Roundtable Forum
Our 21st Year
February 2018

In this issue.

Roundtable Opening Remarks
Commander Ralph V. Wilhelm
Clay Fisher's smoke
Superb Midway Artwork
TBD's armor/self sealing tanks
Max Leslie's Attack on Soryu
Wreck of Lexington CV2 Found
Cavalcante File
Annoucements and Questions
The Battle of Midway Roundtable Opening Remarks
The Battle of Midway Roundtable Current Discussions

This month I received some sad news from Commander Ralph Wilhelm son that he passed away earlier this month.  Ralph Wilhelm was an SOC pilot on the Heavy Cruiser Portland during the battles of Coral Sea and Midway.  He was a member of the Battle of Midway RoundTable since the early days and contributed much to the history of the battle.  He wrote a journal during the war detailing his day to day experiences.  Some of it was included in Ron Russell's book 'No Right to Win'.    I didn't know Mr. Wilhelm other than through what he contributed to the RoundTable but recently did trade a few emails with his son.  If anyone has thoughts or memories of Commander Ralph V. Wilhelm, Sr. send them along and I'll publish them in the next newsletter.  Mark Wilhelm said he would appreciate anything sent along.

We have some comments to last months analysis on the course that the Hornet's airgroup took on the morning of the 4th from Ron Russell, a follow up and interesting detail about the Dauntless radio/gun operator during a dive, and a definitive answer on the TBD's armor protection and self sealing tanks from Mark Horan.

Also on March 4th the USS Lexington has been found in the Coral Sea.  Some really amazing photographs of the aircraft.  The colors are bright and clear even if the corrosion has deteriorated some of the aircraft.  I saw one post where several people had chimed in on who flew a particular aircraft during the battle.  The numbers are still clearly visable.  In one photo you can see the word Lexington spelled out on what looks like a metal sheet on a catwalk or some other railing.  The aircraft appear to be some of the most well preserved I've seen for being at the bottom of the ocean for 76 years.  The latest photo they posted was of a torpedo that they guess might have been one fired at the Lexington by the escorting destroyers after the ship was abandoned.

Commander Ralph V. Wilhelm, Sr. USN Retired

From Mark Wilhelm
February 28, 2018

I am writing to inform you of the death of my father, Commander Ralph V. Wilhelm, Sr., who was referred to on your website.

Commander Ralph Vincent Wilhelm, Sr., USN Retired, age 100, a resident of Escondido, California, died Friday, 2 February 2018, at Cypress Court Senior Living Community in Escondido, California. He was born on 1 October 1917 in Honolulu, Hawaii. Ralph was a Naval Aviator for over 21 years during World War II and the Korean War and an executive with the Honeywell Corporation for 22 years. He survived two wives – Kathryn “Kay” Krug Wilhelm and Olga Springer Wilhelm. He was father to 5 children and 2 step-children, grandfather to 10, and great-grandfather to 12.

My dad was honored to be remembered on your website. He would often reference it when speaking to friends and relatives.

I appreciate your efforts to keep memories of the Battle of Midway alive for so many. Please let me know if I may be of service to you.

Best regards,

Editors Note:  Thank you so much for the notification and sorry it has to be under these circumstances. Everyone on the RoundTable thought very highly of your father. He contributed much to the battle and history from a perspective not found in history books.

As a side note Mr. Russell sent me a box of some of the stuff he collected over the years and in it was a copy of your fathers diary. I spent an entire evening reading and re-reading it. I believe your father sent it to Mr. Russell when he was writing his book 'No Right to Win'. In it you get a perspective or at least an understanding of what it was like.

I will put a notification in the next newsletter and as always several other members will chime in about him in the following month if not this one. If you don't check our site very often I can send you any comments that come in if you like.

Sorry for your loss and really the worlds loss for that matter.

Thanks so much for the condolences and the thoughtful note.

Dad moved to a care facility - Cypress Court - on Broadway in Escondido about 5 years ago, soon after his wife Olga passed. He was pretty mobile when he moved in there but eventually progressed to assisted mobility. His legs were his "weakest link": I guess that it always has to be something...

Dad was mentally sharp for most of the past 5 years, especially when it came to his Navy days. I would re-read his diary and bio occasionally and quiz him to help keep his mind sharp: he was usually on-point with the answers.

As would be expected by those who knew him well, Dad wrote his own long obituary. I updated it with help from the  website. I am not sure if I will find a spot to post the entire obituary due to it's length and resulting cost, but we shall see: I've attached a copy in case you are interested.

