Battle of Midway

Battle of Midway

Overview
The Battle of Midway is widely regarded as the most important naval battle of the Pacific Campaign
Pacific Theater of Operations
The Pacific Theater of Operations was the World War II area of military activity in the Pacific Ocean and the countries bordering it, a geographic scope that reflected the operational and administrative command structures of the American forces during that period...

 of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. Between 4 and 7 June 1942, approximately one month after the Battle of the Coral Sea
Battle of the Coral Sea
The Battle of the Coral Sea, fought from 4–8 May 1942, was a major naval battle in the Pacific Theater of World War II between the Imperial Japanese Navy and Allied naval and air forces from the United States and Australia. The battle was the first fleet action in which aircraft carriers engaged...

 and six months after Japan
Empire of Japan
The Empire of Japan is the name of the state of Japan that existed from the Meiji Restoration on 3 January 1868 to the enactment of the post-World War II Constitution of...

's attack on Pearl Harbor
Attack on Pearl Harbor
The attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise military strike conducted by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on the morning of December 7, 1941...

, the United States Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

 decisively defeated an Imperial Japanese Navy
Imperial Japanese Navy
The Imperial Japanese Navy was the navy of the Empire of Japan from 1869 until 1947, when it was dissolved following Japan's constitutional renunciation of the use of force as a means of settling international disputes...

 (IJN) attack against Midway Atoll
Midway Atoll
Midway Atoll is a atoll in the North Pacific Ocean, near the northwestern end of the Hawaiian archipelago, about one-third of the way between Honolulu, Hawaii, and Tokyo, Japan. Unique among the Hawaiian islands, Midway observes UTC-11 , eleven hours behind Coordinated Universal Time and one hour...

, inflicting irreparable damage on the Japanese fleet. Military historian John Keegan
John Keegan
Sir John Keegan OBE FRSL is a British military historian, lecturer, writer and journalist. He has published many works on the nature of combat between the 14th and 21st centuries concerning land, air, maritime, and intelligence warfare, as well as the psychology of battle.-Life and career:John...

 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, sought 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
Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere
The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere was a concept created and promulgated during the Shōwa era by the government and military of the Empire of Japan. It represented the desire to create a self-sufficient "bloc of Asian nations led by the Japanese and free of Western powers"...

.
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Encyclopedia
The Battle of Midway is widely regarded as the most important naval battle of the Pacific Campaign
Pacific Theater of Operations
The Pacific Theater of Operations was the World War II area of military activity in the Pacific Ocean and the countries bordering it, a geographic scope that reflected the operational and administrative command structures of the American forces during that period...

 of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. Between 4 and 7 June 1942, approximately one month after the Battle of the Coral Sea
Battle of the Coral Sea
The Battle of the Coral Sea, fought from 4–8 May 1942, was a major naval battle in the Pacific Theater of World War II between the Imperial Japanese Navy and Allied naval and air forces from the United States and Australia. The battle was the first fleet action in which aircraft carriers engaged...

 and six months after Japan
Empire of Japan
The Empire of Japan is the name of the state of Japan that existed from the Meiji Restoration on 3 January 1868 to the enactment of the post-World War II Constitution of...

's attack on Pearl Harbor
Attack on Pearl Harbor
The attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise military strike conducted by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on the morning of December 7, 1941...

, the United States Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

 decisively defeated an Imperial Japanese Navy
Imperial Japanese Navy
The Imperial Japanese Navy was the navy of the Empire of Japan from 1869 until 1947, when it was dissolved following Japan's constitutional renunciation of the use of force as a means of settling international disputes...

 (IJN) attack against Midway Atoll
Midway Atoll
Midway Atoll is a atoll in the North Pacific Ocean, near the northwestern end of the Hawaiian archipelago, about one-third of the way between Honolulu, Hawaii, and Tokyo, Japan. Unique among the Hawaiian islands, Midway observes UTC-11 , eleven hours behind Coordinated Universal Time and one hour...

, inflicting irreparable damage on the Japanese fleet. Military historian John Keegan
John Keegan
Sir John Keegan OBE FRSL is a British military historian, lecturer, writer and journalist. He has published many works on the nature of combat between the 14th and 21st centuries concerning land, air, maritime, and intelligence warfare, as well as the psychology of battle.-Life and career:John...

 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, sought 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
Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere
The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere was a concept created and promulgated during the Shōwa era by the government and military of the Empire of Japan. It represented the desire to create a self-sufficient "bloc of Asian nations led by the Japanese and free of Western powers"...

. The Japanese hoped that another demoralizing defeat would force the U.S. to capitulate in the Pacific War
Pacific War
The Pacific War, also sometimes called the Asia-Pacific War refers broadly to the parts of World War II that took place in the Pacific Ocean, its islands, and in East Asia, then called the Far East...

.

