|Pilot Commander William
Bowen Ault, O-057445 C. O. Lexington AIr Group (MIA / KIA) OR
Gunner ARM1c William Thomas
Butler, 2232491 (MIA / KIA) NY
MIA May 8, 1942
Built by Douglas at El Segundo, California. Constructors Number 812. Delivered to the U. S. Navy (USN) as SBD-3 Dauntless Bureau Number 4679.
Assigned to USS Lexington CV-2 to squadron VS-2. This aircraft was assigned to Commander William
Bowen Ault, Commanding Officer of Lexington Air Group and had "CLAG"
('Commander Lexington Air Group) painted on the fuselage. No nickname or nose art.
On May 8, 1942 during the Battle of the Coral
Sea one of four SBDs from Command Division that took off from USS Lexington CV-2 at 9:45am piloted by Commander William
Bowen Ault armed with a 1,000 pound bomb leading a strike against Zuikaku.
After climbing to 18,000', the SBDs experienced bad weather and lost visual contact with TBD Devestators from VT-2 and descended to 6,000' altitude below the clouds. Flying 200 miles out, the formation failed to spot the enemy fleet and Ault ordered a box search, begining due north then to the west before spotting the enemy fleet at 11:30am roughly 15 miles further to the west.
Ault ordered his aircraft to circle while he attempted to contact the TBD Devestators then opted to attack with only his four SBDs, eleven TBDs and three F4Fs, the rest of the formation were not in position due to the bad weather.
Spotted by Zuikaku, at the same time, the carrier's Combat Air Patrol (CAP) of thirteen Zeros from both Zuikaku and Shokaku were alerted to intercept.
Due to the cloud cover, Ault opted to make a shallow glide bomb attack from 5,500' without using their dive break against Shōkaku. Afterwards, he reported via radio that both he and his radioman/gunner
were seriously wounded and that he had but twenty minutes fuel left.
In his last transmission he reported at 2:54pm: "From CLAG. OK. So long people. We put
a 1,000 pound bomb on the flatop."
There were no witnesses to his
final minutes in the air. This SBD was presumed
to have been shot down or ditched in the ocean after the attack. When this aircraft failed to return, the crew were officially declared Missing In Action (MIA).
Both crew members were officially declared dead on May 9, 1943. Ault and Butler are memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery. For his role in the mission, Ault earned the Navy Cross, posthumously.
Navy Cross citation, Commander In Chief, Pacific Fleet: Serial 13 (June 16, 1942):
"The President of the United States takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to William Bowen Ault (0-57445), Commander, U.S. Navy, for extraordinary heroism in operations against the enemy while serving as Pilot of a carrier- based Navy Combat Plane and Group commander of a Navy Air Group embarked from the U.S.S. LEXINGTON (CV-2), in action against enemy Japanese forces during the Air Battle of the Coral Sea, on 7 and 8 May 1942. Commander Ault led the air attack, carried out in the face of severe antiaircraft barrage and heavy fighter opposition, which resulted in the complete destruction of one enemy carrier on 7 May and major damage to another on 8 May. His failure to return from the latter encounter and his courageous conduct throughout the duration of these actions were an inspiration to the entire air group. Commander Ault's outstanding courage, daring airmanship and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country."
Robert Bowen Ault (son of Ault)
Navy Serial Number Search Results SBD-3 Dauntless 4679
USN Overseas Aircraft Loss List May 1942 SBD-3 4632 pilot CDR Ault
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - William B. Ault
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - William T. Butler
FindAGrave - CDR William Bowen Ault (photos, tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - ARM1 William T Butler (tablets of the missing)
The First Team mentions this loss
Thanks to Robert Bowen Ault for additional information
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May 22, 2017