Like the Dew
By David H. Lippman
After the disastrous
Devastator attack, VT-6 pilot Machinist
Albert W. Winchell flies his battered plane
away from the battle, spewing fuel. When the
engine fails, he makes a perfect emergency
landing into the sea. Winchell and his crewman,
ARM 3rd Douglas M. Cossett, pull out their
life rafts, emergency rations, first aid kits,
and parachutes to use as awnings and sails.
They begin a 17-day ordeal of drifting in
the Pacific, surviving on a caught albatross
and emergency rations before being picked
up by an American PBY on June 21. When both
are flown to the Midway hospital, they will
have lost 60 lbs. each and be the last survivors
to be rescued.
Overhead, VF-6 still awaits its call to
battle. It never comes. At 9:52, Gray tries
to reach McClusky and Lindsey, to no avail.
At 10 a.m., Gray realizes he has barely enough
gas to get home. As VT-6 disintegrates beneath
him, Fighting 6 heads for Enterprise.
At 9:40 a.m., Ensign Earnest flops his battered
TBF on the ground at Midway, goes into a ground
loop, and comes to a halt. Earnest and Ferrier
climb out of the plane, the only survivors
of the Torpedo 8 detachment. They will later
be known as “the other sole survivors.”
Earnest and Ferrier gain Purple Hearts for
their ordeal. Earnest himself also wins two
Navy Crosses, one for the attack and one for
bringing the TBF home. It’s the first
TBF to fight and survive a battle and the
aviation experts want to know how the aircraft
type fared. Ferrier also gains a Distinguished
Flying Cross. Both survive the war, with Earnest
retiring as a captain and Ferrier as a commander.
By 9:55 a.m., Wade McClusky’s Enterprise
bombers are short on fuel, but gamely
following their leader. In five minutes, he
will give up the search. But at that moment,
he spots a destroyer beneath him, racing northeast.
It’s the Arashi, finished with
scaring off the submarine USS Nautilus
for the moment and racing to rejoin the
fleet. McClusky mistakes her for a liaison
cruiser going from Kondo’s Occupation
Force to Nagumo. He alters course to follow
McClusky’s radio blares with an order
from Browning, “Attack, attack!”
McClusky retorts, “Wilco, as soon as
I can find the bastards.”
Nautilus is struggling, too. At 9
a.m., Brockman pops up his periscope and sees
an aircraft carrier under attack. When Arashi
turns up, Nautilus dives again.
To Brockman’s annoyance, his submarine
is leaking air from a deck torpedo tube.
At 10 a.m., Lem Massey spots three columns
of smoke just beyond the northwest horizon,
40 miles off. He turns right towards them,
Bombing 3 and Fighting 3 following obediently.
Neither group has seen the smoke. Leslie asks
Massey in code if he has sighted the enemy.
At 10:05, Ensign Bill Pittman spots some “curved
white slashes on a blue carpet,” which
become more ships than he has ever seen. Ensign
Tony Schneider sees them, too, but his gas
gauge gives out, and he has to turn away and
splash into the water. He and his gunner will
survive three days in the drink before a PBY
At the same moment, Leslie sees the smoke.
Then Bill Gallagher picks out the wakes of
ships 35 miles away. Ten minutes later, Torpedo
3 reaches the enemy — as two Zeros sweep
in to attack. Massey calls for fighters. Japanese
bullets rip up the Devastators. One explodes
a CO2 bottle under pilot William Esders’
feet, filling the cockpit with smoke. He hurls
the cockpit open for fresh air.
Massey and his planes roar in, as does Fighting
3. The entire Japanese combat air patrol swings
in to tackle the intruders. Lt. Iyozo Fujita,
unable to eat breakfast, climbs into his Zero,
spotted on Soryu’s flight deck,
and races off to fight the Americans.
Zeros dive in on Thach’s two low-level
Wildcats, and Thach and his pals dive into
battle, creating a busy dogfight. The Thach
Weave does not work as planned because only
Thach’s wingman, Ensign R.A.M. Dibb,
gets the message to use the tactic. But Thach
tells Dibb, “Pretend you are a section
leader, and move out far enough to weave.”
The two test the tactic. It’s Dibb’s
first battle, and the tactic works. When a
Zero gets in on Dibb’s tail, an angry
Thach swoops behind the Zero, and shoots it
down. Thach later likens the encounter to
a highway game of “chicken.”
However, the Japanese have the numerical advantage,
and shoot down Ensign Edgar Bassett. Ensign
Daniel Sheedy is ultimately able to bring
his damaged Wildcat back to Hornet. But Massey
has to attack alone.
