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Maxwell Franklin Leslie
Died 1984 (aged 81–82)
LCDR Max Leslie USN April 1942.jpg
Maxwell F. Leslie in April 1942
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service 1926 - 1956
Rank Rear Admrial
Commands held VB-3
Carrier Air Wing 3
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Navy Cross
Bronze Star
Presidential Unit Citation

Maxwell Franklin Leslie (1902 – 1984) 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.

Leslie attended the University of Washington before entering the U.S. Naval Academy in 1922. He was commissioned Ensign in 1926, received flight training at Naval Air Station Pensacola in 1929 and was designated Naval Aviator in 1930. When the U.S. entered World War II, he was executive officer of VB-3 aboard USS Saratoga (CV-3). He later commanded Bombing 3, operating off USS Yorktown (CV-5) during Midway. He also flew with his squadron off USS Enterprise (CV-6), while escorting USS Hornet (CV-8) on the Doolittle Raid.

Battle of Midway

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

Following the Japanese destroyer Arashi that had been counterattacking USS Nautilus (SS-168), 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 Zeros too low to be effective, the Dauntlesses poured down through the miraculously open sky to unload their bombs on the Japanese carriers, their flight decks cluttered with confused ranks of recovered and warming-up aircraft, snaking fuel hoses, and stacks of munitions from the various rearmament operations.

In just five minutes, Enterprise's Scouting Six and Bombing 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 Bombing Three, 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 (CA-34) 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.

Later career

Leslie continued to serve overseas during World War II, and after the war spent the rest of his career in various ships and shore stations. He retired in 1956. In addition to the Navy Cross, he was presented the Bronze Star Medal with combat "V" and the 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.

In popular culture

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

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