By David H. Lippman
Just after 3 p.m., Admiral Raymond Spruance
aboard USS Enterprise gets
Lt. Sam Adams’ message:
several ships are heading north. He summons
Capt. Miles Browning and his staff to put
together a strike with whatever he has. There
much. No torpedo planes, and no fighters.
Bombing and Scouting 6 have 11 planes combined.
But Enterprise has 14 planes from Bombing
3, under its XO, Lt. Dewitt Shumway. With
McClusky wounded, Lt. Earl Gallaher of Scouting
6 will lead the strike.
Hornet’s squadrons are all missing.
But at 3 p.m., 11 of her lost SBDs from Bombing
8 turn up, and start landing at 3:27.
At 3:15, the talkers brief the aviators
in their ready rooms on the new mission,
and 15 minutes later Enterprise turns into
the wind for attack. One plane has engine
trouble, but 24 fly on into the afternoon
sun, heading for Hiryu. No fighters join
the strike. They’re all needed for
combat air patrol.
On Hiryu, Yamaguchi is pleased with the
situation. Despite losing half of Tomonaga’s
group, he believes he has punched out not
one but two enemy aircraft carriers, making
the fight even. After all, his first wave
has reported a carrier afire, and his second
wave attacked one that was reported as undamaged.
Hiryu XO Cdr. Takashi Kanoe — whose
good pre-war friend is Cdr. Edwin Layton,
now Nimitz’s intelligence officer — thinks, “It’s
still possible to win this battle. It’s
an even game at worst.”
At 3:31, he signals Nagumo, “After
definitely establishing contact with our
Type 13 Experimental ship-based bomber, we
plan to direct our entire remaining power
(5 bombers, 5 torpedo planes, and 10 fighters)
to attack and destroy the remaining enemy
forces in a dusk engagement.” On the
decks of Nagara, crewmen and refugees cheer
on the last carrier, shouting, “Hiryu,
pay off the score!”
Optimism is less apparent on Kaga, where
Cdr. Amagai’s bucket brigade continues
to fight a losing battle against massive
fires. The blaze is attacking inflammable
paint and ammunition magazines, setting off
explosions that hurl men and ship’s
plates about like matchsticks.
At almost the same time, an explosion in
Akagi’s hangar blasts open the forward
hangar bulkheads, and causes more fires.
That’s enough for Aoki. He orders his
airmen evacuated, leaving the crew to fight
At 4 p.m., Yamaguchi signals Nagumo: “Results
obtained by second attack wave: Two certain
torpedo hits on an Enterprise-class carrier.
Not the same one as reported bombed.” He
will launch the third strike — a coordinated
one, at last — at 4:30. Lt. Toshio
Hashimoto will lead the attack, his third
mission of the day. He and Lt. Shigematsu
are the only officer pilots left.
Nagumo’s answer is unrecorded. His
team is in bad shape on Nagara. Kusaka’s
sprained ankles leave him in agony. He hobbles
to a cabin astern, where the ship’s
dentist tries to help. “But you are
a dentist,” Kusaka gasps. “I
know,” the dentist answers cheerily, “But
a dentist is really a doctor.” After
some treatment, Kusaka returns to the bridge
in embarrassing fashion, carried piggyback
by a sailor. There, Nagumo is returning to
his old days as a destroyer leader — planning
the Japanese Navy’s specialty, a night
torpedo attack against the American fleet.
While Gallaher’s strike roars on,
Hornet refuels her lost birds. At 4:03, Lt.
Edgar Stebbins leads the first of 16 SBDs
into a follow-up wave.
While the attack groups roar off, Spruance
signals Fletcher: “TF 16 air groups
are now attacking the carrier, which your
search plane reported. Have you any instructions
Fletcher’s answer is a model of courtesy
and grace, recognizing the fact that he cannot
command a carrier force by remote control. “None.
Will conform to your movements.” With
Yorktown a wreck, Fletcher is out of the
battle. It’s now Spruance’s to
At 4:15, Yamaguchi fills Yamamoto in on
the latest developments. “From our
returning pilots’ reports, the enemy
force is apparently composed of three carriers,
five large cruisers, and 15 destroyers. Our
attacks succeeded in damaging two carriers.”
In the water by Yorktown, as Radioman Patterson
pushes away from the ship, a sailor grabs
his shoulder, saying he can’t swim.
Patterson shows him how to dog-paddle in
30 seconds, and off they go.
Aviation Ordnanceman Bill Surgi, despite
a broken elbow, gets off the ship, wearing
his metal battle helmet, contrary to orders.
