The Battle of Midway, naval battle of the Pacific Campaign of World War II

The Battle of Midway,

naval battle of the Pacific Campaign of World War II


Midway Atoll (also called Midway Island and Midway Islands, pronounced /ˈmɪdweɪ/HawaiianPihemanu KauihelaniJapanese: ミッドウェー島[1]) is a 2.4-square-mile (6.2-km²) atoll in the North Pacific Ocean, near the northwestern end of the Hawaiian archipelago, about a third of the way between Honolulu, Hawaii, and TokyoJapan. Uniquely among the Hawaiian islands, Midway observes UTC-11 (also known as Samoa Time), eleven hours behind Coordinated Universal Time and one hour behind the state of Hawaiʻi. Midway Atoll is an unorganizedunincorporated territory of the United States, and the former home of the Midway Naval Air Station (former ICAO PMDY). It is less than 140 nautical miles (259 km; 161 mi) east of the International Date Line, about 2,800 nautical miles (5,200 km; 3,200 mi) west of San Francisco, and 2,200 nautical miles (4,100 km; 2,500 mi) east of Tokyo. It consists of a ring-shaped barrier reef and several sand islets. The two significant pieces of land, Sand Island and Eastern Island, are habitat for millions of seabirds. The island sizes are shown here:

Island acres hectares
Sand Island 1,200 486
Eastern Island 334 135
Spit Island 15 6
Midway Atoll 1,540 623
Lagoon 14,800 6,000

Midway Atoll is located at 28°12′N 177°21′W

Orthographic projection centered over Midway.

According to other sources, Sand Island measures 1,250 acres (5.1 km2) in area and the lagoon within the fringing rim of coral reef 9,900 acres (4,000 ha). The atoll, which has a small population (approximately 60 in 2009, but no indigenous inhabitants), is designated an insular area under the authority of the U.S. Department of the Interior. The Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, encompassing 590,991.50 acres (239,165.77 ha)[2] of land and water (mostly water) in the surrounding area, is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). The visitor program reopened in January 2008 and there are facilities for visitors. Travel to the Atoll is possible through organized tour companies or as a FWS volunteer.[3][4] The tours focus on the ecology of Midway and the military history. The economy is derived solely from governmental sources and tourist fees. All food and manufactured goods are imported. The refuge and most of its surrounding area are part of the larger Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

Midway, as its name suggests, lies nearly halfway between North America and Asia, and almost halfway around the world from Greenwich, England. For statistical purposes, Midway is grouped as one of theUnited States Minor Outlying Islands.

Midway was the focus point of the Battle of Midway, one of the most important naval battles of the Pacific Campaign in World War II, fought on June 4–6, 1942. Nearby the islands, the United States Navydefeated a Japanese attack against the Midway Islands, marking a turning-point in the war in the Pacific Theater.

The Battle of Midway (Japanese: ミッドウェー海戦) is widely regarded as the most important naval battle of the Pacific Campaign of World War II. Between 4 and 7 June 1942, approximately one month after theBattle of the Coral Sea and six months after Japan‘s attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States Navy decisively defeated an Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) attack against Midway Atoll, inflicting irreparable damage on the Japanese fleet. Military historian John Keegan has called it “the most stunning and decisive blow in the history of naval warfare.

The Japanese operation, like the earlier attack on Pearl Harbor, aimed to eliminate the United States as a strategic power in the Pacific, thereby giving Japan a free hand in establishing its Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. The Japanese hoped that another demoralizing defeat would force the U.S. to capitulate in the Pacific War.


Battle for Midway: Overall Operations on 4 Jun

The Japanese plan was to lure the United States’ few remaining aircraft carriers into a trap. The Japanese also intended to occupy Midway Atoll as part of an overall plan to extend their defensive perimeter in response to the Doolittle Raid. This operation was considered preparatory for further attacks against Fiji and Samoa.

The plan was handicapped by faulty Japanese assumptions of American reaction and poor initial dispositions. Most significantly, Americancodebreakers were able to determine the date and location of the attack, enabling the forewarned U.S. Navy to set up an ambush of its own. Four Japanese aircraft carriers and a heavy cruiser were sunk in exchange for one American aircraft carrier and a destroyer. After Midway, and the exhausting attrition of the Solomon Islands campaign, Japan’s shipbuilding and pilot training programs were unable to keep pace in replacing their losses while the U.S. steadily increased output in both areas

Battle of Midway
Part of the Pacific Theater of World War II
U.S. Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless dive bombers from theUSS Hornetabout to attack the burning Japanese cruiser Mikumafor the third time on 6 June 1942. 

File:SBDs and Mikuma.jpg

Date 4–7 June 1942
Location Midway Atoll
28°12′N 177°21′WCoordinates28°12′N 177°21′W
Result Decisive American victory
United States  Empire of Japan
Commanders and leaders
Chester W. Nimitz
Frank J. Fletcher
Raymond A. Spruance
Isoroku Yamamoto
Nobutake Kondo
Chūichi Nagumo
Tamon Yamaguchi (KIA)
Ryusaku Yanagimoto(KIA)[nb 1]
3 carriers,
~25 support ships,
233 carrier aircraft,
127 land-based aircraft
4 carriers,
2 battleships,
~15 support ships (heavy and light cruisers, destroyers),
248[1] carrier aircraft, 16 floatplanes
Did not participate in battle:
2 light carriers,
5 battleships,
~41 support ships (Yamamoto “Main Body”, Kondo “Strike Force” plus “Escort” and “Occupation Support Force”)
Casualties and losses
1 carrier sunk,
1 destroyer sunk,
150 aircraft destroyed ,
307 killed
4 carriers sunk,
1 cruiser sunk,
248 carrier aircraft destroyed,
3,057 killed.

Strategic context

Japan had been highly successful in swiftly securing its initial war goals, including the conquest of the PhilippinesMalaya, Singapore, and the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) with its vital resources. As such, preliminary planning for a second phase of operations commenced as early as January 1942. However, because of strategic differences between the Imperial Armyand Imperial Navy, as well as infighting between the Navy’s GHQ andAdmiral Isoroku Yamamoto‘s Combined Fleet,

Isoroku Yamamoto
4 April 1884–18 April 1943 (aged 59)
Isoroku Yamamoto.jpg

Isoroku Yamamoto

Place of birth NagaokaNiigataJapan
Place of death Buin, Papua New Guinea 
Allegiance Japan Empire of Japan
Service/branch  Imperial Japanese Navy
Years of service 1901–1943
Rank Naval Marshal General
Unit Combined Fleet among others
Commands held KitakamiIsuzuAkagi
Naval Air CommandNavy Ministry,Naval Air Command1st Fleet,Combined Fleet1st Battleship Division[1]
Battles/wars Russo-Japanese War
World War II (Battle of Midway)
Awards Grand Cordon of the Supreme Order of the Chrysanthemum (2nd class) (posthumously)
Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun Paulownia Blossoms(1st class)
Grand Cordon of the Order of the Sacred Treasure(1st class)
Order of the Golden Kite (1st class)
Order of the Golden Kite (2nd class)
Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords


Isoroku Yamamoto with United States Secretary of the Navy Curtis D. Wilbur.

Sleeve insignia ofKaigun Taishō (Naval General); the rank Yamamoto held at the time of his death.

File:Yamamoto h63430.jpg

Yamamoto, U.S. file photo

the formulation of effective strategy was hampered, and the follow-up strategy was not finalized until April 1942. Admiral Yamamoto succeeded in winning a bureaucratic struggle, placing his operational concept—further operations in the Central Pacific—ahead of other contending plans. These included operations either directly or indirectly aimed at Australia and into the Indian Ocean. In the end, Yamamoto’s thinly veiled threat to resign unless he got his way carried his agenda forward.

