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Remembering the Battle of Midway

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 From Our Photo Archive:

Raising the National Emblem during the height of the battle.

This dramatic incident was not staged.

 

Part four in our four-part series: The Battle of Midway

 

 

In the final segment of Remembering the Battle of Midway, you will hear a first-hand account of the Battle of Midway from Rear Adm. Joseph M. Worthington, who was the commanding officer of the USS Benham during the battle. Worthington discussed his participation in Midway in an oral interview with the U.S. Naval Institute in the spring of 1972. Worthington recalls the hours leading up to Midway, the sinking of Yorktown, and finally to the end of the battle. The American victory at Midway was a combination of courage, skill, and luck. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Chester Nimitz' audacious big gamble paid off. And even with the loss of the U.S. aircraft carrier Yorktown, and the sinking of several Imperial Japanese Navy carriers over the course of the battle, Midway provided a vivid illustration of how crucial naval air power was becoming in warfare at sea. "Remember Midway" was on the lips of all Americans from late spring 1942 until the end of the war more than three years later
 

 

 

Remembering the Battle of Midway

Available to the public for the first time, you can now listen to the voices of key figures involved in turning the tide against the Japanese in World War II, including Gen. James Doolittle, VADM Paul Stroop, RADM Roy Benson and many more.

This unique four-part series features live audio recordings from interviews conducted by the Naval Institute's distinguished Oral History Program. Premiering with the Doolittle Raid, the series includes the Battle of Coral Sea and culminates with a special two-part segment on the Battle of Midway.

Each 10-15 minute segment includes exclusive first person accounts as well as present-day experts who provide valuable perspective to these momentous events.

Part 1: Listen to Gen Doolittle recount – in his own words – the planning and execution of the Doolittle Raid, which gave the nation a badly needed victory after the dark days following Pearl Harbor.

This series was made possible by the in-kind generous support of the Department of Defense New Media Directorate. 

Part 2: The Battle of the Coral Sea was a strategic victory for the United States, the first time in the Pacific war Japanese forces had been thwarted from taking their objective. Tactically, however, the Japanese had won, sinking more than twice the tonnage they had lost. But the tide of the war was beginning to turn. And the real test of what the losses meant to both sides in the Coral Sea would come a month later at Midway.

Part 3: In the third segment of the four-part series of Remembering the Battle of Midway you will hear from U.S. Navy Adm. Ernest Eller, who provided an oral interview to the U.S. Naval Institute in November 1972 where he explained his part, as a writer of war reports, during World War II while stationed in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Midway was the defining moment in the naval history of World War II. Some might say it was the finest hour in the history of the U.S. Navy. With nearly two-thirds of the Imperial Japanese Navy's fleet carriers destroyed, the tide of the war in the Pacific had taken a dramatic turn. And the Japanese fleet would never recover. Courtesy of U.S. Naval Institute Oral History Program. 


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More Resources from our collection on the Battle of Midway 

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- Temporarily received topsoil from Hawaii in the early 1950s to aid in the growing of vegetables, 339-340; the island's gooney birds were amusing to watch, 340
 

(RADM George W. Bauernschmidt, SC)

- USS Nautilus (SS-168) operated in the area during the battle in June 1942 and sank the carrier Soryu with torpedoes, 184-190; site of "gooney bird lodge" built by Pan American Airways and used during World War II, 229-230

(RADM Roy S. Benson – Volume I)

- Japanese prisoners were taken after the June 1942 battle to Pearl Harbor, 128-130; the commanding officer of the atoll was demoralized by problems after the battle, 248-249, 251; description of Midway two days after the battle, 249, 252

(CAPT Slade D. Cutter – Volume I)

- Early indications in 1942 that Japanese geographical code AF meant Midway, 240-242; ruse concocted to prove that AF meant Midway by asking Hawaii to send a message in plain language that their evaporators had broken down, 242; scope of operation, 243; Wesley Wright and Joseph Finnegan determined systematic structure of day code, 244; good luck for U.S. that Japan was not able to change JN-25 code until 25 May, 244; night after Battle of Midway, Dyer attempted to solve message in tactical code but was unsuccessful, 245; Chicago Tribune published front-page story on Navy's advance knowledge of attack, 269-270

