Fighting Three’s Lt Cdr John S. Thach spent a year refining his “Thach Weave” defensive

maneuver that allowed the F4F to successfully confront the A6M2 Zero in combat. (USN)

Lieutenant Scott

McCusky of VF-6 was

the first F4F pilot to

shoot down a Japanese

airplane during the

Kwajalein strike in

February 1942. He also

scored at Midway,

defending Enterprise

against the strike from

Hiryū. (USN)

Fighting Five’s Commander James H. “Jimmy” Flatley. (USN)

minutes later, another Catalina reported the inbound airstrike. At 0554 hours,

Midway’s radar picked the attackers, reporting: “Many planes, 93 miles, 310 degrees, altitude 11,000 feet.”

At 0555 hours, the air raid siren’s wail sent

the defenders scrambling. VMF-221's Duty

Officer, 2nd Lieutenant John C. Musselman

Jr., raced along the line of revetments in

the command post pickup truck, yelling

“Get airborne!” At 0600 hours, the order

was given for VMF-221 to scramble. Ten

minutes later, 20 F2A-3s and three F4F-3s

were airborne.

The 23 pilots of VMF-221, known as the

“Fighting Falcons,” were a mixed lot. Eight

were recent flight school graduates who

had arrived nine days earlier; another five

recent flight school graduates had arrived

in March, while the rest had flown off

Lexington after failing to get to Wake

Island as reinforcement on December

24, 1941. Four had seen aerial combat on

March 10 when Captain John Neefus’ division intercepted an H8K “Emily” from

Kwajalein, which they managed to shoot

down after a prolonged battle in which one

F2A-3 was badly damaged by the heavily-armed flying boat.

Squadron leader 31-year-old Major Floyd

B. “Red” Parks, a trained dive bomber pilot

had arrived on Midway in March and taken

command of VMF-221 on May 8 after the

original squadron commander, Lt. Colonel

Ira L. Kimes, had become commander of


INFO Eduard

Marine Aircraft Group 22. The night of June

3, Captain Kirk Armistead found his normally extroverted commander moody and

distracted. When Armistead tried to cheer

him up, saying “By this time tomorrow, it’ll

all be over,” Parks replied, “Yeah, for those

of you who get through it.”

Parks assigned 13 F2As of second and third division leaders Captains Daniel J. Hennessy and Armistead to orbit north of the

island as reinforcement, while he led four

F2A-3s of first division and Captain Robert

E. Curtin’s two fourth division F2As, along

with Captain John F. Carey’s three F4F-3

Wildcats; Carey’s wingmen were Captain

Marion E. Carl and 2nd Lieutenant Clayton

M. Canfield. Two Wildcats were airborne

on dawn patrol while the sixth and seventh

of the war-weary fighters were grounded

with mechanical problems.

Parks’ three divisions took a bearing of 320

degrees, directly toward the incoming strike. Hennessey and Armistead’s eight took

a heading of 310 degrees to allow for radar

error and the chance the attackers might

split and attack from different directions.

At 0612 hours, Carey’s three Wildcats were

at 14,000 feet when he sighted the enemy

40 miles north of Midway. The B5Ns were

in a “vee of vees” at 11,000 feet, followed

by the D3As at a slightly higher altitude

while the Zeros were stepped-up behind

the dive bombers; the Marines a clear shot

at the bombers for at least the first pass.

At 0614 hours, Canfield saw Carey make “a

wide 270-degree turn, then a 90-degree

diving turn.” He then heard the electrifying

“Tally-ho! Hawks at angels-twelve,” and,

after a slight pause, “accompanied by


Carey made steep dive for a “high side

pass” and caught the lead bomber, waiting till it filled his gunsight; his long burst

shredded the B5N and set it afire; the

gunner’s return fire cracked his windshield. An instant later, the bomber blew

up. Carey turned to the next when suddenly he was raked by a burst of fire that hit

his right knee and left leg. On the verge of

passing out in excruciating pain, “I dove at

about a 40-degree angle and headed for

a large cloud about five miles away.”

Canfield followed his leader, recalling,

“I fired at the number three plane in the

number three section until it exploded and

went down in flames.” An instant later, the

Zeros hit him. “My Wildcat was hit on the

right elevator, left wing and flap and just

ahead of the tail wheel by three 20mm cannon shells. There was also a .30-caliber

hole through the tail wheel and one that

entered the hood on the right side about

six inches up, passing just over the left

rudder pedal and damaging the landing


Canfield sought refuge in nearby cloud.

Emerging moments later, the enemy was

gone. “I went around the cloud in the opposite direction and joined up with Captain

Carey again.” The two flew unsteadily to-

October 2022