“The Little Devil Was Most Difficult to Hit”

Tony Schneider and Glenn Holden were all alone in the Pacific. The Japanese fleet passed from their area on the afternoon of June 4, and the Bombing Six aviators took stock of their situation.

To Tony, Holden’s head looked like a football. It was lacerated and swollen both front and back. Holden’s first concern upon regaining his senses was that he had failed to retrieve any rations from their plane. Tony assured him that he had gathered all that he could into their little yellow life raft. He had retained his .45-caliber service revolver, and both men were wearing their Mae West life preservers. The emergency items on their raft included: a raft repair kit, smoke grenades, a fluorescent-dye sea marker, a sea anchor to help steer their raft, a safety knife, a signal mirror, a Very pistol with signal flares, a book on survival at sea, and K-rations. Tony found that they had a quart of water per person in addition to small cans of pemmican, a fat-and-protein survival ration made largely of mixed dried meats and fruits.

Schneider had resolved to abstain from drinking any of his water or touching the canned rations for as long as his body would hold out. Holden, on the other hand, drank a considerable portion of his water right away. “I’m sure he needed his,” said Tony. “He had a bad rap on the head.” The pair simply sat squeezed into their rubber boat with each man’s knees near the other man’s face. Tony saw no need in trying to row. The nearest land was beyond what he considered to be a realistic chance of making it. I know that a lot of other guys probably had to go into the drink out of gas, he thought. Search planes will be out looking for us. Late in the afternoon, they heard the distant hum of engines. When several Army B-17s passed over at high altitude Tony tried to attract their attention with his soggy Very pistol charges but failed.1

The air grew colder as the afternoon sun dipped below the horizon. Holden’s head wounds still throbbed but his mental faculties had returned. Tony avoided using any of his water during the night, knowing that they could be in for a long ordeal. The air warmed quickly again as the sun rose on June 5. In order to protect them from extreme exposure, Tony rigged a sun cover over their raft from the silk parachute he had thought to haul on board with them.

The silence of bobbing in the Pacific swells was broken at one point by the distant hum of an engine. Tony gazed skyward and finally made out a seaplane in the distance. Using the little signal mirror, he tried to catch the attention of the flight crew, yet his hopes were dashed when it gradually moved closer to their position. Its silhouette was not that of an American search plane, but likely a single-engine Japanese seaplane that had been catapulted from a cruiser or battleship to scour the area for Americans as the Japanese fleet retired from the area.2

I don’t think we have any single-engine seaplanes out there at Midway. It must be a Jap. If he sees us, this might be the end for us, Tony thought. He had heard stories of Japanese planes strafing survivors in the water. He told Holden they had no choice but to dive overboard and put their heads under the water if the floatplane made a strafing run.

Fortunately, the Japanese plane continued on without giving any indication that its crews had spotted the two Americans adrift on the ocean below. The midday sun grew quite uncomfortable as the hours whittled away slowly. All they could do was continue to wait and pray that the next aircraft to come over the horizon would be American.

Fatigue set in during the afternoon. Holden and Schneider finally drifted off to sleep, still sitting upright in the raft. Tony woke up suddenly when water splashed his face. He was startled to see four large dorsal fins cutting the surface and large tails slapping the water. Sharks! Tony knew there were likely even more of the deadly creatures schooling around that he could not see. Several brushed against the raft and he worried that one of the sharks might puncture their rubber vessel.

Tony estimated the sharks to be about eight feet in length. He was still carrying his pistol that he took on all missions. One of the more aggressive sharks came up beside their raft with his head halfway out of the water. “He was so close I could have touched him,” Tony said. Instead, he pushed his .45-caliber close to the shark’s face and squeezed off a round right between his eyes. The shark thrashed backward violently and created a huge geyser of water. The others scattered with the gun blast, and peace returned to their lonely vigil. It did take Holden several minutes to recover from his rude awakening.

There’s no reason to panic, Tony thought as he settled back down to wait for rescue. I’m here and I know they’ll be out looking for me. At least I know we’ve got a chance.

• • •

Admiral Spruance safeguarded his SBDs during the morning of June 5, holding them back for expected follow-up strikes once other capital warships of the Japanese fleet were located. Admiral Yamamoto approved orders early that morning to cancel the occupation of Midway, and his landing forces turned back to the west. Fog and rain during the early morning hours further reinforced Spruance’s desire to hold back on his carrier planes. He would wait for land-based searchers to solidly locate the Japanese first.

