Brewster F2A-3. The XF4F-4 appeared

in December 1941, and Grumman switched

to production of what would be the major combat version of the Wildcat in January 1942. VF-6 aboard USS Enterprise

(CV-6) was the first to re-equip with the

new Wildcat on the ship’s return to Pearl

Harbor after the Doolittle Raid in late April 1942. During May 1942 the other fleet

fighter squadrons re-equipped with F4F-4s

as they arrived in Hawaii. Yorktown, which

only returned to Pearl on May 27 from the

Battle of the Coral Sea, saw her regular Air

Group Five combined with squadrons from

Air Group Three, which had been sidelined

by the torpedoing of Saratoga back in January. Lt Cdr John S. “Jimmy” Thach, who

had spent the previous six weeks training

new aviators assigned to Fighting Three

in how to fly his “Thach Weave” defensive

maneuver, brought 25 new F4F-4 Wildcats

to the carrier, where 11 of VF-3's most experienced pilots and 16 VF-42 Coral Sea

Veterans would man them.

Seven of VF-6's F4F-3As were quickly reconditioned and sent on to VMF-221

on Midway, to supplement their F2A-3

fighters, arriving on May 26 aboard the

aircraft ferry USS Kitty Hawk along with

the VB-6 SBD-2s that went to VMSB-241.

Both squadrons had only nine days to become familiar with their new mounts before they entered the crucible of combat; the

Wildcats were given to the most experienced pilots in the squadron.

Torpedo Eight was in process of re-equipping with the new Grumman TBF-1 Avenger in March 1942 when the ship

was ordered to the Pacific. A four-plane detachment that had re-equipped was sent on to Midway, where they

made an attack on the Japanese carriers. Only one survived to return to Midway, and it never flew again. (USN)

Gathering clouds

While American codebreakers had been

reading the Japanese JN-25 code successfully since early 1942, the Japanese issued a new code book on May 24; however,

it was not uniformly in use until May 27,

which marked the last date the U.S. Navy

would ever “read the enemy’s mail” for the

rest of the Pacific War. Fortunately, HYPO

- the Pacific Fleet’s codebreakers - had

been able to obtain all needed information, including the Imperial Navy’s Order of

Battle and the expected attack date: June

4, 1942. While the Americans knew everything, they needed to know about their

opponent, the Imperial Navy had no warning, and no idea, of what lay in wait.

Dawn came to the Central Pacific the morning of June 4, 1942, revealing clear weather over the four carriers of Kidō Butai,

with building clouds of a storm front to the

east and northeast. The carriers began

launching the first strike at 0430 hours:

36 D3A1 dive bombers, accompanied

by 36 B5N bombers loaded for level bombing rather than torpedo attacks, escorted

by 36 A6M2 Zeros.

At almost the same time, 11 PBY Catalinas took off from Midway to search north,

west and south of the atoll. At 0534 hours,

a PBY sighted Akagi and Kaga through the

scattered clouds and radioed a report. Ten

October 2022

F4F-4 Wildcat of Hornet’s VF-8 in flight. (USN)

INFO Eduard