Yamamoto’s primary strategic concern was the elimination of America’s remaining carrier forces, which he perceived as the principal obstacle to the overall Pacific campaign. This concern was acutely heightened by theDoolittle Raid (18 April 1942) in which USAAF B-25 Mitchellslaunched fromUSS Hornet bombed targets in Tokyo and several other Japanese cities.

File:B-25 Mitchell "Sarinah".jpg

North American B-25 Mitchell
Role Medium bomber
Manufacturer North American Aviation
First flight 19 August 1940
Introduction 1941
Retired 1979 (Indonesia)
Primary users United States Army Air Forces
Royal Canadian Air Force
Royal Air Force
Soviet Air Force
Number built 9,984
Developed from XB-21
Developed into North American XB-28

The raid, while militarily insignificant, was a severe psychological shock to the Japanese and showed the existence of a gap in the defenses around the Japanese home islands. Sinking America’s aircraft carriers and seizing Midway, the only strategic islands besides Hawaii in the eastern Pacific, was seen as the only means of nullifying this threat. Yamamoto reasoned an operation against the main carrier base at Pearl Harbor would induce the U.S. to fight. However, given the strength of American land-based air power on Hawaii, he judged the powerful American base could not be attacked directly. Instead, he selected Midway, at the extreme northwest end of the Hawaiian Islandchain, some 1,300 mi (1,100 nmi; 2,100 km) from Oahu. Midway was not especially important in the larger scheme of Japan’s intentions, but the Japanese felt the Americans would consider Midway a vital outpost of Pearl Harbor and would therefore strongly defend it.The U.S. did consider Midway vital; after the battle, establishment of a U.S.submarine base on Midway allowed submarines operating from Pearl Harbor to refuel and reprovision, extending their radius of operations by 1,200 mi (1,900 km). An airstrip on Midway served as a forward staging point for bomber attacks on Wake Island.

Diorama by Norman Bel Geddes, depicting the attack by SBD dive bombers from USS Hornet (CV-8) and USSEnterprise (CV-6) on the Japanese cruisers Mogami andMikuma and two destroyers, on 6 June 1942.
Mikuma, the ship shown trailing oil at the right, was sunk as a result of these attacks.

Yamamoto’s plan

File:Midway Atoll.jpg

Midway Atoll, several months before the battle. Eastern Island (with the airfield) is in the foreground, and the larger Sand Island is in the background to the west.

Typical of Japanese naval planning during World War II, Yamamoto’s battle plan was exceedingly complex. Additionally, his design was predicated on optimistic intelligence suggesting USS Enterpriseand Hornet,

File:USS Hornet (CV-8).jpg

Hornet shortly after completion
Career (United States)
Name: USS Hornet
Operator:  United States Navy
Ordered: 30 March 1939
Builder: Newport News Shipbuilding Company
Laid down: 25 September 1939
Launched: 14 December 1940
Sponsored by: Mrs. Frank Knox
Commissioned: 20 October 1941
Struck: 13 January 1943
Honors and
American Defense Service Medal
with (“A” device);
American Campaign Medal;
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal
with (4 Battle Stars);[1][2]
World War II Victory Medal;
Fate: Sunk in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, 27 October 1942
Notes: Last U.S. fleet carrier lost in action
General characteristics
Class and type: Yorktown-class aircraft carrier
Displacement: As built:20,000 long tons (20,000 t) standard (design),26,507 long tons (26,932 t) (full load), 29,114 long tons (29,581 t) (maximum)
  • As built:770 ft (230 m) (waterline at design draft), 824 ft 9 in (251.38 m) (overall)
  • From 2/42:827 ft 5 in (252.20 m) overall length
Beam: As built:83 ft 3 in (25.37 m) (waterline), 114 ft (35 m) (overall)
Draft: 24 ft 4 in (7.42 m) design, 28 ft (8.5 m) full load
Installed power: 120,000 shp (89,000 kW)
Propulsion: 4 × Parsons geared steam turbines
9 × Babcock & Wilcox boilers
4 × shafts
Speed: 32.52 kn (37.42 mph; 60.23 km/h) (design)
33.84 kn (38.94 mph; 62.67 km/h) (builder’s trials)
Range: 12,500 nmi (14,400 mi; 23,200 km) at 15 kn (17 mph; 28 km/h)
Complement: 2,919 officers and enlisted (wartime)
Armament: As Built:
8 × 5 in (130 mm)/38 cal dual purpose guns
16 × 1.1 in (28 mm)/75 cal anti-aircraft guns (4×4)
24 × .50 in (13 mm) machine guns
From February 1942:
8 × 5 in/38 cal dual purpose guns
16 × 1.1 in (28 mm)/75 cal anti-aircraft guns (4×4)
30 × 20 mm anti-aircraft cannons 

From July 1942:
8 × 5 in (130 mm)/38 cal dual purpose guns
20 × 26 ft 9 in (8.15 m)1.1 in/75 cal
32 × 20 mm anti-aircraft cannons

Armor: As built:*2.5–4 in (6.3–10 cm) belt 

  • 26 ft 9 in (8.15 m)60 lb STS steel protective decks
  • 4 in (10 cm) bulkheads
  • 4 in (10 cm) side
  • 2 in (5.1 cm) top around conning tower
  • 4 in (10 cm) side over steering gear
Aircraft carried: As built: 90 × aircraft
Aviation facilities: 3 × elevators
3 × hydraulic catapults (2 flight deck, 1 hangar deck)

File:Army B-25 (Doolittle Raid).jpg

A B-25 takes off from Hornet.

forming Task Force 16, were the only carriers available to the U.S. Pacific Fleet at the time. At the Battle of the Coral Sea just a month earlier, USS Lexington had been sunk and USS Yorktown damaged severely enough that the Japanese believed it also to have been sunk.

The Japanese were also aware thatUSS Saratoga was undergoing repairs on the West Coast after suffering torpedo damage from a submarine.


File:USS Saratoga CV-3 underway 1942.jpg

Career (United States)
Ordered: 1917 (as battlecruiser)
1922 (as aircraft carrier)
Builder: New York Shipbuilding Corporation
Laid down: 25 September 1920
Launched: 7 April 1925
Commissioned: 16 November 1927
Reclassified: 1 July 1922 battlecruiser to CV
Struck: 15 August 1946
Nickname: Sara MaruSister Sara, Stripe-Stacked Sara
Honors and
American Defense Service Medal (“Fleet” clasp)/American Campaign Medal / Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal (8 battle stars) / World War II Victory Medal
Fate: Sunk by A-bomb test 25 July 1946
General characteristics
Class and type: Lexington-class aircraft carrier
Displacement: Design:
36,000 tons standard
38,746 tons; 53,000 long tons (54,000 t) (1945)
Length: 850 feet (259 m) (waterline)
880 feet (268 m) (overall)
Beam: 105 feet 5.25 inches (32.14 m) (waterline)
106 feet (32.31 m) (overall)
Draft: 24.25 feet (7.39 m) (design)
Propulsion: Design:
16 × boilers at 300 psi (2.1 MPa)
Geared turbines and electric drive
4 × shafts
180,000 shp (130 MW); 213,000 shp (159 MW) reached in service
Speed: 33.25 knots (61.6 km/h) (design); 34.99 knots reached in service[citation needed]
Range: 10,000 nautical miles (19,000 km) at 10 knots (19 km/h)
Complement: 2,122 officers and men
Sensors and
processing systems:
Armament: As built:
4 × twin 8-inch (200 mm) 55 caliber guns
12 × single 5-inch (130 mm) guns
Armor: Belt: 5 to 7 inches (130 to 180 mm)
2 inches (51 mm) protective 3rd deck
3 inches (76 mm) flat to 4.5 inches (110 mm) over steering gear
Aircraft carried: As built:
91 aircraft
2 × elevators
1 × flywheel catapult

The battlecruiser Saratoga under construction, 1921

However, more important was Yamamoto’s belief the Americans had been demoralized by their frequent defeats during the preceding six months. Yamamoto felt deception would be required to lure the U.S. fleet into a fatally compromised situation. To this end, he dispersed his forces so that their full extent (particularly his battleships) would be unlikely to be discovered by the Americans prior to battle. Critically, Yamamoto’s supporting battleships and cruisers would trail Vice-Admiral Nagumo Chūichi‘s carrier striking force by several hundred miles. Japan’s heavy surface forces were intended to destroy whatever part of the U.S. fleet might come to Midway’s relief, once Nagumo’s carriers had weakened them sufficiently for a daylight gun duel;this was typical of the battle doctrine of most major navies.

