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Battle of Midway Torpedo Bombers - Faulty torpedoes?

Discussion in 'Air War in the Pacific' started by bobk544, Feb 12, 2011.

  1. bobk544

    bobk544 Member

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    Hello, I was watching a documentary on the Battle of Midway and from what was said, none of the torpedo bomber's torpedoes hit their mark and i find that hard to believe based on some personal accounts in the documentary!

    And I was very saddened by the fact that most of those courageous pilots and crew were killed in that attach, but their sacrifice did not go in vain apparently because those bombers distracted the Japanese pilots while the dive bombers came in from the left flank, wow what a turn of fate that was as the dive bombers apparently lost their way temporarily and that sort of head faked the Japanese observers and pilots to some degree and then when the dive bombers got back on track I think they ended up coming in from a direction that probably wasn't expected even by the American pilots because of the concern for fuel rationing, ie they may have never taken that flanking maneuver knowing their fuel situation, but that temporary detour or mis-navigation ended up being the saving grace! wow its so amazing even now it gives me goose bumps every time I think of how everything seemed hopeless up until then! I think this battle has to be one of the greatest of all time!

    Just got DVD3 from Netflix of the "Pacific" excellent HBO series!
    BobK
     
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  2. syscom3

    syscom3 Member

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    The sad fact is the TBD's were slow and the torpedo's they carried had a design that was inferior. Couple that with lack of fighter escort and you have a recipe for failure.

    No one can ever accuse the pilots of not lacking resolve and courage. But sometimes, no matter how brave and intrepid you are, you cannot succeed in the mission.

    As for the torpedo planes drawing down the Zero fighters, its a lot more complicated than that. I suggest you read "Shattered Sword" for the truthful details of what really happened".
     
  3. R Leonard

    R Leonard Member

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    While your enthusiasm is duly noted and greatly encouraged, a truism in life would be: don’t get your history from television.

    There were four separate VT attacks on the Kido Butai over a period of about three and a half hours. First came the VT-8 Det & the B-26s out of Midway itself starting at about 0700. Then came the VT-8 attack from Hornet starting their run in at about 0920. Third up was VT-6 off Enterprise starting their attack at about 0940. Lastly came VT-3 from Yorktown which started it’s attack at about 1015. It was the VT-3 attack, and its VF-3 escorts, which kept the Japanese CAP’s attention at lower altitudes while SBDs from VB-3, VB-6 and VS-6 arrived overhead.

    The VB-3 SBDs, also from Yorktown, were the third piece of the only coordinated arrival of a US air group over the Japanese fleet. Their flight was planned out by the senior folks back on Yorktown: Capt Buckmaster (CO Yorktown), Cdr Arnold (Air Officer), LCdr Pederson (CAG), and LCdr Armstrong (Asst Air Officer), using what they called a running rendezvous. A departure from the standard doctrinal deferred departure where everyone circles the ship until the last plane forms up & everyone goes off in one big gaggle, the running rendezvous launched the slowest planes first & sent them on their way, these being the TBDs of VT-3. Next launched were the next slowest, the SBDs of VB-3, and off they went. Last off were the six escort F4Fs of VF-3. At a point calculated based on known performance speeds and the headwork necessary to figure the probable location of the Japanese, the SBDs overtook the TBDs and then both were overtaken by the F4Fs. About 10 minutes later the Japanese fleet hove into sight.

    There was no deliberate “flanking” of the Japanese by the Enterprise’s VB-6 and VS-6 led by LCdr Wade McClusky. Having earlier led his troops off to where he was told to expect to find the Japanese, all they found was an empty ocean. Rather than simply turn back, McClusky did two things. First he decided that the Japanese would not have gone closer to Midway and therefore must be somewhere to the north of his position. Next, he quickly devised the timing and turns necessary for a standard box search. It was in the course of that box search that he spotted a Japanese destroyer and used it track bearing to lead him straight to the Japanese. Importantly, but usually lost in the “gee whiz” of it all is that his search pattern would have led him to the Japanese anyway, it simply would have taken about 20 minutes longer. The track bearing of the Japanese destroyer allowed him to cut the corner of his search.

    So, while McClusky and company are coming up on the Japanese from one quarter, the Yorktown strike has already started. Attracting the attentions of the Japanese CAP are the TBDs of VT-3 and their escorting F4Fs of VF-3.