The Japanese plan was to lure the United States' aircraft carrier
Aircraft carrier
An aircraft carrier is a warship designed with a primary mission of deploying and recovering aircraft, acting as a seagoing airbase. Aircraft carriers thus allow a naval force to project air power worldwide without having to depend on local bases for staging aircraft operations...

s into a trap. The Japanese also intended to occupy Midway Atoll
Midway Atoll
Midway Atoll is a atoll in the North Pacific Ocean, near the northwestern end of the Hawaiian archipelago, about one-third of the way between Honolulu, Hawaii, and Tokyo, Japan. Unique among the Hawaiian islands, Midway observes UTC-11 , eleven hours behind Coordinated Universal Time and one hour...

 as part of an overall plan to extend their defensive perimeter in response to the Doolittle Raid
Doolittle Raid
The Doolittle Raid, on 18 April 1942, was the first air raid by the United States to strike the Japanese Home Islands during World War II. By demonstrating that Japan itself was vulnerable to American air attack, it provided a vital morale boost and opportunity for U.S. retaliation after the...

. This operation was also considered preparatory for further attacks against Fiji
Fiji
Fiji , officially the Republic of Fiji , is an island nation in Melanesia in the South Pacific Ocean about northeast of New Zealand's North Island...

 and Samoa
Samoa
Samoa , officially the Independent State of Samoa, formerly known as Western Samoa is a country encompassing the western part of the Samoan Islands in the South Pacific Ocean. It became independent from New Zealand in 1962. The two main islands of Samoa are Upolu and one of the biggest islands in...

.

The plan was handicapped by faulty Japanese assumptions of the American reaction and poor initial dispositions. Most significantly, American codebreakers
Station HYPO
Station HYPO, also known as Fleet Radio Unit Pacific was the United States Navy signals monitoring and cryptographic intelligence unit in Hawaii during World War II. It was one of two major Allied signals intelligence units, called Fleet Radio Units in the Pacific theaters, along with FRUMEL in...

 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
Heavy cruiser
The heavy cruiser was a type of cruiser, a naval warship designed for long range, high speed and an armament of naval guns roughly 203mm calibre . The heavy cruiser can be seen as a lineage of ship design from 1915 until 1945, although the term 'heavy cruiser' only came into formal use in 1930...

 were sunk for a cost of one American aircraft carrier and a destroyer
Destroyer
In naval terminology, a destroyer is a fast and maneuverable yet long-endurance warship intended to escort larger vessels in a fleet, convoy or battle group and defend them against smaller, powerful, short-range attackers. Destroyers, originally called torpedo-boat destroyers in 1892, evolved from...

. After Midway, and the exhausting attrition of the Solomon Islands campaign
Solomon Islands campaign
The Solomon Islands campaign was a major campaign of the Pacific War of World War II. The campaign began with Japanese landings and occupation of several areas in the British Solomon Islands and Bougainville, in the Territory of New Guinea, during the first six months of 1942...

, Japan's shipbuilding and pilot training programs were unable to keep pace in replacing their losses while the U.S. steadily increased its output in both areas.

Strategic context


Japan had attained its initial strategic goals quickly, taking the Philippines
Philippines
The Philippines , officially known as the Republic of the Philippines , is a country in Southeast Asia in the western Pacific Ocean. To its north across the Luzon Strait lies Taiwan. West across the South China Sea sits Vietnam...

, Malaya
British Malaya
British Malaya loosely described a set of states on the Malay Peninsula and the Island of Singapore that were brought under British control between the 18th and the 20th centuries...

, Singapore, and the Dutch East Indies
Dutch East Indies
The Dutch East Indies was a Dutch colony that became modern Indonesia following World War II. It was formed from the nationalised colonies of the Dutch East India Company, which came under the administration of the Netherlands government in 1800....

 (now Indonesia
Indonesia
Indonesia , officially the Republic of Indonesia , is a country in Southeast Asia and Oceania. Indonesia is an archipelago comprising approximately 13,000 islands. It has 33 provinces with over 238 million people, and is the world's fourth most populous country. Indonesia is a republic, with an...

); the latter, with its vital resources, was particularly important to Japan. Because of this, preliminary planning for a second phase of operations commenced as early as January 1942. However, there were strategic disagreements between the Imperial Army
Imperial Japanese Army
-Foundation:During the Meiji Restoration, the military forces loyal to the Emperor were samurai drawn primarily from the loyalist feudal domains of Satsuma and Chōshū...

 and Imperial Navy, and infighting between the Navy's GHQ
Imperial General Headquarters
The as part of the Supreme War Council was established in 1893 to coordinate efforts between the Imperial Japanese Army and Imperial Japanese Navy during wartime...

 and Admiral
Admiral
Admiral is the rank, or part of the name of the ranks, of the highest naval officers. It is usually considered a full admiral and above vice admiral and below admiral of the fleet . It is usually abbreviated to "Adm" or "ADM"...

 Isoroku Yamamoto's Combined Fleet
Combined Fleet
The was the main ocean-going component of the Imperial Japanese Navy. The Combined Fleet was not a standing force, but a temporary force formed for the duration of a conflict or major naval maneuvers from various units normally under separate commands in peacetime....

