. The Battle of Midway Roundtable .
The U.S. Army Air Force
at the Battle of Midway
National radio broadcast, 14 June 1942
The first comprehensive information available to the public on the Battle of Midway came from the Army Air Force, which released a detailed report shortly after the battle. The following article, from the 15 June 1942 issue of the Honolulu Advertiser, tells the AAF’s version of what happened at the Battle of Midway, as related on a radio broadcast the previous day. While the Army made various claims of hits on Japanese ships, it should be noted that they actually scored no hits at all on the enemy throughout the battle. That’s not to say that the airmen were not brave and diligent in their duties—they did their best with what the had, and did succeed in disrupting Japanese plans by compelling them to slow their fleet’s advance while evading numerous attacks. But what the Army airmen thought they saw and what they thought they did, as related in this article, was rather far from reality.
Note: this document was transcribed from an old newspaper clipping, parts of which were faded or torn. Because of that, small portions of text, indicated by ......, are missing. Also, where appropriate, we have inserted brief editorial comments in [brackets].
The Honolulu Advertiser Monday, June 15, 1942
AIR HEROES BROADCAST TO NATION
REVEAL MIDWAY DRAMA
Radio listeners throughout the nation yesterday heard the dramatic story of the Army Air Force’s part in the Battle of Midway from the voices of officers and men who played heroic roles in the victory, as KGU took a 20 minute share in the nationwide Army Hour program broadcast at 10 a.m. through the facilities of the National Broadcasting Company.
Several officers and men who saw action in the bomber attacks on units of the Japanese fleet appeared on the program, led by Brig. Gen. Willis Hale, who commanded the Army Air Force in the Midway action.
Following is the script of the program broadcast to the nation, beginning with a summary of the action made by General Hale:
“The Battle of Midway was primarily an air operation,” General Hale began. “From the time the enemy was first sighted by air reconnaissance until he turned and fled three days later, our combined Army, Navy, and Marine fliers constantly pounded him from the skies, scoring hit after hit. In this time of only about 72 hours, we sank three or four of Japan’s best carriers. We hit a couple of their battleships before they had even fired a broadside. From the air we sank two Jap cruisers, as well as a number of destroyers and troop transports sunk or damaged,” General Hale said.
“The Battle of Midway definitely was a major defeat for the Japanese Navy. It is not the final chapter in the Allied struggle in the Pacific, but it was a chapter written the way Americans wanted it written.
First Blow a Surprise
“The first blow was in the form of a surprise, as far as the Japs were concerned. Immediately upon hearing from a Navy patrol plane, our Flying Fortresses, led by Lieutenant Colonel Walter Sweeney, Jr., left Midway to go after the Jap fleet. This was on the afternoon of June third. Three hours later our B-17 Flying Fortresses located and bombed an enemy unit consisting of ships of the line which were convoying several transports.
“There were no carriers in this particular force. This was apparently the invasion fleet that was planning to come right on up to Midway to subdue or defenders and force a beach landing. In this first contact with the enemy, the B-17s unloaded bombs on a battleship, two cruisers, and a big transport. No more attacks were made that day. That was Wednesday.”
Attack at Dawn
[The following quote is from another officer.] “.....Sweeney’s flight and had orders to attack some battleships. When we were 150 miles out, the order came to change our course and go after a more important target which had been sighted. It was a task force that included at least four carriers and plenty of supporting ships.
Went After Carriers
“Our bombers picked up speed, and went in to get on the target. We were going after the carriers. They were in the middle of this fleet of almost thirty fighting ships. It was a sight we’d all been waiting for since December 7th—to get a chance at ‘em. We had to check our instruments—make sure we were all set. We up pretty high—about 20,000 feet, and using our oxygen masks.
“From where we were flying, it was quite a picture. Jap carriers were squirming around pretty fast, in a violent maneuver attempting to hide under clouds and to avoid our bombs. There were four of them at least, generally running abreast. I picked out one carrier, and we got direct hits on him. My trailing plane picked up his target—another carrier—and planted hits on him too. We then headed back to Midway, but the Japs were attacking the island, so we had to stay up for the all clear signal. We landed just before noon.”
“What about your second run on Thursday afternoon?” General Hale asked.
Ran Curtain of Fire
“After we gassed up the planes, and loaded bombs, we went out after the carriers again. We ran into a curtain of anti-aircraft fire from heavy cruisers. It was dark when we got back to Midway, and we went right to work on the planes. And by the way—it’s hard enough by day to find that tiny dot called Midway, but at night, it’s like finding a needle in a haystack. However, our navigator did the trick. There was a lot of shrapnel on the runways, so we had to job fixing flat tires, along with the servicing jobs.”
“Then you and the other units made two more attacks the following day, Colonel Allen, four in all, the general asked.
