Sea History 102 - Autumn 2002

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tors from the Enterprise. Thus, in presence of rwo additional cruispressing their attack, the Hornet's ers, set in motion a sequence of fifteen torpedo-bombers were events that ended disastrously, and wholly unsupported. The attack the general line of criticism dirightly entered US naval lore berected against Nagumo is that he cause in accordance with rhe exshould have ordered an immediate pressed wishes of the squadro n attack without waiting to recover commander, Lieutenant Comaircraft returning from their mismander John C. Waldron, that all sion against Midway .... aircraft should press home the atThe real point of criticism USS Yorktown is hit on the port side, amidships, during the tack witho ut regard to the conseshould be directed not so much mid-afternoon attack by planes .from the carrier Hiryu. quences, the Devastators, formed against the decisions made or not made by Nagumo, with one possible ex- because after forty minutes in the air they into an extended lin e for search-and-attack ception, but rather to a plan of campaign could not be held any longer. What should purposes, were met by a combat air patrol that left rhe First Carrier Striking Force have been perhaps two set-piece attacks that accounted for every American aircrafr. exposed to defeat in detail and a fai lure on thus ended in six separate and uncoordi- Only one pilot survived an attack rhar the rhe part of Yamamoto and the Combined nated attacks. This fragmentation of effort, Japanese carriers evaded with ease. Fleet staff to keep the carrier formation this lack of concentration and coo rdinaThe trails left by Japanese fighters movfu lly informed of developments that di- tion, should have ensured fai lure bur per- ing against the Hornet's torpedo-bombers versely produced success. drew the attention of rhe Devastators from rectly affected its operations and safety. T he one possible exception-the decithe Enterprise. They had flown the pre* * * * * sion by Nagumo-rhar does invite criti- The first attacks on the Japanese force by scribed 239-degree course and found nothcism was the one thar committed the Japa- the US carrier squadrons certainly were less ing, and like the Hornet's formation searched nese carriers, once they had recovered their than impressive. In committing their squad- to the north when signs of battle attracted aircraft from rhe Midway strike, to sreer a rons to rhe offensive, the operations staff their notice at a range of thirty miles. At course that reduced the distance berween provided a course of239 degrees based on 0930, by which time the Hornet's torpedothemselves and the American carriers .... rhe assumption that rhe Japanese carriers bombers had been destroyed, the enemy Steering to the west in the hope that the would continue to close on Midway after carriers were sighted. In seeking to arrack, enemy strike would hit rhe empty sea or to launching their aircraft, but the Japanese the Devastators, coming from the south, the north may nor have evaded every en- formation was to the north of where rhe had to work their way from astern around emy squadron, bur either course might American staff had calculated it to be be- the flank of a fast-moving enemy to posihave bought the Japanese carriers those cause ir had lost time in bea ring off the tions from which to mount their assault. attacks made by aircraft from Midway. The Devastators split themselves into two extra minutes that they needed. Inevitably, because rhe Japanese lost this Moreover, ir had then turn ed onro a course forces in rhe hope of dividing the Zekes and battle, the attention ofHistory has concen- that would have taken ir astern of rhe Japanese antiaircraft fire, bur rhe combat trated on their plan of campaign and con- American formations and hence north and air patrol accounted for ten of rhe Devastaduct of operations, and rhe basic line rhar clear of American aircraft seeking conracr tors before the survivors simply aimed themhas been followed over rhe years has been on rhe prescribed 239-degree course. If all selves at the nearest carrier, rhe Kaga, and rhar they largely brought defeat upon them- these aircraft had flown this course, none launched their torpedoes as best they could. selves. Such a conclusion cannot be denied, would have sigh red rhe enemy carriers , and Such improvisation ensured rhe escape of but it could be said that the American such was the fare of the Dauntlesses and these four Dauntlesses. The Kaga evaded conduct of operations came close to snatch- Wildcats from the Hornet. These planes the torpedoes aimed at her with ease. This attack took place between 0940 ing defeat from the jaws of victory. Two flew the set course until 0930, by which aspects of this conduct of operations-the time they should have been directly over and about 1005 , and scarcely had it ended rwin facts that berween 0552 and 0838 the enemy formation. With visibility good than a third arrack, by the Devastators Fletcher received no signal reporting the in all directions, the aircraft encountered from the Yorktown, began. Unlike the torpedo-bombers from the orher two carriers, strength , position, and co urse of the First empty ocean .... The Hornet's remaining squadron did the twelve from the Yorktown had fighter Carrier Striking Force and that Task Force 16 took an hour to launch a total of 117 find the enemy, mainly because it had ex- support in the shape of six Wildcats, but aircraft while the Yor!?town did not begin to pected to do so north of the calculated the Japanese com bar air patrol at this stage launch her aircraft until 0838, or thirty-rwo position. The torpedo-bombers met the was in strength and at low level , and hence minures after rhe Enterprise and Hornet had enemy as the latter turned away from Mid- able to move immediately against the completed flying off their aircraft-pro- way, just after 0918, but under conditions American formation. Moreover, the invide ample evidence of such a charge. With rharwere disastrous. The D evastators should coming American aircraft were sighted by the Enterprise and Ho rnet being delayed in have been afforded fighter cover, but dur- Japanese cruisers at a range of eighteen the launching of their Devastators and Wild- ing the Wildcats' climb to medium altitude miles. This combination of Japanese adcats, the two carriers had to send our rheir visual contact had been lost and rhe Hornet' s vantages served to ensure that ten of rhe Dauntless bombers without fighter cover fighters aligned themselves with D evasta- Devas tators were destroyed, seven before 10


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