Skip to comments.Battle of Midway, June 4-7 1942
Posted on 06/04/2008 10:33:01 PM PDT by eekitsagreek
On this date back in 1942, one of the most decisive engagements in the history of naval warfare took place. The outnumbered and outgunned US Pacific Fleet took on the mighty Imperial Japanese Navy and came away with--as author Walter Lord would describe--an incredible victory.
Although the US was outnumbered, they had the advantage of reading the Japanese code traffic and knew that Midway was the target. On the morning of June 4, Japanese aircraft inflicted great damage on the island but luckily no American aircraft were caught on the ground. Many American fighters (Wildcats and Buffaloes) defending the island were lost. Midway-based strike aircraft made valiant attempts to attack the Kido Butai (Japan's main carrier task force) but failed to register a hit. Devastator torpedo bombers from the carriers Yorktown, Enterprise, and Hornet took very heavy losses but also failed to score.
At this point, despite the bravery and sacrifice of the American pilots, the US is losing the battle.
Then incredibly, as Zero fighters were flying at wavetop height, hunting the remaining torpedo bomber, US Navy Dauntless dive bombers from the Yorktown and Enterprise bore down undetected and scored hits on Kaga, Akagi, and Soryu.
With three flattops burning, the Hiryu was all that was left. Her planes managed to find the Yorktown and scored with three bombs. Her pilots thought for sure that Yorktown would sink as she went dead in the water. But Yorktown's crew thought otherwise as they were able to patch her up and get her moving again. Hiryu launched another strike and her planes found what looked like an undamaged carrier (Yorktown) and attacked, scoring two torpedo hits. Yorktown began to list and, fearing that she may capsize, was ordered abandoned. She would struggle to live (and take a torpedo from a Japanese sub) before finally sinking on June 7.
Meanwhile, Hiryu's pilots believe now that two US carriers are out of action. While preparing to laucnh a third strike, Dauntlesses from Enterprise and Yorktown (the latter having taken refuge aboard the former) found her and set her ablaze.
The loss of the four carriers of the Kido Butai would end Japan's Pacific ambitions and turned the tide in favor of the US.
From Walter Lord's book "Incredible Victory"....
By any ordinary standard they were hopelessly outclassed. They had no battleships, the enemy eleven. They had eight cruisers, the enemy twenty-three. They had three carriers (one of them crippled); the enemy had eight. Their shore defenses included guns from the turn of the century. They knew little of war. None of the Navy pilots on one of their carriers had ever been in combat. Nor had any of the Army fliers. Of the Marines, 17 of 21 new pilots were just out of flight school - some with less than four hours flight time since then. Their enemy was brilliant, experienced and all-conquering. They were tired, dead tired. The patrol plane crews, for instance, had been flying 15 hours a day, servicing their own planes, getting perhaps three hours sleep at night. They had equipment problems. Some of their dive bombers couldnt dive - the fabric came off the wings. Their torpedoes were slow and unreliable; the torpedo planes even worse. Yet they were up against the finest fighting plane in the world. They took crushing losses - 15 out of 15 in one torpedo squadron
21 out of 27 in a group of fighters
many, many more. They had no right to win. Yet they did, and in doing so they changed the course of a war. More than that, they added a new name - Midway - to that small list that inspires men by shining example. Like Marathon, the Armada, the Marne, a few others, Midway showed that every once in a while what must be need not be at all. Even against the greatest of odds, there is something in the human spirit - a magic blend of skill, faith and valor - that can lift men from certain defeat to incredible victory."
God Bless the United States Navy, for many have perished on the sea. Honor, Courage, Commitment Rest in peace my long lost ship-mates.
I pray with you! Duty’s call was well answered by those great sailors and aviators.
I wonder if Walter Lord used that number when taking into account not just the Kido Butai at Midway, but all Japanese carriers that were involved with the Midway operation in one way or another. Let' see: For the Midway attack:
For the diversionary raid in the Aleutians at Dutch Harbor:
OK...that gives us six flattops. There was one carrier Hosho that was with the group of battleships well west of the flattops. That gives us seven. With that group was a seaplane carrier Chiyoda that was used to transport midget subs. Perhaps that was what Walter was thinking?
Yes, all of them were not present. Some were in the Indian ocean and some were damaged at the battle of Coral Sea.
You are correct. I forgot the Aleutian campaign
2 in the Aleutians
1 with the Main Fleet
Shokaku and Zuikaku (the other 2 Pearl Harbor strikers) were elsewhere. One was in the yard after taking some bomb hits at Coral Sea, the other had taken heavy airgroup losses at Coral Sea.
Nimitz was a great overall commander of the Pacific fleet but what I have read is that it was Admiral Fletcher who was the true conqueror at the Battle of Midway. In naval history he is compared to Nelson of Battle of Trafalgar fame.
I'm not so sure the sun ever really shone on the IJN. Maybe for an hour or two at most. Check out
for a good write-up about what Japan was getting into even starting a war with the US, and what might have happened *even if Japan had won at Midway*. Regardless, it was a great victory, especially for the codebreakers, without whose help, our carriers would not have been lying in wait at Midway for the Japanese fleet.
The Strike Force -- Kido Butai, -- would consist of the largest number of aircraft carriers ever to operate together. The Akagi and Kaga, a reconstructed battlecruiser and battleship, were the Japanese equivalent of the American Lexington and Saratoga. The Hiryu and Sôryu were the Japanese equivalent of the American Enterprise, Yorktown, and Hornet. The newest Japanese carriers, Shokaku and Zuikaku, were roughly the equivalent of the American Essex class. It was originally thought that the latter would not be ready for the operation.