History of the Second World War, Volume 3

manned their planes to warm-up ready for take-off. Meanwhile 240 miles to the south, Midway was preparing to meet the impend­ing attack. Radar had picked up the approaching aerial swarm at 0553 and seven minutes later every available aircraft on the island had taken off. Bombers and flying-boats were ordered to keep clear but Marine Corps infighters two groups clawed their way upwards and at 0616 swooped into the attack. But of the 26 planes all but six were obsolescent Brewster Buffaloes hope­lessly outclassed by the highly manoeuvrable Zeros. Though they took their toll of Japan­ese bombers they were in turn overwhelmed 17 being shot down and seven others dam­aged beyond repair. The survivors of the Japanese squadrons pressed onto drop their bombs on power-plants seaplane hangars, and oil tanks. At the same time as the Marine fighters, ten torpedo-bombers had also taken off from Midway—six of the new Grumman Aven­gers (which were soon to supersede the un­satisfactory Devastator torpedo-bombers in American aircraft-carriers) and four Army Marauders. At 0710 they located and at­ tacked the Japanese carriers but with no fighter protection against the many Zeros sent up against them half of them were shot down before they could reach a launching position. Those which broke through, armed with the slow and unreliable tor­pedoes which had earned Japanese contempt in the Coral Sea battle failed to score any hits greeted with a storm of gunfire only one Avenger and two Marauders escaped to crash-land on Midway. Unsuccessful as these attacks were they had important consequences. From over Midway Lieutenant Tomonaga surveying the results of his attack at 0700 signalled that a further strike was necessary to knockout the islands defences. The torpedo attacks seemed to Nagumo to bear this out and as no inkling of any enemy surface forces in the vicinity had yet come to him he made the first of a train of fatal decisions. At 0715 he ordered the second wave of aircraft to standby to attack Midway. The 'Kate bombers, concentrated in the Akagi and Kaga had to be struck down into the hangars to have their torpedoes replaced by bombs. Ground crews swarmed round to move them one by one to the lifts which took them below where mechanics set feverishly to work to make the exchange. It could not abe quick operation, however and it had not been half completed when at 0728 came a message which threw Nagumo into an agony of indecision. The reconnaissance seaplane from the Tone —the one which had been launched 30 minutes behind schedule —was fated to bethe one in whose search sector the American fleet was to be found and now it sent back the signal—'Have sighted ten ships appar­ently enemy bearing 010 degrees 240 miles away from Midway: Course 150 degrees, speed more than 20 knots. For the next quarter of an hour Nagumo waited with mounting impatience for a further signal giving the composition of the enemy force. Only if it included carriers was it any im­mediate menace at its range of 200 miles —but in that case it was vital to get a strike launched against it at once. At 0745 Nagumo ordered the re-arming of the 'K ates to be suspended and all aircraft to prepare for an attack on ships and two minutes later he signalled to the search plane: 'Ascertain ship types and maintain contact. The re­sponse was a signal of 0758 reporting only a change of the enemys course but 12 minutes later came the report: 'Enemy ships are five cruisers and five destroyers. N agum os hopes crushed This message was received with heartfelt relief by Nagumo and his staff for a t this moment his force came under attack first by 16 Marine Corps dive-bombers from Mid­way followed by 15 Flying Fortresses bomb­ing from 20000 feet and finally 11 Marine Corps Vindicator scout-bombers. Every avail­able Zero was sent aloft to deal with them, and not a single hit was scored by the bombers. But now should Nagumo decide to launch an airstrike it would lack escort fighters until the Zeros had been recovered, refuelled and re-armed. While the air attacks were in progress further alarms occupied the attention of the battleship and cruiser screen when the US submarine Nautilus— one of 12 covering Midway- fired a torpedo at a battleship at 0825. But neither this nor the massive depth-charge attacks in retaliation were effective and in the midst of the noise and confusion of the air attacks —at 0820— Nagumo received the message he dreaded to hear: 'Enemy force accompanied by what appears to abe carrier. The luckless Japanese admirals dilemma, however had been disastrously resolved for him by the return of the survivors of Tomo- nagas Midway strike at 0830. With some damaged and all short of fuel their recovery was urgent and rejecting the advice of his subordinate carrier squadron commander— Rear-Admiral Yamaguchi in the H iryu —to launch his strike force Nagumo issued the order to strike below all aircraft on deck and land the returning aircraft. By the time this