On June 4, 1942, one of the most decisive U.S. victories against Japan during World War II begins. In the Battle of Midway, a four-day sea-and-air battle, the outnumbered U.S. Pacific Fleet succeeded in destroying four Japanese aircraft carriers while losing only one of its own, the Yorktown, to the previously invincible Japanese navy.

Battle_of_Midway_Map_from_dean.usma.edu_2015

In six months of offensives prior to Midway, the Japanese had triumphed in lands throughout the Pacific, including Malaysia, Singapore, the Dutch East Indies, the Philippines and numerous island groups. The United States, however, was a growing threat, and Japanese Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto sought to destroy the U.S. Pacific Fleet before it was large enough to outmatch his own.

Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto

Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto

A thousand miles northwest of Honolulu, the strategic island of Midway became the focus of his scheme to smash U.S. resistance to Japan’s imperial designs. Yamamoto’s plan consisted of a feint toward Alaska followed by an invasion of Midway by a Japanese strike force. When the U.S. Pacific Fleet arrived at Midway to respond to the invasion, it would be destroyed by the superior Japanese fleet waiting unseen to the west. If successful, the plan would eliminate the U.S. Pacific Fleet and provide a forward outpost from which the Japanese could eliminate any future American threat in the Central Pacific. U.S. intelligence broke the Japanese naval code, however, and the Americans anticipated the surprise attack.

Largely due to the work of Naval Codebreaker Joe Rochefort the turning point in the Pacific came in June 1942, when the U.S. surprised and defeated the Japanese fleet in the Battle of Midway.

Largely due to the work of Naval Codebreaker Joe Rochefort the turning point in the Pacific came in June 1942, when the U.S. surprised and defeated the Japanese fleet in the Battle of Midway.

In the meantime, 200 miles to the northeast, two U.S. attack fleets caught the Japanese force entirely by surprise and destroyed three heavy Japanese carriers and one heavy cruiser. The only Japanese carrier that initially escaped destruction, the Hiryu, loosed all its aircraft against the American task force and managed to seriously damage the U.S. carrier Yorktown, forcing its abandonment.

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At about 5:00 p.m., dive-bombers from the U.S. carrier Enterprise returned the favor, mortally damaging the Hiryu. It was scuttled the next morning.

When the Battle of Midway ended, Japan had lost four carriers, a cruiser and 292 aircraft, and suffered an estimated 2,500 casualties. The U.S. lost the Yorktown, the destroyer USS Hammann, 145 aircraft and suffered approximately 300 casualties.

BATTLE OF MIDWAY. Japanese heavy cruiser of the Mogami class after being bombed by carrier-based aircraft.

BATTLE OF MIDWAY. Japanese heavy cruiser of the Mogami class after being bombed by carrier-based aircraft.

Japan’s losses hobbled its naval might–bringing Japanese and American sea power to approximate parity–and marked the turning point in the Pacific theater of World War II. In August 1942, the great U.S. counteroffensive began at Guadalcanal and did not cease until Japan’s surrender three years later.

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4 responses

  1. Cat Smith says:

    Looking for CV-6 Enterprise, the most decorated ship of all.

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  2. gpcox says:

    You were on the ball, Maryann, I forgot the Midway map – I tell you, my short-term memory has got MORE holes than swiss cheese! Great job!

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  3. Birgit says:

    This is a great read. I often have trouble to understand all the tactics but you put it in a way that I can understand how it all worked. I loved looking at the map. Amazing to read this knowing tomorrow is the 70th anniversary of D-Day and most of these men are now in the late 80’s and 90’s. That one man who broke the code should be world known

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