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'Not a combat airplane' (part 1)

Here are the combat reports of the VMF-221 Buffalo and Wildcat pilots during the Battle of Midway, kindness of Mark E. Horan

Statement of Capt. Kirk Armistead, USMC

My airplane was an F2A-3, Bureau number 01562. My guns were loaded with 2 tracers, 2 armor piercing, 1 ball and 1 incendiary every six rounds.

While on standby on the morning of June 4, 1942, the air raid alarm was sounded at 0555. As our engines were turning up, we did not hear the alarm: but inquired, and found that it had been sounded. At approximately 0602 we took off. My division consisted of six F2A-3 airplanes, piloted by myself, Lt. Sandoval, Capt. Humberd, Lt. Brooks, Lt. Kunz, and Lt. Mahannah. Capt. Humberd was leading the second section, and Lt. Kunz was leading the third section. I climbed the division to 5,000 feet at which time the base station instructed me to climb to 12,000 feet and vector 310o. I then received instructions to vector 320o. at about 0620 I heard Capt. Carey transmit "Tally-ho' followed by hawks at angels 14, supported by fighters. I then started climbing, and sighted the enemy at approximately 14,000 feet at a distance of 5 to 7 miles out, and approximately 2 miles to my right. I immediately turned to a heading of about 70o and continued to climb. I was endeavoring to get a position above and ahead of the enemy and come down out of the sun. however, I was unable to reach this point in time. I was at 17,000 feet when I started my attack. The target consisted of five divisions of from 5 to 9 planes each, flying in division Vees. I figured this group to consist of from 30 to 40 dive bombers of the Aichi Type 99 SE DB. I was followed in column by five F2A-3 fighters and one F4F-3 fighter, pilot unknown. I made a head on approach from above at a steep angle and at very high speed on the fourth enemy division which consisted of five planes. I saw my incendiary bullets travel from a point in front of the leader, up thru his plane and back through the planes on the left wing of the Vee. I continued in my dive, and looking back, saw two or three of those planes falling in flames. Some of the planes in my division centered their attack on the fifth enemy division. After my pullout, I zoomed back to an altitude of 14,000 feet, at this time I noticed another group of the same type bombers following along in their path. I looked back over my shoulder and about 2,00 feet below and behind me I saw three fighters in column, climbing up towards me, which I assumed to be planes of my division. However, they climbed at a very high rate, and a very steep path. When the nearest plane was about 500 feet below and behind me I realized that it was a Japanese Zero Fighter. I kicked over in a violent split S and received 3-20 MM shells, one in the right wing gun, one in the right wing root tank, and one in the top left side of the engine cowling. I also received about 20-7.7 off a portion of the aileron, which mangled the tab on the aileron, and sawed off a portion of the aileron. I continued in a vertical dive at full throttle, corkscrewing to the left, due to the effect of the damaged aileron. At about 3,000 feet, I started to pull out, and managed to hold the plane level at an altitude of 500 feet. As the speed decreased, the stick pressure became more manageable, and by giving it full left tab, at a low speed, the pressure was negligible.

I headed back towards the area, and called the base radio, asking them if I could land because of a damage aileron. I received their "Roger, wait". I circled the area at a distance of about 15 miles, and saw that the area was under heavy attack, so I proceeded to a spot up-sun from the area; and circled.

At approximately 0740 I heard the base radio call the fifth division and advise them to land, refuel, and re-arm. I could hear no reply, so asked for permission to land. I received an affirmative reply, so headed towards the area. I gave two recognition signals, circled the field, and was not fired at by anti-aircraft batteries. My hydraulic system had been damaged, but the landing gear and flaps operated normally. The right brake was inoperative. A successful landing was effected at approximately 0800.

The Zero fighter is exceptionally maneuverable, with an astounding rate of climb. It is capable of closing the range on an F2A-3 in a climb to such an extent that it seems useless to even try to make more than one pass at any target. It is my belief that they can climb at least 5,000 feet a minute, as these fighters climbing up at me were pointed at an angle of 50o in their climb.

I do not believe that they were zooming after a dive, because I am normally certain that at the time I attacked the bombers there were no enemy fighters above 14,000 feet. In fact, I believe that they were below the bombers at that time.

The Zero Fighter is faster in level flight than the F2A-3. It is much more maneuverable that the F2A-3. It can out climb the F2A-3. It has more fire power than the F2A-3.

In general, the Japanese airplanes appear to be very vulnerable to .50 cal. Gun fire. They burst into flame in nearly all cases upon receiving any bullets.

It is my belief that the use of incendiary bullets greatly increases the effectiveness of attack against Japanese air craft.

