Roundtable Forum
Our 16th Year
1 August 2013

In this issue.

Letter from the Editor
Why did Waldron break Radio Silence
Midway's Defending Air Squadrons
SBD's Windshield Fogging
VT8 & the TBD's Twin 30's
Animated Battle of Midway Site
Interview with John Parshall
The Battle of Midway Roundtable Opening Remarks

In every battle there are decisions made by individuals.  Individuals who hopefully are in that position because of years of training and experiance.  On the morning of June 4th, 1942 many men made decisions that ultimately lead to the defeat of the Japanese striking force and as a result the Japanese plans for invasion of Midway Island.  I remember reading one acticle where the author described it as the near perfect storm.  But to describe it that way would do a dis-service to the men who made all those decisions.  Yes we critique certain individuals for not making the best decision.  But one always makes the best decision possible with the information they had at the time.  To look back and say 'if' or 'why' is what historians do.  What we haven't ever done is make that decision.

This issue we continue to get comments and observations on 'The Flight to Nowhere' as well as a great interview with John Parshal author of Shattered Sword and some further discussion on Waldron breaking radio silence and a thank you from Al Kernan.

Why did Waldron break Radio Silence

From Scott Kair

The question of why Waldron did what he did will remain one of the mysteries of the Battle, but the analyses in the latest issue of the newsletter cut through much of the fog. A couple of other points may add to clarity.

After several readings, I’ve concluded that George Gay’s memoir contains some puzzles for posterity to solve. He was, however, consistently insistent that on the way to KB, the moon was nearly centered in his windscreen. It occurred to me that discovering the path of the moon across the sky on 4 June 1942 would be possible, and that its path might aid in discerning the course that VT8 followed to VT-8.

Some time back I queried the Alfram computational site about the path of the moon as seen from Midway Island on 4 June, 1942, and received the output linked below. Not having any celestial navigation skills whatsoever, the result was to me merely a data point. However, given the collective skills set of the group, the Alfram tool, with more appropriate and accurate navigational inputs, might enable members to extrapolate VT8’s course- assuming that the site still carries this function and there’s no paywall.

Additonally, it appears that we can dispel the myth that Waldron discerned the location and course of KB through Lakota mysticism. He did it through calculation, and wasn’t the only one who did so. Navy carrier task force command and control was in its infancy, at best, at Midway. It’s clear that the each air staff aboard our three carriers respectively applied deductive reckoning to determine the optimum intercept courses for their respective AGs to follow. This was no easy feat without modern software, as the positions of the carriers during their launch sequences changed by several miles, as did KB’s, thus adding another variable to the computations.

The maps appended in the back of _A Glorious Page in Our History_ are helpful. All three torpedo squadrons flew nearly direct courses to KB, while the VB and VS squadrons from Enterprise and Yorktown flew less direct routes. (Jim Gay’s element of VF-6 keyed on Waldron’s course, rather than following the briefed course.) Ewing note that since AG6’s launch consumed time, someone gave Gene Lindsey a revised course while VT-6 was warming up on deck. They also note that Oscar Pedersen and Murr Arnold had calculated the course for YAG. Since VT-3 launched first for the running rendezvous, Massey had the correct heading, but it’s possible that the headings weren’t revised by the time Leslie’s element launched. We can only guess at the process by which the Flight to Nowhere was plotted, but clearly Waldron’s insightful guess work was more accurate than that supplied by Mitscher, Soucek, and staff. I think it reflects better on Waldron to characterize him as a highly proficient and dedicated naval aviator, rather than in contact with The Great Spirit, Wakan Tanka.

Finally, on June 4, 1942, it wasn’t at all clear that our aerial torpedoes were a greater hazard to our aviators who were lugging them than to the Japanese. The torpedoes were at the time a high technology, very expensive weapon promoted as the ultimate ship killer by the ordnance engineers whose careers were entwined in their success. Previous use of them did not send up alarms, in part because painstaking after-action analysis did not take place. Hits were claimed during the early carrier raids, and at least one of the Midway VT commanders was credited with sinking a Japanese ship on a raid. The “hits” were observed from the rear cockpits or through mirrors, and no one considered that the water fountains were premature detonations or near misses from Dauntlesses. It was also fairly well understood that at Coral Sea, Shoho took multiple torpedo hits (later verified by Japanese records), although no one on our side at the time was able to discern conclusively whether Shoho sank from the torpedo hits or multiple bomb hits. No one seemed either to question why a small escort carrier could absorb multiple torpedo hits and not sink immediately. Unfortunately, the only detonation at Midway witnessed by anyone was on a VT8 Devastator, reported by George Gay, when apparently the torpedo received a direct hit from flak or an A6M cannon and vaporized the plane and crew. It didn’t help that Cdr. Joe Taylor, who led torpedo strikes at Coral Sea, commented publicly after Midway that at least he’d completed his mission and brought his boys back.

