The Battle of Midway Roundtable

With VP23 at Midway

by Ens. Gerald F. Child


After leaving the Naval Academy because of a problem with calculus, I took a position with General Motors Acceptance Corporation.  During the four years that I was with that company, commencing at their home office at 1775 Broadway in New York and later in two branch offices out in Long Island, New York, I started as an office boy and then served the various positions of posting clerk, assistant bookkeeper, cashier and field representative.  The field representative job included calling on delinquent accounts and sometimes even repossessing a vehicle.  After this four year period I took a position with my uncle, Walter D. Child, in Honolulu as assistant manager of the Blaisdell Hotel which subsequently became a part of the InterIsland Resort complex which included the Kauai Surf, Maui Surf, Kona Surf and the Naniloa Hotel in Hilo.

About a year or so before the War started I volunteered for the Naval Aviation Cadet Program and was sent to Seattle, Washington for preliminary training.  There we received 10 or 15 hours of flight instruction which led to soloing.  Following this I was sent to the Naval Air Station, Corpus Christi, Texas where I was one of 51 members of the first class of Naval Aviation cadets at that station.  I was made Captain of that small Company, as I had also been in Seattle, and as the cadet body grew it became large enough to become a Battalion, I became Battalion Commander, and a few months before I received my wings we were large enough to have a regiment and I enjoyed the position of being Regimental Commander of some 2,600 cadets.

Our graduation occurred on November 1, 1941 and after two weeks' leave I reported to San Diego to board a transport which would take us to Pearl Harbor where I would join VP 23.  We set sail for Pearl on December 5th and had been underway for two days when the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor on the 7th.  The ship was then ordered to return to San Diego where they relieved me of my brand new Chevrolet convertible and my golf clubs.  My remaining personal gear was stowed in two Navy issue canvas suitcases and it was with these that I arrived in Pearl Harbor on Christmas Eve.  Needless to say it was quite a sight coming in the channel to see the terrible damage that we are now all so familiar with.

I should mention that they had the junior officers who were aboard, including myself, stand watches in the crow's nest; apparently they must have felt that enlisted men's eyes were not adequate for such a responsibility.  Some of these watches were at night when it was rather cold and we apparently did not have proper clothing.  When we got to Pearl Harbor we all had to take a physical and the medics decided that I had pneumonia and put me in the hospital for about three weeks.  I then joined the squadron which operated out of Ford Island in Pearl Harbor.  From there we were sent to what were called advance bases which included such places as Palmyra, Johnson and Canton Islands as well as Midway.  From these advance bases we would fly sectors in search patterns for three or four days and then return to Pearl.

This is as good a time as any to state that VP 23 was a PBY squadron: P standing for patrol, B for bombing and Y was the letter designation given to the Consolidated Aircraft Company, the builders.  All of these advance bases just listed were atolls which were really the heads of extinct volcanos.  The PBYs, being seaplanes, would land in the lagoons that were encircled by the atoll, where our plane would be anchored and refueled and supplied by motor launches.  Most of the time we would live and take our major meals ashore in wooden barracks, though sometimes we did remain aboard the plane all night when it was thought that the possibility of an emergency take-off might be necessary.  It might also be mentioned that when we would fly, for instance from Pearl to one of the advance bases, we never were given a direct course to that base.  Rather we were told to fly another sector for so many miles and then cross over to intersect with the island destination.  Since there was complete radio silence it might be appreciated how much celestial and dead-reckoning navigational skills were required to get us to these comparative specks on the ocean, particularly when the destination island might be covered by a rain squall.  But we always made it and seldom with very much difficulty.  Each of the three officers aboard the aircraft was not only a trained naval aviator but also a trained navigator and a trained bombardier - a trained bombardier in the use of the Norden bomb sight.

While we were always given assigned sectors of the ocean to patrol it was frankly never clear to me just what we were looking for, although it is obvious that we were suppose to keep our eyes out for anything that was not friendly - such as a submarine.  During the four or five months that we operated this way the aircraft that I was aboard never did find any enemy ships of any sort nor did any of the other crews with which I was familiar.

Since your basic subject is the Battle of Midway I might mention that my crew operated out of Midway on at least two occasions during this earlier period so we were fairly familiar with the Island when we returned incident to what turned out to be the Battle itself.  During this period they were building a coral runway on one side of the Island and although there were never any planes there when we were, there were certainly a lot of gooney birds, which I believe is a nickname for the famous albatross.  I remember the Commanding Officer of Midway was a Mustang Captain named Simard.  It was very unusual for a former enlisted man to attain such a rank and I understand Captain Simard later became a Commodore before he was retired.

MIDWAY - JUNE 4th, 1942

Midway for VP 23 probably started a month earlier when some of us were sent to the Mainland to pick up some new PBYs.  I was spending the night in my uncle's hotel in Honolulu when about 3:00 a.m. the phone rang and I was told to hurriedly get dressed and come downstairs where a jeep was waiting to take me back to base.  We were then taken aboard a cruiser - I believe it was either the Omaha or the Houston, which went back to San Francisco at forced draft speed.  From there we took a train to San Diego and then stayed at the Officer's Club on North Island.  San Diego was the city where the PBYs were built by Consolidated Aircraft.  Soon it became apparent that we were expected to take the planes back to Fort Island at Pearl Harbor.  I was given the assignment of pre-planning the celestial navigation for the flight.  It was agreed by each of the flight crews that each plane would have a pre-assigned star to take an observed altitude of every hour on the hour during the all night flight.  The calculated altitudes of the same stars were pre-computed in San Diego thereby substantially reducing the time of performing the requirements of celestial navigation.

