June 04, 2016

The Last Divebomber

It had been a very long day already for Norman.  He'd been flying for three hours in search of his target.  If he was very lucky, he'd get to suffer through the full two hour flight back.  The fuel gauge of his plane was telling him that he might get to take a swim instead.  Between then and now, though, he had to do his job while a bunch of other men doing their jobs tried to kill him.  Because the date was June 4th, 1942, Norman was flying a SBD Dauntless dive bomber, he was part of Scouting Six (VS-6), flying from USS Enterprise, and he was about to become a very important part of the Battle of Midway.

His boss, Commander Wade McClusky, led his two squadrons of SBDs down on the Japanese carrier Kaga.  Five of the first six bombs missed, and then it was Norman's turn.  He popped the Dauntless' dive brakes, throttled back the 1000hp Wright Cyclone engine, then went into his dive.  Hanging against his straps, he thought back to his days in training: dive as low as you can before you drop, and aim ahead of your moving target.  He also thought to himself, that big red circle makes a great aiming point...

He didn't release his 500lb bomb until he reached 1000' of altitude... for a dive bomber, point-blank range... and hit 9g's on the pullout, trusting the SBD's sturdy construction wouldn't fall apart under the stress.  It didn't, and he made his escape from the Japanese fleet very low on the deck indeed.  His bomb hit the Kaga's centerline just short of his target point and probably exploded in one of her hangars.  The ship sank later that day.

Norman managed to nurse his Dauntless back to the Enterprise, landing aboard with a mere three gallons of gas left.  Of the 33 SBDs to take off from the carrier that day, only 15 made it back, only 11 of them usable.  Once back aboard, he ate a sandwich and took a nap.  A few hours later came the call for another strike, this time against the sole remaining Japanese carrier, the Hiryu.  Between the Enterprise's surviving SBDs and the Dauntlesses that had landed aboard from the badly damaged Yorktown, 25 planes lifted off, carrying a random assortment of 500lb and 1000lb bombs.

After another long flight, the mixed force of Dauntlesses found their target.  This time, Norman's 1000lb bomb was the fourth and last to hit the Hiryu,  all of them in her bows.  Indeed, he was one of the last to attack, if not the last.  The Hiryu would burn for hours, then sink on her own later.

On June 6th, Norman again found himself diving on a Japanese ship, this time the cruiser Mikuma.

And again, he put his 1000lb bomb on target, becoming the only pilot at the Battle of Midway to score hits on three ships.  For his overall performance at this greatest victory, he would be awarded the Navy Cross.

As it turns out, Midway was Norman's last combat action.  He was transferred stateside where he trained the next generation of dive bomber pilots for the rest of the war.  He served in the Navy for 20 years, retiring with the rank of Captain.  He'd then go on to live a full and rewarding life.

Captain Norman Kleiss, once better known as "Dusty" Kleiss, died this past April 23rd at the age of 100.  He was the last dive bomber pilot to have served at the Battle of Midway to pass away.

Today is the 74th anniversary of Midway. 

Posted by: Wonderduck at 11:34 AM | Comments (8) | Add Comment
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