THE ROUNDTABLE FORUM
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.”
16 NOVEMBER 2007..........ISSUE NO. 2007-43..........OUR 11th YEAR
=============== AROUND THE TABLE ===============
Members’ topics in this issue:
1. Ring’s “Lost Letter of Midway”
2. Last Voyage of the Yamato
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1. RING’S “LOST LETTER OF MIDWAY”
Ed. note: the following message from Clay Fisher refers to Hornet Air Group commander Stanhope Ring’s “Lost Letter of Midway,” written four years after the battle. It wasn’t published until more than fifty years had passed, after being discovered more or less by accident. It appeared in the August 1999 issue of USNI “Proceedings,” within an article by CAPT B. R. Linder, USN-Ret. If you have the second edition of our Roundtable archive CD (distributed in January 2005), it can be found in the “Hornet Air Group” folder. For anyone else who would like to read the letter, it’s a Word document that I can attach and send to you by e-mail. Just click “reply” on this message to request the file. And for anyone who might not know, Clay flew as Ring’s wingman at Midway.
1 Nov 2007
CDR Clayton E. Fisher, USN-Ret
BOM vet, SBD pilot, VB-8, USS Hornet
I've been reviewing my files and pictures of my naval career, and I came across the Lost Letter of Midway. I'm only interested in commenting on the contents of the actual letter CDR Ring wrote in 1946. My conclusions are that Ring wrote a pretty factual letter.
Ring stated, “Departure from the Hornet was taken on a preestimated (his spelling) interception course.” My only interpretation of the “preestimated” interception course, based upon my navigation experience as a scout bomber pilot, is the course we all plotted in our ready rooms using the last known position of the enemy carrier task force. The fact that the enemy carriers were recovering their aircraft that had attacked Midway, and were headed into the wind at probably 25 knots would not have moved the task force too far from the original position, in my estimation. The only information I have read about the wind is that the wind was fairly light from the southeast.
Quoting Ring: “Upon arrival at the line between the last reported position of the enemy and Midway Island, since the high group had made no contact, I decided that I should proceed on the assumption that the enemy was closing Midway...VT-8 and Enterprise made contact with the enemy, north of the point at which I turned south...Hornet Group proceeded south until smoke from Midway was sighted.” To the best of memory Ring did not turn south until after he directed me by hand signals to pass on his order to Rodee [CO, VS-8] to form a scouting line.
Ring discussed the fact that Enterprise and Hornet's YE codes were different (same problem on June 5th): “I switched radio to the homing frequency but Enterprise was all I heard.” I don't remember homing in on the Hornet YE when I followed Rodee back to the Hornet, but I'm sure I did. I can imaging how screwed up the flight leader of VF-8 could have been if he tried to use the Enterprise YE signals. I assume the VF-8 pilots descended to at least 10 to 12 thousand feet while heading back to the Hornet. YE signals should have been very strong at those altitudes.
I'm still convinced we were south of the enemy task force. I was damned scared as we approached the estimated position of the enemy carriers and I was only searching the clear sky above and to the northeast. Also, the sun was behind us so the fighters could have really had an advantage of surprise.
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2. LAST VOYAGE OF THE YAMATO (see issues #41, 42)
11 Nov 2007
This week's newsletter left superlatives in the dust. Between the posts from Adm. Showers and Don Boyer, and the link to Jon Parshall's tabular movements of Yamato, there lies a significant contribution to our understanding of an under-appreciated event. The last voyage of Yamato seems to have been treated as a footnote appended to the Battle of Okinawa. The Forum discussion of the episode illustrates not only how fortunate we were that this was the case, but the mechanisms by which a serious threat to the American war effort was eliminated.
That the voyage resulted from a courtier reading something into a query from the Emperor reveals another aspect of why Japan lost. It's difficult to imagine Adm. King or Adm. Leahy misreading a "cue" from FDR and frantically cooking up a disaster. It was through Adm. Showers' post, though, that clarity arrived. While I'm not well read on the episode, those accounts I've seen seem to have attributed detection of the voyage to the submarine cordon around the home islands. Radio intercepts were mentioned obliquely if at all, and left the impression that they were picked up and utilized only after Yamato left port.
The overall impression was that the interception and destruction of Yamato was fairly ad hoc—we just happened to have a sizeable carrier force in the vicinity that wasn't too busy that day, Mitscher threw a plan together, and they sank Yamato and most of its task force, as if for practice. Adm. Showers' recollections illuminate the episode as being far more substantial, and a far greater credit to our forces than previously realized. For one, that the intercepts were obviously given priority attention is an indication that Yamato was a serious threat to our operations on and around Okinawa. The admiral's aversion toward speculative history became understandable with a single shudder.
The fact that there was greater and more detailed foreknowledge, and the level of planning that it suggests, is the revelation. The Yamato episode becomes, in this new light, neither irrelevant nor comparable to the Battle of Midway. The U.S. Navy's execution of the Yamato serves as a contrast to Midway: there was nothing incredible nor miraculous about sinking the Yamato, and we had every right to win. There was an obvious disparity of force in our favor; the desperation was theirs. But there were no compounded communications failures, no flights to nowhere, no sacrifices of good men (on our part) in flying coffins, no untried arming devices jettisoning bombs in the sea, and no wholesale weapons systems failure.