A dozen or so of us will hold a service for him at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego on Monday 12 March. It seems that he outlived most all of his friends! He will have full military honors and be put to rest near to my mother who passed away in 1989; it should be a nice send-off event for the family.

Please do send any comments that you might receive and I will share them with the family. He did had impact on this world - part of the Greatest Generation - and will be missed!

Thanks again for you very kind words,

Commander Ralph V. Wilhelm Obituary

Clay Fisher's smoke

From Ron Russell
February 27, 2018

David Luck's treatise concerning VT-8's approach to Kido Butai (January newsletter) is interesting and well-reasoned, but his suggestion that the smoke seen by SBD pilot Clay Fisher was generated by the enemy ships rather than Midway's burning oil tank is less certain. We no longer have Clay to elucidate on this topic, but he did so for me at length one evening in 2005, across his dining room table.

In the unlikely event that someone reading this is unfamiliar with the issue, here's a short recap. Fisher was with the Hornet Air Group on its "Flight to Nowhere," during which he reported seeing a rising column of black smoke off his port wing, starting at a relative bearing of 10 o'clock and continuing downward toward 8 o'clock. That began about a half hour after departing the Hornet, which indeed would place Midway and its burning oil tank off his port wing at roughly 10 o'clock if he was on course 240.

So was the smoke from Midway, or was it from the Japanese fleet? Fisher's description of it strongly points toward Midway. He was clear that the smoke was a stationary rising column extending high into the air, as from a fixed position with a constant source of fuel. Smoke from rapidly moving vessels is quite different: broad based, lower to the surface, and not sustained over time.

All that strongly argues in favor of course 240 rather than 265. But then, of course, we have the equally articulate testimony from Richard Woodson, a radioman-gunner in VS-8, who clearly saw VT-8 depart to the left from the HAG's outbound course; only possible on course 265. Waldon would have had to bear right on course 240, and the only evidence we have from those who were there say he did the opposite.

So again, we're left with solid, incontestable testimony from two primary sources; a pair of eyewitness accounts that are mutually exclusive--both can't be right. We simply have nothing definitive to say that either man got it wrong, so we just have leave it there and move on.

For a thorough analysis of the smoke issue with a detailed chart, see the June 2014 issue of this newsletter.

--Ron Russell

Editors Note:  Here is a link to the article from the June 2014 issue.

June 2014 Issue

Superb Midway Artwork

From Mark Horan
February 6, 2018

A quick comment on Ron Russell's note: "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."

It is an amazing piece of artwork but it does have a decided flaw at the center of the picture ... it shows Cdr. Murray facing aft with his rear guns deployed, which had the plane pushed over in that configuration, there was every possibility that he would have been killed or maimed ... the rear twin-gun mount weighed 175 pounds and, had Best pushed over into a vertical dive with that deployed, it would have swung forward and crushed Murray's skull ... that aside, Murray - actually any radioman - had a distinct and important job in the dive. While the pilot was preparing the SBD to push over, the radioman had to stow the gun mount, spin his seat around to face forward, and observe his abbreviated instrument panel (yes he had one and actually he had a stick (stowed) and rudder pedals too!). His job during the dive was to observed the altimeter and call out the altitude at each thousand (1,000) feet until 5,000 feet and call out each 100 feet thereafter until release and pullout. Only after pullout was complete would he turn to face aft and redeploy his free guns! Which, according to the proverbial "horse's mouth", is exactly what Murray - and every other free gunner but one - did that day!

Note: While the appropriate paragraph in "A Glorious Page in Our History" did not specifically note Murray stowed the guns and faced forward, it does specifically state he called out the altitude at each 1,000 feet in the dive ... something he never could have done unless he was facing forward to read his instruments!

Have a good one sir!
Mark E. Horan

Editors Note:  Most artist renderings of a Dauntless in a dive are drawn with the gunner facing aft with the guns deployed which is unfortunate but I suppose to an extent understandable.  Still a little more research would not take that much more time.  Below are two pictures, one of a Dauntless in a dive.  This is probably a training exercise as the rear is closed and does not appear to have a radio/gunner.  The second is more interesting showing the rear seat man facing forward.

 Lt. Harold S. Bottomley, Jr., and AMM2c Daniel F. Johnson of VB-3 in the same aircraft they flew during the Battle of Midway.  Note the 37 aft of the fuselage star.   During the battle or shortly before the 37 was replaced with B-10.  Bottomley and Johnson attacked Soryu in the morning scoring one hit and then Hiryu in the late afternoon both times flying B-10.

