Roundtable Forum
Our 25th Year
August 2022

In this issue.

Roundtable Opening Remarks
Would Halsey have Launched the TBDs?
The Mark 13 Torpedo at Coral Sea and Midway
What's Wrong with this Picture?
Another View of 6-B-15:
Now Hear This!

The Battle of Midway Roundtable Opening Remarks

Welcome to the August Issue of the Battle of Midway RoundTable. 

This month we have more conversations around Halsey and if he would have used the TBDs had he been in command at Midway.  We also have an interesting theory on why the TBDs and more importantly the Mark 13 torpedoes worked so well at Coral Sea while under preforming at Midway, plus more.

Remember to send in your thoughts on what the Battle of Midway RoundTable has meant to you for our upcoming 25th Anniversary issue in October.

Re: WOULD HALSEY HAVE LAUNCHED THE TBDs? (see the July newsletter)

31 July 2022
From: Tom Rychlik

Allow me to express my very deep appreciation for all your efforts to answer my question on the TBDs. One of my premises was that from ensigns and young enlisted aircrew to vice admirals, many had concerns about the TBD/Mk13 weapon system even though they had gotten lucky at Coral Sea. This concern should have led senior aviation leadership to put in place some better measures to compensate.

Waldron knew it was going to be tough and fought hard and often for close fighter escort. Yet when it came time to depart the HAG, he still went off on his own. His last letter to Adelaide said he knew they needed a break and that he hoped they would get one. What courage!

Buckmaster’s after-action report [AAR] on Coral Sea said it was essential that the bombers have fighter escort (multiple times) and that the dive bombing attack should start just before and continue through the torpedo attack. It’s interesting he actually achieved that at Midway, but Massey saw he wasn’t needed on Soryu and decided to attack Hiryu, even though it meant a longer approach and he was getting ripped to shreds by the fighters.

Buckmaster had almost lost Yorktown at Coral Sea so he decided not to increase the number of escort fighters but Leslie knew the fighters they had should go with Massey. Massey went to bed with a bottle of Scotch the night before the battle telling the others in his impromptu get-together he didn’t know how they would ever make it back.

In my opinion, Browning sealed VT-6’s death warrants when he launched the dive bombers first and then couldn’t/didn’t stop Spruance from sending them off without the TBDs. My research on the EAG doesn’t seem to indicate much joint discussion among McClusky, Murray, Gray, Lindsey, Best, or Gallaher on planning the strike. With Lindsey spending most of his time in sickbay, it fell to Ely to arrange for the “Come on down, Jim” plan for the fighters.

Admiral Halsey and members of his staff. Captain Browning is at Halsey’s right.

Folks have tried to compare combat experience between the Yorktown and Enterprise air groups and air operations [leadership]. Although being at Coral Sea was a benefit to Yorktown, Enterprise had conducted enough air operations by this point in the war that the difference should have been much less. It’s sad to think that Yorktown and Lexington did things early in the war that worked well and yet those concepts didn’t influence Enterprise and Hornet at Midway. Was that hubris or ignorance on the part of those leaders? Either or both speaks volumes about certain high ranking officers.

It’s interesting that, even though he was overall in charge of both TF-17 and -16, Fletcher’s AAR was only two pages long compared to Spruance’s five. Since TF-17 was out of play fairly early, that’s understandable, yet he makes no recommendations on how to improve things.

Unlike Spruance who submitted the Enterprise and Hornet AARs as enclosures and referred to them in the text of his report, Fletcher doesn’t include Buckmaster’s or anything else in his report. It’s just the facts as he knew them. No comments on the valor of the torpedo squadrons, awards, or for that matter anyone else? He didn’t speak to how well Yorktown planned their strike. Nothing. It’s almost like he knew he was headed for obscurity and purposely said as little as possible.

On the matter of Captain Mitscher’s AAR, he included Lieutenant Commander Foster’s report as enclosure I. Unsurprisingly, Foster addresses a lot of things but he does not speak to what happened to the HAG on June 4.

The one thing that my research has brought home to me is how many mistakes people in the pay grades of [captain] and above made at Midway and how often the more junior officers bailed them out by doing something that won the battle and in so doing paid the ultimate sacrifice. I think Mitscher figured that out after the battle. That’s why he recommended everyone in VT-8 for the Medal of Honor and was so bothered when they didn’t even give it to Waldron.

