Thursday, May 31, 2012

June 4, 1942

By Warren Sparrow

This time of year there is much excitement about things military.  After all, we are only a few days past Memorial Day.  "Thank you for your service," is the order of the day.  Indeed.

Let us talk about "service."  What about June 4, not June 6?  We all remember June 6.  Was June 6 not D-Day?  Yes. But, let us talk about June 4.  What is June 4?  Some would say June 4 is the day we should celebrate more than any other in terms of sacrifice and military achievement.

Seventy years ago, June 4, 1942, was the day the US Navy came through.  In what some historians claim to be the greatest triumph of arms in history, US Naval Aviators from the aircraft carriers Enterprise, Hornet and Yorktown won the Battle of Midway in "the time it would take to boil an egg."

Douglas TBD Devastators
Of course these pilots could not have done it without the help of code breakers.  The code breakers made it possible for the US Navy to "ambush" the Japanese forces.  But, it was the pilots who won the day.  First, the poor souls of Torpedo 8 attacked the Japanese carriers.  Their lumbering planes were no match for the Japanese Zeros.  Every Torpedo 8 plane was shot down, 15 in all.

A second wave of torpedo planes attacked.  They got a little closer than Torpedo 8 but did no damage to the Japanese carriers. Only 4 of the 15 made it back to their carrier.  At this point in the battle, the Japanese were elated.  Their joy was short-lived.

In their zeal to shoot down the ocean-skimming torpedo planes, the Japanese pilots were too close to the water to respond to what was about to happen in the next few minutes.  It is upon this slender reed that the war in the Pacific turned.

 Douglas SBD Dauntless Dive Bombers

 From high above the Japanese carriers, US Navy dive-bombers headed down.  They were unopposed thanks to the torpedo-plane pilots who pressed their futile attack.

Japanese Carrier being bombed  (artist's rendering)

Three of the four Japanese carriers were struck with bombs dropped from the SBD Dauntless dive-bombers.  These carriers were the pride of the Japanese fleet. The destruction of these ships was accomplished in about six minutes.

The fourth carrier was destroyed the following day.  In order to be "fair and balanced," the Japanese were able to sink an American carrier, the USS Yorktown, using a combination of naval air and submarine attacks.  But, the Hornet and Enterprise survived without damage.

The Japanese returned to home waters.  Though it took more than three years and thousands of lives thereafter to get to the end, it was June 4, 1942, when victory was won.

Prior to the Battle of Midway, the Japanese Navy was undefeated, sailing toward a battle of its choosing, one it was sure to win. Things were fine, so the Japanese thought, until June 4.

"Hell Diver"

As the Dauntless dive-bombers bore down on June 4, the Japanese lookouts screamed, "Hell-divers!"

The rest, like I have heard, "is history."  Some history.


Torpedo 8 crew from the Hornet.  All but one were killed on June 4, 1942