Roundtable Forum
Our 18th Year
May 2015

In this issue.

Roundtable Opening Remarks
RoundTable Founder Bill Price
Merits of the F2A and F4F
McClusky’s sighting IJN DD
Wright & Finnegan break code
Blue Angels
Royal Flush
Battle of Midway Remembrance Day
Announcements and Questions
The Battle of Midway Roundtable Opening Remarks

73 years ago at about 0900 on June 3rd the Battle of Midway started with the discovery of the Japanese transport fleet by a VP-44 PBY patrol plane piloted by Ensign Jack Reid West-southwest of Midway at a range of about 580 nautical miles.  First reported as main force Midway launched B-17's to attack the force arriving at about 1230 issuing the first shots fired.

American intellegence understood that this was not in fact the 'main body' of the Japanese fleet but rather the invasion force and escorts.  The three American carriers remained on station at 'point luck' all of June 3rd waiting the arrival of the Kido Butai the next day and history was changed forever by the brave men in the three American carrier air groups and ships in both TF16 & TF17 as well as the marines and personal on Midway.

This month we have some notes from members remembering Bill Price who had the desire to give veterans a place to discuss the battle and thus created the BOM RoundTable.  We also have something very special in the link Royal Flush contributed by Nancy Canavan Heslop who's mother had saved in her sparse belongings an unopened envelope for 73 years.  Inside contained some very special contents.  A treasure to be sure.  A piece of Midway history that hasn't seen the light of day since it was sealed 73 years ago.
Other contributions include some comments by Barrett Tillman on the Wildcat and Buffalo fighters the US Navy started the war with, an interesting statement that Dick Best never saw the IJN DD that McClusky saw that eventually turned him on a course to intercept the Japanese carriers, the Governor of Arizona proclaiming June 5th as the Battle of Midway Rememberance day and much more.

June 4th was the turning point in the Pacific a mere 6 months after Pearl Harbor.  I thank all that were there that day for their service.

RoundTable Founder Bill Price

From Bill Vickrey:

I was sorry to hear of Bill Price’s passing. I had not heard from him for a good while and was worried about him. I knew Bill quite well – he was a North Carolina boy and I live in North Carolina. He did a great job getting us off the ground.

Bill Vickrey

From Robyn Adair:

I am so sorry to hear about Bill. Sometime around 1997 or 1998 a dear friend of my mom's, Frank Delorenzo, contacted me and wondered if she (as widow of Maj. "Joe" Henderson KIA 4 June) might like to join a small group of "fellows" who were sharing stories and viewpoints on Midway. I had to tell him she didn't know how to use a computer, but I would be glad to print things out and relay back any comments. She thoroughly enjoyed reading items by Bill, Frank, Barrett, Ron, Denny...a host of old friends and new ones - many of whom are no longer with us. Bill did a wonderful job of managing the email circular, adding insight and comments, especially from the crypto viewpoint. Sometimes those early emails were serious exchanges, sometimes they were funny, funny personal stories and sometimes Bill would forward a personal note from a Marine who was with Joe on Midway. After she died in 1999, many Roundtable members sent me nice notes, and I saved them all. I just re-read Bill's. What a really first rate fellow he was. We stayed in touch over the years and I will miss him.

Robyn Adair

From Tom Matlosz:

Sorry to hear of Bill Price's passing. Bill and I had quite a few email exchanges back in the early days of the BOM Roundtable. I've attached a facsimile of the commemorative envelope I had Dick Best sign for Bill.

Tom Matlosz

Merits of the F2A and F4F

From Barrett Tillman:

Enjoyed the material on the Finnish Buffalos. Dan Ford does good work--he survived the slings & arrows of Flying Tigers who insisted that they encountered A6Ms when of course the "Zeroes" were Ki. 43s.....

As for the relative merits of the F2A and F4F, their armament was identical: four .50 cals though the Buff included two nose-mounted guns vice the dash three Wildcat's four wing mounts. I have an upcoming article covering the Browning M2 as The Gun That Won The War. It gave America (and by extension the allies) air superiority across the globe.