Ten PBY search planes departed from Midway on patrols at 0415, followed fifteen minutes later by eight B-17s still operating from the atoll. Troy Guillory of Bombing Eight was awakened in his foxhole at 0200. A Marine informed him that Captain Cyril T. Simard, the island commander, wanted to see him in the operations center. Simard needed Navy pilots to fly with his Army B-17s to assist in identifying friendly versus enemy ships.3

Guillory climbed aboard the B-17 of Captain Donald Ridings. In addition, ensigns Joe Auman and Tom Wood of VB-8—the latter having rowed ashore the previous evening—hitched a ride in the B-17 flown by Lieutenant Colonel Brooke E. Allen to assist with spotting. The Army aircraft were in search of a Japanese force reported by the U.S. submarine Tambor during the night. In stalking these ships, Tambor was spotted and caused the warships to maneuver to avoid her. The heavy cruiser Mikuma turned into the path of her sister cruiser Mogami. In the ensuing collision, Mogami’s bow was buckled back, and ruptured fuel tanks from the cruisers left a telltale oil wake.4

The B-17s failed to find these ships, but a PBY radioed a contact report at 0630 of two “battleships” trailing oil. Six Marine SBDs and six SB2Us from Midway attacked Mogami and Mikuma. They scored only near misses, and lost one plane in the process. At 0830, Brooke Allen’s B-17s found the damaged cruisers about 130 miles west of Midway and dropped five hundred-pound bombs from high altitude. When the antiaircraft fire became heavy toward his bomber, Troy Guillory squatted behind the pilot’s seat, which he assumed was protected by armor plating. “On the way home, I learned that this was not armor plate, but a cabin fuselage fuel tank which I was taking shelter behind,” he said.5

Other early Midway planes continued to send in contact reports that reached Admiral Spruance’s carrier group. At 0800, a PBY reported two battleships and one carrier afire, with three cruisers in company. It was Hiryu, abandoned during the night and drifting. She sank around 0900 that morning, unknown to either the Americans or the Japanese, and created a great deal of confusion throughout the day.6

Task force destroyers transferred all of their Yorktown survivors to the cruiser Portland during the morning hours. Hammann likewise sent over the SBD crew of Ensign Mac McCarthy, gunner Earl Howell, and VT-3’s Chief Bill Esders. PBYs from Midway picked up other carrier aviators from the water during the day, including Ensign George Gay, VT-8’s only survivor of the carrier-based portion of that squadron.

Dick Dickinson and gunner Joe DeLuca of VS-6 had ridden out the remainder of June 4 on Phelps. The next morning, their destroyer investigated a report of a rubber boat in the water near the task group. They found Bombing Six’s Joe Penland and his gunner, Harold Heard.

During the previous afternoon, Heard had counted five different PBYs, but none had spotted him and his pilot in their little yellow raft. Paddling through the night, they sighted their task force after daybreak on June 5. They climbed up Phelps’s cargo net, where Dickinson greeted his friend. He saw that Penland was sunburned and that his face was swollen. He also had lacerations surrounding a blackened eye.7

In spite of these discomforts, Penland and his gunner could count themselves among the more fortunate downed crews at Midway. Penland felt in hindsight that his squadron’s high loss of planes on June 4 did not slight the success of their mission in destroying Japanese warships. “We had the satisfaction of feeling that we had used our planes to good advantage,” he said.8

• • •

The ragged collection of Dauntless aircrews on Enterprise was reorganized during the morning of June 5. Eight Scouting Five pilots were merged with the remnants of Earl Gallaher’s Scouting Six to unofficially create “Scouting 65.” A second makeshift squadron, “Bombing 63,” was organized with the surviving SBDs of Bombing Three and Bombing Six. Lieutenant Dave Shumway had become senior aviator in command of VB-63, as Bombing Six skipper Dick Best was out of action as of that morning. Reporting to sick bay throwing up blood, Best was diagnosed with miliary tuberculosis and would spend thirty-two months in naval hospitals as he struggled to recover. He believed his ailment had been triggered by breathing in caustic soda powder from his oxygen container during his flight to attack Akagi. His naval career was finished after Midway, but he had left his mark. In one day, Best had made dives on two carriers, scored two hits, and had the satisfaction of knowing that both targets sank. I had my day, Best thought. I finished on the big one.9

Meanwhile, Miles Browning was creating another controversy. He drew up an attack plan during the early afternoon of June 5 in order to get the carrier’s dive-bombers back into the pursuit of Japanese shipping. Enterprise and Hornet had launched only Wildcat CAP flights throughout the morning hours, but Browning now wanted SBDs loaded with thousand-pound bombs to launch around 1400, at a range of 275 miles, to investigate the early morning reports of the burning Hiryu.10

