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Subject: Ok, US admirals, how good are you? Could you win at Midway without Yorktown? rss

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Seth Owen
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Accounts of Midway always legitimately make a big deal about the speedy shipyard repairs that allowed USS Yorktown to take part at Midway.

What's rarely discussed is the obvious counterfactual -- suppose Pearl Harbor wasn't full of Montgomery Scott ancestors and the damage required longer to repair? It would not have taken much to make a difference. A week or five days and Yorktown misses the battle entirely -- probably on its way to the West Coast. Two more days and Yorktown may join Spruance, but has to pass through the Japanese submarine picket line. If Yorktown is unlucky it gets torpedoed. Saratoga had already been torpedoed once by this point. Within months Sara would be torpedoed again, as would Hornet and Wasp. It was a real threat.

Even if Yorktown isn't torpedoed, it's probably spotted, which changes EVERYTHING. Now Nagumo and Yamamoto know at least one US carrier is in the area. It's almost certain the historical air strike on Midway is postponed until the US flattop is found. So on June 4th, instead of a pro forma security search, Nagumo is seriously looking for trouble with an alerted fleet.

There is every indication Nimitz would go ahead with his ambush without Yorktown. TF 16 was already on its way to Point Luck before Nimitz even saw the damage to Yorktown. I haven't seen anything in Nimitz orders for the battle that made it contingent on TF 17 being there.

So, pick your favorite Midway game. (I have Midway, The Fires of Midway Second World War at Sea: Midway, Victory at Midway, The Battle of Midway 1942 AD, Lightning: Midway – June 4th to June 6th, 1942 but feel free to use any game you are familiar with.) can you see a path to victory in either of the following variants?

A). USS Yorktown can't be repaired in time. SimplY remove TF 17 from the game.

B) it takes another 48 hours to get Yorktown ready. Add TF17 as a reinforcement at 0800 on June 6th. It's been spotted on the way though, so any requirement by the Japanese to launch an air attack on Midwsy is cancelled.

What do you think?

In the actual event this would have been a grievous blow. USS Yorktown had the most proficient air group and most experienced American Carrier commander, fresh off a recent battle experience. Spruance was in his first independent command, although he did have Halsey's experienced staff.

I think the 2-1 odds are perhaps too daunting to overcome, even with the historical good luck. Thoughts? Any 'gamey' tactics provide hope in any game?
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Glenn McMaster
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Fletcher placed the carriers too far from Nagumo's expected position. Spruance might not make that mistake. Move TF-16 50 miles west from its 0600 June 4th position and Hornet's strike doesn't miss the target.

Other measures are (1) don't squander submarines at the Aleutians - send those half dozen subs to the area Nagumo was expected to launch from and (2) put a real air wing on Midway, not the "B" team. The Marines were magnificent in bravery but were not experienced enough to hit fast moving carriers, and ill-equipped to face fighters. Leave the useless B-17's at Oahu - they take up space for 36 single engine aircraft. Put Yorktown's air wing on Midway. These aviators could neutralize two carriers all on its own before 0800.
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Seth Owen
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GLENN239 wrote:
Fletcher placed the carriers too far from Nagumo's expected position. Spruance might not make that mistake. Move TF-16 50 miles west from its 0600 June 4th position and Hornet's strike doesn't miss the target.

Other measures are (1) don't squander submarines at the Aleutians - send those half dozen subs to the area Nagumo was expected to launch from and (2) put a real air wing on Midway, not the "B" team. The Marines were magnificent in bravery but were not experienced enough to hit fast moving carriers, and ill-equipped to face fighters. Leave the useless B-17's at Oahu - they take up space for 36 single engine aircraft. Put Yorktown's air wing on Midway. These aviators could neutralize two carriers all on its own before 0800.


Some good points. I like 1). 2) If Yorktown isn't availabke then you are right, makes sense to send them to Midway replacing either the Marines or B-17s, although to be fair, the uselessness of the B-17s wasn't known yet. The I experience of the Marines was known, so replacing them with Yorktown/Saratoga fliers makes sense.

I'll have to relook through the reports to see if Spruance ever commented on the Point Luck issue. Or maybe he indicated this understanding of Nimitz's intent via his positioning before Fletcher showed up. Could be you are right. This isn't the first criticism of Fletcher being too far away that I have seen.

Thanks for the comments.
 
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I've always found questions like this to be problematic. Firstly how much of what happened, minus the Yorktown and carrier wing 3, should remain in place.

