June 03, 2010

June 3, 1942: The Battle Begins

Conventional wisdom says that the Battle of Midway began on June 4th, 1942.  Just as the conventional wisdom that says that the Japanese carriers were five minutes from launching a devastating attack on the US carriers is incorrect, this too is wrong.  The Battle of Midway actually began on June 3rd.  To be sure, all the dramatic parts of the fight occurred the following day, but the two opponents started throwing armament at each other on the third day of June.

Nine B-17s took off from the runways of Midway's Eastern Island around 1230pm on June 3rd.  After a flight of about three hours, they found the transports of the Imperial Japanese Navy's Midway Occupation Force, tasked to effect the actual invasion of the atoll, approximately 500 miles to the west.  The B-17s claimed multiple hits on the lumbering transports, though managed none whatsoever, despite a total absence of CAP and effective antiaircraft fire.

Meanwhile, a thousand miles or more to the northeast of Midway, two light carriers of the IJN (the Ryujo and the Junyo)  launched an attack on Dutch Harbor, Alaska.  12 Zero fighters, 10 Val dive bombers and 10 Kate torpedo bombers (operating in horizontal bombing mode) lifted off from the tiny flight decks in miserable weather.  This attack caused minor damage to oil storage tanks and the local radio station, while some bombs hit the barracks of Ft Mears, killing 25 soldiers.

The attack on the Aleutian Islands has often been called a diversionary assault, intended to draw out the American fleet from Pearl Harbor.  It turns out that that is not the case.  Both the attack on Midway and the attack on the Aleutians were supposed to begin on June 3rd, but the carrier fleet tasked for the Midway part of the attack were delayed by a day by refueling problems.

Late in the night of June 3rd, four PBY flying boats of Patrol Squadron 44 took off from the seaplane base at Midway, headed for the Occupation Force.  Early the next morning, one of them put a torpedo into the bows of the fleet oiler Akebono Maru.  Damage was relatively light, and the ship continued underway with little delay.  This was the only successful torpedo attack by the Americans for the entire battle.

The opening volleys of the most decisive naval victory in history had been fired; the next day would belong to the carriers.

Posted by: Wonderduck at 07:01 PM | Comments (5) | Add Comment
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During WWII most American fighter planes were armed with M2 Browning HMG. Because the Japanese planes were firetraps, the American planes were armed with 50% armor piercing rounds and 50% incendiary, alternating on the feed belts.

Against the Japanese that made a lot of sense. You needed the AP in order to do damage to engines if you hit them. But the incendiary rounds were just the ticket if you were hitting fuel tanks on wings.

Did the US use the same 50/50 belts in Europe against the Germans? Or did they use 100% AP?

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at June 04, 2010 08:26 PM (+rSRq)

2 Good question, Steven.  I'll have to research that one.  Fortunately, I've got just the books I'll need to get an answer, but it'll take some digging.

Posted by: Wonderduck at June 04, 2010 10:07 PM (iJfPN)

3 What kind of altitude would B-17s bomb a fleet from in the Pacific? Getting as high as possible makes sense in the ETO, but I would suspect that even a slow lumbering transport could dodge a stick of bomb dropped from 20,000 feet by a B-17 leaving contrails across the horizon for all to see.

Posted by: Will at June 06, 2010 09:07 AM (+tm6w)

4 They did bomb from high altitude, and their attack was dodged.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at June 06, 2010 11:03 AM (+rSRq)

5 Will, the B-17s attacked the transports at altitudes ranging from 8000 to 12000 feet, which was considered "medium" altitude.  The transports didn't even notice the Bs until after they had dropped their bombs, and jinked very late... and there were still no hits.

When the Flying Fortresses attacked Kido Butai the next day, they came in at 20000+ feet.  They were spotted early, and they again scored no hits, though Hiryu was bracketed by near misses that landed within her own length away.

Posted by: Wonderduck at June 06, 2010 11:16 PM (iJfPN)

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