The Battle of Midway: Turning Point In The Pacific

The Battle of Midway: Turning Point In The Pacific

The Battle of Midway.

As most people know the Battle of Midway was a naval battle in the Pacific Theatre of World War II which occurred between June 3rd and 10th in 1942, just six months after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor and less than a month after the Battle of the Coral Sea. There are few moments in American history in which the course of events tipped so suddenly and so dramatically as at the Battle of Midway. 

This account of the turning point battle of World War 2 in the Pacific offers a good overview of the battle, including the factors that led to its occurrence. It provides a good account of both sides, a major component of any good military history. This narrative offers an interesting study of the major commanders, their fleets, and the circumstances leading to the encounter.

As far as I can tell, its timeline of events is accurate, a major factor considering that the battle was fought across the International Date Line. This fact has often led to confusion in other accounts of the action. It also explores one of the major questions that arose from the battle.

The United States Navy under Admirals Chester W. Nimitz, Frank J. Fletcher, and Raymond A. Spruance demolished an attacking fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy carriers under Admirals Isoroku Yamamoto, Chuichi Nagumo, and Nobutake Kondo near Midway atoll inflicting a crushing blow on the Japanese that proved irreparable.

The Japanese sought to eliminate the United State as a strategic power in the Pacific thereby giving Japan a free hand in establishing its Greater East Asia empire. The Japanese hoped another attack such as at Pearl Harbor would push the United States to seek peace n the Pacific War and thus ensure Japanese dominance in the Pacific.

Luring the American aircraft carriers into a trap and occupying Midway was part of a strategy to extend Japan’s defensive boundary in response to the Doolittle air raid on Tokyo.

The plan was handicapped by faulty Japanese assumptions of the American reaction and inadequate forces. Most importantly, American cryptographers were able to determine the time and place of the scheduled strike, enabling the forewarned U.S. Navy to prepare its own ambush.

Four Japanese and three American aircraft carriers participated in the battle. The four Japanese fleet carriers Akagi , Kaga , Soryu and Hiryu , all part of the six-carrier force that had attacked Pearl Harbor six months earlier–were sunk, as was the heavy cruiser Mikuma . The U.S. lost the carrier Yorktown and the destroyer Hammann .

Battle of Midway Background

After expanding the war in the Pacific to include Western outposts, the Japanese Empire had attained its initial tactical goals, taking the Philippines, Malaya, Singapore, and the Dutch East Indies (modern Indonesia); the latter, with its vital oil reserves, was particularly important to Japan. Because of this, initial planning for the second phase of operations embarked as early as January 1942.

Because of strategic disagreements between the Imperial Army and Imperial Navy, and opposing between the Navy’s GHQ and Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s Combined Fleet, a follow-up strategy was not formed until April 1942. Admiral Yamamoto finally won the bureaucratic struggle with a thinly veiled threat to quit, after which his plan for the Central Pacific campaign was adopted.

Yamamoto’s primary tactical objective was the elimination of America’s carrier fleet, which he regarded as the principal threat to the overall Pacific campaign. This concern was acutely increased by the Doolittle Raid on April 18, 1942, in which 16 B-2 5 Mitchell bombers flown from USS Hornet bombed targets in Tokyo and various other Japanese municipalities. The attack, while militarily unimportant, was a shock to the Japanese and established the existence of a gap in the security of Japan.

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY U.S. NAVY

This, and other successful hit-and-run raids by American carriers in the South Pacific, showed that they were still a threat, although seemingly reluctant to be drawn into an all-out battle. Yamamoto concluded that another air attack on the main U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor would force all of the American fleet to sail out to fight, including the carriers. However, considering the increased strength of American land-based airpower on the Hawaiian Islands since the December 7th attack, he adjudicated that it was now too risky to attack Pearl Harbor directly.

Instead, Yamamoto selected Midway, a minuscule atoll at the extreme northwest end of the Hawaiian Island series, nearly 1,300 miles 1,100 nautical mile; 2,100 kilometers from Oahu. This meant that Midway was outside the effective range of almost all of the American aircraft stationed on the main Hawaiian islands. The Midway Islands were claimed for the United States in 1859. The coral atoll—consisting of Eastern Island and the larger Sand Island to the west—has a total land area of just 2.4 square miles (6.2 square km). Midway was formally annexed by the U.S. in 1867. Midway was not especially important in the larger scheme of Japan’s plans, but the Japanese calculated that the Americans would consider Midway a vital defensive base of Pearl Harbor and would therefore be compelled to defend it forcefully. Midway Island is a fairly isolated island, so named because it is midway between North America and Asia in the Pacific Ocean. Midway was an incredibly strategic location; the Imperial Japanese Navy planned to use it to secure their sphere of influence in the Pacific theater of the war. The U.S. did consider Midway vital:  In 1940 the U.S. Navy began work on a major air and submarine base there and after the battle, the purpose of the island was to use as a U.S. submarine support area to give submarines coming from Pearl Harbor a place to refuel and re-provision, extending their radius of operations by 1,200 miles (1,900 km ). In addition to serving as a seaplane base, Midway’s airstrips also performed as a forward launch point for strikes on Wake Island.

What we know of as The Battle of Midway wasn’t the first time the Japanese attacked the atoll. Midway in Japanese war planning and it was included in the opening offensive of the Pacific War on December 7–8, 1941. Roughly 12 hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese destroyers Sazanami and Ushio shelled the power plant and seaplane hangar on Sand Island. Lieut. George Cannon, despite being seriously wounded by a Japanese shell, remained at his post to direct one of the island’s defensive batteries. The Japanese ships were forced to retreat, and Lt. Cannon, who died of his wounds, would be the first U.S. Marine to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor during World War II.