If we assume that everything else remains basically the same, only the Akagi and Kaga are sunk. The Soryu survives, because Scouting 3 never attacks, therefore no damage, therefore Nautilus never catches and torpedoes it, and the flight deck is intact. But then you also need to assume the Tone scout plane never finds the Americans (it spotted TF 17). The Japanese counter strike may not find TF17 because it found and followed the Yorktown's planes back to the task force.

At this point the Americans have 2 damaged, but still quite effective air wings, and know where the Japanese are. Nagamo still has Carrier Division 2, with 2 intact air wings, but likely does not know where the Americans are. This probably means that the Americans are likely to win better (in ship losses) than actually happened with the Yorktown, but have heavier air losses.

All that assumes of course, same lucky and unlucky events, and some non-events. When you start changing other things predictions become more difficult. Does Spruance move in closer? What if air operations in TF 16 are handled better (remember it took an hour to get the strike launched). Does the light come on in the Japanese thinking, and they start scouting before sending the strike to Midway (as seems to happen in most replays)?

It still all comes down to the Americans attacking effectively first. Without luck and the classic Japanese blunder, the Americans are going to have a tough time of it.
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Seth Owen
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plloyd1010 wrote:
I've always found questions like this to be problematic. Firstly how much of what happened, minus the Yorktown and carrier wing 3, should remain in place.

If we assume that everything else remains basically the same, only the Akagi and Kaga are sunk. The Soryu survives, because Scouting 3 never attacks, therefore no damage, therefore Nautilus never catches and torpedoes it, and the flight deck is intact. But then you also need to assume the Tone scout plane never finds the Americans (it spotted TF 17). The Japanese counter strike may not find TF17 because it found and followed the Yorktown's planes back to the task force.

At this point the Americans have 2 damaged, but still quite effective air wings, and know where the Japanese are. Nagamo still has Carrier Division 2, with 2 intact air wings, but likely does not know where the Americans are. This probably means that the Americans are likely to win better (in ship losses) than actually happened with the Yorktown, but have heavier air losses.

All that assumes of course, same lucky and unlucky events, and some non-events. When you start changing other things predictions become more difficult. Does Spruance move in closer? What if air operations in TF 16 are handled better (remember it took an hour to get the strike launched). Does the light come on in the Japanese thinking, and they start scouting before sending the strike to Midway (as seems to happen in most replays)?

It still all comes down to the Americans attacking effectively first. Without luck and the classic Japanese blunder, the Americans are going to have a tough time of it.


Some more good points raised.

Option A that sends Yorktown to the US for repairs allows your scenario as you note. In that case the rest of the timeline is more or less intact.

Option B upsets the timeline by having the Yorktown sighted by IJN subs. This alternative probably moots your points because Nagumo would almost certainly be launching a much more intensive air search, knowing that at least one US carrier was out. This means he probably would find TF 16 as well, possibly foiling the ambush entirely. This would introduce more variables that probably make the counterfactual too variable to trace. Too much would rely on subsequent unknowable events.

Thank you for commenting.
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GLENN239 wrote:
Fletcher placed the carriers too far from Nagumo's expected position. Spruance might not make that mistake. Move TF-16 50 miles west from its 0600 June 4th position and Hornet's strike doesn't miss the target.

Other measures are (1) don't squander submarines at the Aleutians - send those half dozen subs to the area Nagumo was expected to launch from and (2) put a real air wing on Midway, not the "B" team. The Marines were magnificent in bravery but were not experienced enough to hit fast moving carriers, and ill-equipped to face fighters. Leave the useless B-17's at Oahu - they take up space for 36 single engine aircraft. Put Yorktown's air wing on Midway. These aviators could neutralize two carriers all on its own before 0800.


How does the Yorktowns Air wing get to Midway? Its 1300 miles from Pearl to Midway, even 1 way, none of the carrier planes have that range.

Also, in hindsight, we now know that B-17s are not effective in an anti-shipping role. At the time, they were considered a powerful anti-shipping strike weapon. They still thought a B17 had sunk a Japanese BB during the invasion of the Philippines.

Whenever these what if questions come, you have to ask, What did they know then, not what do we know now.
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How about a weird question? What if Nimitz largely falls for the Aleutians ruse? Dutch harbor gets bombed, TF 16 sails toward the western Aleutians. 24hrs later, Midway is bombed. Where is TF 16 such a moment? Isn't it in the vicinity of Point Luck anyway? Just a thought.
 
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plloyd1010 wrote:
How about a weird question? What if Nimitz largely falls for the Aleutians ruse? Dutch harbor gets bombed, TF 16 sails toward the western Aleutians. 24hrs later, Midway is bombed. Where is TF 16 such a moment? Isn't it in the vicinity of Point Luck anyway? Just a thought.


