Roundtable Forum
Our 21st Year
January 2018

In this issue.

Roundtable Opening Remarks
TBD's Armor and Fuel Tanks
VS-5 Markings
Last Man off Wake Island
Origin of The Roundtable
Col Bruce Prosser
Superb Midway Artwork
Direction of VT-8's approach
Announcements and Questions
The Battle of Midway Roundtable Opening Remarks

Hope everyone had a grand Holiday season and New Year.

This month I had a discussion that led me to something I had never considered before.  The fact that when the TBD's attacked the Japanese fleet on the morning of the 4th they went not only without fighter cover but also little to no protection in the way of self sealing fuel tanks or any armor protection for the pilot or gunner.  While the intent of the attack was to have fighter cover outside of Yorktown, which sent only 6 fighters to cover both the Dive Bombers and the Torpedo planes, none of the fighters from Enterprise or Hornet engaged the Japanese Cap.  Long and short of the discussion is that I am still unsure if the TBD's had any armor to speak of.  Gay's account stating he did have armor behind his seat was probaly true to an extent but may have been only the metal seat back itself.  In Richard Dunn's excellent book Exploding Fuel Tanks he states that the Japanese 7.7mm machine guns could not penetrate .40 steel plating.  The seats in the Devastators could well have been made with steel fairly close to that thick so Gay's statement while somewhat accurate might well have been just his seat back.  At any rate if the TBD's did go in pretty much unprotected one has to wonder how many TBD's were lost at Midway due to lack of even basic protection.

We also have some responses to a few past questions, an interesting connection to Midway from a man on Wake Island as well as some thoughtful analysis of VT-8's TBD's attack on the Japanese fleet.


Did the TBD's have Self Sealing Fuel Tanks and pilot armor?

Editors Note:  An interesting question arose on the factors contributing to the loss of so many TBD's at the Battle of Midway.  The answer seems fairly obvious.   Both VT6 and VT8 attacked alone with no fighter cover.  They also faced the entire brunt of the Japanese Cap.  And even VT3 suffered considerable losses despite having at least some fighter cover.  So it is not clear that even if the fighter escort from Enterprise or Hornet had stayed with the torpedo squadrons the outcome would have been significantly different.  One thing that hampered the Wildcat is that due to the low level approach of the torpedo attacks, they were at a significant disadvantage vs the Zero.  The Zero was best at low level and they could climb rapidly to gain altitude and renew an advantage whenever they needed.

Several members of the RoundTable have mentioned before that many, including themselves, considered the Torpedo squadrons to be on a suicide mission.  This is a strange outlook considering the two squadrons, VT5 and VT2, that fought a month priort at Coral Sea lost only two aircraft operationally and one of those, returning from the strike on Shokaku,  ditched out of fuel about 20 miles short of Lexington.  By all accounts the TBD's performed admiraly at Coral Sea despite post war analysis that countered all the war time claims of hits on the Shokaku.  But there is no doubt at least some torpedoes did strike Shoho contributing to her sudden loss.  However at Coral Sea in both the attack on the Shoho and Shokaku the TBD's attacked in conjunction with the SBD's and had some if not totally adequate fighter cover that split the Japanese Cap.  This was far from true at Midway.

Another factor was the TBD's underpowered power plant which showed how flawed it was at Midway.  Apparently if the TBD was carrying a torpedo or heavy bomb load the fuel had to be reduced from the 180 gallons the aircraft was capable of carrying to 96 gallons.  Click HERE   to read a past Midway RoundTable submission by Alvin Kernan.  This effectively reduced the range to the Japanese fleet on the morning of the 4th to narrowest of margins.  It was one reason Waldron could not wait to let Ring 'find' the Japanese fleet.  He knew that his squadron had only a limited time in the air.

All this being said it came up that another contributing factor to the loss of so many TBD's at Midway was the possibility that they lacked both self sealing fuel tanks as well as pilot armor.  In researching the TBD over the years I have never seen any reference to either as a factory specification or a field modification.  Although self sealing tanks were nothing new by the time the TBD's were designed and built it took until early 1942 that the US started field modifications on some of the Wildcats.  And even if they did have self sealing tanks only one of the 6 TBF Avengers survived the Japanese Cap so it is doubtful either would have made much of a difference one way or the other.

The TBD was designed in the early to mid 30's when self sealing tanks was not a specification from the Navy so I'm pretty sure they were built without self sealing tanks. They also lacked significant armor protection for the pilot, bombardier and gunner. But so were most of the aircraft at the time. By the time the TBD's flew at Midway I'm not completely sure how or when they were modified if at all.  On page 144 of Walter Lord's 'Incredible Victory' George Gay does make reference to "Bullets slashed into his plane and rattled against the armored back of his seat".  The armor on the seat back of the TBD may or may not have been a factory installation.  More likely a field modification at some later date.

