Roundtable Forum
Our 17th Year
October 2013

In this issue.

Roundtable Opening Remarks
Nagumo turns North East
On Waldron's Side
More on Radio Silence
Last Issue's comments
More on PBY's duties.
Flight Honors Pearl Harbor Survivors
USS Yorktown Battle Damage
The Battle of Midway Roundtable Opening Remarks

First of all let me apologize for being a little tardy with the issue.  While doing research on the Japanese naval wargames I discovered that there is various accounts on exactly what happened, when they took place, and even who participated.  As most of the accounts are from memories after the war there is bound to be some confusion.  I'm sure no official record remains of the games if indeed there every was an 'official' report.  So I'm leaving the article to later this year when I can check more sources.  Perhaps all have been exhausted but I would like to do some more research.  If anyone has any info please pass it along.  How these wargames influenced or perhaps didn't influence the decisions made at Midway is of some interest if only from the perspective of what the Japanese might have expected but ignored or maybe never considered at all.  Which kind of leads us into our first subject on Nagumo's decision to turn towards the American Carriers when he was nowhere ready to launch a strike.

We also have some more support for Waldron disobeying orders, more on radio silence, PBY's duties at Midway and my own visual representation of the Battle Damage the USS Yorktown suffered during The Battle of Midway.

I would also be remiss to not mention that November 11th is Veteran's day.  For all the Veterans out there regardless of whether you participated in the Battle of Midway or not, let us give a moment to give some thought to their sacrifice be that small are ultimate on that day.  My own father who served aboard a Destroyer during WWII in the pacific always buys a poppy from who ever was selling them on that day.  He would take the old one out of his hat and replace it with the new one each year and wear that hat proudly every day.  I've kind of taken over the years to do the same although I usually hang if from my rear view mirror.  Not asking anyone to do the same but maybe just give a moment to reflect a little on Veterans Day.

Thanks and until next time if you have anything you'd like to add to the discussion please do so.

Nagumo's Curious Turn North East

From: Thom Walla - Roundtable Editor

No discussion of Nagumo's decision can be complete without first acknowledging that Carrier warfare in 1942 was not unlike warfare in the age of sail.  Commanders always wanted to have the 'weather gage' or be upwind of their opponents.  This held several tactical advantages including the ability to force action when and where it was most advantageous or refuse action simply by keeping their fleet up wind away from their enemies.  Being leeward, or downwind meant one could not force action and any retreat risked exposing ones stern to the enemy and subsequent raking fire. 

In some ways carrier warfare was much the same only opposite.  A carrier fleet sailing into the wind had the advantage of not having to reverse course to launch and recover aircraft.  So one could close with the enemy fleet while maintaining flight operations.  A fleet sailing with the wind had to reverse course to launch or recover aircraft thus opening the range and thus possibly putting one's aircraft out of range.

On the morning of June 4th the prevailing wind was coming from a Southeastly direction.  Therefor when the Japanese carriers approached Midway they were essentially sailing into the wind and so had to maneuver very little to launch and recover aircraft.  In contrast the American Carriers had to turn South and East to launch or recover aircraft even if only to rotate CAP.  Much has been made of the fact that Fletcher had his carriers out of position by being a little too far East on the morning of the 4th but a lot of it was simply due to wind direction especially in the case of Yorktown as the search North forced a turn away from 'point luck' to launch the search and then recover the aircraft.

So when task force 16 launched they were force to turn away from the intended target and thus increased the range which proved problematic due to the short range of both the Fighters and Torpedo planes.  In fact due to launch delays VB6 and VS6 proceeded without VT6 and VF6 as it was feared if the bombing groups waited any longer they would not be able to reach the enemy position.