It will be recalled that the Battle of Midway took place on June 4th and I would guess that we left Pearl Harbor for San Diego about a month earlier and were in San Diego for perhaps five or six days.  My best recollection is that there were approximately six aircraft involved and each of us were outfitted with additional fuel tanks which were put in the hull of the aircraft to supplement the two wing tanks that were the normal source of fuel supply.  I do not remember how far it is from San Diego to Oahu but my best guess is 1,600 to 1,800 miles.  Since PBYs are quite slow, cruising at speeds typically in the 80 knot range one can quickly realize how many hours we would have to be airborne.  I remember that we all taxied down the eastern side of San Diego Bay in order to have the maximum possible take-off run towards the west.  One of the planes never was able to get off the water and was subsequently reassigned to some squadron in Alaska.

The take-off in our particular plane turned out to be exceedingly precarious.  The patrol plane commander, whose name, for reasons I will explain later, will not be repeated here, was seated in the left side of the cockpit and I was on the right side as co-pilot.  Typically in situations such as this the co-pilot handles the throttle while the patrol plane commander (PPC) handles the controls.  Some of us noted that the PPC had liquor on his breath that morning and had apparently been partying most of the night before. Anyway, we too, had a very difficult time getting our heavy load off the water and the problem was complicated by the fact that there was no way we could get enough altitude to fly over Point Lorna, which is on the western side of San Diego Bay, and therefore the aircraft had to be maneuvered in a manner that would take us out the channel between Point Lorna and North Island.  At the base of the area where the channel entered San Diego Harbor there was a fuel dump with perhaps six or eight huge fuel tanks.  About half way through the takeoff the pilot sort of panicked and motioned to me to take over the controls.  At this point we were pretty well committed because we were airborne and it was absolutely essential that the aircraft be maneuvered in a manner to avoid striking the fuel tanks or crashing into Point Lorna.  Somehow, I managed to make the required turn and skimmed over the fuel tanks by a very narrow margin and managed to fly out of the channel safely and finally get some altitude at which point the PPC took over the controls once again.

It was agreed that we would rendezvous with the other aircraft just west of Point Lorna and at a pre-designated altitude of perhaps 2,000 or 3,000 feet.  When the rendezvous was completed without the presence of one of the aforementioned aircraft, all aircraft headed west on the designated course.  Shortly after we were heading west, the PPC said that he was going have to use the relief tube and turned the controls over to me.  About a half hour later he still had not returned so I inquired of one of the crew and was told that he was sleeping on one of the canvas bunks in the hull.

A PBY has an automatic pilot which usually works quite well, however, unfortunately, on this particular occasion, after about an hour it went out completely necessitating manually flying the aircraft by myself as the third pilot who was aboard was assigned the duties of doing all the navigation for the entire flight.  The next morning at about 8:00a.m., we sighted Barber's Point, just outside of Pearl Harbor and about that time the PPC returned to the cockpit, furious that he had been allowed to sleep so long, and took over the controls.  Actually the entire crew was happy to have him sleeping rather than having him flying on that particular occasion, but he did make the landing in Pearl Harbor and we all returned to our squadron on Ford Island.

A day or two later we were all assembled in the squadron ready room and were told that the entire squadron would be flying to Midway Island.  Among those present was Rear Admiral C. Aubrey Fitch who told us that our mission would be hazardous and wished us God's speed or some words to that effect.  No one had ever talked to us that way before so we knew something special was up.  Happily, by this time I had been assigned to another aircraft, the PPC of which was a fellow named "Swede" Theuson.  His formal front name was Theodore.  Swede Theuson in my book was one of the finest "big boat" pilots in the Navy and flying with him was quite different than some of my earlier experiences.  A couple of years after this time he was made PPC of the Mars which was a very large flying boat built by Martin Aircraft Company which was used mostly to fly personnel, in contrast to combat responsibilities.

The flight to Midway was perhaps four hours long.  The squadron commander, Massey Hughes, was a passenger aboard our aircraft. Squadron commanders and even executive officers of PBY squadrons did not do much flying themselves, at least not in VP 23.

When we got to Midway we were instructed to assemble in the Officers' Mess where some Captain from Admiral Nimitz' staff, whose name escapes me now, gave us a detailed outline on what our mission was to be.  He informed us that our submarines had spotted a Japanese invasion force consisting of many transports and various escorting vessels.  He also told us that they had another force consisting of four aircraft carriers and many battleships, cruisers and destroyers.  You could have heard a pin drop in that room because none of us had any idea what forces we had that could resist those of the Japanese.

Those who have read the history of this period will recall that the Battle of the Coral Sea had just taken place, perhaps a week or ten days earlier and we had suffered rather severe losses, including one of our major aircraft carriers, the Lexington.  The Captain then went on to say that all of our forces who were at the Coral Sea were steaming back towards Midway at forced draft to take a position on the northeast flank of the Island.  It will also be remembered that after the war it became known that this information was not gathered by our submarines but rather was made possible by the fact that we had broken the Japanese code, information which remained throughout the rest of the War the highest classified secret possible.