The burning Japanese heavy cruiser Mikuma, photographed from a U.S. Navy aircraft during the afternoon of 6 June 1942, after she had been bombed by planes from USSEnterprise (CV-6) and USS Hornet (CV-8).
Note her third eight-inch gun turret, with roof blown off and barrels at different elevations, Japanese Sun insignia painted atop the forward turret and wrecked midships superstructure.

Japanese heavy cruiser Mikuma, photographed from a USS Enterprise (CV-6) SBD aircraft during the afternoon of 6 June 1942, after she had been bombed by planes fromEnterprise and USS Hornet (CV-8).
Note her shattered midships structure, torpedo dangling from the after port side tubes and wreckage atop her number four eight-inch gun turret.

Unbeknownst to Yamamoto, the United States had broken the main Japanese naval code (dubbed JN-25 by the Americans). Yamamoto’s emphasis on dispersal also meant that none of his formations could support each other. For instance, the only significant warships larger than destroyers that screened Nagumo’s fleet were two battleships and three cruisers, despite his carriers being expected to carry out the strikes and bear the brunt of American counterattacks. By contrast, the flotillas of Yamamoto and Kondo had between them two light carriers, five battleships, and six cruisers, none of which would see any action at Midway. Their distance from Nagumo’s carriers would also have grave implications during the battle, since the larger warships in Yamamoto and Kondo’s forces carried scout planes, an invaluable reconnaissance capability denied to Nagumo.

Chūichi Nagumo
March 25, 1887 – July 6, 1944 (aged 57)
Chuichi Nagumo.jpg

Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo

Place of birth  Yonezawa, Yamagata Japan
Place of death SaipanNorthern Mariana Islands
Allegiance Japan Empire of Japan
Service/branch  Imperial Japanese Navy
Years of service 1908-1944
Rank Admiral
Unit Kido Butai
Commands held AkiHatsuyukiKirishimaSugi,KisaragiMomiNakaTakao,Yamashiro
11th Destroyer Division, 8th Cruiser Division, 3rd Cruiser Division, Kido Butai, 1st Carrier Division, 1st Air FleetIJN 3rd FleetSasebo Naval DistrictKure Naval DistrictIJN 1st FleetCentral Pacific Area FleetIJN 14th Air Fleet[2]
Battles/wars World War II
Battle of the Eastern Solomons
Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands
Indian Ocean Raid,
Attack on Pearl Harbor
Attack on Darwin
Battle of Midway
Awards Order of the Rising Sun (3rd class)
Order of the Rising Sun (4th class)
Order of the Golden Kite (3rd class)
Grand Cordon of the Order of the Sacred Treasure


Nagumo family in 1943 with Chuichi Nagumo in the middle

Nagumo (left) with his middle school friend (Ichiro Saeki) in Seattle, Washington in 1925

Aleutian invasion

Main article: Aleutian Islands Campaign

Likewise, the Japanese operations in the Aleutian Islands (Operation AL) removed yet more ships that could otherwise have augmented the force striking Midway. Whereas prior historical accounts have often characterized the Aleutians operation as a feint to draw American forces away, recent scholarship on the battle has suggested that AL was supposed to be launched simultaneously with the attack on Midway. However, a one-day delay in the sailing of Nagumo’s task force meant that Operation AL began a day before the Midway attack.

Prelude to battle

American reinforcements

File:G13065 USS Yorktown Pearl Harbor May 1942.jpg

USS Yorktown at Pearl Harbor days before the battle.

To do battle with an enemy force anticipated to muster four or five carriers, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas, needed every available U.S. flight deck.

Chester Nimitz
24 February 1885 – 20 February 1966 (aged 80)
Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz portrait.jpg
Chester Nimitz as Fleet Admiral 

Fleet Admiral Chester William NimitzGCBUSN (24 February 1885 – 20 February 1966) was a five-star admiral in the United States Navy. He held the dual command of Commander in ChiefUnited States Pacific Fleet(“CinCPac” pronounced “sink-pack”), for U.S. naval forces and Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas (CinCPOA), for U.S. and Allied air, land, and sea forces during World War II. He was the leading U.S. Navy authority onsubmarines, as well as Chief of the Navy’s Bureau of Navigation in 1939. He served as Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) from 1945 until 1947. He was the United States’ last surviving Fleet Admiral.

Place of birth Fredericksburg, Texas
Place of death Yerba Buena Island
Resting place Golden Gate National Cemetery San Bruno, California
Allegiance United States United States of America
Service/branch United States Navy Seal United States Navy
Years of service 1905-1947
Rank US-O11 insignia.svg Fleet Admiral
Service number 5572
Commands held USS Chicago (CA-14)
USS Rigel (AR-11)
USS Augusta (CA-31)
Bureau of Navigation
United States Pacific Fleet andPacific Ocean Areas
Chief of Naval Operations
Battles/wars World War I
World War II 

Awards Navy Distinguished Service Medal (4)
Army Distinguished Service Medal
Order of the Bath
Legion of Honor
Other work Regent of the University of California

He already had Vice Admiral William Halsey‘s two-carrier (Enterpriseand Hornet)task force at hand, though Halsey was stricken with shingles and had to be replaced byRear Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, Halsey’s escort commander. Nimitz also hurriedly recalled Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher‘s task force, including the carrier Yorktown(which had suffered considerable damage at Coral Sea), from the South West Pacific Area. It reached Pearl Harbor just in time to provision and sail.