I don't think so. Midway is to westnorthwest of Pearl, Dutch harbor is almost due north, so it's a different direction. Also, even if TF 16 is doing 30 knots for 24 hours (which is unlikely) it's only 720 miles, which even if it was heading right towards Midway, would still be 500 miles short. Plus, TF 16 would have to cross over the Japanese sub line surrounding Hawaii.
 
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ElCid91 wrote:


How does the Yorktowns Air wing get to Midway? Its 1300 miles from Pearl to Midway, even 1 way, none of the carrier planes have that range.


On the flight decks of Hornet and Enterprise.

Quote:
Also, in hindsight, we now know that B-17s are not effective in an anti-shipping role. At the time, they were considered a powerful anti-shipping strike weapon.


The U.S. Navy never considered high level bombing effective against ships.
 
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plloyd1010 wrote:
. But then you also need to assume the Tone scout plane never finds the Americans (it spotted TF 17).


Tone 4 spotted TF-16.
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plloyd1010 wrote:
How about a weird question? What if Nimitz largely falls for the Aleutians ruse? Dutch harbor gets bombed, TF 16 sails toward the western Aleutians. 24hrs later, Midway is bombed. Where is TF 16 such a moment? Isn't it in the vicinity of Point Luck anyway? Just a thought.


Aleutians wasn't a ruse.

It wasn't timed to act as one. If Nimitz had not broken the code, then TF 16 would not have been at point luck. It might still have been in the South Pacific, otherwise back at Pearl Harbor. A day would not have gotten them very far before Midway was attacked, probably East of Point Luck. Yorktown may very well have been sent back to the US for repairs (with its air group) absent the immediate threat to Midway.
 
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plloyd1010 wrote:
I've always found questions like this to be problematic. Firstly how much of what happened, minus the Yorktown and carrier wing 3, should remain in place.

If we assume that everything else remains basically the same, only the Akagi and Kaga are sunk.

I wonder, did the timing of the wave from the Yorktown, arriving along with the Enterprise bombers, give the Enterprise bombers a better chance? Or were the defenses of the various targets basically independent?

If yes to the first question, the Yorktown's presence might have improved the the Enterprise bombers' chances.
 
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GLENN239 wrote:
The U.S. Navy never considered high level bombing effective against ships.

Never? Then what was the point of sending B-17s to Midway? Originally the Army wanted anti-shipping bombers for the Pacific, and the B-17 was one of those earmarked as such. Had something to do with Billy Mitchell's experiments. They tried to use them that way too.

Here are (respectively) the Soryu and Hiryu being attacked.
The fact that high level bombing against ships never worked is beside the point. Though midway through the Solomon campaign, the military finally gave up on the idea.

The ineffectiveness led to a certain complacency, and an unfortunate anecdote. A Japaneses destroyer pulled along side a stricken transport as a flight of B-17s we spotted overhead. The captain noted the planes and commented not to worry, that they never hit anything. The B-17s turned around and put 6 1000lb bombs on the destroyer.
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GLENN239 wrote:
Tone 4 spotted TF-16.


Samuel Morrison and Mitsuo Fuchida say otherwise. But what do they know?
 
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zurn wrote:
plloyd1010 wrote:
I've always found questions like this to be problematic. Firstly how much of what happened, minus the Yorktown and carrier wing 3, should remain in place.

If we assume that everything else remains basically the same, only the Akagi and Kaga are sunk.

I wonder, did the timing of the wave from the Yorktown, arriving along with the Enterprise bombers, give the Enterprise bombers a better chance? Or were the defenses of the various targets basically independent?

If yes to the first question, the Yorktown's presence might have improved the the Enterprise bombers' chances.


No, there was no interaction between the two strikes or influence between them on the Japanese defenses. They were too simultaneous and too far apart.
 
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plloyd1010 wrote:
GLENN239 wrote:
Tone 4 spotted TF-16.


Samuel Morrison and Mitsuo Fuchida say otherwise. But what do they know?


Well, they had the disadvantage of writing soon after the war. Later scholarship has corrected many errors in their accounts.
 
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plloyd1010 wrote:
I've always found questions like this to be problematic. Firstly how much of what happened, minus the Yorktown and carrier wing 3, should remain in place.

If we assume that everything else remains basically the same, only the Akagi and Kaga are sunk. The Soryu survives, because Scouting 3 never attacks, therefore no damage, therefore Nautilus never catches and torpedoes it, and the flight deck is intact. But then you also need to assume the Tone scout plane never finds the Americans (it spotted TF 17). The Japanese counter strike may not find TF17 because it found and followed the Yorktown's planes back to the task force.

