Official newsletter of the Battle of Midway Roundtable


"To promote awareness and understanding of the great battle and to honor the men who fought and won it."


28 August 2005....................Issue No. 2005-33....................Our 8th Year


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.............................................. AROUND THE TABLE ...............................................






1.  Breaking the Japanese Code:  Who Knew?

2.  Coral Sea:  Getting It Right

3.  Last Muster for Walt Grist

4.  The Saga of Norman Pichette

5.  Chaplain Linzey With President Bush, 30 August


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"Breaking the Japanese Code:  Who Knew?"   (see issues #29, 30, 31, 32)


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25 August 2005

From:  Mac Showers   (BOM vet, Combat Intelligence Unit, Pearl Harbor)


    When I talked with GEN Anderson and CAPT Crawford about Midway last week, I asked them about any intelligence briefings they received on the Yorktown prior to the battle.  Each told an interesting story.  GEN Anderson, a member of Yorktown's Marine detachment, rode her back to Pearl and then on to Midway.  He said that, while enroute from SoPac to Pearl, a special briefing was given to all ship's officers.  They were assembled in the wardroom, and the Marines had to post guards at each entrance to control access.   He said that the briefing was then given by the communications officer and was about the anticipated Japanese attack upon and occupation of Midway, including the composition of the force, etc.

    CAPT Crawford had orders to the Yorktown, and was awaiting her return at Pearl Harbor.  When she returned from Coral Sea with extensive damage, he was told she'd be there under repair for up to four months, and he was retained in his temporary duty assignment.  He then heard that she was going to get underway one day hence, and he scrambled to get his detachment orders so he could report on board.  He accomplished this about 10 PM the night before she sailed to Midway.  He recounted that while underway to Point Luck, a ship's publication was issued with all the details about the Japanese attack, including the names of ships in the Japanese force.  He claimed this so impressed him that his memory of the list of ships is still vivid.

    My assessment of these two stories is that the all-officer briefing recounted by GEN Anderson probably was based on the ULTRA message that would have been received by RADM Fletcher, who quite possibly authorized his communications to provide the info to the officers.   This would have been sometime during the second half of May 1942.  Then, I would guess that the later information that CAPT Crawford recalls having been published by the ship would have been based on the non-codeword summary that ADM Nimitz had sent to all the forces involved.  That occurred after Yorktown sailed from Pearl, which was 30 May 1942.   CAPT  Crawford said that, at the time he saw this information, he assumed it had resulted from our reading of the Japanese code, a reasonable assumption.

    I thought these two accounts presented an interesting comparison between two briefings on the same ship at different times and under different circumstances.

    I'm not attempting to prolong discussion of this topic, but I believe with what we now know, these two stories serve to give a better explanation of what occurred.

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22 August 2005

From:  John Lundstrom


    I must take issue with the assertion that the reason behind ADM. Nimitz's trip to Midway on 2 May 1942 was that he knew that Midway was about to be attacked.  The idea that Nimitz knew as early as 2 May or even earlier that the Japanese were going to invade Midway is one of the most persistent myths of the battle.  In fact, it was not until around 8 May, as the Battle of the Coral Sea wound down, that CDR Rochefort and LCDR Layton became suspicious that the Japanese were not reinforcing their South Pacific offensive but might instead head to the east toward Midway or Hawaii.  This is clearly demonstrated in the original radio intelligence documents, notably in a lengthy message Rochefort sent Washington on 1 May entitled "Hypo's Evaluation of the Picture in the Pacific"  and in Layton's "CINCPAC Enemy Activities File" (which Nimitz called the "scorecard").
    In mid to late April, Nimitz, reacting to radio intelligence regarding major Japanese threats to the southwest and south Pacific island bases, conceived a plan to commit all four of his carriers for an extended period to those imperiled areas to stop what he thought would be widespread Japanese attacks against the line Port Moresby-Noumea-Fiji-Samoa.  Nimitz presented his plan to ADM King on 25-26 April during their conference at San Francisco.  King eventually approved, but was wary of committing so much strength away from the central Pacific.  He asked Nimitz on 26 April whether  Midway would be secure against a "major attempt."  Nimitz replied that Midway would need help from the Pacific Fleet to weather attacks by two or more carriers and promised to look into the matter of Midway's defense.  That was the genesis of Nimitz's inspection trip, not any belief that there was a direct, immediate threat to Midway.  Nimitz also went to Midway to raise morale and decorate those involved in shooting down a Japanese flying boat on 10 March 1942.

    It was King, not Nimitz, who was concerned the Japanese might take advantage of the situation and move against the central Pacific while all the U.S. carriers were down south.  On 2 May, King admonished Nimitz and MacArthur not to get too wrapped up in the southwest Pacific.  Acceptance of Nimitz's strategy "must not be construed as eliminating the possibility that enemy may attack Hawaii-Midway line or launch attacks against our line of communications via Gilbert-Ellice-Samoa line."  The great irony is that after 8 May when Nimitz became aware of the impending threat to Midway-Hawaii, he couldn't get King to accept it!

