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Commemorating the Battle of Midway

June 4th-7th marks the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Midway. A momentous and consequential event in the history of World War II, it was an extraordinarily complicated affair that involved hundreds of ships, thousands of men, millions of square miles of ocean, and countless tales of heroism, tragedy, victory, and defeat. It is a model study of strategy, tactics, leadership, and the art of warfare. What began as a one-sided match in favor of the Japanese ended as a lopsided outcome in favor of the Americans. There were many heroes, and a few villains. It involved essentials of intelligence, engineering, planning, decision-making, training, and organization.

The Search for the Japanese Fleet tells the tale of the battle from the unique perspective of the submarine USS Nautilus which figured prominently in the engagement. Relying on detailed logs, diaries, tech manuals, navigation analysis, and interviews with veterans of the battle, the book breathes new life into the epic conflict. The following is an excerpt from the book, as Nautilus comes to periscope depth in the midst of the great Japanese fleet and duels with escort vessels out to sink her:

*  *  * Excerpt from The Search for the Japanese Fleet *  *  *

Lieutenant Commander William Brockman as he received the Navy Cross for heroism at Midway, Pearl Harbor, 7 November 1942. U.S. Navy.

A few minutes later, Brockman risked another observation. This time, he caught sight of Kaga, trailing the formation as her mates were still recovering aircraft. Smoke from air attacks beaten off minutes before still lingered over the ships.

0900 YST – Raised periscope and sighted aircraft carrier bearing 013° relative. Carrier was distant 16,000 yards and was changing course continuously. She did not appear to be damaged, but was overhung by anti-aircraft bursts. Nautilus was on a converging course. While making this observation the Jintsū type cruiser began to close again at high speed.

– Log of USS Nautilus (SS-168)

“New target: the Jintsū-class cruiser. Observation!” Brockman called. He was on Arashi, which was closing fast.

“Bearing … mark!”

“Three-three-zero relative,” called Graham.

“Range … mark!”

“Five-five hundred yards,” called Graham, reading the stadimeter dial.

“Angle on the bow … zero-one-zero, starboard. He has us. Firing point procedures. Flood tube two. Open outer door, tube two!”

The crew jumped to action throughout the ship, acknowledging the captain’s orders. Ignoring the misfiring tube one for now, Brockman was attempting to throw off the destroyer’s attack with a single torpedo. A hit on a high-speed warship approaching dead on was unlikely, and he wanted to save his “fish” for bigger targets.

In two minutes, the fast-approaching Arashi had closed another mile. Lee was calling sonar bearings to the plotter. Lynch was busily working the TDC with help from Chief Lange, while keeping the Is-Was current. Defrees was trying to follow the destroyer on his plot as it maneuvered towards them, while also keeping track of the receding Japanese fleet.

Up scope!” Graham had the periscope up and pointed at the latest sonar bearing of the destroyer. Brockman was on it, and made a quick adjustment.

“Bearing … mark!”

“Three-three-zero relative,” called Graham. The destroyer was on a steady bearing, on an intercept course.

“Range … mark!”

“Two-eight hundred yards,” called Graham.

“Dip the scope,” said Brockman. Squeezing his eyes tightly, he visualized the approaching enemy. “Angle on the bow … zero.” Arashi was coming dead on, approaching at her top speed of thirty-five knots, cutting the range to Nautilus by over a thousand yards a minute. Brockman waited a few moments, letting the target close. Then, to Lynch, “TDC, range to target?”

Lynch, who had been tracking the range intently, called without hesitation, “Two-six-seven-zero yards!’

Immediately, Brockman called, “Final bearing and shoot! Up scope!”

“Standby forward … bearing … mark!”

“Three-three-zero relative,” said Graham.

“Down scope!”

“Set!” said Lynch, then, “Shoot!” as the firing key was triggered. “Fire two!”

“Two fired electrically!” came the report from the torpedo room.

“Very well,” acknowledged Brockman.

“Torpedo running normal!” Lee did not wait to be asked this time. Then he heard the rattling sound of Arashi‘s sonar. “Echo ranging on automatic!”

“Very well. Shut the outer doors,” ordered Brockman. “Torpedo room, reload tube two.” Not waiting for acknowledgement, he called, “Look around. Up scope!”

Graham was surprised; with the destroyer fast approaching, he expected a deep dive. But Brockman kept his cool and wanted to see how the enemy reacted to his torpedo; he hoped to evade the persistent depth charge attacks while still following the main fleet. Graham recovered quickly, and had the scope up and pointed immediately.

Brockman looked for a moment, than crabbed around the circle. Handles up, he said, “Down scope. Diving officer, make your depth two hundred feet.”

“Two hundred feet, aye,” replied Hogan.

“The cruiser has maneuvered to avoid our torpedo,” announced Brockman to the attack party. Another miss. “He has broken off his depth charge run for the moment, but will be back. We will continue on course, go deep, and evade by silent running. All hands prepare for depth charging.”

Down went Nautilus, silent running, hoping to escape yet another barrage.

For more see The Search for the Japanese Fleet