THE ROUNDTABLE FORUM
Official newsletter of the Battle of Midway Roundtable
10 April 2009
Issue Number: 2009-15
Our 12th Year
~ AROUND THE TABLE ~
MEMBERS’ TOPICS IN THIS ISSUE:
1. Officer and Enlisted Airmen
2. What Kido Butai Should Have Done
3. BOM Commemoration at Annapolis April 21st
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1. OFFICER AND ENLISTED AIRMEN ( see issue 14 )
4 April 2009
From: CDR Clayton E. Fisher, USN-Ret
(BOM vet, SBD pilot, VB-8, USS Hornet)
I've been doing a lot of thinking about the question of the relationships between the carrier pilots and their radiomen/gunners. The junior pilots probably were more closely associated with their "rear-seat men" than the more experienced pilots.
I don't remember my gunner, ARM3/c George Ferguson, ever visiting our pilots’ ready room aboard the Hornet. We hardly ever got to talk to our gunners until we were ready to climb into the cockpits. I remember only once visiting with our gunners in a squadron ordnance space and watching the men belting machine gun ammo. The profanity became more intense because of my presence—I guess they were trying to impress me how tough they thought they were.
Ferguson did ask me to inspect the contents of our two-man life raft, which he had spread out on the hangar deck. He had included some extra goodies and also had protected most of the items with condoms so they were waterproof. He was very proud of his work!
Most of our squadron ARMs had been battleship radiomen and had their rates changed to aviation rates when assigned to aviation units. They were a very disciplined group of men. I don't remember ever calling Ferguson by his first name or Ferguson ever stepping "over the line" in our relationship. While aboard the Lurline after the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, I did have numerous occasions to talk to Ferguson. He had been shot in both legs during the battle and had saved both our lives by not panicking as he fought off an attacking Zero.
On some flights had I taught Ferguson how to control our SBD enough so he could glide the plane down and hopefully ditch in case I had been incapacitated.
Aboard the Lurline, George told me that all the SBD gunners that flew during Santa Cruz would be given meritorious advancement in their ratings. As the assistant squadron communications officer, I had administered the tests for the squadron third class rates for advancement to second class. They had already passed their tests and had qualified for advancement, so Ferguson felt that they were not really getting anything [for their performance at Santa Cruz]. I met with CDR Apollo Soucek, the X.O. of the Hornet, who was in charge of some Hornet officers and enlisted men aboard the Lurline, to discuss the meritorious advancement in rating situation for the third class gunners. I told him I thought they should be advanced to first class as they has distinguished themselves in combat. He told me, "that is a huge jump in a rate!" Anyway, all the third class gunners were advanced to first class! I also recommended Ferguson for a DFC, which he received. Ironically, none of us junior pilots were ever written up for any combat decorations for Santa Cruz. There were a few Purple Hearts—you didn't need a citation.
In 1943, when I was stationed at NAS Fort Lauderdale, I talked to our senior flight instructor, CDR Joe Taylor (C.O. of VT-5 aboard Yorktown at the Coral Sea battle) about Ferguson and how receptive he was to flight instruction. CDR Taylor recommend to BuPers that Ferguson be ordered to flight training. He was ordered to flight training but could not pass the flight physical.
My last association with Ferguson was in about 1957 when we met in my air operations office at NAS Miramar. Ferguson was the senior and leading chief petty officer assigned to the staff of a Miramar-based carrier air group. We spent three afternoons in the Miramar CPO Club drinking beer and reminiscing. After retirement from the Navy, he worked as an FAA air controller at the Tulsa city airport.
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4 April 2009
From: Don Boyer
You can talk about the alternatives Kido Butai could have pursued [at Midway], but they are all moot because of the people who directed the actions, from Yamamoto on down. The only thing that could have altered the operation of the Japanese carrier force for the better would have been to gather all the senior commanders, put them in a time machine and send them back to Eta Jima to be taught tactics other than the "decisive battle" concept that consumed the IJN from its proof by Admiral Togo at the Battle of the Tsushima Straits .
Everything in the IJN was focused on that one concept, as can be seen in a reading of Kaigun. Every battle message from the senior commander during the war echoed Togo in some form: "the fate of the Empire rests on this single battle," etc.
Had it been me and I felt that Midway needed to be attacked, that is what I would have done. No invasion, just sufficient naval force (including massive shore bombardment) to grind the island to a pulp, making it incapable of serving as a forward base for the near future. If the American carriers showed up, fine; if not, they would be dealt with later. Of course, later there would be 15 to 17 of them, an issue outside the scope of Midway, 1942.