Massey’s TBDs run smack into a hungry
and tired Iyozo Fujita, who streaks into the
formation, joined by 10 Zeros. Bullets tear
up Lem Massey’s plane. He climbs out
on the wing stub to jump, but there’s
no time. Massey and TBD, both in flames, spiral
into the Pacific. Chief Aviation Pilot Wilhelm
Esders finds himself in command, even though
he’s the junior pilot. He looks around
to see six or seven TBDs burning around him.
He leads the survivors over Akagi and
toward Hiryu, amazing Fuchida: They
have a perfect release point for Akagi but
don’t use it. Esders and his five surviving
teammates release their fish toward Hiryu,
but Kaku handles the carrier beautifully to
avoid the attacks.
Fujita, hungry, swoops after VT-3, and knocks
down two TBDs. On his way back to Soryu,
his Zero is hit by Japanese AA guns, which
set it on fire. Just 200 meters above the
sea, Fujita is forced to bail out. His parachute
opens just as he hits the water. Fortunately,
Fujita’s life jacket propels him to
the surface. Once there, he wages a long struggle
to free himself from the chute’s lines.
Fujita is not having a good day.
On Akagi, Fuchida and his pals cheer
and whistle encouragement as the Devastators
corkscrew into the sea. The surviving Americans
head for home. Esders will almost make it
— he will have to ditch his plane within
sight of Yorktown, and get picked up
by the destroyer Hammann. His gunner, ARM2
Mike Brazier, dies of his wounds. Esders,
however, survives to retire with the rank
Another Yorktown pilot is alive in
the water, but his pickup is less pleasant.
The Japanese destroyer Arashi hauls
the burned, wounded Ensign Wesley Osmus aboard.
Osmus’ gunner, Benjamin Dodson Jr.,
of Durham, N.C., goes down with the plane.
The Japanese treat Osmus’ wounds. But
Arashi’s skipper, Cdr. Yasumasa
Watanabe, wants to have a chat with this American.
As the survivors of VT-3 pull out, it is the
end of the line for the TBD Devastator as
a weapon of war. Of the 41 sent in to battle
that morning, only four return to their carriers.
The remaining TBDs go stateside to be used
as trainers. They are replaced in the hangar
decks and hardstands by TBF (Grumman) and
TBM (General Motors) Avengers.
The sacrifice of the three squadrons presents
historians with the question: What have they
achieved? They have kept Nagumo on the jump
all morning, preventing him from regaining
the initiative. They have also pulled the
Japanese combat air patrol down on the deck
to cope with the slow-moving bombers. There
are no fighters over the carriers. And the
Japanese formation is a mess from all the
However, Nagumo has had enough. He has faced
eight attacks in three hours, but despite
the delays, the mechanics have re-armed 93
planes, and the flight decks of all four carriers
are spotted with the strike on the American
fleet. At 10:20, Nagumo orders his carriers
to turn into the wind, first to replace the
combat air patrol, then to launch the attack.
They are getting word that enemy dive-bombers
might be nearby.
On Akagi, Genda hears this message,
but he is untroubled. He has just seen eight
consecutive attacks beaten off with no damage,
including dive-bombers. Clearly the Americans
are hopelessly inefficient and incompetent.
On Kaga, Chief Warrant Officer Takayoshi
Morinaga stands with some pilots on the center
of the flight deck, just aft of the second
elevator. While waiting to launch, they are
working as extra lookouts.
Akagi’s Cdr. Shogo Masuda swings
his white flag at 10:22, and Akagi shoots
off her lead Zero. Morinaga and their pals
see, heading straight for them, what look
like tiny black beads falling loose from a
string. They shout, “Enemy dive-bombers!”
They are Enterprise’s group,
untroubled by combat air patrol. Lt. J.G.
Edwin Kroeger, of Bombing 6, warns his boss,
Dick Best, that he’s short of oxygen.
Bombing 6, loaded with 1,000-lb. bombs, drops
down to 15,000 feet, where all can remove
their face masks. This move puts Best below
and ahead of McClusky.
Up above, McClusky studies the situation
with his binoculars. No fighters, no flak,
all ships turning. Obviously, they’ve
been repelling a torpedo attack.
Ensign John McCarthy thinks McClusky has
led them back to Enterprise, and his
radioman, E.E. Howell, asks, “Do you
think we’re home?” McCarthy looks
down at the yellow flight decks and pagoda
masts. “No, that’s not home.”
McClusky breaks radio silence to assign
Gallaher’s Scouting 6 and himself to
the carrier on the left and Best to the one
on the right, saying, “Earl, follow
me.” Best doesn’t get the message,
and assumes he will take the nearer target.
But McClusky, an aggressive fighter pilot,
simply piles in. Best sets up his division
and squadron to attack, opens his flaps —
and McClusky and Scouting 6 zoom by him. Both
squadrons are hitting the same target, Kaga.