was completed it was 0918. Refuelling re-arming and ranging-up a striking-force in all four carriers began at once the force consisting of 36 'Val dive- bombers and 54 'K ates now again armed with torpedoes with an escort of as many Zeros as could be spared from defensive patrol over the carriers. Thus it was a t a car­rier forces most vulnerable moment that— from his screening ships to the south— Nagumo received the report of an approach­ing swarm of aircraft. The earlier catapult defect in the Tone- the inefficient scouting of its aircrafts crew Nagumos own vacil­lation (perhaps induced by the confusion caused by the otherwise ineffective air attacks from Midway) but above all the fatal assumption that the Midway attack would be overlong before any enemy aircraft-carriers could arrive in the are a —all had combined to plunge Nagumo into a catastrophic situation. The pride and vain­glory of the victorious carrier force had just one more hour to run. When Task Force 16 had turned to the south-west leaving the Yorktown to recover her reconnaissance aircraft Nagumos car­riers were still too faraway for Spruance’s aircraft to reach him and return and if the Japanese continued to steer towards Midway it would be nearly 0900 before Spruance could launch his strike. When calculations showed that Nagumo would probably be occupied recovering his aircraft at about that time however Spruance had decided to accept the consequences of an earlier launching in order to catch him off balance. Every serviceable aircraft in his two carriers with the exception of the fighters required for defensive patrol was to be included involving a double launching taking a full hour to complete during which the first aircraft off would have to orbit and wait eating up precious fuel. It was just 0702 when the first of the 67 Dauntless dive-bombers 29 Devastator torpedo-bombers and 20 Wildcat fighters, which formed Task Force 16s striking force, flew off. The torpedo squadrons had not yet taken the air when the sight of the Tone’s float plane circling warily on the horizon, told Spruance th a the could not afford to wait for his striking force to form up before dispatching them. The Enterprises dive- bombers led by Lieutenant-Commander Mc- Clusky which had been the first to takeoff were ordered to lead on without waiting for the torpedo-bombers or for the fighter escort whose primary task must be to pro­tect the slow lumbering Devastators. At 0752 McClusky took departure steering to intercept Nagumos force which was assum­ed to be steering south-east towards Midway. The remainder of the air groups followed at intervals the dive-bombers and fighters up at 19000 feet the torpedo-bombers skim­ming low over the sea. This distance between them in which layers of broken cloud made maintenance of contact difficult had calamitous conse­quences. The fighters from the Enterprise, led by Lieutenant Gray took station above but did not make contact with Lieutenant- Commander W aldrons torpedo squadron from the Hornet leaving the Enterprise’s torpedo squadron led by Lieutenant-Com- m ander Lindsey unescorted. Hornets fight­ers never achieved contact with Waldron, and flew instead in company with their dive- bombers. Thus Task Force 16s airstrike advanced in four separate independent groups— McCluskys dive-bombers the Hornets dive-bombers and fighters and the two torpedo squadrons. All steered initially for the estimated posi­tion of Nagumo assuming he had main­tained his south-easterly course for Mid­way. In fact at 0918 having recovered Tomonagas Midway striking force he had altered course to north-east to close the distance between him and the enemy while his projected strike was being ranged upon deck. When the four air groups from TF 16 found nothing at the expected point of interception therefore they had various courses of action to choose between. The Hornets dive-bombers decided to search south-easterly whereof course they found nothing. As fuel ran low some of the bomb­ers returned to the carrier others made for Midway to refuel. The fighters were not so lucky: one by one they were forced to ditch as their engines spluttered and died. The two torpedo squadrons on the other hand lowdown over the water sighted smoke on the northern horizon and turning towards it were rewarded with the sight of the Japanese carriers shortly after 0930. Though bereft of fighter protection both promptly headed into the attack. Neither W aldron nor Lindsey had any doubts of the suicidal nature of the task ahead of them. The informer his last message to his squadron had written: 'My greatest hope is that we encounter a favourable tactical situ­ation but if we dont and the worst comes to the worst I want each of us to do his utmost to destroy our enemies. If there is only one plane left to make a final run in I want th atman togo in and get a hit. May God be with us all. His hopes for a favourable tactical situ­ation were doomed. Fifty or 904901
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