Yamamoto’s Plan

Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto’s intention was to destroy the U.S. naval force in the Pacific and to create an impregnable belt of islands to block American advances. Typical of Japanese naval strategy during World War II, Yamamoto’s battle plan for taking Midway was unusually complex, It required the careful and timely coordination of multiple battle groups over hundreds of miles of open sea. His design was also predicated on optimistic intelligence suggesting that USS Enterprise and USS Hornet , were the only carriers available to the U.S. Pacific Fleet. During the Battle of the Coral Sea earlier, USS Lexington had been sunk and USS Yorktown suffered so much damage that the Japanese imagined she very had been lost also. However, following speedy repairs at Pearl Harbor and with work crews still aboard, Yorktown sortied and ultimately played a crucial role in the discovery and eventual destruction of the Japanese fleet carriers at Midway.

Yamamoto planned a three-pronged attack at Midway. First, an air attack on the island launched from four first-line Japanese aircraft carriers, the AkagiKagaHiryu and Soryu, commanded by Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo. Second, an invasion force of ships and soldiers led by Vice Admiral Nobutake Kondo. And finally, once expected U.S. reinforcements from Pearl Harbor arrived, a joint strike by Nagumo’s forces and Yamamoto’s own fleet, which would be waiting 600 miles to the west. Midway, in other words, was a magnet to draw the American forces out.

Yamamoto felt deception would be required to lure the U.S. sail into a trap. To this purpose, he dispersed his forces so that their full might (especially his battleships) would be masked from the Americans before the battle. Critically, Yamamoto’s battleships and cruisers trailed Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo‘s carrier force known as Kidō Butai (“Mobile Force”) by several hundred miles. They were intended to come up and destroy whatever elements of the U.S. fleet might come to Midway’s defense once Nagumo’s carriers had weakened them sufficiently for a World War I type shoot out; this tactic was still doctrine in most major fleets of the time.

What Yamamoto did not know was that the U.S. had broken parts of the prime Japanese naval system by the Americans, divulging many details of his plan to the enemy. His emphasis on dispersal too implied nothing of his formations were in a position to support the others. For example, although Nagumo’s carriers were expected to carry out strikes against Midway and bear the brunt of American counterattacks, the only warships in his carrier force other than the screening power of 12 destroyers were two Kongo -class fast battleships, two heavy cruisers, and one light-footed cruiser. By contrast, Yamamoto and Kondo had between them two light-colored carriers, five battleships, four ponderous cruisers, and two light-headed cruisers , none of which had action at Midway. The light carriers of the trailing force and Yamamoto’s three battleships were unable to keep pace with the carriers of the Kido Butai main attack force. The distance between Yamamoto and Kondo’s forces and Nagumo’s carriers had grave implications during the battle: the precious patrol capability of the scout planes carried by the cruisers and carriers, as well as the additional antiaircraft capability of the cruisers and the other two battleships of the Kongo -class in the trailing obliges, was unavailable to Nagumo.

U.S. Code-breaking

Admiral Nimitz, who had a brilliant mind, courage aplenty, and a surprising sense of humor. had one critical advantage: U.S. cryptanalysts had partially ended the Japanese Navy’s code. With Japan’s fleet so widely dispersed, Yamamoto had to transmit all strategy over the radio. Since early 1942, the U.S. had been deciphering messages stating that there would soon be an operation at objective “AF”. It was at first not known where “AF” was, but Commander Joseph Rochefort and his unit at Station HYPO were able to confirm that it was Midway: Captain Wilfred Holmes designed a sham of telling the base at Midway to broadcast an uncoded radio meaning stating that Midway’s water purification system had broken down. The message was “At the present time we have only enough water for two weeks. Please supply us immediately,” Within 24 hours, the code breakers caught a Japanese message that “AF was short on water”.

Rochefort, was definitely an extraordinary individual. and HYPO was also able to determine the appointment of the attack as either the 4th or 5th of June, As a huge advantage, the Americans entered the battle with a good picture of where, when, and in what concentration the Japanese appears to have been. Nimitz knew that the Japanese had given up their numerical advantage by dividing their ships into four separate task groups, extremely widely apart to be able to support each other. This dispersal was instrumental in few fast carries being available to escort the Carrier Striking Force, reducing the number of anti-aircraft handguns protecting the carriers. Nimitz calculated that the aircraft on his three carriers, plus those on Midway Island, put the U.S. roughly on par with Yamamoto’s four carriers, mainly because American carrier air groups were larger than Japanese ones. The Japanese, by differentiate, remained principally unaware of their opponent’s true dispositions even after the clash began

Aleutian Invasion

To obtain support from the Imperial Japanese Army for the Midway operation, the Imperial Japanese Navy agreed to support their invasion of the United States through the Aleutian Islands of Attu and Kiska, part of the organized incorporated Alaska Territory. The Japanese occupied these islands to place the Japanese homeland out of range of U.S. land-based air forces flying from Alaska. The Japanese operations in the Aleutian Islands removed yet more ships that could otherwise have augmented the force striking Midway.


Initial Midway Air Attacks

At about 09:00 on 3 June, Ensign Jack Reid, piloting a PBY from U.S. Navy patrol squadron VP-4 4, spoted Kondo’s Japanese Occupation Force 500 international nautical mile (580 miles; 930 kilometers) to the west-southwest of Midway. He mistakenly reported this group as the Main Force.