TBD's Armor and Self Sealing Tanks

From Mark Horan
February 7, 2018

Another note this time in regards to TBDs in general and at Midway specifically. Answering several questions posted:

1. As designed, the crew for the TBD-1 was three men for scouting, bombing, and torpedo bombing. On bombing mission the the second seat was for the bombardier. In torpedo operations he provided a second pilot (he had controls in the second seat) and a third set of eyes.

2. By the time war started the deficiencies of the plane were such that the second crew member was deleted from the crew on torpedo missions by VT-6 and VT-5 torpedo attack operations. Of course they retained the third member for bombing operations.

3. On the Lae & Salamaua Raid VT-2 operated with two man crews because the planes had to climb so high to cross the mountains. However, at Coral Sea they operated with full three man crews on torpedo missions, in a large part because the middle-seaters wanted to go and, in the event, Brett arranged for them to carry BARs in the center seat to help defend the planes.

4. The TBD did not have armor for the crew, nor did it have self-sealing tanks at any time because the plane was obsolete and no retrofit kits were designed, authorized, or produced.

5. The TF-16 squadrons at Midway installed the folding belly armor that was part of the SBD twin free gun mount kits they arranged to obtain and install before departing Pearl. Smith of VT-6 [6-T-11] recalled his young seaman gunner McCoy, who was 6 feet tall on the 4 June mission had his mount and guns hit and disabled in the first pass by zeros and thereafter had to sit and do nothing but attempt to curl himself up as small as possible while telling him over the intercom where the attacks were coming from ... I am fairly certain that for him that mission was utterly unforgettable!

6. Few VT crew members at Midway survived for me to correspond with or talk to - those that did were all fully aware that the plane had little chance of surviving enemy fighter attack without fighter cover, and that their offensive weapon was unlikely to perform properly. Yet, none begged off - even when the stay at homes tried to "buy" their way aboard ...

I never corresponded with/talked to more honorable men!

From Steve Kovacs
February 13, 2018

Pursuant to the discussion in the last newsletter about self-sealing fuel tanks in the TBD-1, I emailed my friend and noted aircraft author, Tom Doll. Unfortunately, I caught him at a poor time. All of his TBD files are inside a moving van currently making its way from Nevada to California! However, Tom was able to shed some light on the topic from memory, if not yet with concrete evidence. With his permission, his remarks are quoted below:

As you know my neighbor in Northridge, CA was Bob Laub, VT-6 TBD-1 pilot at the Battle of Midway. It’s strange that we covered a lot of subjects but did not cover fuel tanks. But I do remember him mentioning that the fuel tanks frequently leaked like a sieve. That would seem to indicate that they were not self-sealing.

I also knew Walt Winchell, VT-6, BofM. We carried on a pretty active correspondence and shared many phone conversations. He was a gem and even wrote of his Midway experiences for my 1973 Aero Publishers book about the TBD-1 with Jack Jackson—a simple book but, at that time, the only one on the TBD-1. I still have all of his letters. I remember Walt saying that during his run-in that morning there was a lot of fuel in the cockpit. I'll be able to check it all out when I get to California. That, too, would indicate the TBD's did not have self-sealing tanks.

Also, Roy Dahlstrom, leading chief of VT-6 at Midway, told me that the TBD's gas tanks leaked, especially when hit by shrapnel. I spent the day at his home on Saturday, 14 November 1964 and we talked about the VT-6 TBD's. I recorded most of his comments on tape with my old Webcor tape recorder. I haven't played that tape in 50 years. Don't know if it would reveal anything "new" but I will mention something that I’ve never seen in print. Roy told me that when he was up on the port wing of Lindsey's TBD on the morning of 4 June the last thing he ever heard from Lindsey was, "have everything ready for the second trip Roy." I remember him saying that and will check my audio tape soon as I can unpack everything.

Surely, Tom will have more to contribute to this discussion once he gets comfortable in his new home. I’ll keep everyone posted.

-Steve Kovacs

Editors Note:  This is great information from both Mr. Horan and Mr. Kovacs.  Also it is interesting to see how much information has been collected from interviews over the years that has never come to light.  I often wonder how many 50 year old tape recordings exist with stories like Roy Dahlstrom's.  I'm glad that our members see the value in saving these and every now and then we get to read a little piece of the Battle of Midway that will probably never see print anywhere else.  I will look forward to any further info from Mr. Doll when he has time to dig out his papers.

Adm. Maxwell Leslie and the Morning Attack on Soryu

From Clark Whelton
February 27, 2018

Thank you for a fascinating web page. At last the battle damage inflicted on the Japanese carriers at Midway has been clearly illustrated.

