June 7 - 10, 1942
by David H. Lippman

June 7th, 1942...Early in the morning, the hopelessly crippled carrier USS Yorktown rolls over and sinks off Midway. Her crewmembers, watching from escorting destroyers, break down in tears. All ships lower flags to half staff. Sailors remove their covers. "The Old York's going down," a chief says over and over again.

As the carrier slips beneath the waves, the battle of Midway finally ends. The only signs of battle are bits of cork and insulation floating around the water...and survivors in rafts and lifejackets. One survivor pulled out of the ocean is Ens. George Gay, the sole survivor of Torpedo 8. He will survive for another 55 years, to die in 1996. At his death, Gay's ashes are scattered over the grid reference off Midway where his shipmates fell, forever reuniting Torpedo 8's aviators.

The Japanese have lost 3,000 men, the Americans fewer than 1,000. Four irreplaceable Japanese carriers and one heavy cruiser have been lost, while the United States has lost one valuable but replaceable aircraft carrier and one easily replaced destroyer.

The battle is one of the turning points of the war. The Japanese Navy must now go from "shinko sakusen," offensive operations, to "yogeki sakusen," defensive operations. At a single five-minute blow, the United States now has gained the initiative in the Pacific, and forever halted Japan's drive towards Hawaii and the West Coast.

In Tokyo, Japan's Prime Minister, Hideki Tojo is at a party for the German and Japanese embassies. Gen. Moritake Tanabe takes Tojo aside, to say "The Navy has made a great mistake."

"At Midway?" Tojo asks.
"Yes, they have lost four carriers." Tojo remarks that the Navy had ordered the operation against the advice of the Army; then the two, with Navy chief of staff Adm. Osami Nagano, huddle in a cloakroom and make three vital decisions: first, no blame is to be attached to the Navy for the disaster. Second, the lost carriers will be replaced. (Indeed they are, but the new carriers that replace them, Amagi, Katsuragi, Unyo, and Chuyo, never carry any planes or fight a battle) Third, the disaster will be kept a complete secret.

That afternoon, American and Japanese propaganda machines grind into action. The Americans, relying on interviews with B-17 pilots, claim that land-based B-17s polished off the Japanese fleet. Adm. Chester Nimitz releases the following: "Pearl Harbor has now been partially avenged. Vengeance will not be complete until Japanese seapower is reduced to impotence. We have made substantial progress in that direction. Perhaps we will be forgiven if we claim that we are about midway to that objective."

The Chicago Tribune, in announcing the victory, also announces that the US has broken the Japanese fleet code, describing that the US knew of the impending Japanese fleet moves from that intelligence breakthrough, even giving details of the Japanese fleet. The US Navy is furious, convinced the leak will tell the Japanese their code is broken.

But luckily for the United States, the Japanese believe their code is unbreakable. As their fleet retreats to home, the voyage becomes a rolling post-mortem over Operation MI. Minoru Genda, upset over the loss of the carriers, is distraught. His crippled pal, Mitsuo Fuchida, tries to cheer him up. "Don't worry too much. We still have most of our ships and our land-based air power on our islands in the Pacific. These are aircraft carriers too, but they are stationary. We can't carry on an offensive operation without floating aircraft carriers, but we can defend ourselves against the enemy with land-based aircraft."

Genda doesn't accept that. He also attributes the Japanese defeat to overconfidence.

In the captured port of Davao, in Mindanao, Japanese war correspondent Gen Nishino, 37, five feet tall, is waiting to ship out with the 17th Army for the invasion of French New Caledonia, the next step to isolating Australia and conquering New Zealand.

When he and the staff officers hear of the "victory" at Midway, they hold an impromptu party, which is made more memorable when a severe earthquake rocks the officers' club. While the partygoers howl Banzais and down sake, Nishino is unnerved by the vague Japanese newspaper accounts of the Midway victory. He goes to his room, and turns on his shortwave radio.

After some static, Nishino gets an American announcer in San Francisco, who proclaims a tremendous naval victory. Nishino dismisses it as propaganda until the announcer rattles off the four Japanese carriers sunk. This has to be the truth. But he doesn't tell his pals of the defeat, fearing arrest by the kempeitai, the secret police, and instead returns to the party.

Shortly after party's end, the 17th Army gets new orders from Tokyo. The big plan to invade New Caledonia and New Zealand is being scrapped. Instead, 17th Army will go to an obscure island in the Solomons chain marked on Japanese maps as Gadarukanaru. American maps call it "Guadalcanal."

