Roundtable Forum
Our 23rd Year
April 2020

In this issue.

Roundtable Opening Remarks
'Zero' intelligence
Messerchmitt type fighter
Midway VFX Breakdown
Blackshoe Carrier Admirals
Midway Movie Devastator
SB2U pilot interview
Passing of George Walsh
Announcements and Questions
The Battle of Midway Roundtable Opening Remarks

Welcome to the April 2020 Midway RoundTable.  Hope everyone is doing well and staying safe.

First some important news.  My hosting site has decided that they are no longer going to host web sites unless they are a Wordpress or some other low impact HTML pages.  And honestly, I don't want to redo all the pages.  So just in case the site goes dark for a bit rest assured it is just temporary.  I should be able to move it, have the DNS reassigned and registered, all in a relatively short time frame.  But never say never and someone always fails to get the word.  So the Midway RoundTable web site will move to a new location as soon as I find a suitable host.  I don't expect the site to be taken down suddenly.  They assured me that won't happen and they just billed me for another month today.  So I think we're good till I get the site moved.  But just in case........

This month a lot has goning on.  We have quite a few questions and an update on the 'Midway Devastator' with pictures.  I was planning on swinging by the USS Midway when in California this spring but that didn't happen and has been put on hold at least for a while.  Was really looking forward to it.  Hope others have had a chance to see it.

Till next time.

'Zero' intelligence

From Gregory Finnegan
April 12, 2020

A note re the question in today’s BOMRT re “Messerschmidts.” As you noted in reply, the US didn’t take Japanese air power, design, or performance seriously. It’s well known that reports from China about the Zero weren’t heeded.

But even more than that was brushed off: One of the pre-World War II intelligence collectors in Japan was Lt.(jg.) Stephen Jurika, the assistant naval attaché [for air] in Tokyo from June 1939 to September 1941.  [And Adm. Mitscher’s Intelligence Officer at BOM.]  In 1940, a Japanese Zero fighter aircraft was on display at the Haneda International Airport. Jurika, a naval aviator, went to see it and was allowed to sit in the cockpit, where he found the nameplate written in English. He noted that the weight of the Zero was about half that of the…F4F Wildcat, but that the horsepower was the same, giving the Zero better speed, climbing, and maneuvering capabilities. About three months after he submitted his report, ONI chided him that he should be more careful in reporting the characteristics and estimated weight of Japanese aircraft.

(pp. 71-72 in Capt. Wyman H. Packard, USN (Ret.)’s centennial history of ONI: A Century of U.S. Naval Intelligence, Dept. of the Navy, 1996.)

As always, thanks for producing such an invaluable resource!

Greg Finnegan (son of Capt. Joseph Finnegan, USN (Ret.), a Japanese Language Officer and veteran of FRUPAC)

Gregory A. Finnegan PhD

Editors Note:  Thanks for the additional info. I was not aware of this close up view anyone in the USN got to the Zero before the war or at least don't remember reading this anywhere. I'll have to pick up a copy of the book. Sounds like an interesting read.

From Gregory Finnegan
April 12, 2020

It is a good book. Has a story from my father’s (mostly still classified) oral histories, from his 1934-37 time as a Japanese Language Officer student in Tokyo. In 1936, as I recall, there was a Fleet Week in Tokyo, with regular launch tours for the public. Cameras were forbidden, but binoculars weren’t. So the USN Attaché had all the JLO students take as many of the tours as they could. When my dad disembarked from one tour, he noticed a kiosk on the pier which was selling photo-postcards of the Fleet. So he bought one of each on offer, to send to ONI. Apparently they included a number of ships for which we had no photos. As with so much security, the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. The book also notes that Jurika was able to take advantage of well-sited homes of Standard Oil execs to take telephoto pix of ship launchings. But it doesn’t include my (after the Zero!) favorite Jurika story.

As an aviator, he had to fly a minimum number of hours a quarter to keep his flight pay. The USN, indeed probably the whole US Gov., had no aircraft in Japan. So 4 times a year, he’d have to take an American Presidents Line steamer to Manila and back, to fly there. The IJN shipyards had high screens on the landward sides, but not on the water side. All the APL Masters held USNR commissions, so were happy to slow down as they passed the shipyards, allowing Jurika to take telephoto pix, set up back from the porthole. He was able not only to note what was being built, but, as important, the pace at which construction proceeded.


Messerchmitt type fighter

Form Allen Ames
April 13, 2020

Regarding the Me-109 reported at Midway.   I think there is a chance that D4y scouts from Soryu may have been been Id'd as such. They were the only inline engined a/c that flew in the Battle and bore a superficial resemblance to the Me.

Editors Note:  Soryu launched one of the D4Y1 scouts at 8:30am to find or maintain contact with the US fleet spotted and reported earlier by Tone's #4 scout.  Flying to the location reported by Tone's scout the pilot, Iida Masatada, found only empty sea.   He turned around and headed back to Soryu but spotted some US aircraft that were obviously returning from the morning strikes.  This was at about 11am.  He followed them and found all three US carriers.  Unfortunately he could not report what he found due to communication problems but likely Soryu was in no shape to hear anything from any of her pilots by that time so that was likely the cause.  Upon returning to Soryu he found the carrier disabled so flew to Hiryu but found her deck crowded with aircraft getting ready to launch for the second strike.  He dropped a message tube with the information that there were three US carriers present.  I do not recall what happened to that D4Y1.  Possibly ditched or maybe hung around long enough to land on Hiryu after the second strike left.  As for the other D4Y1 I believe it was never launched so went down with Soryu.