Nine B-17s took off from Midway at 12:30 for the first air attack. Three hours later, they found Tanaka’s transport group 570 nautical miles( 660 miles; 1,060 kilometers) to the west. Under a lot of anti-aircraft fire, they dropped their bombs. Although their crews reported hits, none of the bombs actually hit anything and no significant damage was inflicted. Early the following morning, the Japanese oil tanker Akebono Maru sustained the first hit when a torpedo from an attacking PBY struck her around 01:00. This was the only successful air-launched torpedo attack by the U.S. during the entire battle

At 04:30 on June 4th, Nagumo launched his initial attack on Midway itself, it was composed of 36 Aichi D3A dive bomber and 36 Nakajima B5N bomber bombers, escorted by 36 Mitsubishi A6M Zeros. At the same time, he launched his eight scout aircraft Japanese reconnaissance limited, with too few aircraft to adequately cover the huge sea area. As Nagumo’s bombers were taking off, 11 PBY Catalinas were leaving Midway to run their search patterns. At 05:34, a PBY reported sighting two Japanese carriers and another recognized the inbound airstrike 10 minutes later.

Midway’s radar also picked up the enemy, and antiquated interceptors were scrambled. At 06:20, Japanese carrier aircraft bombarded and heavily damaged the U.S. base. Midway-based Marine fighters led by Major Floyd B. Parks, which included six F4Fs and 20 F2As, intercepted the Japanese and suffered heavy loss, though they managed to destroy four B5Ns, as well as a single A6M. Within the first few minutes, two F4Fs and 13 F2As were destroyed, while most of the surviving U.S. airplanes were damage. The American pilots were outnumbered roughly 4-to-1. The Zero was demonstrably superior to both the Buffalo and the Wildcat. American anti-aircraft fire was intense and accurate, destroying three additional Japanese aircraft and damaging many more.

Of the 108 Japanese aircraft involved in this attack, 11 were destroyed( including 3 that ditched ), 14 were heavily damaged, and 29 were damaged to some degree. The initial Japanese assault did not succeed in neutralizing Midway: American planes could still use the airbase to refuel and assault the Japanese assault force, and most of Midway’s land-based defenses were intact. Japanese aviators reported to Nagumo that a second aerial attack on Midway would be necessary if land forces were to go ashore by June.7th.

Admiral Nagumo’s Dilemma

Following Yamamoto’s orders for Operation MI, Admiral Nagumo had held back half of his aircraft in reserve. These comprised two squadrons each of dive bombers and torpedo bombers. The dive bomber were thus far unarmed (although this was standard operating procedure-dive bombers were to be armed on the flight deck). The Torpedo bombers were armed with torpedos should any American warships be located.

At 07:15, Nagumo said his reserve airplanes to be re-armed with contact-fused general-purpose bombs for use against land targets. This was a result of the attacks from Midway, as well as of the morning flight leader’s recommendation of a second strike. Re-arming had is currently underway for about 30 minutes when, at 07:40, the delayed scout airplane from Tone signaled that it had sighted a sizable American naval force to the east, but neglected to describe its composition. Later evidence intimates Nagumo did not receive the sighting report until 08:00.

Nagumo abruptly halted his order to re-arm the bombers with general-purpose bombs and asked that the scout airliner verify the composition of the American force. Another 20-40 minutes elapsed before Tone ‘ s scout finally radioed the fact that there are a single carrier in the American force. This was one of the carriers from Task Force 16. The other carrier was not sighted.

Nagumo was now in a quandary. Rear Admiral Tamon Yamaguchi, conducting Carrier Division 2 (Hiryu and Soryu ), recommended that Nagumo strike immediately with the forces close at hand: 16 Aichi D3A 1 dive bombers on Soryu and 18 on Hiryu , and half of the ready aircraft. Nagumo’s opportunity to make the American ships was now limited by the imminent return of his Midway strike force. The returning strike make needed to land promptly or it would have to ditch into the sea. Because of the constant flight deck activity associated with combat air patrol procedures during the predating hour, the Japanese never had an opportunity to position ( “spot”) their reserve aircrafts on the landing deck for launch.

Japanese carrier doctrine promoted the launch of fully constituted strikes rather than piecemeal attacks. Without confirmation of whether the American force included carriers( not received until 08:20, Nagumo’s reaction was doctrinaire. Likewise, the reaching of another land-based American air strike at 07:53 payed weight to the need to attack the island again. In the end, Nagumo decided to wait for his first strike patrol to land, then propel the modesty, which would by then be properly armed with torpedoes.


The American Attack

There (at the rendezvous ‘Point Luck’), the American carriers would be on the flank of the Kido Butai as it approached. Ironically, it was very near the spot where the Japanese commander of the Red Team during the shipboard War Games at Hashirajima had put them, and where (the games’ chief judge) Rear Admiral Ugaki Matome had insisted they could never be.

The American carriers were divided into two groups: Task Force 16, which included the Enterprise and the Hornet, under Halsey’s replacement, Rear Adm. Raymond Spruance, and Task Force 17, which included the Yorktown, under Rear Adm. Frank Jack Fletcher. 

Fletcher’s carriers had launched their airplanes at 07:00 (with Enterprise and Hornet having completed launching by 07:55, but Yorktown not until 09:08. Even if Nagumo had not followed their carrier attack doctrine, he could not have prevented the launch of the American attack.

The Americans had already launched their carrier aircraft against the Japanese. Fletcher, in overall control aboard Yorktown , and benefiting from PBY sighting reports from the early morning, dictated Spruance to launch against the Japanese as soon as was practical, while initially maintaining Yorktown in reserve in case any other Japanese carriers were found.

