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They Turned the War Around at Coral Sea and Midway

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They Turned the War Around at Coral Sea and Midway: Going to War with Yorktown's Air Group Five
  • by Stuart D. Ludlum, ex-Lt. (AVS), USNR
    • Merriam Press World War 2 History Series
        • Seventh Edition 2011
        • 264 6×9-inch pages
        • 65 photos
        • 1 map
        • 4 illustrations

Go to war with the Yorktown's Air Group Five (VF-3, VF-42, VB-5, VT-5).

     Very detailed self-told experiences of American Naval Aviation pilots who fought and survived the Marshall, Gilbert, Salamaua, Lae, and Tulagi raids, and the Coral Sea and Midway battles in 1942.

     Sources for this massive work were the pilots themselves, whom the author interviewed after the ship's return to the States during the war, while memories were still fresh.

     This is an invaluable record of their experiences.

     Their descriptions of combat will make you feel like you are right there with them in the cockpit.

Publisher’s Note

In the latter part of 1990, the author, Stuart Ludlum, first contacted me about this work. After examining the manuscript, I knew it was a remarkable work that needed to be published. During the brief correspondence I had with Stuart prior to his death the following year, he gave me a little background on how this work came about.
    He personally interviewed the surviving American pilots a few weeks after the battles took place. These men had returned to the States after Midway and were awaiting reassignment when he inter-viewed them.
    In those hectic times, it is fortunate that Stuart took the time to preserve the experiences of these men, while the events were still fresh in their minds, and we should be thankful that these individuals took the time to relate them to Stuart.
    In 1990, Stuart was still in contact with only one of the men featured in this work: Johnny Nielsen. Some did not, of course, survive the war; others have passed away over the years. So this makes They Turned the War Around at Coral Sea and Midway even more valuable as a record of the experiences of those pilots.
    As I worked on the manuscript, reading about these men’s experiences, especially during the battles, I can honestly say that I have never before read anything that made me so clearly appreciate what they went through. At times, it truly felt like I was right there, in the cockpit with them. It may sound corny to you, dear reader, but at some points I could actually feel the hair on the back of my neck start to creep up... Perhaps, after you have finished reading this book for the first time, you will have had the same experience.
    I have left the quotes of the pilots and others virtually untouched. Some of you may, while reading this, find certain words and expressions out of place or even offensive in this day and age. I felt it was necessary not to change them, because that’s what those men actually said, and that’s the way they spoke during those days. The Japanese were “Japs,” or “Nips,” or “Jappies” (that was a new one on me). A black person was “colored” or a “darky.” When reading and studying history, you have to cast away your prejudices, and immerse yourself in the times you are studying; those attitudes, etc., were a part of those times.
    Stuart attempted to revise some of his own commentary to reflect the facts as information became known over the years. Since this was originally written during the war, security prevented a lot of facts being known and some of the text may still contain errors. I have tried not to revise his words any more than necessary.
    I did find that there was considerable confusion as to the names of the Japanese warships, especially the carriers, in Stuart’s manuscript, and probably at the time even the U.S. Navy didn’t know exactly which enemy warships were involved with any degree of certainty. I have attempted to correct these, utilizing the few good sources I have available to me; I hope I have succeeded, but should you find there are still some errors, please advise so I can correct them in any future revised edition.
    My thanks to Stuart’s wife, Aune, who has been more than patient while waiting for me to finish typesetting Stuart’s manuscript. She agreed to proofread it, and the finished book is the better for it.
    I hope you enjoy They Turned the War Around at Coral Sea and Midway. I believe Stuart would have been very proud to see his book finally in print after all these years... and somehow, I think he knows.
—Ray Merriam


