In effect the book would shift responsibility for all the chaos and sacrifices our Navy suffered in the Battle of Midway from the ‘black shoe’ battleship Admiral Fletcher who commanded our Task Forces to the ‘brown shoe’ aviation contingent.
The book attempts to glorify Admiral Frank Fletcher as a pioneer in the development of aircraft carriers and Task Force tactics at the beginning of WW II.
To begin Mr. Lundstrom
admits below that Admiral Fletcher had no previous experience with aviation or
aircraft carriers when the senior admirals who ruled the US Navy moved the
command of our battle forces from their sunken Pearl Harbor battleships to the
bridges of the aircraft carriers. As he states:
It should be noted here that Admiral Fletcher abandoned the Ambush Station and initiated his defensive actions prior to the receipt of Ady's sighting report. The report of two carriers was not the reason for his caution.
Discovery of the Japanese carrier fleet came with radio reports from the PBY search plane of Lt. Howard Ady between 0503 and 0540 on June 4th. “…two carriers and main body ships bearing 320, course 135, speed 25, distance 180.”
Admiral Nimitz immediately discounted this report as
Mr. Lundstrom embraces the speculation that Fletcher believed that the Japanese had separated their four aircraft carriers into two separate task forces. The Battle of Midway chapters in this book are based entirely on the existence of two phantom Japanese carriers.
As the source for this belief Mr. Lundstrom gives Notes 31 and 59 referring to his earlier book, The First Team.
What he does not disclose is the original source of the information. The source for The First Team was the unsupported theory of Major Bowen Weisheit:
So all of the Midway narrative created by Lundstrom to explain Admiral Fletcher’s actions on the morning of the battle requires the reader to accept Major Weisheit's research, which was conceived 60 years after the Battle, and runs counter to testimony by veterans of the battle, and to masses of recorded history from impeccable sources. The chapters in Black Shoe Carrier Admiral about Midway are not based on historical fact, but on the ruminations of one man with his own agenda, Major Weisheit, and an 88 page vanity press publication of the Kelly Foundation.
This questionable source is analyzed in detail in the blog below.
Mr. Lundstrom embellishes his version with so much authoritative detail supported by an impressive 80 pages of source notes that the reader is led to accept it as factual. In fact younger authors such a Jon Parshall and Craig Symonds seem to have already published accounts of the phantom two carriers as factual. This is an example of how doubtful material becomes embedded in history if repeated often enough.
It is also interesting to note that the author must have considered the theory of two separate Japanese task forces so important that he reiterates his attack on 'brown shoe' Admiral Mitscher and Commander Miles Browning on the final page of the book’s text, Page 515.
Mr. Lundstrom also uses the phantom enemy task force to malign Cmdr. Stanhope Ring and Admiral Mitscher by asserting that they conspired without orders to dispatch the Hornet Air Group due west to search for the two phantom Japanese carriers, causing all the tragic events that followed, including the sacrifice of Torpedo Squadron 8 and the ditching of the entire squadron of VF-8 fighter planes. Is it conceivable that these two experienced career officers would have decided on their own to abandon the Midway ambush plan, and to divert our most powerful attack force to search westward for two phantom enemy carriers?
What is the real story?
Still he and the Naval Institute would have us believe that Fletcher alone was ignorant of the composition of the Kido Butai and that he would he have been so concerned about the threat of two phantom carriers to his north that this was the reason he abandoned the ambush station 200 miles north of Midway? During his lifetime Admiral Fletcher himself never offered this as a reason for his action. However, 64 years later it was the best rationale a historian could suggest to explain his actions.
Admiral Fletcher launched his search planes at 0420, so Ady’s message an hour later sighting only two carriers could not have been a factor in his decision to use seven of his SBD dive bombers to search north instead of keeping them ready to attack the expected Japanese carriers off Midway.
The Japanese attack developed exactly as the code breakers Rochefort and Layton had predicted. It had been verified the day before by the sighting of the Japanese invasion fleet and the opening of the Aleutian phase by the Japanese.
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Even a Chicago Tribune reporter embarked on a cruiser had the details before the Battle and the details were published in the Tribune on June 7th, three days after the Battle. Included were highly classified messages providing the Japanese order of battle, and U.S. Naval Intelligence estimates of the Japanese battle plans.
All of the various attack groups based on the island of Midway navigated over the vast ocean to find the Japanese carriers without difficulty.
We are left with a scenario where at 0600 that morning, pitifully small, disorganized and ill-fated groups of Army, Navy, and Marine land based aircraft from Midway are flying to attack the powerful Japanese carriers northwest of Midway while our fully loaded aircraft carriers are steaming southeast at high speed away from the enemy. The Yorktown’s Dauntless dive bombers futilely searching for a phantom Japanese task force rather than attacking the actual targets.
The Enterprise squadrons led by Lt. Cmdr. Wade McClusky fared better than the Hornet’s… his VB-6 and VS-6 dive bombers sinking the Japanese carriers Kaga and Akagi. This was accomplished because McClusky risked his life and his squadron’s in a relentless search for the Japanese, taking his group beyond the point of no return. It was this decision by McClusky that compensated for the extreme range the air groups faced when Admiral Fletcher took the Task 16 and Task 17 eastward at dawn.
The Yorktown attack was launched at 0900, far east of the ambush station north of Midway and over two hours too late. Fortunately for Admiral Fletcher and the Yorktown pilots the Japanese carriers had changed to a northeast course at 0917, shortening the distance the Yorktown pilots had to fly to deliver their coordinated attack and return without exhausting their fuel.
Here again Admiral Fletcher demonstrated his cautious nature. Although late to strike, he still did not commit his full strength to the attack on the Japanese carriers. To defend the Yorktown he held back half of his dive bombers and fighters at the last minute without informing the strike leader Lt. Cmdr. Maxwell Leslie.
The Yorktown dive bombers led by Max Leslie destroyed the Siryu but the Hiryu went untouched. While the Yorktown air group now had all four Japanese carriers in view, we are led to believe that Admiral Fletcher was still in the dark. In the author's words:
Admiral Fletcher lived until 1973. In his lifetime he never personally expressed any of the explanations for his actions as supplied for him by the author of Black Shoe Carrier Admiral. His oral history was not recorded by the Naval Institute, although there are many recorded by less important ‘black shoe’ participants in the Battle. The only 'brown shoe' officer so recognized was fighter pilot Jimmy Thach.