Spruance judged that, though the distance was extreme, a strike could succeed and decided to attack. He then left Halsey’s Chief of Staff, Captain Miles Browning, to work out the details and oversee the launch. The carriers had to launch into the wind, so the daybreak southeasterly course would require them to steam away from the Japanese at high speed. Browning, hence, recommended a launch time of 07:00, giving the carriers an hour to close on the Japanese at 25 knots (46 km/ h; 29 mph). This would put them at about 155 nautical miles (287 km; 178 mi) from the Japanese fleet, acquiring it did not change course. The first plane took off from Spruance’s carriers Enterprise and Hornet a few minutes after 07:00. Fletcher, upon completing his own scout flights, followed suit at 08:00 from Yorktown .

Fletcher, together with Yorktown ‘ s commanding officer, Captain Elliott Buckmaster, and their staffs, had acquired the first-hand experience needed in organizing and launching a full strike against an enemy force in the Coral Sea, but there was no time to pass these knowledge on to Enterprise and Hornet. Spruance dictated the aircraft to proceed to target immediately, rather than waste time waiting for the different strike groups to assemble, since eliminating the enemy carriers was the key to the survival of his own task force.

It took Enterprise and Hornet over an hour to launch 117 planes meaning the different groups were scattered. Spruance determined that the need to throw something at the enemy as soon as possible was greater than the need to coordinate the attack by aircraft of different types. Accordingly, American squadrons were propelled piecemeal and proceeded to the target in several different groups. It was accepted that the lack of coordination would diminish the impact of the American attacks and increase their fatalities, but Spruance calculated that this was worthwhile, since keeping the Japanese under aerial attack diminished their ability to launch a counterstrike (Japanese tactics opted fully constituted attacks), and he gambled that he would find Nagumo with his landing deck at their most vulnerable.

American carrier aircraft had difficulty locating the target, despite the positions they had been given. The strike from Hornet, led by Commander Stanhope C. Ring, followed an incorrect heading rather than the one indicated by the contact report. As a result, Air Group Eight’s dive bombers missed the Japanese carriers. Torpedo Squadron 8 (VT-8, from Hornet), led by Lieutenant Commander John C. Waldron, broke formation from Ring and followed the correct heading. The 10 F4Fs from Hornet ran out of fuel and had to ditch.

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY National Archives

Waldron’s squadron sighted the Japanese carriers and began attacking at 09:20, followed at 09:40 by VF-6 from Enterprise , whose Wildcat fighter bodyguards lost contact, operated low on oil, and had to turn back. Without soldier escort, all 15 TBD Devastators of VT-8 were shot down without being able to inflict any shatter. Ensign George H. Gay, Jr . was the only survivor of the 30 aircrews of VT-8. He ended his torpedo attack on the attack aircraft carrier Soryu before he was shot down, but Soryu evaded his torpedo. Meanwhile, VT-6, led by LCDR Eugene E. Lindsey lost nine of its 14 Devastators. and 10 of 12 Devastators from Yorktown ‘ s VT-3 who attacked at 10:10 were shot down with no hits to show for their campaign, thanks in part to the abysmal performance of their poor Mark 13 torpedoes. Midway was the last time the TBD Devastator was used in combat.

The Japanese combat air patrol, flying Mitsubishi A6M 2 Zeros, made short-lived work of the unescorted, slow, under-armed TBDs. A few TBDs managed to make it within range of their targets before dropping their torpedoes–close enough to be able to strafe the opponent carries and force the Japanese carriers to make sharp evasive maneuvers–but all of their torpedos either missed or failed to explode. Remarkably, major Navy and Bureau of Ordnance detectives never questioned why half a dozen torpedoes, dropped so close to the Japanese carriers, made no results.The performance of American torpedoes in the early months of the campaign was obscene, as kill after kill missed by by going directly under the target deeper than it should have or prematurely exploded, or hit the targets sometimes with an audible clang and failed to explode at all.

Despite their failure to score any hits, the American torpedo bombers achieved three important results. First, they kept the Japanese carriers off balance and unable to prepare and launch their own counterstrike. Second, the poor control of the Japanese combat air patrol( CAP) meant that they were out of position for precedeing assaults. Third, many of the Zeros now were low-on ammo and gasoline. The appearance of a third torpedo aircraft strike from the southeast by VT-3 from Yorktown , led by LCDR Lance Edward Massey at 10:00 very quickly forced the majority of the Japanese CAP to the southeast quadrant of the fleet.

By chance, at the same time, VT-3 was sighted by the Japanese, three squadrons of SBDs from Enterprise and Yorktown were approaching from the southwest and northeast. The Yorktown squadron( VB-3) had flown just behind VT-3, but elected to attack from a different course. The two squadrons from Enterprise ( VB-6 and VS-6) were low on gasoline because of the time spent looking for the enemy. Air Group Commander C. Wade McClusky, Jr . decided to continue the search, and by good fortune recognized the wake of the Japanese destroyer Arashi , steaming at full speed to rejoin Nagumo’s carriers after it unsuccessfully depth-charged the U.S. submarine Nautilus , which had unsuccessfully attacked the battleship Kirishima .

McClusky’s decision to continue the search and his sense, in the opinion of Admiral Chester Nimitz, “decided the fate of our carrier task force and our forces at Midway … ” All three American dive-bomber squadrons( VB-6, VS-6, and VB-3) arrived almost simultaneously at the same time, location and altitudes to attack. Most of the Japanese CAP was paying attention to the torpedo aircraft of VT-3 and was out of position; meanwhile, armed Japanese strike force aircraft crowded the hangar decks, gasoline hoses were exposed in different regions of the floors as refueling the activities were hurriedly nearing completion, and the repeated changing of ordnance meant that bombs and torpedoes were stacked in various parts of the hangars, rather than packed safely in the magazines, making the Japanese carriers remarkably vulnerable.

