When we think of Pearl Harbor we think of the great naval battle of Midway about seven months later . And when we think of Midway we think of the greatest American war hero you probably have never heard of: C. Wade McClusky, Jr.
Recall that what the Japanese didn't achieve at Pearl Harbor was the destruction of the U.S Carrier fleet, as the carriers were at sea and survived the attack unscathed. Seven months later in June of 1942 a Japanese naval armada of 200 ships set sail to attack Midway- a strategic atoll about 1,000 miles from Hawaii.
50 U.S Naval ships sailed to protect Midway including three carriers: The Yorktown, the Hornet and the Enterprise.
The attack on Midway was actually an elaborate Japanese plan to trap and sink what they believed were the two surviving US Carriers: The Hornet and the Enterprise. The Japanese believed they had sunk the Yorktown in the battle of Coral Sea. To make matters worse, the great US Admiral Bill Halsey was sidelined with a bad case of the shingles. He chose as his replacement Admiral Raymond Spruance, who had limited Carrier experience.
But the US had broken the Japanese code and Spruance and Admiral Fletcher, who was commanding the damaged Carrier Yorktown knew the Japanese plans and in turn planned a trap of their own.
But the greatest Naval victory in US History eventually came down to a humble 40 year old pilot from Buffalo, New York named C. Wade McClusky, Jr. Lieutenant Commander McClusky commanded Fighter Squadron Six on the Enterprise. The day of the battle he and about forty of his pilots flying SBD Dive Bombers launched looking for the Japanese Carriers. Several prior US attacks on the Japanese Carriers had met with disaster. When McClusky's force arrived at where he was told the Japanese fleet would be, he saw nothing. McClusky didn't panic. He led his squadrons on a classic search pattern and soon they stumbled upon a Japanese Destroyer moving quickly. Despite running very low on fuel, McClusky gave the order to follow the Destroyer and soon his squadrons came upon the Japanese fleet, totally unprotected and without air cover due to both strategic decisions of the Japanese Admirals and some plain old bad luck. Most of the Japanese air cover was on the deck being both re-fueled. Their bombers were also going through an ordinance change and the decks of the Japanese Carriers were stacked with bombs, torpedos, and fuel hoses.
If luck is the residue of design, McClusky's squadrons arrived at the precise moment when the Japanese fleet was totally unprotected and their Carriers at their most vulnerable. McClusky's SBD dive bombers pounced and in almost no time less than 40 planes sunk three Japanese Carriers. And just like that the war in the Pacific changed. The Japanese never launched another offensive Naval action after Midway and the battle remains the greatest American Naval victory.
All because a calm pilot from Buffalo didn't panic and kept his men together and led them into history.
See You In Court.