Roundtable Forum
Our 22nd Year
July 2019

In this issue.

Roundtable Opening Remarks
Great Film on Halsey
Fighter control at the Battle of Midway
Bel Geddes dioramas
The performance of Yorktown
Book Review: Torpedo 8

Annoucements and Questions
The Battle of Midway Roundtable Opening Remarks

Welcome to the July edition of the RoundTable newsletter.  Not a lot going on in the mid summer but we do have a number of submissions.  Ron Russell gives us a reason to watch some old movies again, alway a good thing, and Scott Kair reviews an old book.  I also took particular notice when Barrett Tillman sent an email about the Bel Geddes dioramas.  I don't remember running across these as a kid but I certainly became aware of them in the 70's.  I always thought how magnificent they were.  However I really didn't know much about them or why someone had done them.  I always thought they were a personal modeling project that just happened to be photographed and some of the photos used in some books.

We also have a couple other interesting topics but due to a very busy July for me I did not get to investigate much at all.  I hope to have more time in a month or so to devote to a bit of research.

And while we're on the topic of old things.  A co-worker was going through his fathers possesions, as he had passed away just recently, came across a cassette recording of one of George Gay's lectures, speaches, talks or whatever you might call them.  It must have been fairly long as there are three cassettes all in an envelope.   Not sure how he recorded them or if he receved them from someone else.  I do know the one time I attended one of George Gay's lectures in College he specifically did not allow any recording devices in the lecture.  So this comes as somewhat of a mystery that a recording exists.  But perhaps there was some made with his knowledge but more likely without.

We both agreed that we wouldn't just pop them into a cassette and try to play them as they are over 40 years old and hard telling how good the tape is any more.  Instead we will take them to someone that can professionally restore and transfer them to a CD.  If they come out I can digitize them and make them available for download.  Keep everyone posted.

Mid summer is upon us.  Enjoy.

Great Film on Halsey

From Ron Russell,
July 7, 2019

It's likely that at some point many Roundtable members have seen "The Gallant Hours" from 1960, starring James Cagney as Admiral Halsey during the Guadalcanal campaign. But when I watched it again last week, it made me think of the 1976 "Midway" movie--the two films have something in common. In "Midway," the producers got one thing right with their selection of Glenn Ford as Admiral Spruance: Ford in 1976 could easily have passed for Spruance in 1942, and his portrayal in the film seemed to match what we know about Spruance's personality.

The producers of "The Gallant Hours" pulled off the same trick: Cagney in 1960 was pretty much a clone of Halsey in 1942, and they did a fair job of presenting Halsey's "get it done" demeanor that helped in large measure to make the campaign a success. It's another great example of accurately matching the actor to the historical character. See the attached photos comparing Cagney to Halsey in 1942, as well as a couple showing Glenn Ford's resemblance of Spruance.

I caught "The Gallant Hours" on a cable TV movie channel. You might find it on one of yours via the Search tool, or from other sources like a streaming service. I even found it in DVD at the local library. Highly recommended to Roundtable members. It's a little off-topic for us, but not by much. You won't be disappointed.

--Ron Russell

Fighter control at the Battle of Midway

From Bill Rowe
July 4, 2019

Fighter direction at Midway:

Here is the complete series on fighter direction:

The Radar and Fighter Direction material looks solid.

The wiki engineering and technology is new to me, and it’s appreciated as an engineer who likes history. The article on WWII carriers gives the Japanese credit for early development, which if true wasn’t shared, and states steam catapults were used in WWII. They were developed later by the Brits. I’m pretty sure all American flight deck catapults were hydraulic. It would be worth noting the Japanese didn’t use catapults on their carriers. There isn’t a “talk” page and I didn’t want to edit someone contribution. Generally the articles are welcome but uneven.

Bill Rowe

Editors Note:  The Wiki publications are interesting but have to be taken with a grain of salt as they are basic publications by individual's or groups.  I have used them internally within a company or group of people.  For instance I work on a history section that is for writers where they can reference material.

This one looks pretty well thought out and is fairly accurate, minor pionts excepted and noted by Mr. Rowe.  Worth the time to read.

Bel Geddes dioramas

From Barrett Tillman

I'd plumb forgot(ten) that I wrote the 2012 Flight Journal article, to which this sidebar was appended. (My FJ total is just just south of 200, I think, so they tend to run together.)

I'd thought that BG did the work for NWC but it was for Life. BTW: his daughter Barbara became Ms Ellie on Dallas..

Barrett sends

From Charles Haberlein
July 18, 2019

There were/arephotos of those dioramas in the Official USN Photo Collection at NARA. I had most (if not all) of them copied back in the '80s, and included them in the then-NHC internet photo presentation on BoM back in '99. Pretty neat stuff, though (as is usually the case), more recent research demonstrated that some of the diorama elements are inaccurate.