    This is discussed in my 1976 book, First South Pacific Campaign, which will be reprinted next year, and also in the Fletcher book to be published next year.  RADM Layton read and helped me with my 1974 MA thesis which became The First South Pacific Campaign, and also read and commented on the [book] manuscript.  As I can show in his letters to me from 1973-77, he also agreed that CINCPAC did not know the Japanese offensive against Midway was in the works until after the Battle of the Coral Sea had nearly ended.

    Regarding the strange events of the evening of 7 May 1942 in the Battle of the Coral Sea, I invite those interested to check out the discussion in The First Team.  The Fletcher book will also deal with that episode in detail.

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    John (author of The First Team, one of our favorite Coral Sea and Midway references) has provided valuable and informative insight as to the set of facts ADM Nimitz had before him when he visited Midway on May 2nd.  The comment that John is responding to in Forum #32 was in the context of probable speculation resulting from (1) CINCPAC's visit to Midway, followed shortly thereafter by (2) a massive buildup of defensive and offensive arms on the atoll.  That very likely could have led to the sort of accurate speculation (but just speculation nonetheless) previously suggested by RADM Showers that a serious Japanese thrust at Midway was imminent; all without anyone mentioning or even knowing about codebreaking....and, as John points out, even without Nimitz knowing much about Japanese plans himself during his visit.  --RR


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"Coral Sea:  Getting It Right"   (see issue #32)


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23 August 2005

From:  James Bowen   (Australia)


    This response is for Pete Newberg who witnessed the extraordinary attempt by a Japanese air group to land on USS Yorktown (CV-5) at nightfall on 7 May 1942.

    Pete's account of the attempted Japanese landing is very close to that given to me by Otis Kight and our greatly missed friend and Roundtable member, Bill Surgi.  It is taken directly from the Coral Sea section of the Pacific War website.  To round out the story, I have also added a Japanese pilot's account of his shocked realisation that he had been about to land on an American carrier.

    I will email or post the full text of any part of the Battle of Midway, Coral Sea, or USS Yorktown sections of the Pacific War website to any Roundtable member who may be unable to access it on the Internet.  I am also happy to make available any photographic images that I have improved or repaired using the "Photoshop" image editor.

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    I recommend that everyone read the narratives cited above by James at this URL......


The account by Japanese veterans of actually (almost) landing on Yorktown is especially interesting.  And the reminisces of Bill Surgi and Otis Kight are very close to that of Pete Newberg's in the last Forum.  --RR


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"Last Muster for Walt Grist"   (see issue #32)


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22 August 2005

From:  Ed Fox   (BOM vet, 6th MarDefBn, Midway)


    I am saddened about the news of Walter's passing.  I and my wife shared emails with him several times each month.

    He will even be missed by my students, as I often speak to them of the BOM vets who contributed so much in WW2, Korea, and Vietnam.

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26 August 2005

From:  Ron Werneth


    I was very saddened to hear about Walt's passing.  I got to know him through the Midway Roundtable and met him along with his son during their Chicago visit [last September] for the Midway airport SBD Dauntless rollout.

    Walt was a super fine gentleman and went out of his way to answer my questions about his wartime experiences and life as a mechanic.  I feel lucky to have known him.  I am sure that he is now in a better place, joined by so many of his comrades who went before him.

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    The latest word from Walt's son is that Walt's cremated remains will be interred in a new VA cemetery at Dixon, CA (east of the San Francisco Bay area) when it opens next spring.  Formal ceremonies will be conducted at that time, and I'll be sure to notify all when they are scheduled.  Meanwhile, I made up a custom condolences card from the Roundtable and mailed it to Walt's family.  You can see it at this URL:


(Thanks to Bill Vickrey for the graphic.) --RR


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"The Saga of Norman Pichette"   (see issue #32)


    Ed. note:  in the last Forum, Johan Lupander asked about posthumous decorations for Seaman Pichette.  Here's the answer from Robert Cressman:


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22 August 2005

From:  Robert Cressman  


    Norman Pichette, Seaman 2d Class, USNR, was awarded the Navy Commendation Medal, posthumously, in 1968.

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    ...which raises the question, why the 26-year delay in awarding the medal?  And why did Cal Calvacante at the Naval Historical Center find no other awards for Pichette, i.e. Pacific Theater Campaign Ribbon, Purple Heart, etc.?  Additionally, I'm reminded of the DSM application for Joe Rochefort--by Admiral Nimitz, no less--ten years earlier that was denied by SECNAV partly on the grounds that the statute of limitations for WWII awards had passed.  Does anyone have any answers for those questions?


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"Chaplain Linzey With President Bush, 30 August"


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25 August 2005

From:  Stan Linzey   (BOM vet, Mu2c, USS Yorktown)


    On Tuesday, 30 August at 9:00A.M., PDT, there will be a celebration in honor of World War II veterans at Naval Air Station North Island, San Diego, CA.  President George W. Bush will be the speaker for the occasion.  I will share the platform with the President to give the invocation.  It will be televised.  Blessings to all.

