I have shifted my pennant to a new site:
Looking forward to seeing you over there!
Notes and commentary on things present, reflections on a career in naval aviation and serendipitous items as strike me at the moment...
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.
Preliminary action begins in the Battle of Midway …
PACIFIC OCEAN AREA (POA, 7th Air Force):
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
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
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
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...
Task Group 17.5 Carrier Group - CAPT Elliott Buckmaster
Task Force 16 - Rear Admiral Raymond A. Spruance in
Task Force 16 - RADM Raymond
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.
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.
* 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)
Performance* Maximum speed: 320 mph (290 knots, 515 km/h)
* Guns: 6× 0.50 in (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns, 240 rounds/gun
* Bombs: 2× 100 lb (45 kg) bombs
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
The SBD was involved in combat from the first day of the Pacific War, as Dauntlesses arriving at
* 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
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.
* 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)
Fate is the Hunter by Ernest K. Gann
...and too many pathetic Power Point briefs (but that is redundant)
Read in 2007:The Minimum Means of Reprisal: China's Search for Security in the Nuclear Age by Jeffrey Lewis (aka ArmsControlWonk)
Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces by Pavel Podvig
Clash of the Carriers: The Battle of the Phillipine Sea by Barett Tillman
Facing Your Giants by Max Lucado
Sea of Thunder: Four Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign 1941-1945 by Evan Thomas
JP 3-01: Countering Air and Missile Threats (05 Feb 07) Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy by Ian Toll
Favorites of 2006:Guests of the Ayatollah by Mark Bowden
DEFCON-2 by Norman Polmar
Shattered Sword by Johnathan Parshall and Anthony Tully