June 14th, 2009


Douglas SBD Dauntless and the Significance of the Battle of Midway

This was the airplane that sunk 3 Japanese carriers in the Battle of Midway, and was the only airplane that was truly superior to the equivalent Japanese aircraft it opposed on June 4, 1942. The Junkers Ju-87 Stuka was the iconic dive bomber of the Luftwaffe, and the "Val," the Aichi D3A was the bomber so successfully employed, in combination with torpedo bombers, at Pearl Harbor.

The featured speaker was Ronald W. Russell, a retired chief warrant officer who is the editor and moderator of the internet based Battle of Midway Roundtable. He summarized the significance of the battle, as follows:

1. The Japanese were overly confident about the security of their naval code, and transmitted coded data by radio, where it was being monitored and translated by American code breakers.

2. Battle damage sustained by the Shokaku, and the air group of the Zuikaku at the Battle of the Coral Sea, one month earlier, made the Japanese force attacking Midway smaller than intended.

3. Despite very significant battle damage in the Coral Sea Battle, the Yorktown was repaired in 3 days and contributed to the Midway victory.

4. VT-8, of the Hornet, flying TBD's and led by John Waldron, defied the instructions given by the air group commander, deviated from the prescribed course, and found the Japanese fleet, making the initial low level torpedo attack and bringing the defending fighters down to sea level.

5. VT-6 of the Enterprise lost 10 of 14 planes, in a second low level attack, as flaming wreckage of VT-8's Devastators marked the location of the Japanese fleet. Again the defending fighters remained at sea level.

6 Yorktown VT-3's TBD's followed the smoke, attacked and met a similar fate, losing 10 of 12 planes to the low level Zeros.

7. Nineteen U.S. submarines were deployed in ambush, including the U.S.S. Nautilus which attracted the attention of the escorting destroyer, Arashi, which detached from the carrier force to deal with the contact. Two dive bomber squadrons from the Enterprise (SBD's), commanded by Wade McClusky followed the direction pointed by the destroyer and found the Japanese carriers with their fighter escort engaged at sea level.

8. Nagumo had twice changed the armaments of his bombers and torpedo planes and the carriers' decks exposed armament and fuel to the aerial attack that ensued.

9. Yorktown's VB-3 SBD's launched one hour earlier arrived over the Japanese carrier fleet at the same time as McClusky's 2 squadrons, so simultaneously 48 dive bombers delivered an attack that was not vigorously opposed by fighters. Within 5 minutes, 3 Japanese carriers were flaming wrecks.

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