Vengeance at Midway

Today in History, June 4, 1942:

The Battle of Midway.

The war had been going badly for the Americans in the Pacific. The Japanese had begun the war 7 months earlier by bombing Pearl Harbor, destroying most of the American fleet, but missing the US carriers, which had all been at sea. In the interim came sweeping victories across the Pacific for the IJN, raids by US carrier task forces on Japanese strongholds, the Doolittle Raid and the Battle of the Coral Sea. The US lost the Lexington at Coral Sea, and the Yorktown had been badly damaged.

Then code breakers at Pearl figured out that the next target of the IJN was Midway Island, the westernmost island of the Hawaiian chain. Admiral Yamamoto’s plan was to draw the American carriers out and destroy them, leaving the Pacific unprotected. The code breakers changed the entire game.

The Enterprise and Hornet rushed back to Pearl for rearming, as did the Yorktown. The repair crew told Admiral Nimitz they needed 3 months to repair the Yorktown; he gave them 3 days.

When the IJN attacked Midway, they expected the American carriers to be responding to the scene, giving them plenty of time to lay a trap; instead, Nimitz had positioned his carriers northeast of Midway to lay in wait. When a PBY seaplane (Strawberry 5) spotted the Japanese carriers, it was all Admirals Spruance and Fletcher needed.

The three American carriers launched their aircraft. The obsolete TBD Devastator torpedo bombers were the first to find the IJN carriers. The versatile Japanese Zero fighters dove to the wave tops and tore them apart, leaving almost no survivors. The sacrifice, while not intentional, served a purpose.

Next to arrive on the scene were SBD Dauntless dive bombers, which dove to attack from altitude. With all of the Japanese fighters drawn to the “deck”, they had no fighters to oppose them. Diving at 70 degrees, the pilots hanging from their seat belts, the rear gunners pressed against their seats with no view of what was to come, the bombers dropped their bombs with deadly accuracy.

Admiral Nagumo, informed of the American fleet by a scout plane, had ordered his aircraft, just back from Midway, rearmed. So when the American bombs fell, the Japanese carrier decks were filled with aircraft, bombs, torpedoes and fuel. Three of the four IJN carriers were destroyed in minutes. The fourth would be picked off in a later raid.

Within minutes, thanks to the sacrifice and courage of a few brave airmen, the tide of the war in the Pacific had changed. There was still a long road ahead; but the seemingly unstoppable onslaught of the IJN had been stopped. Worse than the loss of 4 carriers was the loss of hundreds of Japans finest aviators.

The Americans would lose the Yorktown, but the Japanese were devastated. Admiral Yamamoto had told his contemporaries that they had a year before the tide of the war turned against them due to American industries. The American sailors and airmen at Midway cut that time in half.

The China Clipper Adventure

Today in History, November 22:

A Martin M-130 flying boat owned by Pan American Airways takes off from San Francisco, flies under the yet to be completed San Francisco Bridge on it’s way to the Orient.

With this the China Clipper inaugurated commercial air service via Hawaii, Midway, Wake Island, Guam to the Philippines. If you had the money, a romantic 7 day trip across the Pacific Ocean was now possible.

Bruno Peter Gaido and The Battle of Midway

 

Today in History, June 4: 1942 – The Battle of Midway and Aviation Machinist Mate First Class Bruno Peter Gaido.

Today is a special day, the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Midway during WWII.  In brief, US Pacific forces had been decimated by a Japanese onslaught since Pearl Harbor.  The US Navy and USAAF had been fighting back, however, by bombing Japan during the Doolittle Raid, the Battle of the Coral Sea and several raids by Carrier Groups across the Pacific.

During a raid in March, 1942 on the Marshall Islands by a Task Force built around the USS Enterprise (CV 6), the ship was attacked by five twin engine Betty bombers.  Under withering fire, four turn back.  The lead plane however, attempts to crash into the aircraft carrier.  As the bomber grew closer, Aviation Machinist Mate Third Class Bruno Peter Gaido springs from the catwalk surround the flight deck and runs to a nearby SBD Dauntless Diver Bomber.  He climbs into the rear of the plane to use the rear gunner’s machine gun.  He began firing at the enemy plane, maintaining the fire into it’s cockpit even as it’s wing slices the rear of the SBD away mere inches from him.  The Betty crashed into the sea, and Bruno is credited with causing to miss the ship.

Bruno disappeared inside the bowels of the ship, figuring he’d be in trouble for leaving his normal battle station.  Quite the contrary; Admiral William “Bull” Halsey had him brought to the bridge, where he summarily ordered him promoted to Aviation Machinist Mate FIRST Class.

Spring forward to June 4, 1942 and Bruno Gaido was in the rear of Ensign Frank O’Flaherty’s Dauntless as they dove on the IJN Carrier Kaga when Bombing and Scouting 6 from Enterprise sent her to the bottom.  As many know, Akagi, Soryu and Hiryu would also be sunk that day.

Can you imagine what being a rear gunner in a WWII dive bomber must have been like?  During the attack, the aircraft dove at a 70% angle, nearly straight down.  Held tight by safety belts, scanning for any fighters that dared to attempt to follow the dive, the rear gunner may never have known of a crash or a hit by anti-aircraft fire.

After their bombing run Ensign O’Flaherty and AMM Gaido attempted to make it home to Enterprise, but due to a punctured fuel tank and another attack by Japanese Zero fighters, had to ditch at sea.

The pair were picked up, “rescued” by the Japanese destroyer Makigumo.  The officers of the destroyer, angered by the loss they had witnessed of the Japanese carriers, interrogated and tortured the American airmen.  After days of this, on June 15, they ordered weights tied the both men and had them thrown overboard to drown.  The Japanese sailors who survived the war to tell said both men faced their fate with courage and stoicism.  Bruno Gaido’s ship mates had expected no less…he had gained a reputation.

As for the war criminals on the Makigumo?  The ship was sunk during the Guadalcanal campaign and none of the officers responsible for the murder survived the war.