Enjoying red carpet treatment
Every year, the U.S. Navy celebrates the Battle of Midway, an air and sea battle in the World War II Pacific Theater that changed the tide of battle.
One of the last known survivors of the battle is Hank Kudzik, an Allen Township resident and a submariner aboard the USS Nautilus during the battle.
Celebrations of this significant battle are enjoyed around the country June 4, and Kudzik gets a free ride to celebrations in Washington, D.C., as the Navy’s honored guest.
Kudzik is now 94 and joined the Navy when he was 17.
After the war, he spent 12 years with the Navy Reserves achieving the rank of chief petty officer.
This year, Hollywood produced a movie version of the Battle of Midway. It is not the first version, but this one is supposed to be a more authentic recounting of events.
Kudzik saw the film at a local private showing in October. He gave it his approval.
For those who never studied the bravery of American sailors in the Pacific, the Midway story shows the dedication and creativity of the men.
At Pearl Harbor, the Japanese attack wiped out most of the battleships assigned to the Pacific fleet. Only by luck were aircraft carriers at sea.
With the loss of battleships, the Navy high command was forced to look away from its standard plans that relied heavily on battleships and turn to aircraft carriers.
All the strategies were untested and required learning new battle tactics. The Japanese honed their skills using tactics designed around the aircraft carrier.
One of the new strategies adopted by both navies was to protect aircraft carriers with supporting ships. Aircraft carriers were lightly armed because the deck space was devoted to aircraft.
Destroyers surrounded the carriers to protect them from submarines. Battle cruisers were armed to protect against air attacks.
By Kudzik’s accounting, the Nautilus was on patrol in the Pacific, harassing Japanese warships. They distracted a small destroyer away from the main task force, and the destroyer moved in to launch depth chargers to destroy the submarine. The destroyer ultimately gave up its chase and returned to the task force.
The Japanese destroyer had ventured far and, instead of taking evasive maneuvers, steamed straight for its position in the task force. The action by the destroyer gave spotters a good idea where the task force was located.
The task force consisted of the Japanese carriers Kaga, Akagi, Hiryu and Soryu with an overwhelming position. The U.S. Navy had the Yorktown and Enterprise.
Two factors influenced the battle. The actions by the USS Nautilus distracted Japanese destroyers. The Japanese had to deal with the submarine even though American torpedoes were notoriously unreliable.
American cryptographers had also broken the Japanese code just before the battle.
During World War II, media and wartime staff did not try to undermine efforts by the fighting military and kept the code information secret.
With a combination of exquisite timing and creative skills, American war planes were able to attack the superior forces and the more advanced planes of the Japanese while they were on the decks refueling. Three Japanese carriers were sunk. The heavily damaged Yorktown and the Hiryu sank after the battle.
According to Kudzik, it was the Nautilus that delivered the fatal blow to the Soryu after it was attacked by the first wave of American fighters. In his rendition, the submarine fired three torpedoes — two struck the Soryu and the third was a dud.
The official account of the battle recognizes the Nautilus’ contribution but does not give it credit for sinking the Soryu. The Soryu has never been recovered, so the controversy remains.
William “Bull” Brockman skippered the Nautilus and was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions. His contribution and those of the officers and sailors were significant to winning this battle.
Joining Kudzik at the premiere of the movie was Jack Holder, of Arizona. Holder was one of the PBY Catalina pilots who served as spotters during the battle.
Kudzik’s daughter, Wanda Frecks, accompanied her father to the ceremonies. Frecks lives in San Diego and is also a Navy veteran. She served as a cryptologist.