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Battle For Midway


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#1 donsor

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Posted 06 February 2011 - 04:06 AM

History reports that during the Battle for Midway, about 35 or so torpedo bombers (TBMs I presume) were sent to attack the Japanese carriers. However, the attack was a disaster in that the bombers got no hits and most were shot down by Japanese Zeros. Another US air attack on the Japanese carriers by dive bombers (SBDs I presume) this time was very successful in that they sunk three of the four Japanese heavy carriers. My question is: Were the torpedo bombers, slow lumbering aircraft with mostly inexperienced pilots, sent to sucker in the Japanese Zeros so that the dive bombers can have their field day?

#2 lwd

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Posted 06 February 2011 - 05:18 AM

No. Their escort didn't form up with them. Both the dive bombers and torpedo bombers should have attacked at the same time. For a very good very readable account try Shattered Sword.

#3 Tiornu

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Posted 06 February 2011 - 05:47 AM

The TBDs were not intentionally sacrificed, nor were the TBFs that flew from Midway. The USN just wasn't very good at coordinating their strikes. It was that way all through the war, really. The upside is that swift strikes were possible.

#4 DogFather

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Posted 06 February 2011 - 04:21 PM

Here is what Wikipedia, has to say about the Battle of Midway and the need for a coordinated attack.

Spruance gave his second crucial command, to run toward the target quickly, as neutralizing an enemy carrier was the key to their own carriers' survival. He judged that the need to throw something at the enemy as soon as possible was greater than the need for a coordinated attack among the different types of aircraft (fighters, bombers, torpedo planes). (emphasis mine)

Later in the war, carrier stikes against Rubaul and Truk, for instance, were well coordinated and successful. Jon Parshall, co-author of Shattered Sword, also founded the CombinedFleet.com web site. More info on carriers strikes, is on that site.
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#5 syscom3

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Posted 06 February 2011 - 05:53 PM

Tiornu and lwd are correct. The USN had issues about having coordinated strikes. Part of the problem with the TBD's was their slow speed as compared to the Wildcats. It was also inevitable that the further the planes got from their home carrier, the higher the probability they would get separated and lose visual contact.

#6 Tiornu

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Posted 06 February 2011 - 06:11 PM

I probably shouldn't address this from memory, but one reason why the groups got separated was a dispute about where the target would be. Waldron famously took his planes directly where he knew the Japanese were headed, and was right. Others followed their instructions more precisely and consequently had some searching to do. I think Ring usually gets the blame for this, but you can bet I've butchered the subject somewhat.

#7 Slipdigit

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Posted 06 February 2011 - 07:53 PM

I probably shouldn't address this from memory, but one reason why the groups got separated was a dispute about where the target would be. Waldron famously took his planes directly where he knew the Japanese were headed, and was right. Others followed their instructions more precisely and consequently had some searching to do. I think Ring usually gets the blame for this, but you can bet I've butchered the subject somewhat.


I think I remember reading the same thing, in America's Fighting Admirals, Touhy. If I remember right, the author had a very poor opinion of Ring throughout the war.

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#8 Carronade

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Posted 07 February 2011 - 09:05 PM

There was absolutely no intention of deliberately sacrificing one group of aircraft for the benefit of others. Nor were the TBD pilots any less experienced than the others. As it happens, most of the carrier squadrons were new to combat. Hornet's only action thus far had been the Doolittle Raid, and Yorktown was carrying mainly Air Group 3, originally from Saratoga, who had been shore based since that ship was torpedoed in January 1942.

The American intention was to launch coordinated, full-deckload strikes. As noted Shattered Sword is an excellent source for why this didn't happen. I also recently read A Dawn Like Thunder, about Torpedo Squadron 8. This is highly critical of both Stanhope Ring and Marc Mitscher, then captain of Hornet; but it appears to be well researched, and the author states that his conclusions are supported by experts like Parshall & Tully and James Sawruk.

We should note that at this time USN carriers' operations were mainly directed by their own captain and air boss. Although Spruance's orders were to attack the Japanese carrier force sighted by our PBYs, in accordance with the overall plan for the battle, Mitscher and/or Ring determined the exact course their air group would follow - approximately west although the estimated intercept position for Nagumo's force was more SW. The theory seems to have been that there might be a second Japanese force. None of the sighting reports thus far had identified more than two Japanese carriers. US doctrine was for carriers to operate separately, and with little solid information, they suspected the enemy might do the same (Admiral Fletcher and his staff were also concerned and had dispatched a search N/NW from Yorktown) (turns out the Japanese had kept their fleet carriers together in all their operations to date).