1 August 2022
From: Warren Heller
North Carolina

Following are some thoughts that may help reconcile Dusty Kleiss’ recollections of Halsey’s antipathy toward the TBD/Mk13s and, by the eve of BOM, the senior air staff’s knowledge of the ineffectiveness of that weapon system.

On the way out to Point Luck, top brass aboard ship surely held lengthy discussions about the superior force they would likely be facing. They knew that they could be against six or more carriers (which would have been the case had the IJN planners kept focus on their primary strategic mission – destroy U.S. carrier assets in the Pacific and force us to sue for peace on their terms). Our commanders also understood both the strategic and enough of the tactical situation to know that their possible surprise advantage would be fleeting; there would likely be a single opportunity to launch before coming under attack themselves.

In that verge of BOM environment, it is easy to imagine Browning, Fletcher, Spruance—or Halsey, had he been there—along with the rest of the air staff agreeing that, while the TBDs were essentially “Hail Mary” passes, they might luck out and the hope that a few could make it through to the enemy carriers would be realized.

One can even imagine the voice of Halsey, when reminded of his earlier dictum that no torpedo laden TBDs should ever leave the hangar deck: Goddammit, I wouldn’t care if those #*x^! TBDs were Wright fliers equipped with bows and arrows; we need to hit the #*x^! Japs with everything we got! Those #*x^!TBDs will do a helluva lot more good in action than at the sea bottom after the enemy sinks us!”

The eve of BOM was truly a desperate time for our fleet leaders; regardless of prior opinions, even vehemently expressed ones. Desperate men take desperate measures when backed into a corner.
Thanks to Tom and Warren for adding to the Halsey-TBD discussion. Warren’s colorful speculation on Halsey’s actual feelings on the matter is consistent with our summation in the July newsletter: given the dire circumstances of the BOM, the TBDs and their unreliable torpedoes were a tactical necessity in spite of their known flaws and Halsey’s previous ranting about them. And as it developed, their absence would arguably have worked against the ultimate success of the dive bombers.

As for Dusty’s preferred tactic of sending every flyable SBD at once against the enemy force spotted by Howard Ady, that simply would never have happened. Remember that Ady had seen only two IJN carriers—at least two more were out there somewhere, and believed to be far removed from those first two. No one, not even Halsey would have launched everything he had against just half of a target when the other half was a fearsome threat, ready to strike from some unknown quarter.


Thomas Wildenberg, the author of an in-depth study of the development of USN air power before and during WW2, offers an interesting theory as to why TBDs armed with the infamous MK13 (or Mark XIII) aerial torpedo scored very well at Coral Sea and so dismally at Midway.

2 Aug 2022
From: Thomas Wildenberg

During the Battle of the Coral Sea…the TBDs were unopposed, nevertheless their striking power was impressive. For those who are not familiar with this action, the following is a detailed account written by John Lundstrom in his widely acclaimed book The First Team [first edition, 1984, pp. 200-201, concerning the attacks against Shoho]:
Torpedo Two’s strike, the first American Squadron against an enemy carrier, was a masterpiece. Lieutenant (jg) Leonard W Thornhill’s was the first to slam home. His torpedo struck the Shoho’s starboard quarter, the blast half hidden by smoke already raised by VB-2’s bomb hits. The explosion wrecked both electrical and back-up manual steering systems, forcing the ship to a steady southeasterly heading. On the port side, Lieut. (jg) Lawrence F. Steffenhagen’s torpedo struck just aft of amidships, followed in short order by that of Lieut. Robert F. Farrington smashing into the port bow. Another pilot of Brett’s 1st Division sent his torpedo into her port side just forward of amidships. Gunner Harley Talkington made the fifth torpedo hit. His fish detonated aft of amidships on the starboard side, causing a huge pillar of water to mushroom far above the flight deck.

No problem with the Mark XIII torpedoes here!

For many years I wondered why the Mark XIII torpedo proved effective at the Battle of Coral Sea despite the numerous claims, documents and descriptions of its failures. After much study and research, I have concluded that Lexington’s VT-2 TBDs must have been armed with the Mark XIII mod 0 version of this weapon, which was not the same torpedo used at Midway. Since the Lexington was sunk during the battle, and any record of or ordnance loadout or after action reports went down with her, and there is no way of proving my conclusion.