My interest in Midway began around 1949, when I was 12 years old. The Saturday Evening Post, I think it was, ran an article called “Never a Battle Like Midway.”  I can still remember it, and I still recall that there was debate at that time over which U.S. pilots and squadrons had hit which carriers.

In 1975, I published an article in Argosy Magazine Argosy [v281 #3, March 1975] called “The Man Who Won World War II.” The article focused on C. Wade McCluskey, and his courageous decision to keep searching for the Japanese fleet beyond the range of his Dauntlesses. I actually interviewed McCluskey at his home in Maryland.

During my research I also managed to contact by phone, and later correspond with, Adm. Maxwell Leslie, who was retired in Coronado, CA at that time. Btw, my son-in-law, who is a two-star admiral in the USN today, lives near Coronado.

Max Leslie assumed I was calling to ask about his attack on the Soryu. At the time it was finally known for certain that Leslie and VB3 had bombed the Soryu. But Leslie wasn’t having any of it. He wrote back saying his squadron had hit either Kaga or Akagi, because “I definitely did NOT attack a CVE.”

Somehow Adm. Leslie had gotten the idea that Soryu was a CVE, and was miffed. “I hit a CV,” he wrote. “No question about it.” I did more research, which showed that Japan, in order to fake compliance with the London Naval Treaty of 1921, had listed Soryu as a CVE. Actually, Soryu was almost as big as the Enterprise.

When I told Adm. Leslie, he was very happy, and very relieved. Apparently he was worried that the history books would shortchange his squadron.

Anyway, my real purpose in writing to Adm. Leslie was to ask a question that, in 1974, no one seemed capable of explaining. How did Max Leslie lead his squadron straight to the Japanese fleet, when McCluskey and Stan Ring had both reached their intercept points to find that no Japanese ships were in sight? Max Leslie did not know the answer, except to say that “I flew to the intercept point I was given, and there were the enemy carriers.”

Only years later, when an illustration of the various fleet movements was published, did it become clear to me that Yorktown was stationed much farther west and north than Hornet and Enterprise. When the Japanese fleet suddenly changed direction, they headed northeast, away from the intercept point, which left the Enterprise and Hornet planes with no targets. But that same Japanese maneuver took them directly toward Yorktown, and directly into the path of Max Leslie, who was heading for the same intercept point as McCluskey and Ring. Leslie must have wondered why he intercepted the enemy fleet so quickly.

So, that’s my very minor contribution to the history of this extraordinary battle. What a thrill it was to shake Wade McCluskey’s hand and thank him for the key role he played in saving America in WW II.

Clark Whelton

PS Attached is one of my favorite WW II images… Max Leslie crash landing his Dauntless alongside the USS Astoria, after attacking Soryu.

Editors Note:  Thank you for the nice compliment on the battle damage illustrations. I found there was no real representation of the damage readily available.   I believe from all the sources, both primary and secondary, I did an adequate job with crediting the men from the information available.  But we'll never know for sure in some cases.  Also nice note on Max Leslie. Do you you mind if I include it in the next newsletter. I do remember that there was quite a lot of controversy on which Carrier Bombing 3 hit as both Bombing/Scouting 6 and Bombing 3 claimed to have attacked Kaga.   I think every book written up until the time of Walter Lord's 'Incredible Victory' credited VB-3 with attacking Kaga.  Lord looked at how the Japanese fleet turned in the box formation and estimated that VB-3 had to have attacked Soryu rather than Kaga.  Still several conflicting accounts on which side of the ship the island was located left some doubt.

Also you are welcome to join the RoundTable if you want. You get an email notification when the next newsletter is available but are welcome to chime in anytime regardless.

From Clark Whelton
February 28, 2018

Many thanks for your reply.

You may indeed include my email message in the next newsletter.

And yes, I would be pleased and honored to become a member of the Roundtable. I greatly appreciate your invitation.

One of the things I liked best about the article on Midway that I published in Argosy in 1975 was the full-color illustration, which showed McCluskey’s Dauntless in a steep dive toward the Kaga, as viewed from behind the Dauntless, with the Kaga steaming full speed below.

The artist went to great lengths to get the details right, but made one error. He showed a red circle in the center of the white star on the fuselage of the Dauntless. This used to be the standard aircraft emblem for U.S. planes, but only up to 1 June 1942, by which time the red circle was to be painted white. The artist concluded that, because the U.S. Midway task force sailed from Pearl before 1 June, the red circles must have remained on the Navy planes. This overlooks the fact that the circles could have been painted out before 1 June, and also that there is ample white paint on board Navy carriers. I have not seen any images of Navy aircraft at Midway having the red circle in the white star. Still, it’s a great illustration.

