Guadalcanal at 75 … Battle of Midway, 4 June 1942

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This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Battle for Guadalcanal. In a series of posts, I will flashback to milestone events that led up to, or took place during or after Guadalcanal. Wherever possible, I will place myself in the action as a frame of reference. If a post triggers a memory for you, please share in a comment. -Bill McGee

Flashback: In June 1942, I was a patriotic sixteen year-old, chomping at the bit to get into the fight.  While I waited out the four months to turn seventeen in September, I applied for a job at the new Kaiser Shipyard in Vancouver, Washington. The first two weeks, I went to welding school. I learned the difference between flat, vertical, and overhead welding, and how each method got progressively harder to do right. I began to understand why welding was so important to merchant shipbuilding speed. As my instructor said, each of us would be trained to specialize in one or two tasks. By applying mass production technology to shipbuilding, we could reduce slipways times substantially. For example, in World War I, to build a ship similar to the new Liberty ships required some 650,000 rivets. New welding techniques at the Kaiser yards cut this down to 25,000 rivets.

In May, there had been big war news: Battle of the Coral Sea (May 4-8). U.S. Navy planes severely damaged a Japanese fleet and turned back an invasion force en route to capture Port Moresby, New Guinea. For the first time in naval history, the battle was fought entirely by carrier-launched aircraft. The opposing ships never saw each other.

In June, there was even more big war news: Battle of Midway (June 4-7).  Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, had received advance information (some from code-breakers) on where and when the enemy would strike at Midway. When a Japanese carrier attack force approached within launching distance of the Midway atoll on 4 June, it ran into a whirlwind of American planes, and all four Japanese carriers were sent to the bottom. Though we lost the USS Yorktown (CV-7) and dozens of American pilots who did not have sufficient fuel to return to Midway, this battle was, nevertheless, a major victory for the United States.

Closer to home, on June 22, a Japanese sub shelled Fort Steven at the mouth of the Columbia River near Portland. This added a sense of urgency to everyone’s job at the Kaiser Shipyard in Vancouver. We all worked a little harder.

Next post: 18 July 1942, Logistics Crisis

(Excerpted in part from THE SOLOMONS CAMPAIGNS, 1942-1943: From Guadalcanal to Bougainville, Pacific War Turning Point by William L. McGee.  “Enough gripping drama, heroism, and heartbreak in McGee’s almost encyclopedic THE SOLOMONS CAMPAIGNS to supply Hollywood with material for a century.” – Marine Corps League Magazine

(Map of Pacific Theater of War, 1942 from www.nationalww2museum.org.)

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