Only 156 Mark XIII mod 0 torpedoes, which entered service in 1938, were produced. This was just enough to provide two full loads for each of the 18-plane torpedo squadrons on each of the Navy’s four big carriers. Although the performance of the Mark XIII was “excellent when dropped at a speed of 100 knots and an altitude of 40-90 feet,” according to VT-3’s gunnery officer in November 1940, the speed and altitude limits were considered too restrictive for the improved torpedo bomber (the TBF Avenger) that was expected to replace the TBD. In an effort to improve the airborne stability of the Mark XIII torpedo during the drop phase, BuOrd modified the tail section, relocating the control surfaces ahead of the propeller and bolting plywood extensions to the horizontal vanes in the hopes that these changes would stabilize the torpedo as it was dropped. Unfortunately for the pilots who would later have to rely on this weapon in battle, the modified design was plagued by so many defects that one writer called it “the worst piece of ordnance ever forced upon the Navy.” The Mark XIII mod 1 was so bad that four of ten torpedoes launched during the first operational use in a gunnery exercise sank from sight and were never seen again. Of the remaining six, five experienced erratic runs. Only one of the ten dropped ran hot, straight, and true.

Thomas Wildenberg, the author of Destined for Glory: Dive Bombing, Midway and the Evolution of Airpower Ship Killers: A History of the American Torpedo (Naval Institute Press, 2012), has been a member of the Roundtable for over 12 years. His revelation here concerning the “Mod Zero” torpedo makes me wonder—if a dozen or so out of 156 were expended with remarkable success at Coral Sea, what is the track record of the others?


Re: WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?  (See the May  and June  issues)

Mark Horan provides the final word regarding the squadron aircraft number of this VB-3 SBD crossing Soryu’s bow in the May and June issues. To “B” or not to “B,” that was the question (with apologies to Shakespeare).


23 July 2022
From: Mark Horan

VB-3 aircraft were marked with Black "B#". All aircraft were marked as a bombing squadron including the angled LSO stripes. VB-5 aircraft were marked with squadron-assigned aircraft number only; no “B” or “S” at all.

For anyone who’s not aware, Mark was a contributing author and researcher on the team that produced one of our top BOM references, A Glorious Page In Our History, where you’ll find a mini-biography of him on page 221. His latest contribution above confirms that the subject Dauntless is that of VB-3 pilot LTjg Gordon Sherwood, with R/G ARM2/c Harmon Bennett. (Petty Officer Bennett likely would have loved having the twin .30-cal. gun that the artist gave him in this painting.)


Kent Walters sends us another view of George Goldsmith’s VB-6 Dauntless, the subject of Kent’s well-known flying scale model.

13 August 2022
From: Kent Walters


The attached photo is of George Goldsmith's SBD-3 Dauntless after landing on the Enterprise shortly before Midway. A careful comparison of this side view also reveals a unique modification to the rear part of the gunner's compartment and turtle deck, likely to accommodate a twin .30 cal gun.

Regards, Kent

For the more familiar photo of 6-B-15 after landing on Yorktown with battle damage, see this image on the NHHC website:

Also, for the benefit of any new subscribers who may not be aware, see the December 2021 issue  of our newsletter for some great shots of Kent’s flying scale model. Of course, the same model adorns the cover of No Right to Win, and you’ll also find it facing page 269 in Peter Smith’s Midway Dauntless Victory, although it’s incorrectly labeled there as a Navy photo of an actual SBD—an unintended testament to Kent’s crafting skill.

The bulletin sent to all subscribers on August 17th included a request for any survivors or families of survivors of USS Hammann to contact Michael Naya, the historian of the USS Yorktown (CV-5) club in connection with his special project on behalf of the club’s members. Here’s a repeat of his email address—please make contact with him if you are able to provide any information at all regarding Hammann survivors, including Yorktown personnel who had been rescued by the ship:

Michael Naya

*      *      *      *      *

As the calendar clicks down to just two months before the observance of our 25th anniversary, we’d like to hear from you concerning whatever thoughts you might have about the Battle of Midway Roundtable. Thanks to the many who have already answered that call, but for the rest: what has the Roundtable meant to you personally as a member or as a follower of our newsletters and web pages? How do you view the Roundtable’s place in the expanding history of the Battle of Midway?

Please send along your comments, regardless whether you’re a new subscriber or you were aboard in the 1990s when Bill Price began circulating Midway emails on a daily basis. Send your message to:, and thank you in advance.

—Thom Walla, editor and webmaster
—Ron Russell, contributing editor