At 7am on June 4th, 1942, the signal was flashed to the American aircraft carrier USS
. All were SBD Dauntless dive bombers. None of the TBD Devastators of Torpedo 8 or the F4F Wildcats of Fighting 8 had landed aboard, and never would. None of the SBDs of Scouting 8 or Bombing 8 had even seen the Japanese carriers. One third of the striking power that the US Navy had so carefully positioned had been completely wasted.
What had happened during those five hours became one of the US Navy's deepest (but open) secrets, suspected but unproven for over 45 years. It cost the lives of 31 airmen. It should have torpedoed the careers of two men destined to become admirals. It was The Flight To Nowhere.
Nice post! I didn't know about this.
Posted by: Steven Den Beste at October 07, 2011 05:35 AM (+rSRq)
Out-bloody-standing, my friend. Now Ring is right down with "Swede" Larsen in the pantheon of screw-ups.
Nicely done and a smooth read. Gotta love it.
Posted by: The Old Man at October 07, 2011 10:05 AM (TcNy+)
I never thought of Swede Larsen as being a screw-up, oddly enough. A martinet with delusions of godhood who couldn't command his way out of a wet paper bag yes, but not a screw-up.
Posted by: Wonderduck at October 07, 2011 11:12 AM (OS+Cr)
I'd heard of references to this screw up once or twice, but I'd never seen a full detailed description like this. I'm sure they're out there, but here you have a clean readable blog post with a good explanation of the facts and consequences. Bravo!
Posted by: David at October 07, 2011 11:48 AM (ttXyi)
It should be noted that Mitscher exerted a baneful influence on the planning of Hornet's air operations even before the battle was joined. He had a major say in the poor coordination between the escort fighters and the bombers which would have led to major disaster had the Hornet's birds attacked the Japanese carriers. And unlike Enterprise's George Murray, Mitscher did not redeem himself at all with his later actions through-out Midway for his earlier mistakes.
Even before Midway, the less than adequate performance of Air Group 8 had caused Bull Halsey to stand them down one day to conduct more training.
The performance of Hornet and Mitscher at Midway had ramfication for the latter during the war. Raymond Spruance's style of command depended on giving wide latitude to trusted subordinates, which meant less well regarded officers like Mitscher (When Spruance was CO of 5th Fleet, and Mitscher ran the Fast Carrier Force.) were kept on a tight reign. In Mitscher's case, that was probably a good move, since the man did not confine his mistakes to the decisions he made on Hornet. That includes the mishandling of his crucial decision to turn on the lights at Philippine Sea.
Then we have William Halsey's performance as fleet and theater commander, but that is another story.
Posted by: cxt217 at October 07, 2011 12:04 PM (ZGQLT)
Posted by: Siergen at October 07, 2011 05:09 PM (oK555)
Holy cow. I swear I've read and seen a lot of Midway stuff, and bitter stuff was mentioned about the coverup, but nobody ever explained what happened and who covered it up. Educational for sure.
Also, Bath and Body Works has pink sparkly light-up bath duckies. Goodness knows why, but they do. I will think of them as Twilight vampire ducks, in keeping with the Halloween items elsewhere in the store.
Posted by: Maureen at October 07, 2011 08:38 PM (VF957)
IIRC, Mitscher had already been tapped for a promotion to flag rank as well as a position in Washington by time Hornet sailed for Midway. Since the US won the battle, the Powers That Be probably decided that there was little gain from sacking people (However deserving some were.). And yes, his replacement as captain of the Hornet was aboard the carrier at Midway, but graciously delayed the change of command so not to create confusion and uncertainty on the eve of battle.
Posted by: cxt217 at October 07, 2011 09:29 PM (ZGQLT)
CXT, that's why I said he was Captain (Admiral select). His next duty was as commander, Patrol Wing 2, not a Washington tour. That didn't come until 1946.
Posted by: Wonderduck at October 07, 2011 11:13 PM (o45Mg)
My bad. I realized that I somehow missed that piece. And I had always thought that Mitscher had been scheduled for a post in the BuAer after Hornet.
Posted by: cxt217 at October 07, 2011 11:19 PM (ZGQLT)
Excellent job in tying all the threads together on something as complex as the Midway battle. I, too, had read Walter Lord's book as well as several other accounts, but had never read as nice a summary of Hornet's AG fubar as yours. Bravo zulu, WD.
Posted by: jt at October 08, 2011 11:12 AM (NmSN+)
Excellent post, fun to read. Really clarifies the mess. Parshall and Tully make the point in Shattered Sword that there was a real contribution to the battle by the VT-8 - it changed the course of the Kido Butai, which delayed search efforts for the American fleet. Also, smoke laid by the cruisers and anti-aircraft fire may have helped Lindsey's squadron locate the Japanese ships a half-hour later. Waldron's a real hero.