, such that a follow-up strategy was not formulated until April 1942. Admiral Yamamoto finally succeeded in winning the bureaucratic struggle by using a thinly veiled threat to resign, after which his operational concept of further operations in the Central Pacific was accepted ahead of other competing plans.

Yamamoto's primary strategic goal was the elimination of America's carrier forces, which he perceived as the principal threat to the overall Pacific campaign. This concern was acutely heightened by the Doolittle Raid
Doolittle Raid
The Doolittle Raid, on 18 April 1942, was the first air raid by the United States to strike the Japanese Home Islands during World War II. By demonstrating that Japan itself was vulnerable to American air attack, it provided a vital morale boost and opportunity for U.S. retaliation after the...

 (18 April 1942) in which USAAF
United States Army Air Forces
The United States Army Air Forces was the military aviation arm of the United States of America during and immediately after World War II, and the direct predecessor of the United States Air Force....

 B-25 Mitchell
B-25 Mitchell
The North American B-25 Mitchell was an American twin-engined medium bomber manufactured by North American Aviation. It was used by many Allied air forces, in every theater of World War II, as well as many other air forces after the war ended, and saw service across four decades.The B-25 was named...

s launched from bombed targets in Tokyo and several other Japanese cities. 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. This and other successful "hit and run" raids by American carriers, showed that they were still a threat although, seemingly, reluctant to be drawn into an all-out battle. Yamamoto reasoned that another attack on the main U.S base at Pearl Harbor
Pearl Harbor
Pearl Harbor, known to Hawaiians as Puuloa, is a lagoon harbor on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, west of Honolulu. Much of the harbor and surrounding lands is a United States Navy deep-water naval base. It is also the headquarters of the U.S. Pacific Fleet...

 would induce all of the American fleet out to fight, including the carriers; however, given the strength of American land-based air power on Hawaii, he judged that Pearl Harbor could no longer be attacked directly. Instead, he selected Midway, at the extreme northwest end of the Hawaiian Island
Hawaiian Islands
The Hawaiian Islands are an archipelago of eight major islands, several atolls, numerous smaller islets, and undersea seamounts in the North Pacific Ocean, extending some 1,500 miles from the island of Hawaii in the south to northernmost Kure Atoll...

 chain, some 1300 mi (1,129.7 nmi; 2,092.1 km) from Oahu
Oahu
Oahu or Oahu , known as "The Gathering Place", is the third largest of the Hawaiian Islands and most populous of the islands in the U.S. state of Hawaii. The state capital Honolulu is located on the southeast coast...

. 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
Submarine
A submarine is a watercraft capable of independent operation below the surface of the water. It differs from a submersible, which has more limited underwater capability...

 base on Midway allowed submarines operating from Pearl Harbor to refuel and reprovision, extending their radius of operations by 1200 mi (1,931.2 km). An airstrip on Midway served as a forward staging point for bomber attacks on Wake Island
Wake Island
Wake Island is a coral atoll having a coastline of in the North Pacific Ocean, located about two-thirds of the way from Honolulu west to Guam east. It is an unorganized, unincorporated territory of the United States, administered by the Office of Insular Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior...

.

Yamamoto's plan, Operation Mai


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 and , 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
Battle of the Coral Sea
The Battle of the Coral Sea, fought from 4–8 May 1942, was a major naval battle in the Pacific Theater of World War II between the Imperial Japanese Navy and Allied naval and air forces from the United States and Australia. The battle was the first fleet action in which aircraft carriers engaged...

 just a month earlier, had been sunk and damaged severely enough that the Japanese believed it also to have been sunk. The Japanese were also aware that was undergoing repairs on the West Coast
West Coast of the United States
West Coast or Pacific Coast are terms for the westernmost coastal states of the United States. The term most often refers to the states of California, Oregon, and Washington. Although not part of the contiguous United States, Alaska and Hawaii do border the Pacific Ocean but can't be included in...

 after suffering torpedo
Torpedo
The modern torpedo is a self-propelled missile weapon with an explosive warhead, launched above or below the water surface, propelled underwater towards a target, and designed to detonate either on contact with it or in proximity to it.The term torpedo was originally employed for...

 damage from a submarine.

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 battleship
Battleship
A battleship is a large armored warship with a main battery consisting of heavy caliber guns. Battleships were larger, better armed and armored than cruisers and destroyers. As the largest armed ships in a fleet, battleships were used to attain command of the sea and represented the apex of a...

s) 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
Chuichi Nagumo
was a Japanese admiral in the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II and one time commander of the Kido Butai . He committed suicide during the Battle of Saipan.-Early life:...

'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.

Yamamoto did not know that the U.S. had broken the main Japanese naval code (dubbed JN-25
JN-25
The vulnerability of Japanese naval codes and ciphers was crucial to the conduct of World War II, and had an important influence on foreign relations between Japan and the west in the years leading up to the war as well...

 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, because the larger warships in Yamamoto and Kondo's forces carried scout plane
Scout plane
The term scout plane refers to a type of surveillance aircraft, usually of single-engined, two/three seats, shipborne type, and used for the purpose of discovering an enemy position and directing artillery...

s, an invaluable reconnaissance capability denied to Nagumo.