Admiral Spruance approved the plan, but the mission did not go over well with the Dauntless squadron commanders on board Enterprise. Dave Shumway was outraged. His SBDs did not have the distance to make such a long flight with thousand-pound bombs and return to the carriers. Shumway met with Wally Short, the VS-5 skipper, and they sought the advice of the wounded air group commander, Wade McClusky. Short and McClusky gathered injured VS-6 skipper Earl Gallaher and headed for the flag bridge with Enterprise’s skipper, Captain George Murray, to confront Browning.11

McClusky ended up in a shouting match with Browning, arguing that the chief of staff had never flown a fully fueled, heavily armored dive-bomber with a thousand-pound bomb on a mission of that range. McClusky recommended the mission be delayed for one hour and that the bombs be changed to five-hundred-pounders. Spruance finally put an end to the shouting by stating to McClusky, “I will do what you pilots want.” Browning promptly stomped off to his stateroom to pout over his crushed plans.12

The revised plan was blinkered over to Hornet, and in the meantime the carrier groups continued to narrow the range that the SBDs would be forced to fly. On Enterprise, the deck crews worked feverishly to replace the thousand-pound bomb loads with smaller five-hundred-pounders as crews on Hornet began arming their planes. Task Force 16 turned into the wind at 1500 for flight operations. Twelve minutes later, the order was passed on to Hornet to begin launching. The only contingent immediately ready to go was a group of twelve SBDs, all loaded with five-hundred-pound bombs.

The Sea Hag, Stan Ring, had a three-plane section, along with nine more Bombing Eight planes under Lieutenant Commander Ruff Johnson. Ring grouped his dozen strikers and departed immediately. In the meantime, the Hornet plane handlers labored to ready a second deckload of SBDs. This group included fifteen SBDs of VS-8 under Lieutenant Commander Walt Rodee, most also carrying the lighter five-hundred-pound bomb load. Scouting Eight’s seven-plane second division under Lieutenant Gus Widhelm, however, still sported the thousand-pound bombs in spite of Spruance’s orders to change them out. Neither Hornet strike included Wildcat escorts due to the extreme length of the missions.

Rodee and Widhelm were accompanied by only one VS-5 refugee pilot, Bill Christie. His companion, Hank McDowell, was off flying status for the day due to a minor ailment that prevented him from sitting down comfortably. Christie, based on his experience, had been made a division leader and McDowell a section leader within Scouting Eight. From Bombing Eight, Lieutenant (j.g.) Fred Bates would lead the remaining five SBDs of his squadron out at the tail of VS-8’s two divisions.

Strike on Tanikaze

Hornet Group: June 5, 1942




Lt. Cdr. Robert Ruffin Johnson

ACRM Joseph G. McCoy

Ens. Philip Farnsworth Grant

ARM2c Robert H. Rider

Ens. William Douglas Carter

ARM2c Oral Lester Moore

Lt. James Everett Vose Jr.

ARM2c Joseph Yewonishon

Lt. John Joseph Lynch

ARM1c Wilbur L. Woods

Ens. Roy Philip Gee

ARM1c Donald L. Canfield

Lt. Alfred Bland Tucker III

ARM1c Champ T. Stuart

Ens. Gus George Bebas

RM3c Alfred W. Ringressy Jr.

Ens. Don Dee Adams

ARM2c John B. Broughton Jr.




Cdr. Stanhope Cotton Ring

ARM2c Arthur M. Parker

Ens. Clayton Evan Fisher

ARM3c George E. Ferguson

Ens. Benjamin Tappan Jr.

ARM3c Earnest Ray Johnston




Lt. Cdr. Walter Fred Rodee

ACRM John Lenzy Clanton

Ens. Paul Edmond Tepas

ARM3c Moley J. Boutwell

Lt. (jg) William Francis Christie (VS-5)

ARM1c Alvin Arthur Sobel

Lt. Ray Davis*

ARM1c Ralph Phillips

Lt. Laurens Adin Whitney

ARM2c Angus D. Gilles

Lt. (jg) Jimmy McMillan Forbes

ARM3c Ronald H. Arenth

Lt. Ben Moore Jr.

ARM2c Richard Cusack McEwen

Ens. Stanley Robert Holm

ARM2c James H. Black Jr.




Lt. William Joseph Widhelm

ARM1c George D. Stokely

Lt. (jg) Donald Kirkpatrick Jr.

ARM2c Richard Thomas Woodson

Ens. Don “T” Griswold

ARM1c Kenneth Cecil Bunch

Ens. Helmuth Ernest Hoerner

ARM3c David T. Manus

Lt. Edgar Erwin Stebbins

ARM2c Ervin R. Hillhouse




Ens. Philip James Rusk

ARM2c John H. Honeycutt

Ens. Harold White

ARM3c John Stephen Urban

Ens. Augustus Appleby Devoe

ARM3c John Louis Tereskerz




Lt. (jg) Fred Leeson Bates

ARM1c Clyde S. Montensen

Ens. James Austin Riner Jr.