They can seen scattered throughout the BoM presentations that are linked from this page:


Editors Note:  The interesting thing about these diarama's is that Life Magazine had the built which I assume was to accompany an article on the Battle of Midway.  I remember we had a subscription to Life when I was growing up but don't recall seeing the article.  Does anyone know what happened to the diaramas or if they still survive where are they?

The performance of Yorktown

From Dave Anderer
August 1,2019

I’ve been a consumer of the archives here for many years and had an interest in Midway since I first read Incredible Victory back in the 70s. Scholarship has advanced since that time but I’ve never seen a good answer to a question that I’ve been curious about: Why did Yorktown do so well at delivering her air group to the target in a coordinated fashion?

I’ve seen it said several times it was because she was the more experienced ship. That is an unsatisfying to me. Enterprise was basically as experienced. But even if “experience” is the right answer I’d like to dig more deeply into the issue.

I’ve read a lot on the squadrons and Fletcher in command of TF17. I’ve seen very little on the people in-between — the people who I assume did the planning and grunt work to get the squadrons in the air and to their target. I suspect this is where the credit lies for the performance of Yorktown. Who are these people?

Here is what I know and don’t:

Fletcher. Likely not involved in the specific of ops, especially given his non-aviation background.

flag staff. Who were these folks and what were their roles? Was there a specific air officer on the staff? Did they play a part in constructing the ops? (I know Browning did in TF16 with mixed results, Wikipedia notwithstanding.)

Buckmaster - how much did a CV CO get involved in air ops?

Kiefer - how much did a CV XO get involved in air ops?

Pederson - obviously involved

Arnold - Air Officer. What this role, and how did it relate to the CO, XO, and CYAG?

The best answer I’ve seen is in The First Team which puts the planning on Pederson and Arnold. I’d like to dig a little deeper than what is contained there.

I guess there are really two questions here: First, how did US carriers operate their air wings at this point in the war? Two, which people on Yorktown specifically deserve credit for her performance at Midway?

Thanks in advance.

Editors Note:  I did not have time to fully research the answers for you but here are some basic answers.  First Yorktown was a more experienced ship in terms of a carrier battle.  She was the only carrier at the Battle of Midway that had any experience whatsoever.  Second Fletcher was also the only senior commander that had any experience in a carrier battle.  He made some mistakes at Coral Sea and he was not about to repeat them at Midway.  He was widely criticized for launching a scouting mission to the North on the morning of the battle.  But after being surprised by the Japanese carrier group a mere 80 miles to his rear on the afternoon of May 7th I'm sure that left an impression.  He got lucky that day as the Japanese had already committed their strike on the helpless Neosho and Sims.  But it could have turned out very bad for him.  He could not risk the same thing happening at Midway.

Third, some of Yorktown's air group personel were on the Lexington at Coral Sea.  Yorktown's own Bombing 5, redesignated as Scouting 5 at Midway, was intact for the most part.  I'm sure that was of considerable help to the other squadrons from Saratoga.  Fighting 3 had operated from Lexington from January through March of 1942.  For much of this time Fletcher was in command on Yorkown so they were familiar with the air operations.

There are probably quite a few more factors.  But for the most part the experience learned at Coral Sea was valuable to say the least.

Torpedo 8: The Story of Swede Larsen’s Bomber Squadron : Ira Wolfert book review

From Scott Kair
July 29, 2019

The new Roland Emmerich movie about the Battle of Midway may renew interest in WWII among generations for whom it is ancient history. Central to the battle was the doomed Torpedo Squadron (VT) 8. Wolfert’s book covers the squadron’s activities following Midway, through the critical Guadalcanal campaign, and Amazon has offered it in Kindle format for 99 cents.

Wolfert was a war correspondent for a wire service embedded in the campaign, and won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on it. The book is a more detailed account on what he observed and heard on the island, focusing on the squadron. It was originally published in mid-1943, and exemplifies journalism as the rough draft of history.

Students of Midway are aware that the essential role of John Waldron and his squadron played in the victory at Midway was not fully appreciated during the war. Wolfert barely mentions Waldron and the Hornet based contingent of the squadron, and somewhat glosses over the squadron’s Midway-based detachment of TBFs.

It should be remembered that Wolfert was subject to wartime military censorship. The laxity which enabled Col. Robert MacCormick to publish military secrets after Midway had been corrected by the time Wolfert went to the Solomons. The folks at home were hungry for news of the war, and good news at that, though.

Wolfert provided that, as well as examples of truth being the first casualty in war. He presented uncritically claims of the squadron destroying Japanese vessels and aircraft, to the point where parts of his book seem today as propaganda.

We know more now than we did at publication, though, starting with who won the war and what was sacrificed to win it. We also benefit from later works on the squadron. Lt. Frederick Mears’ 1944 combat memoir, _Carrier Combat_, covered the same time period with VT8, and although also subject to censorship, was written much more artfully. It was also published posthumously, Mears having been killed in a training accident between his book’s acceptance and publication.