(CAPT Thomas H. Dyer)

- Eller's tour of the island with Admiral Chester Nimitz prior to the June 1942 battle, 536; carrier planes' actions described, 536-541; fate of the Yorktown (CV-5), the aftermath, and understanding the battle, 541-544; Eller worked on after-action report, 544-545; Nimitz's reticence to counter the misinformation that high-level bombers defeated the Japanese, because would also be revealing the breaking of the code, 545-548; Eller viewed the battle as turning point in the war, 548-549

(RADM Ernest M. Eller, Volume II)

- USS Hornet(CV-8) participation, 495-501; speculation on what might have been, 503-504; west forging attacks on Japanese heavy cruisers (Mogami and Mikuma), 505-506; comments on the role of intelligence, 506-507

(CAPT Stephen Jurika, Jr. – Volume I)

- Jurika on the preparations made en route to battle 508-512

(CAPT Stephen Jurika, Jr. – Volume II)

- The exact date set by the Japanese for the attack was determined, 108-109; analysis of Japanese naval radio traffic helped US vessels to prevent enemy reconnaissance on Pearl Harbor, thus leading to Japan's failure at Midway, 112-113; Japanese traffic analysis (May 1942) indicated Midway as the objective, 122-125; Layton denies all written stories that Nimitz had the entire Japanese battle order before Midway, 125-127; sequence of events leading to Rochefort's removal, 137-140

(RADM Edwin T. Layton)

- Intense interest of the officers in the battle's development, 73; efforts of the Army Air Forces to participate in the fight, 74

(VADM Fitzhugh Lee)

- Code breaking provided information on Japanese plans prior to attack, 239-242; Libby saw it as fortunate that Vice Admiral William Halsey was incapacitated with shingles prior to battle of Midway, 240; story about planned attack and broken Japanese code ran in U.S. newspaper, 241

(VADM Rutheven E. Libby)

- Loss of TBD Devastators from Torpedo Squadron Eight in June 1942, 58-59

(CAPT Grayson Merrill)

- Loss of Torpedo Squadron Eight in this June 1942 battle, 58-59

(Navy Wives – Mrs. Marc A. Mitscher)

- Impotence of Army Air Forces B-17s, 21, 29; importance of intelligence before battle and necessity to keep knowledge secret, 26-27, 29; Noel felt the importance of battle was never fully realized, 29; Noel considered it fortuitous that Vice Admiral William Halsey was hospitalized in May 1942 and replaced by Rear Admiral Raymond Spruance before Midway, 29-30; USS Sicard (DM-21) got news of battle from coding machine, 30-31; salvage tug skipper who heard news of Midway battle and damage to Yorktown (CV-5) during poker game at Pearl Harbor correctly anticipated orders to go to her aid, 31

(CAPT John V. Noel)

- Living conditions during 1942, 73-75; intelligence before battle in June of 1942, 39-40, 76-77; preparation for battle by PBY squadrons stationed there, 76-80; detail and accuracy of intelligence won the battle of Midway, 101-102; Ogden's thoughts on possible outcome of the battle if prior intelligence had not been available, 102-103

(CAPT James R. Ogden)

- PB2Ys fly to island for first time, 53; (1934): beginning of its development for fleet operations, 53-54; difficulties in moving planes to Midway from Hawaii; limits of the planes and inhibitions of the pilots, 59-60; fleet exercise in spring of 1935, 61-62

(VADM Robert Burns Pirie)

- Developing the seaplane base on Midway Island in December 1940, 43-44; patrols of VP-14 from Midway, 62-64

(RADM Arthur W. Price, Jr.)

