May 3rd, 1942...USS Enterprise, back from the raid on Tokyo, heads southwest with USS Hornet to deliver a squadron of F4Fs to Noumea, New Caledonia.
In the North Atlantic, USS Washington, HMS King George V, and HMS Victorious are at sea, supporting Convoy PQ-15, bound for Murmansk. The ships have endured U-boat attacks and the Luftwaffe, and now a new indignity; King George V collides with the destroyer HMS Punjabi, sinking the latter and making the former a dockyard case. To make matters more interesting, three German destroyers pounce on the light cruiser HMS Edinburgh, sinking her, but losing the destroyer Hermann Schoemann in the process to determined Edinburgh gunners.
As dawn breaks at Aola in Guadalcanal, an ancient coaster arrives bearing RAAF personnel who have fled Tulagi just as four Japanese ships sail in. Coastwatcher Martin Clemens gives them food. The RAAF men take a nap, then head south to safety. Meanwhile, Clemens scuttles his damaged flying boat, ships off three schooners full of Chinese refugees, and evacuates the native families inland. Across the harbor, Japanese troops swarm ashore at Tulagi from the transport Azumasan Maru, led by T. Ishimoto, a Japanese carpenter who spent years living in Tulagi, using his carpentry cover for espionage.
That evening, Coastwatcher Ken Hay closes down his shop at Berande, and loads up his truck to capacity, replete with the kerosene-run Electrolux refrigerator, and heads into the bush.
RAF reconnaissance planes show the German battlecruiser Scharnhorst at Kiel, Gneisenau at Gdynia minus her forward turret, Prinz Eugen at Trondheim.
In the United States, tornadoes kill 22 people in Oklahoma.
On the battleship Yamato, Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto unveils his plan for the attack on Midway to his assembled admirals. Operation "MI" is masterpiece of intricacy from Capt. Kameto Kuroshima. It will open with a Japanese invasion of the Aleutian islands of Kiska and Attu as a diversion. Next day, Vice Adm. Chuichi Nagumo's carriers will hammer the island of Midway in the central Pacific, followed by an invasion, led by Army Col. Kiyaono Ichiki's 28th Regiment and Special Naval Landing Forces. The American Pacific Fleet, forced to run like wet hens between invasions, will be caught in the middle by the Main Body of battleships, led by Yamamoto himself, centerpieced by the immense Yamato and her 18-inch guns. Almost the whole Imperial Navy will be at sea in this water ballet, using more fuel on the one operation than in an entire year.
On Corregidor, Japanese shelling continues. Gen. Wainwright radios Gen. Douglas MacArthur in Australia: "Situation here fast becoming desperate." The submarine USS Spearfish glides in from Australia to take out the last 14 nurses and some important personnel. Col. Louis J. Bowler, offered a space on the sub, refuses. "Send a nurse," he says. Along with the evacuees goes a roster of all those alive on Corregidor and a list of recent promotions, which gives the families of those more money in their allotments.
May 4th, 1942...HMNZS Achilles and HMNZS Leander arrive in Vila, and stay there for two weeks, assisting to unload ammunition from storeships to barges, and providing AA protection while American Seabees build roads, barracks, supply dumps, and a workable airstrip.
At 6:30 a.m., 12 Devastator torpedo bombers and 28 Dauntless dive bombers from the carrier USS Yorktown attack the massed Japanese ships at Tulagi. The raid catches the Japanese and coastwatcher Martin Clemens by surprise. The American planes swoop down, and overestimate what they see, identifying a minelayer as a light cruiser, and minesweepers as transports. They hammer the targets and go home by 9:30, having sunk the destroyer Kikuzuki and three minesweepers. A second strike punches out two seaplanes and damages a patrol craft, while a third attack sinks four landing barges. The Americans lose only three planes. Despite the elated mood on Yorktown, Japanese losses are minor. The Battle of the Coral Sea has begun.
In Hashirajima Bay, Japanese senior officers wargame the attack on Midway, using a complex game developed by their officers. Battle results are determined by dice roll according to combat results tables, to introduce random events. In the paper battle, American carrier planes catch the Japanese carriers Akagi and Kaga and sink them. Vice Adm. Matome Ugaki overrules umpire Masatake Okumiya to refloat Akagi. In the follow-up game, Kaga is also re-floated...and in both battles, the Japanese win. Success thus assured, the mimeograph machines start to roll, and the Navy is directed to carry out "General Order No. 18," which will attack targets "AO" and "AF." The air is soon thick with radio transmissions, coded in JN-25, the top-level code.
These messages all land on the desk of Cdr. Joseph Rochefort, a Japanese-speaking intelligence officer at Pearl Harbor, who heads FRUPAC, the Pacific Fleet's team of codebreakers, who, after a great deal of sweat and mathematics, can unreel JN-25. Many of the messages refer to a target named "AF." Nobody can figure out what it is, until an officer looks down a Japanese map and observes that Midway stands at the cross of grids "A" and "F," and that an enemy snooper plane reported being near "AF" when on a flight near Midway. CINCPAC, Adm. Chester Nimitz, believes this theory. Washington, however, does not. Adm. Ernest King fears a Japanese assault on Hawaii or a raid on the West Coast. The Army worries about an attack on the Panama Canal. Washington demands proof of Rochefort’s theory.