From Barrett Tillman
April 13, 2020

IJN Me-109s: Am pretty sure that VF-10 reported 'em at Santa Cruz but don't have that material at hand. The joint air intel shop did assign a code name: Mike.

All the best


Midway VFX Breakdown

From Barrett Tillman
April 18, 2020

VFX Producer is of Vietnamese ancestry! Love America!

Editors Note:  How they build the 3D models is quite interesting.  This gives an idea of how all is merged into a movie scene.  Impressive work. 

Blackshoe Carrier Admirals

From Ron Russell
April 29, 2020

The controversy over whether a non-aviator ("blackshoe") like Fletcher, and by extension, Spruance was qualified to lead a carrier task force at Midway never seems to go away. Maybe the opinions of the pilots on the scene at the time would help a little. We already know that Dusty Kleiss felt that Fletcher/Spruance committed an error that a pilot like Halsey would not have made: sending out the TBDs. But VB-8 pilot Roy Gee was also there and had a different opinion. Here is Roy's quote about the relative merits of the blackshoes vs. Halsey as carrier commanders. This was originally published in the Roundtable Forum, issue 2008-39:

4 October 2008
From: CAPT Roy P. Gee, Sr., USN-Ret
Southern California
BOM vet, SBD pilot, VB-8, USS Hornet (CV-8)

[Ed note: Roy called me last Saturday to offer some thoughts on this topic. (He doesn’t send out a lot of e-mail, but he receives it okay.) The following is a transcription of what he told me during that call. These are his words as accurately as I could write them down.]

We should all remember that in those days, the commanders of carriers and carrier task forces were determined by Admiral King himself. He routinely assigned non-aviators to such billets back then for two reasons, (a) since aviation was still relatively new in the Navy, a lot of pilots had not yet advanced to the senior rank required of ship and task force commanders. They would be in abundance in later years, but in the 1930s and early -40s, a captain or rear admiral who happened to be a pilot could not always be found for a carrier command.

And (b), remember that also back then, there was no separate aviation community in the Navy. That would change later in the war with the establishment of AirPac and AirLant, but in the BOM era we aviators were simply part of a ship or part of a squadron assigned to a naval station. The notion that all carrier commanders had to be pilots wasn’t in place then; that didn’t happen until it was mandated by the new aviation organization.

For those reasons, all suggestions that Admiral Fletcher was unsuitable for commanding carriers has no historical basis in 1942. Additionally, we should remember that even some of those who were pilots weren’t any better as carrier commanders than those who were not. Stanhope Ring comes to mind; extensive flight experience, but a poor air group leader and a mediocre pilot. Then there’s Admiral Halsey; generally regarded as a great carrier admiral. Yes, he wore the wings, but only had about 30 hours in the air and never flew anything after flight school. The fact that he was certified as a pilot had no bearing at all on his skill and qualification as a capable carrier commander. Those things came from other traits that an officer might have, and both Fletcher and Halsey had them.
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Midway Movie Devastator

From Richard Scharff
April 15, 2020

just received from the Head Docent, at Midway, Jim Reily…Perhaps would be of interest to the Roundtable members…

Impressive given the TBD has been out of view for these many years! Bill Esders, VT 3 was a family friend from our home town St Joseph, MO, visited with him at his home in Pensacola in 1992 and heard his Midway experience first hand. Riveting stuff! Love studying this great Navy battle and victory.

Warm regards
Capt. Richard (Dick) Scharff, SC, USN (Ret.)

Today, after two attempts, the Devastator was successfully raised to it’s new home. While repairs and assembly were being completed we had installed lift points and stabilizing points for the permanent lift. Once lifted into position, with two heavy duty chain falls, permanent cables were attached to fix it into the proper angle for clearance between the deck and the bottom of the plane. Tomorrow we will bring the mock torpedo over from the hangar and figure out how to attach it to the plane. Should make for a very interesting and unique display. Remember there are no other Devastator's in any museum in the world. Ours is not a real plane but a full sized highly detail replica.

Editors Note:  I'm glad to see that they have put the display together.  Maybe someday I'll be able to get out to San Diego again (been way too long) and see the display first hand.  I know the movie was not what a lot of us hoped for but if this is the end result of my association with the movie then I'll take it.  By the way the pictures are a lot larger.  If you want to see a larger version right click and view picture or download it.

SB2U pilot interview

From Barrett Tillman
May 1, 2020

Drew my attention on FB because of mention of medical tape on the 2Us. Guess it's possible but you'd think any squadron would have fabric strips, pinking shears, and clear dope for the purpose! (I think some of my rib stitches still exist in Seattle Museum of Flight's WW I Aviatik that we restored at Champlin in the 80s.)