  • Publisher’s Foreword

  • 1: Into the Atlantic

  • 2: Low and Slow

  • 3: Meet Dave Berry

  • 4: Gaining Experience

  • 5: Convoy Duty

  • 6: Portland Interlude

  • 7: Pacific Bound

  • 8: Marshall and Gilbert Islands Raid

  • 9: Salamaua and Lae

  • 10: Patrol and Search

  • 11: Tulagi

  • 12: Cruise of the Hing Lee

  • 13: Coral Sea: 5 and 6 May 1942

  • 14: Coral Sea: 7 May 1942

  • 15: Coral Sea: 8 May 1942

  • 16: He Who Fights and Runs

  • 17: Fixin’ for a Fight

  • 18: Midway: 3 June 1942

  • 19: Midway: 4 June 1942

  • 20: Midway: 5 and 6 June 1942

  • 21: The Fighting Lady

  • Appendices

    • Organization of an Aircraft Carrier

    • Ready Room and Flight Deck Operations

    • Torpedo Planes Prove Their Worth

    • Pilot Rosters

  • The Author: Stuart D. Ludlum


Thank you so very much for sending me the copy of They Turned the War Around at Coral Sea and Midway. I've read about half the book and it brought back so many memories, tears and laughter. I'm enclosing a check for another copy. I want both our children to have one. Captain Nielsen died on 5 February 1994 after suffering from Alzheimer's for many years.
—Bernice G. Nielsen, wife of John L. Nielsen, then a Lt. and pilot with VB-5 (Bombing Squadron 5) featured in the book

The man who wrote it was a pilot who was not seeking to win any literary prize, he merely wanted to record for future generations his experiences and those of his fellow pilots. For that reason the writing does not flow as well as it might have had it been written by a man with more of a natural instinct for flow, grammar choice, vocabulary, adjectives, adverbs, and so on. But for anyone interested in the subject that only adds to the experience. As someone who actually flew the planes and dove down on Jap ships often while trying to fend off Zeros, Ludlum does succeed in making you feel like you're in the cockit. He also provides lots of little details about flying such aircraft in those days that you will not get from a more general history book.
—Warner Bauer

Publisher's Comment: The author was not a pilot and did not serve with the men of the units chronicled in thsi work. Ludlum interviewed the men after they returned from the battle.

Stuart Ludlum's They Turned the War Around at Coral Sea and Midway is a time-capsule of a book. Consisting of first-person reminiscences from U.S. Navy carrier aircrew recorded right after the Coral Sea and Midway battles, Ludlum's book wasn't published until 50 years later. A 2011 Merriam Press release, Ludlum's book offers a rare, unvarnished look at men in war.
     During World War II, Ludlum, a naval reservist, was involved in publicity and training. Following the Battle of Midway in June 1942, he interviewed many of the returning aircrew from USS Yorktown who had seen combat in the Pacific. These included SBD dive-bomber aircrew from VB-5, TBD torpedo-bomber crews from VT-5 and fighter pilots from VF-3 and VF-42. Scott McCuskey, Wally Short, Joe Taylor, George Bottjer and Bill Esders are amongst those quoted, many of them being Navy legends. Given the time-frame, memories were fresh in men's minds and Ludlum's book has an immediacy, a you-are-there quality rare in military aviation books. Ludlum did some revision as the hard facts about Coral Sea and Midway were revealed In the intervening years but the book is, nevertheless, valuable as an oral history account of the desperate early days of World War II in the Pacific.
—Mike O'Connor

Publisher's Comment: Stuart interviewed the men during the war and wrote it shortly afterwards. He did very little editing of his original manuscript in later years.

This book was exactly what I was looking for. Alone on Guadalcanal by Martin Clemens was one of the most interesting books I have read about World War II. My uncle met Martin when he helped in getting him and his radioman back to Pearl Harbor after they had to ditch off the coast of Guadalcanal. They Turned the War Around at Coral Sea and Midway not only gave me a lot of interesting background to the Coral Sea battles, but also provides a complete chapter on my uncle's return to the war. This book is a family keepsake.
—Homer Ewoldt

Originally published in 1991, this little-known tale of Air Group Five in the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (CV-5) is not to be missed. The author follows the pilots and crew of the group from May 1941 through the Battle of Midway in June 1942 when the ship was sunk. It is important to note that this is an "oral history" and not a definitive, blow-by-blow history of the numerous battles of Yorktown. Though it took almost 50 years to get the book into print, the author actually interviewed the survivors shortly after the events described. The memories are fresh and vivid. Compared to more recently researched or published books, far more emotion on the part of the participants is evident. There has been little time for the men to grow old and reflect across the years as to the importance of events—they describe what happened and what seemed important at the time. There is much more of a feeling of being in the room as the pilots are telling their stories, soaked in sweat, just after landing aboard ship after the missions. What they think happened, at times departs quite substantially from what we now know actually happened. I found it helpful to have a copy of John Lundstrom's masterful First Team alongside as I read so I could crosscheck maps and newer research to see what really happened. This in no way detracts from the story—I think it adds a very genuine "Fog of War" flavor to the tale. More than 60 photographs accompany to text to bring the pilots and aircraft alive. Don't pass this one up!
—J. Christian

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