Roundtable Forum
Our 17th Year
July 2014

In this issue.

Roundtable Opening Remarks
Clay Fisher and the smoke from Midway
"Flight to Nowhere" question.
Sun and Moon Data
Pacific Payback
Midway Dauntless Restored
Shattered Sword
The Battle of Midway Roundtable Opening Remarks

This month we have a continuing discussion on the excellent article and research from Mr. Ron Russell on the course of the Hornet Air Group on the morning of June 4th and the Smoke Clay Fisher saw coming from Midway.  Scott Smith provides some additional details that might be considered and Bob Morgan asks some questions that I had not considered previously although the chance that this avenue has not been explored is probably remote by now.  Nevertheless if it has not been explored perhaps one of our members has gone down this path.  If so we'd like to hear from you.  If not then maybe it's time we do.

We get some more discussion on the Ambush of Admiral Yamamoto by the United States, a note on Pacific Payback, and a link to a restored SBD-2 Dauntless that flew at Midway.  This last one comes from my interest in Museums that display Pacific War Aircraft and Ships.  Whenever possible I try and visit these Museums when I travel.  The one at Pensacola is very good.  Also another I'd recommend is the USS Midway in San Diego.  I believe the display they are going to have on The Battle of Midway is going to be well worth the trip when completed.  Also there is a little place right by the display called the Fish Market where you can get a bucket of clams and a cold beer and sit outside on the deck and view the USS Midway and the sunset all at the same time.  Outstanding!   The Battle of Midway Experiance - USS Midway


Clay Fisher and the smoke from Midway

From:  Scott Smith

Ron Russell’s diagram gives an excellent image of that fateful morning.  However, there are some additional points that might be helpful:

1. The formula for calculating the visual horizon is correct, but doesn't account for the height of the smoke plume.  Using that same formula on the plume and adding the two distances determines how far the plume might be visible, assuming unlimited visibility.  I don’t recall anyone estimating the height of the plume, but it must have been several thousand feet high within an hour after the Japanese attack on Midway Island.

2. The same frontal system that created fog for the Japanese fleet during its approach to Midway Island also brought a cooler air-mass to the BOM on June 4th.  That cooler air is consistent with clear visibility and the cumulus clouds that were building during the morning.  It also means the Midway smoke plume, driven by the heat from burning fuel, would have pushed the plume higher than any of the nearby cumulus clouds.

3. The difference between flying at 14,000-feet or 20,000-feet is drastic.  Generally, pilots are supposed to used oxygen when flying above 10,000-feet. However, most pilots can fly at 14,000-feet without serious mental impairment.  Flying without oxygen at 20,000-feet puts one unconscious within minutes.  The flight may have cruised at 14,000-feet for the first hour or so to save fuel, but most certainly would have been at 20,000 as they approached where Ring thought the Japanese would be.  That extra altitude would then be converted to air-speed approaching the roll-in point over the target at 10,000-feet.

4. In 1942, pilots had no way of steering a true course.  Until the INS came along (about 1970), everyone flew a magnetic course, corrected for variation, to approximate a true course. Variation in the vicinity of the BOM was about 10 degrees easterly.  That means to track 240 degrees true, the pilot must fly 230 degrees magnetic.  This is important because all the relative bearings are also magnetic and must be corrected for variation.

5. Cdr Ring probably had serious things on his mind that morning, and simple navigation details were never high on his list. He and his squadrons trained on the East Coast where variation was westerly.  It is possible he mistakenly added variation instead of subtracting it. If so, he would have flown 250 magnetic while attempting to track 240 true.  His actual track would have been 260 true.  The 5 degree difference could have been compass error or flying a little north to catch any trailing carriers.

I know of at least one pilot who made this sort of mistake and ditched a few hundred miles from Bermuda.  Indeed, we will never know for certain. In any over-water accident investigation, every possibility must be considered.  In the end, the lack of any physical evidence forces an accident board to conclude the most likely cause.  If the Flight to Nowhere were investigated as an accident, I would have concluded that Ring screwed up. For the want of a nail, a shoe was lost ...

Cdr Scott Smith, USN (retired)

"Flight to Nowhere" question.

From:  Bob Morgan

Wonderful information on the 240 versus 265 degree conundrum for Hornet's SBDs.  I'm wondering, however, if there is another way to determine, or to at least infer, which course Ring took.

A number of VB-8 SBDs led by Lt. Cmdr. Johnson left Ring's formation and landed at Midway, concerned that they lacked the fuel to return to Hornet. Would the Midway Island logs contain the answer?  If they exist, might Midway's logs, especially her radar logs contain the bearing that the SBDs approached from?  Working backwards from this approach bearing, one might be able to match it up with the turnaround point for both possible HAG courses, 240 an 265 degrees.

Roy Gee said that they turned around just before reaching their "point of no return" , quoting the Roundtable, so the position should be at least generally determinable.

Bob Morgan


From:  Don McDonald

In your latest issue , author Ron Martell mentioned a book he was writing which concluded with Yamamoto's death. I hope he will find out if Nimitz made the shoot-down decision with or without at least an unofficial OK from Washington. Most accounts simply assume it was his unilateral decision, but that may not be correct. He may well have sought an OK. One reason would have been because it involved assassinating a senior leader. As I recall, Captain Ellis Zacharias, USN, in his "Secret Missions: The Story of an Intelligence Officer," claimed there was an urgent appeal from Nimitz about the propriety of assassinating Yamamoto, as a senior enemy leader. Zacharias claimed he discussed it with Frank Knox (then SecNav) but didn't know if Knox then sought approval from FDR (whose log-book mentions no such contact).