Aleutian invasion


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.

American reinforcements


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. He already had Vice Admiral
Vice Admiral
Vice admiral is a senior naval rank of a three-star flag officer, which is equivalent to lieutenant general in the other uniformed services. A vice admiral is typically senior to a rear admiral and junior to an admiral...

 William Halsey's two-carrier (Enterprise and Hornet) task force
Task force
A task force is a unit or formation established to work on a single defined task or activity. Originally introduced by the United States Navy, the term has now caught on for general usage and is a standard part of NATO terminology...

 at hand, though Halsey was stricken with psoriasis and had to be replaced by Rear Admiral
Rear Admiral
Rear admiral is a naval commissioned officer rank above that of a commodore and captain, and below that of a vice admiral. It is generally regarded as the lowest of the "admiral" ranks, which are also sometimes referred to as "flag officers" or "flag ranks"...

 Raymond A. Spruance
Raymond A. Spruance
Raymond Ames Spruance was a United States Navy admiral in World War II.Spruance commanded US naval forces during two of the most significant naval battles in the Pacific theater, the Battle of Midway and the Battle of the Philippine Sea...

, Halsey's escort commander. Nimitz also hurriedly recalled Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher
Frank Jack Fletcher
Frank Jack Fletcher was an admiral in the United States Navy during World War II. Fletcher was the operational commander at the pivotal Battles of Coral Sea and of Midway. He was the nephew of Admiral Frank Friday Fletcher.-Early life and early Navy career:Fletcher was born in Marshalltown, Iowa...

's task force, including the carrier (which had suffered considerable damage at Coral Sea), from the South West Pacific Area
South West Pacific Area
South West Pacific Area was the name given to the Allied supreme military command in the South West Pacific Theatre of World War II. It was one of four major Allied commands in the Pacific theatres of World War II, during 1942–45...

. It reached Pearl Harbor just in time to provision and sail.

Despite estimates that Yorktown would require several months of repairs at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard
Puget Sound Naval Shipyard
Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility is a United States Navy shipyard covering 179 acres on Puget Sound at Bremerton, Washington...

, 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 , 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 Marauder
B-26 Marauder
The Martin B-26 Marauder was a World War II twin-engine medium bomber built by the Glenn L. Martin Company. First used in the Pacific Theater in early 1942, it was also used in the Mediterranean Theater and in Western Europe....

s. The Marine Corps had 19 SBD Dauntless
SBD Dauntless
The Douglas SBD Dauntless was a naval dive bomber made by Douglas during World War II. The SBD was the United States Navy's main dive bomber from mid-1940 until late 1943, when it was largely replaced by the SB2C Helldiver...

es, seven F4F-3 Wildcats
F4F Wildcat
The Grumman F4F Wildcat was an American carrier-based fighter aircraft that began service with both the United States Navy and the British Royal Navy in 1940...

, 17 Vought SBU-3 Vindicators
SB2U Vindicator
The Vought SB2U Vindicator was a carrier-based dive bomber developed for the United States Navy in the 1930s, the first monoplane in this role. Obsolescent at the outbreak of World War II, Vindicators still remained in service at the time of the Battle of Midway, but by 1943, all had been withdrawn...

, 21 Brewster F2A-3s, and six Grumman TBF-1 Avengers
TBF Avenger
The Grumman TBF Avenger was a torpedo bomber developed initially for the United States Navy and Marine Corps, and eventually used by several air or naval arms around the world....

, the latter a detachment of VT-8 from Hornet.

Japanese shortcomings


Meanwhile, as a result of her participation in the Battle of the Coral Sea, the Japanese carrier was in port in Kure
Kure, Hiroshima
is a city in Hiroshima prefecture, Japan.As of October 1, 2010, the city has an estimated population of 240,820 and a population density of 681 persons per km². The total area is 353.74 km².- History :...

, 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 had suffered three bomb hits at Coral Sea, and required months of repair in drydock. 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: and forming Carrier Division 1; and as 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
Indian Ocean raid
The Indian Ocean raid was a naval sortie by the Fast Carrier Strike Force of the Imperial Japanese Navy from 31 March-10 April 1942 against Allied shipping and bases in the Indian Ocean. It was an early engagement of the Pacific campaign of World War II...

.

The main Japanese strike aircraft to be used were the Aichi D3A
Aichi D3A
The , Allied reporting name "Val") was a World War II carrier-borne dive bomber of the Imperial Japanese Navy . It was the primary dive bomber in the Imperial Japanese Navy, and participated in almost all actions, including Pearl Harbor....

1 "Val" dive bomber
Dive bomber
A dive bomber is a bomber aircraft that dives directly at its targets in order to provide greater accuracy for the bomb it drops. Diving towards the target reduces the distance the bomb has to fall, which is the primary factor in determining the accuracy of the drop...

 and the Nakajima B5N
Nakajima B5N
|-See also:-References:NotesBibliography* Bridgwater, H.C. and Peter Scott. Combat Colours Number 4: Pearl Harbor and Beyond, December 1941 to May 1942. Luton, Bedfordshire, UK: Guideline Publications, 2001. ISBN 0-9539040-6-7....

