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American air searches at Midway

Discussion in 'Naval Warfare in the Pacific' started by Carronade, Oct 26, 2012.

  1. Carronade

    Carronade Ace

    Feb 17, 2010
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    Early on the morning of June 4, some 22 PBYs took off for searches from Midway. Does anyone know what area they covered? This would also determine how wide the individual search sectors were.

    Admiral Fletcher launched a search to the north from Yorktown, so apparently he was not sure the area NW-NE of his task forces was being covered. I would guess the PBYs probably did not search much east of 000 degrees, due north from Midway island. I could see them searching the entire western semi-circle, down to 180 degrees, but would they go any further east?
  2. R Leonard

    R Leonard Member

    Oct 15, 2003
    Likes Received:
    The Old Dominion
    NAS Midway War Diary reads:

    1 June 1942.
    Search 200 to 020, 22 planes. Coverage excellent to north of 300 miles. Contact with enemy twin-engined bombers by patrol planes. They attacked, one patrol plane damaged. Sent 12 B-17’s to rendezvous.

    2 June 1942.
    Search, 22 planes, sector 200 to 020. No contacts. Coverage excellent to 292° to average 400 to NW excellent to north.

    3 June 1942.
    Search, 22 planes, 200 to 020. Coverage excellent beyond 450 miles to NNW.
    0430 – All planes in commission in the air
    0843 – 6V55 reports “Investigating suspicious vessel”.
    0904 – FIRST SURFACE CONTACT. 6V55 sighted two Japanese cargo vessels bearing 247, distance 470 miles.
    0923 – 7V55 fired on by AA. Requested instructions.
    0925 – 8V55 reports “Main body”.
    0927 – 8V55 amplifies by “Bearing 262, distance 700”.
    0943 – 7V55 ordered to proceed to bearing 261, distance 700.
    1040 – 8V55 reports six large ships in column.
    1100 - 8V55 reports 11 ships, course 090, speed 19, requests instructions. (Ordered to return to base).
    1130 - 7V55 reports two cargo vessels and two small vessels, course 050, bearing 251, distance 270.
    1200 - Flight 92, 6 B-17's, 4 600-lb. bombs each in the air to attack "Main body" reported at bearing 261, distance 700.
    1240 - Flight 93 off on long range search to 800 miles to expected rendezvous point, with Navy observer.
    1611 - Flight 93 reports 2 AK and 2DD, distance 700, bearing 26l.
    1640 - Flight 92 attacked.
    1700 - Flight 92 reports hits on one BB and near misses on another.
    2115 - Flight 44, 4 PBY planes, Lieutenant Richards, leader, off for night attack on transports with torpedoes.
    2145 - Last Army bomber in.

    4 June, 1942.

    22 plane search sector 200 to 020 to 700 miles. No reports on coverage.