The Mitscher/Ring premise would appear to be that:
There was a second Japanese force, and
It was in the area Ring was going to search, and
It had been missed by our PBYs, which of course is not impossible, and
That searching for this hypothetical force was a better investment than making sure to find and attack the one they knew about.

Waldron disagreed and, shortly after takeoff, broke his squadron off and headed, as it turned out, almost directly for the enemy.

One other oddity about Ring's search was that he flew directly to the "point of no return" so that he had to turn straight back and fly back to Hornet over the same area of sea he had already overflown. This contrasts with Wade McCluskey's scheme which included a 15-minute dogleg so as to search a different area on the inbound leg. Incidentally Hornet's fighters, both dive bomber squadrons, and his own wingman broke off before Ring himself turned back, hardly a Ringing endorsement of his leadership, at least according to ....Thunder.
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#9 B17Dal

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Posted 08 February 2011 - 12:55 PM

I think a lot of it just had to do with the complexities and fortunes in warfare. To paraphrase the saying, "the battle plan goes out the window once the first bullet is fired."

As sad as the destruction of all the torpedo planes occurred, this pulled the Japanese carrier air patrol down to sea level (the Japanese were more fearful of torpedo planes than dive bombers) thus leaving the SBD dive bombers all alone to attack. Five minutes later, 3 of Japan's aircraft carriers were sinking.

I like this thread. Midway is my favorite WWII battle. I read the Midway book in my elementary school library four times and it was the first book where I read 100 pages in a day.

#10 SymphonicPoet

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Posted 08 February 2011 - 06:15 PM

I think inexperience did play a factor, but in a more complex way: Hornet's airgroup was remarkably green, many of them having only just been assigned to their type. (I've talked about it elsewhere, but between time spent in yard and the Doolittle raids her airgroup had maybe six month and probably less to get accustomed to their new home. And VT8 was especially green, save for Waldron.) Further, the U.S. hadn't really developed a doctrine for joint carrier operations. (Beyond a general preference for operating ships in pairs.)

Yorktown's airgroup was the most experienced, actually. At least VF-3, under Jimmy Thatch, was quite battle hardened. While it had been nominally ashore during Coral Sea, most of the pilots had been transferred to Fighting 2. When Fighting 3 was replenished just before Midway, most of the "new" pilots were from Yorktown's own VF-42. 16 of 27 pilots were veterans of Coral Sea. Further, Yorktown's CAG and air ops officer, Oscar Pederson and Murr Arnold, had worked out a departure method to coordinate strikes fairly well. They sent the SBDs aloft first, giving them time to climb and circle. The TBDs were sent up next, and headed straight for the target. The F4Fs took off last, and split into groups to escort their various charges. It gave the SBs time to climb and the TBs that needed head start.

Mistakes were made, of course, in part as a result from experience at Coral Sea. Because the TBDs had been almost completely unharassed at Coral Sea the various commanders decided to send the escorts primarily with the SBDs. But it's worth noting that Yorktown's was the only strike that coordinated more or less successfully. (Thatch's F4s dove in to distract the zeroes while the TBs were attacking, though they were so badly outnumbered it was nearly a moot point. VB-3 rolled over to attack Soryu just as VT-3 was completing their attack on Hiryu.)

Of course the Japanese CAP was quite poorly coordinated at both Coral Sea and Midway, so in both cases elements of the American attack broke through largely unengaged, but because of timing and local conditions it was the TBs at Coral Sea and the SBs at Midway. If the TBs at Coral Sea had had slightly more effective torpedoes the later course of the war might well have been quite different, as Shokaku might well have been lost.

And some slightly better strike coordination at Midway would surely have changed things for the better as well. That, in the end, was probably the key deficiency in US carrier experience. USN pilots were as good as any and much better than most, but it seems like coordination was learned only in combat.

#11 syscom3

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Posted 08 February 2011 - 06:18 PM

"Shattered Sword" debunked this myth.

It was far more than five minutes and the Zero's had plenty of rate of climb to get back into the thick of things.

#12 R Leonard

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Posted 09 February 2011 - 02:46 AM

which myth? :)
I wonder what this button does . . .

#13 CTBurke

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Posted 04 February 2012 - 05:16 PM

A *WELL-CO-ORDINATED* Combat Air Patrol keeps a contingent available for attacks at different altitudes. STANDARD attack procedure for both the Japanese and American carriers were semi-simultaneous attacks by dive and torpedo bombers SPECIFICALLY to overwhelm the defense. So when the American torpedo-bombers appeared in force, seemingly any rational Japanese air commander would suspect dive bombers might appear, too, and it would be FOOLISH to bring all the CAP to bear on just the one attacking force. But...such is war. I guess the "fever" overtook both the pilots and ostensible air co-ordinators aboard the Japanese carriers, and ALLOWED the CAP to concentrate at low level and leave the upper levels of sky bereft of protection. Dumb!

