Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Midway, 4-7 June 1942

HIJMS Hiryū dodges a stick of bombs dropped by a US Army Air Forces B-17 heavy bomber at about 8 a.m. on 4 June 1942, northwest of Midway Atoll. Note the large hinomaru (Rising Sun) painted on Hiryū's bow. Two aircraft, probably A6M2 Zero fighters, appear to be parked amidships, just forward of the ship's center elevator, near Hiryū's island. The Rising Sun would make a convenient aiming point for US Navy SBD Dauntless dive bomber pilots that same evening. (USAF Photo)

Today is the anniversary (in 1942) of the Battle of Midway, fought between US forces (Army, Navy and Marine aviation) and the Imperial Japanese Navy near Midway Atoll in the Pacific. The battle gutted Japan's carrier striking force (Dai-Ichi Kido Butai), costing Japan's First Air Fleet the aircraft carriers Akagi, Kaga, Sōryū and Hiryū. Japan also lost heavy cruiser Mikuma.
The Americans lost aircraft carrier Yorktown (CV-5) and destroyer Hammann. Both sides lost hundreds of airplanes. The Americans lost at least 300 young men dead, the Japanese ten times that. From 7 December 1941 until Midway, the US was on the defensive in the Pacific. No longer. At Midway, the United States, in Gordon Prange's words, put aside the shield and picked up the sword.
This battle, involving hundreds of ships and thousands of men, was fought and won by barely 200 young men, mostly in their twenties; navigating aircraft between moving points by slide-rule, pencil and dead-reckoning over miles of empty ocean. Those with good navigation, who didn't crash at sea, arrived over their frantically maneuvering targets between 9 and 10:30 to drop their ordinance and possibly be killed by other terrified young men. Then they had to escape the enemy, and try to make it back to their own ships, again over miles of ocean; landing to perhaps do it again. Assuming that is, they could even find their moving ships, or they didn't run out of gas first. Many pilots (and their gunners, who depended on their pilots to get the navigation right) simply vanished.
I will possibly have more to say on Midway tomorrow. But remember the pilots of Midway today. In particular, remember in your prayers Wesley Osmus, Ensign USNR, (USS Yorktown), Frank W. O’Flaherty, Ensign USNR (USS Enterprise), and Bruno Gaido (Aviation Machinist's Mate -- O'Flaherty's gunner) -- aviators captured during the attacks on the Japanese fleet, and murdered by their captors.

Went the day well ?
We died and never knew.
But, well or ill, Freedom, we died for you.

John Maxwell Edmonds, London Times, 6 February 1918.

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