Editors Note: The fact that the position of the moon being dead center on Gay's windscreen was proof that VT8 was headed West is discussed and proven in THE LAST FLIGHT OF C. MARKLAND KELLY, JUNIOR, USNR by Bowen Weisheit. Also VT6 and VT3 did not fly directly to the Japanese carriers but saw smoke screens to starboard being layed down by Japanese destroyers as a result of VT8 attacking which in turn lead to VB3 also seeing the smoke and altering course to the carriers. This is discussed on the Roundtable and you can read it here  BOMRT_2004_Issue_4

Alvin Kernan:
AOM 3/c at Midway, in VT-6 on Enterprise

Many thanks to the people who guesed along with me why Waldron broke radio silence and chose death over failure to attack kido butai.  Breaking radio silence still seems to me thoughtless and a lack of discipline, a failure in a heroic officer.  Strange business but so is an 18 year old ordnanceman who loaded torpedoes on the Enterprise Devastatprs that morning growing into a 90 year old man wondering 70 years later what the old Indian was thinking in the cockpit of that obsolete plane over an empty ocean.  Thanks again, everyone.

Al Kernan

Midway's Defending Air Squadrons

From Johan Lupander

There are three things concerning the BOM and events centered around the islands of Midway that I've wondered about.

1. VMF-221 interception of KB attack force

I've been astonished that the interception of the KB attack force by the VMF-221 fighters was done pretty optimally:

* from the forward aspect where there were no protecting Zero fighters (they were as per doctrine grouped above and behind the attack planes)
* from up-sun
* with some altitude advantage

Was this, especially considering that the KB attack force had recently changed course, just the result of pure good luck or the result of good fighter direction from Midway Island? I've understood that there were two modern radar sets on Midway, one with height-finding capability.

2. Coordination of air attacks from Midway against KB

In the early morning of June 4 the position, course and speed of at least a significant part of the KB were determined by the PBY's. Not too long afterwards the approaching attack force from KB was detected first from a PBY and then by radar, and in a frenzy of activity defending fighters were launched, as were the various attack squadrons (the B-17s had already been sent off with orders to bomb the transport fleet, but to be prepared to attack KB if and when discovered). That a maximum attack against KB would be ordered was indeed something that had been expected for some time, based on the intelligence forecasts and the recent actual sighting of the IJN transport/minesweeper fleets to the WSW.

We all know the outcome of the attacks by the USN/USMC/USAAF squadrons - heavy losses (except for the B-17s) with no hits. They occurred in time as follows:

0710 - 0715 B-26s (USAAF) and TBFs (USN), 4 + 6 planes
0755 - 0805 SBDs from VMSB-241 (USMC), 16 planes
0810 - 0837 B-17s (USAAF), 15 planes
0815 - 0825 SB2Us from VMSB-241 (USMC), 11 planes

Reading through various sources I find no mention of any efforts to coordinate these attacks in time. This is surprising considering that the various commanders knew already the day before that the enemy was approaching and that an attack on him was most likely. The responsibility for effecting coordination would seem to have been something for Capt. Ramsey USN and/or Capt. Simard USN. However, both were outranked by the commander of the USAAF detachment, Maj.Gen. Hale USA, which cannot have made things easier! Or was it a case of intra-service rivalry? I'm not saying that coordination would have been easy or would have succeeded, but I'm surprised that it apparently wasn't even tried.

3. Use of ASW-equipped PBYs

One of the dramatic early episodes during the battle was the night PBY attack against the IJN transport fleet that had been discovered early on June 3 and already attacked by B-17s. The pairing off of ASW-radar carrying PBYs with Mk.13 torpedo racks was a nice example of American improvisation. However, with hindsight the use of these - from a recce point of view - priceless assets to re-find and attack a target that contained no carriers appears to be a case of bad judgment. As said in Shattered Sword, p. 153, the position of the IJN transport fleet confirmed the correctness of the CinCPac intelligence estimate in this regard. By inference, it did that for Kido Butai's, too. It would appear that rapidly finding KB would have been of much greater value to the total battle that a pin-prick attack against a secondary target, the prospects for success of which must have appeared doubtful under the prevailing conditions. Having the four ASW-equipped PBYs form a patrol line and search along the now "very hot" bearing 325 should have had a good chance of finding KB many hours before this force was actually found. What an early fix on KB would have mean for in particular TFs 16 and 17 must remain an informed guess, but that it would significantly have helped Fletcher to organize a dawn strike on KB can be assumed.