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    One never knows which TV network will televise the President's day-to-day travels and speeches, but Fox News Channel is probably a good guess in this case.  I'll set my VCR to start at around 9:00 AM and we'll see what it catches.  It might be a good opportunity for some of you to see Chaplain Linzey, a Yorktown vet and one of our long-term Roundtable contributors, for the first time.  --RR




................................................. NOW HEAR THIS! ..................................................






--Last Sortie for Bill Leonard

--Midway, the Decisive Battle?

--TV This Week


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    It is a regrettable fact of life in an organization centered on men in their eighties and nineties that we will occasionally be required to salute one of them as he passes into a better life.  It is also a cruel fact of statistics that as the months and years continue to go by, those salutes will become more frequent.  I think most, if not all of us accept that, however reluctantly.

    Such is the case this week when another of our honored BOM vets left us only twenty-four hours after the passing of Walt Grist.  Rich Leonard called me with the sad news that his dad, Rear Admiral William N. Leonard, USN-Ret, departed on his final sortie on Sunday, 21 August, at the age of 89.

    RADM Leonard, then a LTjg, was a fighter pilot with VF-42 at the BOM, serving as XO of the combined VF3/VF42 squadron led by LCDR Thach.  Promoted to LT after the BOM, Leonard was deployed to Guadalcanal with VF-11, after which he had recorded a total of six victories in aerial combat.  He flew a total of 170 combat missions during the war.

    Leonard was also instrumental in evaluating "Koga's Zero," the Japanese fighter recovered in the Aleutians.  We covered that in detail in Forum issue #10 this year and on our web site (click Link 4 on the Image Board page).

    After the war, Leonard served in several naval aviation training and leadership billets, including VF-171, the first USN jet squadron to qualify for carrier operations.  He also served as XO of USS Bon Homme Richard (CV-31), CO of USS Salamonie (AO-26), and CO of USS Ranger (CVA-61), and as Commander, CarDiv 14 aboard USS Wasp (CVS-18).  He retired in 1971 after a 33-year career in which he earned two Navy Crosses (Coral Sea and Midway) among his many awards.

    In recent years, RADM Leonard has resided with his son Rich, who has facilitated his participation on the Roundtable.  During that time the admiral has provided us with a wealth of insight on the naval air aspects of the Midway era, much of which you won't find in the history books.  We will miss him very much, and to the extent possible with this format, honor his memory in every way we can.

    Internment will be at Arlington National Cemetery with full honors on 16 November 2005.  Assembly will be at the administration building near Memorial Bridge.  A reception will follow at the Ft. Meyers Officers' Club.

    In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorial donations be made to the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation, 1750 Radford Blvd, Suite B, NAS Pensacola, FL 32508; 800-327-5002.


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    That's the title of an article by British historian Geoffrey Till in the latest issue of Naval History, and by the question mark at the end, you can probably deduce that he doesn't think it was.  While giving due credit to the victors at Midway for the usual reasons, Till's underlying thesis is that Guadalcanal was more of a turning point than Midway, and the BOM should be considered merely as the second element in a three-stage campaign that consisted of Coral Sea, Midway, and Guadalcanal.

    Whether Midway was "decisive" or a "turning point" is largely a semantics exercise that has been frequently argued, including more than once here on the Roundtable.  But neither Till nor anyone else who, in my memory, has advocated Guadalcanal as more decisive than Midway has bothered to take into account the fact that had the Japanese won at Midway, there would have been no Guadalcanal.  At least not in 1942.  I could go on as to the snowballing effect of a U.S. defeat at Midway, but we've been down that path in abundance before.  If you'd like a review, see the "Battle of Midway" synopsis page on our web site (click the link on the home page).

    Still, the article is an interesting read for its in-depth review of truly decisive battles in the past (e.g. Jutland, Tsushima, Trafalgar, etc.) and what makes them so; or in some cases, doesn't.  Till misses the boat in denigrating the BOM's decisiveness, but he scores enough other points for me to recommend his article to all.  If you're not a Naval History subscriber or buyer, you may be able to catch Till's tale on the Internet soon--as of this writing, the USNI hasn't yet loaded the current issue onto their web site.  I'll watch for it and let you know when and if it becomes available.


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    Here are television listings of possible interest for the week of Monday through Sunday, 29 August - 4 September.  The times shown below may not be the same in your area--be sure to check your local guide.  (Thanks to Greg Gaynier for help in compiling this list.)


Channels:  AMC = American Movie Classics, DC = Discovery Channel, HC = History Channel, TCM = Turner Classic Movies


Schedule note:  "12:00 AM" means the start of the date shown (0000 hours).  "12:00 PM" means noon.


Monday, 29 August


  4:00 PM   (HC)   Secret Japanese Aircraft of World War II


Tuesday, 20 August


  8:00 AM   (HC)   Shootout: Guadalcanal

  9:00 AM   (see above)  President Bush at NAS North Island (invocation by Chaplain Linzey)

  2:00 PM   (HC)   Shootout: Guadalcanal  (repeated)


Saturday, 3 September


  12:00 AM   (HC)   The Three Wars of the Battleship Missouri


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    For a glossary of abbreviations, acronyms, and terms used in The Roundtable Forum, click the following URL or go to our home page and click "The Roundtable Glossary" link.




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