The two compatriots of the TBD, the SBD and F4F's were also built without self sealing tanks or any armor protection and the two variants, SBD-2's and F4F-3's were in combat at the start of the Pacific war and throughout most of the spring of 1942. So hard to see that the Devastator's were better equipped at this time.

The SBD-2's and F4F-3's that Lexington and Yorktown squadrons were equipped with at Coral Sea were built without self sealing tanks but may have been refitted by this time.  Unsure.  The Navy did order the F4F-3's to be fitted with self sealing tanks sometime in the spring.  Just not sure Lexington's or Yorktown's SBD-2's were modified even if the F4F-3's were. The early rubber in the tanks deteriorated quite quickly from the corrosive nature of the fuel and clogged the engine on more than a few. Plus the hot sun in the South Pacific contributed to the deterioration as well.

The SBD-3's and F4F-4's that all three carrier squadrons had at Midway did have armor protection and self sealing tanks as they were by then a standard for combat ready aircraft and built with the added protection or added later.

That leaves us withe the Devastators. I can't find anything in any book I have that indicates they were refitted with self sealing tanks, like the Wildcats, or received any additional armor protection either before Coral Sea or Midway. However I cannot discount the fact that they might have received field modifications. I just don't find any reference that mentions any upgrades. John Waldron was pretty insistent that his TBD's rear gunners were equipped with dual 30's to replace the single 30 so I would be surprised if he let self sealing tanks or armor protection go completely if he could do anything about it. Still the TBD was a slow ship with a severely limited combat radius and the added weight of armor protection and especially self sealing tanks might have made it so slow and range so short as to be untenable in combat. I could see him trading off the self sealing tanks and maybe at least some armor protection to at least give his squadron some range and whatever speed they could muster.

Still that does not answer the question on whether the TBD's were equiped with self sealing tanks or any kind of pilot armor.  Logically probably not but in early 42 the US started fitting Wildcats with self sealing tanks so they could have been although with the TBF due to replace the TBD shortly hard telling.   There is no reference I can find of adding self sealing tanks to the SBD's or TBD's.  I have seen passing references that the TBF that replaced the TBD was equiped with self sealing tanks and at least some armor protection indicating the TBD's did not have either.  But that is not a confirmation of either.

To Barrett Tillman
From the Editor
January 9th, 2018

Editors Note: Since Barrett Tillman wrote one of the most comprehesive books on the Devastator for Osprey called 'TBD Devastator Units of the US Navy' I thought he might have the answer so sent him the following message.

We've been discussing the TBD's attack on the Japanese fleet and the question came up about why so many were lost. Not a big mystery but one thing did foster a bit of discussion.

When the TBD's were designed and built self sealing tanks were around but not exactly standard equipment or requirements by the Navy at the time. Armor for the pilot and rear gunner was minimal at best as that too was not a requirement. So pretty sure they were not designed or built with either.

As for upgrades later hard to see how adding that much weight to the aircraft would not have seriously curtailed the already short range. But again no real proof that they were not upgraded. Just my assumption.

The puzzling thing is that I never read that they had self sealing tanks which probably indicates they didn't. I have read a few passing comments that they didn't at Midway which was one of the reasons so few survived (probably wouldn't have made much difference if they had) but this is more from discussions or passages in books rather than supplying any facts.

From Barrett Tillman
January 9th, 2018

It's an excellent question for which I have no answer. Never thought to ask any Devastator Drivers about it but would be surprised if many/any TBDs had sealing tanks installed. My logic: too few VT available in the 6 months after Midway when installing new tanks would've taken the a/c out of service--for how long I dunno.

Best to you

Editors Note: So still no definitive answer.  If anyone has info on the subject let me know.

From David Luck
January 16, 2018

On a related matter, Bob Jones in the November issue cites Alvin Kernan to the effect that the 41 TBD's went out with 2 rather than 3-man crews because "everyone knew it was a suicide mission". Not to take anything away from the courage of the men who were killed and the handful who survived on 4 June (or from Kernan, all 4 of whose Midway books I have), but the reason the TBD's were so crewed is because this was a torpedo attack, not a bombing mission...with a bombardier aboard in addition to pilot and gunner. During the March 10th Lae-Salamaua raid, for instance, one of the carriers' (Fletcher's Yorktown) TBD's were armed with torpedoes and the other (Wilson Brown's Lexington) lugged 2X500 lb. bombs. The latter were 3-man crewed, as can be seen in a remarkable photo @ the Lae-Salamaua wikipedia page.