Ref. the Finns' stellar record with the "Sky Pearls." What's not mentioned in the discussion is gunnery. AS FAR AS I KNOW the Finns were the only air arm besides USN/USMC that trained in wide-angle gunnery. As John thoroughly described in The First Team, the two-plane section/four-plane flight was in part built upon the basis of deflection shooting beyond the c. 30-degree "pursuit curve" practiced by nearly every other fighter force on the planet. Today I suppose it would be called a holistic approach to fighter aviation, combining tactics and armament. In any case, definitely a curative!

SB2U: In the late 70s I saw the script of a radio interview that then-Capt. Bruce Prosser of 241 gave after BOM. NATURALLY I did not ask to copy it. Anybody recall it?

Barrett sends

From Chuck Wohlrab:

One other comment about the F4F.

I think it is telling that the F4F, in its second life being built by General Motors (the FM-1 and FM-2) production lasted until the end of the war, and that it was still in front line service from the CVEs. No other fighter that was in full production in 1941 was still in production in 1945. She may have lacked some of the characteristics of the Zero, but in the hands of US Naval and Marine pilots, using the right tactics, she was still a force to be reckoned with. John Lundstrom's books The First Team and The First Team in the Guadalcanal Campaign make this clear.


McClusky’s sighting IJN DD

From Bill Vickrey:

I had no contact with Gallaher but was in touch with many of the pilots from VS-6. I spent a lot of time with Dick Best and knew several pilots from VB-6 as well.

Gallaher said that “Wade picked up this destroyer.” I have been in contact with many pilots from VS-6 and VB-6 and have not communicated with a single pilot who told me he recalled seeing the IJN DD which McClusky picked up. McClusky’s sighting this DD - and acting on the assumption that it was going back to the fleet - was the key decision of the Battle of Midway.

Best told me – with certainty – that he did not see the IJN DD. He did see a flight of B-17’s - which he assumed were heading toward Midway - and concluded that McClusky was flying the reciprocal of the flight of those B-17’s.

I wonder if anyone had any contact with any of the ENTERPRISE pilots who actually saw the IJN DD.

Bill Vickrey

Wright & Finnegan break code

From Bill Vickrey to Gregory Finnegan:

I put the attached together from Captain Dyer’s ORAL HISTORY. Had these two men had not broken the time/date code World War II could have gone on much longer and many Americans would have died. Since your father was one of the two key players I thought it would be of interest to you.

Ham Wright and Joe Finnegan on JN-25

I have Captain Thomas A. Dyer’s, USN (Ret) Oral History.

The following is excerpted from that Oral History. I found it advisable to add – for clarity’s sake - some explanation and will then give that excerpt. These events took place on either 22nd or 23rd of May, 1942 and feel pretty sure that it was on May 23. From decoded messages Commander Joe Rochefort and his team had already determined that the IJN would attack Midway – code name AF. However the date and time was not known but HYPO was pretty sure that it was to take place in early June. This was based largely on ship movements of the IJN fleet.

Here is the history as Captain Dyer recalled it in 1986.

There is one aspect of the thing that I believe Holmes gives me some credit for. And I am entirely innocent. There was an internal time and date code that had appeared only three times in the traffic. One night –I do know this very well-Ham Wright and Joe Finnegan worked all night trying various and sundry things, and finally hit upon the systematic structure of this day code and were able to determine the date. ---This was not only a brilliant piece of work on the part of Wright and Finnegan, but also it was of great good fortune that the structure of the code was such that it was possible to reconstruct the entire cable from fragmentary evidence. Had it been an entirely random position, there was no way at all you could have done that. And until that was done, the supposition was that the operation was scheduled for a little later than was actually the case.”  

Captain Dyer went on to say-

“There was another great piece of good luck. Messages had been intercepted directing the replacement of the JN-25 code and cipher on the first of April. But as the first of April came around, distribution difficulties caused the Japanese to postpone that to the first of May. On the first of May, they were still faced with troubles. What the successive postponements were I don’t remember, but the change was made finally on the 25th of May---No doubt, the history of the Pacific war would have been entirely different if the Japanese had succeeded in changing their code on either the first of April or the first of May.”

With the breaking of this time/date code, Rochefort was able to give Nimitz the date and time the IJN would launch their attack on Midway.


(Note that Captain Dyer referred to it a time/date code but I think it was actually a cipher. This is of no great importance as they were able to garner the most important information gathered at any time during the Pacific War.)