Beginning at 10:22, the two squadrons of Enterprise‘s air group split up with the intention of sending one squadron each to attack Kaga and Akagi . A miscommunication induced both sets of squadrons to dive at Kaga. Recognizing the error, Lieutenant Richard Halsey Best and his two wingmen were able to pull out of their dives and, after judging that Kaga was fatally wounded, moved north to attack the Akagi . Coming under an onslaught of bombs from virtually two full squadrons, Kaga sustained at least four direct hits, which generated heavy damage and started several fires. One of the bombs hit on or right in front of the bridge, killing Captain Jisaku Okada and most of the ship’s major officers.

Lieutenant Clarence E. Dickinson, part of McClusky’s group, commented

“We were coming down in all directions on the port side of the carrier … I recognized her as the Kaga; and she was enormous … The target was utterly satisfying … I saw a bomb hit just behind where I was aiming … I saw the deck rippling and curling back in all directions exposing a great section of the hangar below … I saw [my] 500-pound [230 kg] bomb hit right abreast of the [carrier’s] island. The two 100-pound [45 kg] bombs struck in the forward area of the parked planes”

Several minutes later, Best and his two wingmen dove on Akagi. Mitsuo Fuchida, the Japanese aviator who had led the attack on Pearl Harbor, was on Akagi when it was hit, and described the attack

“A look-out screamed: “Hell-Divers!” I looked up to see three black enemy planes plummeting towards our ship. Some of our machineguns managed to fire a few frantic bursts at them, but it was too late. The plump silhouettes of the American Dauntless dive-bombers quickly grew larger, and then a number of black objects suddenly floated eerily from their wings.”

Although Akagi sustained only one direct hit( almost certainly dropped by Lieutenant Best ), it proved to be a fatal blow: the bomb striked the edge of the mid-ship deck elevator and penetrated to the upper hangar deck, where it exploded among the forearmed and fueled aircraft in the vicinity. Nagumo’s joint chiefs of staff, Ryunosuke Kusaka, recorded “Planes stood tail up, belching livid flames and jet-black smoke, making it impossible to bring the fires under control.” Another bomb exploded underwater very close astern; the resulting geyser bent the flight deck upward “in grotesque configurations” and created major rudder damage.

Simultaneously, Yorktown‘s VB-3, dominated by Max Leslie, headed for Soryu, making at least three hits and inducing major damage. Gasoline ignited, creating an “inferno”, while stacked projectiles and ammo detonated. VT-3 targeted Hiryu , which was hemmed in by Soryu , Kaga , and Akagi , but achieved no hits.

Within minutess, Soryu and Kaga were ablaze from head to tail, as fires spread through the ships. Akagi , having have been hit by merely one bombe, took longer to ignite, but the resulting fires quickly expanded and soon proved impossible to douse; she very was eventually consumed by flames and had to be abandoned. As Nagumo began to grasp the enormity of what had happened, he appears to have gone into a state of collapse. Witness envisioned Nagumo standing near the ship’s compass gazing out at the kindles on his flagship and two other carriers in a trance-like daze. Despite being asked to abandon the ship, Nagumo didn’t move and was reluctant to leave the Akagi , simply croaking,” It’s not time yet .” Nagumo’s joint chiefs of staff, Rear Admiral Ryunosuke Kusaka, was able to persuade him to leave the critically injury Akagi . Nagumo, with a just palpable nod, with weepings in his eyes, agreed to go. At 10:46, Admiral Nagumo transferred his flag to the light cruiser Nagara . All three carriers remained temporarily afloat, as none had suffered damage below the waterline, other than the rudder damage to Akagi caused by the near miss close astern. Despite initial hopes that Akagi could be saved or at least trawled back to Japan, all three carriers were finally abandoned and scuttled.


Japanese Counterattacks

Hiryu , the sole surviving Japanese attack aircraft carrier, took little time in counterattacking. Hiryu ‘ s first affect wave, consisting of 18 D3As and six boxer bodyguards, followed the withdraw American aircraft and assaulted the first carrier they encountered, the Yorktown , hitting her with three bombss, which blew a gapping hole in the flight deck, snuffed out all but one of her boilers, and destroyed one anti-aircraft mount. The damage also made Admiral Fletcher transfer his command staff to the heavy cruiser Astoria . Damage control parties were able to temporarily patch the flight deck and restart several boilers within an hour, allowing her to move off at a speed of 19 knots. (35 km/ h; 22 mph) and enabling her to resume air operations. Yorktown snatched down her yellow dislocation pennant and up extend a brand-new hoist–“My speed 5. “ Captain Buckmaster had his signalmen hoist a huge new (10 feet wide and 15 feet long) American flag from the foremast. Sailors, including Ensign John d’Arc Lorenz, announced it an immense revelation: “For the first time I realized what the flag conveyed: all of us–a million faces–all our effort–a sigh of encouragement.” Thirteen Japanese dive bombers and three escorting fighters were lost in this attack( two escorting planes turned away early after they were damaged attacking some of Enterprise‘s SBDs returning from their attack on the Japanese carriers ).

Approximately one hour later, Hiryu’s second attack wave, consisting of ten B5Ns and six escorting A6Ms, arrived over Yorktown ; the damage repair crew had been so effective that the Japanese pilots said that Yorktown must be a different, undamaged carrier. They attacked, cripple Yorktown with two bombs; she lost all power and developed a 23 -degree list to port. Five torpedo bombers and two soldiers were shot down in the second attack.

News of the two strikes, with the mistaken reports that each had attacked a different American carrier, greatly improved Japanese morale. The few surviving aircraft were all recovered aboard Hiryu . Despite the ponderous losses, the Japanese believed that they could scrape together enough aircraft for one more strike against what they believed to be the only remaining American carrier.

