Chapter 11 from the book. page 329-346
Morale and pride soared in Hawaii and back in the States when the news flashed that 16 B-25s launched from the carrier "Hornet" carried out the first Air Forces attack on the Japanese mainland on April 18, 1942. The Doolittle Raid on Tokyo, Kobe, Yokohama, and Nagoya was almost a psychological balance to the still fresh scars of Pearl Harbor. It also added fuel to Tinker's strategic thinking.
The Oklahoma general viewed the Japanese possession of Wake Island as a threat to Midway and if Midway fell, Hawaii and the California coast were the next two dominoes. He reasoned that a raid on Wake could, like the Doolittle raid, serve multiple purposes to several audiences. It would boost the morale of Seventh Air Force personnel; it would be a blow to the Japanese ego; it would increase the attention of Washington to the Pacific War and it would help prove the value of long range bombing, thereby pushing the issue of more planes to the Pacific theater. But as he studied B-17 flight reports and made many flights himself to Midway, Johnston Island and the Hawaiian chain, Tinker was painfully aware of the limitations of the Flying Fortress. To be suecessful, the raid had to be accomplished with a flight of the new B-24 Liberators that were only trickling into the Pacific. The B-24s could fly faster, carry more fuel and bombs, and had approximately 450 miles greater range than B-17s, making long missions over water more feasible.
Tinker wrote his father on April 2, having just returned from the South Pacific. He had flown 8,500 miles, of which 99-percent was over water, but explained,
I'm sorry not to be able to write you a long description of my trip and what I saw, but as you understand, it is contrary to our rules to discuss detailed movements of service officers or combat units.
While Tinker could not directly tell anyone where he had been, he and Madeline had worked out a code-system which corresponded to a map she kept at home. That way she could keep up with his travels.
In late April Tinker conducted an aerial tour of Oahu in a B-18. The aircraft crew chief, H.E. Swinney, described the two-star general as "a fine gentleman" but noted a peculiarity for his rank: "Many high ranking officers don't bother with parachutes, but Tinker wore his throughout the short flight."
Then in mid-May, American Intelligence cryptographers intercepted a Japanese secret message which contained detailed plans for an attack on Midway and part of Alaska's Aleutian chain. Orders which had been issued to send medium and heavy bombers to New Caledonia and the Fijis were cancelled. All available aircraft were left in the Hawaiian area to prepare for the attack.
As the Marines and Navy prepared their defenses for Midway, General Tinker's Seventh Air Force also made preparations for battle. On May 18, the Air Force went on special alert status and aerial search missions were intensified. With reinforcements of men and aircraft arriving daily, the Seventh had 101 P-40s, 44 B-17s and 7 B-18s by the end of the month.
On May 26, Tinker and his staff visited Midway. What Tinker may have been planning seems almost certain. With the entire region preparing a defense for the Japanese, Tinker placed his own idea for an American offensive raid on the front burner, knowing he now had four LB-30s on the runway at Hickam Field.
The LB-30 bombers were simply B-24 Liberators built to British specifications. The four planes now in Hawaii were located at Dow Field, Maine, where they had been stripped and abandoned by the British after Lend-Lease went into effect and Great Britain could get fully equipped B-24s without cost. Previously, they had to pay cash for the LB-30s.
The combat crews which picked up the planes were from Tinker's own Seventh Air Force. They flew the planes to Wright Field, Ohio for American plugs and armor plate, then to Morrison Field near West Palm Beach for radar equipment. While in Florida the Crews and plane were tapped to hunt for German submarines along the east coast and might have remained there indefinitely if General Tinker had not threatened to resign if he didn't get these special warriors back in Hawaii.
On May 30, B-17s from the Seventh Air Force began flying from Oahu to Midway in the face of the expected attack. The next day those planes on detached service began their search operations; but on June 2, six of 16 Flying Fortresses returned to Hickam.
The preliminary actions in the Battle of Midway began on June 3 as nine B-17s, flying out of Midway, attacked five large Japanese warships which were approximately 570 miles from the island. The pilots claimed five hits and several near misses. At the same time, seven other B-17s quickly departed Oahu and flew to Midway.
The next day the Battle of Midway was at full throttle. Acting in conjunction with Navy torpedo bombers, four B-26s from the Seventh attacked a Japanese carrier. Two of the medium bombers were shot down. In further morning action 14 B-17s attacked a task force approaching Midway, now just 145 miles away. They claimed several hits on the carriers and shot down two Jap Zeros.
In late afternoon two B-17s attacked the Japanese carrier force at 31-40°N 179-10°W. They claimed hits on a carrier, a battleship, and three enemy planes. Approximately 185 miles from Midway four other B-17s claimed action against a heavy cruiser. Six B-17s, enroute from Hawaii to Midway, came over the Japanese naval force which had already been hit. They added their bombs to the burning carrier, the "Hiryu", and then hit at a destroyer which subsequently sank.
On June 5, the Battle of Midway continued as the Japanese fleet retreated to the west. In the early morning eight B-17s struck at the enemy 130 miles from Midway and claimed direct hits on two large warships. During the afternoon six more B-17s attacked a heavy cruiser 300 miles from Midway Island. The last strike by Seventh Air Force aircraft in the Battle of Midway occurred when five B-17s dropped bombs on a heavy cruiser 425 miles from Midway.
The battle ended with one B-17 shot down, another one lost due to fuel shortage, and the installations on Midway heavily damaged but still controlled by the U.S.. During the battle, which officially lasted from Jane 3 hrough June 5, the Seventh carried out 16 B-17 attacks (55 sorties) and one torpedo attack by four B-26s. The men of the Seventh claimed 22 hits on ships and 10 enemy fighters shot down. Losses were confined to two B-17s and two B-26s. In retrospect, the Battle of Midway was a decisive confrontation. It cost the Empire of Japan the initiative in the Pacific and was a definite turning point in the war.