Irritated, Best closes his flaps, and signals
Bombing 6 to attack the next carrier, farther
to the east. Then he opens his flaps and streaks
down on Akagi. However, the second
and third divisions of Bombing 6 dive on Kaga
anyway. The attack is like a textbook
illustration, better than any practice assault.
Twenty-five American dive-bombers bear down
on Kaga, McClusky leading. At 1,800
feet, he pulls the bomb release. Kaga Air
Officer Cdr. Takahisa Amagai, watching from
below, is impressed by the Americans’
skill as they dive out of the sun and take
advantage of intermittent clouds. Behind McClusky,
Gallaher snarls, “Arizona, I
remember you,” thinking of his first
duty station, now a sunken wreck. He releases
his missiles at 2,500 feet.
Gallaher is followed by Lt. j.g. Jacob “Dusty”
Kleiss, Ens. James Dexter, and Lt. Clarence
Dickinson, leading Gallaher’s second
division. On December 7, 1941, flying an F4F
from Enterprise to Pearl Harbor, Dickinson
saw the sickening tableaux of the U.S. Pacific
Fleet being destroyed beneath him. Jittery
American gunners shot down his plane, and
Dickinson had to bail out. Now he gains a
measure of revenge.
At 10:22, Lt. Cdr. Sesu Mitoya, Kaga’s
communications officer, standing on the flight
deck, dives for it as the dive-bombers’
scream grows louder. Gallaher’s bomb
hits starboard aft amid planes spotted for
launch, and sees the blinding flash as he
pulls out. Morinaga sees the bomb coming straight
for him, and hurls himself onto the deck.
The bomb sets off the parked planes like a
string of firecrackers, which in turn sets
off a series of explosions, killing most of
Morinaga’s pals nearby.
Two more bombs miss Kaga, and fire control
officer Lt. Fiyuma and Mitoya sprint to the
bridge to report on the damage. There he finds
Capt. Jisaku Okada gaping in disbelief at
the situation. Fiyuma says all passages below
are afire and most of the crew trapped below
decks, with power cut off. The ship is starting
to list. Fiyuma urges Okada and the bridge
crew to go down to the anchor deck. Okada
shakes his head. “I will stay with my
ship.” Mitoya heads down to try to reach
the Engine Room crews.
At 10:22, Bombing 3 skipper Leslie bangs on
the side of his SBD and points out a target
below to Bill Gallagher. 15,000 feet below
is a Japanese aircraft carrier. It’s
Soryu, the most easterly of three below them.
Gallagher is awed by the huge ship and the
big red circle on her flight deck. Leslie
calls Lem Massey on the radio, but gets no
At 10:23, Gallagher tells Leslie that Soryu
is launching planes. Leslie pats his head
— the signal for “Follow me”
— at 10:25 and pushes over in the best
dive he has ever made. But he doesn’t
have a bomb. At 10,000 feet, he opens fire
with his machine guns, to at least lead his
At the last minute, Leslie pulls out, and
Lt. Lefty Holmberg leads the actual attack.
He puts the red circle in his telescopic sight
and waits until 2,000 feet. As he pulls out,
he sees the flight deck explode into a column
of colorful smoke — red, blue, orange,
gray, yellow — and an aircraft fall
off into the ocean. AMM2 G.A. La Plant howls
with joy at the sight, and Holmberg watches.
Lt. j.g. Paul Holmberg and Lt. Sid Bottomley
are later credited with direct hits.
While Mitoya clambers down Kaga’s
ladders through smoke, Lt. Jacob “Dusty”
Kleiss of VS-6, the seventh plane to dive
on Kaga, scores a hit on the painted
red circle near the forward elevator. The
eighth plane to dive in bombs Kaga in
the same spot. The seventh plane’s bomb
hits the forward elevator and crashes through
it, exploding in the hangar deck. The blast
cooks off the airplanes, fuel, and ordnance.
The next bomb explodes a fuel cart near the
air command post, which just misses the Kaga,
but the ball of fire covers the bridge with
flaming gasoline, killing Okada, Fiyuma, and
everyone on the bridge.
The Japanese carrier Kaga.
On Akagi, civilian newsman Teiichi
Makishima films Kaga’s ordeal.
He’s aware that the censors will probably
keep the film, but he is also aware that he
is shooting history. He watches the columns
of water from the near-misses, and sees Kaga’s
bridge burn, and says, “She is beaten
The following bomb explodes right over Cdr.
Yamasaki, the chief maintenance officer, and
he disappears. Amagai, watching, thinks, “Let
a bomb come upon my head, if it comes. Those
who vanish like the dew will surely be quite
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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.