Nagumo on the other hand held the 'weather gage' so to speak, at least in respect to Midway, on the morning of the 4th being able to sail into the wind while launching the strike on Midway and then proceed on the same course to shorten the range for the returning aircraft.  Although not much has been made of this I would have to guess that the direction the Kidi Butai approached Midway from was in no small part due to the prevailing wind direction in this part of the Pacific as well as the cloud cover this presented.  But in some ways Nagumo was also bound to this course whether he wanted to or not as he could not turn away until all aircraft was recovered from the morning strike.  Also it was common practice to give pilots the location where the carriers would be when returning so any deviation would put the strike force at risk of missing the rendezvous or risk breaking radio silence to change the location.

So how does all this influence Nagumo on the morning of the 4th.  For starters he has to maintain a course roughly South East to reach the recovery point for his returning morning strike.  Second as the Midway aircraft find and attack his fleet he has to maintain the South East direction to land, refuel, and launch CAP.  In fact he had used up most of his second strike fighters by the time of the last attack by the Midway based planes.  Interestingly enough not much has been made of the American knowledge that the Japanese fleet would have to maintain this course but it was probably part of the plan on how to successfully ambush the Japanese carriers knowing they could not deviate from a set course till they recovered the morning strike.  But one can see it as the Enterprise strikes certainly were based on the Japanese fleet maintaining a course towards Midway.

Of course everything changed when the American fleet was spotted at 7:28 by Tone's #4 scout.

Tone's #4 scout only reported 10 ships on a course of 150, or roughly South East or into the wind which should have alerted Nagumo that normally ships do not sail into the wind coincidentally or was it?  At 7:58 the Tone's scout reported that the ships were on a course of 80 and at 8:09 he reported that the enemy ships consisted of a force of 5 cruisers and 5 destroyers.  How much resonated with Nagumo's staff that the ships were heading into the wind is debatible but it should have thrown up red flags regardless of whether the scout had sighted a carrier with the group.  However all doubt was removed when at 8:20 the Tone's #4 scout added that the force included a carrier which now demanded attention.

But Nagumo was stuck.  The returning strike was almost home and he was still on a South East course to both recover the aircraft and to maintain his CAP.  He largely maintained this course till about 9:17 when all the returning aircraft had been recovered.  At this point is where he turned North East on a course of 70 to as he put it 'to contact and destroy the enemy task force'. 

But was this his best course of action?  He had already decided to wait until he could launch a full strike at the American Carrier and by all calculations this would not be ready to go until after 10:30 and probably closer to 11 putting the earliest launch time at over an hour away.  In some respects this one decision turned out to be the fatal one as by doing this he put his force on a collision course with Waldron's VT8 approaching from the North East which has been shown was the leading case for almost all the other American flights finding the Japanese fleet.

Outside of the fact that Nagumo wanted to find and destroy the American carrier what was his motivating factor in turning North East even when he was unprepared for battle?  Consider if he had chosen to turn North West, both away from Midway and from the enemy carrier rather than North East.  One factor he stated was that he wanted to distance himself from Midway to avoid further attacks from that threat.  But how much more could Midway have by that time as he had witnessed many attacks already from the direction of Midway?  So even though that holds some water his decision to turn into the direction of the new threat where he had not seen any aircraft approach from was indeed a curious one.  In this regard he turned away from a threat that was largely spent and into a threat from which he had not yet seen any strikes materialize.

By turning North West he would have distanced himself both threats until such time as his strikes could be reorganized.  Once this was done he could have turned his fleet back into the wind and close with the American task force.  Would he have avoided all the attacks from the American carriers?  Maybe.  Possibly.  Waldron might have just missed him to the south and VT6 certainly would have if Waldron did as they only turned North after spotting the smoke from Waldron's attack.  McClusky.  Hard to tell as his Northern most part of his box search might have just caught sight of the Japanese fleet.  Hornets group although possibly in line to make contact would have been largely fragmented by this time and how effective the few aircraft that were still cohesive at this point would be is questionable.  Yorktown's group although flying somewhat more Northerly like Hornets might have continued on to find them but again an unknown as they too found Nagumo after spotting smoke from Waldron's attack.