Posted by: Vaucanson's Duck at October 08, 2011 03:40 PM (OFJiW)
I enjoyed your article a lot, however, there are a few amplifying comments that are food for thought, if nothing else. LCDR Waldron had the opportunity and did object to the course of attack selected by CMDR Ring at a meeting attended by the other three squadron commanders and CAPT Mitscher just prior to the launch of Air Group 8. During that meeting, Waldron did strongly object to Ring's plan in favor of his own, but Mitscher himself ordered Waldron to follow Ring's plan. I believe that it was Mitscher's and Ring's plan that the Hornet's planes were deliberately intended to fly practically due west to intercept the course of approach of the Kido Butai to Midway, well north of their reported location, and then to turn left as a group and parallel the course of the Kido Butai until they intersepted the Japanese carriers which would then be retiring from Midway. Had this plan been followed by the entire air group, I think there is little doubt that the Japanese would have been sighted and attached by the entire air group.
Now, as far as the official report of the Hornet is concerned, it would have been very difficult if not impossible for Mitscher to have written that Waldron had not only disobeyed orders to maintain strict radio silence but also disregarded Mitscher's and Ring's specific orders to follow Ring's Plan of Attack, and not court martialed the dead hero, Waldron. It would likewise have been difficult for Mitcher not to have court martialed at least two of the other three squadron commanders for also disregarding Ring's orders to continue with the original plan of attack.
Posted by: Jim Scanlon at October 30, 2011 10:57 AM (HoE4S)
Jim, that's quite correct. Regarding your comments on the official report, however, I have two points. First, I'm not at all sure you can court martial a dead man. I can't find any record of it ever occurring in the US. Second, while Mitscher may very well have had to charge Rodee, Johnson and Mitchell, at what point does simple self-preservation trump orders? I find it hard to believe that the squadron leaders would be found guilty of disobeying orders when those orders were guaranteed to run their squadrons out of fuel.
Regarding your first point, VB-8 essentially followed that same flight profile. They never sighted Kido Butai
, and never really came near it. Their nearest approach would have come around 1020 on the Weisheit map, approximately fifty miles. VF-8 would be down to about 20 minutes of fuel, the Dauntless crews would have to assume they would be swimming home. VT-8, carrying the torpedoes would, like as not, already be in the water. If that really was Mitscher and Ring's flight plan, it probably would have cost the Hornet
Air Group for even less effect than what it actually managed, instead of half of it.
Posted by: Wonderduck at October 30, 2011 01:19 PM (o45Mg)
Thank you. I have been looking for a clear article on this and you have done a great job. I was hoping to do something on this for my website, but now I don't need to!.
My take is we needed heroes. we got them, but not necessarily the right ones.
Posted by: Jay Hambleton at December 10, 2011 11:20 AM (cbxDt)
George J Walsh, next time just include a link instead of copying 1000 words from somewhere else. Like this: Essay Here
Posted by: Wonderduck at December 22, 2011 09:43 PM (f/6aJ)
People, did you try to analyse or simply COUNT the data from that nice chart above?
For example, the distance between the point were VF-8 claimed turned about 0910 and point were they ditched at 1040 (1.5 hours) is not less than 266 nautical miles even along the straight line! It means not less than 177 knots speed during fighters' return leg! Almost 50 knots more than F4F-4 cruising speed! It was only one example, but the timings, distances and speeds of other "tracks" are even more fantastic than VF-8's ones.
So you can believe in that revisionist Ñonspiracy rubbish as much as you want, but I recommend you to read discussions on The Battle of Midway Roundtable
website, were the Midway veterans of VS-8 and VB-8 disproved Weisheit's fantasies.
Posted by: Midnike at February 19, 2012 01:46 PM (af8bp)
Posted by: Steven Den Beste at February 19, 2012 02:07 PM (+rSRq)
The Battle of Midway Roundtable? I've heard of it... assuming you're talking about the same BOMRT that featured this very post
in its "Now Hear This!" page in October 2011? I appreciate that some of the veterans of the squadrons disagree with Weisheit; heck, in some instances I do, too. But you're missing the point.
Arguing that the F4Fs of VF-8 didn't make it back to the Hornet
, or weren't found to the northeast of Midway, or that the SBDs didn't leave Ring, or that Hornet
's Air Group wasn't completely frittered away on a useless flight to nowhere, is ridiculous. I grant that it's quite possible that the tracks on the map aren't exact... and that there's no way to prove the matter either way. Given.
But Ring screwed up, from the beginning of the day to the end. Mitscher screwed up, from the beginning of the day to the end. What little after-action report was released from the Hornet
was realized to be worthless, if not totally fictitious, by Nimitz.
the point of this post, Midnike, not exactly where VF-8 came down, or when VS-8 turned back to the Hornet
. *shrug* I apologize if you didn't get that from the post. It'd be my fault if that wasn't clear enough.
Posted by: Wonderduck at February 19, 2012 02:26 PM (ZNgWw)
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