David Luck

Editors Note: I believe this is the page he is referring to with a picture of the Yorktown's TBD's just about to attack the Japanese shipping off Lae.  It is Yorktown's TBD's that are pictured rather than Lexington.  His reference should state that Yorktown's TBD's were loaded with bombs and Lexington's TBD's were loaded with torpedoes since that is the correct ordinance they were armed with for the mission.

VS-5 Markings

From Jeff Petraska
January 7th, 2018

The only photo I have ever seen showing any VS-5 aircraft at Midway is this one, taken on the Yorktown during the battle:

It isn't a very good perspective from a modeler's standpoint, but it seems to show that the VS-5 aircraft bore only the aircraft number on the fuselage, with no S (or B), in black paint. It also shows the planes had numbers painted on the leading edges of their wings, and not on their engine cowlings like some other squadrons.

From William Reece
January 8th, 2018

Please have Craig Viturale contact me regarding the SBD markings for VB-5 (redesignated VS-5 for BoM). I should be able to help with some of his questions.

Editors Note: Sent both of these to Mr. Viturale.  Hope to see his model when finished.  Would be interesting to post models our members have built on any ships or aircraft in the Battle of Midway.  In fact if any want to send in submissions I'll set up a modelers page to display pictures of the models.  Include a brief description of the model and short history as well as a few pictures of each model.

Last Man off Wake Island

From Chuck Wohlrab
January 7th, 2018

I purchased a copy of Last Man off Wake Island a few years ago, by LTCol Walter Baylor. He was carried off Wake by a PBY from Midway on 20 December, with a detailed report of the actions there up to that point. He was taken to Midway, where he performed duties as a Comms Officer until he was sent back to Pearl in late June. He was then assigned to support comms at Cactus(Guadalcanal) and performed duties there until the island was captured. That would make him the only person to serve at all three islands.

One thing that caught my eye while reading was that the co-pilot of the PBY that carried him to Midway was Howard Ady Jr. Not too surprising since there was only one patrol squadron on Midway at the time.

Chuck Wohlrab

Origin of The Roundtable

From Bill Vickrey
January 7th, 2018

Bill Price (lived in the D. C. area) was the key to the origin of The Roundtable. I don’t think he had any plans to develop it. I visited Bill a couple of times and his “office” was one of the messiest ones I have ever seen...second only to mine. He was a North Carolina native.

I believe the origin of this “structure” took place shortly after Christmas – and I am not sure of the year – but it followed the visit of Captain Howard Ady,Jr. USN (Ret) and his son Howard Ady, III, when they stopped by to see us here in North Carolina a few days before Christmas. and I think they may have visited with Bill Price on that same trip...but maybe not. Earlier I had dinner with Captain Ady – a couple of times – when business carried me to Arizona. One of my early “Midway” contacts was Captain Frank DeLorenzo,USN (Ret). Delo was in VP-13 and was away in Australia – or somewhere – in June of 1942. He was one of the pilots who flew Admiral Nimitz to Pearl on Christmas Eve 1941 – a trip he remembered vividly. He and I had been email friends for some time so that is how he came to be a part of the original “roundtable” as it became known but Bill Price did not call it anything in the beginning – just “volunteered” to be the coordinator. Thus the very first “circle” evolved and involved:

Bill Price
Captain Howard Ady, Jr.
Howard Ady, III
Frank DeLorenzo
Bill Vickrey

It grew rapidly in the weeks and months to follow but I am not sure who “joined” early after that start but several Battle of Midway veterans – now deceased – did “join up” during the early years.

This is the best my 92 year old memory can come up with.

BTW, I was a Navy Pharmacist Mate 2/c during and after WW II....not many of us WW II vets left and I am 92. I believe I only have two Midway veterans on my email list and we keep up pretty active correspondence. Colonel John Miniclear USMC (Ret) was a Marine Pfc and was in the tower with Commander John Ford when the bombing on Midway Island took place and Captain John Crawford USN (Ret) jumped aboard YORKTOWN when she was leaving Pearl and, of course, swam away from her at Midway. Captain Crawford graduated from the Naval Academy with the Class of 1942. This class graduated on the 19th of December 1941. Captain Crawford later became one of Admiral Rickover’s key players and became one of the worlds most noted experts on nuclear propulsion. He is the only man I ever knew who turned down a nomination for flag rank as there was no billet on Rickover’s staff for another flag officer and his first love was nuclear propulsion. I first met Jack at a YORKTOWN reunion in Annapolis and he and my wife became great friends. If I read it correctly, Jack will be 100 years old next year and, over the years, has served on many boards and commissions on nuclear propulsion. I had a long handwritten letter from him just yesterday giving me some information and asking for more. One can get a couple of interviews with Jack on the internet. One of them covered the time he was trying to get on YORKTOWN – for which he had orders. And, in closing he graduated 4th in his class from the Naval Academy.