What was revealed this week was how much our navy had learned, adapted and grown—in size, proficiency, and efficiency—in a short three years. That our navy was able to do so may well have been the true Miracle of Midway.
9 Nov 2007
For those that might not have read it yet, Japanese Destroyer Captain by Tameichi Hara has an interesting description of the sortie of the Yamato from the perspective of the captain of the Yahagi that sailed with the Yamato on her final cruise. It's a pretty good book also for those with an interest in the naval battle for the Solomons.
11 Nov 2007
Russ invited comment on the last voyage of the Yamato (2 November 2007 issue of the Forum), and Don Boyer responded with comment that Hirohito's questioning of the omission to use warships, such as battleships, in the defence of Okinawa would be viewed by the Imperial Navy high command as only a “suggestion” because “the emperor reigned but did not rule directly.” I would like to draw attention to a very different view of Hirohito's role as commander in chief of Japan's armed forces, put forward by Professor Herbert P. Bix in Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan. The extract below is from my own chapter on Imperial Japan's military high command:
Following the surrender in 1945, the Japanese falsely portrayed Emperor Hirohito as a figurehead commander in chief of Japan's armed forces to protect their emperor from being tried as a war criminal. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Emperor Hirohito, Professor Herbert P. Bix has demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that Hirohito played a very active role in the direction of the Pacific War from 1937 to 1945. See: “Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan”, (2000) HarperCollins, New York...The Supreme Commander of the Allied Occupation Forces in Japan, General Douglas MacArthur, was fully aware of the deception in regard to Hirohito's functions and responsibilities as commander in chief of Japan's military forces, but saw fit to go along with the deception because it enabled him to rule occupied Japan with the full cooperation of the emperor.
The full chapter can be found at:
=============== NOW HEAR THIS! ===============
News & info in this issue:
- Honoring Ken Boulier
- TBDs at Jaluit Atoll
- Forum Notes
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HONORING KEN BOULIER
Please join me in honoring the memory of long-time Roundtable member and communications intelligence veteran of the Battle of Midway, CWO Kenneth A. Boulier, USN-Retired, who departed for his last muster on November 4th. Ken was one of the small cadre of ComInt vets on the Roundtable who over the years brought us important new understandings as to how and why our “priceless advantage” at Midway—advance knowledge of the enemy’s attack plan—was achieved. He was a decoding specialist at the communications intelligence unit at Melbourne, Australia, which worked closely with Joseph Rochefort’s C.I.U. at Pearl Harbor.
The following are excerpts from his published obituary, with thanks to Don McDonald:
“One of the last survivors of the Battle of Corregidor in the Second World War died at his home in Glen Burnie, MD, on Nov. 4th at the age of 91. Chief Warrant Officer Boulier served 21 years in the U.S. Navy. Ken Boulier served aboard the USS Houston and the USS New Mexico and was a code breaker while stationed in the Philippines during WWII. In March 1942, he escaped Corregidor to Australia on the submarine USS Permit days before the Japanese took control of the island. The USS Permit was chased and depth charged several times by the Japanese and at one point was submerged for 22 1/2 hours before escaping.
“Ken helped decipher the Japanese transmissions that led to the shooting down of Admiral Yamamoto's plane on April 18, 1942 [sic]. Yamamoto was the Commander of the Japanese Combined Fleet and the architect of the Pearl Harbor bombing.
“While [he was] stationed in Australia, the code breakers were able to warn U.S. Forces before the attack [at Midway] in June 1942. Boulier was awarded the Army Distinguished Unit Badge with oak leaf cluster, The Good Conduct Medal, The American Theater National Defense Service Medal and The Philippine Defense WWII Victory Medal.
“Kenneth Boulier died peacefully at his home surrounded by his family, including his wife of 61 years, Eileen O'Toole Boulier. He is also survived by their 8 children, 18 grandchildren and 8 great grandchildren.”
I especially remember Ken for the cordial and lengthy interview he gave me while I was writing No Right to Win. That interview resulted in one of my favorite passages in the book, which you can find on pages 236-237.
Farewell and following seas to an honored veteran and true friend of the Roundtable.
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TBDs AT JALUIT ATOLL
Bill Vickrey sends a URL giving updates on the planned recovery of two remarkably intact TBDs from Jaluit Atoll in the Marianas. Click here for the latest word:
The potential TBD recovery by TIGHAR first came to our attention early this year (see issue #2007-02). TIGHAR is the same outfit that recovered, restored, and donated an SBD to Midway Airport at Chicago in 2004.
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Get the Roundtable’s Book: NO RIGHT TO WIN: A Continuing Dialogue With Veterans Of The Battle Of Midway
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If you cannot access the above web site, send a message to the editor for full details on No Right to Win. (Roundtable members can just click “reply” on this message.)
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