    The way the distraction of the Japanese CAP is often portrayed is some nebulous torpedo plane attack, and usually ascribed to the 0920 attack of VT-8, is not correct and serves only to perpetuate myths. It goes something like “the VT attacks kept the Japanese CAP at low levels long enough for the VB/VS attacks to return their remarkable results.” Written that way, it is a myth. The way it should be written is: VT-3 and the VF-3 escort, together, kept the Japanese CAP sufficiently occupied to allow the VB/VS squadrons to enter their attack profile without interference.

    And if you know anything about dive bombing as practiced by the USN you know that once the bomber enters its dive it is very, very difficult to stop.

    Dick Best, the CO of VB-6, had said on many occasions, and, even once to me personally, that he observed the remnants of a torpedo plane attack going after the fourth carrier as he pulled out from his dive on Akagi. The only VT squadron in the area at the time was VT-3. Best was pretty sure that torpedo attack failed which was why he reported one carrier still untouched when he got back aboard Enterprise. Consider also, that what VB and VS aircraft that encountered any of the Japanese CAP did so as they were making their get-away, egresses made at relatively low levels. Thach, with the VF-3 escort, had his hands full and things looked pretty grim until the CAP just stopped making runs on his division . . . he looked around and saw three carriers afire.

    While by no means denigrating the losses of VT-8 (Det), the USAAF B-26’s, VT-8, and VT-6, all of them made their attacks, and sacrifices, before the various SBD squadrons, VT-3, and the VF-3 escort arrived on the scene. It was, in my opinion, the one-right-after-another frequency of the VT attacks that kept the Japanese off balance, impacted the coordination of their CAP, and kept their attention riveted to defensive zones closer to sea level. The VT-3 attack was the culmination of these repeated strikes.

    One has to remember that the Japanese had a very good torpedo plane and even better torpedo technology. As far as they were concerned, torpedoes were the critical danger. Note that Yorktown was able, with effort, to shrug off bomb hits (a function of damage control); it was the later B5N delivered torpedoes that brought her to a final halt and started her down the road to her eventual loss.

    US torpedoes, on the other hand were another issue altogether. First of all we know there were no, none, zip, zero, nada torpedo hits on any of the ships of the Kido Butai. In fact, the only torpedo hit scored by any US plane during the period of the Midway action was dropped in a night attack of a PBY on the Japanese invasion force in the wee hours of 4 June, striking a tanker, but with only minor damage as a result. For all of the bad things one can say about US torpedoes at the time of Midway, atrocious, almost suicidal, delivery profile; slow speed; short range; faulty firing mechanisms; and so on; the salient point is that the vast majority of the TBDs that were shot down on 4 June 1942 went down before being able to drop their weapon towards a given target. Probably not more than 30% of torpedo planes, including the B-26, were actually able to drop a torpedo in the general direction of a target. Certainly a gallant effort, but in the absence of fighter escorts, in sufficient numbers, they were pretty much doomed from the start.

    Of course, the month before at Coral Sea, Shoho was struck by at least seven TBD delivered torpedoes. There was plenty of time to set up and execute their attacks. There is some evidence that the torpedoes dropped in this case by VT-5 had been subject to some rather meticulous maintenance rather than just being hoisted up from the magazine, given a quick once-over, and loaded on the planes. There was also a small issue of production runs. The torpedoes used by VT-5 on Shoho were of a later production run, i.e., they were newer than the remaining torpedoes aboard the ship. VT-5 losses were none, the VF-42 F4Fs had already cleared out what CAP there was and the AAA was as typical of those days, a lot of smoke and noise. Two days later, against Shokaku and Zuikaku things did not work out so well. While TBD losses were minimal, VT-5 lost none and VT-2 lost, as I recall and without looking it up, 2, the torpedo performance was abysmal, no hits at all, any that came near a Japanese ship were easily avoided.

    The torpedo plane business was recognized long before the war as a quick way to ones reward. My father, a fighter pilot at Coral Sea and Midway, often said that the torpedo plane business was the most self-sacrificing job in naval aviation.

    If you are truly interested in Midway, I’ve a great long list, including the aforementioned "Shattered Sword", of what you should be reading.


    Rich
     
  4. bobk544

    bobk544 Member

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    wow! thanks very much for your'all responses here, give me time to catch up on all this information and get back on this, but i think i am going to study this battle from top to bottom and every angle knowing what i know now and i had my honeymoon in Yorktown VA just a total coincidence!
     
  5. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Good Ol' Boy Staff Member WW2|ORG Editor

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  6. bobk544

    bobk544 Member

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    yes Rich when you have some time could you please provide me with your reading list on Midway i would really appreciate that! and i just ordered Shattered Sword and really looking forward to reading that as well!
    thanks again all!
     