5 April 2009
From: RADM D. M. (Mac) Showers, USN-Ret
(BOM vet, analyst, Combat Intel Unit, Pearl Harbor)
Roger Pineau (Naval Reserve intelligence, Japanese linguist, historian, author) also knew Fuchida and talked to him a lot. Fuchida told him that they didn't hit the oil tanks [at Pearl Harbor] because that was not their mission. They carried out their mission and then cleared the area because they expected attacks from our carriers that were not in Pearl.
3 April 2009
From: Jon Parshall
(co-author, Shattered Sword)
Fuchida's statements on this matter [that the Japanese didn’t bomb the fuel tanks at Pearl Harbor because they planned to use them after invading Oahu] cannot be taken as fact, as he changed his story on that topic not once, but apparently twice postwar.
American observers, rightly, have questioned why the Japanese did not attack the oil tanks as well as the other logistics facilities at Pearl. The destruction of those facilities would indeed have jeopardized operations out of Pearl and perhaps retarded U.S. ability to prosecute the war. However, the fact is that those facilities were barely noticed by the Japanese and were deemed almost completely unimportant. The orders from Combined Fleet on the target priority at Pearl Harbor (Annex 3 of Operation Order No. 1, issued on 1 November 1941), gives the following: “Targets for attack are airfields; aircraft carriers; battleships, cruisers and other warships; merchant shipping; port facilities; and land installations, in that order.” Note that land-based airpower is given higher priority than carriers—the Japanese were very concerned about the threat Oahu's organic airpower posed to its carrier striking force. Note, too, that during the actual attack the Japanese had only chewed part way into item #3, warships. By the end of the attack there were still American battleships afloat (Pennsylvania and Nevada), and plenty of other warship targets, let alone merchant shipping, before port facilities and land installations. So, for Nagumo on Akagi to suddenly have some sort of "Aha!" moment and chuck Yamamoto's target list out the window and decide to go for the tank farms instead is clearly not credible.
Fuchida didn't have any such revelation, either. He claims in Prange's At Dawn We Slept (p. 541) that during his return from the Pearl Harbor attack he "mentally earmarked for destruction the fuel-tank farms, the vast repair and maintenance facilities, and perhaps a ship or two bypassed that morning." However, this is almost certainly a post-war concoction given to Gordon Prange during his 1963 interviews. How do we know this? Because during Fuchida's 1945 USSBS interview, he was asked by his American interrogators why Kido Butai hadn't hit those facilities. Fuchida's answer at the time was that the full extent of their neutralization of American air power in the islands was unknown (they didn't know how thoroughly they had scratched Priority #1 off the list) and second, since they had apparently sunk at least four American battleships, they felt that this would guarantee Japanese freedom of action elsewhere in the Pacific. In other words, he nothing about fuel tanks. He also doesn't mention them in his book Midway-the Battle That Doomed Japan, which came out in 1953. And yet, ten years after that when he's had plenty of time to note the incredulity we Americans had on this matter, he comes up with this account for Prange.
Likewise, Fuchida apparently told a different version of the story, that the Japanese had deliberately forestalled attacking the oil tanks because they wanted to use them themselves, even though no Hawaiian invasion had been countenanced at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack. Indeed, the Japanese Army wanted no part in any such venture, and the Navy had no realistic plans for a follow-on invasion until Yamamoto's staff started cooking them up in early 1942 as part of the planning for the BOM. The Army, for its part, didn't agree to those plans until after the Doolittle Raid in April 1942. Up to that point they had fought the notion of a Hawaiian invasion tooth and nail because it was beyond Japanese means in terms of sealift and logistics and because it created manpower commitments the Army didn't want. So for Fuchida to somehow claim that the Japanese had already mentally earmarked those Hawaiian facilities in 1941 for some nebulous future invasion that wasn't even remotely in the planning stages, nor was even agreed upon within the Navy, let alone the Army, is clearly not credible. The bottom line is that Fuchida was very good at figuring out what sort of stories his American audiences wanted to hear, and he was cheerful to pass those along.
Why didn't the Japanese give those facilities higher priority than they did? That stems directly from their outlook on naval strategy. The IJN had taken the Mahanian notion of sea power and turned it into an obsession. The only thing that mattered to them was the destruction of the enemy’s front-line combat power. If the enemy fleet was destroyed, sea control would automatically devolve to the victor. In other words, logistics didn't really matter—what mattered was destroying the other guy's fleet. Knowing full well that any protracted conflict with the U.S. would be disastrous, the Japanese prepared themselves primarily for a short, sharp war of movement and decisive battle. Logistics mattered little. As long as the Pearl Harbor attack destroyed enough American warships that the Japanese could secure the southern resource areas, that was all that was needed. Destroying the fuel tanks would have been superfluous because they were hoping to end it in 1942.
I apologize for the length of this, but it's important to me that the Roundtable be used to correct such WWII urban myths, not pass them along to future generations.