It was then explained to us that the responsibilities of VP 23 would be for each plane to fly separate sectors which in total would cover approximately the northerly 180° above the Island.  The Army Air Force had some Flying Fortresses on the Island as the airstrip was by then operational.  We were told that they were expected to cover the southwest segment of the pie.  I should mention that a sector is a pie shaped configuration.

We were told that each plane covering a sector would be expected to fly out 700 miles, cross over, I have forgotten how many miles, and then come back.  In so doing it was hoped and anticipated that one or more aircraft would be able to spot the enemy's attacking forces.  It might also be mentioned here that the weather and visibility were very satisfactory for the first 200 miles north of Midway but after that there was a weather "front" which reduced the visibility to almost zero.  It was not unlike a huge white curtain.  Actually, we learned later that the Japanese, through the use of their fishing fleet, had carefully studied this weather phenomenon for a period of a number of years and planned their invasion to take advantage of this important cover.  So that meant that all of us had 200 miles of good weather to fly through and good visibility and 500 miles of poor to zero visibility.

Our first flight was about May 24th or 25th.  In any event it was 10 days before the actual Battle and for each of these 10 days we would get up about 2:00 a.m. and take off at dawn.  Because enemy fleets cover many, many square miles of ocean, our orders were that even if we sighted an enemy vessel, or vessels, we were to continue on our course and complete our assigned section of coverage.  We were also told that the only exception to these orders would be if we were to hear on our radio the voice command the code words "Farmer in the dell", in which case we were to abandon our earlier orders and fly to a place called French Frigate Shoal which as the name implies is just that, a shoal, which would provide a lee where a landing could be made and where in time a destroyer or some other vessel would come to assist us.  French Frigate Shoal is northeast of Midway, maybe 150 miles.  On the day of the Battle at approximately 8:00 a.m. as I recall, one of the aircraft reported that it had sighted an enemy aircraft carrier and a squadron of aircraft heading for Midway.  He indicated the course and estimated speed of the enemy and signed off stating that he was heading for the alternate base, French Frigate Shoal.  We recorded the information he gave us on our navigational charts and continued on our assignment.  Some minutes later another aircraft identified itself and said that it, too, was leaving for French Frigate Shoal.  So this aircraft was checked off on our chart, as well.  Within the hour all the other aircraft in the squadron had similarly reported that they were going to French Frigate Shoal which caused us to wonder if we had failed to hear the order that authorized them to do so, namely, "Farmer in the dell".

Swede and I briefly discussed this fact and agreed that neither one of us had heard such an order and further agreed that we would continue on course and attempt to complete our assignment.  We then, after some time, reached the end of our 700 mile leg, crossed over, and began our return leg.  At this point we really had no idea who was winning the War and whether or not we even had a safe base to return to.  At this time we decided to open up on our radio and request instructions.  This we did and quite promptly received orders to "change course to another heading and establish and maintain contact with enemy".

The weather had cleared and even though there were scattered clouds the visibility was really very good.  We had not been on our new heading very long when all of a sudden we saw on the horizon what appeared to be naval vessels and also what appeared to be shells landing in the water nearby them.  Some miles to the east of that sight there was a similar sight where shells were appearing to land on the water adjacent to those ships, as well.  It appeared from our vantage point that we were witnessing a naval surface engagement.  It later turned out we were wrong in that.  What we were actually witnessing was the afternoon strike of our carrier aircraft who had hit the enemy earlier in the day, returned to their ships, rearmed and refueled and were striking again that afternoon.  This is what we were actually witnessing at that time.

We continued towards the nearest group of ships and got close enough to where we could identify them by their silhouettes.  We had a silhouette manual in our plane and we could identify the carriers by their silhouettes and did so.  We could also identify the destroyers which appeared to be circling the carriers.  The carriers were burning very badly, and later on, as I believe has been recorded, four of them (Japanese carriers) were lost completely at the Battle of Midway.  In order to get a better view and to continue radioing to Midway what we saw in describing the types of ships and their conditions we kept flying closer to the enemy.  After a while we got close enough that the enemy started firing on us with their anti-aircraft guns.  At first, they were not even close but after a few minutes they corrected their firing accuracy and got close enough that on one occasion a shell burst off our starboard wing, close enough to make the aircraft lurch rather drastically.  At that time we made a quick retreat and headed for the nearest cloud cover.  We stayed in that cloud cover for some minutes and then ventured out again and continued our reporting.  After some minutes of this, which probably was 30-45 minutes in all, we headed towards the other group of vessels that we had seen earlier and did the same there as far as the silhouettes and reporting to Midway by radio was concerned.  All the radio reports were encoded - that is we did not use plain language.

What I would actually do being the co-pilot: I wrote down on a pad of paper a description of what we were seeing and handed it back aft to the radio shack where it was encoded by the radio man and sent to Midway.  We had the same experience with this other group and were again shot at by the escorting destroyers.  Actually the destroyers in both places were circling the damaged aircraft carriers which were still afloat at that time, though burning from stem to stern.  It appeared that they were picking up survivors because they were cruising very slowly in the water, kind of encircling the damaged carriers.

