Only 1,000 miles northwest of Hawaii, Midway atoll was an important strategic objective for the Japanese Navy. Four large Japanese aircraft carriers, under the command of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, steamed across the ocean, their crews itching to get their planes into the air. With the largest fleet in the Pacific Ocean, their confidence ran high. A victory at Midway would prove their superiority in the Pacific. Little did they know that the United States had cracked Japanese message codes, which allowed Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, the U.S. Pacific Fleet commander, to set up an ambush.
The opening blow
On June 4, 1942, at 4:30 in the morning, 108 aircraft from the Japanese fleet were launched to blast Midway. The Japanese had sent out search planes as a matter of procedure, but the Americans were sending out search planes specifically to locate their position. One of the American search planes spotted the Japanese carrier strike force and reported back to base at about 6:30 a.m. At the same time, a seaplane pilot reported the incoming Japanese planes. With news of the approach, navy, marine, and army planes headed off to attack the Japanese fleet.
The fliers found themselves in a dog fight with many advanced Zero Japanese fighters. The enemy managed to shoot down a few of the U.S. aircraft, but the Japanese sustained most of the damage. When the Japanese planes broke off the dog fight, the United States knew something was about to happen.
The Japanese sent more planes and they hit Midway at 6:30 a.m., where they dropped their bombs on the two inhabited islands. The assault went on for 20 minutes, but the only damage done was to a few buildings that had caught on fire. The Japanese were frustrated by the lack of success and radioed back to the ships that another strike was required to adequately soften up Midway's defenses for an invasion.
The U.S. strikes back
After the attack on Midway, Rear Admiral Frank J. Fletcher ordered the aircraft from the Enterprise, Hornet, and Yorktown to make several counterstrikes against the Japanese. Even with the massive force from the U.S. against the Japanese, it was an uncoordinated attack that rendered their efforts useless.
Shortly after 7 a.m., six U.S. Navy TBF-1s made a series of attacks but were unable to score any hits. Of the six planes, the aircraft flown by Ensign Albert K. Earnest was the only one to survive the attack. He earned two Navy Crosses for his action. One was for his determined attack and the other was for bringing the TBF home so it could be evaluated after its first combat appearance.
The next attack came from three squadrons of SBD scout bombers, two of which were from the Enterprise and one from the Yorktown. The planes dove almost simultaneously down to three of the four Japanese carriers. The carriers' decks were covered with fully armed and fueled planes readying for takeoff. That made the attack very successful and in only a few minutes, the Akagi, Kaga, and Soryu were on fire and out of the action. The only ship that remained operational was the Hiryu.
The Japanese were outraged by the damage the United States had inflicted upon their ships, and sent the aircraft from the Hiryu to attack the Yorktown. Even with heavy antiaircraft fire thrown up by the Yorktown, the Japanese managed to stop the ship dead in the water with three bombs. The crew worked hard to repair the damaged ship, but the Japanese fliers managed to penetrate the heavy air and gunfire opposition again and hit the Yorktown with two torpedoes, opening a huge hole amidships on the port side. The Yorktown was out of power, useless to the fleet. The skipper then realized that the Japanese would want to sink it, and ordered his crew to abandon ship to prevent more loss of life.
A Japanese submarine then conducted several surfacings to check their distance from the Yorktown. As it got closer and closer, the United States fleet closed in to destroy the sub before it could destroy the Yorktown. However, the submarine managed to torpedo the Yorktown, completely scuttling it.
Soon after, United States carrier planes found the Hiryu and staged a major attack against the carrier. That final attack crippled Japanese naval air power. The enemy suffered four lost carriers and the majority of its air fleet. The loss of the carriers chastened the morale of the Japanese people, and it was decided that the carriers would not be replaced.
The battle was a decisive victory for the United States that ended the Japan threat to the Hawaiian Islands and the United States mainland.
After Midway, the two opposing fleets were basically on a par, and the United States quickly seized the offensive.
- - - Books You May Like Include: ----
Decision at Sea: Five Naval Battles That Shaped American History by Craig L. Symonds.
From thunderous broadsides traded between wooden sailing ships on Lake Erie, to the carrier battles of World War II, to the devastating high-tech acti...