2 "Kate", which was capable of being used either as a torpedo bomber
Torpedo bomber
A torpedo bomber is a bomber aircraft designed primarily to attack ships with aerial torpedoes which could also carry out conventional bombings. Torpedo bombers existed almost exclusively prior to and during World War II when they were an important element in many famous battles, notably the...

 or as a level attack bomber. The main carrier fighter was the fast and highly maneuverable Mitsubishi 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 submarine
Submarine
A submarine is a watercraft capable of independent operation below the surface of the water. It differs from a submersible, which has more limited underwater capability...

s 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
Kawanishi H8K
|-See also:-References:NotesBibliography* Bridgeman, Leonard. "The Kawanishi H8K2 “Emily”" Jane’s Fighting Aircraft of World War II. London: Studio, 1946. ISBN 1-85170-493-0....

 "Emily" flying boat
Flying boat
A flying boat is a fixed-winged seaplane with a hull, allowing it to land on water. It differs from a float plane as it uses a purpose-designed fuselage which can float, granting the aircraft buoyancy. Flying boats may be stabilized by under-wing floats or by wing-like projections from the fuselage...

s to scout Pearl Harbor prior to the battle (and thereby detect the absence or presence of the American carriers), part of Operation K
Operation K
was a Japanese naval operation in World War II, intended as a reconnaissance of Pearl Harbor and disruption of repair and salvage operations following the surprise attack on December 7, 1941. It culminated on March 4, 1942, with an unsuccessful attack carried out by two Kawanishi H8K "Emily" flying...

, 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
French Frigate Shoals
The French Frigate Shoals is the largest atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Its name commemorates French explorer Jean-François de La Pérouse, who nearly lost two frigates when attempting to navigate the 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 , 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
JN-25
The vulnerability of Japanese naval codes and ciphers was crucial to the conduct of World War II, and had an important influence on foreign relations between Japan and the west in the years leading up to the war as well...

 code. Since the early spring of 1942, the US had been decoding messages stating that there would soon be an operation at objective "AF." Commander Joseph J. Rochefort and his team at Station Hypo
Station HYPO
Station HYPO, also known as Fleet Radio Unit Pacific was the United States Navy signals monitoring and cryptographic intelligence unit in Hawaii during World War II. It was one of two major Allied signals intelligence units, called Fleet Radio Units in the Pacific theaters, along with FRUMEL in...

 were able to confirm Midway as the target of the impending Japanese strike by having the base at Midway send a false message stating that its water distillation plant had been damaged and that the base needed fresh water. The Japanese saw this and soon started to send messages stating that "AF was short on water." Hypo was also able to determine the date of the attack as either 4 or 5 June, and to provide Nimitz with a complete IJN
Imperial Japanese Navy
The Imperial Japanese Navy was the navy of the Empire of Japan from 1869 until 1947, when it was dissolved following Japan's constitutional renunciation of the use of force as a means of settling international disputes...

 order of battle
Order of battle
In modern use, the order of battle is the identification, command structure, strength, and disposition of personnel, equipment, and units of an armed force participating in field operations. Various abbreviations are in use, including OOB, O/B, or OB, while ORBAT remains the most common in the...

. 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.

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 guns
Anti-aircraft warfare
NATO defines air defence as "all measures designed to nullify or reduce the effectiveness of hostile air action." They include ground and air based weapon systems, associated sensor systems, command and control arrangements and passive measures. It may be to protect naval, ground and air forces...

 protecting 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.

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 (655.9 mi; 1,055.6 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
PBY Catalina
The Consolidated PBY Catalina was an American flying boat of the 1930s and 1940s produced by Consolidated Aircraft. It was one of the most widely used multi-role aircraft of World War II. PBYs served with every branch of the United States Armed Forces and in the air forces and navies of many other...

 flying boat
Flying boat
A flying boat is a fixed-winged seaplane with a hull, allowing it to land on water. It differs from a float plane as it uses a purpose-designed fuselage which can float, granting the aircraft buoyancy. Flying boats may be stabilized by under-wing floats or by wing-like projections from the fuselage...

 struck her around 01:00. This would be the only successful air launched torpedo attack by the U.S. during the entire battle.
At 04:30 on 4 June, Nagumo launched his initial attack on Midway itself, consisting of 36 Vals and 36 Kates, escorted by 36 Zeros. At the same time, he launched combat air patrol
Combat air patrol
Combat air patrol is a type of flying mission for fighter aircraft.A combat air patrol is an aircraft patrol provided over an objective area, over the force protected, over the critical area of a combat zone, or over an air defense area, for the purpose of intercepting and destroying hostile...