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3. BOM COMMEMORATION AT ANNAPOLIS APRIL 21st
6 April 2009
From: RADM John Kirkpatrick, USN-Ret
There will be a Midway event at the U.S. Naval Academy on 21 April 2009. It is by invitation only, and all Midways vets are invited. The vets and selected guests will have lunch in the dining hall with the midshipmen. Afterward they will have a question and answer session with some of the midshipmen and professors. Finally, a wreath ceremony will be held at the Midway Monument.
~ NOW HEAR THIS! ~
NEWS & INFO IN THIS ISSUE:
- Remembering Bob Swan
- Link of the Week
- Forum Notes
- Anniversary and Reunion Announcements
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REMEMBERING BOB SWAN
Commander Robert A. Swan, USN-Retired and a longtime Roundtable member and supporter, departed on his final sortie last Tuesday, April 7th. He was just a few weeks short of his 90th birthday. He was a resident of Santa Rosa, California. Military funeral proceedings and interment are pending at the Punchbowl National Memorial Cemetery in Hawaii.
Bob was a great guy to know and be around. It seemed that he always had a familiar smile, with a personality to match. He was exceptionally generous in sharing his reminisces of the BOM with Roundtable members and anyone else who’d care to discuss it with him, especially at the annual BOM commemoration events in San Francisco that he seldom missed.
And he had quite a BOM story to tell. A Naval Reserve PBY pilot in 1942, Bob was the navigator on Jack Reid’s VP-44 Catalina that made the first sighting of Admiral Tanaka’s transport group heading for Midway on the first day of the battle. But making that sighting was an unlikely occurrence that only happened because of a series of circumstances that (like much of the BOM) were quite out of the ordinary. It started with a B-17 crewman giving Bob a few “special” .50 cal. bullets for the PBY’s guns that supposedly would help them defend against Japanese marauders flying out of Wake Island. Whether there was anything special about those bullets remains debatable, but the young airmen were eager to try them out on an enemy plane.
They took off on the morning of June 3rd, with an extra 150 gallons of gas that they weren’t supposed to have, and proceeded on their assigned mission. When they got to the limit of their search area without sighting anything, the crew talked it over—they had extra gas and those “special” bullets that they wanted to use on a Japanese patrol bomber. They decided to continue beyond their search area, and within an hour they spotted several transports on a heading toward Midway. Reid sent his memorable “MAIN BODY” message, and the rest is history.
Bob continued in patrol aircraft for the remainder of the war and stayed in the Naval Reserve after its conclusion, retiring as a commander. He joined the Roundtable shortly after Bill Price got it going in the late 1990s, and contributed significantly to its success over the years. His name can now be found on our web site among those of our other BOM vet members whom we honor eternally.
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LINK OF THE WEEK
We actually have a pair of featured links this week, and the choice was easy. The first link below shows Ensign Robert Swan with the rest of Jack Reid’s VP-44 crew that spotted the Japanese invasion force on 3 June 1942. Swan is standing at the far right. This is a well known BOM photo, which you can also find on page 54 of A Glorious Page In Our History as well as in other books and web sites. (The caption on the original print of the photo identified Reid’s squadron as VP-23, but that was an error.)
The second photo shows Bob at the 2005 BOM anniversary dinner in San Francisco.
Note that familiar smile in both photos, taken 63 years apart.
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~ The USS Yorktown CV-5 association is holding its annual reunion in New Orleans at the Airport Hilton Hotel, from June 4th through the 7th. A full tour of the National World War II Museum is schedule for June 5th. Yorktown vets and anyone else interested in attending the reunion need to register by April 24th.
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2009 BOM ANNIVERSARY AND UNIT REUNION ANNOUNCEMENTS
The organizers for the BOM commemorations at Pearl Harbor, Washington DC, Houston, and Chino are seeking BOM veterans, historians, authors, etc. who might be willing to serve as panelists or otherwise as participants. Additionally, BOM vets are especially welcome as honored guests at any of the commemoration events. Contact the editor for info on any event listed below.
1. 26 May, Phoenix, AZ, BOM commemoration by NRA & NOUS
3. 3 June, Arlington, VA: formal banquet, Army-Navy Country Club
4. 4 June, Washington D.C.: USN commemoration at the Navy Memorial
6. 4 June, Houston, TX: BOM commemoration by NOUS
7. 4-7 June, New Orleans, LA: USS Yorktown (CV-5) reunion
10. 6 June, San Diego, CA: BOM commemoration aboard USS MIdway.
11. 6 June, San Francisco, CA: formal banquet, Marines Memorial Club
12. 6 June, Jacksonville, FL: BOM commemoration & banquet hosted by Navy League
13. 10-12 September, Branson, MO: VF-42 reunion
If you have any information on these or similar events, please pass the word.
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