The men of the Seventh hir Force remained eager for battle and had no concern for official termination dates. Later, historians would classify the 5th as the final day of the Battle of Midway, but for the men that participated in the action, the conflict was one continuous effort to defeat the enemy. As such, B-17s maintained their search out of Midway as more aircraft arrived from Oahu. That day, six of the heavy bombers mistakenly attacked a surfaced U.S. submarine but fortunately missed their target. Meanwhile, General Tinker, far too impatient to enjoy any lull in the action, prepared to lead his flight of LB-30s off the Hawaiian chain for a predawn attack on Wake Island.
Tinker's long, careful consideration to the raid on Wake Island now came to the surface. He reasoned the Liberators could fly first to Midway and then take on a maximum load of fuel to make the 2,500-mile over water trek to Wake and return. Many things could happen over such a distance, and most of them were bad, yet he believed that his men and planes had the capability to throw the enemy off balance by attacking him on his own turf and disrupt Japanese stability in the Central Pacific. It was a calculated risk but one worth taking.
As he departed his office on June 5, for what would be the last time, Tinker returned James Hubbard's new Hickam yearbook to him. The administration clerk who worked outside the commanding general's office had earlier asked for Tinker's autograph. Tink, always "an enlisted man's general," never hesitated in obliging a sincere request although at the time he certainly was burdened with many more demanding concerns. When he handed it to Hubbard, he said, "I better get this back to you now; I may not get another chance."
The men selected for the important mission had already gathered when General Tinker joined them on the aircraft parking apron. Final flight checks were completed, the fuel tanks filled, and the 500-pound bombs securely fastened. Capt. Coleman Hinton, Tinker's aide, pilot and money keeper, may have had some peculiar premonition about the whole affair, for he handed Brig. Gen. Willis Hale all the cash he had in his pocket. Tinker, resplendent with his floppy hat and swagger stick took a final drag on his Chesterfield, dropped it to the pavement and crushed it out as he stepped forward and on the big, boxy bomber. Now in the late evening of June 5, the four LB-30s taxied down to the end of the runway, started their roll and groaned off the Hickam airfield one by one.
An enlisted man, remembering the first time he ever saw a Liberator, said,
Honest, it was the biggest plane I had ever seen. We could enter through the forward bomb bay, walk along the catwalk, go through the hatch, get up into the flight deck and look around. I had never seen so many instruments--dials, radios, knobs, and buttons--in my life!The aircraft was indeed the biggest bomber the United States had in its Army Air Forces arsenal. It was 66 feet, 4 inches long and had a wing span of 110 feet. With four Pratt and Whitney engines, they bragged it could cruise at an altitude of 25,000 feet, carry 8,800 pounds of bombs, fly 2,850 miles without refueling, and hit a maximum speed of 300 miles per hour. In reality, the plane could get to 25,000 feet only if the engines were new and they carried a minimum load of crew and fuel, and no bombs. It was possible to fly the alleged 2,850 miles without refueling but only with extra gas tanks installed in the forward bomb bay. And the maxiwum speed of 300 miles per hour could be attained only if the aircraft was on full power in a nose dive.
The first phase of the Battle of Midway is about over. I use the expression "first phase" because I think it is entirely possible that the Japanese will renew the attack...The men who never claimed to see the end results of the Tinker aircraft assumed the lead plane would limp back to Midway on two engines where mechanical problems could be rectified. Landon, Ramey and Meehan continued on to Wake Island and the enemy. They flew through the dark morning of June 7, 1942, but when light came no land could be loeated below and heavy tropical storms finally forced them to abort the mission. The weather made it impossible to shoot a star and find their position for another four hours. There was no way fuel would hold out that long. Recognizing their situation, they turned the long-range bombers around and headed back to Midway where they expected to find a disappointed but hopeful General Tinker waiting for them. It wasn't until their landing that Tinker's plane was known to be missing. The General and his crew were officially reported as missing at 2300 hours (11 p.m.)
I have felt for some time that we should make an attack on Wake Island for obvious reasons. We did not have ships of sufficient range until a few days ago when four LB-30s arrived from the Mainland. These airplanes are now at Midway and will, if conditions permit, attack Wake Island just before daylight tomorrow morning. We will flash you the results. Incidently, I am glad to say that General Tinker will personally lead the flight. I am sorry that I cannot go along.
* * *
The General was gone, but men of the Sevebth Air Force did not lose sight of his dream and last mission. Anxious to prove the wisdom of Tinker's plan, three LB-30s took off again for Wake Island on June 29. It seemed that just as everything went wrong on the first attempt, everything went right on the second mission. A U. S. submarine near Wake reported clear visibility over the target, and the flight of American Liberators encountered no bad weather either out or back.
The three crews flew their bombers in at 4,000 feet to avoid small arms fire and at a speed which would make it all but impossible for heavier weapons to find the proper range before the Liberators had done their duty. They bombed the fuel storage area and the hardstand area inland form the runway on Wake's main island. Smokey fires ballooned from the ammunition dumps and fuel storage area. Heavy anti-aircragt fire was encountered from Heel Point and Peale Island, but the U. S. flyers returned to Midway with only one small hole in a left wing aileron.
It proved to be an aviation first. No other Air Force in the world had previously flown a combat mission which exceeded a thousand miles each way. Thereafter, as a vindication of General Tinker's judgement, the successful flight was a major step toward "uncounted, routine, long-range missions by B-24s in the Pacific war." It all added support to Hap Arnold's declaration:
"Tink's whole service was full of daring deeds, original conceptions, and successful completion of those plans."