History of the Second World War, Volume 3

the Shokaku had suffered damage in the Coral Sea battle and could not be repaired in time to take part in the Midway opera­tion while both carriers had lost so many experienced aircrews that replacements could not be trained in time. Yam am otos battle-squadron In support of the Transport Group four heavy cruisers under Vice-Admiral K urita would also sail from Guam. Finally three powerful forces would sail in company from the Inland Sea during May 28: The Main Body comprising Yamamoto’s splendid new flagship Yamato the biggest battleship in the world mounting nine 18-inch guns the 16-inch battleships Nagato and Mutsu with attendant destroyers The Main Support Force for the Midway invasion force —two battleships four heavy cruisers and attendant destroyers —under Vice-Admiral Kondo The Guard Force (mentioned above). Parting company with Yamamotos force after getting to sea Kondo was to head for a supporting position to the south-west of Midway while the Guard Force would pro­ceed to station itself near the route from Pearl Harbor to the Aleutians. Yamamoto himself with the Main Body was to uptake a central position from which he could proceed to annihilate whatever enemy force Nimitz sent out. To ensure that the dispatch of any such American force should not go undetected Pearl Harbor was to be recon­ noitred between May 31 and June 3 by two Japanese flying-boats via French Frigate Shoal (500 miles north-west of Hawaii), where a submarine was to deliver them petrol. As a further precaution two cordons of submarines were to be stationed to the north-west and west of Hawaii by June 2, with a third cordon farther north towards the Aleutians. Yamamotos plan was ingenious if over- intricate: but it had two fatal defects. For all his enthusiasm for naval aviation he had not yet appreciated that the day of the monstrous capital ship as the queen of battles had passed in favour of the aircraft-carrier which could deliver its blows at a range 30 times greater than that of the biggest guns. The role of the battleship was now as close escort to the vulnerable aircraft- carriers supplying the defensive anti­aircraft gunpower the latter lacked. Nagumos force was supported only by two battleships and three cruisers. Had Yama­ motos Main Body kept company with it the events that were to follow might have been different. Far more fatal to Yamamotos plan how­ever was his assumption that it was shroud­ed from the enemy and that only when news reached Nimitz that Midway was being assaulted would the Pacific Fleet leave Pearl Harbor. Thus long before the scheduled flying-boat reconnaissance —which in the event failed to take place because French Frigate Shoal was found to be in American hands —and before the scouting submarines had reached their stations Spruance and Fletcher all unknown to the Japanese, were beyond the patrol lines and poised waiting for the enemys approach. Details of this approach as well as the broad lines of Yamamotos plan were known to Nimitz. Beyond sending a small force of five cruisers and ten destroyers to the Aleutians to harass the invasion force he concentrated all his available force— TF 16 and 17 —in the area. He had also a squadron of battleships un­der his command to be sure but he had no illusions that with their insufficient speed to upkeep with the aircraft-carriers their great guns could play any useful part in the events to follow. They were therefore rele­gated to defensive duties on the American west coast. For the next few days the Japanese Com­bined Fleet advanced eastwards according to schedule in its wide-spread m ulti­ pronged formation. Everywhere a buoyant feeling of confidence showed itself generated by the memories of the unbroken succession of Japanese victories since the beginning of the war. In the I Carrier Striking Force so recently returned home after its meteoric career of destruction —from Pearl Harbor, through the East Indies and onto Ceylon without the loss of a ship —the 'Victory Disease as it was subsequently to be called by the Japanese themselves was particularly prevalent. Only the admiral— or so Nagumo was subsequently to say —felt doubts of the quality of the many replacements who had come to makeup the wastage inexperienced aircrews inevitable even in victorious operations. Spruance and Fletcher had meanwhile made rendezvous during June 2 and Fletcher had assumed command of the two task forces though they continued to manoeuvre as separate units. The sea was calm under a blue sky split up by towering cumulus clouds. The scouting aircraft flown off during the following day in perfect visi­bility sighted nothing and Fletcher was able to feel confident that the approaching enemy was all unaware of his presence to the north-east of Midway. Indeed neither Yama­ moto nor Nagumo pressing forward blindly through rain and fog gave serious thought to such an apparently remote