BTW – it is nearly one A. M. and I have one more story. I had some correspondence from an attorney in Arkansas (who Sam Laser put me in touch with) who was a very green Marine 2nd Lieutenant from Arkansas on Midway Island on 4 June 1942. After the war he went to Law School and set up his practice in Russellville, Arkansas where he was barely making a living with wills, divorces etc. when an fellow came into his office – wearing overalls – and said “son, I am thinking about starting a store and I need to get it incorporated.” He was delighted to take the case and – a few years ago – retired as the Chief Legal Officer of WALMART.

‘Nuff for tonight as it is 1 A. M.

Smooth Sailing

Col Bruce Prosser

From Barrett Tillman
January 12, 2018

Off Facebook.

Col Bruce Prosser of Salem, OR received the Navy Cross during the Battle of Midway for attacking the the cruiser Mikuma while flying a SB2U Vindicator. As XO of VMSB-232 he was one of the first pilots to land on Guadalcanal and was awarded the DFC for sinking a destroyer. In the Marshall Islands campaign he commanded VMSB-151 and was with MAG-22 on Okinawa until VE-Day after which he served on the occupation force. He made 114 combat dives, the most in Marine Corp history and retired has a Col. after the Korean War.

My comment on FB:

Bruce was just a wonderful gent, lent full support to my (first) SBD book. (His sister in law attended my hometown church.) At Cactus he was 232's Ops O under Dick Mangrum rather than exec though may have moved up. Sometimes VMSB-231's Elmer "Iron Man" Glidden is cited with the most USMC combat dives but I sorta recall his total was 104. I recall during lunch one day Bruce reminded Valerie that rice was banned from his home forever because he had a lifetime supply on Guadalcanal. Died 1996.

Never-ever knew about the Tame Tony. Surely woulda asked Bruce about it had I known...

Larger Image Larger Image Larger Image Larger Image

Superb Midway Artwork

From Ron Russell
January 8th, 2018

Elliott Carlson, author of the new book on the Stanley Johnston affair, graciously sent me a copy of the current issue of Military History Quarterly (MHQ), which features an abridgement of his book. Even if you have the book itself, Elliott's compact version of the Johnston story in the magazine is very compelling, in part because of the included photos plus a full-page copy of the CINPCPAC message that initiated the entire mess. It's definitely worth a look for that reason if you can find a copy on the newsstand or otherwise.

But even more compelling is the dramatic BOM artwork on the magazine's cover. The graphic by Robert D. Perry is entitled "Against the Odds," and it shows a dead-accurate scene of Richard Best's SBD departing Akagi, with his bomb erupting through the ship's flight deck in the background. The image also correctly shows the near misses on the carrier's port side, dropped by Best's two wingmen. The detail in the picture is really stunning; Best's Dauntless looks more like a photograph than a painting. That's probably due to the artist's digital technique, which indeed seems to merge photographic and handcrafted imagery into a view that that looks like one you snapped with your smart phone's camera.

This amazing picture has been around a while, but I had never seen it previously. The MHQ cover image is cropped a little, but you can find it in its entirety here:

While searching for that one, I found two more of Perry's BOM masterpieces, the first of which is another view of Best's SBD, in its 70-degree dive just prior to bomb release. Again, the details are all spot-on correct, as if the artist had memorized "Shattered Sword" before he began:

Finally, we've seen the third one previously some years ago on the Roundtable, during an exchange concerning the B-26 torpedo attacks. Perry's version of James Muri's Maurader buzzing Akagi from its fantail to its bow is equally stunning:

Trivia note: while Best is justifiably credited with causing Akagi's destruction, the fact is that Ensign Fred Weber's blast off the carrier's port quarter would likely have brought the same result indirectly. His bomb jammed Akagi's rudder into a hard turn from which it wasn't going to recover outside of a shipyard. Absent Best's hit, Akagi would have been stuck indefinitely where it was unless it could have been towed--not likely to happen within striking distance of TF-16 plus the newly arriving Saratoga.

Enjoy Perry's artwork; they're all jaw-droppers.

--Ron Russell

Editors Note: Thank you for the links and notes. I picked up a copy of MHQ for the article. But the artwork was also a compelling reason. Great images.

