I had previously posted the story of the Richard E. Fleming Kamikaze story on this page, but wasn't sure it was factual. In my opinion it has since been repudiated.
Richard E. Fleming Kamikaze Myth
Posted By: Russ Padden Date: Sunday, 18 September 2005, at 4:28 p.m. http://www.j-aircraft.org/bbs/jship_config.pl?read=45086
Do any of you have information on what some Japanese credit as the first Kamikaze - Richard E. Fleming. I had links saved about him, but most of them have vanished.
What do you know about his dive at Midway?
Different articles had him sinking a variety of ships, everything from a cargo ship to a cruiser.
Posted By: Rich Leonard Date: Sunday, 18 September 2005, at 6:59 p.m.
In Response To: Kamikaze (Russ Padden)
While I've no intention of besmirching the memory of Captain Richard Fleming and his well deserved Medal of Honor, the story of him crashing his plane into the Mikuma is simply unlikely.
And from whence does this story come? well, from here: Lieut Col R.D. Heinl, Jr., USMC, in his monograph "Marines at Midway" quotes Japanese RAdm Soji as saying: "I saw a dive bomber dive in to the last turret and start fires. He was very brave."
But RAdm Soji, who was Mogami's captain at Midway, later denied his statement about seeing a dive-bomber crashing into the Mikuma, and he confirmed, to the contrary, that Mikuma was not damaged during the Marine attack. Also note the Soji says “last turret” which for the story is obviously not the case as the debris is not on the last turret.
Japanese VAdm Ugaki also reported in his diary that there was no damage to Mikuma during the Marine attack.
Capt Saruwatari, Mogami's damage control officer, reported that Mikuma was not damaged during the Marine attack.
At any rate, Heinl goes on to state in his monograph: "For this feat, Captain Fleming was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor..."
Well, that's not what the Fleming's citation, the only MOH awarded at Midway, states:
"For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty as Flight Officer, Marine Scout Bombing Squadron 241, during action against enemy Japanese forces in the battle of Midway on 4 and 5 June 1942. When his Squadron Commander was shot down during the initial attack upon an enemy aircraft carrier, Capt. Fleming led the remainder of the division with such fearless determination that he dived his own plane to the perilously low altitude of 400 feet before releasing his bomb. Although his craft was riddled by 179 hits in the blistering hail of fire that burst upon him from Japanese fighter guns and antiaircraft batteries, he pulled out with only 2 minor wounds inflicted upon himself. On the night of 4 June, when the squadron commander lost his way and became separated from the others, Capt. Fleming brought his own plane in for a safe landing at its base despite hazardous weather conditions and total darkness. The following day, after less than 4 hours' sleep, he led the second division of his squadron in a coordinated glide-bombing and dive-bombing assault upon a Japanese battleship. Undeterred by a fateful approach glide, during which his ship was struck and set afire, he grimly pressed home his attack to an altitude of 500 feet, released his bomb to score a near miss on the stern of his target, then crashed to the sea in flames. His dauntless perseverance and unyielding devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service."
The citation specifically says "... then crashed to the sea in flames."
It does not say: "... then crashed into the enemy cruiser." Do you think if Fleming was awarded the MOH for crashing his airplane into an enemy cruiser the citation just might, at least, mention that fact?
Further, no where in the VMSB-241 after action report does the claim of Fleming crashing into the Mikuma appear. 2d Lieut. George Koutelas saw it all and reported "Captain Fleming was leading the attack and was hit by fire and went down in flames. He stayed in his dive even though he was in flames and dropped his bomb from about 500 feet. He got a near miss near the stern of the ship." Koutelas says nothing about Fleming crashing into Mikuma.
The other part of the legend of the crash into the aft turret of the Mikuma arises from a mound of debris that appears on No. 4 turret in the photos taken by CP J.A. Mihalovic from an SBD flown by Lieut. Cleo Dobson of VB-6, taken on June 6th, the day after the Marine attack and after a series of attacks launched from Hornet and Enterprise. See:
Results of those attacks were, in the first attack, Hornet's VS-8 scored 2 hits on Mogami, one amidships and one destroying the aft turret, VB-8 scored one hit on Arashio. The second atttack was a combined VB-3, VS-5, VB-6, and VS-6 strike from Enterprise that scored two hits on Mogami (amidships, again, and forward of the bridge) and at least 5 hits on Mikuma, including No. 3 turret, destroying it and inflicting major casualties on the bridge; two hits to the starboard forward engine room and two hits in the port after engineroom. Significantly, heavy fires from the combination of hits also caused the detonation of stored torpedoes, an area just forward of the No. 4 turret and below the aircraft handling/launched area). Then, in a third attack, VB-8 and VS-8 returned with 12 SBD's, all carrying 1000 lb bombs, attacking at 1445. These planes ignored the wrecked Mikuma and attacked escorting destroyers, claiming damage to two of them, and Mogami.