“Yes, sir. We took off before dawn, Friday, with orders to attack eight cruisers, reported to be to the west, rather close in. but instead of being close in, they had withdrawn during the night. Our job was then to go after two Jap battleships which were damaged the day before. We found them, and our flight of four planes divided up the job. Two of us went for one ship, and two for the other. I think we scored at least two hits. Smoke began to pour out of the stern of one of the battleships as we left.
“Our last attack was in the afternoon, after refueling at Midway. We located a cruiser, which we believed to be a decoy for the task force, so we went on about 75 miles to try to find the main body of the fleet. Unable to locate it, we returned to the cruiser and landed a direct hit on him, and came back to Midway.” [Note: the “cruiser” was the U.S. submarine Grayling, which was not hit, but had to crash-dive in order to avoid the B-17s’ bombs. See Miracle at Midway, p. 341.]
“Brooke, you ought to know what the B-17s will do by now,” General Hale said. “What do you think of them?”
Well, sir, those fortresses are the finest ships I’ve every flown, and I think the Japs know what I mean.”
“Yes, Colonel Brooke Allen.
“And you American workmen who built our planes and who will keep on building them can share with the men who flay them, the victory that is ours at Midway,” General Hale continued. “Those great bombers will do the job that has to be done, if we are to live in peace again. All we ask is that you keep on building them, and we’ll keep ‘em flying.
Army History Made
“Army Air Force history was made in more ways than one in the battle of Midway. For the first time in history, an Army airplane used a torpedo in attacking enemy ships. And we sent four Army medium bombers out to launch torpedoes. These are two motored jobs. It was actually the first time that any of our Army fliers had ever dropped in hasted or anger. Even in practice they didn’t release their loads. But when the chips were down, when the opportunity came, they did a marvelous job. Three of the four planes scored hits—and that’s a good batting average for any man’s Army.
“The leader of the medium bomber flight was 26 year old Captain James F. Collins Junior, of Meridian, Mississippi. Captain Collin’s mission was a beautiful example of the cooperation among the services.
“You see, Collins was ordered to Hawaii from an Army field in the Midwest. Then he was ordered to Midway where he was under orders of the Marine command. His participation in the Midway battle was undoubtedly the most dramatic operation of our entire engagement. It typifies the courage and spirit of the Army Air Force under fire. So let’s hear his story.”
“What time were you asked to stand by for action at Midway, Captain Collins?” the announcer asked.
“At six o’clock on the morning of June 4th, we had definite orders that our four planes were going to be used in the battle, and to warm up our engines.”
“When you got in the air, could you see any Jap ships?”
“We were off the field by 6:25 and passed some Jap bombers as they were coming in, high overhead. One fighter was shot down. That was the first one any of us had ever seen. He exploded right over head. At 7 o’clock we sighted the Jap fleet, and six of our single motored navy torpedo planes going in for the attack with us. At 7:15, we were right in the middle of the Japs.”
“What was the first thought that came to mind when you saw all those Jap ships, Captain?”
“We had only one thing in mind, and that was to pick out the target. A carrier. We had to maneuver among several vessels—cruisers and battleships—15 or 18 ships in all, which formed a protective ring around the Jap carriers. These ships were throwing antiaircraft fire in a tight crisscross pattern while the Jap carrier target was all lit up like a neon sign, from the fire from the gun muzzles around the deck. The carriers fire right at you, while ships put up a curtain of fire. While we were passing through all this, we met the first bunch of Jap Zero fighters.”
“How many?” the announcer asked.
“It was a frontal attack—six abreast,” said Captain Collins. “We were at about a thousand feet at the time, and as they commenced to fire, we dove to 200 feet and passed under the fire. It was at this point I lost track of my number 2 and 3 wing men. Then as the antiaircraft commenced to pick us up at 600, we went down stairs again. We could see the water churning under and around us from the hail of gunfire.”
“It was sort of a game of hide and seek, eh?”
“Yes, each fellow trying to outguess the next. So we changed our course to the right and hit the carrier about 20 degrees off her bow. She was endeavoring to turn toward us so we’d have a narrower target.”
“I take it she was outmaneuvered,” the announcer said.
“Yes, we hit her. We released from less than a thousand yards. I could see our number four ship piloted by Lieutenant Muri, slightly under us and to our left, making his attack. His navigator said that our torpedo hit the water cleanly, and when last seen was making a true run for the carrier. The speed of the plane had to be just so, otherwise the torpedo would be effective. So when the right speed had been determined, we let the carrier have the fish.
“Captain Collins,” the announcer asked, “what were the Jap fliers doing while you were maneuvering for the attack?”
“Well, they were on our tail all the time,” the captain answered, “until we got half way back to our Midway base. Our plane received a good many hits. My tail gunner had some plastic glass in his face caused by a shell explosion. Unfortunately, the pilots get most of the credit in an operation such as this, and the crew does all the work. If it hadn’t been for the three gunners and navigator we wouldn’t have gotten there and back. Now you take Sergeant Mohon of Crystal Springs, Mississippi, my nose gunner who did a neat piece of work when we came into the carrier for the kill. Sergeant, spare me a minute here, and give us a report on what was going on at your nose position.”
