Official newsletter of the Battle of Midway Roundtable


28 August 2009

Issue Number:  2009-33

Our 12th Year








1.  Another Look at Ensign Kelly’s Last Flight



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Ed. note:  the controversial VF-8 photos in issue #32 (Link of the Week) brought a couple of suggestions that they could be the 4 June 1942 launch after all.  Hornet pilot Clay Fisher suggested that the escort fighters may have been brought up after launching the initial deckload, thus accounting for the lack of other squadrons in the photos.  Here is Clay’s message (actually two messages merged into one), along with thoughtful analysis by a couple of our members.



21 & 24 August 2009

From:  CDR Clayton E. Fisher, USN-Ret

Southern California

BOM vet, SBD pilot, VF-8, USS Hornet (CV-8)


I've previously studied the same photos of the VF-8 aircraft and I feel that the planes had been brought up from the hanger deck and were being positioned to launch after the first launch of the dive bombers, etc.  The Hornet had two elevators.  Those fighters were all spotted aft of the rear elevator.  I have to think those fighters had to be launched after all the SBDs and TBDs on the initial launch.


Also, the photo in my book of the Hornet launching the first strike June 4th shows VF-8 aircraft being prepared to launch ahead of the SBDs.  It seems those fighters were going to be our escorts.  I have always thought it was wrong to launch the short range fighters until all the dive bombers and the torpedo planes had been launched.


During those early months in 1942 some of our long established carrier operational doctrine needed changes to adjust to actual combat operations.  CDR Ring's decision to try to establish a "scouting line" was an example.


I'm not sure of the launch sequences—how all three of our carriers launched their fighters.  You would have thought the axiom for all air group launches would have been to always launch the shortest range aircraft last, especially because of the very short range of out fighters sans droppable belly tanks.


I've never understood how the VF-8 pilots could have become so lost.  To my knowledge they pretty much flew a prescribed course out, and all they had to do to return to the Hornet was to fly a reciprocal course.  At their return altitude they should have been able to pick up the ZB [YE homing signal] early.


I don't know how effective our fighter direction was during BOM, but they should have been able to track the fighters some time in their return.



26 August 2009

From:  Mark Horan


Co-author, A Glorious Page In Our History


I gave great thought to the VF-8 still pictures several years ago.  The pictures clearly do not match any description of the 4 June launch, nor do they match the movie footage of the spot.  F4Fs were stored in the forward hangar, and invariably used the #1 of three elevators, and only used #2 if enough SBDs were out, such that that route [in the hangar deck] was open.  With the strike not on deck or aloft, it wasn't.  Further, the F4Fs were never spotted aft unless there were no strike planes in the range.  So these photos are showing fighters that are not part of a strike.

In my opinion, the photos were taken on 3 June (the expected day of the battle), not 4 June, and were taken after the morning strike spot was broken, which only happened after no discoveries were made by the PBYs.  These are the escort fighters being moved about in preparation for use on the next CAP flight.  In other words, rather than running fully fueled and armed planes below to bring up other fully fueled and armed planes, the flight schedule assignments were changed for the CAP pilots to use the strike planes already on deck.

According to interviews I had, the strike spot was made after darkness brought the day’s activity to a close and the remaining hours of the night had been spent in maintenance.  Only then was the next spot begun, well before dawn,  so these cannot show any effort to make that spot. 



26 August 2009

From:  John B. Lundstrom


Author, The First Team, et al


The F4Fs depicted cannot be the 4 June escort for a number of reasons.  (1) Nowhere is such an odd launch mentioned in any Hornet source on the battle, nor in any recollection of participants like Hump Tallman, etc.   (2) As Mark said, the F4Fs were customarily brought up the forward elevator.  Why would the escort need to be rolled all the way back to the stern to be launched?  They didn't need all that space to take off, and doing so would have been a big waste of time if the rest of the strike was circling and waiting for them.  (3) If the photos are of the escort, it would have meant they would have departed last after Hornet had launched the double deckload of TBDs.  In that event it is hard to imagine they could have easily joined the SBDs, which would have been climbing to high altitude.  That would not make good tactical sense if those tail-end F4Fs were meant to escort the SBDs.


When Thach did it at Midway, i.e. the VF-3 escort taking off last from the Yorktown, he was only going to climb to 4.000 feet or so as high escort for the VT-3 TBDs, not to join the VF-3 SBDs that had already left.  That was very innovative for the Yorktown.  The Hornet was remarkably uninnovative at Midway.


Remember, when the Enterprise spotted VF-6 in the second deckload, it was ahead of the TBDs, not behind them.  They couldn’t anyway because the TBDs needed the whole deck to take off.


There is only one circumstance that fits those photos for 4 June: the recovery and reservicing of the first CAP an hour or so after the departure of the strike group, or (less likely) the second CAP 90 minutes or so later.  In either case the deck was empty and no other planes were expected to be landed in the immediate future.  After landing from the CAP, those F4Fs were not taxied forward as usual, but simply rolled back from the landing area and reserviced.


The Hornet assigned alternate F4Fs to fill gaps should one or two of the CAP or escort F4Fs become duds.  If there are more than eight fighters in the picture, it's likely they included those alternates.