From Gregory Finnegan:

Many thanks! I have the various published accounts of this particular breakthrough. The only relevant oral histories I have, however, are the 1.5 volumes (out of 11 total) that my father did in 1969-70 for what's currently called the Naval History and Heritage Command. The other 9.5 vols. are still so classified that NHHC can't even hold them. They're currently held by NSA at Ft. Meade. I also have the portions of the classified volumes that Eliott Carlson was able to shake loose from NSA under the Freedom of Information Act for his biography JOE ROCHEFORT'S WAR (2011.) Offhand I don't remember whether he or I tried to calculate what % he'd gotten from NSA (which took a couple of years), but I'm fairly sure it was rather far from all! Others in the past have sent me JF-related excerpts from oral histories of other FRUPAC officers, tho' I'll have to look them up to remember whether Dyer's were among them.

As I likely mentioned when we last corresponded, the classified nature of JF's oral histories has made almost everyone researching the topic unaware of them. (And that's only the NHHC histories. In the same series of visits to DC in '69-70 (from his home in the Boston suburb of Malden) JF also did oral histories w/ the Naval Communications people (then out on Nebraska Av. in DC) and DIA, plus CIA (where he served 1947-50.) All I know about THOSE is that he did them! No other details.) I was struck when reading COMBINED FLEET DECODED that every reference to JF is as "Joe," never "Joseph." Checking the footnotes made clear the familiar form of name was because all the references were taken by John Prados from some other participant's oral history. Aside from JOE ROCHEFORT'S WAR, the only published source I'm aware of that draws on JF's oral histories (and possibly on only the unclassified part?) is Capt. Packard's A HUNDRED YEARS OF U.S. NAVAL INTELLIGENCE. And since that book was, after all, published by the Office of Naval Intelligence, Packard wouldn't have had to jump through FOIA hoops! And Packard's references are all to JF's time as a student of Japanese in Tokyo in 1934-37, plus a list JF compiled of all the pre-war Tokyo-trained language officers and the intelligence parts of their later careers, I'm not sure any of it came from the classified sections. with the possible exception of the later-intelligence-career details.

Again, many thanks!

From Bill Vickrey:

Thanks for your feedback!

I only knew two of Rocheport's intelligence staff – Forest (Tex) Biard and Gil Slonim. Both were full Lieutenants at Midway but pretty low on the pecking order. Both had spent time in Japan but were pulled out before they had finished their tours because of the looming hostilities. On the night of December 6, 1942 they were out at a point on Oahu listening for the “winds” message and they never got an inkling of it.

Following Midway Gil went on Halsey’s staff as Intelligence Officer and spent the rest of the war there. I knew Tex very well and once spent a half day at his dining room table with a tape recorder. Much of that time he spent explaining JN-25. It was so complex that I have no idea how we broke it – and thus won the war in the Pacific. The Japanese never believed that we were reading their mail.

Tex spent 101 days on YORKTOWN. Much of that time was fighting with Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher leading up to THE BATTLE OF THE CORAL SEA. So long as he lived he was vocal in declaring that CORAL SEA could have been a dynamic win for the U. S. Navy had Admiral Fletcher listened to him on the radio intelligence he had intercepted.

From Gregory Finnegan:

Interesting! I met Gil Slonim once, in the '90's, when I was in DC for unrelated reasons. I had lunch at his house in the VA suburbs. It was almost certainly in the late 90's, since I remember Capt. Slonim expressing his support for John McCain for president, on the grounds that he (Gil) had known the Senator's father & grandfather. The Senator announced his candidacy for the 2000 election in '99, according to Wikipedia, and there must have been 'buzz' about the possibility before then--so it was probably '98 or '99 that I saw him. Interestingly, Capt. Slonim said that he had not cooperated with other authors (probably Jasper Holmes and/or Edward Layton for their books about FRUPAC etc., since he (Gil) intended to write his own account and wanted to save his material for that. Alas, of course, he never did so before he died in 2000.