“Well, Captain,” said Sergeant Mohon, there isn’t much for me to say. All I did was to strafe gun positions on the Jap carrier in order to disturb their aim.”
Saw Men Running
“And disturb their aim you did,” Captain Collins agreed. “As we got closer and passed across the carrier deck, we could see men running around on the deck dodging Sergeant Mohon’s fire. Then, there’s Lieut. Thomas Weems, my navigator. He probably had the TOUGHEST assignment of all. The Japs blew a lot of our instruments and it was his job to figure out which way was home from out there in the middle of the Pacific. My Co-pilot, Lieut. Colin Villines from Chicago, who is just 22, is standing right along side me here at the mike in case I have a crack-up. Villines, let’s hear what your voice sounds like on the gadget.”
“When I take to the air, Collins, I’d rather have a propeller and a pair of wings attached,” Lieutenant Villines said. “But I’ve been thinking, as long as you’re handing out bouquets, you’ve got to hand some to the Marines. We got to know the Marines pretty well at Midway. The boys in the PBY’s, the navy and Marine patrol boats were out 12 hours a day. In fact the cooperation between all the services was tops. Each type of plane had a special job to do.”
“It’s funny what comes to mind when you’re under tension and up to your neck in Japs,” Captain Collins remarked. “When we went through that hail of Ack Ack and fighter fire going in after the Jap carrier, Villines here shouted out, “If my mama could only see me now!”
“What did Captain Collins say through all this, Villines?” asked the announcer.
“Well, after we GOT the Jap carrier, he said HOPEFULLY, “Now, maybe we’ll get a day off.” There were three other men in the tail, Sergeant Raymond White of Altoona, Pennsylvania, Sgt. Jack Dunn of Chicago, and Corporal John Joyce of Taylor, Pennsylvania. The first thing Sergeant White could say when we got back to Midway was, ‘Boy, how I wish I had a beer’.”
“Say, Captain Collins, getting back to the Japs, how many Zeros did your crew tally?” the announcer asked.
“I asked the gunners and they were pretty modest about it. They said three or four. Those Jap fliers were pretty good, wouldn’t you say, Villines?”
“Yes, I’d say so. But they’re human, in the sense that they want to live to fight another day. They stayed clear of our runs as much as possible.”
“How long were you in the air on this highly successful operation, Captain Collins?”
“About three hours. The planes took quite a beating by Jap gunfire. When we came into Midway to land, we found that the hydraulic system was wrecked. You know, our planes have a tricycle landing gear. We got the main gear down alright, but the front gear wouldn’t budge. Consequently we nosed over. Then right after we came in a fighter landed with just one wheel.”
The number four plane in Captain Collin’s carrier mission was the only other plane of the four medium bombers to return to its base, an announcer explained. It also planted a fish on that carrier. This plane was piloted by Lieutenant J. P. Muri of Riverside, California, and Lieutenant Pren Moore of El Centro, California.
“Lieutenant Moore,” he asked, “tell us what happened as your plane went in to attack the carrier in formation with Captain Collins.”
“Just as we were going in for the attack, the belly gunner, Corporal Nello, got a bullet nick on his forehead, above the left eye. He ran up forward to tell us that the other two gunners were hit, and that the ship was on fire. He wanted me to go back and help him move the tail gunner, Private Early Ashley, who was badly hurt. He was pinned behind his gun.....thing out of a plane window.”
“How about Ashley?”
“He was so badly wounded that he couldn’t move from his gun, which was jammed. I couldn’t move him, so I propped him up as best I could. He was suffering intensely, but was conscious, and even helped me load the gun. I gave him some sulfanilamide tablets to stop infection and finally got the gun firing again and went to work on the Jap Zero fighters. Our turret gunner, Sergeant John Gojee, was hit around the face, but he was able to carry on. Our plane was pretty badly shot up, too. The top edges of the wings looked like somebody had gone over them
with a meat chopper. Then the gas tanks were shot up. But thanks to the bullet proofing and expert maneuvering of Lieut. Mori, we got back to Midway, even though our plane—old Susie Q, we call her—had more’n 500 bullet holes in her.
“By the way, that landing that Captain Collins made was one of the prettiest and neatest pieces of business I’ve ever seen. Oh, just a few moments ago, General Hale, we heard from Private Ashley from a base hospital on Oahu and he says he’s mighty anxious to get in the air again.”
General Hale then concluded, “Now these are a few of the men who took part in the attack on the Japanese warships and transports which were steaming toward Midway and Hawaii. The Air Force is proud of all the men who took part in the battle. The way these men handled their planes and fought against the enemy is why millions of our people have had nights of anxiety turned into nights of rest and confidence. At this time it is fitting that we should hear from General Delos C. Emmons, Commanding General of all Army units in the Hawaiian Department.”
(General Emmons’ address is printed elsewhere in this edition.)
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