ARM2c Floyd Dell Kilmer

Ens. Arthur Caldwell Cason Jr.

ARM3c Alfred D. Wells

Ens. Frank E. Christofferson

ARM2c Barkley V. Poorman

Ens. Joe Wiley King

ARM3c Thomas M. Walsh

*Ditched and recovered following strike. VS-8 composition per Mark E. Horan research.

Hornet’s second deckload was airborne by 1543, and Rodee led the flight in a climb toward eighteen thousand feet as they tailed the Sea Hag’s leading formation by some distance.13

The well-blended Enterprise strike group began its departure at 1530. Dick Best, Wade McClusky, and Max Leslie were out of action, so the senior SBD commander heading up this mission became Dave Shumway. Earl Gallaher was also grounded with his back injury, and his 6-S-1 was assigned to rookie pilot Ensign Clarence Vammen. Gallaher felt that Vammen was elated by his chance to fly, as he had been the only pilot of his squadron to not participate in the previous day’s carrier strikes.14

Ensign Phil Cobb of VB-3, in his urgency to depart for this mission, neglected to bring some of the most basic necessities. “We had no helmets and no chart boards to do our DR navigation,” he said. For his dead reckoning, he would have to keep track of headings, times, and other crucial data with simple pencil and paper.15

The planes and crews were sorted out as best as possible under the circumstances. Andy Anderson of VB-6, whose gunner, Stuart Mason, had been wounded on June 4, picked up Walter Chocalousek from the CEAG’s rear seat—whose pilot had been shot the previous day. Lew Hopkins was back in his familiar 6-B-12, which had been used by Stephen Hogan for the previous afternoon’s Hiryu strike. Eldor Rodenburg, again flying the cranky 6-S-9, was relieved that his SBD was in good operation this day.

Bob Benson’s 3-B-6 never made it off the flight deck. His gunner, Fred Bergeron, had taken his position in the rear seat as the pilot tried to rev up their engine. When that failed, Benson asked Bergeron to perform a function called “flashing the field.” Bergeron explained: “You climb out on the wing, take some butterfly nuts off a box, and stick your finger on a relay. I flashed the field, but that sucker wouldn’t start.” Benson’s SBD was thus scratched from the June 5 mission.16

Shumway departed with thirty-two dive-bombers. He had ten crews from his own VB-3, seven VS-5 crews, nine from VS-6, and a half dozen more from VB-6. The flight remained at low altitude until approximately one hundred miles from the anticipated enemy position. Bombing Three began climbing for altitude and Shumway reached the expected position at 2000. The enemy was nowhere in sight, so he spent the next twenty minutes searching to the southwest.

Strike on Tanikaze

Enterprise Group: June 5, 1942






Lt. Wallace Clark Short

ACRM John W. Trott


Lt. (jg) Carl Herman Horenburger

ARM3c Lynn Raymond Forshee


Lt. (jg) David Render Berry

ARM2c Earnest Alwyn Clegg


Lt. Sam Adams*

ARM1c Joseph John Karrol*


Lt. Harlan Rockey Dickson

ARM2c Joseph Michael Lynch Jr.


Lt. John Ludwig Neilsen

ACRM Walter Dean Straub


Lt. (jg) Nels Luther Alvin Berger

ACRM Otto Russell Phelps






Lt. (jg) Frank Anthony Patriarca

ACRM Jack Richard Badgley


Ens. William Robinson Pittman

AMM2c Floyd Delbert Adkins


Ens. Richard Alonzo Jaccard

RM3c Porter William Pixley


Lt. (jg) Norman Jack Kleiss

ARM3c John Warren Snowden


Ens. Eldor Ernst Rodenburg

Sea2c Thomas James Bruce


Ens. James Campbell Dexter

RM3c Donald Laurence Hoff


Ens. Reid Wentworth Stone

RM1c William Hart Bergin


Ens. Vernon Larsen Micheel

RM3c John Dewey Dance


Ens. Clarence Earl

Vammen Jr.**

AMM2c Milton Wayne Clark**






Lt. DeWitt Wood Shumway

ARM1c Ray Edgar Coons


Ens. Robert Martin Elder

RM3c Leslie Alan Till


Ens. Paul Wahl Schlegel

ARM3c Jack Alvin Shropshire


Ens. Robert Keith Campbell

AMM1c Horace Henry Craig


Ens. Alden Wilbur Hanson

ARM3c Joseph Vernon Godfrey






Lt. (jg) Gordon Alvin Sherwood

ARM2c Harman Donald Bennett


Ens. Roy Maurice Isaman

ARM3c Sidney Kay Weaver


Ens. Phillip Walker Cobb

AMM2c Clarence E. Zimmershead


Lt. Harold Sydney Bottomley Jr.