possibility. Far to the north on June 3 dawn broke grey and misty over K ikutas two aircraft- carriers from which soon after 0300 hours, the first of two strike waves took off to wreak destruction among the installations and fuel tanks of Dutch Harbor. A further attack was delivered the following day and during the next few days American and Japanese forces sought each other vainly among the swirling fogs while the virtually unprotected Kiska and A ttu were occupied by the Japanese. But as Nimitz refused to let any of his forces be drawn into the skirmish this part of Yam a­ motos plan failed to have much impact on the great dram a being enacted farther south. Setting the scene The opening scenes of this dram a were enacted early on June 3 when a scouting Catalina flying boat some 700 miles west of Midway sighted a large body of ships, steaming in two long lines with a numerous screen in arrowhead formation which was taken to bethe Japanese main fleet. The sighting report brought nine army B-17 bombers from Midway which delivered three high-level bombing attacks and claimed to have hit two battleships or heavy cruisers and two transports. But the enemy was in reality the Midway Occupation Force of transports and tankers and no hits were scored on them until four amphibious C atalinas from Midway discovered them again in bright moonlight in the early hours of June 4 and succeeded in torpedoing a tanker. Damage was slight however and the tanker remained information. More than 800 miles away to the east, Fletcher intercepted the reports of these encounters but from his detailed knowledge of the enemys plan was able to identify the Occupation Force. Nagumos carriers he knew were much closer some 400 miles to the west of him approaching their flying- off position from the north-west. During the night therefore Task Forces 16 and 17 steamed south-west for a position 200 miles north of Midway which would place them at dawn within scouting range of the unsus­pecting enemy. The scene was now set for what was to be one of the great decisive battles of history. Deadly game of hide-and-seek The last hour of darkness before sunrise on June 4 saw the familiar inactivity both the carrier forces of ranging-up aircraft on the flight-deck for dawn operations. Aboard the Yorktown whose turn it was to mount the first scouting flight of the day there were Dauntless scout dive-bombers often which were launched at 0430 hours for a search to a depth of 100 miles between west and east through north a precaution against being taken by surprise while waiting for news from the scouting flying boats from Midway. Reconnaissance aircraft were dispatched at the same moment from Nagumos force. One each from the Akagi and Kaga and two seaplanes each from the cruisers Tone and Chikum a were to search to a depth of 300 miles to the east and south. The sea­plane carried in the battleship Haruna, being of an older type was restricted to 150 miles. The main inactivity Nagumos car­riers however was the preparation of the striking force to attack Midway —36 'Kate’ torpedo-bombers each carrying a 1,770- pound bomb 36 'Val dive-bombers each with a single 550-pound bomb and 36 Zero fighters as escort. Led by Lieutenant Joichi Tomonaga this formidable force also took off at 0430. By 0445 all these aircraft were on their way —with one notable exception. In the cruiser Tone one of the catapults had given trouble and it was not until 0500 that her second seaplane got away. This apparently minor dislocation of the schedule was to have vital consequences. Meanwhile the carrier lifts were already hoisting upon deck an equally powerful second wave but under the bellies of the 'K ates were slung torpedoes for these aircraft were to be ready to attack any enemy naval force which might be discovered by the scouts. The lull in proceedings which followed the dawn fly-off from both carrier forces was broken with dramatic suddenness. At 0520, aboard Nagumos flagship Akagi the alarm was sounded. An enemy flying boat on recon­naissance had been sighted. Zeros roared off the deck in pursuit. A deadly game of hide-and-seek among the clouds developed, but the American naval fliers evaded their hunters. At 0534 Fletchers radio office received the message 'Enemy carriers insight followed by another reporting many enemy aircraft heading for Midway finally, at 0603 details were received of the position and composition of Nagumos force 200 miles west-south-west of the Yorktown. The time for action had arrived. The Yorktowns scouting aircraft were at once recalled and while she waited to gather them in Fletcher ordered Spruance to pro­ceed with his Task Force 16 'south-westerly and attack enemy carriers when definitely located. Enterprise and Hornet with their screening cruisers and destroyers turned away increasing to 25 knots while hooters blared for 'General Quarters and aircrews 899
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