On Corregidor, the Americans, down to one week's water, are ready for the worst. AA guns are out. Telephone lines are out. Rations are down to a little canned salmon and rice. Showers are out. The last Navy gunboat, Mindanao, has been sunk. The last two PBYs from Australia have flown in to evacuate 50 passengers, including radio intercept specialists and nurses. Wainwright expects the invasion next evening, during the full moon.
Japanese troops invade Mindanao at Cagayan and press south along the Sayre Highway, a dirt track.
May 5th, 1942...Convoy PQ-15, minus two freighters and an escorting corvette lost to German attacks, arrives at Murmansk.
In the Coral Sea, Rear Adm. Frank Jack Fletcher does what he does best: refuel his ships, while the Japanese forces continue to plod south towards Russell Island and Port Moresby.
The island of Midway is a sandspit beyond Hawaii, a former alighting point for Pan American Clipper seaplanes. Now it is packed with two battalions of Marines and one of Marine Raiders, light tanks, PT boats, barbed wire, machine guns, B-17 bombers, and a variety of aircraft ranging from the new and nimble TBF Avenger torpedo bomber to the useless F2A Brewster Buffalo fighter. During the day, Midway fires off its housekeeping traffic by radio to Hawaii. Interestingly enough, the trans-Pacific cable is still intact to Japanese-held Guam, and periodically a bored American radioman bats out an obscenity to the Japanese, who fire angry-sounding gibberish back. Midway obediently sends its housekeeping message.
The Japanese hurl 16,000 rounds on Corregidor in 24 hours. "The island shook as the big shells landed," says Lt. Dayton L. Drachenberg, of the US Army Air Corps. "as if the victim of a continuous earthquake, with trees, limbs, rocks, and other debris crashing and flying in all directions."
On the opposite Bataan shore, the 4th Division, under. Lt. Gen. Kenzo Kitano, the worst division in the whole Imperial Army, 11,000 strong, lacking amphibious training, waits for the barrage to lift. They have only enough boats to land two battalions, 2,000 men, simultaneously. Each Japanese soldier of the 61st Regiment will carry four days of supplies on his back. Even so, the Japanese have thousands of bamboo ladders to scale cliffs, and their artillery has torn apart American searchlights, landmines, machinegun positions, and barbed-wire defenses.
"It took no mental giant," writes Wainwright, "to figure out that the enemy was ready to come against Corregidor."
That evening, the Japanese shellfire switches to the north shore. The Americans send out troops to man all beaches at 9 p.m. Their sound locators pick up the noise of landing barges being warmed up in Bataan half an hour later.
The defending Americans, a motley collection of Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, civilians, and Filipino scouts, wait with Enfield rifles and bomb chutes designed to hurl 39-lb. air bombs onto the beaches. Frank Gomez goes into battle wearing "a World War I helmet, a white piece of line for my belt, a safety pin that was to hold my canteen to the line. A Filipino Sailor gave me a big horse blanket. I stripped my gas mask bag...that was my ditty bag, just room for a change of clothing, soap, if any, and a few canned goods, like salmon or dry chocolate."
Currents and winds sweep the invading force away from their beach, and under the moonlight, the Japanese become easy targets for the Americans, who open up with everything from rifles to 75mm guns, inflicting heavy casualties. Nearly 70 percent of the invading Japanese are killed. But the remaining 30 percent, acting as "human bullets," storm ashore, and fight a vicious battle with the defenders, forcing the Americans back off the landing beaches by midnight.
World War II comes to the backwater of Madagascar at 2:35 am as the Allies begin their first invasion of the war. The British 29th Brigade assaults Ambarartra Bay, held by Vichy French Senegalese troops. The object is to prevent the Japanese or Germans from being able to use the island as a U-boat base to menace Britain's supply line to Egypt and India. The British come ashore to almost no opposition and have 2,300 men ashore by dawn. Swordfish torpedo bombers from HMS Illustrious sink a French armed merchant cruiser and the submarine Beveziers while Sea Hurricanes and F4F Martlet (Wildcat) fighters from HMS Indomitable and Illustrious punch out defending French aircraft. Despite gale force winds, the British move inland to Diego Suarez, at Madagascar's northern tip. At 8:15 am, a French officer drives out by car to find out why the forward outposts aren't answering the phone. The officer meets the 2nd Royal Welch Fusiliers, armed to the teeth. They demand the surrender of Antsirane Fort. The French answer the demand with 75mm artillery fire. The British bring up Bren carriers and Valentine and Tetrarch tanks, the latter being something else new in war. The French 75s defeat the tanks, but the British bring up seven more, and soon the Welch Fusiliers are on the move again.