At this point the Americans have 2 damaged, but still quite effective air wings, and know where the Japanese are. Nagamo still has Carrier Division 2, with 2 intact air wings, but likely does not know where the Americans are. This probably means that the Americans are likely to win better (in ship losses) than actually happened with the Yorktown, but have heavier air losses.

I think that the IJN would have found the US CV before they could get another air strike ready. Therefore, it is quite likely that the air wings of 2 IJN CV would sink or cripple both US CV before they could strike again. So, the US trades 2 CV for 2 IJN CV, not a good trade. Four for 1 is SO much better.

The Yorktown being there was critical, critical.

Quote:
All that assumes of course, same lucky and unlucky events, and some non-events. When you start changing other things predictions become more difficult. Does Spruance move in closer? What if air operations in TF 16 are handled better (remember it took an hour to get the strike launched). Does the light come on in the Japanese thinking, and they start scouting before sending the strike to Midway (as seems to happen in most replays)?

It still all comes down to the Americans attacking effectively first. Without luck and the classic Japanese blunder, the Americans are going to have a tough time of it.

The more we make changes, the worse it is for the US.

For the IJN almost everything went wrong, while for the US almost everything went right [except the Hornet's DB turning the wrong way].

Sending the Yorktown's planes to Midway would help some. If they can sink or cripple 1 CV as the air attack on Midway Is. is happening then we are back to trading 4 CVs for 1.

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There are some truly interesting answers here. I've been interested in the Battle of Midway since I saw the movie of the same name on my 13th birthday.

I have a question though. I find it interesting with the suggestion of leaving the USS Yorktown behind at Pearl Harbour and transporting its aircraft and air crews via the USS Enterprise and USS Hornet to Midway Island.

Is there the actual physical space available on a Yorktown class CV to do that? I do know that the USS Hornet carried the B-25s for the Doolittle raid on Japan 3 months before the Battle of Midway ands its own aircraft were stored unavailable in the hanger while the USS Enterprise was the escorting CV. If I recall correctly there were about 18 B-25s, medium bombers, on board the USS Hornet. Compared to approximately 90 single engine aircraft that would have come from the USS Yorktown. That is still 45 aircraft extra per aircraft carrier.
 
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plloyd1010 wrote:

Never? Then what was the point of sending B-17s to Midway? Originally the Army wanted anti-shipping bombers for the Pacific, and the B-17 was one of those earmarked as such.


The Army was in love with high-altitude bombing. Not the navy, which used dive bombing and torpedo bombing. Midway was under navy jurisdiction.
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plloyd1010 wrote:


Samuel Morrison and Mitsuo Fuchida say otherwise. But what do they know?


Well, Fuchida saw that Akagi was attacked by nine bombers, not three and the first two bombs missed then the third hit a flight deck packed with aircraft. But what Fuchida never said was that Tone 4 spotted TF-17. Tone 4 saw TF-16 but made a mistake of some sort with the charts and put the contact 40 miles north of its actual position, closer to TF-17's position.
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Steve1501 wrote:


Sending the Yorktown's planes to Midway would help some. If they can sink or cripple 1 CV as the air attack on Midway Is. is happening then we are back to trading 4 CVs for 1.



If Yorktown's 36 dive bombers and 27 fighters are on Midway, they should be able to knock out two flight decks, not one.
 
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Vimy145 wrote:
There are some truly interesting answers here. I've been interested in the Battle of Midway since I saw the movie of the same name on my 13th birthday.

I have a question though. I find it interesting with the suggestion of leaving the USS Yorktown behind at Pearl Harbour and transporting its aircraft and air crews via the USS Enterprise and USS Hornet to Midway Island.

Is there the actual physical space available on a Yorktown class CV to do that? I do know that the USS Hornet carried the B-25s for the Doolittle raid on Japan 3 months before the Battle of Midway ands its own aircraft were stored unavailable in the hanger while the USS Enterprise was the escorting CV. If I recall correctly there were about 18 B-25s, medium bombers, on board the USS Hornet. Compared to approximately 90 single engine aircraft that would have come from the USS Yorktown. That is still 45 aircraft extra per aircraft carrier.


If you are conducting a ferry mission there are techniques available to increase capacity temporarily. I'm sure that they could have figured out a way to get most of the Yorktown air group to Midway if the decision was made to do so. In 1942 the Americans were in an innovative Frame of mind: Doolittle, torpedo-armed PBYs and B-26s, Thach Weave, Point Luck, tanks and IEDs on Midway, etc. The biggest limit may have been space on Midway, but pulling some of the B-17s probably would have sufficed to solve that problem, those B-17s took up a lot of space.