    0207 - 4V44 reports "Attacked enemy bearing 260, distance 500 miles and hid in clouds".
    0210 - 3V44 sent "Attacked by enemy aircraft."
    0212 - 3V44 reports "Resumed search".
    0243 - 1V44 reports "Attack completed, hit large transport bearing 260, distance 500, course 080, speed 13, ten ships".
    0245 - 2V44 reports "Attack completed main body".
    0430 - Search planes took off.
    0440 - 16 B-17's, Flight 92, in the air. Mission, to hit group to westward.
    0500 - 1 B-17 with only 3 engines working took off for Pearl. Field clear of all heavy planes able to take off except Flight 23 which was held with engines warmed up.
    0545 - 3V58 reported in PLAIN ENGLISH "Many planes heading Midway, bearing 320, distance 150".
    0545 - Ordered all planes off.
    0550 - Many planes picked up on radar screen distance 93 miles.
    0552 - 4V58 reported 2 carriers and main body ships, carriers in front, course 135, speed 25.
    0555 - Air raid alarm sounded.
    0600 - Ordered V92 to change target to carriers.
    0600 - Field clear. All planes able to fly except J2F in the air.
    0622 - Two planes on fire 25 miles to north.
    0635 - Air raid on Midway started.
    0637 - 4V58 reports "Am returning to Pearl Hermes unless otherwise directed".
    0640 - 11V55 reports "I am proceeding to Lisianski".
    0645 - 5V55 sent "I request instructions". Ordered to act at discretion.
    0705 - 5V55 sent "Proceeding to Lisianski".
    0710 - NPM said "ZPK you are observing improper circuit discipline".
    0715 - 8V55 reports "Opposed by two enemy observation planes."
    0725 - Power off. Auxiliary switched on in 30 seconds.
    0730 - 3V55 reports "Proceeding to Lisianski unless otherwise directed".
    0800 - 8V55 does not answer call. (Shot down in flames).
    0820 - Marine Air Group reports only 3 undamaged fighters left
    0843 - 9V55 reports "4 heavy cruisers, 2 merchantmen, 2 oilers, destroyers, bearing 265, distance 400 miles".
    0848 - Directed VP 23 to have 3 planes at Pearl and Hermes at 1500.
    0900 - V92 reports attack completed, one carrier damaged.
    0910 - 9V55 reports 8 cruisers, course 085, distance 320, course 265.
    0915 - 4V58 attacked by single engine seaplane.
    0915 - 2V44 landing at Laysan, intend to return Pearl.
    0915 - Crews of 1 B-26 and 1 TBF with damaged landing gears ordered to bail out. (They came in and landed anyhow).
    0921 - 3V44 requests MO's.
    0930 - 1 B-26 reports "Results unknown. Heavy AA fire encountered. Dropped torpedo at carrier."
    0937 - V23 told to return to Midway as soon as practicable.
    0940 - TBF survivor reports run on enemy carrier. Result not observed.
    0945 - Ordered B-17's load full load bombs.
    0945 - 4V58 reports bearing 357, distance 210.
    0951 - 6V55 reports large vessel may be enemy carrier and destroyer bearing 262, distance 330.
    0952 - 6V55 reports continuing search.
    0958 - Marine dive bomber reported 2 hits on enemy cruiser and one on battleship. Started fires on each.
    1020 - 6V92 requests immediate bearing. Ordered to steer 070.
    Marine fighters report 10 bombers destroyed, 3 damaged, 4 fighters destroyed, 2 damaged, estimate 25-30, 9-10 fighters destroyed. Own losses 15 out of 22. Ten enemy planes shot down by AA on Midway.
    1025 - Bearing 228 on Jap transmission.
    1033 - 9V55 proceeding to Lisianski.
    1040 - Marine dive bombers made 2 hits on aircraft carrier and one on a battleship. Fires started on both.
    1100 - 5V58 attacked by enemy aircraft.
    1108 - Hano 4 on 370 kcs called SOSO bearing 329.
    1120 - 7V58 reports searched to bearing 344, distance 475, proceeding Lisianski.
    1125 - Position in English numerals found on dead Jap bearing 239, 129 miles from Midway. (It was in latitude and longitude).
    1130 - 10V55 arrived Laysan, requested instructions.
    1150 - 11 HORNET VS8 landed for fuel. One landed in water.
    1200 - Received report that at 0700 HORNET was at bearing 310, distance 212.
    1215 - 8V92 asks was that real alarm or shall we return. (Ordered to return to base).
    1215 - 3V55 at rendezvous, requested instructions.
    1220 - 4V58 reports running into fog.
    1225 - 5V55 requested permission to return to Midway. (Told immediately).
    1225 - 4V58 proceeding to French Frigate Shoal.
    1240 - 9V55 returning to Eastern Island.
    1248 - V92 reports attack completed.
    1249 - 8V92 reports circling 27-52 north, 75-50 east.
    1253 - 0V92 reports proceeding to Oahu unless otherwise directed.
    1257 - 1V55 proceeding to Midway.
    1259 - 6V58 proceeding to Laysan Island.
    1308 - 3V58 departing from Lisianski for French Frigate.
    1325 - 7V55 proceeding to Midway.
    1330 - 6V55 proceeding to Midway.
    1330 - 4V55 at rendezvous.
    1335 - 5V58 arriving Lisianski 1445.
    1405 - 1V58 reports searched 700 miles, information negative, bearing 296, distance 300 miles from Midway, fuel 600. Requests instructions for rendezvous.
    1421 - Ordered 1V58 to search sector 335, return to base prior 1900.
    1431 - 11V58 proceeding to French Frigate Shoal.
    1435 - 10V58 returning to base.
    1510 - Jap transmission 335° to 341°.
    1527 - Ordered V58 to report position or location and destination.
    1558 - 1V58 reports 3 burning ships bearing 320, distance 170.
    1609 - 1V58 reports 2 enemy cruisers bearing 320, distance 170.
    1610 - Ordered V97 to attack carriers bearing 338, distance 170 from Midway. Repeated 10 times before we got a receipt.
    1625 - 5V58 at Lisianski.
    163O - 2V58 picked up 2 men in rubber boat bearing 320, distance 150.
    1700 - 11V58 sighted Gardner Pinnacle.
    1745 - 1V58 reports 3 burning ships are Jap carriers, not damaged ships 2 enemy cruisers, 4 destroyers, bearing 320, distance 170.
    1800 - 1V58 reports forces engaged battle distance 180, returning to base.
    1820 - 1V58 reports being attacked by Zero fighters.
    1830 - V92 reports cruiser left afire. Carriers no located.
    1920 - 9 PT boats left Midway for the north. Also 2 from Kure.
    2030 - Flight 97 returned. Scored 2 hits on burning carrier. Near misses on destroyers.