Fifty-six years later, Surgi wears the helmet
when he joins undersea explorer Robert Ballard
on the expedition that locates Yorktown’s
sunken hull, and points out his old battle
David Pattison is still trapped by skewered
metal, conscious but unable to move. Warrant
Officer Chester Briggs Jr. of Minneapolis
battles his own shrapnel wounds to lead several
men out onto the catwalk to free Pattison.
A veteran sailor and flight deck plane director,
Briggs is determined to free Pattison. The
solution to Pattison’s imprisonment
is Marine Cpl. Peter Kikos, who uses an airplane
jack to pull away the metal. Kikos is also
from Minneapolis. Neither sailor is aware
of the fact.
While Kikos works, Pattison is conscious
and jokes with Briggs. Finally, Kikos frees
Pattison, and a passing aviator gives Pattison
his white silk scarf to use as a tourniquet.
They tie a rope around Pattison and drag
him 88 feet up the incline to the starboard
side, and then to a destroyer. Both Kikos
and Briggs are recommended for medals for
their cool heroism and hard work.
Mess Attendant Thomas E. Allen, a black
man from Richmond, Virginia, has to climb
up from the ammunition lockers when Abandon
Ship is ordered. His battle duties are to
load 5-inch shells and their powder casings
on a conveyer belt, but his main purpose
is to keep track of Officers’ Mess
supplies and clean their quarters. However,
he and his team find that the hatch for their
drilled evacuation route has been welded
shut in the rush repair job.
Terrified, Allen remembers his grandmother’s
advice: When too excited to talk, he should
take a deep breath and turn around three
times. He takes the breath and turns mentally.
Then he finds another route and leads his
men to safety.
Jerry Lemberger is also in darkness, shouting “Hello” into
a sound-powered phone. Finally, someone in
the forward gun director topside says, “Jerry,
we’re abandoning ship. You guys are
supposed to be dead, because that’s
where the torpedoes hit.” Lemberger
is astounded. He breaks out a lantern and
peers through a porthole to make sure the
next compartment, “Central Station,” is
not flooded. It’s safe.
Lemberger and his pals go through and start
working their way up to the mess deck, just
above where the torpedo hit. It is “peeled
open like you would open a can.” They
keep on going up to the hangar deck and find
a group of senior officers, Buckmaster among
them. He tells them to get off the ship.
There are no life jackets. “Get off
anyway,” an officer says. “It’s
going to capsize.”
Another pair of sailors still onboard is
Dr. Davis and Dr. French, still operating.
They finally finish, and call for a corpsman
to move the patient. Nobody shows up. Davis
asks a sailor with a walkie-talkie where
the corpsmen are.
“Oh,” he says, “They passed
the word some time ago for all hands to abandon
ship. I’m about to go.” Davis
and French carry their patient to the flight
deck. Davis goes back and makes one more
check of sick bay. Nobody left. He goes back
up the flight deck and finds it empty.
The water is now full of boats, rafts, and
swimmers. Davis places his shoes at the edge
of the deck, climbs down a rope ladder, and
is sure he’s the last man off.
Actually, he’s wrong. XO Dixie Kiefer
and Buckmaster, still on the bridge’s
starboard wing, watch Davis climb down. Kiefer
is next. He swings over the side and down
a line. But his hands are burned, so he loses
his grip and bounces off the carrier’s
armor belt, breaking his ankle. He pulls
himself up to the surface and swims to the
Now Buckmaster is all alone on his dying
command. He makes a final tour, along the
starboard catwalk, then back to the flight
deck . . . down to Dressing Station No. 1
. . . forward through Flag Country and his
own cabin . . . across to the port side .
. . and down to the hangar deck. It is a
lonely tour, without even the company of
a flashlight — they’re all gone.
Just a few emergency lamps.
Buckmaster struggles across oil-slicked
and slanted decks, over dead bodies, slashing
his leg on steel, calling out to his shipmates.
The only answer is the gurgle of rushing
water and clanking hatches and gratings.
Nobody left. Buckmaster climbs topside and
walks aft to the stern. He glances back one
last time at Yorktown, then catches a line,
and drops into the sea.
He doesn’t have far to go. He finds
a raft full of wounded, and hangs on to the
ratlines, rather than dislodge the wounded.
When a mess attendant loses his grip and
goes under, Buckmaster swims over to save
Davis is swimming, too, trying to evade
what looks like the snout of a large fish
following him. He reaches out to grab it — and
the nose turns out to be his own wallet.