AMM2c David Frederick Johnson


Ens. Charles Smith Lane

ARM2c Jack Charles Henning






Lt. Lloyd Addison Smith

AMM2c Herman Hull Caruthers


Lt. (jg) Edwin John Kroeger

RM3c Gail Wayne Halterman


Ens. Lewis Alexander Hopkins

RM3c Edward Rutledge Anderson


Lt. Harvey Peter Lanham

ARM1c Edward Joseph Garaudy


Lt. (jg) Edward Lee Anderson

ARM1c Walter George Chocalousek


Ens. Arthur Leo Rausch

AOM3c Harold Llewellyn Jones

*Lost in action on Tanikaze strike.

**Returned to Hornet.

VS-5 composition is per the research of Mark E. Horan.

Stan Ring’s Hornet group flew at eighteen thousand feet, well ahead of the Enterprise group. After about an hour, Roy Gee noticed five B-17s, apparently returning to Midway. Forty-five minutes later, Ring spotted what he believed to be a Japanese light cruiser. It was the two-thousand-ton destroyer Tanikaze, heading south after having conducted a search to see whether the carrier Hiryu was still afloat. Ring led his flight out to 315 miles in search of bigger prey. “We passed it by to locate the damaged carrier, but to no avail,” said Gee. Ring, unable to find any other ships, led his men back toward the “cruiser” and ordered an attack at 1810. The Bombing Eight group used the available clouds for cover to mask their approach on the lone warship. Gee watched the tin can begin to increase speed and send up AA fire as the Hornet SBDs formed to attack.17

Commander Ring was unable to deliver his five-hundred-pound bomb. He tried pressing a button he believed to be the bomb release but nothing happened. The other ten VB-8 pilots following him were successful in unleashing their ordnance on the wildly twisting Tanikaze. Ruff Johnson and his wingmen, Phil Grant and Doug Carter, all missed wide. Slim Moore, rear gunner for Doug Carter, was amazed by “the darnedest ship maneuvering I ever saw,” as the Japanese skipper managed to dodge bomb after bomb.”18

Moe Vose, leading the second section of the first division, also missed wide with his five-hundred-pounder. John Lynch felt the Tanikaze skipper was doing a corkscrew to throw off their aim. It worked. Lynch’s bomb landed a hundred feet off Tanikaze’s port-side astern. Roy Gee followed through with a drop that landed about a hundred feet astern. Lieutenant Abbie Tucker, leading VB-8’s second division, was closest to the mark: His bomb hit the water only about twenty-five feet directly ahead of the destroyer. Gus Bebas planted his bomb about a hundred feet off Tanikaze’s port quarter, followed by Don Adams with another close miss astern.19

Clay Fisher ended up as tail-end Charlie of the Hornet’s strike group. He saw bombs exploding ahead of him, making large circular patterns in the water. He changed his aim twice, but underestimated her speed. Fisher’s five-hundred-pound bomb landed about a hundred feet astern of Tanikaze.20

Commander Ring’s Dauntlesses had delivered ten of eleven bombs but failed to score a hit on the highly maneuverable destroyer. “The dive-bombing attack was a fizzle,” Ring said. Tanikaze’s skipper, Commander Motoi Katsumi, impressed the Americans with his adept ship handling while traveling at well over thirty knots. He relied heavily upon the skills of a twenty-year-old signalman named Masashi Shibata, who called out course changes as he watched each plane coming down. “I climbed out of a window hatch of the bridge and leaned my body back so I could see the sky,” Shibata said. “As each dive-bomber approached, I shouted, ‘Enemy bomber right,’ or, ‘Bomber left.’” Skipper Katsumi shouted maneuvering commands based upon the position of each incoming SBD.21

The second half of Hornet’s strike group did not even have the satisfaction of scoring misses on Tanikaze. Walt Rodee’s sixteen VS-8 bombers and five VB-8 planes searched for any Japanese ships until 1720. He was forced to turn back, as the seven VS-8 Dauntlesses that had carried thousand-pound bombs consumed fuel at a much higher rate. Rodee set course for home, empty-handed again. Admiral Spruance was irate to find when Scouting Eight returned that they had gone out against his orders toting thousand-pound bombs.