Another consideration that influenced Nagumo's decision was the possibility of turning away from the American task force risked losing the one chance to destroy the American carriers missed at Pearl Harbor.  The fallout from turning away from the battle and then losing contact with the American carrier and never regaining it might have ended his career not to mention his honor, an outdated but nevertheless factor that influenced his decision.

So after adding all the factors into the decision it probably wasn't that odd that he turned into Waldron's attack and thus started a chain reaction of events that couldn't have turned out any better for the United States Navy.  Was it his only mistake?  No, but it certainly turned out to be a poor decision to follow up the decision not to launch a strike when the US task force was first sighted regardless whether it contained a carrier or not.  But one always wondered what might have occurred if he had been a little more concerned with preserving his fleet.  Interestingly enough by the time of Santa Cruz he did just that.  When spotted by the American scouts he immediately reversed course to throw off the strikes launched by the American Carriers and resumed battle the next day when his scouts also spotted the US fleet.

Winston Churchill once said of Jellicoe that he was 'the only man on either side who could lose the war in an afternoon'.  Much can also be said of Nagumo.

Thom Walla


From:  Lu Yu

Very happy to see Roundtable get going again. Just some thoughts on recent discussions.
Nagumo's Northeast Turn
Nagumo's turn to the northeast around 0920 was intended to close the distance with reported U.S. fleet that contained one carrier. This northeasterly course almost directly points to the reported position of U.S. fleet.
The following is noteworthy:
(1) Nagumo only had two reported positions of U.S. fleet before 0920. They are "10 degrees 240 miles from Midway" at 0728 and "8 degrees 250 miles from Midway" at 0830. These two positions are very close, suggesting one combined force.
(2) Nagumo only knew one carrier, according to reports, before 0920.
(3) No one in Nagumo's headquarters or Tone's realized that the reported positions by Tone #4 plane were way off its planned course. So the reports were taken at face value.
(4) The distance between reported U.S. fleet position and Nagumo was 200-210 miles. According to Genda's recollection, this distance was considered relatively safe, because "even though enemy dive bombers and torpedo planes might reach us, enemy fighters probably could not reach us due to insufficient range".
(5) Nagumo's intention was clearly stated in his 0924 message to Yamamoto "... We are heading for it."
Closing with the enemy was common practice in carrier battles at that time, as can be seen from Coral Sea and Midway on both sides. In hindsight, this is not always a wise decision, especially when one's own carriers are not yet ready to launch a strike.

Source: BKS (aka Senshi Sosho) Volume 43 "Naval Battle of Midway" pp. 289-291; Nagumo Report.

Yorktown Air group might have missed Nagumo
I read Mr Russell's theory a while ago in his book No Right to Win, that had VT-8 chosen to keep going on Ring's course, VT-6 and Yorktown Air Group would have missed Nagumo. The theory has it that VT-8's attack caused Japanese ships to put up smoke columns that were sighted by and attracted VT-6. More smoke columns were put up due to VT-6's attack and this in turn attracted YAG.
The causal chain regarding the smoke columns is actually quite convincing to me. However, with full respect, I don't agree that YAG would have missed Nagumo.

Without VT-8's attack, Nagumo would most probably have kept a northeasterly course to close the distance with reported U.S. fleet. His exact planned course and speed is unknown. But it is likely to be around 50 degrees and 24 knots. With this in mind, we can find Nagumo's possible position. See attached chart.
YAG would have flown almost head-on to Nagumo. With planes in both high and low altitude and good visibility, it is very unlikely that they would have completely missed Japanese fleet that had a radius of about 4 miles.
On the other hand, without the help of smoke columns, it is possible that VT-6 would have missed Nagumo. However, had they planned to do a search to the northwest, they would probably find Nagumo. I don't have source on VT-6's plan, but both McClusky and Leslie had plans to search to northwest had the enemy not been sighted (The First Team pp. 349 and 351).
How the battle would have developed is another issue. As always, result of carrier battles is very difficult to predict.
Source: BKS Volume 43 "Naval Battle of Midway" Plate 3 "Action Chart"; The First Team; Black Shoe Carrier Admiral.
Note: Senshi Sosho's Action Chart is a little different from the chart in Nagumo Report. Since Senshi Sosho was written when all the Japanese materials were available, including Nagumo Report, I think its chart is more accurate.