Passing of George Walsh

From Ron Russell
May 8, 2020

If it's not too late for the April newsletter: just a quick note to report on the passing of George Walsh, Sr., a former SB2C pilot, whom Roundtable regulars know well from his early contributions to our forum discussions and later his independent online posts on various Midway and dive-bomber related topics. The latter didn't always mesh with our best understandings of BOM facts, but at least he generated a lot of publicity in the subject, rather like the flawed 1976 movie kindled so much new public awareness.

I don't know any details about George's death; it was reported to me by an author whom I'm helping with a new BOM book that's coming out in June. More on that next month; Roundtable members are going to like it.

--Ron Russell

Announcements and Questions

Midway 2019 - chewing gum

From Allen Peisner
April 12, 2020

Ron Russell's comments about the new Midway movie provoked thought about Dick Best's dive on the carriers. In both scenes they show him removing his chewing gum and placing it on his instrument panel before the dive. This seems wrong to me. When diving from 10000-15000 feet, the change in air pressure results in pressure on the inner ear. This can be relieved by popping the ears, which can be done by swallowing, chewing gum or with a movement of the jaw. It does not make sense that he removes his gum before the dives. It would make more sense to keep chewing to equalize the pressure. Any comments from our more experienced aviators? Did this seem like a detail the producers should have skipped?


Info for Paul Sidle

From Mike Maule
April 12, 2020

Re' Paul Sidle and his quest for knowledge in the March 2020 edition of BOMRT. He may already be aware of this, but he may not. Most public library's have access to all kinds of magazines and journals online. I'm researching Pearl harbor and found David Aikens "Torpedoing Pearl Harbor" from Military History Magazine, DEC 2001, vol 18 #5. Just passing this along for info.

Mike Maule
BOMRT member

From Den Reilly
April 13, 2020

For background on VT-8's TBF detachment, Mr. Sidle may want to read "Torpedo 8: The Attack and Vengeance of Swede Larsen's Bomber Squadron," by Ira Wolfert, 127 pages. I found it years ago in a used book store.
Den Reilly

What Midway 1976 got right

From John Manguso
April 14, 2020

It's been a while but didn't the actor playing Admiral Yamamoto have a couple of fingers missing? Or was that the actor in Tora Tora Tora?

John Manguso

Editors Note:  I don't believe so in either case.  I do know that the actor in the 76 movie showed up with shortened fingers on his white gloves to reflect the missing fingers but I believe he was not missing the same fingers in real life.

Midway 2019 Akagi Bombing

From Scott Kozel
April 16, 2020

Were the captain and admiral really standing outside on the island when the bombs were falling? Very risky if they were.

Was the bomb explosion on the Akagi really that large?

Unlikely that a wingtip could skim the water at about 280 mph without throwing the plane into a fatal spin.

Looked very impressive to see them diving thru all that AA fire, but it was about 20 times the amount of fire that actually occurred. The ship was at least somewhat caught be surprise. From a pure cinematic effect it is a very impressive enactment of the dive bombing in Akagi.

The gigantic fuel air explosion on what was presumably Kaga, was very impressive.

After Best pulled out and was about 20 feet above the water, the Akagi AA kept firing at his plane even though two IJN destroyers fouled the range.

Editors Note:  Cinematic license for the most part but I'm sure you already knew that.

Midway RoundTable question

From Clark Whelton
May 3, 2020

Trivia question for the Roundtable: how do we know the attached photo of the Dauntlesses was not taken during the Midway battle?

Clark Whelton

Editors Note: Thanks for the note. Do you have some specific reason or need clarification why the picture was not taken during the Battle of Midway for someone? If so the red circle inside the white stars were all painted out on each carriers squadrons after Coral Sea due to ship gunners mistaking US aircraft for Japanese aircraft. So the picture was taken before June 1942.

From Clark Whelton
May 5, 2020

Many thanks for your reply.

When I wrote my article on Midway for Argosy magazine many years ago, the artist who illustrated it put red circles inside the white stars. I argued with him about it. He replied that the order for painting the circles was effective 1 June 1942. And, since the Midway task force had sailed from Pearl before that date, the circles were still there during the battle. I answered that the carriers all had paint lockers, and there was plenty of time to paint as the task force steamed west. But it was too late, and the illustrations -- which are excellent --- show the Dauntless insignia with red circles.

It was during research for this article that I spoke and corresponded with Max Leslie, who refused to accept that it was Soryu that VB-3 had sunk. He thought Soryu was a CVE, and was glad to know that Japan only called it a CVE in order to evade the restrictions of the London Naval Treaty.

For years I was puzzled by the fact that VB-3 had flown directly to the Japanese fleet while the Enterprise and Hornet squadrons, though heading for the same intercept point, struggled to find it. Adm. Leslie said “I just followed the heading I was given, and there they were.” Finally it became clear that Yorktown’s position to the northwest made all the difference.

Hammann crew

From Barrett Tillman
May 11, 2020

Anybody ever seen a roster of Hammann's crew? I sorta recall that one of my casual acquaintances' father had been aboard. Hadn't thought about it in decades.