Max Leslie

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Maxwell Franklin Leslie
LCDR Max Leslie USN April 1942.jpg
Maxwell F. Leslie in April 1942
Born (1902-10-24)October 24, 1902
Seattle, Washington
Died September 26, 1985(1985-09-26) (aged 82)
San Diego, California
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service 1926–1956
Rank Rear Admiral
Commands held VB-3
Carrier Air Wing 3

World War II

Awards Navy Cross
Bronze Star Medal
Navy Commendation Ribbon

Maxwell Franklin Leslie (24 October 1902 – 26 September 1985) was a naval aviator in the United States Navy during World War II. He is credited with playing a major part in the Battle of Midway.

Early life[edit]

Born in Seattle, Washington, on 24 October 1902, Leslie attended the University of Washington before entering the United States Naval Academy in 1922, graduating in 1926, the same class as Wade McClusky.

Naval career[edit]

Leslie was commissioned ensign in 1926, and received flight training at Naval Air Station Pensacola in 1929. He qualified as a naval aviator in 1930. When the United State entered World War II, he was executive officer of Bombing Squadron 3 (VB-3) aboard USS Saratoga. He flew with his squadron off USS Enterprise, while escorting USS Hornet on the Doolittle Raid.

Battle of Midway[edit]

Lieutenant Commander Maxwell Leslie successfully ditching due to lack of fuel, 13:48, 4 Jun 1942

Leslie was in command of VB-3, operating off USS Yorktown during Midway. Following the Japanese destroyer Arashi that had been counterattacking USS Nautilus, Leslie and Lieutenant Commander Wade McClusky, from Enterprise, managed to arrive above the Japanese task force at the precise moment its combat air patrol had been drawn down to the deck to repel Yorktown's torpedo bombers, and at the moment of the First Air Fleet's maximum vulnerability. With the Japanese Zeros too low to be effective, the SBD Dauntlesses of McClusky's squadron of 20 dive bombers and Max Leslie's squadron of 17 dive bombers poured down through the miraculously open sky to unload their bombs on the Japanese carriers, their hangar decks cluttered with confused ranks of recovered and warming up aircraft, snaking fuel hoses, and stacks of munitions from the various rearmament operations. Leslie himself did not have a bomb as it was accidentally released via a faulty electrical arming switch. Nevertheless, he also dived with the rest of the SBDs, strafing carrier decks.[1]

In just five minutes, Enterprise's Scouting Squadron Six and Bombing Squadron Six destroyed two Japanese fleet carriers. Kaga was abandoned at 1700 and sank at 1925. Akagi was abandoned just after Kaga went down, and was scuttled before dawn June 5. Attacking nearly simultaneously with McClusky's SBDs,Yorktown's VB-3, led by Leslie, inflicted heavy damage on Sōryū, and she also sank that evening. After successfully attacking Sōryū Leslie and his wingman Lt(jg) P.A. Holmberg ditched near USS Astoria due to fuel exhaustion, after their parent carrier Yorktown was under attack by Japanese planes when they returned. Leslie, Holmberg, and their gunners were rescued by one of the cruiser's whaleboats.

A single carrier, Hiryū, which was ten miles to the north of the other three carriers, escaped damage the morning of June 4, but was sunk on June 5. For heroism at the battle, Leslie was awarded the Navy Cross.

Leslie continued to serve overseas during World War II:[2]

from to rank position ship/station
May 1940 December 1941 LT/LCDR XO Bombing Squadron 3 NAS North Island
December 1941 February 1942 LCDR XO Bombing Squadron 3 USS Saratoga (CV-3)
February 1942 April 1942 LCDR CO Bombing Squadron 3 NAS Kaneohe Bay
April 1942 June 1942 LCDR CO Bombing Squadron 3 USS Yorktown (CV-5)
June 1942 November 1942 CDR Commander, Enterprise Air Group USS Enterprise (CV-6)
November 1942 January 1943 CDR staff NAS Jacksonville
January 1943 March 1943 CDR CO NAS Daytona Beach
March 1943 November 1943 CDR CO Naval Air Gunnery School, Hollywood, Florida
November 1943 April 1944 CDR student Army and Navy Staff College
April 1944 June 1944 CDR instructor Command and General Staff College
June 1944 August 1944 CAPT Operations Officer ComAirForWestCarolines
August 1944 December 1944 CAPT Operations Officer, 2nd MAW Naval Operating Base Espiritu Santo
December 1944 August 1945 CAPT OIC Air Support Control ComPhibForPac
August 1945 September 1945 CAPT CO Air Support Control 8 ComPhibForPac

Later career and awards[edit]

Leslie spent the rest of his career after the war in various ships and shore stations and retired in 1956. In addition to the Navy Cross, he was presented the Bronze Star Medal with combat "V" and the Navy Commendation Ribbon, the Presidential Unit Citation to Enterprise, American Defense Service Medal, Fleet Clasp, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal and the National Defense Service Medal.[citation needed]

Leslie died in San Diego, California, on 26 September 1985.

In popular culture[edit]

Leslie was depicted by Monte Markham in the 1976 film Midway.