William Frederick Halsey, Jr.
October 30, 1882 – August 20, 1959 (aged 76)
W Halsey.jpg
Nickname “Bull” Halsey
Place of birth Elizabeth, New Jersey
Place of burial Arlington National Cemetery
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch United States Department of the Navy Seal.svg United States Navy
Years of service 1904–1947 (43 Years)
Rank US-O11 insignia.svgFleet Admiral
Commands held USS Shaw
USS Wickes
USS Dale
USS Saratoga
NAS Pensacola
Carrier Division 2
Task Force 16
South Pacific Area
United States Third Fleet
Battles/wars World War I
**First Battle of the Atlantic
World War II
**Pacific War
Awards American Campaign Medal
American Defense Service Medal
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal
Army Distinguished Service Medal
Knight Grand Cross of the British Empire
National Defense Service Medal
Navy Cross
Navy Distinguished Service Medalwith three gold stars
Presidential Unit Citation
World War I Victory Medal
World War II Victory Medal 

and others

Raymond Spruance
July 3, 1886 – December 13, 1969 (aged 83)
Ray Spruance.jpg
Spruance in April 1944
Place of birth Baltimore, Maryland,
United States
Place of death Pebble Beach, California,
United States
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service 1907 – 1948
Rank Admiral
Commands held US Fifth Fleet
US Pacific Fleet
Battles/wars World War II 

Awards Navy Cross
Navy Distinguished Service Medal
Other work Ambassador to the Philippines
Frank Jack Fletcher
April 29, 1885 – April 25, 1973 (aged 87)
Frank Jack Fletcher-g14193.jpg A light blue neck ribbon with a gold star shaped medallion hanging from it. The ribbon is similar in shape to a bowtie with 13 white stars in the center of the ribbon.
Vice Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher, USN Photographed aboardUSS Saratoga (CV-3), September 17, 1942. Official U.S. Navy Photograph
Place of birth Marshaltown, Iowa
Place of death Bethesda, Maryland
Place of burial Arlington National Cemetery
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch United States Department of the Navy Seal.svg United States Navy
Years of service 1906-1947
Rank Admiral
Battles/wars Mexican Revolution
Battle of Veracruz
World War I
Battle of the Atlantic
World War II
Battle of the Coral Sea
Battle of Midway
Guadalcanal campaign
Eastern Solomons
Awards Medal of Honor
Navy Cross
Navy Distinguished Service Medal
Relations Nephew of Frank Friday Fletcher

Despite estimates that Yorktown would require several months of repairs at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, her elevators were intact, and her flight deck largely so. The Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard worked around the clock and in 72 hours, she was restored to a battle-ready state, judged good enough for two or three weeks of operations, as Nimitz required. Her flight deck was patched, whole sections of internal frames cut out and replaced, and several new squadrons were drawn from Saratoga; they did not, however, get time to train.Nimitz disregarded established procedure in getting his third and last available carrier ready for battle. Just three days after putting into dry dock at Pearl Harbor, Yorktown was again under way. Repairs continued even as she sortied, with work crews from the repair ship USS Vestal, herself damaged in the attack on Pearl Harbor six months earlier, still aboard.

On Midway Island, the USAAF stationed four squadrons of B-17 Flying Fortresses, along with several B-26 Marauders. The Marine Corps had 19 SBD Dauntlesses, seven F4F-3 Wildcats, 17 Vought SBU-3 Vindicators, 21 Brewster F2A-3s, and six Grumman TBF-1 Avengers, the latter a detachment of VT-8 from Hornet.

B-17 Flying Fortress

File:Color Photographed B-17E in Flight.jpg

Boeing B-17E
Role Heavy bomber
Strategic bomber
National origin United States
Manufacturer Boeing
First flight 28 July 1935[1]
Introduction April 1938
Retired 1968 (Brazilian Air Force)
Primary users United States Army Air Forces
Royal Air Force
Produced 1936–1945
Number built 12,731[2]
Unit cost US$238,329[3]
Variants XB-38 Flying Fortress
YB-40 Flying Fortress
C-108 Flying Fortress
Developed into Boeing 307 


A U.S. Army Air Forces Martin B-26B-55-MA Marauder (s/n 42-96142). The aircraft was assigned to the 596th Bomb Squadron, 397th Bomb Group,98th Bomb Wing, 9th Bomber Command, 9th Air Force in Europe. “X2-A” was named “Dee Feater” and carries numerous mission markers, and D-Day invasion stripes. The 397th BG was stationed starting 15 April 1944 at Rivenhall, Essex (UK), and moved to Hurn, Hampshire, on 4 August 1944. On 30th August 1944 the Group was relocated to France.

File:B 26.jpg

B-26 Marauder
A US Army Air Forces B-26B with D-Day invasion stripes
Role Medium bomber
National origin United States
Manufacturer Glenn L. Martin Company
First flight 25 November 1940
Introduced 1941
Status Retired
Primary users United States Army Air Forces
United States Army Air Corps
Royal Air Force
South African Air Force
Produced 1941–1945
Number built 5,288[1] [N 1]
Unit cost $102,659.33/B-26A[2]
Developed into XB-33 Super Marauder (Unbuilt)
SBD Dauntless
A-24 Banshee
United States Navy SBD Dauntless
Role Dive bomber
National origin United States
Manufacturer Douglas
Designed by Ed Heinemann
First flight 1 May 1940
Introduced 1940
Retired 1959 (Mexico)
Primary users United States Navy
United States Marine Corps
United States Army Air Forces
Free French Air Force
Produced 1940-1944
Number built 5,936
Developed from Northrop BT

Grumman F4F Wildcat
F4F-3 in non-reflective blue-gray over light gray scheme from early 1942
Role Fighter
National origin United States
Manufacturer Grumman
First flight 2 September 1937
Introduced December 1940
Retired 1945
Primary users United States Navy
United States Marine Corps
Royal Navy
Royal Canadian Air Force
Number built 7,885
SB2U Vindicator
File:Northrop BT-1s.jpg 

SB2Us in flight over Hawaii, c. 1941

Role Dive bomber
Manufacturer Vought
First flight 4 January 1936
Introduced 1937
Retired 1945
Primary users United States Navy
United States Marine Corps
French Navy
Royal Navy
Number built 260
F2A Buffalo
File:Brewster F2A-3 g16055.jpg 

Brewster F2A-3

Role Single seat carrier-based fighter
National origin United States
Manufacturer Brewster Aeronautical Corporation
First flight 2 December 1937
Introduced April 1939
Retired 1948
Status retired
Primary users United States Navy
Finnish Air Force
Royal Air Force
Royal Australian Air Force
Produced 1938–1941
Number built 509

TBF/TBM Avenger

File:Grumman TBF Avenger.jpg

TBF/TBM Avenger


Torpedo bomber
Manufacturer Grumman
General Motors
First flight 7 August 1941
Introduced 1942
Retired 1960s
Status Retired
Primary users United States Navy
Royal Navy
Royal Canadian Navy
Royal New Zealand Air Force
Number built 9,839

Japanese shortcomings


Akagi, the flagship of the Japanese carrier striking force which attacked Pearl Harbor, as well as DarwinRabaul, andColombo, in April 1942 prior to the battle.

Meanwhile, as a result of her participation in the Battle of the Coral Sea, the Japanese carrier Zuikaku was in port in Kure, awaiting a replacement air group. That there were none immediately available was a failure of the IJN crew training program, which already showed signs of being unable to replace losses. Instructors from the Yokosuka Air Corps were employed in an effort to make up the shortfall. The heavily damaged Shōkaku had suffered three bomb hits at Coral Sea, and required months of repair in drydock.

Returns to Pearl Harbor on 14 June 1942, after the Battle of Midway.
She is carrying two Japanese prisoners of war, Chief Radioman Hatsuichi Yoshida and Fireman 3rd Class Kenichi Ishikawa, survivors of the sunken cruiser Mikumawho had been rescued on 9 June.
Among those waiting on the pier are Rear Admiral Robert H. English and Admiral Chester W. Nimitz.
The district ferry Nihoa (YFB-19) is in the left background, just to the right of Trout’s jack.
Two .30 caliber Lewis machineguns are mounted onTrout’s sail, flanking the periscope shears.

Despite the likely availability of sufficient aircraft between the two ships to re-equip Zuikaku with a composite air group, the Japanese made no serious attempt to get her into the forthcoming battle.Consequently, Admiral Nagumo would only have four fleet carriers: Kaga andAkagi forming Carrier Division 1Hiryū and Sōryūas Carrier Division 2. At least part of this was a product of fatigue; Japanese carriers had been constantly on operations since 7 December 1941, including raids on Darwin and Colombo.