More recently, Robert Mrazek’s _A Dawn Like Thunder_ covered the entirety of Torpedo 8’s existence, and benefitted from works in the intervening years, the author’s interviews with members and examining the squadron’s logs and other documentation. Mrazek’s book is the standard, and the final product to Wolfert’s very rough draft.

Wolfert’s book, though, is worthwhile for reasons beyond it being a step in the historiography- the evolution of our understanding of the past- on the first year of the war. He was a capable journalist, and his descriptions of trying to fly combat missions in the tropical weather of the Solomons is more detailed- and chilling- than even Mears’ first-hand descriptions.

On the downside is Wolfert’s erstwhile subject, then-Lt. Harold “Swede” Larsen. Mrazek portrays Larsen as a bigoted, glory-seeking martinet who survived the deployment only because some of his officers disarmed an enlisted man who was intent on shooting him. Wolfert, of course, doesn’t mention any of that. He does, though, mention the attack on a Japanese ship in which Larsen prematurely dropped his torpedo well off the target’s track, which might have eluded readers who weren’t familiar with Mrazek’s work.

Nonetheless, Wolfert’s book stands as a wartime tribute to genuine heroes trying to stem the Japanese tide without much in the way of resources except raw guts. It’s also a story of redemption, which may have been his purpose in writing it.

In 1943, John Waldron, under whom Larsen served as executive officer, was not yet perceived as having played the critical role in our victory at Midway. What he did, and what happened to the squadron, were regarded with ambivalence at best by a navy that was sensitive to further embarrassments. His widow received a lot of hate mail and a faction of the navy held that he’d become unhinged, rather than admitting that Hornet’s captain and air group commander botched the battle. The squadron’s surviving air crew and enlisted men, though, nearly worshipped him, if only in retrospect. Larsen had mighty big shoes to fill, and current thinking is that he was temperamentally unsuited to the task. That made him quite the difficult subject to write about, but Wolfert managed to tread the fine line between a hagiography and a hatchet job. It’s reporting, not intended as a definitive history, but worth the current price for its place in understanding how we came to view that phase of the war.

Scott Kair

Editors Note:  While not strictly about Midway the book does have some interesting chapters.  Swede Larsen was training a detachment of Torpedo 8 in the states while John Waldron and the other members of Torpedo 8 were deployed on Hornet during the first half of 1942.  Larsen's detachment with the new TBF Avengers were scheduled to replace Waldron and the TBD's prior to Midway but didn't quite make it to Hawaii in time to catch Hornet's departure from Pearl Harbor.  As it was 6 volunteers flew their TBF's to Midway Island and did participate in the battle.  Given that they didn't fair all that much better than the TBD's and the fact they were still armed with the same faulty torpdoes it's hard to imagine they would have made much of a difference.

The one thing that I have always wondered is would Larsen have followed Ring and miss the carriers like the rest of Rings command.  Give the TBF's had a much greater range than the TBD's, thus he would not have been put in the same delimma as Waldron, and given Larsen probably would not have analyzed thes situation quite like Waldron, it is likely.

Would that have made much of a difference?  Again hard to say but probably not.  Each separate flight of attacking aircraft kept the Japanese off balance to some degree or another.  Waldron and Torpedo 8 attacked at 9:18 just after the last of the Japanese planes from Midway landed.  Lindsey and Torpedo 6 did not attack till 9:49.  So if Waldron had not been there when he was the Japanese  would have had about 30 minutes of uninterrupted time.  How much difference would that have made? Again maybe not much given they were already aware of the US fleet and turned to the NorthEast to engage, which in retrospect was an odd decision by Nagumo given most of his reserve strike aircraft were in considerable disarray.  He really had no ability to quickly engage the US fleet and so would have likely just stumbled into the Enterprise and Yorktown's strikes anyway.

Nagumo had no experience in carrier warfare and was never trained in aviation.  He did have a capable Air operations officer but he too had little or no experience when facing the fast pace of carrier combat.  Nagumo certainly learned his lesson at Midway and when faced with a similar situation at Santa Cruz when his fleet was spotted and having no knowledge of the US carriers whereabouts promptly reversed course.  The US strike aimed at his fleet missed him.  The next day he engaged the US fleet with a more fully detailed report of where the US fleet was and what was facing him.

But Larsen was not at Midway.  Waldron was.  And we all know how that turned out.

Announcements and Questions

Discovery Channel ..The Battle of Midway...

From Lou Wagner
July 28, 2019

I've looked on amazon and the Discovery Channel and I don't find this Movie. I'd like to buy the DVD version of it. Do you know where I can purchase it?

Thank You...

Editors Note:  I believe this is the DVD that you are interested in.