#14 lwd

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Posted 04 February 2012 - 11:15 PM

The Japanese CAP was not particualy well directed. For instance some of the cruisers tried to use their main guns to indicate attacking planes to the CAP at Midway.

#15 Carronade

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Posted 05 February 2012 - 01:34 PM

The CAP was hardly directed at all; once launched each section was basically on its own. They might be initially assigned a sector or altitude to patrol, but once attacks started coming in, there was no mechanism to assign certain sections to intercept and hold others back. It was all up to the flight leaders, and they naturally tended to try to get into the fight. It was hard for an aggressive young flight leader to decide that his was the flight that should stay out of the battle for now, while his comrades were engaging the enemy.

Each carrier launched its own CAP, and precisely because they had so little control once airborne, they would often respond to a new attack by launching more fighters, which would also go straight for the threat. Most of their fighters swarmed all over the obvious target, little if anything was held in reserve.
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#16 lwd

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Posted 06 February 2012 - 02:12 AM

My understanding is that between the radio quality and rfi the radios in Zeros weren't considered worth their weight by many at that point in the war. Made "control" pretty difficult.

#17 steverodgers801

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Posted 14 February 2012 - 12:32 AM

plus pilots considered them like the Samuri of old and were interested in individual combat, cooperation was not valued.

#18 scrounger

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Posted 14 February 2012 - 11:44 AM

There is a very good Documentary series called " Battlefield " that deals with the Battle of Midway , one of the aspects that they covered was the American's superority in Damage Control. U S S Yorktown took roughly the same damage as the Japanese carriers and they were left blazing hulks. Yet the American Carrier was able to put out the fires , and get their speed up to over 20 knts retrive and launch planes so that by the time of the second Japanese attack they thought they were attacking a different ship . It took torpedoes from this attack to finally finish the Yorktown and even then it didn't sink.

#19 syscom3

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Posted 14 February 2012 - 07:54 PM

There is a very good Documentary series called " Battlefield " that deals with the Battle of Midway , one of the aspects that they covered was the American's superority in Damage Control. U S S Yorktown took roughly the same damage as the Japanese carriers and they were left blazing hulks. Yet the American Carrier was able to put out the fires , and get their speed up to over 20 knts retrive and launch planes so that by the time of the second Japanese attack they thought they were attacking a different ship . It took torpedoes from this attack to finally finish the Yorktown and even then it didn't sink.


"Shattered Sword" goes into detail about the differences in damage control between the two navies. The USN was well ahead of the IJN in damage control philosophy and implementation.

#20 Carronade

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Posted 14 February 2012 - 08:00 PM

Although it might not be the first thing you think of, damage control is an area that benefitted significantly from radar. That extra warning time allowed for things like draining gas lines and filling them with CO2. An American carrier captain could know if he had time to launch a few more fighters or had to shut down right now.

#21 scrounger

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Posted 15 February 2012 - 04:26 AM

The U S Navy's big carriers, were like the Grummen planes that flew off them able to take damage that would destroy their Japanese counterparts. Although there were losses they were hard to sink....

#22 ResearcherAtLarge

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Posted 15 February 2012 - 05:45 AM

That's one reason why I started posting US Damage reports to my site. They may be a little dry but if you use your imagination to fill in the blanks you can get chills from reading them. Damage control became an interesting topic to me after reading a couple. Yorktown's Loss report is also an interesting read.

But what's also important about these reports is that they were spread throughout the US Navy (perhaps Royal Navy too). The Japanese, instead, hid their losses and never learned from them operationally. The US Navy was keenly interested in learning from its mistakes.
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#23 scrounger

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Posted 15 February 2012 - 10:08 AM

After the heroic attempts made to save her why was U S S Yorktown left basically dead in the water with only 1 destroyer ? Why knowing the value of these ships espically the carrier however damaged wasn,t additional escort vessels detailed to guard against a possible submarine attack? Having 2 warships basically stopped and alone would be a submariner's dream!!

#24 mikebatzel

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Posted 15 February 2012 - 12:28 PM

The whole task force remained with the ship. The destroyer Hammann has pulled alongside Yorktown to lend a hand, but the other five destroyers in the force were running a ASW screen.
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#25 OpanaPointer

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Posted 15 February 2012 - 12:37 PM

Prange's Miracle At Midway is a good read on this. And I just noticed that my umpteenth copy of that book has taken a walk. (Note to self: Go kill Frank and get your books back.)

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