At sea, USS Nautilus is still on patrol, but her skipper, Cdr. Bill Brockman, doesn't know how Midway has come out. He cruises close to the island, and scans the island through his periscope. Finally, he sees what he is looking for. Flying above the sand, in a blue sky, is the American flag.

Before dawn, 2,500 Japanese infantrymen of the Kure Special Naval Landing Force charge ashore onto Kiska and Attu. 1,250 of them land on Kiska at 1:20 a.m. and reach the American radio shack at 2:15. They wake up the 10 sleeping American Sailors with a burst of machine gun fire, wounding two. AGC William House orders his men to run for it, and eight crawl into the brush on their bellies. House and SN J.L. Turner stay behind to burn their codebooks and smash their radio transmitters before fleeing.

Two Americans are captured immediately, and the Japanese simply wait for the rest to surrender. Outnumbered 125 to 1, the Americans gradually give up. Only House holds out, surviving by eating grass, worms, and shellfish he catches during midnight forays to the beach.

At Attu, Adm. Sentaro Omori sends in 1,200 troops at Massacre Valley, who get lost in the hills on the way to Chicagof Village. They find the 39 natives, then hunt for the sole caucasians, Mr. and Mrs. Foster Jones. When they spot them, the Japanese shoot him down and take Mrs. Jones back to Japan. Foster Jones is the only fatal casualty in the invasion of Kiska and Attu.

The Japanese set up AA and harbor guns, and start converting the two boggy, windswept islands, into major fortresses, replete with drydocks for midget submarines. It is Japan's only victory of the Midway venture.

General Erich von Manstein hurls his troops in the grand assault on the besieged port of Sevastopol in a two-pronged assault. The Soviets resist fanatically in excellent fortifications. The Germans gain ground but take heavy casualties, and have to bring in another army, the 17th, to take the city. However, the continuous German attacks wear down the Soviet ammunition supplies, which must be brought in by sea through a tight German blockade maintained by the Luftwaffe, E-boats, and Italian midget submarines.

In Scapa Flow, the entire crew of USS Washington dons dress whites and forms topside by divisions at noon. IN a single rank, facing the entry port, are Adm. Harold Stark, COMNAVEUR and ship's captain Howard Benson, joined by the ship's marine detachment. At precisely noon, His Majesty King George VI, in uniform of Admiral of the Fleet steps aboard. Bos'n's pipes shrill, 21 guns are fired, and the party snaps to salute.

Seaman Mel Beckstrand writes, "Ultimately the Crown comes in the end, so it was today after a strenuous week of the thorns and briars of paint brush, steel wool, and scrub brush. Just think, all the fuss for just one man. There was more gold in front of me at one time than I had ever seen in a life of Sundays. Of course, there were squalls every 15 minutes, which made it very uncomfortable. It was 3:15 before we had chow."

Hunter Cronin, however, recalls, "It was one of the most exciting things that ever happened to me. You could see he was a special kind of person, and he said a lot of good things about the crew."

The King inspects most of the ship, including the trash incinerator -- "Your incinerator is cleaner than some of our ships" -- and signs his name "George R.I. -- Admiral of the Fleet," in the deck log. He tells Admiral Ike Giffen, that he is deeply impressed "by the smart and efficient appearance of your ships and their companies, and I congratulate you and all those under your command upon the cheerful spirit with which you are undertaking your duties in the common cause."

At Bir Hacheim in Libya, both sides take a breather in the stifling desert heat.

The Wartime Civil Control Administration announces in San Francisco that 99,770 person, constituting virtually the entire Japanese population of the West Coast, have been removed inland "with minimum hardship and almost without incident."

June 8th, 1942...On USS Enterprise, a Radio Tokyo broadcast is monitored by radiomen, who translate from Japanese to German to English: "Japan's forces outcarried fierce attacks on Midway island inflicting heavy damage on fleet reinforcement in that area, also damaging heavily naval and air installations... Japanese sank carriers Enterprise and Hornet while 120 enemy aircraft were downshot." Much hilarity on Enterprise, whose main order of business is to transfer the exec, Cdr. T.J. Jeter, to the tanker Cimarron, as he moves on.

On the light cruiser Nagara, returning to Japan, Vice Adm. Chuichi Nagumo's staff officers corral Rear Adm. Ryunosuke Kusaka, the chief of staff, and offer to commit hara-kiri to atone for the failure at Midway. Kusaka gives them a sharp lecture, reminding them that they are needed alive more than ever. The officers promise no drastic action. Kusaka stumps off to find Nagumo, and discovers the boss is planning hara-kiri, too. Kusaka gives Nagumo the same lecture. Nagumo smiles, "But it's different when you're in command." Even so, Nagumo agrees not to commit hara-kiri.