Replacing the Marine DB with Yorktown DB would have made the biggest difference. Replacing the Buffalos with Yorktown fighters would have been nice, but probably wouldn't affect the outcome of the battle.
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GLENN239 wrote:
If Yorktown's 36 dive bombers and 27 fighters are on Midway, they should be able to knock out two flight decks, not one.

Perhaps. The navy thought similarly, theorizing that a carrier wing should be capable of disabling 3 or 4 carriers. In practice the carrier wing to carrier kill ratio was 1:1 until 1944. By then it doesn't matter. The 1:3 or 4 ratio might be considered valid without "battle friction", which seems quite high in carrier operation. From the Coral Sea through the Solomon Campaign the effect is pretty much 1 air wing launched, 1 successful attack, 1 carrier out of action.
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wargamer55 wrote:
Vimy145 wrote:
There are some truly interesting answers here. I've been interested in the Battle of Midway since I saw the movie of the same name on my 13th birthday.

I have a question though. I find it interesting with the suggestion of leaving the USS Yorktown behind at Pearl Harbour and transporting its aircraft and air crews via the USS Enterprise and USS Hornet to Midway Island.

Is there the actual physical space available on a Yorktown class CV to do that? I do know that the USS Hornet carried the B-25s for the Doolittle raid on Japan 3 months before the Battle of Midway ands its own aircraft were stored unavailable in the hanger while the USS Enterprise was the escorting CV. If I recall correctly there were about 18 B-25s, medium bombers, on board the USS Hornet. Compared to approximately 90 single engine aircraft that would have come from the USS Yorktown. That is still 45 aircraft extra per aircraft carrier.


If you are conducting a ferry mission there are techniques available to increase capacity temporarily. I'm sure that they could have figured out a way to get most of the Yorktown air group to Midway if the decision was made to do so. In 1942 the Americans were in an innovative Frame of mind: Doolittle, torpedo-armed PBYs and B-26s, Thach Weave, Point Luck, tanks and IEDs on Midway, etc. The biggest limit may have been space on Midway, but pulling some of the B-17s probably would have sufficed to solve that problem, those B-17s took up a lot of space.

Replacing the Marine DB with Yorktown DB would have made the biggest difference. Replacing the Buffalos with Yorktown fighters would have been nice, but probably wouldn't affect the outcome of the battle.



Thanks for the answer. I have no doubt that they could have jammed an extra half a carrier's flight group on each of the available aircraft carriers. That, however, would most likely leave them in a very vulnerable position to be sent into an area that is expecting a major battle. Yes, the US Navy did have a good idea of what the Japanese Navy was doing, still, with that many planes on deck the carriers, if the Japanese were to find the Enterprise and Hornet and sink them. I'm sure FDR would have fed Admiral Nimitz's testicles to his dogs, or somebody's dogs.

Personally I like the idea of have the Yorktown's flight group being sent to Midway Island and when I play Midway again I'm going to try it. I'm not sure of the true feasibility of this though.

Another question that comes to mind is after the first attack on the Yorktown, could the remaining flight group have been sent to Midway so the carrier could have returned directly back to Pearl Harbour?

I agree that the United States showed great innovation during 1942 and throughout the Second World War. Adding the Yorktown's DBs to the Marine's DBs would have been a very powerful punch. The wildcats were still outmatched by the zeros, not as badly as the buffaloes were. Could they have made a significant difference, I agree again with you, a little, but, not a whole lot of difference.
 
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GLENN239 wrote:
plloyd1010 wrote:


Samuel Morrison and Mitsuo Fuchida say otherwise. But what do they know?


Well, Fuchida saw that Akagi was attacked by nine bombers, not three and the first two bombs missed then the third hit a flight deck packed with aircraft. But what Fuchida never said was that Tone 4 spotted TF-17. Tone 4 saw TF-16 but made a mistake of some sort with the charts and put the contact 40 miles north of its actual position, closer to TF-17's position.

If this is true [& I haven't seen this report before] then it is another example of my contention that the IJN used their pilots in the wrong ways.

They put the worst pilots in the recon planes. What they should have done was to put their best navigators in the recon planes [as the pilots or as navigators]. They had to find the accurate location of the US ships [CVs] before they could attack them. This means that the recon planes crew's needed to be able to fly the correct scout pattern and to know where they are at all times, which is not easy given head or cross winds, etc. Then they need to be able to make a good report of what they can see and where the ships are.

Their recon planes failed at this all through the war. And they didn't use enough of them either.

The USN put a whole squadron of scout bombers on each CV, so they were aware of what the correct priorities were.

And thanks plloyd1010 for saying that the actual in practice ration was 1:1 [1 AG of planes gets you 1 CV sunk or crippled for each attack].

 
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