 (CAP), as well as his eight search aircraft (one from the heavy cruiser
Heavy cruiser
The heavy cruiser was a type of cruiser, a naval warship designed for long range, high speed and an armament of naval guns roughly 203mm calibre . The heavy cruiser can be seen as a lineage of ship design from 1915 until 1945, although the term 'heavy cruiser' only came into formal use in 1930...

  launched 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
Radar
Radar is an object-detection system which uses radio waves to determine the range, altitude, direction, or speed of objects. It can be used to detect aircraft, ships, spacecraft, guided missiles, motor vehicles, weather formations, and terrain. The radar dish or antenna transmits pulses of radio...

 picked up the enemy at a distance of several miles and interceptors
Interceptor aircraft
An interceptor aircraft is a type of fighter aircraft designed specifically to prevent missions of enemy aircraft, particularly bombers and reconnaissance aircraft. Interceptors generally rely on high speed and powerful armament in order to complete their mission as quickly as possible and set up...

 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
United States Marine Corps Aviation
United States Marine Corps Aviation is the air component of the United States Marine Corps. Marine aviation has a very different mission and operation than its ground counterpart, and thus, has many of its own histories, traditions, terms, and procedures....

 fighter pilots, flying F4F-3 Wildcats and obsolete Brewster F2A-3 Buffalos, 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
TBF Avenger
The Grumman TBF Avenger was a torpedo bomber developed initially for the United States Navy and Marine Corps, and eventually used by several air or naval arms around the world....

 from s VT-8
VT-8
Torpedo Squadron 8 was a United States Navy squadron of World War II torpedo bombers assigned initially to the Air Group operating from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet , until after her loss in October 1942 during the Battle of Santa Cruz Island...

, their crews on their first combat operation, and four USAAF B-26 Marauder
B-26 Marauder
The Martin B-26 Marauder was a World War II twin-engine medium bomber built by the Glenn L. Martin Company. First used in the Pacific Theater in early 1942, it was also used in the Mediterranean Theater and in Western Europe....

s armed 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 , 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.


Nagumo's decision


Admiral Nagumo, in accordance with Japanese carrier doctrine
Military doctrine
Military doctrine is the concise expression of how military forces contribute to campaigns, major operations, battles, and engagements.It is a guide to action, not hard and fast rules. Doctrine provides a common frame of reference across the military...

 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 Tone signaled 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 Tones 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 D3A
Aichi D3A
The , Allied reporting name "Val") was a World War II carrier-borne dive bomber of the Imperial Japanese Navy . It was the primary dive bomber in the Imperial Japanese Navy, and participated in almost all actions, including Pearl Harbor....

2 dive bombers each on Sōryū and Hiryū, and half the ready cover patrol aircraft. Nagumo's seeming opportunity to hit the American ships, however, was now limited by the fact that 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.

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



Meanwhile, the Americans had already launched their carrier aircraft against the Japanese. Admiral Fletcher, in overall command aboard Yorktown, and benefiting from PBY
PBY Catalina
The Consolidated PBY Catalina was an American flying boat of the 1930s and 1940s produced by Consolidated Aircraft. It was one of the most widely used multi-role aircraft of World War II. PBYs served with every branch of the United States Armed Forces and in the air forces and navies of many other...

 patrol bomber sighting reports from the early morning, ordered Spruance to launch against the Japanese as soon as was practical, while initially holding Yorktown in 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
Miles Browning
Miles Rutherford Browning was an officer in the United States Navy in the Atlantic during World War I and in the Pacific during World War II. A pioneer in the development of aircraft carrier combat operations concepts, he is noted for his aggressive aerial warfare tactics as a captain on the ...

, 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 and Hornet. Fletcher, upon completing his own scouting flights, followed suit at 08:00 from Yorktown.

Fletcher, Yorktowns commanding officer Captain Elliott Buckmaster
Elliott Buckmaster
Vice Admiral Elliott Buckmaster was a United States Navy officer, later promoted to flag rank, and naval aviator during World War I and World War II....

, 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 Enterprise and 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. 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.

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
John C. Waldron
John Charles Waldron was a United States Navy aviator who led a squadron of torpedo bombers in World War II...

 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 Devastator
TBD Devastator
The Douglas TBD Devastator was a torpedo bomber of the United States Navy, ordered in 1934, first flying in 1935 and entering service in 1937. At that point, it was the most advanced aircraft flying for the USN and possibly for any navy in the world...

s 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
Mark 13 torpedo
The Bliss-Leavitt Mark 13 torpedo was the U.S. Navy's most common aerial torpedo of World War II. It was designed with unusually squat dimensions for its type: diameter was and length . In the water, the Mark 13 could reach a speed of for up to . The Mark 13 ran slower than the Mark 14 torpedo...

 aircraft torpedoes; senior Navy and BuOrd
Bureau of Ordnance
The Bureau of Ordnance was the U.S. Navy's organization responsible for the procurement, storage, and deployment of all naval ordnance, between the years 1862 and 1959.-History:...

 officers never questioned why half a dozen torpedoes, released so close to the Japanese carriers, produced no results. 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.

By chance, at the same time VT-3 was sighted by the Japanese, three squadrons of American SBDs from Enterprise and Yorktown, VB-6, VS-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 , which had earlier unsuccessfully attacked the battleship . Some bombers were lost from fuel exhaustion before the attack commenced.

