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Battle of Midway - 4-6 June 1942

During the three day Battle of Midway, Enterprise Air Group accounted for the destruction of two Japanese carriers (Akagi and Kaga), shared credit for a third (Hiryu) with Yorktown Air Group, and inflicted severe damage on several other enemy ships. This action report - Serial 0137 - contains an extensive narrative about Enterprise Air Group's accomplishments at Midway. Serial 0133 focuses on the ship's operations and Air Group losses.

First Attack of 4 June.
Second Attack of 4 June.
Action of 5 June.
Attack of 6 June.
Summary and Conclusions.

Serial 0137

June 13, 1942
From:The Commanding Officer.
To:The Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet.
Via:Commander Task Force Sixteen.
(Rear Admiral R.A. Spruance, U.S. Navy).
SUBJECT:Air Battle of the Pacific, June 4-6, 1942, report of.
Reference:(a) Articles 712 and 874, U.S. Navy Regulations, 1920.
(b) C.O. ENTERPRISE Conf. Serial 0133 of June 8, 1942.
Enclosure:(A) Track Chart of Air Attacks, June 4-6, 1942.
  1. In reference (b) a chronological narrative of the Battle of Midway, based upon information available at that time, was submitted.
  2. In amplification of and supplementary to the report contained in reference (a), the following report of air attacks, conducted by ENTERPRISE Air Group during the period June 4-6, 1942, against the Japanese Fleet off Midway Island is submitted:

    NOTE: Some discrepancies will be noted between figures appearing herein and those contained in reference (b) with respect to personnel losses and estimate of damage inflicted upon the enemy. In the case of personnel, the figures given herein are correct for the reason that some personnel were recovered after submission of reference (b). With regard to estimate of damage inflicted upon enemy ships, the figures given in reference (b) are the Commanding Officer's estimate of enemy damage, based upon all information available to him, whereas the estimates of damage to enemy contained in this report are based upon observations of damage inflicted on enemy by our own pilots.
    1. First Attack June 4, 1942
      1. Dive bombing attack: At 0906, June 4, 1942, the first group consisting of 33 SBD's (Group Commander Section, VS6, VB6) was launched. About 0945, the Air Group was ordered to proceed on assigned mission. At 0930, the position of the enemy, based on the 0810 contact report, was Latitude 30-05 N, Longitude 179-03 W, course 135° speed 25 knots. At the time of expected interception no contact was made. With few broken clouds and excellent visibility, a thorough search of the area was made with negative results. The Air Group Commander made the decision to fly a reverse course of the enemy force, assuming that they had retired. (NOTE: This was the most important decision of the entire action.) After flying 30 miles on course 315°, contact was made with a lone destroyer or light cruiser on a northeasterly course. The dive bombing group then changed to that course, northeast, and 15 minutes later, at 1202, contact was made with a Japanese striking force consisting of 4 carriers (definite), 2 battleships, 4 cruisers, (or 6 cruisers), and 6 destroyers, position Latitude 30-05 N, Longitude 178-45 W. With broken clouds and from an altitude of 19,000 feet, positive identification of battleships and cruisers was impossible. The Japanese force appeared to be in a wide separated circular disposition with each carrier and accompanying vessels maneuvering radically.
      2. At 1222 the dive bombing attack commenced from a high altitude, the Group Commander Section and VS-6 attacking the carrier in the northwest sector and VB-6 the carrier to the immediate right. These are believed to have been KAGA and AKAGI. Upon initial sighting and during the dive no apparent damage had been inflicted on this enemy force. This statement is based upon interrogation of the Air Group Commander and all pilots who returned from the attack. Scouting Six (each armed with 1-500 lb. bomb, 1/100 second fuse, and 2-100 lb. bombs) obtained at least 8 direct hits on assigned target, the smoke from resulting fires making an accurate count impossible. Bombing Six (each armed with 1-1000 lb. bombs, 1/100 second fuse) first division commencing attack on right hand carrier which was observed to be landing planes. This division obtained at least three (3) direct hits and this carrier became a mass of flames and smoke. The second division leader, delaying attack momentarily, observed misses near the left hand carrier and decided to dive on that target. Several hits with 1000 lb. bombs were observed with violent explosions resulting. The third division divided between both carriers under attack. Hits cannot be accounted for, as only one pilot of the third division returned. When this attack was completed, three (3) carriers were left severely damaged with raging fires and mountainous clouds of smoke filling the horizon. It was later learned that VB-3 from YORKTOWN arrived at approximately the same time and attacked one of the two remaining carriers.
      3. During the approach and dive there was no fighter opposition and comparatively light anti-aircraft fire due to torpedo plane attacks commencing prior to and ending during the dive bombing attack. After pull out from dives, several planes were attacked by "0" and Messerschmitt type fighters. It is to be noted that Japanese fighter pilots seem loath to press home an attack when two or more of our planes are joined up in formation for mutual protection. Anti-aircraft fire from screening vessels was also concentrated on dive bombers while retiring.
      4. Eighteen (18) SBD's failed to return from this first attack. (NOTE: Two pilots and two gunners were recovered later the same day and four additional pilots and three gunners have been recovered since). The exact number shot down is unknown. At least 4 additional pilots reported by voice radio they were about to land in water and may eventually be rescued by searching patrol planes. Several planes were badly damaged by shrapnel and machine gun fire making them unavailable for subsequent attacks.
      5. Torpedo Attack: At 0949 the torpedo attack group of 14 TBD's and a fighter escort of 10 F4F-4's was launched. Proceeding independently, contact was first made with enemy forces about 1200, zone +10 time at an altitude of 1500 feet and a distance of approximately 30 miles, bearing 320° from the attacking group. At the time of initial contact the enemy appeared to be on a course 270° and in subsequent approach their course changed from 270° to 000° and before dropping point was reached, course had been reversed to 180°. These changes in course enabled the carriers to keep the attacking torpedo planes continuously on their quarter necessitating a long period in which attacking planes were under anti-aircraft from surface ships and attack by fighters. This maneuver does not strictly apply to all types of ships in the task force but applies particularly to the carriers. Other ships of the task force maneuvered independently and became widely separated.
      6. Torpedo Squadron Six attacked about 1220, and was subjected to the concentrated fire of all types of surface ships and numerous fighters of the "0" type. The torpedo attack had been completed and the remaining planes were clear of all screening vessels when the first bomb from the dive bombers hit the carriers of the task force. The loss of such a large number of torpedo planes (10) is attributed to the lack of coordination and support by fighter escort, which unknowingly, had joined up with HORNET VT squadron, launched at about same time, as well as attacks by numerous enemy fighters, approximately 25 in all. It is believed few, if any, planes were lost due to anti-aircraft fire. Fighters attacked repeatedly but would not press home an attack in the face of accurate fire from the free gunners who were using the twin mount, .30 caliber gun. On the whole, anti-aircraft fire from surface ships was close but not effective and it is believed that anti-aircraft bursts were used as a "fighter director" in that they appeared to "point out" the approximate position of attacking planes to their fighter patrol in this manner.
      7. Approach to dropping positions and retirement after dropping were such that no accurate summary can be made of the individual directions of approach and withdrawal. The initial part of the approach from the time of sighting to the time when fighters attacked and anti-aircraft fire became intense is shown below:

