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06-24-04, 10:13 AM #1
Aviators paid high price for win in Midway fight
Issue Date: June 28, 2004
The Lore of the Corps
Aviators paid high price for win in Midway fight
By Keith A. Milks
Special to the Times
By late spring 1942, Japan had unknowingly reached the high-water mark of its offensive campaign across the Pacific and Eastern Asia. The United States, still reeling from a series of stinging defeats, soon would turn the tables on the Japanese at an isolated Pacific outpost called Midway.
The air battle to defend the island would be a turning point for Marine Corps aviation as well.
Japanese warships shelled Midway on Dec. 7, 1941. The following spring, intercepted Japanese radio traffic told of a pending invasion of the island.
By early June 1942, the island boasted Marines of the 3rd and 4th Defense Battalions, 2nd Raider Battalion and Marine Aircraft Group 22.
While the Marines on the ground eventually met the Japanese with anti-aircraft fire, it was MAG-22 — which included Marine Fighter Squadron 221 and Marine Scout Bomber Squadron 231 — that bore the lion’s share of the battle for the Marines.
MAG-22 aircraft included 19 SBD-2 Dauntless dive-bombers and seven F4F-3 Wildcat fighters. The aircraft also included 17 SB2U-3 Vindicator scout bombers and 21 F2A-3 Buffalo fighters — aircraft that were considered obsolete.
Early on June 4, 108 Japanese carrier-based bombers, fighters and dive bombers heading toward Midway were met by 25 fighters (19 Buffaloes and six Wildcats) led by Maj. Floyd Parks. Though they were outnumbered by more than 4 to 1, the Marine pilots tore into the oncoming Japanese aircraft.
Despite the heavy force imbalance and inferior aircraft, the flying leathernecks shot down or sent limping away 36 enemy planes. This achievement came with a price, however: Fifteen Marine aircraft and their pilots were lost, including Parks.
Meanwhile, anti-aircraft fire and Zero fighters intercepted Marine Dauntless and Vindicator bombers attacking the Japanese fleet, suffering horribly while scoring only minor damage against the Japanese ships. Eleven Marines were shot down, including the mission commander.
But as Marines wrestled with inferior aircraft, carrier-based Navy aircraft were able to turn the tide of battle.
After attacking Midway, the massive Japanese air armada returned to its four carriers to rearm and refuel, and that’s where the Navy found them.
Navy dive-bombers and fighters sank three of the four Japanese carriers — each of which was loaded with fuel and ammunition-laden aircraft — and seriously crippled the fourth, which was sunk later in the day.
The next day, as the Japanese fleet limped away from Midway, the Marines again went on the attack. Led by Capt. Marshall Tyler, who was Marine Scout Bomber Squadron 241’s third commanding officer in less than 24 hours, Marines in six Dauntless and six Vindicator bombers attacked two stricken Japanese ships.
Capt. Richard Fleming led the formation of Vindicators in the attack, as he had done twice the day before, and attacked the cruiser Mogami. Peppered by anti-aircraft fire during his approach and with his plane burning furiously, Fleming stayed the course and dropped his bombs against the Japanese ship. In doing so, however, he slammed into the ship’s after turret, causing extensive damage and engulfing the ship in flames. For his courage he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
All told, 49 Marines were killed in the battle, and 53 were wounded. In addition, the carrier Yorktown was sunk, nearly 100 planes — Marine and Navy — were lost, and facilities on the contested island were severely damaged.
Still, the battle was an unmitigated American victory. The Japanese lost four carriers, several escort ships, more than 325 planes, and their ability to wage offensive naval operations.
Two months later, to honor the Marines who fought at Midway, the airfield on Guadalcanal was dubbed Henderson Field in honor of Maj. Lofton Henderson, who died leading the first wave of dive-bombers against the Japanese on June 4.
But the battle for Midway was also a turning point for Marine aviation in the war: The Corps’ losses helped prompt stepped-up production of newer and better aircraft to carry it through the war.
The writer, a gunnery sergeant, is deployed to Afghanistan with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit.
07-21-04, 10:59 AM #2
"MIDWAY" by Walter Lord is an excellent blow-by-blow account of this historic Naval engagement.This is an excellent account of Marine Corps Aviation and Lore.Major Hendersons story in particular.He knew there wasn't a chance in Hell of returning,He led his squadron in anyway with amazing results.Also in the pages of "Midway" is Ensign George Gay's story,who was the only Officer on both sides to witness the entire engagement and survive,albeit,bobbing in the Ocean hiding under an un-inflated raft.Bless those Marines and Sailors,Things would be very different today had they not stepped up and performed so Valiently.
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