Midway – or – How not to use submarines

Everyone’s all-a-tizzy about the Anniversary of Midway. (Notably the aviators of the blogosphere)

Big Battle. Pretty epic actually. Definitely the turning point in the war, not so much because we sank four of Japan’s carriers, but because the Land of the Rising Sun is not necessarily the land of the Rising Pilots. And when you shoot down a lot of planes, you shoot down a lot of pilots.

Those don’t grow on trees like.

This site is an awesome tool to see what unfolded during the battle.

Of course you’ll note, or maybe you won’t, the involvement of submarines at the grand battle. So here’s a little info for you.

Submarines in the Battle of Midway

At the time, SubPac (RADM Robert English) had 29 submarines under his operational control. Only four (Thresher, Triton, Argonaut and Silversides) would have no part in this action.

All boats were split into 3 tasks groups,
Task Group 7.1 – Assigned to converge and patrol on stations intended to screen the oncoming Japanese forces on their way to Midway.

Task Group 7.2 – Assigned to cover the area East and North of Midway. Obviously not the planned line of approach, so few boats were dedicated. These were also designated as the reaction force, should Yamamoto launch a diversion attack on Oahu.

Task Group 7.3 – The group designated to protect Oahu, and therefore stationed som 300 miles north of the island.

Six boats were coming back from patrol (Greenling, Drum, Pollack, Tune, Pompano, Porpoise)

I’d like to tell you that submarines were all OVER this action, but the sad story is….they simply were not. Being set in a screening pattern with stations to hold, submarine skippers with a lack of stomach for daytime surfaced runs, were unable to manuever effectively to gain contact.

Of all these ships arrayed for battle, only three would have enemy contact on June 4th.

Guttlefish sighted a tanker, but was forced to go deep and lost contact.

Grouper was strafed by a Japanese plane and promptly went deep until late in the day.

Nautilus, fresh from the shipyards and fitted with new equipment everywhere (from new air conditioning to propulsion plants), would find herself in the middle of a battleship and three cruisers, get depth charged 42 times, and have one hot running torpedo.

How much damage did she inflict?

One kill, the SORYU aircraft carrier.

After it was dead in the water following attacks from aircraft.


Yes, this is not the stuff of legend such as the tales of the WAHOO, Mush Morton or Dick O’Kane.

But the war was young, and so were the submarine skippers.

In due time, peacetime habits and timidity would be replaced by brash and bold skippers with their hair on fire and nothing to lose.

And there’s nothing more dangerous than a group of Submarine O-4s with a room full of torpedos and a grudge.

Mush Morton (r) and Dick O'Kane (l).  Two men with a room full of torpedos and bad intentions

Mush Morton (r) and Dick O'Kane (l). Two men with a room full of torpedos and bad intentions

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2 Responses to Midway – or – How not to use submarines

  1. virgil xenophon says:

    As a child I read Cmdr. (ret Capt) Edward L. Beach’s compilation of WWII sub-patrol stories “Submarine” in the paperback ed. (35 cents! still have it!) and was mesmerized. A GREAT collection of stories! Was a TV series based on it 57-58 called “The Silent Service” that was excellent also and ran true to the book as well as being compelling drama–wish it were on CDs.

  2. NaClydog says:

    The great book Shattered Sword notes the aggressive actions and technical acumen of the USS Nautilus. The positive impact was not a killing shot on a CV.
    A DD that had forced down the Nautilus was returning to the IJN CV TF, and USN dive bombers used that return course to find the carriers.
    Later the Nautilus did hit the heavily damaged Kaga squarely with one of four fired torpedoes. The warhead not only did not go off, but it broke off of the torpedo. The remaining torpedo, with air flask, floated; saved the lives of several swimming Japanese sailors.

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