Once again we headed for cloud cover and I recall one time when we came out of the cover we were fairly low and beneath us was a Japanese battleship.  We were close enough to see the crew running, apparently afraid that we would be dropping a bomb on them, or something to that effect.  The ship appeared to be damaged as well, as it was steaming in a circle.  We saw one other damaged aircraft carrier and had similar experiences and then decided that we would request permission to return to base.  We were given such permission with the salutation "well done".

The third officer in the aircraft was acting as navigator for the day and when we requested a course heading from him to return to the base he advised us that he had not been doing any navigating at all for the last two to three hours which of course would have been quite difficult to do but could have been done in at least crude manner on a dead reckoning basis.  He therefore admitted that he had no idea where we were. About that time, much to our surprise, a Japanese Zero, came out of nowhere, obviously having left its aircraft carrier before the afternoon attack took place: he made four passes at us.  We could not see the small 25 caliber bullets that they used in their wing guns, but we could, as he approached from our nose or our quarter see his 20 millimeter caliber shell coming out of the nose of his prop.  It was a very uncomfortable sight.  But it all happened so quickly.

Swede was flying the aircraft and instinctively, the evasive action of hitting the deck, meaning going to as close to the surface of the water as we could safely fly and also make violent turns so to provide the Zero with maximum deflection as he attempted to target us.  Another thing that turned out to be to our advantage is that our flying speed was so much less than the Zero's that by flying slowly and making a maximum turn as he made each pass made us a more difficult target than we otherwise would have been.  But nevertheless on his fourth pass he set our port wing tank afire.

I should mention here that one of the tanks, the starboard one, was self-sealing in substance in the sealing that if perforated the rubberized tank would fill the damaged area.  However, a self-sealing tank cannot carry as much fuel as one that is not self-sealing thereby reducing the aircraft's range capabilities. So the Navy, in its wisdom, decided one is better than none, and, of course, the enemy hit the wrong one. However, the PBY also carries a purging system which is manipulated by the use of a lever and by putting the lever in the open position a strong blast of C02 is released into the tank which has the effect of expelling the fuel in the tank, hopefully before too much damage is done to the aircraft.  This we did; it worked very well and I guess the enemy in seeing the flame and the smoke figured that he had us and for that matter I guess we kind of figured he had us too, and he shoved off.  Nevertheless, we were successful in putting out the fire.  However, in so doing we lost a lot of our remaining fuel and that accompanied with the fact that we did not know where we were, engendered a rather serious problem.  We did know that no matter where we were we still had a serious fuel supply problem and therefore a decision was made to put the aircraft on what is called "automatic lean".

Automatic lean is a position of the throttles which takes the control of the throttle away from the cockpit and places it in the hands of the Plane Captain.  The Plane Captain is an enlisted man who sits in what is called the "tower".  The tower is the portion of the aircraft between the hull and the wing.  There are instruments pertaining to fuel supply and levers that he controls which enable him to switch fuel from one tank to another, and so on.  One of the things that he can do is to set the aircraft on automatic lean which enables it to consume minimum fuel.  In consuming less fuel the airspeed is reduced very substantially and probably was in the neighborhood of upper 60 knots or lower 70 knots.  We also made a decision to open up on our radio again and request that Midway take a bearing on us in order to give us a course to return to base.  A bearing such as this can give a location when a cross fix is made.  A cross fix is made when one bearing is taken and then the aircraft moves in a horizontal direction of a few miles different and another bearing is taken, and where the two bearings intersect gives Midway, in this case, the opportunity to determine the position of the aircraft and thereby give us a course.

They took the first bearing and told us to make a 90 degree turn.  I was in the cockpit by myself as Swede was back in the radio shack helping in the radio communications with Midway.  Swede called up to me to make the 90° turn.  When you fly an aircraft at very low speeds it is necessary to increase the acceleration if a turn is made otherwise the plane is apt to spin.  I moved the throttles forward in a routine manner and simultaneously made my rudder turn.  I had completely overlooked the fact that I had no control of the throttle and nothing was really happening to increase the speed.  Therefore, the inevitable occurred, and the aircraft went into a spin!

We had perhaps 2,500 feet of altitude then and I recall by the time I got it out of the spin which I had to do by myself because the centrifugal force was such that Swede could not get up into the cockpit to give me a hand.  I did manage, however, to pull it out of the spin at something less than 500 feet.  That was a very hairy experience and all of us aboard that craft were very fortunate to be alive that day, if not for other reasons, for this reason alone.

Under normal circumstances all of this exercise could have been avoided as we would have simply climbed through the overcast cover that was above us and taken celestial sights and determined our position in that manner.  But in order to climb one has to have increased power and increased power means expending more fuel, and we made the decision to ask Midway for help instead.

By this time it was pretty late in the evening, perhaps 8:00 p.m.  The plane captain was watching his fuel very carefully and letting us know how much remained.  A decision was made that when we got low we would make a forced landing at sea and attempt to save five minutes fuel supply which could be used for running generators to maintain radio communications after landing.  Of course, Swede was in the cockpit with me by then and when the time came to land we did not even know for sure where the wind was.  Anyone who has flown or knows anything about flying knows that it is almost essential to land into the wind, particularly in an open sea.