The main Japanese strike aircraft to be used were the Aichi D3A1 “Val” dive bomber and the Nakajima B5N2 “Kate”, which was capable of being used either as a torpedo bomberor as a level attack bomber. The main carrier fighter was the fast and highly maneuverableMitsubishi A6M2 Zero. However, the carriers of the Kido Butai were suffering from a shortage of frontline aircraft. For various reasons, production of the “Val” had been drastically reduced, while that of the B5N had been stopped completely. As a consequence, there were none available to replace losses. This also meant that many of the aircraft being used during the June 1942 operations had been operational since late November 1941; although well maintained, they were almost worn out and had become increasingly unreliable. These factors meant that all carriers had fewer than their normal aircraft complement and few spare aircraft.

Japanese strategic scouting arrangements prior to the battle were also in disarray. A picket line of Japanese submarines was late getting into position (partly because of Yamamoto’s haste), which let the American carriers reach their assembly point northeast of Midway (known as “Point Luck”) without being detected. A second attempt at reconnaissance, using four-engine Kawanishi H8K“Emily” flying boatsto scout Pearl Harbor prior to the battle (and thereby detect the absence or presence of the American carriers), part of Operation K, was also thwarted when Japanese submarines assigned to refuel the search aircraft discovered that the intended refueling point — a hitherto deserted bay off French Frigate Shoals — was occupied by American warships (because the Japanese had carried out an identical mission in March). Thus, Japan was deprived of any knowledge concerning the movements of the American carriers immediately before the battle.

Japanese radio intercepts did notice an increase in both American submarine activity and message traffic. This information was in Yamamoto’s hands prior to the battle. However, Japanese plans were not changed; Yamamoto, at sea on Yamato, did not dare inform Nagumo for fear of exposing his position and assumed that Nagumo had received the same signal from Tokyo. Nagumo’s radio antennae, however, were unable to receive such long-wave transmissions, and he was left unaware of any American ship movements.

Allied code-breaking

Admiral Nimitz had one priceless asset: cryptanalysts had broken the JN-25 code. Commander Joseph J. Rochefort and his team at Station Hypo were able to confirm Midway as the target of the impending Japanese strike, to determine the date of the attack as either 4 or 5 June, and to provide Nimitz with a complete IJN order of battle. Japan’s efforts to introduce a new codebook had been delayed, giving HYPO several crucial days; while it was blacked out shortly before the attack began, the important breaks had already been made.

Unloading supplies on Guadalcanal

As a result, the Americans entered the battle with a very good picture of where, when, and in what strength the Japanese would appear. Nimitz was aware, for example, that the vast Japanese numerical superiority had been divided into no less than four task forces. This dispersal resulted in few fast ships being available to escort the Carrier Striking Force, limiting the anti-aircraft gunsprotecting the carriers. Nimitz thus calculated that his three carrier decks, plus Midway Island, to Yamamoto’s four, gave the U.S. rough parity, especially since American carrier air groups were larger than Japanese ones. The Japanese, by contrast, remained almost totally unaware of their opponent’s true strength and dispositions even after the battle began.


Order of battle

Main article: Midway order of battle

Initial air attacks

The first air attack took off at 12:30 on 3 June, consisting of nine B-17s operating from Midway. Three hours later, they found the Japanese transport group 570 nmi (660 mi; 1,060 km) to the west. Under heavy anti-aircraft fire, they dropped their bombs. Though hits were reported, none of the bombs actually landed on target and no significant damage was inflicted. Early the following morning, Japanese oil tanker Akebono Maru sustained the first hit when a torpedo from an attacking PBY flying boat struck her around 01:00.

File:Eastern Island Midway under attack 1942.jpg

Eastern Island under attack.

At 04:30 on 4 June, Nagumo launched his initial attack on Midway itself, consisting of 36 “Val”s and 36 “Kate”s, escorted by 36 Zero. At the same time, he launched combat air patrol (CAP), as well as his eight search aircraft (one from the heavy cruiser Tonelaunched 30 minutes late due to technical difficulties).

Japanese reconnaissance arrangements were flimsy, with too few aircraft to adequately cover the assigned search areas, laboring under poor weather conditions to the northeast and east of the task force. Yamamoto’s faulty dispositions had now become a serious liability.

American radar picked up the enemy at a distance of several miles and interceptors were soon scrambled. Unescorted bombers headed off to attack the Japanese carrier fleet, their fighter escorts remaining behind to defend Midway. At 06:20, Japanese carrier aircraft bombed and heavily damaged the U.S. base. Midway-based Marine fighter pilots, flying obsolescent F4F-3s and obsolete F2A-3s, intercepted the Japanese and suffered heavy losses, though they managed to destroy four “Val”s and at least three Zeros. Most of the U.S. planes were downed in the first few minutes; several were damaged, and only two remained flyable. In all, three F4Fs and 13 F2As were shot down. American anti-aircraft fire was accurate and intense, damaging many Japanese aircraft and claiming one-third of the Japanese planes destroyed.

The initial Japanese attack did not succeed in neutralizing Midway. American bombers could still use the airbase to refuel and attack the Japanese invasion force; another aerial attack would be necessary if troops were to go ashore by 7 June.

Having taken off prior to the Japanese attack, American bombers based on Midway made several attacks on the Japanese carrier fleet. These included six TBFs from Hornet‘s VT-8, their crews on their first combat operation, and four USAAF B-26 Maraudersarmed with torpedoes. The Japanese shrugged off these attacks with almost no losses (as few as two fighters lost), while destroying all but one TBF and two B-26s. One B-26, hit by anti-aircraft fire from Akagi, made no attempt to pull out of its run and narrowly missed crashing directly into the carrier’s bridge. This experience may well have contributed to Nagumo’s determination to launch another attack on Midway, in direct violation of Yamamoto’s order to keep the reserve strike force armed for anti-ship operations.

File:Hiryu f075712.jpg

B-17 attack misses Hiryū; this was taken some time between 08:00–08:30. A Shotaiof three Zeros is lined up near the bridge. This was one of several CAPs (Combat Air Patrols) launched during the day.

Nagumo’s decision

Admiral Nagumo, in accordance with Japanese carrier doctrine at the time, had kept half of his aircraft in reserve. These comprised two squadrons each of dive bombers and torpedo bombers, the latter armed with torpedoes, should any American warships be located.

The dive bombers were, as yet, unarmed. As a result of the attacks from Midway, as well as the morning flight leader’s recommendation of a second strike, at 07:15, Nagumo ordered his reserve planes to be re-armed with contact-fused general purpose bombs for use against land targets. Some sources maintain that this had been underway for about 30 minutes when, at 07:40 the delayed scout plane from Tonesignaled the discovery of a sizable American naval force to the east; however, new evidence suggests Nagumo did not receive the sighting report until 08:00, so the rearming operation actually proceeded for 45 minutes. Nagumo quickly reversed his order and demanded the scout plane ascertain the composition of the American force. Another 40 minutes elapsed before Tone’s scout finally radioed the presence of a single carrier in the American force, TF 16 (the other carrier being missed).

Nagumo was now in a quandary. Rear Admiral Tamon Yamaguchi, leading Carrier Division 2 (Hiryū and Sōryū), recommended Nagumo strike immediately with the forces at hand: 18 Aichi D3A2 dive bombers each on Sōryūand Hiryū, and half the ready cover patrol aircraft.

During the Battle of Midway (June 4, 1942) the Japanese carrier Soryu circles wildly in an attempt to evade American dive bombers, while her Zero fighters (foreground) try vainly to protect her. (This photo is of one of series of dioramas made during WWII in order to provide pictures of important scenes where no cameras had been present.)