• • •

Unaware that Hiryu now lay at the bottom of the ocean floor, Dave Shumway still hoped to find a crippled Japanese carrier. He deployed planes from Wally Short’s VS-5 and Pat Patriarca’s VS-6 in a scouting line abreast to extend his search area during his outbound flight with the Enterprise group. The group had flown out 265 miles by 1730 without a sighting, so Lieutenant Shumway changed his course twice during the next half hour in hopes of improving his luck.22

At 1810, he picked up Stan Ring’s transmission to attack the lone cruiser, and Shumway recalled the VS-5 and VS-6 planes. He had the wily Tanikaze in sight within minutes, and the Enterprise group deployed for attack. The afternoon sun was dipping lower toward the ocean’s surface. Commander Katsumi and his able lookout Masashi Shibata once again employed their tactic of spotting and dodging the incoming American dive-bombers.

Rodey Rodenburg watched Tanikaze twisting like a snake below him. For him, this would be his first combat dive of the war. Shumway pushed over first with ten VB-3 pilots in tow. The destroyer sported six 5.5-inch guns and proved that her gun crews were quite capable, in spite of the long odds against them.23

Oley Hanson chose his own course. Flying the tail end of Shumway’s division, he did not follow directly, but instead dived from abeam in hopes of making a head-on run at Tanikaze. He made a corkscrew dive and released his ordnance at two thousand feet. Hanson pulled back hard on the stick to avoid hitting the ocean and saw with disgust that his bomb, like the four others before him, was a miss.24

Lieutenant (j.g.) Gordon Sherwood’s second division of Bombing Three did no better. Next to dive were the six VB-6 planes under Lieutenant Lloyd Smith, and their bombs also fell harmlessly into the sea. “Hitting a destroyer is not easy,” said one of Smith’s wingmen, Lew Hopkins. Even with a much larger carrier, bombing dives typically yielded a small number of hits. Hopkins found that reducing the size of the target vessel and adding speed and maneuverability further reduced the odds for his fellow pilots. His radioman, Ed Anderson, saw plenty of small-caliber fire zinging up past their tail section throughout the attack. To Charlie Lane, Tanikaze looked like a speedboat, throwing out a long white wake in zigzags and circles. He could see tracers flashing past his SBD that appeared to be getting closer. “I kicked my rudder and threw my bomb; I don’t know where,” Lane said.25

Lieutenant Patriarca was seventeenth to dive on Tanikaze. Dusty Kleiss was third from Patriarca’s VS-6 contingent to make the plunge. “The little devil fired everything he had at us, put on full speed, zigzagging nicely, and was most difficult to hit,” Kleiss wrote in his diary.26

Wally Short’s Scouting Five refugees brought up the rear. Lieutenant (j.g.) Dave Berry had flown wing on Lieutenant Sam Adams during seven previous dive-bombing attacks. Now Berry found himself leading his senior officer down on Tanikaze. One of the flak bursts connected with the SBD of Adams and brought him down. The loss of Adams—a Coral Sea veteran who had located Hiryu the previous afternoon—hit home hard with Dave Berry. For the first time, I really hate those little yellow bastards.27

The popular Lieutenant Adams and his veteran gunner, Joe Karrol, would be mourned by many SBD aircrews. The remaining thirty-one Enterprise Dauntless crews headed home without having scored a single direct hit.

Tanikaze’s ordeal was not yet complete. The scouting flight of seven B-17s found the destroyer on their return to Midway and attacked shortly after the carrier bombers had moved on. Troy Guillory and Tom Wood, observing aboard different aircraft, watched as six of the B-17s made high-level runs on Tanikaze, dropping twenty-three bombs. The optimistic Air Force pilots claimed three hits and four near misses. Yet Wood was realistic in assessing from Lieutenant Colonel Sweeney’s B-17. “Although right in the center of the pattern, there were no direct hits,” he said. According to signalman Shibata, Tanikaze suffered leaks from two near misses and six gunners killed by bomb fragments that swept through the number two gun. In return, Shibata said “the gunnery crew of turret number three hit a dive-bomber [that of Adams], and it fell into the sea.”28

• • •

The luckless attack on Tanikaze had been frustrating, yet even greater despair faced the Hornet and Enterprise bombers. They were taxed with long flights back to their task force with low fuel and the daunting prospect of having to land on board after dark—a challenge many of the young pilots had never faced.