We had one parachute flare and we had about a half a dozen smoke bombs.  A smoke bomb during daylight leaves smoke when it strikes water.  A smoke bomb at night shows a flare.  It was our plan to use our last known wind and to take a course down wind at a fairly low altitude and drop the smoke lights and also drop the single parachute flare that we had, and then make a 180° turn back into the wind while descending and hopefully return to the lights that we had dropped earlier and use them as landing lights as you would see on a regular airfield to help us determine where the surface of the water was.  Unfortunately, as we were making our descent and our 180° turn we did so, apparently too rapidly, as when we got down to where we should see the flares, all we saw was one remaining and that was soon out of sight so we therefore had to make an instrument landing in the open sea in total darkness.  This was accomplished in the following manner:

Swede had the controls at his command; I read the instruments, and as I would look at the instruments which included the needle and the ball position, also the horizon indicator and also the air speed and the altitude, I would call these positions out to Swede, including his headings because he had to use every bit of his attention to see the ocean at the time that the landing was to take place.  Those who know the Pacific know that unlike the Atlantic which is quite choppy, the Pacific is, as its name implies, quite tranquil most of the time, but it does have large swells rather consistently.  By continuing to recite these conditions into my mouthpiece, Swede, with his extreme flying skills, was able to bring the plane down safely.  We did have wing lights, one light on each wing, and that was of some assistance to him when he got almost at the surface of the water but really not very much.  He hit the side of one of the swells rather heavily and the plane bounced off the water and came down and hit again and then bounced up again and finally settled down on the third bounce.

It was not the most beautiful landing in the world but it probably also was the only time that a PBY had ever been landed by instruments in an open sea on a pitch black night; for that matter the spin that the PBY was in an hour or two earlier was probably the first time a PBY had ever been in a spin - so we had a few firsts that day.

When the plane was settled on the water there was not a sound to be heard throughout the hull for several minutes.  Then we could tell that one of the enlisted men had a pint of whiskey in his bag and was passing it around.  By the time it got up to the cockpit it was empty although maybe Swede had a swig; I really do not recall.  I know that there was none left over for the co-pilot.  I then remember letting myself down from my seat onto the catwalk below.  It was probably a foot or 18 inches below the seat itself.  When I placed my two feet down on the catwalk my knees buckled from under me and I had to grab the seat to keep from falling on the floor.  I realize now that that was a form of shock which very soon went away.

All hands turned to determine the condition of the aircraft and found that we were shipping water rather rapidly through the hull and we realized that this would have to be corrected if we wanted to stay afloat.  It turned out that we had received quite a number of 25 caliber holes in the hull and it was through these holes that the water was entering the aircraft.  I do not know whose idea it was, whether it was mine or someone else's, it does not really matter, but we had a number of pencils in the navigation compartment and also a pencil sharpener and we found that by jamming the sharpened pencils into the holes and then snapping the pencil off we could make a temporary plug of the leak.  That was repeated time and time again as more holes were found.  The way the holes were found was by just simply sticking one's hand into the water in the hull and moving it until they could feel water squirting in, and of course that revealed the location of the hole.  That helped but, of course, bailing went on all the time too.

We still did not know where we were but we had noticed that the overcast had cleared and the skies were clearly visible so Swede and I got out the octant - the octant being a bubble octant that one might recognize as taking the place of a sextant in order to determine the altitude of a celestial body.  We took three sights and got a pretty good fix and then we decided that we would be drifting.  We found that by throwing a paper plate or a paper cup over the side and keeping a flashlight on it we could take a bearing with our Polaris which is an instrument that is located on either side of the hull of a PBY, and, in conjunction with the compass heading shown in the cockpit, we could estimate the direction in which we were drifting quite accurately.  We had to, of course, guess the speed of the drift.  So we did this periodically throughout the night and the following morning as well.  In order to reduce the amount of the drift we used sea anchors, we had two of them.  A sea anchor is a canvas arrangement on the end of a rope that helps deter drift.

A squall came up in the morning and since we did not have very much water we broke out a parachute and kind of gathered it in a manner that we could catch some rain water and did actually get perhaps a couple of cups that way.  We also had a boat hook aboard and we kind of gerry-rigged the same parachute against the boat hook and made a kind of improvised sail which we hoped would assist us in keeping on some reasonable course towards Midway.  However, in the afternoon we noticed a plane on the horizon that was coming in our direction and after Swede ordered all the guns to be manned in case it was enemy (we had four machine guns aboard) we found out that it was friendly as he wagged his wings towards us and then flew away.  An hour or so later we saw a ship on the horizon which turned out to have come from Task Force 16 which was chasing what was left of the enemy (of course we had to learn all of this later).

A little while later, Destroyer Monahan lowered a whale boat which came up alongside us and ordered us to evacuate the aircraft "on the double", which we did.  We went aboard the Monahan having abandoned the PBY and were in the ward room when the Captain came in and introduced himself and happened to ask if we had the Norden bomb sight aboard.  We told him that we had and he asked, what we did with it? Neither Swede nor I knew what we did with it so we asked the man who was the bombardier in the aircraft to come up and tell us what happened.  He came up to the ward room and said that he left it aboard and we said we told you to heave it: he said "heave it, I thought you said leave it."  Well, with that, the skipper reported the dilemma to Admiral Spruance because the Norden bomb sight was really something that was considered very important in those days and certainly nothing you would want in enemy hands.  We were ordered to return to the plane and retrieve the sight, which we did.  In so doing, the Monahan got so far behind the Task Force that it was ordered to change course and go to the aircraft carrier Yorktown which had been severely damaged the day before and act as a screen during an attempted salvage operation.