So a depiction of the Hornet CAP fits all the criteria, not the escort.



Ed. note:  I wondered how the second photo in the Maritime Quest set could be of CAP fighters, as John suggests above, since the prominent aircraft number in the picture (“9”) was recorded in the Hornet’s deck log as the plane flown by Mark Kelly in the escort.  John replied that other “facts” recorded in the ship’s log have since been proven inaccurate, so perhaps some of those aircraft number assignments were also written with too much haste.  In any case, there is another feature of these photos that troubles me perhaps more than anything mentioned above, and that’s the shadows of the men on deck.  Look at the top photo in the set—even allowing for some roll of the ship, this picture was obviously snapped some time around noon, not 0700-0800.  Furthermore, compare that photo (bright sun) to the deck spot photo mentioned by Clay (full overcast)—these photos had to have been taken hours, if not days apart.  And one last note concerning the top photo:  the ship is making a hard turn to port, something it clearly would not be doing in the midst of launching the entire air group.










-  BOM Vet “Tommy” Thompson

-  Link of the Week

-  Editor’s Notes



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With profound regret, I announce the passing of Roundtable member and Yorktown vet Francis L. “Tommy” Thompson, on May 24th of this year.  Tommy joined our roster in 2006, and I had the pleasure of meeting him during the combined BOM anniversary and USS Yorktown CV-5 association reunion at San Francisco in 2007.


Tommy joined the Navy in 1936, largely due to a desire to become a professional musician and a recruiter’s promise to get him into the USN musician’s school.  Strangely, that recruiter’s promise was kept:  Tommy graduated from the Navy School of Music at Washington in 1938, after which he served on the Saratoga and the Lexington before transferring to the Yorktown in 1939.  During the BOM era, he was a First Musician (MU1/c) and trumpeter in the Yorktown band, plus he played guitar in the dance band.  He had a BOM escape and survival story that was consistent with those of the rest of the ship’s company.


After the BOM, the band survivors were assigned to the 7th Naval District Band in Miami, Florida.  After WW2 he served aboard USS Tarawa (CV-40) and USS Midway  (CVB-41) pending discharge.  He then reenlisted to go the electronics technician school at Naval Station Great Lakes.  From there he was assigned to the USNA staff at Annapolis and then to NAS Argentia, Newfoundland, followed by USS Arcadia (AD-23).  He was promoted to warrant officer and transferred to the Reserve Fleet at Astoria, Oregon.  His final assignment was to the Convair guided missile school.  He retired from the Navy in 1957 as a chief warrant officer with 21 years of service.


Thanks to USS Yorktown CV-5 association secretary Pete Newberg and Chaplain Stan Linzey for the news concerning Tommy.  Farewell and following seas to another honored Roundtable shipmate and Midway veteran.  --RR



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In the last issue I offered a salute to Mac Showers on the occasion of his 90th birthday this month.  Yesterday I received an Internet poster that his son had made to celebrate the event.  It’s a collage of pictures of Mac throughout his life, from what appears to be a few days or weeks after birth to the present day.  It’s a fine photo collection, showing scenes from his youth, from his naval career, with his family, and in recent times.  The centerpiece image, of Mac at about age 6 in a sailor suit, is particularly fetching as well as prophetic.  BZ to Mac’s son David for this outstanding piece of handiwork.


This file is in .pdf format, which you can open and view with Adobe Acrobat, Acrobat Reader, or an equivalent.  Most computers have one of those, or else you can download it here for free.


Click here for the link of the week


For newer members who may not be familiar with Mac, click here.



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~  So far, 17 members have signed up to get a discounted copy of Bowen Weisheit’s C. Markland Kelly book (see issue #32 for details).   I’m still adding names to the list, so if you would like to buy the book at a discount and will do so if I can arrange a satisfactory price, click here to register your intent.


~  General MacArthur said, “old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”  I say balderdash!  Old soldiers (and sailors, airmen, Marines, etc.) do die and they don’t have to fade away.  Every year around Memorial Day I run a plea for each of our BOM vets to ensure that someone in his family or circle of friends and associates will notify the Roundtable in the event of his passing, so that he can be properly memorialized on what is surely the world’s best-subscribed gathering of individuals from all walks of life who honor our Midway veterans.  It’s a bit past Memorial Day this year, but here is that important reminder for all of you who are the heart of this entire organization:  please take a moment now to be certain that someone in your family or among your acquaintances knows how to contact me, and that he/she will actually do so when the time comes.  No one needs to follow General MacArthur into a faded oblivion—with a little help from you and someone you know, we’ll ensure that it doesn’t happen here.


~  For my full contact info, click here and scroll to the bottom of the page.  It’s also at the end of each weekly e-mail announcement received by all members.





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Unless otherwise noted, all original content in this issue of The Roundtable Forum, the Official Newsletter of the Battle of Midway Roundtable is copyright 2009 by Ronald W. Russell (see the “About the BOMRT” page).  Permission to forward, copy, or quote from this web edition is granted if the following citation is included:  The Roundtable Forum, official newsletter of the Battle of Midway Roundtable,”


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