- The Army Air Forces made exaggerated claims for credit in the victorious battle in June 1942, 52-53; effect on some individual participants, 54-55; role of Lieutenant Commander Wade McClusky, 129-130

(RADM James D. Ramage)

- The approaching battle for the island, 73-74; deterioration of facilities (1946), 199

(VADM Lawson P. Ramage)

- Postwar analysis of the battle by a team at the Naval War College, 102-104

(VADM David C. Richardson)

- Five patrol plane squadrons were temporarily placed there in May 1935 to scout out its suitability as a base, 87-88

(VADM Herbert D. Riley)

- Station Hypo's ploy to convince U.S. officers of Midway's identification in coded Japanese messages in early 1942, 210-213; message of 25 May 1942 gave the United States precise information on planned Japanese attack, 214-224, 230-233; Army planes procured to patrol after battle by Admiral Nimitz, 227-230; conflict between services over who could take credit for damage inflicted at Midway, 245-246; Japanese operations, 248-250

(CAPT Joseph J. Rochefort)

- Occupation of Midway would aid the Japanese in establishing a north Pacific barrier patrol to detect hostile forces, like the Doolittle raiders, 145

(ADM James S. Russell)

- Served as a U.S. submarine base in World War II, 64; grounding near Midway in 1943 by the submarine Scorpion (SS-278), 64

(CAPT Paul R. Schratz)

- Disappointing assignment with the Supply Force during the battle, 87

(VADM Roland N. Smoot)

- Flight from Johnston Island to Midway in 1935 a chance to experience "gassing by rank," 22

(VADM Bernard M. Strean)

- Construction around 1940 of U.S. aviation facilities, 60-61; the heavy cruiser Chester (CA-27) made a hurried voyage westward from California in June 1942 but was too late to take part in the battle, 122

(VADM Paul Stroop)

- General overview of location, time of departure, and state of the Yorktown (CV-5), 226-227; Thach and his fellow aviators had no doubts about the importance of the upcoming battle, and so took extra preparations to insure aircraft readiness, 227-229; held a conference with the commanders of the dive bombers and torpedo planes as to the assignment of the fighter escort, 229-231; explained how as a lieutenant he made the kind of decisions reserved for higher-ranking officers in Vietnam, 231-232; description of the capabilities of the U.S. torpedo planes, dive bombers, and fighters, 232; feelings at the time were uncertainty as well as optimism, 233-234; personal disagreement with the separation of the Yorktown (CV-5) from the other two carriers, and the bulk of the fighters being held back, 234-235; discussion of Thach's squadron formation;, 235-238; digression on the development of the "Thach Weave," 238-240; the weather on the day of battle and the difference in take-off times for the carrier task groups, 240-241; last minutes before takeoff, 241-244; assault by large wave of Zeroes as Thach's squadron approached the Japanese fleet, 244-251; attacks launched by the U.S. torpedo planes and dive bombers, 251-252; the squadron avoided the tempting "single Zero" trap, and Thach observed the extensive damage done to the Japanese carriers, 252-253; varying situations between the different planes concerning gasoline and flying time, 253-254; felt relief that being shot down wasn't inevitable, but debated whether he chose right in giving the escort to the torpedo planes, 254-257; aftermath of the first attack; details concerning the American casualties, from enemy fire and friendly fire, 258-259; explained what it feels like to be a fighter plane, 259; discusses his emotions as the engagement with the Zeroes wound down, 259-260; fears were natural, but shouldn't become overwhelming, 261-263; expressed respect and admiration for his opponent, 261-262; Thach's mechanic removed an incendiary bullet from his gas tank, 263-264; brief digression on hand signals used to communicate with the deck crew as returning from an attack, 264; explained how his plane's engine was completely emptied of its oil, 264-265; reasons why only his squadron engaged the enemy, 265-266; Japanese dive bomber attack began to assail the Yorktown (CV-5), 266-267; available U.S. fighters launched to combat recently arrived torpedo planes, 267-269; the dedication of Japanese pilots, 269-270; Japanese torpedo planes shot down, but not before landing the fatal hits to the Yorktown (CV-5), 270-272; expressed anger over poor placement of the carriers, emphasizing Rear Admirals Frank Jack Fletcher and Raymond Spruance's inexperience with carriers, 272-275; discussion on who was to blame for the loss, 275-277; satisfied that his squadron performed the doctrine well, 277; recounts how many pilots and planes each side lost, 277-278; meeting with Spruance as to whether to pursue the remnants of the enemy fleet, 278-279; subsequent combat air patrols allowed, but uneventful since no more attacks, 279;Army claimed success of B-17s in the battle, 279-280; Thach's press conferences in Boston and Washington, D.C. dealing with Navy successes at Midway, 301-309