On the tincans Balch and Russell, crewmen
are hauling in Yorktown survivors by the
score. Lt. Cdr. G. Roy Hartwig is stunned
to see his launches packed to thrice capacity,
towing a packed life raft, which is in turn
dragging a long manila line, to which scores
of men are clinging. The very last man on
the line is Yorktown supply officer Cdr.
Ralph Arnold, holding up his hat. Arnold’s
hat is brand-new, like his rank, and he doesn’t
want it ruined. Hartwig yells down, “No
Yorktown sailor has to tip his hat to get
aboard the Russell.”
On another carrier, Kaga, Cdr. Amagai is
facing two grim decisions: one professional,
the other personal. As Kaga’s ranking
officer, he has to decide whether or not
to abandon the burning carrier. As a naval
officer and samurai warrior, he has to decide
whether or not to go down with the ship.
The first is relatively easy. Kaga is finished.
He orders “Abandon ship” at 4:40
p.m. The second is a departure from Japan’s
naval tradition. After passing the word,
he jumps into the water.
“Though we had been taught that Japanese
seamen should never leave their ship even
under the worst circumstances, I made such
a decision believing that the skilled fliers,
who could not be replaced, should be saved
so that they could have another chance of
fighting,” he says later. “I
also believed that such would best serve
the Emperor. At the same time, I thought
that the fate of the ship would better be
left to her skipper or the second command
officer in case he was killed.”
Hagikaze sends over a cutter to take some
men off, but the party there just asks for
a hand pump. The cutter returns with a written
order to abandon Kaga. The firefighters obey,
an old warrant officer streaming tears down
On the destroyer Balch, Lt. Cdr. Harold
Tiemroth’s crew puts into practice
the drills they have been doing to rescue
Yorktown swimmers. His crew tosses over prepared
cargo nets, and scores of oil-slicked men
crawl up. Two hand-picked rescue swimmers,
Seaman Lewis and Fireman Prideaux, go in
to help those exhausted aboard.
The seven destroyers on scene have a busy
two hours, hauling in 2,270 men, 721
alone to Benham. At 4:46, Balch finishes
the job with a last swing around the scene.
On the rescue ships, everyone is impressed
by the courage of the survivors. A Yorktown cook who has swum 1,000 yards to Benham asks, “Where’s
the galley? The cooks are going to need all
the help they can get tonight.” Cdr.
Laing climbs up to the deck of Morris, slaps
on his Royal Navy cap, salutes the colors,
and says, “God bless the King; God
bless the U.S. Navy.” Another injured
seaman on Morris climbs up without help,
saying, “Help some of those other poor
guys that really hurt.” The sailor
in question has lost his own leg at the knee.
Kaku lines his pilots beneath the Hiryu’s
bridge for a pep talk at 4:30. He walks down
the line, telling them he trusts them completely,
and pats them on the shoulder. He also sees
how exhausted they are, and sends a mechanic
to sick bay for the Japanese equivalent of
No-Doz. The mechanic returns minutes later
with a bottle of “Aviation Tablet A.”
Lt. Cdr. Susumu Kawaguchi, the air officer,
suggests they might be sleeping pills. Kaku
explodes, yelling at the mechanic, threatening
immediate punishment. Then someone calls
the sick bay, and the doctor straightens
things out — yes, “Aviation Tablet
A” is a stimulant, not a sleeping pill.
Good thing. The aviators are ready
to pass out.
Yamaguchi, observing the tension and fatigue
in his men, decides to postpone the strike
until 6 p.m. He’ll lose 90 minutes,
but at least his men can get something to
eat — their first meal since breakfast.
More importantly, a dusk attack will give
the Japanese a better chance against the
American defenses. Hiryu’s crew is
exhausted. Since dawn, the carrier has faced
79 attacking enemy planes, 26 torpedoes,
and 70 bombs — suffering no hits.
Hiryu’s engine room is ordered to
send two men up to bring back battle meals.
Ensign Hiso Mandai, a future admiral of the
Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, looks
forward to rice balls. Hashimoto is too tired
to eat. He flops down on a brown leather
sofa for a nap. On the flight deck, mechanics
work on the Type 13 “Jill” scout
plane — a Soryu orphan, it will go
ahead of the attack to pinpoint the Americans.
One important item needs repair: the plane’s
in on the action! Click
here to order Midway:
Turning Point in the Pacific TODAY!
David H. Lippman, an award-winning journalist
and graduate of the New School for Social Research,
has written many magazine articles about World
War II. He maintains the World
War II + 55 website and currently works
as a public information officer for the city
of Newark, N.J. We're pleased to add his work
to our Daily Content.