Nagumo’s seeming opportunity to hit the American ships,however, was now limited by the fact his Midway strike force would be returning shortly and needing to land promptly or ditch (as is commonly believed). Because of the constant flight deck activity associated with combat air patrol operations during the preceding hour, the Japanese never had an opportunity to “spot” (position) their reserve for launch. The few aircraft on the Japanese flight decks at the time of the attack were either defensive fighters, or (in the case of Sōryū) fighters being spotted to augment the task force defenses. Spotting his flight decks and launching aircraft would have required at least 30–45 minutes. Furthermore, by spotting and launching immediately, Nagumo would be committing some of his reserve to battle without proper anti-ship armament; he had just witnessed how easily unescorted American bombers had been shot down. (In the event, poor discipline saw many of the Japanese bombers ditch their bombs and attempt to dogfight intercepting F4Fs.) Japanese carrier doctrine preferred fully constituted strikes, and without confirmation (until 08:20) of whether the American force included carriers, Nagumo’s reaction was doctrinaire.

In addition, the arrival of another American air strike at 07:53 gave weight to the need to attack the island again. In the end, Nagumo chose to wait for his first strike force to land, then launch the reserve, which would by then be properly armed and ready.

The Japanese carriers and their escorts try evasive maneuvers while under attack by American carrier planes at the Battle of Midway.

In the final analysis, it made no difference; Fletcher’s carriers had launched beginning at 07:00, so the aircraft which would deliver the crushing blow were already on their way. There was nothing Nagumo could do about it. This was the fatal flaw of Yamamoto’s dispositions: they followed strictly traditional battleship doctrine.

Attacks on the Japanese fleet


Ensign George Gay (right), sole survivor of VT-8′s TBD Devastatorsquadron, in front of his aircraft, 4 June 1942.

File:TBDs on USS Enterprise (CV-6) during Battle of Midway.jpg

Devastators of VT-6 aboardUSS Enterprise being prepared for take off during the battle.

Meanwhile, the Americans had already launched their carrier aircraft against the Japanese. Admiral Fletcher, in overall command aboard Yorktown, and benefiting from PBY patrol bomber sighting reports from the early morning, ordered Spruance to launch against the Japanese as soon as was practical, while initially holding Yorktownin reserve should there be any other Japanese carriers discovered. Fletcher’s directions to Spruance were relayed via Nimitz who, unlike Yamamoto, had remained ashore. Spruance gave the order “Launch the attack” at around 06:00 and left Halsey’s Chief of Staff, Captain Miles Browning, to work out the details and oversee the launch. It took until a few minutes after 07:00 before the first plane was able to depart from Spruance’s carriers, Enterprise andHornet. Fletcher, upon completing his own scouting flights, followed suit at 08:00 fromYorktown.

As the Japanese retreat from the Battle of Midway, American carrier planes attack and sink the Japanese cruiser Mogami.

Ironically, Fletcher, Yorktown‘s commanding officer Captain Elliott Buckmaster, and their staffs had acquired first-hand experience in organizing and launching a full strike against an enemy force at Coral Sea, but there was no time to pass these lessons to Enterpriseand Hornet which were tasked with launching the first strike. Spruance gave his second crucial command, to run toward the target quickly, as neutralizing an enemy carrier was the key to their own carriers’ survival. He judged that the need to throw something at the enemy as soon as possible was greater than the need for a coordinated attack among the different types of aircraft (fighters, bombers, torpedo planes). Accordingly, American squadrons were launched piecemeal and proceeded to the target in several different groups. The lack of coordination was expected to diminish the overall impact of the American attacks as well as increasing their casualties.

A Japanese destroyer is bracketed by the crosshairs of a dive-bombing site. A bubble at the bottom of the lens indicates that the plane is not slipping to one side.

However, Spruance calculated that this risk was worth it, since keeping the Japanese under aerial attack hampered their ability to launch a counterstrike (Japanese doctrine preferred fully constituted attacks), and he gambled that he could find Nagumo with his decks at their most vulnerable.

Once supreme in the Pacific, a Japanese B5N Kate torpedo bomber is blown to bits while attempting to attack an American carrier in the Marshall Islands in December 1943. The Kate’s torpedo fell harmlessly into the calm sea.

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 of 263 degrees rather than the 240 heading 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.

Waldron’s squadron sighted the enemy carriers and began attacking at 09:20, followed by Torpedo Squadron 6 (VT-6, from Enterprise) at 09:40. Without fighter escort, all fifteen TBD Devastators of VT-8 were shot down without being able to inflict any damage, with Ensign George H. Gay, Jr. the only survivor. VT-6 met nearly the same fate, with no hits to show for its effort, thanks in part to the abysmal performance of their Mark 13 aircraft torpedoes;senior Navy and BuOrdofficers never questioned why half a dozen torpedoes, released so close to the Japanese carriers, produced no results.

A Japanese torpedo bomber races through a storm of anti-aircraft fire in a bid to hole the (second) USS Yorktown (from which this photo was taken) on April 29, 1944. Gunners on the carrier, which was taking part in a raid on the Japanese naval stronghold at Truk Island, downed the plane seconds later.

The Japanese combat air patrol, flying the much faster Mitsubishi A6M2 “Zeros”, made short work of the unescorted, slow, under-armed TBDs. A few TBDs managed to get within a few ship-lengths range of their targets before dropping their torpedoes, being close enough to be able to strafe the enemy ships and force the Japanese carriers to make sharp evasive maneuvers.

Despite their losses, the American torpedo attacks indirectly achieved three important results. First, they kept the Japanese carriers off balance, with no ability to prepare and launch their own counterstrike. Second, their attacks pulled the Japanese combat air patrol out of position. Third, many of the Zeros ran low on ammunition and fuel. The appearance of a third torpedo plane attack from the southeast by Torpedo Squadron 3 (VT-3) at 10:00 very quickly drew the majority of the Japanese CAP to the southeast quadrant of the fleet. Better discipline, and employment of all the Zeroes aboard, might have enabled Nagumo to succeed.

On June 18, 1944 the U.S. escort carriers defending the landings on Saipan were subjected to numerous Japanese aerial attacks. Here a twin-engined Japanese Irving (J1N1) dives in flames on the USS Coral Sea (CVE-57). It missed.

By chance, at the same time VT-3 was sighted by the Japanese, two squadrons of American SBDs from Enterprise and Yorktown, VB-6 and VB-3 respectively, were approaching the Japanese fleet from the northeast and southwest. They were running low on fuel because of the time spent looking for the enemy. However, squadron commander C. Wade McClusky, Jr. decided to continue the search and by good fortune saw the wake of the Japanese destroyer Arashi. The destroyer was steaming at full speed to rejoin Nagumo’s carrier force after having unsuccessfully depth-charged the U.S. submarine Nautilus, which had earlier unsuccessfully attacked the battleship Kirishima. Some bombers were lost from fuel exhaustion before the attack commenced.

Zuiho under attack – Hit by bombs and torpedoes from U.S. Navy aircraft, the Japanese carrier Zuiho manuevers frantically to escape its attackers. Note the large gun turret painted on the flight deck to make the carrier look like a battleship.

McClusky’s decision to continue the search was credited by Admiral Chester Nimitz, and his judgment “decided the fate of our carrier task force and our forces at Midway…” The American dive-bombers arrived at the perfect time to attack. Armed Japanese strike aircraft filled the hangar decks, fuel hoses snaked across the decks as refueling operations were hastily completed, and the repeated change of ordnance meant bombs and torpedoes were stacked around the hangars, rather than stowed safely in the magazines,making the Japanese carriers extraordinarily vulnerable.