American Counterattack

Late in the afternoon, a Yorktown scout aircraft located Hiryu , stimulating Enterprise to launch a final strike of 24 dive bombers (including six SBDs from VS-6, four SBDs from VB-6, and 14 SBDs from Yorktown’s VB-3 ). Despite Hiryu being defended by a strong cover of more than a dozen Zero fighters, the attack by Enterprise and orphaned Yorktown aircraft launched from Enterprise was successful: four bombs (possibly five) hit Hiryu , leaving her ablaze and unable to operate aircraft. Hornet’s strike, started late because of a communications error, concentrated on the remaining escort ships but failed to score any hits.

After futile struggles at controlling the blaze, most of the crew remaining on Hiryu were evacuated and the remainder of the fleet continued sailing northeast in an attempt to intercept the American carriers. Despite a scuttling attempt by a Japanese destroyer that hit her with a torpedo and then left abruptly, Hiryu stayed afloat for several more hours. She was discovered early the following morning by an aircraft from the escort carrier Hosho, causing hopes she could be saved, or at least towed back to Japan. Soon after being discoverd, Hiryu sank. Rear Admiral Tamon Yamaguchi, together with the ship’s captain, Tomeo Kaku, chose to go down with the ship, costing Japan perhaps its best carrier officer.

As darkness precipitated, both sides took stock and compiled tentative plans for continuing the action. Admiral Fletcher obliged to abandon the dilapidated Yorktown and feeling he could not adequately command from a cruiser, gave operational command to Spruance. Spruance knew the United States had won a major victory, but he was still unsure of what Japanese forces remained and was determined to safeguard both Midway and his carriers. To facilitate his aviators, “whos had” launched at extreme distance that day, he had continued to move closer to Nagumo during night.

Finally, afraid of a possible night encounter with Japanese surface ships, and imagining Yamamoto still intended to invade Midway, based in part on a misleading contact report from the submarine Tambor , Spruance changed course and withdrew towards the east, turning back west again towards the enemy at midnight. For his part, Yamamoto initially decided to continue the engagement and send his remaining surface ships probing eastward for the American carriers. Simultaneously, he separated a cruiser force to attack Midway. The Japanese surface force failed to find the Americans because Spruance had decided to briefly withdraw eastward, and Yamamoto prescribed a general withdrawal to the west. It was fortunate for the U.S. that Spruance did not pursue, for had he come in contact with Yamamoto’s ponderous force, including Yamato , in the dark and considering the Japanese Navy’s superiority in night-attack tactics at the time, there is a very high probability his cruisers would have been overwhelmed and his carriers sunk.

Spruance failed to regain contact with Yamamoto’s forces on 5 June, despite substantial pursuit. Towards the end of the working day, he launched a search-and-destroy mission to seek out any residues of Nagumo’s carrier force. This late afternoon strike narrowly missed identifying Yamamoto’s main body and failed to score any hits on a Japanese destroyer it found. The strike aircrafts returned to the carriers after nightfall, forcing Spruance to ask Enterprise and Hornet to turn on their dawns to aid the landings.

At 02:15 on the evening of June 5/6, Commander John Murphy’s Tambor , lying 90 international nautical mile (170 km; 100 mi) west of Midway, made the second of the submarine force’s two major contributions to the battle’s outcome, although its impact was heavily downplayed by Murphy himself. Sighting various ships, neither Murphy nor his executive officer, Edward Spruance (son of Admiral Spruance), could identify them. Uncertain of whether they were friendly or not and unwilling to approach any closer to verify their origin or category, Murphy decided to send a vague report of “four large ships” to Admiral Robert English, Commander, Submarine Force, Pacific Fleet( COMSUBPAC ). Their respective reports was passed on by English to Nimitz, who then sent it to Spruance. Spruance, a onetime submarine captain, was “understandably furious” at the vagueness of Murphy’s report, as it provided him with little more than suspicion and no concrete information on which to make his preparations. Unaware of the exact location of Yamamoto’s “Main Body” (a prolonged issue since the time PBYs had first sighted the Japanese), Spruance was forced to assume the “four sizable ships” reported by Tambor represented the primary invasion force and so he moved to block it, while remaining 100 international nautical mile (190 km; 120 mi) northeast of Midway.

In reality, the ships sighted by Tambor were the force of four cruisers and two destroyers Yamamoto had sent to besiege Midway. At 02:55, these ships received Yamamoto’s ordering to retire and changed course to comply. At about the same time as this vary, of course, Tambor was sighted and during movements designed to avoid a submarine attack, the ponderous cruisers Mogami and Mikuma collided, inflicting serious damage on Mogami s bow. The less severely damaged Mikuma slow-footed it to 12 knots (22 km/ h; 14 mph) to keep pace. Only at 04:12 did the sky brighten enough for Murphy to be certain the ships were Japanese, by which time staying surfaced was dangerous and he dived to approach for an attack. The attack was unsuccessful and at around 06:00 he eventually reported two westbound Mogami -class cruisers, before diving again and playing no further character in the battle. Limping along on a straight course at 12 knots–roughly one-third their top speed, the Mogami and Mikuma had been almost perfect targets for a submarine attack. As soon as Tambor returned to port, Spruance had Murphy relieved of duty and reassigned to a shore post, quoting his confusing contact report, and poor torpedo shooting during his attack run, and general scarcity of aggression, especially as compared to Nautilus , the oldest of the 12 boats at Midway and the only one which had been successful in getting a torpedo on target (albeit a dud).