When we got to the Yorktown we noted that another destroyer was tied up alongside her, I believe she was called the Hammond, and we and another destroyer started circling the Yorktown slowly.  Not long thereafter the sonar equipment aboard the destroyer picked up the sound of a submarine and pretty soon we and the other destroyer were dropping depth charges on it.  I do not recall how many but perhaps a dozen or so.  After a while we lost contact.  About sunset a submarine surfaced on the horizon emitting a rather substantial quantity of yellow smoke.  Those who knew such things told us that the the smoke was caused by battery damage that had apparently been inflicted by the depth charges.  The Jap was a gutsy fellow because pretty soon he opened up on us with his three inch, or whatever it was, deck gun and, of course, we, the Monahan, returned the fire.  Fortunately for us he never did hit the Monahan nor the other destroyer, although some of his shells came certainly within 100 feet or so of us.

When night fall came, darn if the Jap did not begin firing star shells so he could get better sights on us.  We fired star shells back at him too, and for a half hour or an hour or so there was a nice little surface engagement going on which I guess might be described as the only surface engagement associated with the Battle of Midway.

Quite obviously, unless there were more than one submarine around, we did not do too much damage to him because the next morning someone shouted "torpedo on the starboard side" and we looked over and there, 100 or 200 feet or so away from us, was a torpedo wake heading for the Yorktown and which did hit it.  So the Monahan and the other destroyer went on the chase again.  I really do not recall that we had any visual results.  I believe it was the next morning, shortly after we got up, that we witnessed the Yorktown rolling over on her side and going down by her bow.  I believe she was the only ship that we lost during the Battle of Midway.

The Monahan was then ordered to join a fleet tanker to be refueled and joined it as it was refueling the Enterprise.  After she got through refueling the Enterprise she pulled over on our starboard side and began refueling us.  When she did all of us who had been survivors were transferred to the tanker by Breaches Buoy.

One of the other fellows that was aboard the Monohan was another aviator named Clarence Dickenson, who was a fighter pilot off the Enterprise who had been shot down a few days earlier.  Since he wanted to rejoin his ship he was transferred to the Enterprise by Breaches Buoy.  Dickenson was a first classman when I was a plebe at the Naval Academy and he sat at the head of our table in our mess hall, so when we met again on the Monahan we both recognized each other rather readily.  After he got aboard the Enterprise he reported to Admiral Spruance, who was commander of Task Force 16.  He must have told the Admiral that there were a couple of fellows on the Destroyer who had seen quite a bit of the Battle of Midway.  The next thing I knew my name was being called out on a bull horn and I was told to report to the bridge.  When I got up there they put me on a telephone that was hooked up with the Enterprise and someone introduced himself as "Captain so and so" on Admiral Spruance's staff.  The Admiral gave us orders that as soon as we returned to Pearl Harbor we were to report to Admiral Nimitz direct, and that he was advising the Admiral to that effect.

A little side light that occurred about the same time happened when I happened to look up on the flight deck, I guess it was some place on the Enterprise, and recognized a very dear friend of mine and former Naval Academy classmate named Syd Bottomley.  He also recognized me and we were able to communicate with one another briefly by tapping out a Morse Code message on the railing.  I think that the gist of the message was that we would agree to meet at the Officer's Club at Ford Island first chance we had.  Syd was a dive bomber pilot off the "Big E" and I learned later that he got a direct hit on one of the carriers for which he was awarded the Navy Cross.

A day or so later we were steaming in the channel on the tanker in Pearl Harbor and while so doing a kind of a barge or gig type boat came up alongside, and somebody aboard hailed my name and I was able to respond.  Theuson and I were asked to disembark from the ship while it was still underway proceeding up the channel and so Swede and I did just that by a Jacobs Ladder which was lowered over the side.  This small boat took us to shore where there was a station wagon type of car waiting for us which took us directly to Admiral Nimitz' personal quarters which were on a hillside overlooking Pearl Harbor.

The Admiral was having dinner with some of his staff and guests; I remember Admiral Gormly who had been at the Coral Sea Battle was one of the guests as was Commander John Ford, the movie director who had been on Midway Island at the time of the attack, and either he or his crew had filmed quite a bit of the action that occurred when the Japanese bombed the Island.  The Admiral asked us to stay for dinner; we both declined stating that we could get our dinner at the Officer's Club as soon as finished our report.  But he insisted that we stay and when the steward told him there was no more food in the kitchen he asked him to prepare bacon and eggs which he did.  The Admiral moved a couple of the guests down the table and put the two of us on his right and asked if we would please make the report.

Swede asked me to do the talking and I commenced by being right in the air above the enemy when the Admiral interrupted and asked me to go back to the beginning: which squadron did we come from, and all that sort of preliminary detail.  Then we recounted the experience that we had in the Battle as far as the observances that we made were concerned - not some of the other details that I have described herein.