  7. R Leonard

    R Leonard Member

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    deleted duplicate
     
  8. R Leonard

    R Leonard Member

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    My Midway reading list? This is sure to open a whole big can of worms . . .

    There are two book lists, first are the works that bear specifically on the subject. Second are the works that a careful reading will provide some satisfying “ah-ha!” moments that go a long way in describing why or how some of the events in the battle played out as they did.

    The listings in the two sections are by publishing year, descending order. There are distinct points where the various authors diverge, sometimes quite sharply, in their respective analysis. There are also many points of distinct and even outrageous error, even in some of the more well thought of works. Those in the first section that are, in my opinion, essential and critical in the telling of the story are marked with an asterisk (*title, author, year*); if you read nothing else, read these. The same convention is followed in the second section with the same advice.

    My list is by no means all inclusive and I am sure I’ve left out someone’s pet tome. Such an omission is probably because I have not read it. There are, and they shall remain nameless, however, others I have read and I leave off simply because, for my own reasons, I believe they have nothing redeeming to offer. On the other hand, there are a few included to which I take some exception, sometimes very unkind exception, to some of an author’s characterizations or conclusion, but include them because there are places where they do contribute to the body of knowledge; strictly my call. One should draw one’s own conclusions. I suspect, however, that if one were to read everything below, one would arrive at the same conclusion on the literature.

    I might also recommend checking out the Battle of Midway Roundtable at The Battle of Midway Roundtable

    Section 1 directly related to Midway
    A Dawn Like Thunder: the True Story of Torpedo Squadron Eight by Robert Mrazek (2008)

    Midway Inquest: Why the Japanese Lost the Battle of Midway by Dallas W. Isom (2007) can be downloaded from here Midway Inquest: Why the Japanese Lost the Battle of Midway (Twentieth-Century Battles) - PDF eBook Free DOWNLOAD

    *Black Shoe Carrier Admiral: Frank Jack Fletcher at Coral Sea, Midway, and Guadalcanal by John Lundstrom (2006)*

    *No Right to Win: a Continuing Dialogue with Veterans of the Battle of Midway by Ronald W. Russell (2006)*

    *Shattered Sword: the Untold Story of the Battle of Midway by Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully (2005)*

    The Unknown Battle of Midway: the Death of the Torpedo Squadrons by Alvin Kernan (2005)

    SBD-3 Dauntless; the Battle of Midway by Daniel Hernandez (2002)

    They Turned the War Around at Coral Sea and Midway by Stuart Ludlum (2000)

    *The Last Flight of Ensign C. Markland Kelly, Junior, USNR by Bowen P. Weisheit (1996)*

    *A Glorious Page in Our History by Robert Cressman, Steve Ewing, et. al.(1990)*

    *The First Team - Pacific Naval Air Combat from Pearl Harbor to Midway by John Lundstrom (1984; revised 2nd edition 1990)*

    *That Gallant Ship by Robert Cressman (1985 reprint 2000)*

    Miracle at Midway by Gordon W. Prange (1982)

    Incredible Victory by Walter Lord (1967)

    Rendezvous at Midway: USS Yorktown and the Japanese Carrier Fleet by Pat Frank and Joseph D. Harrington (1967)

    Midway: Turning Point of the Pacific by VADM William Ward Smith (1966)

    The Big E by Edward P. Stafford (1960)

    Midway: the Battle That Doomed Japanby Mitsuo Fuchida and Masatake Okumiya (1955)

    History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Volume IV, Coral Sea, Midway, and Submarine Actions, May 1942 - August 1942 by Samuel E. Morison (1950)

    Marines at Midway by R. D. Heinl (1948) USMC Monograph: Marines at Midway

    *The Japanese Story of the Battle of Midway U.S. Navy publication OPNAV P32-1002 (1947) Japanese Story of the Battle of Midway *

    Battle Report, Volume III, Pacific War Middle Phase by Walter Karig (1947)

    Section 2 - Of interest and bearing on the subject, or providing insight into the why’s and where fore’s, of Midway:

    *Testing American Sea Power - US Navy Strategic Exercises, 1923-1940 by Craig C Felker (2007)*

    Thach Weave - The Life of Jimmie Thach by Steve Ewing (2004)

    *Sunburst - The Rise of Japanese Naval Air Power, 1909-1941 by Mark Peattie (2002)*