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY U.S. NAVY

Over the following two days, several strikes were launched against the stragglers, first from Midway, then from Spruance’s carriers. Mikuma was eventually sunk by Dauntlesses dive bombers, while Mogami survived further severe damage to return home for mends. The destroyers Arashio and Asashio were also attacked and strafed during the last of these attacks. Captain Richard E. Fleming, a U.S. Marine Corps aviator, was killed while executing a glide bomb run on Mikuma and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

Meanwhile, damage control on the Yorktown looked very encouraging, and she was taken in tow by USS Vireo . In the late afternoon of 6 June, the Japanese submarine I-1 68 , which had managed to slip through the cordon of destroyers possibly because of the large amount of debris in the water), sent a salvo of torpedos, two of which struck Yorktown . There were few casualties aboard since most of the crew had already been sent to other ships, but a third torpedo from this salvo hit the destroyer USS Hammann , which had been providing auxiliary power to Yorktown . Hammann broke in two and sank with the loss of 80 lives, mostly because her own depth charges exploded. With further recovery efforts looking hopeless, the remaining repair crews were evacuated from Yorktown .

Throughout the night of June 6th and into the morning of June 7th, Yorktown remained afloat; but by 05:30 on June 7th, eyewitness noted that her list was rapidly increasing to port. Subsequently, the vessel turned over onto her port back, and lay that action, discovering the torpedo hole in her starboard bilge–the result of the submarine attack. Captain Buckmaster’s American flag was still flying. All ships half-masted their flags in homage; all hands who were topside saluted and came to attention, with tears n their eyes. Two patrolling PBYs flew overhead and dipped their wings in a final salute. At 07:01, the ship rolled upside-down and gradually sank, stern first, with her combat flags flying.

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY U.S. NAVY


Japanese and U.S. Casualties At The Battle Of Midway

By the time the combat ended, 3,057 Japanese had died. Casualties aboard the four carriers were: Akagi : 267; Kaga : 811; Hiryu : 392 (including Rear Admiral Tamon Yamaguchi who chose to go down with his ship); Soryu : 711 (including Captain Yanagimoto, who chose to remain on board); a total of 2,181. The cruisers Mikuma (sunk; 700 casualties) and Mogami (damaged; 92) accounted for another 792 deaths.

Also, the destroyers Arashio (bombed; 35) and Asashio (strafed by aircraft; 21) were both damaged during the air attacks which sunk Mikuma and caused further damage to Mogami . Floatplanes were lost from the cruisers Chikuma (3) and Tone (2). Dead aboard the destroyers Tanikaze (11), Arashi (1), Kazagumo (1), and the fleet oiler Akebono Maru (10) made up the remaining 23 casualties.

At the end of the duel, the U.S. lost the carrier Yorktown and a destroyer, Hammann . 307 Americans had been killed, including Major General Clarence L. Tinker, Commander, 7th Air Force, who personally conducted a bomber strike from Hawaii against the receding Japanese ships on June 7th. He was killed when his aircraft crashed near Midway Island.

Aftermath

After winning a clear victory, and as pursuit became too hazardous near Wake, American forces retired. Spruance once again withdrew to the east to refuel his destroyers and rendezvous with the carrier Saratoga, which was ferrying much-needed replacing aircraft. Fletcher transferred his flag to Saratoga on the afternoon of June 8th and resumed command of the carrier force. For the remainder of that day and then June 9th, Fletcher continued to launch search missions from the three carriers to ensure the Japanese were no longer advancing on Midway. Late on June 10th, the decisions was made to leave the area and the American carriers eventually returned to Pearl Harbor.

Historian Samuel E. Morison noted in 1949 that Spruance was subjected to much criticism for not pursuing the retreating Japanese, thus allowing their surface fleet to escape. However, the American air groups had suffered considerable losses, including most of their torpedo bombers. This made it unlikely that they would be effective in an airstrike against the Japanese battleships, even if they had managed to catch them during the daytime.[Also, by this time Spruance’s destroyers were critically low on fuel.

Chūichi Nagumo’s detailed battle report was submitted to the high command on June 15th. It was intended only for the highest echelons in the Japanese Navy and government, and was guarded closely throughout the war. In it, one of the more striking revelations is the comment on the Mobile Force Commander’s (Nagumo’s) estimates: “The enemy is not aware of our plans (we were not discovered until early in the morning of the 5th at the earliest).” In reality, the whole operation had been compromised from the beginning by American code-breaking efforts

The Japanese public and much of the military command structure were kept in the dark about the extent of the defeat: Japanese news announced a major victory. Only Emperor Hirohito and the highest Navy command personnel were accurately informed of the carrier and aviator damages. Hence, even the Imperial Japanese Army continues to consider, for at least a short time, that the fleet was in good condition.

On the return of the Japanese fleet to Hashirajima on June 14th the wounded were immediately transferred to naval hospitals; most were classified as “secret patients”, placed in isolation wards, and quarantined from other patients and their own families to keep this major defeat a mystery. The remaining men were quickly sent to other parts of the fleet and, without being allowed to see family or friends, most were sent to the the South Pacific, where the majority died in battle. None of the flag officers or staff of the Combined Fleet were penalized, with Nagumo being placed in command of the rebuilt carrier force.

As a result of the defeat, new procedures were adopted whereby more Japanese aircraft were refueled and re-armed on the landing deck, rather than in the hangars, and the practice of draining all unused fuel paths was accepted. The brand-new carriers under construction were redesigned to incorporate simply two landing deck elevators and brand-new firefighting equipment. More carrier crew members were trained in damage-control and firefighting skills, although the losses later in the war of Shokaku , Hiyo , and peculiarly Taiho suggest that there were still troubles in this area.