When we got all through our report the Admiral turned to me and said, "what did you say your name was son," and I said, "my name is Child, sir."  And he said "do you happen to be the son of Warren Child? and I said "yes, sir" and he said "in that case I used to bounce you on my knee when you were a baby".  That all came about by the fact that before my father became a naval aviator (number 29), he was a qualified submarine commander, and the submarine that he commanded was one of those in a flotilla that was then commanded by Admiral Nimitz.  That would have been perhaps 1914, something like that.  It was a very pleasant experience meeting the Admiral and when it was time for us to leave he personally escorted us to the door and out to the car where a driver took us back to the B.O.Q.  The following day we reported back to the squadron and learned that the order "Farmer in the dell" was never given.  I guess one of the crew acted as though it had been given and the others simply followed suit, probably figuring that somehow they had failed to hear the message.

Not much later the squadron, perhaps only part of it, I do not really remember, but I know that Commander Hughes did not go with us and I know that the Executive Officer, Jimmy Ogden, did.  Where we were next ordered to go was to the city of Suva in the Fiji Islands which had a very good harbor and which was suitable for landing an aircraft like a PBY.  As I recall we were only there two or three days. This is a French colony and the French officers who were there were very gracious to us and took us to their club and entertained us very nicely. The only problem was that none of them could speak English and very few of us could speak French; but I was sort of unofficially made the squadron translator even though I had not seen a French book for eight or ten years.

Suva is a city I will always remember for two reasons.  The first being that their policemen were very tall, handsome young men who wear short pants and knee length stockings and are immediately recognized by a very conspicuous and large Afro type haircut, and also by their smiling white teeth and their friendly greetings, using the word "Bulla".  Bulla apparently means good morning, good evening, how are you and greetings, and all those sort of good things.  The other reason many of us will remember Suva is that we stayed in a hotel, the beds in which were canopied with mosquito nettings all around the sides and in the dining room the toast was served in linen covered silver toast racks, and there was real marmalade.

I should have mentioned that when we left Pearl Harbor en route to Suva we had overnight stops in both Palmyra and Canton Islands.  I have just picked up my log book and noted that we left Suva for Noumea in New Caledonia on July 11th.  In Noumea we stayed aboard the aircraft tender Curtis which provided such luxuries as laundry and barber services as well as the capability to remove the aircraft from the water and service it aboard ship, but normally all the aircraft were simply anchored in the harbor.

The following are notes taken from my log book:

Our patrols were both in the day time and night time and the log indicates that on several occasions both day and night flights occurred on the same day.

From Noumea we went to the Island of Efate in the New Hebrides group, from which we would fly north on rather extensive patrols.  Efate was very primitive: we were quartered in a tented area where a battalion of CBs were building a base.  I remember the shower facilities consisted of about a half mile walk from our tents to a stream in which the CBs had rigged up a shower comprised of a small gasoline driven pump which pumped water from a stream up into a horizontally suspended bamboo pole that had holes drilled in it.  By standing underneath the area where the holes were one would receive a mixture of cool, fresh water and sand, but the objective was achieved.  It will not be necessary to describe the bathroom or toilet facilities.

I note from my log that on July 21st we were loaded with four 500 pound bombs, two under either wing.  The mission was to bomb the Island of Tulagi in the Solomon group which, as I recall, is just north of Guadalcanal.  Our bombing altitude was 10,000 feet. We flew in a formation of three aircraft. Climbing to the designated altitude was mostly through solid cloud cover and therefore we had to fly wing tip to wing tip in order not to lose sight of the lead plane.  As I recall we made two bombing runs using the Norden bomb sight, dropping two bombs on each occasion.  I would like to say that we got direct hits but the truth is that none of us really had any idea how effective our bombing attempts were.  We also had several other bombing runs from Efate to Tulagi.  Also we had several nights of operating out of a bay called Marmaseki Bay on the Island of Malaita.  Malaita is the southernmost island in the Solomon group.  While operating out of this location we had to live aboard our planes the whole time.  A World War II destroyer would come in each evening and refuel our aircraft using hand pumps and 50 gallon drums which were in a whale boat.  They also brought us sandwiches for our meals and canned juices.  All of our takeoffs from this Island were at night time where we would taxi out into the open bay and then let the plane drift into the wind, note the heading of the compass as we were into the wind and then apply throttle in order to make the instrument takeoff.  Marmaseki Bay was noted for its coral heads which were uncharted, but fortunately we never did strike any of them during takeoffs or landings.

I do recall one evening some natives came up in their outriggers and in broken English, taught to them by missionaries, and advised us that the Japanese were occupying the other side of the Island and that they, the Japs, were aware of our presence.  This made the nights rather uncomfortable because in order to have enough water to anchor we had to be very close to shore so therefore we maintained all night watches, each of us taking turns pacing up and down the wing.

The log book indicates that on August 18th we located and tracked an enemy task force and encountered some AA flak.  Enemy planes did not press home attack on us.  I remember our method of tracking this force was to fly as low to the water as we possibly could - staying beneath the horizon of the enemy ships and then periodically for just brief moments increase our altitude sufficiently to identify and photograph the task force.

On August 11 we were back on the Curtis in Nournea when after dinner a Lt. William Sampson came into the ward room and said that his co-pilot was ill and that he would have to ask for a volunteer to fly on a special mission the following morning.  As I recall several of us raised our hands but Sampson selected me because he recognized me from the Naval Academy where he was two classes ahead of me and we were pretty good friends at the time.  His nickname was Willy.  Some years ago he and his wife visited us at our home here in Tacoma but I understand that he has now passed away.