The distribution list for Nimitz’ OpOrd includes four copies for CTF4 (Radm Bagley, Hawaiian Sea Frontier), of which two were intended for “Midway Local Defenses Capt. Simard” – not Capt. Ramsey as Island commander! Only one of these four copies had the Special Intelligence Annex attached. To what extent it contained the full CinCPac intelligence estimate and was sent to Midway is an open question. Lacking the full intelligence picture the local commanders at Midway could be excused for finding it hard to draw the wider conclusion from the initial sightings.

SBD's Windshield and Bombsight Fogging

From John Pooler

Very glad to see the site up again. Ian Toll’s Pacific Crucible discusses the problems of windshield and bombsight fogging of the SDB’s at the Battle of the Coral Sea. How was this problem solved for the Battle of Midway?

Editors Note: If I remember correctly it wasn't. In fact it plagued the dive bombers most of 1942 and beyond, all the way until the -5 started to arrive in mid 1943. The -5 had the telescopic sight replaced by a reflector bombsight. Most of the battles around Guadalcanal in late 42 as well as the Battle of Coral Sea in May fogging was an issue. At Midway the Northern climate minimized the problem somewhat as the temperature at lower altitudes was not as great a change as in the southern hemisphere. But I think I remember some accounts of pilots reporting fogging at Midway when they were attacking the two Cruisers Mogami and Mikuma. Thanks for your question.

Torpedo 8's TBD's Twin 30's

From Kent Walters

One of the notable topics included in this first issue of Thom's newsletter for the Devastators would appear to confirm the conversion of the single 30 caliber rear gun to a twin mount as we had also earlier discussed for the Dauntless aircraft. Since these Dauntless aircraft at the time of Midway did not yet have the sliding side panels on each side of the upper folding gun storage doors from the factory, this also required a further unique cut-out modification in the turtle deck to accommodate them as shown in various photos I had earlier sent. NOTE: That was also one of the features I had to accommodate from available photos in the large SBD-3 model I am still flying that appeared on your book cover (see the image on the No Right to Win Book by Ron Russell - Editor) for replicating aircraft "B-15" from the USS Enterprise piloted by George H. Goldsmith with James W. Patterson Jr. as the rear gunner. It is interesting that one of the quotes in this latest newsletter included the following. The best information I have in my files the VT-8 aircraft were the only ones retrofitted with the twin 30's from Enterprise's Dauntless squadron's spares.

Editor's Note:   At the time we were discussing whether both VT8 and VT6 had twin 30's by Midway.  My information both books and internet resources indicated VT8 had retrofitted but had no information on VT6 one way or the other.  Fortunately we have two members from VT6 that remember the TDB's on Enterprise were fitted with the twin 30's by Midway.

Animated Battle of Midway Web Site

From Michael J. Grecco

I was wondering if you still had the following animated link on the site. The graphics may be somewhat primitive but the visual/timeline is outstanding.

Editor's Note: I don't recall seeing a link to this site when I converted the old site to the new one. However there are still a few links and pages I'm finding so it might be there somewhere. At any rate here you go. I'll look to put it somewhere on the site home page or one of the menu's.

An Interview with John Parshall

From: Sherwood "Duke" Brooks
Program Director
Conservative Nation Media

I joined the Roundtable last year and I enjoy it a great deal. I read "Shattered Sword" last year and I was fascinated by Jon's take on the battle, especially since I've also read Walter Lord, Mitsuo Fuchida and Gordon Prange. My dad was an aviator in VMF-111 and had his own ideas about Midway; it seems the real facts didn't come to light until many decades after the battle.

I made contact with Jon earlier this year and interviewed him on my internet radio show.

I would be most appreciative if you would post the above link so other BOMR members can hear it if they'd like to. The interview segment starts about 40 minutes into the show. It was one of the most enjoyable interviews I've ever done. Jon agreed to appear on my show in the first week of June every year from now on.

Thanks so much!

Editor's Note: If you go to the 49 minute mark that is about right.  The interview goes for about an hour and it is well worth the listen.  Mr. Parshall does a fantastic job describing some of his research and parts of the battle with the host.