        NOTE: The fourth carrier was not seen by any of the 4 torpedo plane pilots who returned from the attack.
      8. Maneuvers by enemy ships were so timed that it was impossible to obtain an advantageous point from which to drop. Indication of ships' position is only approximate and incomplete as the Torpedo Squadron concentrated on the carrier indicated. Accurate plotting of ships' position was impossible due to their wide separation and the distraction of pilots caused by fighters and anti-aircraft fire. Retirement and return to the carrier were made by single plane units.
      9. The weather at the scene of this initial attack was clear and visibility excellent, with scattered cumulus clouds from 1500 feet to 2500 feet, ceiling unlimited. The surface wind was 5-8 knots from southeast with sea rather calm.
      10. The number of enemy planes shot down by our attack groups is undetermined due to the heavy losses sustained by our planes. Our losses in this initial phase were as follows:
        • 1 F4F-4 (water landing, out of gas; pilot recovered).
        • 18 SBD's (6 pilots and 5 gunners recovered).
        • 10 TBD's.
      11. See "First Attack" track and "Torpedo Plane" track on track chart of Enclosure (A).
    2. Second Attack June 4, 1942
      1. About 1630 a YORKTOWN SBD (5-S-15) on search mission made contact and reported an enemy force consisting of 1 carrier, 2 battleships, 3 heavy cruisers, and 4 destroyers, position Latitude 31-15 N, Longitude 179-05 W, course 000°, speed 20 knots. This contact was received about 1645. Upon completion of search, this plane and 7 additional scouts from YORKTOWN landed aboard ENTERPRISE.
      2. At 1730 an attack group of 24 SBD's, (these included reinforcements by YORKTOWN planes), 11 armed with 1000 lb. 1/100 second fuse bombs, and 13 with 500 lb. bombs, was launched for attack on the force reported above. Position of enemy was given, as of 1900, as Latitude 31-40 N, Longitude 179-10 W. At 1850 this force was sighted about 30 miles ahead on course 280°, speed 20 knots. The heavy ships, each accompanied by a destroyer, were separated by several miles. Beyond, and to the south, the attack group sighted three large columns of smoke near the scene of the first engagement. At 1905, from an up-sun position, 19,000 feet altitude, the attack started. At this time enemy "0" fighters appeared, estimated between 6 to 12, and attacked during the pushover, followed down and attacked after pull-out. The attack group (24 SBD's) split the attack between the carrier (SORYU Class) and an unidentified battleship. Six direct hits were observed on the carrier and 2 on the battleship. An accurate count of hits is again impossible due to the flames and resulting smoke. The carrier was aflame from bow to stern. One SBD was shot down by "0" fighters prior to dive and 2 SBD's were shot down after pull-out. Heavy anti-aircraft fire was encountered during dive and after pull-out. Three planes returned with holes from 20 mm and small caliber machine-gun fire from the "0" fighters, making them inoperative for further operation. At 2034 the attack group completed landing operations aboard ENTERPRISE. Losses were as follows:
        • 2 SBD's (VB-3 planes from YORKTOWN)
        • 1 SBD (VB-6 planes from ENTERPRISE)
      3. See "Second Attack" track on track chart of Enclosure (A).
    3. Search (Third) Attack, June 5, 1942
      1. On the basis of a 1000 contact report, (PBY), an attack group consisting of 32 SBD's (VS-6, VB-6, VB-3, VS-5) completed launching at 1728. Objective was a damaged carrier, 2 battleships, 3 heavy cruisers, and 4 destroyers; position of objective at 1930, Latitude 33-12 N, Longitude 177-48 E. The attack group remained at low altitude with 16 scouts forming a scouting line. The group continued on course 324° T for 265 miles, no contact was made. The ceiling was 13,000 feet, heavy overcast above and general hazy visibility. Course was then changed to 230° T for 33 miles, then to 150° T. Shortly thereafter, at 2030, one enemy light cruiser (KATORI Class) was contacted on course 310° T, speed 20 knots. Climb to 11,000 feet was effected and attack commenced. The light cruiser immediately increased speed and zigzagged to avoid attack presenting an elusive target and firing a large volume of small caliber and anti-aircraft fire. No direct bomb hits were observed, with one possible and several close misses. At 2203, group landing operations were completed, 35 VSB being recovered, 5 of which were HORNET planes. These landing operations were conducted during darkness with many inexperienced pilots who had not qualified in night landings. The performance of the entire group was excellent, including ENTERPRISE Landing Signal Officers, whose performance have been outstanding throughout these prolonged engagements.
      2. Our loss sustained during this attack was one SBD shot down by anti-aircraft fire. One of our group landed aboard the HORNET.
      3. See "Search (Third) Attack" on track chart of Enclosure (A).
    4. Search and Attack (Fourth Attack), of June 6, 1942