The 64,170 ton Japanese super-battleship Yamato under attack by American Helldiver dive bombers in the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea in October 1944. Despite an intense air attack by American carrier planes, the Yamato received only two bomb hits (both on or near “A” turret). Her sister ship, the Musashi, wasn’t so lucky and was sunk in the same battle.

Enterprise‘s VB-6 air group split up and attacked two targets. Beginning at 10:22, McCluskey and his wingmen scored hits on Kaga, while to the north Akagi was attacked four minutes later by three bombers. Yorktown‘s VB-3 commanded by Max Leslie went forSōryūscoring hits. Simultaneously, VT-3 targeted Hiryū, which was sandwiched between SōryūKaga, and Akagi, but scored no hits. The dive-bombers, within six minutes, left Sōryū and Kaga ablaze. Akagiwas hit by just one bomb, which penetrated to the upper hangar deck and exploded among the armed and fueled aircraft there. One bomb exploded underwater very close astern, the resulting geyser bending the flight deck upward and also causing crucial rudder damage.Sōryūtook three bombs in her hangar deck;Kaga, at least four, possibly five. All three carriers were out of action and were eventually abandoned and scuttled.

Japanese counterattacks

File:USS Yorktown hit-740px.jpg

Yorktown hit by an air-launched torpedo.

Hiryū, the sole surviving Japanese aircraft carrier, wasted little time in counterattacking. The first wave of Japanese dive bombers badly damaged Yorktown with three bomb hits that snuffed out her boilers, immobilizing her, yet her damage control teams patched her up so effectively (in about an hour) that the second wave’s torpedo bombers mistook her for an undamaged carrier. Despite Japanese hopes to even the odds by eliminating two carriers with two strikes, Yorktownabsorbed both Japanese attacks, the second wave mistakenly believing Yorktown had already been sunk and that they were attackingEnterprise. After two torpedo hits, Yorktown lost power and developed a 26° list to port, which put her out of action and forced Admiral Fletcher to move his command staff to the heavy cruiser Astoria. Both carriers of Spruance’s Task Force 16 were undamaged.

News of the two strikes, with the reports that each had sunk an American carrier, greatly improved morale in the Kido Butai. Its few surviving aircraft were all recovered aboard Hiryū, where they were prepared for a strike against what was believed to be the only remaining American carrier.

File:Hiryu burning.jpg

Hiryū, shortly before sinking

Late in the afternoon, a Yorktown scout aircraft located Hiryū, prompting Enterprise to launch a final strike of dive bombers (including 10 bombers from Yorktown). This delivered a killing blow, leaving Hiryūablaze, despite being defended by a strong cover of more than a dozen Zero fighters. Rear Admiral Yamaguchi chose to go down with his ship when she sank on 5 June, costing Japan perhaps her best carrier sailor. Hornet‘s strike, launching late because of a communications error, concentrated on the remaining escort ships, but failed to score any hits.

As darkness fell, both sides took stock and made tentative plans for continuing the action. Admiral Fletcher, obliged to abandon derelict Yorktown and feeling he could not adequately command from a cruiser, ceded operational command to Spruance. Spruance knew the United States had won a great victory, but was still unsure of what Japanese forces remained and was determined to safeguard both Midway and his carriers. To aid his aviators, who had launched at extreme range, he had continued to close with Nagumo during the day, and persisted as night fell. Fearing a possible night encounter with Japanese surface forces, Spruance changed course and withdrew to the east, turning back west towards the enemy at midnight.

For his part, Yamamoto initially decided to continue the engagement and sent his remaining surface forces searching eastward for the American carriers. Simultaneously, a cruiser raiding force was detached to bombard the island. The Japanese surface forces failed to make contact with the Americans due to Spruance’s decision to briefly withdraw eastward, and Yamamoto ordered a general retirement to the west.

American search planes failed to detect the retiring Japanese task forces on 5 June. An afternoon strike narrowly missed detecting Yamamoto’s main body and failed to score hits on a straggling Japanese destroyer. The strike planes returned to the carriers after nightfall, prompting Spruance to order Enterprise and Hornet to turn on searchlights in order to aid their landings.

At 02:15 on 5/6 June, Commander John Murphy’s Tambor, lying some 90 nmi (100 mi; 170 km) west of Midway, made the second of the Submarine Force’s two major contributions to the battle’s outcome. Sighting several ships, he (along with his exec, Ray Spruance, Jr.) could not identify them (and feared they might be friendly, so he held fire), but reported their presence, omitting their course. This went to Admiral Robert English, Commander, Submarine Force, Pacific Fleet (COMSUBPAC), and from him through Nimitz to the senior Spruance. Unaware of the exact location of Yamamoto’s “Main Body” (a persistent problem since PBYs had first sighted the Japanese), Spruance presumed this was the invasion force. Thus, he moved to block it, taking station some 100 nmi (120 mi; 190 km) northeast of Midway; this frustrated Yamamoto’s efforts, and the night passed without any contact between the opposing forces.

Actually, this was Yamamoto’s bombardment group of four cruisers and two destroyers, which at 02:55 was ordered to retire west with the rest of his force. Tambor was sighted around the same time; turning to avoid her, Mogami and Mikuma collided, inflicting serious damage to Mogami‘s bow, the most any of the 18 submarines deployed for the battle achieved. Only at 04:12 did the sky brighten enough for Murphy to be certain the ships were Japanese, by which time staying surfaced was a hazard, and he dived to approach for an attack. This was unsuccessful, and at around 06:00, he finally reported two Mogami-class cruisers, westbound, placing Spruance at least 100 nmi (120 mi; 190 km) out of position. It may have been fortunate Spruance did not pursue, for had he come in contact with Yamamoto’s heavy ships, including Yamato, in the dark, his cruisers would have been overwhelmed, and his carriers helpless. (At that time, only Britain’s Fleet Air Arm was capable of night carrier operations.)

Over the following two days, first Midway and then Spruance’s carriers launched several successive strikes against the stragglers.Mikuma was eventually sunk by Dauntlesses, while Mogami survived severe damage to return home for repairs. Captain Richard E. Fleming, a U.S. Marine Corps aviator, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his attack on Mikuma. Another Marine aviator, Major Lofton Henderson, killed while leading his squadron into action against the Japanese carriers and becoming the first Marine aviator to perish during the battle, was also honored, by having the airfield at Guadalcanal named after him in August 1942.

Meanwhile, salvage efforts on Yorktown were encouraging and she was taken in tow by USS Vireo, until late afternoon on 6 June when Yorktown was struck by two torpedoes from I-168. There were few casualties aboard Yorktown, since most of the crew had already been evacuated, but a third torpedo from this salvo also struck and sank the destroyer USS Hammann, which had been providing auxiliary power to YorktownHammann broke in two with the loss of 80 lives, most due to her own depth charges exploding.Yorktown lingered until just after 05:00 on 7 June.


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A rescued airman on Midway.

By the time the battle ended, 3,057 Japanese had died. The four carriers sunk and their casualties were: Akagi: 267; Kaga: 811; Hiryu: 392; Soryu: 711; a combined total of 2,181. The heavy cruisers Mikuma(sunk): 700; and Mogami (badly damaged): 92; between them took a total of 792 casualties.

In addition, the destroyers Arashio (bombed): 35; and Asashio (strafed by aircraft): 21; were both attacked while escorting the damaged heavy cruisers. 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; make up the remaining 23 casualties.