    Andthere’s always the Bates Naval War College report which is drawn directly from US unit reports and war diaries. The morning of June 4 US operations discussion starts on the bottom of page 109 with some ending reporting on the night PBY attack and then gets to the meat of your question:

    “0000 June 4th to 0945 June 4th
    “The four patrol planes which had been launched from Midway at 2115 to attack the Japanese Occupation Force continued toward their objective. At 0115 June 4th, at a distance of 660 miles from Midway, radar contact was made, and at 0120 sight contact was made on a group of transports. The group commander decided to attack up-moon, During the approach the four planes became separated. Three planes made individual attacks dropping one torpedo each; the fourth was unable to reach the target. The silhouettes of the larger enemy ships were plainly visible in the moonlight. There were no carriers or battleships sighted in the formation, so an attempt was made to attack the transports. The leading plane dropped at 0143, the other two planes followed. Two hits were claimed, one on a tanker. Actually, but one hit was made, and that was on a tanker. The fourth pilot stated that he had located the target screen, but had been driven off by gunfire and by an unidentified aircraft which made passes at his plane. Although information from Japanese sources is not complete, there appears to be enough information to indicate that there is little probability that any night fighters were employed by the Japanese in this case.
    “This attack by the four patrol planes demonstrated for the first time the practicability of using long range shore based aircraft, when radar equipped, to deliver unsupported night torpedo attacks or low altitude bombing attacks against ships.
    “Meanwhile, Midway was alert to a Japanese attack. CNAS Midway had long estimated that the Japanese planes would launch their attack at dawn and would strike Midway at about 0600. He therefore launched fighters at 0355 to cover the dawn take-off. Once these fighters were on station he dispatched at about 0415 the usual search group of 22 PBY's to search through an arc of from 200° (T) to 020° (T) for the enemy carrier force. He reduced the radius of search, however, from 700 to 425 miles, but he added the provisos that all contacts were to be fully reported, and that the search of 425 miles must be completed unless four enemy carriers were located earlier. He also directed that the PBY's were then to rendezvous at Layman and Lisianski Islands, and there await orders. CNAS Midway did not desire these PBY’s to return to Midway, as their presence there would merely invite their destruction.
    “Upon the departure of the search group from Midway, sixteen B-17’s took off immediately in order to be airborne during the probable time of the expected Japanese attack. Since they could not be landed until their load had been lightened by the consumption of gasoline, CNAS Midway directed them to attack the enemy group to the westward (the Japanese Occupction Force). He cautioned them to be on the alert for a change of orders should the enemy carrier force be discovered in the northwest.
    “During this time the 27 Marine VSB's armed with bombs and the 4 Army B-26's and the 6 Navy TBF's each armed with one torpedo were manned, their engines were warmed up, and their radios were energized in order to permit the pilots to receive timely instructions, All but two of the fighters which had covered the dawn take-offs were landed by 0500.
    “At 0520 PBY, 4V58, reported, "aircraft sighted," At 0530 the same plane reported a carrier bearing 320° (T), distant 180 miles. This was the first report of an enemy carrier. As a result of this contact, all remaining aircraft crews alerted and ordered to stand by in their assigned aircraft with the engines turning up and radios on. This was accomplished by 0545. At this same time PBY 3V58 reported in plain English, "Many planes heading Midway bearing 320°, distant 150. At 0552 PBY 4V58 sent an amplifying report stating, "2 CV and Main Body ships, carriers in front, course 135, speed 25. PBY 3V58 reported, "Many planes heading Midway, course 135, speed 26, bearing 320°, distant 180." This latter message is evidently in error. What must have been meant was "many ships" rather than "many planes", but the message does not seem to have caused confusion.
    “At 0553 the Midway radar picked up the Japanese air attack groups approaching
    Midway, and reported to CNAS Midway, "Many bogey aircraft 93 miles, 310 degrees, altitude 11,000." CNAS Midway immediately ordered the air raid siren sounded, and the planes began to take off. By 0615 the field was clear of all flyable aircraft except for two VF which had returned late from the early morning flight. These were partially refueled and cleared by 0825.”