Statement of Second Lieutenant William. V. Brooks USMCR:

I was pilot of F2A-3, Bureau number 01523, Our division under Capt. Armistead was on standby duty at he end of the runway on the morning of June 4, 1942, from 0415 until 0615. At about 0600, the alarm sounded and we took off. My division climbed rapidly, and I was having a hard time keeping up. I discovered afterwards that although my wheels indicator and hydraulic pressure indicator both registered "wheels up", they were in reality about 1/3 of the way down. We sighted the enemy at about 14,000 feet, I would say that there were 40 to 50 planes. At this time Lt. Sandoval was also dropping back. My radio was at this time putting out no volume, so I could not get the message from Zed. At 17,000 feet, Capt. Armistead led the attack followed closely by Capt. Humberd. They went down the left of the Vee , leaving two planes burning. Lt. Sandoval went down the right side of the formation and I followed. One of us got a plane from the right side of the Vee. At this time, I had completely lost sight if my division. As I started to pull up for another run on the bombers, I was attacked by two fighters. Because my wheels being jammed 1/3 way down, I could not out dive these planes, but managed to dodge them and fire a burst or so into them as they went past me and as I headed for the water. As I circled the island, the anti-aircraft fire drove them away. My tabs, instruments and cockpit were shot up to quite an extent at this time and I was intending to come in for a landing.

It was at this time that I noticed that a important feature in their fighting. I saw two planes dog-fighting over in the east, and decoded to go help my friend if at all possible. My plane was working very poorly, and my climb was slow. As I neared the fight both planes turned on me. It was then that I realized I had been tricked in a sham battle put on by two Japs and I failed to recognize this because of the sun in my eyes. Then I say I was out-numbered, I turned and made a fast retreat for the island, collecting a goodly number of bullets on the way. After one of these planes had been shaken, I managed to get a good burst into another as we passed head-on when I turned into him. I don't believe this ship could have gotten back to his carrier, because he immediately turned away and started north and down. I again decided to land, but as I circled the island I saw two Japs in a Brewster. Three of my guns were jammed, but I cut across the island, firing as I went with one gun. But I could Not get there in time to help the American flier and as soon as the Brewster had gone into the water I came in for a landing at approximately 0715 (estimated).

It is my belief that the Japs have a very maneuverable and very fast ship in their 00 fighters, plenty of fire-power . They can turn inside the Brewster, but of course on the speed I would be unable to say as my wheels were jammed about 1/3 way down all during the fight, causing considerable drag.

My plane was damaged somewhat, having 72 bullet and cannon holes in it, and I had a very slight flash wound on my left leg.

It is my express desire that Lt. Sandoval, deceased be logged up with the bomber which one of us got in out first run.

Statement of Second Lieutenant Clayton Melbourne Canfield, USMCR:

I took off as wingman on Captain Carl at approximately 0557, June 4, 1942, we joined on Captain Carey and were vectored out three hundred-ten degrees. The three of us climbed to fourteen thousand feet on the vector, during which I was motioned to fly number three on Captain Carey. About nine minutes out, Captain Carl began to drop back. At 0612, Captain Carey made a wide two hundred-seventy degree turn; then a ninety degree diving turn while reporting to Zed, "Tally ho, large formation of bombers," a slight pause, then, "Accompanied by fighters." The bombers were at approximately twelve thousand feet. I slid into a column on Captain Carey during the run, where I stayed until the engagement was over. The run was high side from the right. I fired at the number three plane in the number three section until it exploded and went down in flames. In the middle of the run I saw a column of fighters diving on us from the left. There was no return fire from the bombers that I could see. Captain Carey pulled out of the dive and made a high wing over for another attack when we were attacked by their fighters. He the dived at about a forty degree angle and headed for a large cloud about five miles away. I momentarily lagged looking for planes following us and went around the cloud the opposite direction from Captain Carey to have a better look behind. I saw a large trail of smoke and the bomber burning on the ocean, but no fighters, and then joined upon him again. He headed in the general direction of the islands on an unsteady course. Finally I observed that he was badly wounded and he turned the lead over to me. He kept dropping and falling behind and I kept throttling back so he could keep up. When I had lead us to a two hundred-seventy degree bearing from the island, he called me and instructed me to join on him again. We had about forty gallons of gasoline left, including seventeen gallons of reserve. We rolled the wheels down outside of the reef and made our approach to the field from the two hundred-seventy degree bearing. I made a normal approach, but had no flaps, and when the wheels touched the ground the landing gear collapsed. The island was under heavy attack, with fighters strafing runways and a patrol boat. When the plane had stopped sliding, I jumped out and ran for a trench, while a plane was strafing in the direction of my abandoned plans or the patrol boat.

All during the above encounter, I flew very close on Captain Carey, making all runs and dives in column. There were one hundred rounds gone from three of my guns and ninety from the other. At least one-half of these were used up during two test fires I had made that morning.

My plane was hit on the right elevator, left wing and flap, and just ahead of the tail wheel by twenty millimeter cannon. There was also a thirty caliber hole through the tail wheel and one that entered the hood on the right side about six inches up, passed just over the left rudder paddle and damaging the landing gear.

Captain Carey's and my engagement was of very short duration, thereby limiting my impression. However, I am positive that the bomber I shot down was not an Aichi type ninety-nine, because when this bomber exploded, I was flat, at about a one hundred forty degree angle, and I am positive that the landing gear was retracted. However, the planes were painted dark and the light was bad, so I couldn't tell the type of ship, but they were larger than our dive bombers. After talking to observers from the island who were observing through field glasses, they were of a twin engine class, because they confirmed that the plans was missing in the afore said position.

During this encounter I flew a F4F-3 type plane, bureau number 3997.

continued in part 2