withdrawn from service, replaced by the Grumman TBF Avenger.

The TBD Devastator marked a large number of "firsts" for the US Navy. It was the first widely-used carrier-based monoplane as well as the first all-metal plane, the first with a totally enclosed cockpit, the first with hydraulically folding wings; it is fair to say that the TBD was revolutionary. A semi-retractable undercarriage was fitted, with the wheels designed to protrude 10 inches (250 mm) below the wings to permit a "wheels-up" landing with only minimal damage.

A crew of three was carried beneath a large "greenhouse" canopy almost half the length of the airplane. The pilot, of course, sat up front; a rear gunner/radio operator took the rearmost seat, while the bombardier occupied the middle seat. During a bombing run, the bombardier lay prone, sliding into position under the pilot to sight through a window in the bottom of the fuselage, using the Norden Bombsight for either a single Mark XIII torpedo or a single 1000 lb (450 kg) bomb. Defensive armament consisted of either a .30 or .50 cal (7.62 or 12.7 mm) machine-gun firing forward, and a .30 caliber (7.62 mm) machine gun for the rear gunner.

The Devastator suffered from two principle short-comings – it was excruciatingly slow on torpedo runs, which themselves required a log, straight un-maneuvering run-in to the target and from poorly designed torpedoes that if it did survive the run in, usually failed to detonate or ran deep under their targets. The fact that US submarine crews were likewise having similar problems with their torpedoes in the early stage of the war was cold comfort to the TBD crews and Navy leadership…

Eventually 129 of the type were purchased by the U.S. Navy's Bureau of Aeronautics (BuAer), equipping the carriers USS Saratoga, USS Enterprise, USS Lexington, USS Wasp, USS Hornet, USS Yorktown and USS Ranger. The last TBD was scrapped in 1944 and as a result (combined with combat and operational losses) there are no examples in existence today.

General characteristics

* Crew: Three: Pilot, Torpedo Officer/Navigator, Radioman/Gunner
* Length: 35 ft 0 in (10.67 m)
* Wingspan: 50 ft 0 in (15.24 m)
* Height: 15 ft 1 in (4.60 m)
* Wing area: 422 ft² (39.2 m²)
* Empty weight: 6,182 lb (2,804 kg)
* Loaded weight: 9,862 lb (4,473 kg)
* Max takeoff weight: 10,194 lb (4,623 kg)
* Powerplant: 1× Pratt & Whitney R-1830-64 Twin Wasp radial engine, 900 hp (671 kW)


* Maximum speed: 206 mph (331 km/h)
* Range: 435 miles (700 km)
* Service ceiling: 19,700 ft (6000 m)
* Rate of climb: 720 ft/min (3.7 m/s)
* Wing loading: lb/ft² (kg/m²)
* Power/mass: hp/lb (kW/kg)


* 1x 0.30 cal (7.62 mm) machine gun forward-firing
* 1x 0.30 cal (7.62 mm) machinegun in rear cockpit (later increased to two)
* 1x 1,000 lb (453 kg) bomb
* 1x Mark XIII torpedo - 1,200 lb (544 kg)