Dobson and Mihalovic, flying in company with VB-6's Ens. Bud Kroeger with Al Brick from Movietone News in the back seat were launched at about 1550 and returned to the Enterprise at 1907. Dobson reported flying within 100 feet of the wrecked Mikuma and described the damage he saw in his diary. He did not mention an airplane crashed on one of the aft turrets. The commonly seen photo from the series taken by Mahalovic that shows the wreck of the Mikuma with debris on the top of the No. 4 turret. This debris is what most suppose to be Fleming's aircraft.
You might want to look again and take a guess as to what the rectangular frame object is on the top of the turret. I don't know what it is for sure, but I would guess it is not pieces of an SB2U. At some point, someone put Hienl's report of RAdm Soji's statement, his MOH award claim, and the photo together . . . 1+1+1=4 . . . and so we have the myth 60 plus years later. Then again, you might also want to think about Hienl's quote of RAdm Soji, ". . . dive in to the last turret ..." Does the wreckage look like it is resting on the "last" turret to you?
I suppose, had Fleming and the other VMSB-241 dive bomber pilots actually "dive bombed" the Mikuma, and presuming his SB2U would hold together, he could have come down at a steep enough angle, say maybe 80 degrees, to smack into the top of the turret and some parts might stick . . . maybe. The killer to that theory, though, is, as they did against the Japanese carriers the day before, the Marine SB2U pilots used the "glide bomb" technique, which calls for an approach angle of about 35 to 50 degrees. Even the MOH citation clearly uses the word "glide" not "dive." Remember, SB2U's could not truly dive bomb, in the correct usage of the terminology, meaning an attack angle of between 70 and 85 degrees, they could only glide bomb ... no dive brakes except for their landing gear.. So, picture an aflame, smoking SB2U whipping along at about 175 mph at about a 40 degree angle of attack (or less if he's trying to pull out) and smacking into the top of an 8 inch gun turret. You really think it's going to stick? Not likely. On more than one occasion I've had the unfortunate opportunity to see an airplane come into sudden contact with the ground when it wasn't supposed to. They tend to slide a whole lot farther than the space on the top of an 8 inch gun turret, a whole lot further. Unless a plane is going, for all intents, straight down there is a surprising amount of lateral movement from a given point of contact. As a target for an airplane roaring down in an attack, an 8 inch turret, which I've also had the opportunity to examine up close, is awfully small.
And if the Japanese, on the scene, report no damage from the Marine attack of the 5th and Mikuma took all it's damage from the Navy attacks of the 6th, then what else could it be but debris from the Navy attacks? And the area immediately forward of the turret was the aircraft catapult area. Mikuma was rated to carry, I believe, four aircraft . . . whether these were launched prior to (where would they go? and there was no air opposition on either the 5th or the 6th), jettisoned, or destroyed in the attacks of the 6th I couldn't begin to tell you. The aircraft stowage and catapult area was immediately above the torpedo handling area which we know went up in secondary explosions as a result of the attacks of the 6th, before the photos were taken. Could the debris be remains, as I have suggested, of a Japanese float plane tossed up there by explosions from the torpedo handling area? I'd buy that.
Col. Heinl published his "Marines at Midway" in 1948 and his claim lingers in some otherwise well-researched accounts.
Capt. Walter Karig, USNR, though, in the third volume of his "Battle Report" series "Pacific War: Middle Phase," published in 1947, wrote: "Then Captain Fleming's glide bombers began their runs. Attacking from the stern, Captain Fleming's plane was immediately hit by 'flak.' With smoke pouring from his engine and probably badly wounded Fleming continued on, holding his plane on course, until he was five hundred feet from his target; then he released his bomb and pulled away. At the pull-out the plane burst into flames and disintegrated. For this feat of courage and devotion to duty that cost him his life, Captain Fleming became the first Marine aviator of the war to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor."
Note “. . .and pulled away.”
And just about everyone else writing on Midway wrote AFTER 1948 and most included Heinl's story and cited him as their source. My theory is because it was (a) a good story and (b) Heinl's monograph was an official USMC publication and therefore "correct".
However, the best book to date on the Battle of Midway, "A Glorious Page in our History" (Cressman, Ewing, et. al.) clearly comes down on the "crash into the sea" side of the equation, citing the observations of Lieut. Koutelas.
I'm afraid the physics of the whole business is working against the possibility of an airplane striking a turret and sticking unless going straight down. And Fleming's attack wasn't straight down. He was glide bombing, not dive bombing.
And how about this. On 13 November 1942 IJMS Maya left the Shortland Islands as part of RAdm Nishimura Soji's Bombardment Unit that also included Suzuya, Tenryu and four destroyers. That night Maya launched floatplanes to illuminate targets for a bombardment of Henderson Field.