Lu Yu

On Waldron's Side.

From:  Barrett Tillman

Congrats on an excellent "issue" of the bulletin!  Definitely a Keeper.
FWIW, I'm coming down entirely on Waldron's side in the continuing debate as to whether he should have disobeyed orders.

The inherent flaw with military structure is that the CO/admiral/general/fuhrer is usually thought to have greater knowledge & better judgment than his subordinates.  Despite centuries (well, OK, millennia) of evidence to the contrary we persist with the absurd notion that one individual at the top must be obeyed no matter what.  (Taken to its logical extreme, we fetch up at Nuremberg in 1946....)

John Waldron was a whole lot smarter than that.  We can only speculate as to whether he resented Ring being retained as CAG when, as I understand it, Waldron was in line for that slot.  In any case, he knew that CHAG was unqualified for the job at best and a bumbling incompetent at worst.  Mitscher inherits the interest on that debt since he felt a vastly unmerited loyalty to Ring and apparently to the inept VF CO Mitchell as well.

Having never worn the suit, I still contend that an officer (or NCO, etc) owes it to (1) the mission and (2) the troops to further the cause.  If that means tangling with the all-highest and possibly suffering career damage, so be it.  The enduring problem is that in today's navy (and to an extent in all the services) the Zero Defect mindset is dumbing down the leadership ranks.  the navy fires an average of 2 COs a month and has for years, sometimes for as little as a traffic ticket.  Talk to fleet operators: they will tell you overwhelmingly that officers are scared for their careers, so guess what?  Innovation and risk taking are diminished.  How you fight a war without innovators and risk takers is beyond me.  Look no farther than Chet Nimitz who took a huge calculated risk at BOM.

Maybe part of the problem is institutional: the US Navy has not fought a war at sea in three generations, and has been run by 20 years worth of noncombatants: blackshoes and submariners.  (The world's submarines have sunk three warships I can think of since 1945.)  But let us hope that if there's another showdown at sea, somehow The System will slip up and permit another John Waldron in a navy populated by Stanhope Rings.


More on Radio Silence

From:  Scott Smith

It is easy to over-rate radio silence.  At the BOM, radio silence (now called EMCON) was to protect the position of our three carriers.  Enemy aircraft are usually sighted long before they are in position to attack.
The Japanese had a limited number of radio receivers to monitor the thousand frequencies that might be used.  During the six months since Pearl Harbor, the Japanese surely detected some frequencies used  by the American carriers and their aircraft.  Most likely, these frequencies were changed with some regularity and the frequencies assigned on June 4th undoubtedly differed from those previously used.
It was common practice to rebroadcast “in the blind” critical tactical information from shore stations.  However, too many transmissions from Pearl Harbor on the morning of June 4th might have alerted the Japanese that we knew the KB was approaching Midway Island.  Remember, the Japanese considered their encryption system impossible to decipher, and Nimitz certainly wanted them to continue with that illusion.  Any rebroadcast from Pearl Harbor might have alerted the Japanese that American carriers were somewhere other than Pearl Harbor.
The High Frequency (HF) communications equipment used by both sides during June 1942 was, at best, unreliable.  Sometimes not all aircraft in the same formation could hear a flight-leader’s transmission.  Sometimes, an aircraft might be unable to contact a carrier only 100 miles distant or maintain two-way communications.  At the same time, some HF transmissions might bounce off an Ionosphere layer and be heard a thousand miles away.  Furthermore, the ability to communicate might change from hour to hour during any 24-hr period.  The reasons are numerous, but includes the amount of transmission power, the orientation of the ship and aircraft antenna, and the aircraft’s altitude and local weather systems.  Since Japanese fighters did not carry any radio equipment, and the Japanese ships had no radar, might have given a critical advantage for the SBD pilots on June 4th.    
The few carrier aircraft radio transmissions on the morning of June 4th, if heard, were probably too brief to obtain directional information and too few to expose our carriers.  The Japanese expected air attacks from Midway Island, and they arrived shortly before Nagumo received his first report of American ships from Tone #4.  Nagumo began recovering his first strike group as the last of the shore-based attackers departed.  Shortly after the last Japanese plane landed, VT-8 appeared on the horizon.  For the next hour or so, Nagumo dodged VT-8 and VT-6 torpedo planes   When VT-3 arrived, Nagumo must have realized he faced three carriers.  By then, it was too late to spot, let alone launch his strike group – the SBDs were rolling in.
BTW, Ed Kroeger, was one of Richard Best’s wingmen during his attack on Akagi.  Kroeger was later Air Group Six Commander (CAG) during the 1952/53 6th Fleet deployment aboard USS Midway.  He had his own AD-3 and usually picked an unsuspecting junior pilot as wingman.  I flew his wing on two unforgettable flights.   I was unaware of his BOM experience at the time.