    *Destined for Glory - Dive bombing, Midway, and the Evolution of Carrier Air Power by Tom Wildenberg (1998)*

    Combined Fleet Decoded by John Prados (1995)

    *A Priceless Advantage by Frederick D. Parker (1993) http://www.centuryinter.net/midway/priceless/*

    And I Was There by Rear Admiral Edwin T. Layton (1985)

    The Barrier and the Javelin: Japanese and Allied Strategy, February-June 1942 by H. P. Willmott (1983)

    Double-Edged Secrets by Captain C. Jasper Holmes (1979)

    A Battle History of the Imperial Japanese Navy by Paul Dull (1978)

    The Campaigns of the Pacific War USSBS (Pacific) Naval Analysis Division (1946) http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/AAF/USSBS/PTO-Campaigns/index.html

    Rich
     
  9. bobk544

    bobk544 Member

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    Holy wow Rich! your list here is enough to keep me going for many moons! thanks very much Rich and i am really looking forward to learning as much as i can about this great world changing event and in particular getting to know those who really made the sacrifices for us all!
    Thanks again everyone and i will be back in between readings for further discussions and opinions ok?
    An a peronal salute to you all and those who are carrying forward the memories of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, we owe them and their families and descendants many thanks!
    BobK
     
  10. bobk544

    bobk544 Member

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    Hi Rich et all, got the Shattered Sword! and its very comprehensive and yes it is almost impossible to put down and just in doing a quick scan through, it looks like the hubris and easy successes led to a feeling of invincibility and apparently the Japanese culture of do it my way without question was another big problem right?, but wow the insights are just what i was looking for and lessons to be learned apply to everything in life!

    Ok hope everyone are doing well, but now when i think of freetime its between the Pacific, Band of Brothers and the Shattered Sword!
    BobK
     
  11. syscom3

    syscom3 Member

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    Bobk ..... there is some truth in that Midway was the best planned defeat the IJN had ever engaged in!
     
  12. BigEFan

    BigEFan recruit

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    Thanks Rich and you others for info. I purchased the DVD series "Battle 360" story of the Big E and I also am building a 1/350 scale model of BigE using Trumpeters USS Hornet and I hope to modify it with AA guns that were installed before she was put out of action at Okinawa on 5-14-45. I also ordered Steve Ewings book "USS Enterprise" for only about $11 including shipping on Amazon.com.
     
  13. Gromit801

    Gromit801 Member

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    In a nutshell, most VT's were splashed before they were able to drop their loads, and those that did, dropped more out of desperation than planning or skill, out of proper range or angle.
     
  14. marc780

    marc780 Member

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    I learned a lot reading these discussions about the Battle of Midway i didn't know before. In answer to your question, the US Navy was in fact plagued by dud torpedoes during the first few years of American involvement in WW2. This was largely due to inadequate testing of new types before introducing them into service. Testing torpedoes was expensive, the depression-era US military had a limited budget and so they went to war with what had been developed during the 1930's.

    The infamous mark 21, used by US submarines, was notable for this. I'm sure the story has been discussed here many times, but the gist of it was the new torpedo had a device to explode the warhead when it passed under the ship where it would do more damage (warships of the day had more armor plating on their sides and very little on the bottom of the hull). The problem was that the new detonator did not work right most of the time. Compounding the issue, the firing pin on the new torpedo was also machined improperly - if the torpedo made a direct hit on the hull, it would often mash the firing pin in such a way that it could not fire the warhead.

    In battle against Japanese shipping and warships, US submarine captains soon realized something was wrong with their new torpedo, as the sonarman could sometimes actually hear the torpedo hit the ship but without the BOOM. The malfunctions were reported to command, who vacillated for a while and denied there were problems with the torpedoes for many wasted months.
    A fix for the firing pin malfunction was devised by one clever submariner, a machinist's mate who simply remachined all the firing pins on the sub's torpedoes, with the captain's blessing of course. To fix the proximity fuse on the warhead took longer, until 1943. After that, the US Navy submarines were soon sinking japanese shipping faster then they could be built.

    "If the atom bomb had not ended the war in the Pacific...American submarines would have." ~James Dunnigan, How to Make War

    The Time-Life series has one volume that describes the torpedo problem in detail, "War Under the Pacific", also here's a link on US torpedoes,

    Dud Torpedoes, WW2 Pacific
     
  15. Fred Wilson

    Fred Wilson "The" Rogue of Rogues

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    US Navy tests torpedoes during World War 2. (2 Minute Film.)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CnTSAAycJa4
     

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