Analysis of the direction of Torpedo 8's approach

From David Luck
January 16, 2018

Couple of issues back, someone - Ronald Russell I think - remarked in connection with the so-called "Flight to Nowhere" issue that there'll "never be definitive proof" that Hornet's airgroup went out on a 265-degree search/attack vector...not 240 as per the Official Version. While there are plenty of data points - mostly in Weisheit's book - that support the westerly vector, I've seen only 2 (aside from Mitscher's suspect track chart) that support 240. One is Clay Fisher's "I saw smoke (from burning oil tanks at Midway Island)" and the other is the fact that Waldron's VT-8 attacked from the southeast NOT northeast, i.e., apparently broke to the right away from 240 and not to the left from 265. As to Fisher, I suspect that what he saw upon looking left was the smoke of battle - Japanese destroyers laying screens and etc. - not from "burning oil tanks". As to data point #2, which only apparently contradicts Weisheit et al., there is what seems to me to be definitive proof as to 265 and which accounts for the attack vector as well. It's embedded in Akagi's log and, I swear, dim bulb that I am, I must have looked at this passage a dozen times over the years before it jumped out at me. Probably some of the heavy hitters here have already noticed this in their books or on-site, but if not, here (I've altered Japanese time to Midway time: +3 hours, and added ital.) it is:

0918: completed taking aboard (Midway) attack units

0918: Chikuma sights 16 enemy planes BEARING 52 DEGREES starboard elevation 2 degrees distance 35 kilometers

0918: destroyer laying smoke screen...AA action readied. Battle speed

0919: Akagi resorts to evasive action

0920: Chikuma opens fire from main batteries

0922: speed 30 knots

0923: Akagi sights 18 enemy planes BEARING 122 DEGREES starboard elevation .05 degrees distance 40 kilometers

0924: to bring enemy planes astern Akagi is swung around

And there you have it. Given the timing, this can only be VT-8. FIRST coming in from the northeast, i.e, after breaking left away from the Mitscher/Ring 265 degree vector. With Nagumo's force then heading north-northeast, this is, of course, an impossible, nearly head-on attack angle. So Waldron had his squadron turn left, southeast, away from the Japanese carriers, cut a half-circle, and THEN come in from the southeast so as to attempt a better, more broadside attack angle. The 5 minute time gap between the Chikuma and Akagi sightings looks just about right for this maneuver, as does the slight increase in distance, and the fact that VT8 has now dropped down closer to sea level.

David Luck

Editors Note: Fine analysis but I have some reservations.  I'm not sure of Japanese doctrine concerning bearings and whether it was relative to ships heading or absolute.  Given the bearings were stated in absolute compass positions (which is correct I believe) then the analysis does make sense.  Also VT8 did attack Soryu and given the course change at 9:17 to 70 degrees put Soryu as the Northernmost carrier with Hiryu to the SouthEast, Akagi South, and Kaga SouthWest.  If Waldron approach was from the NorthEast then he would be heading at the Japanese fleet head on, not ideal for a torpedo attack.  So he swung left and then right for a beam attack. The narritive given by George Gay indicated Waldron first elected to attack the larger carrier to his left, which could have been Akagi to the South, but "shifted to the central carrier instead--it was smaller but looked easier to reach."  If he had approached from the SouthEast then the Akagi would certainly have been the closer ship and there would have been no need to swing left as he would have been heading in at an almost ideal attack position. 

All that said it is hard to determine exactly where the three Japanese carriers were (Gay said he only saw 3) in relation to each other at this time.  They had just turned to the NorthEast on course 70 degrees but only after evading several attacks from Midway based aircraft.  The box formation I'm sure was not perfect by this time and the distance between the ships had widened considerably so it is likely that what Waldron saw, from Gay's description, approaching the three carriers was that they were more a line strung out from West to East with Soryu slightly North but between Kaga to the West and Akagi to the East and a little South.  This would make perfect sense if Waldron swung his squadron first to his left and then to his right to attack and originally picked out the larger carrier to his left.  Also supporting this is Gay said that his run on Soryu's starboard side was ruined when the carrier turned directly towards him so he had to turn right, cross in front of the bow of the ship, and then back left again to attack from the port side.

At any rate a good analysis of the Akagi's log.  But definitive proof is something we will probably never have even with all the evidence pointing to the general course to the West that Ring most likely flew.

Announcements and Questions


From Kate Doolan

Someone sent me this, telling me that it was taken at Midway.

Any ideas?

Editors Note:  Well I can't say for certain but it is possible the picture was taken off Midway Island.  The Douglas C-47 Skytrain's (which this appears to be) flew many supply missions to Midway before the battle and during the war.  So it is entirely possible one was lost off the Island in shallow water.