Interview with Clarence Dickinson
ww2dbaseInterviewer: Jim Bresnahan
Interviewee: Clarence Dickinson, US Navy Scouting Squadron Six (VS-6) pilot from USS Enterprise who had participated in the Battle of Midway
Edited Transcript of the Interview
At that time you know you never think too much about getting killed, but I think most of us at that time felt that this was probably going to be it. When you figured that we brought back out of our air group only 16 pilots plus 3 that were later picked up, we were pretty near right.
I think everybody with a few rare exceptions made determined attacks, it was just that unfortunately the torpedo planes were slow, which was their biggest failing. They never could really get in position; when they tried to get into position to make coordinated attacks from each of the bows, that is left and right, they simply were shot down one by one. But the fact that they kept going on in, I would expected it of them, I think everybody would have done that. I think the thoughts were that whatever happens they would go in until the last man was gone. They were that kind of people.
I was one of the few individuals that had access to those magic dispatches on the carrier because I was in essence the group operations officer and therefore the predictor for the dive bombers and scouts, so I was well aware personally of the numbers and I think that in general the information was available to all of the air group as to what was there. Halsey told us a certain amount what ships we were up against, so I don't think there were any illusions.
As we went out and couldn't find the Japanese carrier fleet, our group commander turned north, and the air group who was from the Hornet turned south towards Midway, Stan Ring did, commander ring, and they never found anything. But as we turned north, within a few minutes, the group commander picked up a single destroyer who had been left behind by the Japanese to keep an American submarine down that had been spotted. Figuring that the destroyer was headed back to the rest of the Japanese fleet, McClusky turned to that course and followed the destroyer, went on past it. We were up at about 24,000 feet and suddenly we broke out into the clear and there were four Japanese carriers and everything, and we knew we had them... I won't use the colloquialism... but you know what we had them by.
So we started our approach, that means we pushed over and went down about 19,000 to 20,000 feet, picking up speed, and we got in position over them on attack. At that time the group commander gave orders to Dick Best and Bombing 6 to take one of the carriers and told Earl Gallaher, who is the other squadron commander that is the squadron of which I was exec, to take the other one. We made our attack on them. At the same time, to the northeast, one of the other squadrons from the Yorktown came in and spotted one of the carriers, and as a great coincidence dived within 15 to 20 seconds of the same time our two squadrons dived. And so as I pulled out there were three carriers burning and the fourth carrier was off to the northwest, hightailing it back under the clouds.
Well I'd say I did [score a hit]. I reckon there were probably more hits claimed than actually were hit, but yes, I think I got a hit alright.
As I described it in my book the scene was one of, I think everybody was jubilant. We all could see the carriers burning, we knew that this was the whole heart of the ...
Well it was to get those four Japanese carriers, and here were three that were burning, so I'm sure that everybody felt quite jubilant. Then the problem was to get home because down low the air was full of Japanese fighters and destroyers, of course. We were down to around 300 or 400 feet and all of the destroyers were shooting at us. You just had to bore out and get out of the ring of ships and get back on home.
When I made it back to the Enterprise the interest thing was... I got one of the Japanese planes as he flew underneath me and pulled ahead of me and he didn't see me, so I, after deliberation, because I knew if I miss him he was gonna be mad and would come up after me, I just put the nose of the plane down and shot him up the rear, then he went into the water. Then we came on home, and that is headed for the American fleet, and some made it and some didn't. A lot went into the water and were never picked up, but that's another story. As we came on back, of course we were running out of gas as I said, and I was about 5 miles from the Enterprise when I ran out of gas, so I put the plane down. The sea was quite calm, 3 or 4 good waves, and landed the plane ahead of this destroyer, and it turned out that this was the destroyer the Phelps DD-360 that I had been on for a couple of years back in the late 30s. ww2dbase
C. Peter Chen
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General Douglas MacArthur at Leyte, 17 Oct 1944