Update: See also “What do I know, I was 19 years old and saw the whole thing backwards?” (h/t Boris the SLUF driver)
On this, the 69th Anniversary of the Battle of Midway, the Battle of Midway Roundtable has re-posted the full post-battle letter by CDR Stanhope Ring – Hornet’s CAG. Often called the “Lost Letter” it was written in 1946 to give more info re. HAG’s actions on 4/5 Jun. Published with extensive editorial inserts in the Aug 1999 issue of the Naval Institute’s Proceedings, the BMORT has the full, unedited version on their website:
Â Early on the morning of 4 June we received word that the Japanese attacking force had been located and that initial attack on Midway had been made. Course from Hornet’s position to the enemy was plotted and immediate preparations made to launch the Air Group.
It was decided to launch the entire group as a striking force and to adhere strictly to the doctrine of radio silence. VT Squadron 8 was to proceed at low level. VB-8, VS-8, accompanying fighters of VF-8 and the Group Commander were to proceed at high level (20,000 ft.). Nearly one and a half hours were consumed in Group rendezvous after launching. All airplanes maintained moderate altitude (below 5,000 ft) until after rendezvous of the Group was effected.
Departure from Hornet was taken on preestimated interception course, Group Commander leading. High altitude elements commenced their climb.
Within thirty minutes after departure from Hornet scattered cumulous clouds intervened between high and low elements. Speed of high elements was regulated in an attempt to remain above the invisible VT-8.
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 and directed the course of the high element accordingly.
It is appropriate at this time to interject my understanding that Enterprise Group was favored with later information of the whereabouts of the enemy than was Hornet Group. Although communications in 1942 were most unreliable between air and surface craft, even though Hornet might have broken radio silence to keep the Group informed of the latest developments, there was no assurance that such information would have been received by the Group. As a matter of fact, I do not believe that Hornet received the reported new position of the enemy. Therefore my change of Air Group course to the south was based entirely on my estimate of the situation (which proved faulty) and not on definite information of the enemy movements.
VT-8 and Enterprise Group made contact with the enemy, north of the point at which I turned south. Again, reliable communications should have permitted direction of the high elements of the Hornet Air Group to the point of contact.
Hornet Group proceeded south until smoke from Midway was sighted. At that time it was apparent that immediate return to the carrier was necessary if landings aboard were to be effected, since fuel supply was running low.
Great reliance was placed on the YE homing beacon. I switched radio at the time to the homing frequency but Enterprise was all that could be heard. The letter signal received, compared to the YE letter chart furnished us by Hornet prior to takeoff, convinced me that something was wrong. It later developed that Enterprise and Hornet were on different YE homing codes and that the change in code prescribed by CTF in Enterprise had not been received by Hornet.Â Because of the obvious discrepancy in Enterprise YE signal received as applied to the YE homing chart of Hornet, I disregarded the YE signal and attempted to change course of the group toward the dead reckoning position of Hornet VS-8 under Lt Cdr. Rodee followed me in my change. VB-8 under Lt Cdr. Johnson appeared to follow the false course indicated by YE signal and was followed by VF-8, Lt Cdr. Mitchell. I left VS-8 and attempted to rally the departing aircraft of VB-8 and VF-8 in order to lead them back to Hornet but I could not catch them. When I finally gave up the chase VS-8 had disappeared from sight and VB-8 was apparently headed for Midway. I then resumed my dead reckoning course to intercept Hornet, proceeding singly at 20, 000 ft. Since oxygen supply was failing and I began to notice the effects of lack of oxygen, I dropped gradually to 10, 000 ft.
(by permission of “The Roundtable Forum, official newsletter of the Battle of Midway Roundtable, www.midway42.org.â€)