      1. At 0710 a search group of 18 VSB completed launching to search a relative sector of 180° - 360° T, distance 200 miles. At 0845, plane 8-B-2, operating from ENTERPRISE, contacted and reported an enemy force of 1 carrier, 5 destroyers, position Latitude 29-33N, Longitude 174-30 E, course 270°. Upon return from search this plane dropped messages on deck verifying previous report, then landed aboard HORNET. Later interrogation of the pilot disclosed that he meant a battleship and 5 destroyers instead of 1 carrier, 5 destroyers.
      2. At 1245 an attack group was launched consisting of 31 SBD's, armed with 1000 lb. 1/100 second fuse bombs, 3 TBD's with torpedoes and 12 VF for strafing. Position of objective at 1350, Latitude 29-33 N, Longitude 175-35 E, course 270° T, speed 15 knots.
      3. Soon after launching, orders were transmitted to attack group by voice radio to search for and attack battleship to be about 40 miles ahead of force previously assigned as targets and that 3 torpedo planes would be launched to join attack group. The attack group departed from ENTERPRISE at 1315 and climbed slowly to about 22,500 feet, maneuvering to lose time to permit the VT planes to effect rendezvous. Radio or sight contact between VT and VSB was never attained. The attack group passed the enemy formation, 2 heavy cruisers, 2 destroyers, up sun at maximum altitude, and searched ahead about 30 miles. The visibility was excellent but no vessels were sighted ahead. At this time the accompanying VF planes identified the larger ships of the formation as battleships and the attack group returned and started a long approach from about 21,000 feet from out of the sun and down wind. At about this time, the OTC ordered the group to expedite the attack. In the meantime, one of the VB squadrons had departed from the search ahead and about 1350 attacked the rear heavy cruiser. Until this time the enemy formation was on course 240°T, speed about 28 knots. As the last ship was attacked she made a right turn, the leading vessel followed her movements and headed down wind. By this time the squadron was in about a 70° dive at about 14,000 feet on the leading heavy cruiser. The vessel put up a heavy stream of automatic gun fire, but this was considerably reduced after the first bomb hit. Five direct hits were scored and two close misses. The target (MOGAMI Class CA) was dead in the water, burning, and emitting heavy black smoke when last sighted. The second cruiser (CL) was also smoking heavily but continued underway leaving an oil slick. She was escorted by the two destroyers, course 270°, speed 10 knots.
      4. Six VF strafed each destroyer to point blank range, knocking off huge pieces of metal, causing a small explosion and a fire on each ship. About 4,000 rounds of .50 caliber were expended on each ship.
      5. Our Group sustained no losses or damage.
      6. At 1753 a photographic group of 2 VSB was launched for photo mission over burning heavy cruiser (MOGAMI). This group landed aboard at 2107 after a successful flight. A close scrutiny of the excellent photographs, the observations of an experienced photographer, and a direct comparison with our 8 inch cruisers, leads to the firm belief that this MOGAMI Class heavy cruiser is in reality a battle cruiser of at least 20,000 tons, mounting 11 or 12 inch guns.
      7. See "Search and Attack (Fourth Attack)" of Enclosure (A).
    5. Combat Patrols
      1. During the entire daylight periods of this engagement, 4-6 June, combat patrols were conducted by VF-6 at high and intermediate altitudes. On June 4, the day of intense air operations, a total of 9 patrols were flown. At 1400, June 4, one Nakajima 97 dive bomber snooper was shot down. At 1630 a combined dive bombing and torpedo attack with the YORKTOWN as objective was intercepted by our fifth patrol with the following results: one enemy VT plane, approaching at 300 feet, shot down on second run; one twin float Nakajima 97 seaplane fighter, on an opposite course above, exploded; (fighter pilot reports seeing a large bundle attached to harness of chute of pilot who had bailed out); two "0" fighters in section formation, rear plane weaving back and forth attacked by one of our fighters and as tracers were seen by the wing man he went into a vertical climb leaving the section leader a sitting shot going down in flames; our fighter pilot continuing his dive, sighted an enemy VT plane at 300 feet and shot it down in one short burst; two additional VT planes were shot down by another combat patrol pilot; three combat patrol pilots in initial attack on two "0" fighters failed to account for the Japs and in ensuing dog-fight were no match for the performance of the "0's". They were saved from embarrassment by friendly planes with an altitude advantage who shot both "0's" down.
      2. At 1800, two sections of combat patrols were vectored to intercept "bogies" in the vicinity of YORKTOWN. One single float seaplane reconnaissance was intercepted and shot down after repeated runs. Another combat patrol pilot, after an extended chase and after expending a large amount of ammunition, shot down a second single-float seaplane. The comparatively fast speed and extreme maneuverability of their seaplane to turn sharply, offers a difficult target for the unmaneuverable, overloaded F4F-4. During this day's operations, VF-6 shot down a total of 9 enemy planes evaluated as follows: 1 Nakajima dive bomber, 1 twin-float 97 seaplane fighter, 2 single-float seaplanes, 1 "0" fighter, and 4 torpedo planes.
    6. Summary of ENTERPRISE Air Group Personnel Losses.