Three Jews, including a young woman named Vitka Kempner, leave the Vilna ghetto in Lithuania to sabotage a German military train, and succeed. The Germans retaliate by seizing 32 families and shooting them.

Dawn begins at Bir Hacheim with something unusual for the desert, thick fog, blinding the French defenders. The Germans attack through the fog with Stukas and 15th Panzer Division. The Afrika Korps' target is Point 186, held by the Bataillon de Marche. The Germans fling 60 Stukas against the French, and attack as soon as the bombers have left. The situation is grave, as the Stukas have wrecked the French 75mm guns. French General Philippe Koenig tells his Foreign Legionnaires to stay put. The French hang on, firing their guns at the tanks, and are still in position at dusk.

Despite heat and French shortages of men, ammunition, and medical supplies, their morale is high, as they have taken all the Afrika Korps can throw at them, and not flinched.

The gas ration on the US East Coast is increased from three gallons a week to four, and civilians are warned of tea, coffee, and cocoa rationing.

Reinhard Heydrich, the "Butcher of Prague," head of the RHSD, dies of his wounds in Berlin. Hitler orders retaliation, ordering Karl Frank, the Nazi overlord in Czechoslovakia, to "carry out a special reprisal action to teach the Czechs a final lesson in subservience and humility." Frank, who hates Czechs, is delighted to oblige.

June 9th, 1942...The First Carrier Striking Force, lacking all its carriers, rendezvous with Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto's Main Body. Yamamoto orders casualties transferred to the large battleships. Rear Adm. Ryunosuke Kusaka, still in oil-stained winter blues, is rolled in a bamboo mat, picked up like a parcel and placed on Yamato's deck. He limps to the bridge and gives Yamamoto a personal report of the battle, and urges the Navy to be honest with the Japanese people. He also offers to commit hara-kiri (a popular idea, apparently), but would rather be re-appointed Nagumo's chief of staff with a new carrier force to avenge Midway. "I understand," Yamamoto says huskily, his eyes filled with tears. "Nagumo is not to blame. I take full responsibility. If anyone is forced to commit hara-kiri because of Midway, it is I." Kusaka is excused, and Yamamoto takes to his bed with severe stomach pains.

Gen. Wladislaw Sikorski, the free Polish leader, gives a speech in London that details the mass murder of Jews on Polish soil over the last 12 months. "Massacres of tens of thousands of Jews have been carried out this year. People are being starved to death in ghettos. Mass executions are held; even those suffering from typhus are shot." He adds that the Germans have built gallows in 18 towns, and members of the educated classes, railwaymen, and workers are being hanged there, and all the schoolchildren are herded to watch the cruel spectacle. Sikorski warns the Germans they will be punished for these deeds.

At Bir Hacheim, the exhausted French garrison, short of water, food, and ammunition, endure yet another Stuka bombardment. This bombing cuts all the phone lines for good. There's no wire left. The Germans attack at 1 p.m. with tanks and infantry, and drive between two French battalions. The fighting is hand-to-hand...one German is shot down yards from a 75mm gun. Just as the French seem ready to collapse, one of the brigade's Bren gun carrier sections rattles up, plugging the gap.

By day's end, Bataillon du Pacifique counts 250 German corpses, but the Germans are 200 yards from Bir Hacheim's Beau Geste fort.

At 8 p.m., the Stukas come back, blasting trucks and unissued rations. Bir Hacheim can't hold out much longer. Koenig decides to break out the following evening.

Japanese troops complete the conquest of the Philippines.

President Roosevelt announces there will be no legislation to draft 18 and 19-year-olds for several months. The same day, the Swedish liner Gripsholm arrives in New York with 194 American passengers fleeing Europe. The Navy has a hard night when two blimps crash off the New Jersey coast, killing 12.

At 9:30 p.m., a convoy of German trucks loaded with SS men and Gestapo officers rolls into the Czech village of Lidice. Everyone is routed out, many in their nightclothes, and made to line up in the town square, men on one side, women on another. The invaders tick off the citizens on neat lists. Boys under 15 are sorted out and all men and boys over 15 are shut up under armed guard in the empty buildings of the Horak farm. Women and children are herded into the school, their belongings confiscated, and locked in for the night.

Meanwhile, the SS go through the town's houses, methodically collecting everything of value. Bellowing cattle are rounded up and driven away.


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