Slonim did talk to people tho'. In talking to me, he provided a great couple of Joe Finnegan stories. At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, my father was attached to battleship TENNESSEE, as Flag Lieutenant to the Commander, Battleship Division Two, whose flagship she was. My father was on liberty ashore, however, so was not aboard during the attack. By the end of the day, he'd been shifted to Rochefort's outfit, tho' wasn't officially assigned there until early Feb.'42. Sunday night on the 7th was, of course, under strict blackout. JF and Slonim were walking in the darkened Navy Yard when JF, in Slonim's words, fell 'ass over elbow' into a newly-dug slit trench. JF then roomed w/ Slonim in the latter's apt. for the first few months of the war. They worked opposite shifts in Hypo, however. Slonim had a radio, and JF didn't. Gil recalled trying to get to sleep after grueling shifts and not being able to because JF had a neurotic tic such that he couldn't go to work w/o hearing the sign-off song on Gracie Fields' radio program. When Slonim complained about this to Jasper Holmes, he said Holmes' reply was that if Joe Finnegan needed a brass band to be able to work, he'd get it.

I was recently reviewing some photocopies of HYPO-related papers I have, stamped as from the U of Colo. archives in Bouldler, which holds the papers related to the WW II USN Japanese language training school there. Their holdings include the papers of Capt. Roger Pineau, a 'Boulder Boy.' I had met him in the 80's after my father died, when Pineau was working on a book (never finished) about USN Japanese language officers, both Tokyo-trained like JF and Boulder-trained like himself. When I much later got in touch w/ the Boulder archivist, he sent me what JF-related material they had, much if not all presumably from Pineau's papers. On one such item (a typed list of JF's trips to/from FRUPAC in Nov. '44) are notes in what looks to be Pineau's handwriting giving essentially the same details as in the paragraph above, w/ the add'l. note that after the trench fall, Finnegan was nicknamed "Trench Finnegan." The notes aren't dated or ascribed to Slonim, but Gil is mentioned in them too and therefore I assume Pineau at some point interviewed Slonim. (The list of JF's trips--I have some related correspondence--was because the irregular hours worked by the HYPO/FRUPAC people meant they had to get, over and over and over, exemptions from general travel regulations regarding being out after curfew and mandating carpooling to save gas. All this, of course, without being able to explain WHY such special treatment was necessary!)

I never met 'Tex' Biard, but had one long phone conversation with him. An interesting sidelight on the extent to which the crypto/language officer people were a tightly-bound small community. After serving on destroyer PEARY in the Asiatic Fleet and then 2 years on the Yangtze Patrol gunboat MONOCACY in 1930-33, my father was assigned as Radio Officer to the brand-new cruiser NEW ORLEANS, at the beginning of 1934. After his Annapolis graduation in '34, Ens. Biard was assigned to NEW ORLEANS. I have the ship's roster of officers dated 1 July 1934, when Biard and several other 'fresh-caught' ensigns are listed as having been aboard for zero months and not yet having had their Navy Dept. 'pennant numbers' assigned (and hence weren't shown.) Finnegan was detached from NEW ORLEANS around late Aug. '34, because his orders for the Tokyo language training had come through. But Biard had come to know JF and, he told me, was inspired himself to apply for Tokyo training. That in his case was later, because to be eligible to apply you had to have completed a prior assignment.


Blue Angels

From Bill Vickrey:

Things have changed a bit since the BLUES were formed in 1946.

Lieutenant Commander John Magda was a pilot in VF-8 who ditched at Midway and was an early skipper of the BLUES. He was KIA flying off a carrier in the Korean conflict.

I once watched them practice while playing golf at The Pensacola Country Club – it took Captain Frank Delorenzo and me well over six hours to play a round...we – and everyone else on the course – were watching them.

Their performance is something to behold!


Blue Angel Woman

Approaching 73 years... Midway... Royal Flush

From Nancy Canavan Heslop:

I recently discovered an envelope labeled in my mother’s handwriting: “May 21,1942: Nat & Jenny Clifford, Marie & Des Canavan, Ade Henderson”.

Inside the envelope are five playing cards, all spades: Ace, King, Queen, Jack & Ten: a Royal Flush in Spades. All are signed and dated May 21, 1942. “Jenny Clifford”(Queen), “D.E. Canavan (King), “Marie Canavan” (Ten) and the words ”This was Nite Duty” and “N. Clifford” (Ace) “Major USMC”. The last card a leftward-leaning “Nite Going-Ade Henderson” covers the Jack of Spades. I am unsure of the significance. Was it a game for fatalists to see who in the envelope would be left at the end of the war? This thought strikes me cold; the envelope survived unopened for seventy years hidden amongst my mother’s scant treasures.