The more serious aspect of the shoot-down was that it would surely alert the IJN that we were reading their major enciphered code (which we named JN-25). Certainly that had to be an important facet of Nimitz's decision. If he chose to ignore it for operational reasons, the record should show that to be the case clearly. His Intelligence Officer no doubt discussed this problem with FRUPAC (the local extension of OP-20 G's work on JN-25) and it's possible they agreed it would be worth it to take a chance, and this was enough for Nimitz. I may be wrong on the timing, but I think that several days passed before Nimitz gave his OK to the project. Why would that be if he didn't want to confer up the chain?

In actual fact, immediately after the shoot-down, the IJN did assume we had broken JN-25. Their problem was that in their immediate investigation they discovered that Yamamoto's itinerary had been subsequently repeated to subordinate groups in communications using much less secure systems. As the time approached for the visit, there were even cases of pertinent voice communications. The result of their investigation was that the IJN decided JN-25 was secure.

I've not seen the timing of the subsequent lower-level systems. If they were sent quickly, the IJN decision makes sense. But if there was a time lag of several days, it would seem that the IJN either ignored or failed to consider the sheer amount of lead time which Nimitz needed to launch such a complex mission. One thing I recall for sure is that we members of OP-20G, after the shoot-down, were shown the critical decrypt---the only time we were given such feedback during the war.

Don McDonald

Editor's Note:  Mr. Martell has offered me an advanced copy of the book to review but I will ask him directly about the approval.  My own recollections from reading Layton's book and several other Pacific War intelligence books and a couple on the specific mission is that there was much concern on both fronts, the ramifications of political assassination and fear that the Japanese would figure out we broke JN-25.  I remember that Nimitz did seek for higher approval than himself and I think it went all the way to FDR but I can't be sure FDR ever actually approved the mission or left that to Nimitz.  That comes from my recollections from 'Get Yamamoto' but it was written 1969 so much of the intelligence was not totally declassified by then.  I'll let you know what he replies and post it in the next newsletter.

Received a response from Mr. Martell.  He indicated he has no proof positive that anyone but Nimitz made the final decision but does say there is information and witnesses that indicate Washington did know about it and there might have been at least a nod of their collective heads if no official reply was sent back to Nimitz.  However later interview's with some participants did reveal some of their comments might have been misunderstood concerning just how far up the ladder it went and that it might not have reached FDR as many books and articles state until after the mission was completed.  But there was definitely messages sent to FDR after the mission stating the mission shot down 3 bombers and 3 fighters and that it was believed that Yamamoto was on one of them, although post war Japanese records state only the two bombers were shot down.  So FDR had an interest in the mission leading me to believe he did know about it beforehand but left no record of approving it one way or another.

Bottom line he can't answer the question definitively at the moment.  But there is still time before the book goes to press so maybe he'll uncover more before then.

In response to Willie Lumpkin's post on the sun and moon data.

From:  Chuck W

Begin Civil Twilight is the time at which the sky begins to lighten prior to sunrise.  Sun Transit is the time when the Sun is highest in the sky at that location.  IIRC Midway is near the western edge of the time zone, hence the time is after 12:00 Noon.

End Civil Twilight is the point at which the Sun no longer lightens the Western sky.  Moon Transit is the time at which the Moon is highest in the sky.

The twilight times and Moon data is useful to determine the lamination available.  Flights can be scheduled to launch or land, or arrive over the target when the most illumination is available.


Pacific Payback

From:  William Reece

I can echo any good reports regarding Pacific Payback by Stephen Moore.  I picked up this gem at B&N and it's well worth $25.00 I spent.  It's full of great detail that hasn't been revealed before. It fills in some gaps from 'A Glorious Page' and has great first person descriptions of what happened.  I've read the Midway part pretty thoroughly and now will start back from the beginning.  Highly recommended.

Editor's Note:  I also highly recommend this book not only for the Midway section but also for the details of the first six months of the war from the perspective of the pilots and crewman that were there.  I need to read it again to do a proper review which given time will hopefully be soon. In the mean time anyone else that wants to chime in on the book, feel free.  Thanks again Mr. Moore for a great addition to our history.

Midway Dauntless Restored

Here is one interesting story about a Dauntless that flew an attack mission against the Japanese Carriers the morning of June 4th, 1942.  Sent to a training facility in the US after Midway it served as a training aircraft until it's loss in June of 1943 due to an accident.  Discovered in 1994 and raised it was restored and now is displayed at the U.S. National Museum of Naval Aviation at Pensacola, Florida.

I recommend clicking on all the links in the article as each one has some interesting history or information on the Dauntless.  As far as I know this is the only aircraft we have in any Museum that participated in the attack on the Japanese fleet at Midway.

Here is a Cockpit Panarama from the display.  You can look around the museum from the perspective of sitting in the cockpit of the Dauntless.  It's kind of a fish eye view so hold the left mouse button down and move it very slowly.  It gives you a nice view of the inside of the cockpit as well as other displays surrounding the Dauntless.

Shattered Sword

Here is a link to an excellent Yahoo Group dedicated to the book 'Shattered Sword' by Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully.  You must join the Yahoo group to view the content but it is very worthwhile and informative.  Updated constantly with new photo's and content it is an excellent source of information on the Battle of Midway.

Shattered Sword Yahoo Group