C. Wade McClusky

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C. Wade McClusky
Clarence Wade McClusky.jpg
McClusky in 1943–1944
Birth nameClarence Wade McClusky, Jr
Nickname(s)"Wade", "Mac"
Born(1902-06-01)June 1, 1902
Buffalo, New York
DiedJune 27, 1976(1976-06-27) (aged 74)
Bethesda, Maryland
AllegianceUnited States
Service/branchUnited States Navy
Years of service1922–1956
RankRear admiral
Commands heldNAS Glenview
USS Corregidor (CVE-58)
Enterprise Air Group 6
Battles/warsWorld War II Korean War
AwardsNavy Cross
Legion of Merit
Distinguished Flying Cross
Purple Heart
Air Medal
Navy Commendation Medal

Rear Admiral Clarence Wade McClusky, Jr., (1 June 1902 – 27 June 1976) was a United States Navy aviator during World War II and the early Cold War period. He is credited with playing a major part in the Battle of Midway. In the words of Admiral Chester Nimitz, McClusky's decision to continue the search for the enemy and his judgment as to where the enemy might be found, "decided the fate of our carrier task force and our forces at Midway".[1]

Naval aviator and instructor[edit]

C. Wade McClusky, Jr. was born in Buffalo, New York, on 1 June 1902. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1926, the same class as Max Leslie, and became a Naval Aviator three years later. Over the next decade, he served in several air units, as well as on command staffs, as an instructor at the Naval Academy and at shore facilities. In 1940, he was assigned to Fighting Squadron Six (VF-6), based on USS Enterprise, and assumed command of that squadron in April 1941.

World War II[edit]

Lieutenant Commander McClusky became Enterprise's air group commander in April 1942. During the Battle of Midway, while leading his air group's scout bombers on 4 June 1942, he made the critical tactical decision that led to the sinking of two of Japan's fleet carriers, Kaga and Akagi. When McClusky could not find the Japanese carriers where he expected them, and with his air group's fuel running dangerously low, he began a box search and on the second leg spotted the Japanese destroyer Arashi steaming north at flank speed. (The Arashi had stayed behind to attack the submarine USS Nautilus, which had been harassing the Japanese fleet.) Surmising that the Arashi must be following the main fleet, McClusky ordered a change in course in the same direction as Arashi. This led him directly to the enemy carriers. He then gave an order to attack, which resulted in confusion with both squadrons of 31 aircraft diving on the closer carrier, Kaga, while doctrine called for McClusky's forward squadron to attack the further carrier, Akagi, and squadron behind his to attack Kaga, so that the attacks would occur at the same time and make it harder for Japanese Zeros to respond. Lieutenant Richard Best, who commanded the other squadron and was considered to be its best pilot, noticed the error and pulled out with two wingmen to attack the Akagi, with Best scoring a direct hit amidship and a wingman a near miss at the rear of the ship, which disabled the rudder and rendered the Akagi immobile. Meanwhile, the other 28 dive bombers, some of which nearly collided with each other, scored at least four hits on Kaga, leaving it a burning wreck. As he pulled out of his dive, McClusky's plane was pounced on by two Zeros, which put 52 holes in his plane and a bullet through his shoulder. After his gunner shot down one of the Zeros, McClusky was able to land his plane safely on the Enterprise even with partially shot up controls. The communication confusion on the attack order was later attributed to a radio error from multiple people speaking at the same time, and as a fighter pilot new to the dive bombing squadron, McClusky was not as familiar with dive bombing doctrine as Best was, which would explain the decision for McClusky's forward squadron to attack the closer Kaga. Meanwhile, a squadron from the Yorktown, led by Max Leslie, had taken off an hour later, but it used a more recent, and hence more accurate, sighting for the location of the Japanese carriers. It arrived at the same moment as the Enterprise's bombers and attacked the Soryu, and within minutes, three of the four Japanese carriers had been turned into burning hulks. The actual sinking of all four carriers was done by torpedoes from Japanese escort ships as the Japanese were unable to move their crippled carriers and did not want them to be captured. McClusky, through his intelligence, courage and sheer luck, had thus made a vital contribution to the outcome of this pivotal battle. For his actions, which turned the tide in the battle,[2] McClusky was awarded the Navy Cross. Later in World War II, he commanded the escort carrier USS Corregidor.

After the war[edit]

McClusky served in a variety of staff and shore positions in the later 1940s. During the Korean War, he was chief of staff to the commanders of the First and Seventh Fleets. He commanded Naval Air Station Glenview, Illinois, in 1952–53, and the Boston Group of the Atlantic Reserve Fleet in 1954–56. McClusky retired from active duty in July 1956. At that time, in recognition of his vital contributions to the outcome of World War II, he was advanced to flag rank.


USS McClusky (FFG-41) was named in his honor. The Wade McClusky Award is given annually to the most outstanding attack squadron in the US Navy.

Portrayal in media[edit]


This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.
  1. ^ C. Wade McClusky: Battle of Midway
  2. ^ Michel, Lou (29 May 2016). "South Buffalo pilot's mettle turned the tide in Battle of Midway". The Buffalo News. Retrieved 13 May 2017.
  3. ^ McNary, Dave (July 3, 2018). "Luke Evans Joins Roland Emmerich's World War II Movie 'Midway'". Variety. Retrieved March 29, 2019.

External links[edit]