Lew Jones, gunner for Arthur Rausch of VB-6, had the only workable ZB homing device in Lloyd Smith’s division. He navigated through this direction finder and led his small group back to the ship. “We had three planes with us that probably would have been lost otherwise,” said Jones. As fuel became critical during the return flight, Rausch advised Jones to stand by for a possible ditching.29

Stan Ring’s VB-8 bunch did not fly in formation on their return but instead opted to form a long line. “Group doctrine had called for individual return rather than complete rendezvous,” Ring said. In the absence of air opposition, such a maneuver was deemed necessary to conserve fuel.30

Ruff Johnson struggled home on the two different signals being picked up by his plane’s YE-ZB device. When he had drained his tanks, with only his reserve left, Johnson called Chief McCoy.31

“Can you swim?” he asked.

“Negative,” McCoy said from the rear cockpit.

“You’d better get out your survival book and learn quickly,” the skipper warned him as their situation began to look more dire.

Radioman Dick Woodson found his YE/ZB signal was good enough to help guide his VS-8 pilot, Don Kirkpatrick, back to Hornet. When Clay Fisher approached the American task force, his gunner, George Ferguson, announced that he was receiving both a weak signal from Hornet and a strong one from Enterprise. Fisher opted for his own carrier’s signal and arrived over Task Force 16 shortly after sunset. Ben Tappan, flying wing on Gus Widhelm, credited VS-8 flight officer Ray Davis with figuring out a way to bracket the different homing signals to guide Scouting Eight back to Hornet.32

The darkened flight deck posed a real safety challenge for the Hornet fliers as well as the men standing by on deck to assist with the returning planes. Ruff Johnson finally opened up on the radio, calling to “Pete from Ruff,” a prearranged code for distress directed toward Captain Pete Mitscher of Hornet. Mitscher obliged by turning on two signal searchlights to help direct the approaching SBDs into the landing circle.33

Fisher was the first into the landing circle, and was relieved to see Hornet’s small flush deck lights come on during his approach. Ruff Johnson dropped directly into the groove for a perfect landing. He did not have enough fuel to even taxi out of the arresting gear.34

The leading VB-8 plane captain eagerly jumped upon Johnson’s wing. In his excitement to see the skipper return, he blurted, “Captain, you son of a bitch, are we glad to see you! Oh, I beg your pardon.”

There were fewer deckhands excited to see the return of the Sea Hag. Ring had been joined by Ensign Ken White for the return flight. As the CHAG lowered his landing gear, White frantically signaled to him that only one of his wheels had extended. Ring assumed that a shell fragment from the AA fire had damaged his hydraulic lines. He managed, after a bit of violent maneuvering, to properly extend both wheels.35

Forty-year-old Commander Ring landed on Hornet after 4.3 hours aloft, and complained to his plane captain that his bomb failed to release when he tried pressing the button on his throttle handle. Roy Gee and other SBD pilots on the flight deck who heard of this comment were astounded. They knew that the throttle handle button was used to transmit voice radio messages. “Commander Ring could have easily dropped his bomb by using the emergency release, but he didn’t even know it existed, let alone the handle’s location,” Gee said. “I lost all my respect for CHAG.” Wingman Clay Fisher was ordered up to Ring’s cabin that evening to provide instructions to the air group commander on how to properly release his bomb in the future. Fisher entered CHAG’s cabin nervously and went through the procedure before being dismissed. In spite of his worries over what might happen, Fisher never received any repercussions from Ring—who likely realized that the ensign’s lesson had been ordered by one of his senior squadron mates.36

Admiral Spruance showed his concern for his aviators—and his desire not to lose the last of his dive-bombers—by allowing the carriers to switch on their landing lights. This obviously posed a large threat from lurking Japanese submarines, but Enterprise turned on her sidelights at 1933, followed minutes later by her thirty-six-inch searchlights.37

Don Adams of Bombing Eight was riding on fumes. He had resigned himself to ditching while his engine still had power. Before he could do so, John Broughton in his rear seat spotted a light, and Adams was able to locate Hornet. His SBD literally exhausted its fuel as Adams’s tail hook engaged the arresting gear wire. John Lynch, in contrast, had no problem with his first night carrier landing and made it on board with sufficient fuel. Ensign Paul Tepas of VS-8 was quite relieved when he finally found Hornet. He used the rear lights on the carrier to guide him into the groove for landing.38

Bombing Three’s SBDs all returned undamaged. Oley Hanson had become separated from his group during the return flight. He utilized slow speed on his return to conserve fuel, and opted not to tell gunner Joe Godfrey how low their gauges were reading. There’s no use in disturbing him, Hanson thought. Godfrey, however, was wise to their situation. He had started taking an inventory of the survival gear he planned to gather in the event they were forced to ditch. Hanson fortunately got aboard on his first pass in the darkness. “As he cut the power, the engine froze solid,” Godfrey said.39

