The Battle of Midway Roundtable
A Vivid Memory of Midway
Commander Clayton E. Fisher, USN-Ret
by Ronald Russell
(The following originally appeared
in Veterans Biographies, distributed during the annual Battle of Midway
commemoration in San Francisco, June 2006)
In September 1941, upon completion of pilot training
advanced carrier training in Florida, Ensign Clayton E. Fisher was assigned to
Bombing Squadron 8 (VB-8) aboard the brand new carrier USS Hornet (CV-8)
at Norfolk, Virginia. The ship was
placed in commission in October, and for the next few months conducted
shakedown and training operations in the Atlantic and Caribbean. One day in March 1942, two Army B-25 medium
bombers were mysteriously brought aboard the ship just before it got underway
for an unexplained operation. The VB-8
pilots were amazed to see the two big planes take off from the carrier. Without knowing it, they had witnessed the
first operational test of Lt. Col. Jimmie Doolittle’s proposal for attacking
the Japanese mainland with carrier-launched B-25s.
Fisher and the rest of the Hornet’s
crew got to see the real thing two months later, as Doolittle and his sixteen
B-25s launched from the ship on their dramatic mission that stunned the enemy’s
high command. As a direct result,
Japanese Admiral Yamamoto was given the go-ahead for his expansive Midway
operation, in which Fisher flew five missions as the pilot of a VB-8 SBD dive
The morning of 4 June 1942 saw the Hornet
airmen’s first combat sortie.
Fisher was assigned to fly wing on the air group commander, an honor
that brought him a great deal of apprehension since the much-feared Japanese
Zeros would seek out the group commander’s flight in any air combat. But it was not to be—only Torpedo Squadron 8
(VT-8) among the Hornet’s four squadrons made contact with the enemy
carriers; the rest returned to the ship or in some cases landed in the sea due
to lack of fuel.
Later that same day, VB-8 was sent
with other squadrons to attack the Japanese carrier Hiryu, which had
escaped the devastating strikes that morning by USS Yorktown and USS Enterprise
aircraft. The Hiryu was
already fatally hit by the time VB-8 arrived overhead, so the squadron dove on
one of its escorting cruisers. Fisher’s
1000-pound bomb failed to release at the bottom of his dive, nearly driving his
SBD into the water. As it happened, the
extra weight propelled his plane through and beyond the enemy task force at an
enormous speed, and he was relieved to see Japanese antiaircraft gunners firing
well behind him as a result.
By the following day, June 5th, four
enemy carriers had been sunk, but Admiral Spruance, was uncertain whether there
might be more. While searching for
additional Japanese ships, a lone destroyer, the Tanikaze, was sighted
and attacked by multiple Navy squadrons as well as two flights of Army
B-17s. Fisher’s bomb missed just astern
of the ship, which may have been the luckiest vessel on either side in the
Battle of Midway—over a hundred bombs were dropped on the elusive target with
only minor damage from a near miss.
The 6th of June saw further searches
for possible Japanese carriers. Two
cruisers and two destroyers were found and attacked by planes from the Hornet
and Enterprise as well as Marine aircraft from Midway. Fisher’s bomb missed on that sortie, but on
a second flight that afternoon he got a crippling direct hit on the destroyer Arashio
as it tried to screen the cruisers Mogami and Mikuma. The Mikuma sank as the result of that
action, while the badly damaged Mogami and Arashio eventually
made it back to port.
The Battle of Midway was finally
over. By the end of the day on June
6th, Fisher was emotionally drained and physically exhausted. He had logged seventeen hours on his five
combat sorties. His most vivid memory
of Midway, though, was not the trauma of aerial combat. Instead, he remembers looking into the VT-8
ready room as the sun set on June 4th.
What he saw was a ghostly emptiness.
Instead numerous pilots reviewing the day’s battle, there were just
empty seats. The only sign of the men
who should have been there was their uniforms hanging on hooks, after having
changed into their flight suits.
But he had survived, and there were
other sorties to be flown and battles to be fought. He would do so both in the Pacific and in Korea, in SBDs as well
as F6F Hellcat and F4U Corsair fighters.
much more on Clay Fisher, please see these links:
Clay Fisher on the SBD in Combat
Clay Fisher at the Battle of Midway (link to Pacific War Historical Society)
Clay Fisher at the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands (link to Pacific War Historical Society)
Photos of Clay Fisher
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