      NOTE: In addition, the following YORKTOWN personnel were lost after joining this vessel June 4 and 5:
      June 4VB-322
      June 5VS-511
    7. Summary of ENTERPRISE Air Group Plane Losses.
      VF1F4F-4(out of fuel, landed in water, pilot recovered).
      VSB20SBD(6 pilots, 5 gunners recovered).

      NOTE: In addition, 2 YORKTOWN SBD's (VB-3) were lost in the second attack launched June 4 and another SBD (VS-5) June 5, Total 3.
    8. Damage Inflicted on Japanese Fleet.
      3CV(KAGA, AKAGI, and HIRYU Class) severely damaged and burning, all of which may have sunk later.
      1BBBadly damaged.
      1CA(MOGAMI Class) Severely damaged and aflame.
      1DDBadly damaged.
      24 aircraft destroyed in air combat as follows: 1 Nakajima dive bomber, 1 twin-float 97 seaplane fighter, 2 single-float seaplanes, 4 torpedo planes, 1 Messerschmitt type fighter and 15 "0" fighters.
      1 CV NOTE: Severely damaged by YORKTOWN (VB-3) in addition to the 3 CV's enumerated above. (Reported by YORKTOWN pilots operating from ENTERPRISE after first attack).
    9. Bombs and Ammunition Expended.
      57-1000 lb. bombs
      67-500 lb. bombs
      22-100 lb. bombs
      48,280rds..50 cal. ammunition
      40,000rds..30 cal. ammunition
  3. SUMMARY: The following observations incident to the foregoing operations are submitted:
    1. Contact Reports: Numerous contact reports initiated from the forces at Midway had a negative evaluation. The absence of amplifying reports after the initial contact report was made at 0810, June 4, might have been disastrous to our forces. Lack of amplification of contacts and failure of Midway based planes to provide continuous tactical scouting on June 4 and June 5 probably prevented complete destruction of enemy forces.
    2. From the initial contact with the major Japanese Force about 1200 Thursday, June 4 and during subsequent air attacks on their dispersed forces, no aircraft of our own forces were observed at any time in the immediate vicinity of these Japanese Forces, except own carrier based aircraft. It is therefore the considered opinion of the Commanding Officer that all damage to enemy forces reported herein was imposed by the Air Groups of Task Forces 16 and 17.
    3. Material (planes): The disastrous loss of our TBD's needs no further comment; it is earnestly hoped that steps will be taken to provide TBF's for all carrier Air Groups immediately. The SBD is now obsolescent due to its slow speed. Our fighters, F4F-4's, are completely outclassed by Japanese "0" fighters in speed, climb, and maneuverability. It is recommended that immediate action be taken to remedy this inferiority.
    4. Fighter Escort: The need for adequate fighter escort on every attack mission cannot be overemphasized. Without this support our attack groups are completely at the mercy of Japanese "0" fighters as demonstrated in the initial engagement of June 4. Adequate support implies not only fighters in sufficient numbers but fighters at least the equal to the enemy.
  4. CONCLUSION: ENTERPRISE Air Group, both pilots and gunners, displayed a spirit of utter fearlessness, resolution and determination throughout all air actions. This spirit, though shared by pilots and gunners alike, found its highest expression in the person of the Air Group Commander, LtComdr C.W. McClusky, Jr. U.S.N. On June 4, prior to intercepting the main enemy forces, it was his decision, and his decision alone, that made the attack possible which lead to the destruction of a major part of the enemy forces. It is the considered opinion of the Commanding Officer that the success of our forces hinged upon this attack. Any other action on the part of LtComdr McClusky would inevitably have lead to irreparable loss to our forces.

    The entire ENTERPRISE Air Group merits the highest praise and commendation for a hazardous job well done. In separate correspondence, recommendations for awards and citations will be submitted.
(Signed) G. D. MURRAY

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