Charlie Lane of VB-3, approaching the groove on Enterprise, kept a hand on the tank selector to be sure every drop of gas was used and that his emergency was saved for landing. Ray Davis of VS-8 ran out of fuel in the landing pattern just 150 yards from Enterprise’s stern. His SBD hit the ocean with his tail hook and wheels still down and flipped. It was a hell of a struggle for the two aviators to escape their inverted plane. Davis and gunner Ralph Phillips did not bother with using their life raft, as a screening vessel was rapidly approaching. The destroyer Aylwin picked them up within five minutes. “That was all of the battle for us,” said Davis.40

Rodey Rodenburg was making only his fourteenth carrier landing at sea in wartime conditions. More seriously, this was the first time he was forced to land on a carrier in the dark. Five other VS-6 rookies—Dick Jaccard, Mike Micheel, Bill Pittman, Jim Dexter, and Clarence Vammen—were also facing their first night landings. It was a true test of LSO Robin Lindsey’s abilities. Vammen was returning from his first combat strike, having been designated the lone stay-behind of VS-6 the previous day.41

Ensign Pittman admitted to Floyd Adkins as he neared Enterprise that he had never made a night carrier landing. “That really made me feel great!” said Adkins. “My job prior to landing was to check with Mr. Pittman that the landing gear, flaps, and tail hook were down. I asked him a little louder that night.” Adkins was comforted to find that Pittman made the best landing of his life.42

Scouting Six skipper Earl Gallaher, grounded with a badly wrenched back, stood on the Big E’s open bridge and mentally tried to guide his rookies in. He had paced the deck with increasing anxiety during the hours his men were gone, in spite of Dr. Hightower’s orders to be on bed rest.43

Andy Anderson of Bombing Six was not concerned. He had qualified for such an operation by making six night landings in the three months preceding the Pearl Harbor attack. Harvey Lanham made it back on Enterprise’s deck with only a few “teacups” of fuel remaining, per his twenty-one-year-old rear gunner, ARM1c Ed Garaudy.44

Lew Hopkins and Arthur Rausch had each made more than twenty daytime carrier landings, but none at night. Hopkins was concentrating, but found it was not too different from trapping his plane in the daylight. He carefully watched Robin Lindsey’s lighted paddles, adjusted his plane accordingly as he came into the groove, and safely caught a wire.45

Ensign Vammen was also attempting his first night landing on Hornet. One of his fellow Pensacola training pilots, Ensign Fred Mears of VT-8, recalled that Vammen’s landing was the only sloppy one of those coming in. As Mears watched, Vammen approached without lights on his plane. He gunned the motor at the cut instead of chopping it, hit the barrier, and cut his forehead in the crash.46

In the darkness, a number of Hornet pilots missed their own flight deck. Roy Gee of Bombing Eight formed up on Moe Vose during the return flight. “By the time we approached the task force, darkness had enveloped the ships,” Gee said. Suddenly the lights below came on and he fell in behind Vose for his first night landing. He successfully caught the third wire, waited for his tail hook to be cleared, and then revved forward to clear the landing area. Gee and gunner Don Canfield climbed down from their SBD and proceeded to their ready rooms.47

Gee felt uncomfortable with the surrounding bulkheads and passageways as he went through the hatch and down the ladder. Somehow they looked strangely unfamiliar to him—and for good reason. Entering what he thought was VB-8’s ready room aboard Hornet, Gee discovered that he had landed on its sister ship Enterprise.

He was not alone. Four other lost Hornet pilots soon made their way into the groove on Enterprise. Lieutenant Lindsey was expecting as many as thirty-two dive-bombers to be coming back from the strike. After landing most of the strikers, Lindsey turned to his assistant LSO, Cleo Dobson of VS-6, and asked how many more they had to go to make a complete group. “I’ll be damned if I know,” said Dobson. “We’ve got more than we are supposed to have already.”48

Enterprise also landed Vose and Doug Carter of VB-8, plus Laurens Whitney and Jim Forbes of VS-8. As Vose climbed out of his SBD, he encountered a crew chief who he knew served on Enterprise. “What the hell are you doing on Hornet?” he asked. The burst of laughter around him quickly informed Bombing Eight’s flight officer that he had landed on the wrong ship.49

The weary Dauntless aviators headed to their ready rooms for the customary debriefings. The galley crew had ham and eggs waiting, and many seized the offer of a shot of medicinal brandy from sick bay to calm their nerves. The Hornet and Enterprise LSOs had performed admirably, bringing sixty-three of the returning SBDs down safely in the darkness.

Many of the pilots were discouraged with the results of their late-day mission. Dusty Kleiss’s diary entry for the Tanikaze attack likely summed up the feelings of most aviators on Enterprise: “This flight not worth the gas, bombs, and loss of a plane.”50

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