Joy for June
I just finished reading your June issue—in my mind one of the very best in the many years I’ve read Naval History!
Thanks for the excellent work.
A Reuterdahl-Recruit Connection
The June issue features an article on Henry Reuterdahl (“The Navy’s Artist of Reform”) and a “Historic Ships” column on the landship Recruit (“Manhattan’s Battleship”). There is, in fact, an interesting connection between these two stories.
Reuterdahl was in charge of painting the Recruit. The actual painting was done by the U.S. Women’s Reserve Camouflage Corps, but the pattern reportedly was designed by Reuterdahl. And as noted in the 12 July 1918 New York Tribune, as the women coated the ship in dazzle camouflage, “Henry Reuterdahl, the artist, was present with suggestions.”
In addition, Reuterdahl created the painting that graced the cover of the Recruit promotional booklet shown here.
Relative Strengths at Midway
I respect Shattered Sword coauthors Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully’s argument, repeated in the former’s Naval History cover story (“Timeless Battle, Evolving Interpretations”), that the United States outnumbered Japan in ships and planes at Midway, but this contention downplays another fact: the qualitative superiority of the Japanese versus the Americans.
It is true there were more U.S than Japanese planes at Midway—but the B-17s and B-26s stationed on Midway only put some bomb splinters into a Japanese transport and some bullets into the Akagi. Their crews lacked the skill and tactics to make them effective antiship weapons.
The U.S. fighters at Midway boasted only seven reliable Grumman Wildcats, while the remaining 21 were Brewster Buffaloes, the despised “Flying Coffins.” The dive bombers and torpedo planes were a mix of Grumman TBFs, Douglass SBD Dauntlesses, and Vought SB2U Vindicators. Only the first two could be counted as first-rate, while the Vindicators were so old and obsolete as to be nicknamed “Wind Indicators.” This mix of planes also failed to score hits, chiefly due to crew inexperience (though the ancient Vindicators were a liability unto themselves). The U.S. aircraft disrupted and delayed his carrier operations, but Admiral Chuichi Nagumo had the qualitative edge in planes and aircrews.
It can be argued the Japanese outnumbered the Americans at Midway because, despite dispersing their numerical strength, they still had superior qualitative strength.
Mr. Parshall replies:
Mr. Held is correct that, in certain areas, the Japanese held a qualitative edge over their American opponents. But one of my overall goals for this article was to continue pushing back against 80 years of the “common wisdom” on the battle, which has it that the Americans were outnumbered, and only a “miracle” resulted in their triumph against overwhelming odds.
That myth is still pretty pernicious even today, and it still needs correcting. In terms of raw numbers of warships at the tip of the spear, it was the Japanese who were outnumbered, and not the other way around.
Mr. Held is right that, given one’s druthers in climbing into, say, the cockpit of a TBD Devastator or a Japanese B5N Kate that morning, the prudent aviator would select the Kate. No question, too, that assets such as the B-17 and B-26 were not going to be effective in a ship-attack role. But dig farther into what something like “aircraft quality” really means, and things start getting a lot squishier.
The Zero was probably a better fighter than the Wildcat. But the Wildcats held their own that morning, too. And later, in the Solomons, when flown with better tactics, they demonstrated that they could do more than hold their own. So what was an average Wildcat “worth” on the morning of 4 June? Answering that question would involve making an assessment of training, doctrine, tactics, etc. But it is an interesting topic, and I thank Mr. Held for raising it.
More Arkansas Valor
Captain Thomas G. Kelley,
U.S. Navy (Retired)
Thoroughly enjoyed the profile of Medal of Honor recipient Nathan Gordon (“Acts of Valor”). A remarkable story! There is more to follow. Mr. Gordon’s successor as lieutenant governor of Arkansas was Maurice L. “Footsie” Britt. Like Gordon, he had played football at the University of Arkansas and, also like Gordon, he had received the Medal of Honor. Britt was recognized for his service as a captain with the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Division in Italy on 10 November 1945. Both men served their country, and their state, with distinction.
Editor’s Note: Captain Kelley received the Medal of Honor “for conspicuous gallantry” while serving as commander of River Assault Division 152 during the Vietnam War. He was president of the Medal of Honor Society from 2015 to 2017.
Correction: On page 31 of the June issue, the sentence that reads, “. . . Ponte Vedra Beach, south of St. Augustine, Florida. . . .” should read, “. . . Ponte Vedra Beach, north of St. Augustine, Florida. . . .”