One small point. McCluskey’s rear seat gunner-radioman was named Walter George Chochalousek. Navy public relation at the Pentagon tried to find him for me, but could not. He had moved to California and I was told he changed his name to Walter George. However, he received a decoration for his valor at Midway. See  

He is also mentioned  here…

McCluskey told me the same basic story, that Chochalousek, in trying to fire his twin-.30s on both sides of the vertical stabilizer almost shot the Dauntless’s tail off.

With best regards,
Clark Whelton

Editors Note:  While we're on the subject of damage to an SBD during the battle I thought of this picture.  While not McClusky's and not from the twin 30's it does show the damage from either the Japanese Zero's or AA fire.

Ensign George H. Goldsmith and Radioman 1st Class James W. Patterson, Jr. of VB-6 in B-15 after landing on USS Yorktown after the moring attack on June 4th, 1942. Their plane was damaged during the attack on the Kaga and when returning had to land on the Yorktown as they were running out of fuel.

Wreck of Lexington CV2 Found

Editors Note:  Found this just today that the RV Petral has found the Wreck of the USS Lexington CV2 more than 2 miles down at the bottom of the Coral Sea.  Here is a link to their official page as well as their facebook page.  Sorry I don't have any more information on the discovery or any more video at this time.

Wreck of the USS Lexington CV2

More on their FaceBook Page

Cavalcante File

From Corbin Williamson
February 20, 2018

I was looking at a 2005 post on the Battle of Midway Roundtable website by Bernard (Cal) Cavalcante who used to work at the Naval Historical Center. According to the post ( ) the editor had a large file with a list of folder entries for US Navy material held at the National Archives in College Park. The date for the entry on the web page is 6 May 2005. Would it be possible to see if the editor from 2005 still has that file and would be willing to share it? I'm researching the Battle of Midway from the Royal Navy's perspective and would be interested in the interviews listed in that file.

Corbin Williamson

Editors Note:  I am not sure if Mr. Russell retained this file or not.  I will also look through the information that he sent to me when I took over the RoundTable to see if I have the document.

Announcements and Questions

TBD Devastator Claims

From Scott Kozel
February 14, 2018

I have not ordered this book, (The Battle of Midway: Searching for the Truth by George Walsh ) but there is an interesting claim in the comments blog. I also have not read this claim elsewhere. Any truth to it?

"What I learned was that (Walsh claims) Halsey had banned the use of TBDs against all but undefended targets prior to being hospitalized and claims that Fletcher countermanded this order. I have not read that elsewhere. So Walsh blames Fletcher (not Spruance) for the sacrifice of the TBD crews. My feeling is that Spruance was happy to take the W and go home with two carriers, not raise too many questions about the Hornet's performance, and praise the heroic dead. Obviously, Nimitz was very pleased with Spruance and the outcome."

Scott M. Kozel

Editors Note:  Halsey may well have suggested it unofficially but I have never read anywhere that he actually made that order.  By his actions in the early carrier raids he certainly was not hesitant to send his torpedo squadrons to attack the targets either with bombs or torpedoes.  If Halsey had outright banned the TBD's Browning most certainly have known about it.  He was still the air operations leader for Spruance.  But there is no mention of any conversation between him and Spruance taking place indicating the TBD's were to be held out of the attack.  Not that such a conversation was likely to have many participants.  Also no communications of any kind indicate that Fletcher, when taking command, countermanded any orders Halsey might have made and with good reason.  Halsey was no longer in command so there would be little incentive to countermand an order that may or may not have any bearing on the upcoming battle.

Underwater Picture of Aircraft

From Col John F. Miniclier
February 13, 2018

Good Morning.  Your last report indicated a need to answer a question from DOLAN. A post card FROM FOMA,  shows a picture of a Martin B-26 "Marauder" medium bomber, which looks like the picture in question. On the back of the card part of the description says, "during WW II four early models were on Midway when the Japanese attacked on June 4, 1942. Converted to torpedo bombers and all four were among ten planes to attack early but only two returned." The post card picture has number 75 on the nose and 75 on the tail, under that 75 is another number 117704. If this was a test model they may have wanted to retrieve it but I do not recall a early discussion as this model it served mostly in Europe. A question to who sent in the request. Are you by chance the daughter of a Marine Officer stationed on Midway, with his dependence after WW II and even born on Midway to Ned Dolan? Hope the above helps and the last part true.

John F. Miniclier