Our mission turned out to be from Nournea to Guadalcanal.  The reason for the flight was that our marines, under the command of General A. A. Vandergrift, had attacked Guadalcanal on August 7th and the battle was so intense that with many casualties and the further problem of a breakdown in communications, meaning the radio facilities were not adequate to provide the invading forces with the capability of transmitting their needs to Noumea.  Some lieutenant commander from Admiral John McCain's COMAIRSOPAC staff was assigned to take a portfolio of messages to General Vandergrift.  My role was that of co-pilot and navigator, mostly the latter.

About five hours later we landed on the Lunga airstrip which was later called Henderson Field during the tour of the famed Marine pilots, Pappy Boyington, Joe Foss, and other Congressional Medal fighter pilots.  The Field had never even been used by the Japanese as it was not complete.  A fighter would not have been able to land on it, but a PBY, having a slow landing speed and, in this case, amphibious, was able to make the attempt.  Willy did a fine job of controlling the plane but even then ran out of runway and had to "ground loop" in order to keep from running off the runway into a coconut grove.  The General himself met us and the officers were all loaded into a jeep and taken up to his headquarters which consisted of a tent in the jungle on kind of a knoll.  There the lieutenant commander passenger took his briefcase in the General's tent and I guess exchanged messages with one another that were needed to be done.  I sat outside twiddling my toes and really did nothing except take all of their pictures with an official camera that I had carried with me all the time ever since failing to have one during the Battle of Midway.

Willy Sampson obtained a letter signed by the General stating that our aircraft was the first US aircraft to land in previously held Japanese territory and for that matter it turned out to be the first aircraft to land in any previously held enemy territory in any theater of World War II.  The date was August 12th, 1942.  We were probably on the Island less than two hours.  All of our names were listed in the General's letter.  In the meantime two badly wounded persons were put aboard our plane for the flight back to Noumea.  We left quite abruptly as the Japanese-built radar had become operational and it picked up blips that indicated a flight of enemy aircraft was on its way.

While the takeoff was more or less uneventful it might be mentioned here that prior to leaving Noumea, Willy had had all the guns and ammunitions stripped from the aircraft to reduce our weight.  When we got back to Noumea we were met by Admiral McCain who was Willy's boss: actually Willy was Admiral McCain's aide.  The Admiral himself was on the boat, his Barge, to meet us and take us back to shore.

We continued more patrols both during the day and sometimes at night for the next couple of weeks and on September 5th we departed Espírito Santos for Suva and then reversed our trip back to Pearl through Canton and Palmyra, arriving back at our home base on the 7th of September.  All of us were subjected to physical exams and once more I wound up in the naval hospital at Pearl as the doctors had discovered a suspicious spot on my lung.  After about a month of hospitalization there I was put aboard a transport and sent to San Diego.

I failed to mention that when we left Espírito Santos we were advised that we were going to have a passenger, a Navy doctor, lieutenant commander.  We were also told that he was being returned for hospitalization because he had become addicted to drugs.  We were given a sufficient supply of syringes containing drugs and instructions as to how often we should permit him to use one.  He and I were in the hospital at Pearl Harbor at the same time and both being ambulatory patients we found that playing bridge was a pretty good way of passing a few hours of the day.  Later on we were both transferred at the same time to the San Diego hospital where we continued to play bridge.  He was a very decent and pleasant fellow and also a splendid bridge player.  I was subsequently transferred to the Bremerton hospital and from there to the Sand Point hospital in Seattle, so I lost track of the gentleman and certainly hope that he had a full recovery.

A sad note that probably should be mentioned occurred when some of our crews were patrolling in the South Pacific.  You remember when we flew from San Diego to Pearl Harbor in late May, the PPC slept during most of the flight and the unfortunate thing about the man was that when we had time off from our various missions and were still at Pearl Harbor the pilots were all expected to spend as much time as possible in the Link trainer.  The Link trainer is a device that is used to assist in the teaching of instrument flying.  Unfortunately, our friend, instead of doing instrument flying, would go to the Officer's Club and have a few.  When I was flying with him out of Pearl I noticed that whenever we got under instrument conditions, such as flying through a squall or some other form of weather front, he always had something else to do and would turn the flying over to me.  The sad part of the story was that when we were down in the South Pacific flying in the Santa Cruz or the New Hebrides area he went out on a flight with seven other men aboard.  The weather was reported bad, and no one ever heard from them again.

One final note - this one being on a much lighter scale and, perhaps a fitting way to end this altogether too long discourse, is to state that a few years after the War was over I was elected president of the Tacoma Chapter of the Navy League.  In that capacity I attended the annual convention of the Navy League which was held in San Francisco that particular year.  They had a special reception for the presidents of the various chapters and the guests of honor at the reception was Admiral Nimitz and his wife.  A number of people were gathered around him to pay their respects and when my turn seemed to sort of come I approached the Admiral and reintroduced myself as Gerry Child.  He said "I remember you" and then extended his hand over to his wife who was standing nearby talking to the Secretary of the Navy, and said, "dear, I want you to meet Warren's son".

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