Replacement pilots were pushed through an abridged training regimen to meet the short-term needs of the fleet. This led to a sharp decline in the quality of the aviators created. These inexperienced aviators were fed into front-line forces, while the veterans who remained after Midway and the Solomons expedition were forced to share an increased workload the with few being given a chance to rest in the rear or the home islands. As a consequence, Japanese naval air power as a whole progressively deteriorated during the war while their American adversaries continued to improve.

Turning Point

The Battle of Midway has often been called “the turning point of the Pacific”.It was the Allies ‘ first major naval success against the Japanese, triumphed despite the Japanese Navy having more ships and combat experience than its U.S. counterpart. Had Japan won the battle as decisively as the U.S. did, it might have been able to conquer Midway Island. The ancient Saratoga would therefore be the only American carrier in the Pacific, with no brand-new ones being completed before the end of 1942.

While the U.S. is very likely not have sought peace with Japan as Yamamoto hoped, his country might have rejuvenated Operation FS to invade and occupy Fiji and Samoa; attack Australia, Alaska, and Ceylon; or even attempted to conquer Hawaii.

Although the Japanese continued to try to secure more territory, and the U.S. did not move from a district of naval parity to one of ascendancy until after several more months of hard duel, Midway permitted the Allies to switch to the strategic initiative, paving the road for the landings on Guadalcanal and the lengthened attrition of the Solomon Islands expedition. Midway earmarked this to occur before the first of the new Essex -class fleet carriers became available at the end of 1942. The Guadalcanal Campaign is also regarded by some as a turning point in the Pacific War.

After the engagement, Shokaku and Zuikaku were the only large carriers of the original Pearl Harbor strike force still afloat. Of Japan’s other carriers, Taiho, which was not commissioned until early 1944, would be the only fleet carrier worth teaming with Shokaku and Zuikaku; Ryujo and Zuiho were light carriers, while Jun’yo and Hiyo , although technically classified as fleet carriers, were second-rate ships of comparatively low effectiveness. In the time it made Japan to build three carriers, the U.S. Navy commissioned more than two dozen fleet and light fleet carriers, and innumerable escort carriers. By 1942 the United Government was already three years into a shipbuilding program mandated by the Second Vinson Act of 1938.

Midway showed the worth of pre-war naval cryptanalysis and intelligence-gathering. These attempts continued through the war. One of the major achievmnets for instance, cryptanalysis were responsible for the shooting down of Admiral Yamamoto’s airplane in 1943.

The Battle of Midway redefined the central importance of air superiority for the remainder of the battle when the Japanese unexpectedly lost their four main aircraft carriers and were forced to return home. Without any form of air superiority, the Japanese never again propelled a major offensive in the Pacific.

The official U.S. Navy combat narrative of the battle characterized Midway as “a victory of intelligence,” and this was certainly the case. From the breaking of the Japanese naval code to the execution of a clever scheme to confirm that Midway was to be the target of the Japanese attack, American cryptanalysts played a major role at Midway. Intelligence alone did not win the battle, however. Both Fletcher and Spruance employed sound carrier tactics, and Fletcher’s decision to cede operational control to Spruance during the battle ensured that the American command structure would not be disrupted at a key point of the battle.

What if Japan won Battle of Midway?


The Japanese plan appears to have been to follow Midway with an assault on islands in the South Pacific. They would have faced light opposition in the islands and no naval threat. They would have taken islands, improved airfields and framed overlapping areas of air power that would have prevented merchant shipping from entering. The flow of U.S. troops and supplies to Australia would have dried up to a trickle. This would have meant that the U.S. has not been able to have taken Guadalcanal and New Guinea until much later. It also would have given Japan much more time to consolidate a defensive line, for example, from Samoa to Midway to the Aleutians, which was also part of Japan’s Midway strategy.

Australia would have had to withdraw its forces from North Africa. Troops that helped win the Battle of El Alamein. A British defeat there could have allowed the Germans to capture the Suez Canal and possibly the Mediterranean. Had the Australians withdrawn it is altogether possible that the British still would have won at El Alamein, but it would have been substantially less likely than with the Australians there.

The United States, lacking a sufficient carrier force, would not have been able to launch a Pacific offensive until mid-1943, and that offensive would have had to be focused on the South Pacific rather than the Gilberts, Marianas and Marshalls.

Submarines would have had to launch from Pearl Harbor rather than Midway, which is 1,300 miles (2,100 kilometers) further. Japanese submarines could have used Midway as a base and slowed the flow of supplies to Hawaii. Possibly making Hawaii as a naval base untenable.

The Japanese were unlikely to invade Hawaii, given that all operations there would take place within the range of U.S. ground based air power. If Hawaii ceased to be an effective base, then the Japanese would predominate the Western Pacific. They would have had options to strike the Western coast, and certainly to make their forces in the Aleutians stronger which would have given the Allies another front to really worry about and contend with.

The outcome of the war may not have changed but the length of the war might have as it would have taken a longer amount of time to gain bomber bases to attack Japan and to be able to launch the atomic bomb.

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Best Movies About The Battle Of Midway

  1. Midway (1976) Starring Charlton Heston and Henry Fonda
  2. The Battle of Midway John Ford
  3. Midway 2019 Starring Ed Skrein
  4. National Geographic Battle of Midway Peter Coyote
  5. Dauntlass The Battle of Midway C. Thomas Howell, Judd Nelson

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Anna Waldherr

    Like you, I find WWII riveting — perhaps b/c the conflict between good and evil seemed so clear. There is, also, another WWII blog I enjoy called Pacific Paratrooper at https://pacificparatrooper.wordpress.com/.

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