But in two weeks time at Midway, the cards would begin to be played and lives irreparably changed.

My father, Des Canavan, would fly one of the first R4D-1s back to Ewa Field while Al Munsch flew the second craft. The flight was flown in radio silence and took over 16 hours...11 hours in the dark. They landed on the morning of May 30, 1942, and were allowed a bit of sleep, while mechanics tried to learn the new aircraft. The manuals were missing. Tinkering allowed that only one aircraft was free to take supplies and more pilots to Midway. Munsch volunteered and Canavan made sure that Ade's last gift for Joe Henderson was among the precious cargo.

As luck would have it, Ade Henderson began to play the Spades with the loss of Joe, Squadron Commander of VMSB-241, among the first to be killed at Midway. His squadron suffered an enormous loss, mostly green pilots with unfamiliar aircraft, losing 27 two-man crews. Major Norris was also lost. The next day, the squadron leadership went to Zack Taylor also from Aircraft One's Bombing Squadron... Zack's wife, Wang, was my mother's Matron of Honor on May 1, 1938, my parents Quantico Wedding.

With best regards,
Nancy Canavan Heslop

Editors Note:  This is fascinating. You're right, the significance is not so easy to determine. But I'm more inclined to think of it as a memento of a fun evening with friends, maybe against a backdrop of all that goes with war, but nothing more. Who knows, maybe a game of poker where someone drew a royal flush. A moment in time saved.

Well, less than a year later, Nat Clifford died at Guadalcanal... I think he just never landed...

Governor's Office Proclaims Battle of Midway Remembrance Day in Arizona

From Herb Zinn Member -- Battle of Midway Commemoration Committee

Editors Note:  Last month there was a story on getting a Battle of Midway Remembrance Day official in Arizona.  This month the Arizona Governor signed it into law.

Announcements and Questions

Navy chiefs at the Battle of Midway

From Orr, Laura L CIV NavHistHeritage, HRNM:

I'm looking for first-hand accounts of Navy chiefs at the Battle of Midway, and I haven't had much success thus far. I realize this is a very small piece of the Battle of Midway history, but I'm doing a presentation for chiefs about their predecessors at Midway and wanted to profile one or two chiefs who took part in the battle. Do you have any recommendations for places I might look for this information?

Thanks so much.
Best wishes,

Editors Note:  Anyone with any information can forward it to the RoundTable email address.  I'll make sure it gets to her.

VHS tapes on Battle of Midway for the taking.

From Ron Russell:

Some time ago I purged all of my home-recorded VHS tapes and got rid of my last VCR. However, I kept 4 commercially produced BOM-related tapes:

--A Wing and a Prayer (movie, 1944, Don Ameche)
--Task Force (movie, 1949, Gary Cooper)
--War Stories with Oliver North--the Battle of Midway (documentary, 2002)
--60th Anniversary Commemoration of the BOM (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 2002)

The first two are reviewed on our website and hailed as excellent BOM movies within their own limitations. The War Stories video is one of our top picks for a video documentary. And the 60th anniversary video shows the event on Midway in 2002 with many veterans in attendance. Since I can’t show them any more, I’d like to send these along to anywhere that they’ll find a good home. No point in just letting them gather dust here when someone else can still admire their quality. All I need is a shipping address.

Ron Russell

Editors Note:  Anyone interested in the tapes send a note to the RoundTable email with your address.  I'll forward it to Mr. Russell.  First come first serve.

Looking for Yorktown shipmates

From Cathy Barrett Fornes:

My father, Jack D. Barrett, was a Chief Petty Office aboard USS Yorktown (CV-5). He will be 92 years old this year and lives in an assisted living facility in Georgia. I was wondering how many of his shipmates are still among us.

Editors Note:  I sent here a note saying that we have several Yorktown veterans on the RoundTable.  If any of his shipmates from the Yorktown would like to just say hi please send a note to the RoundTable email and I'll pass it along.