    So, it appears that the 4 June search from Midway was typical of the previous days in terms of sectors, 200° around to 020°, but was of much shorter range, 425 miles down from around the previous 700. Evenly divided, that's about an 8 degree search sector per plane, but it would not surprise me if the base courses were on 8 degree separation but the actual search arc at the end being more like 10 degrees. That's just my guess, but it might explain how more than one PBY encountered the Kido Butai that fateful morning.

    Hope this helps.

  3. Carronade

    Carronade Ace

    Feb 17, 2010
    Likes Received:
    Thanks, just what I was looking for. I'm particularly interested in the flight of Hornet's dive bombers. Mitscher and/or Ring apparently felt the need to search for a possible second Japanese carrier group north of the one already sighted, although that area should already have been searched by PBYs. The farthest point Ring reached was about 230 nm from Midway, at which distance 8 degree sectors would put PBY search lines about 32 miles apart (1 degree equates to approximately one mile/unit of arc per 57 miles/units from origin). There were some problems with visibility that day, but there seems a strong chance that a force of ships would have been spotted - anyone else have thoughts on this?
  4. canambridge

    canambridge Member

    Mar 15, 2004
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    Since they were searching 200 -020 on June 3, it seems that one of the Midway PBYs should have come very close to discovering KB on June 3. Does anyone know how mcuh they missed by?
  5. Steven Campbell

    Steven Campbell New Member

    Apr 8, 2022
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    Has anyone determined what the plane code names mean from the NAS Midway War diaries such as 4V58 which was Howard Ady's PBY. Given that most times these designations where in the form: Squardron, Type of aircraft, number of plane in squadron, I think it stands that Ady's plane would have be 23-P-5?

    Can anyone explain the numbers seen in the NAS Midway Diaries?

    Thanks so much
  6. R Leonard

    R Leonard Member

    Oct 15, 2003
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    The Old Dominion
    One generally tries to avoid using radio callsigns that would identify an actual unit or, perhaps, even one's mission, hence the 4V58 rather than, say, P235. The communicators can keep it all straight with carefully kept list, so the good guys know who is who and where they're going and keeps the other guys guessing. Also, this does not tie a callsign to an individual aircraft, but rather to the operator - one does not always drive one's assigned aircraft. Some overworked operations officer sits down with an equally overworked communications officer and gins up a table of callsigns based on crews or, better, search sectors, not on airplanes . . . SOI's and all that. On the other hand, knowing that Ady was in 4V58 and another search plane was 3V58, it might, might, give some meaning to the first number, perhaps meaning an assigned sector, but I doubt it . . . most of what I've seen looked to be pretty random. A quick look at the VP-24 war diary does give call signs, just aircraft numbers, e.g. 24-P-5, and even note where a VP-24 crew operated a VP-44 PBY (ENS Charles Russell Eaton (144661) on 1 Jun 42 in 44-P-5); there are other instances of this sort of aircraft swapping in the report.

    Somewhere around here in 10's of thousands of files I've a complete list of the Midway VP call signs, which might shed some light, but as to where, who knows, and right now I'm knee deep in 718 aviator losses from Sep 44 to Nov 44, cross checking against my lists of aviators to make sure I've not left someone out.
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2022
    GeoPM and Kai-Petri like this.

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