Scott Smith

Comments on articles from last Month's Issue.

From:  Scott Sabol

Ron Rossa, in his comments on the BOM, says both were "black shoe, non-aviators". This is true. However, Fletcher had participated as SOPA at the Coral Sea, and did, thus, have some experience of commanding carrier operations. Fletcher had experienced the lack of adequate recon there, with very little, ifany, recon copperation from MacArthur's command, even when MacArthur had been asked to provide it.
The general comments about radio communications, and lack of continuous recon reoprts, and the Air Groups of TF 16 and 17 learning late (when at patrol points) bespeaks of a lack of communication DOWN the line BEFORE leaving Pearl Harbor. A meeting of the flag, carrier, and airgroup staff could have resulted in better coordination of effort.
Likewise, Lt. Cmdr Logan Ramsey was at the briefings at Pearl, then went to Midway to coordinate the search. Given this, he could have informed Simard and Shannon, as well as the MAG commanders plus the detachments assigned there, to get a coordinated plan of air operations of those groups so based.
Scott Sabol.

More on PBY Surveillance

From Ray Rossa

Hello Thom,
Thank you for including my comments on the last edition of the roundtable. Regarding item #1 of your Editors reply to my submission....
I never meant to suggest for a second that all or even the major part of Midway's PBY strength be committed only to maintaining surveillance on 1KB. However, one or two PBYs sending continual reports would probably have had a profound influence & saved American lives. The ability of float planes of 1KB's escort ships (plus Hiryu's D4Y Judy) to maintain near continual recon on TFs 16 &17 later on 4 June supports this point.
 In addition, reasoning still compels me to respectfully maintain that Chester Nimitz could & should have required continual PBY surveillance/reporting on 1KB throughout 4 June, 1942 & ensured that this info was passed to the TFs. But, perhaps other contributors might feel that I'm being too hard on this otherwise stellar commander.  Ron Russell's comments on how primitive established CV communication procedures were early in the Pacific war may be the best explanation for this obvious & troubling shortcoming in scouting/reporting.
Best wishes,
Ray Rossa

Flight Honors Pearl Harbor Survivors

From Barrett Tillman

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE -- November 7, 2013 Pearl Harbor Survivors Honor Flight at CAF Airbase Arizona Aviation Museum, Falcon Field, Mesa, AZ

The announcment states that 4 survivors of Pearl Harbor will be invited to take a ride in a B-17 in honor of their service.  Jack Holder is one of the honor participants who also flew as a crewman aboard one of the PBY's assigned search duties on the morning of June 4th.

Click here to read the PDF announcement.

Barrett Tillman

USS Yorktown Battle Damage at Midway

From:  Thom Walla

I put together a visual representation of the battle damage that the USS Yorktown took during the Battle of Midway in much the same way that I did the IJN carriers last issue.  It gives one perspective on just how much damage the carrier endured before finally sinking.

USS Yorktown Battle Damage