From 0130 until 0200 14 November 1942, Soji's Bombardment Unit shells Henderson Field with 989 8-inch shells. The task group then retires back towards the Shortlands. Later, at about 0830 on the 14th, the task group is attacked by TBF's from Guadalcanal. The heavy cruiser Kinugasa is sunk and Chokai is slightly damaged. At 0930 two Douglas SBD's from VB-10 on an anti-shipping search attack the task group. One of the SBD's, piloted by Ens. PM Halloran, dives (dive bombing, not glide bombing) in from 17000 feet and drops a 500-lb bomb that lands astern of Maya. While pulling out of his dive his plane's starboard wing strikes Maya's mainmast and it crashes into her portside killing Halloran, his rear-gunner, ARM2c E Gallagher, and spilling gasoline that ignites fires that set off ready ammunition. Thirty-seven crewmen are killed in the explosion and resulting fires, twenty four wounded, and Maya is forced to jettison torpedoes as a precaution. Maya is able to return to the Shortlands under her own power.
I’d suggest that this incident was most likely the one to which Soji was referring, bearing in mind that the Japanese reported no damage to Mikuma from the VSBM-241 attack of 5 June.
And further. the VBSM-241 Midway after action report says nothing of Fleming crashing into the Mikuma.
And, contrary to Heinl's assertion, Fleming was not awarded the MOH for crashing into the Mikuma.
And Fleming's MOH citation and VBSM-241 pilots in the area agree on Fleming's plane crashing into the water.
And Soji is present when a dive bomber actually does crash into a Japanese cruiser in November 1942.
And Heinl makes his claim about Fleming in 1948 and it is repeated over and over, for all intents to the point that Heinl is no longer cited as the source.
And checking Karig, a major, USN supported, contemporary 5 volume history drawn from USN reports and interview, and printed a year before Heinl . . . Fleming's actions and his MOH award are recited, but no mention is made of crashing his plane into Mikuma.
Folks are maybe expecting to see a crumpled SB2U on the aft turret of the Mikuma because of the repetition of Heinl's story in so many places, albeit on the No. 4 turret not Heinl’s cited No. 5. I'm not expecting to see it because of the evidence from US eyewitnesses and reports and Japanese sources and reports, so I don't.
Re: Kamikaze confusion
Posted By: Adm Gurita Date: Monday, 19 September 2005, at 11:47 a.m.
In Response To: Re: Kamikaze (Rich Leonard)
Thanks for this elaborate and well-researched part of history. I especially like your idea that RAdm Soji got the attacks on Mikuma and Maya confused as time went by [heck, if I got to tell everything I confuse as time goes by... but I better not try lest there be confusion...].
I agree that the Fleming story as told by Col. Heinl sure made for a nice and, as short after WWII's end as 1948, "expected" Marine hero's story.
It's good to see how nicely this view from the American side, all the way down to Fleming's citation, cogwheels with the Cruiser Bible and the TROMs from the Japanese side.
Posted By: Adm Gurita Date: Sunday, 18 September 2005, at 5:14 p.m.
In Response To: Kamikaze (Russ Padden)
Though I have read the story that Capt. Fleming dived into the after superimposed turret, causing fire from the crash to be sucked into one of her engine rooms, which was knocked out, Mikuma's TROM only has this to say:
At 0805, USMC Captain Richard E. Fleming's (MOH posthumously) Scout-Bombing Squadron 241's six Douglas SBD "Dauntless" dive-bombers and six Vought-Sikorsky SB2U "Vindicators" from the 2nd Marine Air Wing on Midway attack the MIKUMA and the MOGAMI but they only achieve several near-misses.
The Cruiser Bible by Lacroix & Wells only notes SBD attacks by carrier squadrons, of which the first was made by 26 SBDs of VB-8 and VS-8 [USS Hornet] at 0645. This attack scored a hit on Turret #5 [that should be the aftermost turret, not the superimposed one; am I right?], killing the crew, and one "amidships on the aircraft deck started fires in the torpedo room below. Luckily, the torpedoes had been jettisoned after the collision, and the fire was extinguished within the hour" [p. 488]. According to L&W Mikuma didn't suffer crippling damage until the second attack. The pic on p. 490 shows Mikuma with "the wreckage of Fleming's plane" [as has so often been said] on top of the superimposed turret. Probably it's debris from the ship itself, blown upward by a bomb hit and ending on top of the turret.
The Japanese may have estimated that all SBDs came from carriers. They mention no "Vibrators" at all. Of course such a mistake in aircraft ID can be easily made in the heat of battle.
The story doesn't seem to be supported by Japanese sources. Maybe they had a little difficulty with crediting an enemy with an action they may have considered their own privilege? Maybe Fleming did try to hit the ship, but near-missed simultaneously with a bomb hit??
p.s. The TROM appears to be confused. The famous collision is at 2138 on 5 June. Follows an 0534 attack by B-17s [no hits], next the 0805 attack I quoted above, and only then the entries for 6 June, starting with three waves of 81 SBDs in all from Enterprise and Hornet.
The Bible places these carrier attacks on 7 June, and the collision at 2318 [sic] on 5 June.