After winning a clear victory, and as pursuit became too hazardous near Wake, American forces retired. Historian Samuel E. Morison wrote in 1949 that Spruance was subjected to much criticism for not pursuing the retreating Japanese, and allowing the retreating Japanese surface fleet to escape. Clay Blair argued in 1975 that had Spruance pressed on, he would have been unable to launch his aircraft after nightfall, and his cruiser escorts would have been overwhelmed by Yamamoto’s larger and more powerful surface units, including Yamato. And with his torpedo bombers lost it is doubtful that his aircraft would have been effective against battleships.

On 10 June, the Imperial Japanese Navy conveyed to the military liaison conference an incomplete picture of the results of the battle, on the ground the real extent of damage was a military secret not to be entrusted to all members. Japanese news announced a great victory. Only a few such as Emperor Hirohito were accurately informed of the carrier and pilot losses, so Army planners continued to believe (for at least a short time) that the fleet was in good condition.

On the return of the Japanese fleet to Hashirajima on 14 June 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 prevent the secret of this major defeat from getting out to the general populace. The remaining officers and men were quickly dispersed to other units of the fleet and, with no chance to see family or friends, were shipped to units in the South Pacific where the majority died. By contrast none of the flag officers or staff of the Combined Fleet were penalized, with Nagumo being placed in command of the new carrier force.

The Japanese Navy did learn some lessons from Midway: new procedures were adopted whereby more aircraft were refueled and re-armed on the flight deck, rather than in the hangars, and the practice of draining all unused fuel lines was adopted. The new carriers being built were redesigned to incorporate only two flight deck elevators and new firefighting equipment. More carrier crew members were trained in damage-control and firefighting techniques, although the losses later in the war of ShōkakuHiyō and Taihō showed that there were still problems in this area. Replacement pilots went through an abbreviated training regimen, meeting the short-term needs of the fleet; however, this led to a decline in the quality of training. These inexperienced pilots were fed into front-line units, while the veterans who remained after Midway and the Solomons campaign were forced to share an increased workload in increasingly desperate conditions, with few being given a chance to rest in rear areas or in the home islands. As a result, Japanese naval air groups progressively declined in overall quality during the war.

Allegations of war crimes

Three U.S. airmen, Ensign Wesley Osmus (pilot, Yorktown), Ensign Frank O’Flaherty (pilot, Enterprise) and Aviation Machinist’s MateB. F. (or B. P.) Gaido (radioman-gunner of O’Flaherty’s SBD) were captured by the Japanese during the battle. Osmus was held on the destroyer Arashi, with O’Flaherty and Gaido on the cruiser Nagara (or destroyer Makigumo, sources vary), and it is alleged they were later killed.[107] The report filed by Admiral Nagumo states of Ensign Osmus, “He died on 6 June and was buried at sea”. Nagumo recorded obtaining seven items of information, including the enemy’s strength, but did not mention the death of O’Flaherty or Gaido. O’Flaherty and Gaido were tied to five-gallon kerosene cans filled with water and dumped overboard at unknown date several days or more after the battle.


The battle has often been called “the turning point of the Pacific. However, the Japanese continued to try to advance in the South Pacific, and it was many more months before the U.S. moved from a state of naval parity to one of increasingly clear supremacy.Thus, although Midway was the Allies’ first major victory against the Japanese, it did not change the course of the war in the same sense as Salamis; instead, it was the cumulative attrition of Midway, combined with that of the inconclusive Coral Sea battle, which reduced Japan’s ability to undertake major offensives.[8] Midway also paved the way for the landings on Guadalcanal and the prolonged attrition of the Solomon Islands campaign, which allowed the Allies to take the strategic initiative and swing to the offensive for the rest of the Pacific War.

The battle showed the worth of pre-war naval cryptologic training and efforts. These efforts continued and were expanded throughout the war in both the Pacific and Atlantic theaters. Successes were numerous and significant. For instance, the shooting down of Admiral Yamamoto’s airplane was only possible because of navy cryptanalysis.

Some authors have stated heavy losses in carriers and veteran aircrews at Midway permanently weakened the Imperial Japanese Navy. Parshall and Tully, however, have pointed out that the losses in veteran aircrew, while heavy (110, just under 25% of the aircrew embarked on the four carriers), was not crippling to the Japanese naval air-corps as a whole: the Japanese navy had some 2,000 carrier qualified aircrew at the start of the Pacific war. A few months after Midway, the JNAF sustained similar casualty rates at both the Battle of the Eastern Solomons and Battle of Santa Cruz, and it was these battles, combined with the constant attrition of veterans during the Solomons campaign, which were the catalyst for the sharp downward spiral in operational capability. However, the loss of four large fleet carriers, and over 40% of the carriers’ highly trained aircraft mechanics and technicians, plus the essential flight-deck crews and armorers, and the loss of organizational knowledge embodied by such highly trained crew, were heavy blows to the Japanese carrier fleet. The loss of the carriers meant that only Shōkaku and Zuikakuwere left for offensive actions. Of Japan’s other carriers, Taihō was the only Fleet carrier worth teaming with Shōkaku and Zuikaku, while RyūjōJunyo, and Hiyō, were second-rate ships of comparatively limited effectiveness. By the time of the Battle of the Philippine Sea, while the Japanese had somewhat rebuilt their carrier forces, the planes were largely flown by inexperienced pilots so the carrier fleet was not as potent a striking force as it was before Midway.

In the time it took Japan to build three carriers, the U.S. Navy commissioned more than two dozen fleet and light fleet carriers, and numerous escort carriers. By 1942, the United States was already three years into a shipbuilding program, mandated by theSecond Vinson Act, intended to make the navy larger than Japan’s. The greater part of USN aviators survived the Battle of Midway and subsequent battles of 1942, and combined with growing pilot training programs, the US was able to develop a large number of skilled pilots to complement its material advantages in ships and planes.

Discovery of sunken vessels

File:Sinking of japanese cruiser Mikuma 6 june 1942.jpg

Mikuma shortly before sinking

Because of the extreme depth of the ocean in the area of the battle (more than 17,000 ft (5,200 m)), researching the battlefield has presented extraordinary difficulties. However, on 19 May 1998, Robert Ballard and a team of scientists and Midway veterans (including Japanese participants) located and photographed (artist’s renderingYorktown. The ship was remarkably intact for a vessel that sank in 1942; much of the original equipment and even the original paint scheme were still visible.

Ballard’s subsequent search for the Japanese carriers was ultimately unsuccessful. In September 1999, a joint expedition between Nauticos Corp. and the U.S. Naval Oceanographic Office searched for the Japanese aircraft carriers. Using advanced renavigation techniques in conjunction with the ship’s log of the submarine USS Nautilus, the expedition located a large piece of wreckage, subsequently identified as having come from the upper hangar deck of Kaga. The main wreck, however, has yet to be located.

Other remembrances

Chicago Municipal Airport, important to the war efforts in World War II, was renamed Chicago Midway International Airport (or simply Midway Airport) in 1949 in honor of the battle.

Waldron Field, an outlying training landing strip, at Corpus Christi NASas well Waldron Road leading to the strip, was named in honor of the commander of USS Hornet‘s Torpedo Squadron 8. Yorktown Blvd leading away from the strip was named for the U.S. carrier sunk in the battle.

An escort carrierUSS Midway (CVE-63) was commissioned on 17 August 1943. She was renamed St. Lo on 10 October 1944 to clear the name Midway for a large fleet aircraft carrier, USS Midway (CV-41), commissioned on 10 September 1945 (eight days after the Japanese surrender). The latter ship is now docked in San Diego, California and is in use as the USS Midway Museum.

Battle for Midway: Overall Operations on 4 Jun

Battle for Midway: Overall Operations on 4 Jun

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