McClusky's decision to continue the search was credited by Admiral Chester Nimitz
Chester Nimitz
Fleet Admiral Chester William Nimitz, GCB, USN was a five-star admiral in the United States Navy. He held the dual command of Commander in Chief, United States Pacific Fleet , for U.S. naval forces and Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas , for U.S...

, 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.

Enterprises VB-6 and VS-6 air group split up and attacked two targets. Beginning at 10:22, McClusky and his wingmen scored hits on Kaga, while to the north Akagi was attacked four minutes later by three bombers, led by Lieutenant Commander Richard Halsey Best
Richard Halsey Best
Lieutenant Commander Richard Halsey Best, USN, was a dive-bomber pilot in the United States Navy, during World War II.-Early career :...

. Yorktowns VB-3 commanded by Max Leslie
Max Leslie
Maxwell Franklin Leslie was a naval aviator in the United States Navy during World War II. He is credited with playing a major part in the Battle of Midway....

 went for Sōryū scoring hits. Simultaneously, VT-3 targeted Hiryū, which was sandwiched between Sōryū, Kaga, and Akagi, but scored no hits. The dive-bombers, within six minutes, left Sōryū and Kaga ablaze. Akagi was hit by just one bomb (dropped by LCDR Best), 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. Sōryū took 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
Scuttling
Scuttling is the act of deliberately sinking a ship by allowing water to flow into the hull.This can be achieved in several ways—valves or hatches can be opened to the sea, or holes may be ripped into the hull with brute force or with explosives...

.

Japanese counterattacks


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, Yorktown absorbed both Japanese attacks, the second wave mistakenly believing Yorktown had already been sunk and that they were attacking Enterprise. 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 . 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.
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 Hiryū ablaze, 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. Hornets 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 , lying some 90 nmi (103.6 mi; 166.7 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
ComSubPac
Commander Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet is the principal advisor to the Commander, United States Pacific Fleet for submarine matters. The Pacific Submarine Force includes attack, ballistic missile and auxiliary submarines, submarine tenders, floating submarine docks, deep submergence...

), 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 (115.1 mi; 185.2 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, and collided, inflicting serious damage to Mogamis 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 (115.1 mi; 185.2 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
Fleet Air Arm
The Fleet Air Arm is the branch of the British Royal Navy responsible for the operation of naval aircraft. The Fleet Air Arm currently operates the AgustaWestland Merlin, Westland Sea King and Westland Lynx helicopters...

 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
Richard E. Fleming
Captain Richard E. Fleming was a United States Marine who received the Medal of Honor for his heroism in World War II during the Battle of Midway. Fleming piloted a Vought SB2U Vindicator dive bomber in an attack on the ....

, a U.S. Marine Corps aviator, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor
The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration awarded by the United States government. It is bestowed by the President, in the name of Congress, upon members of the United States Armed Forces who distinguish themselves through "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her...

 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 . 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 , which had been providing auxiliary power to Yorktown. Hammann 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.

Japanese Casualties



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.

Aftermath


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 . 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. Chūichi Nagumo's detailed battle report was submitted to the high command 15 June. 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 till early in the morning of the 5th at the earliest)." The Japanese public were kept in the dark as to the extent of the defeat, as was much of the military command structure. Japanese news announced a great victory. Only Emperor Hirohito
Hirohito
, posthumously in Japan officially called Emperor Shōwa or , was the 124th Emperor of Japan according to the traditional order, reigning from December 25, 1926, until his death in 1989. Although better known outside of Japan by his personal name Hirohito, in Japan he is now referred to...

 and the highest Navy command personnel were accurately informed of the carrier and pilot losses. Subsequently, 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
Hashirajima
is an island in southern Hiroshima Bay of the Inland Sea, Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan. Located 26 kilometers southeast of Iwakuni, it is part of the Kutsuna Islands within the Bōyō Islands group....

 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 later being placed in command of the rebuilt 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 , and 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
Ensign
An ensign is a national flag when used at sea, in vexillology, or a distinguishing token, emblem, or badge, such as a symbol of office in heraldry...

 Wesley Osmus (pilot, Yorktown), Ensign Frank O'Flaherty (pilot, Enterprise) and Aviation Machinist's Mate
Aviation Machinist's Mate
Aviation Machinist's Mate is a United States Navy occupational rating.Aviation Machinist's Mates maintain aircraft engines and their related systems, including the induction, cooling, fuel, oil, compression, combustion, turbine, gas turbine compressor, exhaust and propeller systems; preflight...

 B. 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 Arashi
Japanese destroyer Arashi
Arashi was a of the Imperial Japanese Navy.The Arashi ship played a vital role in World War II by inadvertently guiding US attack planes to the Japanese carrier fleet at the Battle of Midway. It had been separated from the fleet during an attack on the USS Nautilus and was steaming to join them...

, with O'Flaherty and Gaido on the cruiser Nagara (or destroyer Makigumo, sources vary), and it is alleged they were later killed. 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.