(ADM John S. Thach – Volume I)

- Disposition of U.S. submarines for the battle in June 1942, 176-177, 188-189; failure of the Tambor (SS-198) to give a complete report on contacts after battle, 195

(RADM Edward K. Walker)

- Hornet (CV-8) rushed ahead of North Carolina (BB-55), considered the more vital participant at Midway, 33-34

(ADM Alfred G. Ward)

- As a base for U.S. submarine operations in 1944, 185

(RADM Norvell G. Ward)

- Rendezvous between Rear Admirals Raymond Spruance and Frank Jack Fletcher, the plan being to exploit the element of surprise, 175-176; first sightings of the Japanese fleet and enemy planes near Midway; Spruance launched all available aircraft to attack the carriers, 176; the Yorktown (CV-5) reported the first dive-bombing attack, and Worthington reviewed the distribution of ships guarding the U.S. carriers, 176-177; the valiant fight and loss of the Yorktown (CV-5), 177-180; as third air attack reported, the Benham (DD-397) added significantly to the recovery of Yorktown (CV-5) survivors, 180-182; the controversial withdrawal eastward, followed by Rear Admiral Frank Fletcher giving Rear Admiral Raymond Spruance fighter director command, 181-182; tranfer of rescued personnel – damage-control people to the Astoria, the remaining ones to the Portland, 183-184; potential danger of Japanese submarines in the area, 184; the return of the Benham (DD-397) and other ships in assisting salvage operations resulted in the Hammann (DD-412) getting torpedoed, 184-186; the Benham (DD-397) took part in rescuing the crew of the Hammann (DD-412), 186-188; recovery after return trip to Pearl Harbor, 188-192; recognition that the battle was over, 189; introduction to Midway speech – summary of how U.S. obtained the vital information in breaking the Japanese naval code, 195-196; the Japanese were also collecting vast data, but lacked information on U.S. forces prior to Midway and were fooled by the position of our carriers, 196; movement of the major U.S. carriers during the first 6 months of war, noting the ability to travel long distances without extensive upkeep, 196-197; defense of Midway insured by Nimitz sending everything he could find, 197; the clever ruse which verified Midway as the target of the main Japanese attack, 197-198; Japanese plans and preliminary movements, 198; comparison of the opposing naval forces, 198-199; the actions of the first day (June 3rd), 199-200; Midway fended off an enemy air attack, 200-201; successive air attacks and a marauding sub impeded Japanese carrier operations, exposing them to McClusky's dive bombers, 200-201; revenge exacted for dive-bombing attack of the Yorktown (CV-5), by pursuing and sinking the Hiryu, 201-202; Rear Admiral Spruance unaware of the main enemy body's location as re-assembled forces withdraw, 202; Japanese failed assaults on Midway Island, 202-203; the unsuccessful search for the retiring enemy ships, 203; departure on the 6th for a fueling rendezvous, 204; brief synopsis of the critical decisions that turned the tide for the U.S., 204-205; acknowledges the battle was won by individuals, while citing other U.S. advantages, 205-206; the effective U.S. disposition of subs, in contrast to the Japanese, 206-207; torpedo capabilites of U.S. destroyers, 207-208; a look at what-if factors, 208; analysis and questioning of Yamamoto's actions, 208-210; presentation of the subject at the Advanced Intelligence School, 267-269

(RADM Joseph Muse Worthington)

COMPILED AND RESEARCHED BY: MICHAEL VANDEREEDT,BROADNECK HIGH SCHOOL,
ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND, JULY 1999

To obtain copies of this material, please contact:

U.S. Naval Institute
Oral History Program
291 Wood Road
Annapolis, MD 21402-5034

Phone: 1-800-233-8764
Fax: (410)269-7940
Email: oralhistory@usni.org

 

 


 
 

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