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World War II: Battle of Midway - Turning Point in the Pacific

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World War II: Battle of Midway - Turning Point in the Pacific

US Navy SBD Dauntless dive bombers attack the Japanese fleet.

Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval Historical Center
World War II: Battle of Midway - Turning Point in the Pacific

USS Enterprise during the Battle of Midway, June 4, 1942

Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval Historical Center
World War II: Battle of Midway - Turning Point in the Pacific

The Japanese carrier Hiryu burning after the Battle of Midway, June 5, 1942.

Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval Historical Center

Battle of Midway - Summary:

In May 1942, Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto sought to draw the US Pacific Fleet into a battle where he could overwhelm and destroy it. To accomplish this he planned an invasion of Midway Island which would provide a base for attacking Hawaii. Using decrypted Japanese radio intercepts, Admiral Chester Nimitz was able to counter this offensive. On June 4, 1942, US aircraft flying from USS Enterprise, USS Hornet, and USS Yorktown attacked and sunk four Japanese carriers, forcing Yamamoto to withdrawal. The Battle of Midway marked the turning point of World War II in the Pacific.

Commanders at the Battle of Midway:

US Navy

Imperial Japanese Navy

Dates:

The Battle of Midway was predominently fought on June 4, 1942, though operations did continue until June 7.

Battle of Midway - Yamamoto's Plan:

Following the stategic defeat at the Battle of Coral Sea (May 4-8), the commander of the Japanese Combined Fleet, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, devised a plan to draw the remaining ships of the US Pacific Fleet into a battle where they could be destroyed. To accomplish this, he planned to invade the island of Midway, 1,300 miles northwest of Hawaii. A key to Pearl Harbor's defense, Yamamoto knew the Americans would send their remaining aircraft carriers to protect the island. Believing the US to only have two carriers operational, he sailed with four, plus a large fleet of battleships and cruisers.

Battke of Midway - Nimitz's Response:

At Pearl Harbor, Admiral Chester Nimitz was made aware of the impending attack by his team of cryptanalysts led by Lt. Commander Joseph Rochefort. Having successfully broken the Japanese JN-25 naval code, Rochefort was able to provide an outline of the Japanese plan of attack as well as the forces involved. To meet this threat, Nimitz dispatched Rear Admiral Raymond Spruance with the carriers USS Enterprise and USS Hornet to Midway hoping to surprise the Japanese. The carrier USS Yorktown, with Rear Admiral Frank J. Fletcher, followed two days later after damage received at Coral Sea was hastily repaired.

Battle of Midway - Attack on Midway:

At 04:30 on June 4, Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, commanding the Japanese carriers, launched 108 planes to attack Midway Island, as well as seven scout planes to locate the American fleet. Brushing aside the island's small force of fighters, the Japanese planes pounded Midway's installations. While returning to the carriers, the strike leaders recommended a second attack. In reponse, Nagumo ordered his reserve aircraft, which had been armed with torpedoes, to be rearmed with bombs. After this process had commenced, a scout plane from the cruiser Tone reported locating the American fleet.

Battle of Midway - The Americans Arrive:

Upon receiving this news, Nagumo reversed his rearmament order. As a result, the hangar decks of the Japanese carriers were full of bombs, torpedoes, and fuel lines as ground crews scrambled to reequip the aircraft. As Nagumo vacillated, the first of Fletcher's planes arrived over the Japanese fleet. Armed with sighting reports from scout planes, Fletcher had begun launching his aircraft at 07:00. The first squadrons to arrive were the TBD Devastator torpedo bombers from Hornet (VT-8) and Enterprise (VT-6). Attacking at low level, they failed to score a hit and suffered heavy casualties.

Battle of Midway - Dive Bombers Strike the Japanese:

Though VT-8 and VT-6 did not do any damage, their attack, coupled with the late arrival of VT-3, pulled the Japanese combat air patrol out of position, leaving the fleet vulnerable. At 10:22, American SBD Dauntless dive bombers approaching from the southwest and northeast struck the carriers Kaga, Soryu, and Akagi. In less than six minutes they reduced the Japanese ships to burning wrecks. In reponse, the remaining Japanese carrier, Hiryu, launched a counterstrike. Arriving in two waves, its planes twice disabled Yorktown. Later that afternoon, American dive bombers located Hiryu and sank it, completing the victory.

Battle of Midway - Aftermath:

On the night of June 4th, both sides retired to plan their next move. By 02:55, Yamamoto ordered his fleet to return to base. In the following days, American aircraft sunk the cruiser Mikuma, while the Japanese submarine I-168 torpedoed and sank the disabled Yorktown. The defeat at Midway broke the back of the Japanese carrier fleet and resulted in the loss of invaluable air crews. It also marked the end of major Japanese offensive operations as the initiative passed to the Americans. That August, US Marines landed on Guadalcanal and began the long march to Tokyo.

Battle of Midway - Casualties:

US Pacific Fleet Losses

  • 340 killed
  • Aircraft Carrier USS Yorktown
  • Destroyer USS Hammann
  • 145 aircraft

Imperial Japanese Navy Losses

  • 3,057 killed
  • Aircraft Carrier Akagi
  • Aircraft Carrier Kaga
  • Aircraft Carrier Soryu
  • Aircraft Carrier Hiryu
  • Heavy Cruiser Mikuma
  • 228 aircraft

     

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