Impact


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'
Allies of World War II
The Allies of World War II were the countries that opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War . Former Axis states contributing to the Allied victory are not considered Allied states...

 first major victory against the Japanese, it did not change the course of the war in the same sense as Salamis
Battle of Salamis
The Battle of Salamis was fought between an Alliance of Greek city-states and the Persian Empire in September 480 BCE, in the straits between the mainland and Salamis, an island in the Saronic Gulf near Athens...

; 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. Midway also paved the way for the landings on Guadalcanal
Guadalcanal
Guadalcanal is a tropical island in the South-Western Pacific. The largest island in the Solomons, it was discovered by the Spanish expedition of Alvaro de Mendaña in 1568...

 and the prolonged attrition
Attrition warfare
Attrition warfare is a military strategy in which a belligerent side attempts to win a war by wearing down its enemy to the point of collapse through continuous losses in personnel and matériel....

 of the Solomon Islands campaign
Solomon Islands campaign
The Solomon Islands campaign was a major campaign of the Pacific War of World War II. The campaign began with Japanese landings and occupation of several areas in the British Solomon Islands and Bougainville, in the Territory of New Guinea, during the first six months of 1942...

, which allowed the Allies to take the strategic initiative and swing to the offensive for the rest of the Pacific War
Pacific War
The Pacific War, also sometimes called the Asia-Pacific War refers broadly to the parts of World War II that took place in the Pacific Ocean, its islands, and in East Asia, then called the Far East...

.

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 possible only 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
Battle of the Eastern Solomons
The naval Battle of the Eastern Solomons The naval Battle of the Eastern Solomons The naval Battle of the Eastern Solomons (also known as the Battle of the Stewart Islands and, in Japanese sources, as the , took place on 24–25 August 1942, and was the third carrier battle of the Pacific campaign...

 and Battle of Santa Cruz
Battle of Santa Cruz
The Battle of Santa Cruz may refer to:*1656 Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife during the Anglo-Spanish War in the Canary Islands, Spain...

, 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 and were left for offensive actions. Of Japan's other carriers, was the only Fleet carrier worth teaming with Shōkaku and Zuikaku, while , , and , were second-rate ships of comparatively limited effectiveness. By the time of the Battle of the Philippine Sea
Battle of the Philippine Sea
The Battle of the Philippine Sea was a decisive naval battle of World War II which effectively eliminated the Imperial Japanese Navy's ability to conduct large-scale carrier actions. It took place during the United States' amphibious invasion of the Mariana Islands during the Pacific War...

, 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 the Second Vinson Act
Second Vinson Act
The Second Vinson Act was an Act of Congress, passed in May 1938, which "mandated a 20% increase in strength of the United States Navy". The act was sponsored by Carl Vinson, a Democratic Congressman from Georgia who was...

, 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


Because of the extreme depth of the ocean in the area of the battle (more than 17000 ft (5,181.6 m)), researching the battlefield has presented extraordinary difficulties. However, on 19 May 1998, Robert Ballard
Robert Ballard
Robert Duane Ballard is a former United States Navy officer and a professor of oceanography at the University of Rhode Island who is most noted for his work in underwater archaeology. He is most famous for the discoveries of the wrecks of the RMS Titanic in 1985, the battleship Bismarck in 1989,...

 and a team of scientists and Midway veterans from both sides located and photographed (artist's rendering) Yorktown. 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 NAS as well Waldron Road leading to the strip, was named in honor of the commander of USS Hornet
USS Hornet (CV-8)
USS Hornet CV-8, the seventh ship to carry the name Hornet, was a of the United States Navy. During World War II in the Pacific Theater, she launched the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo and participated in the Battle of Midway and the Buin-Faisi-Tonolai Raid...

's Torpedo Squadron 8. Yorktown Blvd leading away from the strip was named for the U.S. carrier sunk in the battle.

An escort carrier, USS Midway (CVE-63)
USS St. Lo (CVE-63)
USS St. Lo was a of the United States Navy during World War II. On 25 October 1944, St. Lo became the first major warship to sink as the result of a kamikaze attack. The attack occurred during the Battle of Leyte Gulf.St...

 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, , 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.

See also


  • First Bombardment of Midway
    First Bombardment of Midway
    The First Bombardment of Midway, or the First Bombardment of Sand Island, or Attack on Midway, was a small land and sea engagement of World War II. It occurred on the very first day of the Pacific War, 7 December 1941, not long after the major Battle of Pearl Harbor. Two Imperial Japanese...

    , a 7 December 1941 attack on Midway by two Japanese destroyers

Books

First-hand account by Japanese captain, often inaccurate. Significant section on Midway An account of the blunders that led to the near total destruction of the American torpedo squadrons, and of what the author calls a cover-up by naval officers after the battle. (History of United States Naval Operations in World War II
History of United States Naval Operations in World War II
The History of United States Naval Operations in World War II is a 15-volume account of the United States Navy in World War II, written by eminent historian Samuel Eliot Morison and published by Little, Brown and Company between 1947 and 1962....

, Volume 4) official U.S. history. Detailed study of battle, from planning to the effects on World War II

Articles


Historic documents


Miscellaneous

Counterfactual fiction has the Japanese winning.