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."
Shokaku was indeed damaged during the Coral Sea battle while Zuikaku's airgroup took quite a beating. Interesting how a new airgroup was not used so that Zuikaku could have been used at Midway. This in contrast to US Navy practice of switching airgroups aboard carriers. At Midway, several squadrons operating from Yorktown were from the Saratoga.
Yorktown's aircraft took longer to return from recon patrols. Yorktown's was the carrier hit. Functionally, Spruance who commanded the other two in the place of Halsey, commanded the attack
Ah yes I am very familar with Combined Fleet.com :-)
One point regards Japan and US production capablity. IIRC Grumman Aircraft Company by itself produced almost as many aircraft as all of Japan during WW-II!!!
The IJN was a tough foe and very well trained. The IJN aircraft, fleet and men were superior in most cases to the US Navy at the START of WW-II. Midway was a very near thing for the U.S. even with the codebreaking work of CMD Rochefort and the code gang at Pearl.
What must be considered is what would have happened had the US lost at Midway. Had the IJN vanquished the American Fleet and occupied Midway that would have left the US Navy with only two carriers, Saratoga and Ranger, with Ranger being a stretch. The first of the Essex class carriers were roughly 6 months out from being in service. .
The loss of Midway would have hampered the submarine campaign against Japan as the fleet subs used Midway as a topping off point for fuel and provisions both coming and going.
Without the use of Hornet and Enterprise the Guadalcanal campaign would probably not have been fought. With the Japanese occuping the Solomons the supply line to Australia is subject to interdiction. To prevent this is why Nimitz and the US launched the Guadalcanal Campaign.
Yes I do believe the the US Navy would have prevailed against the IJN eventually but it would have been a lot longer and bloodier campaign.
The decisive factor in the battle.
Glad we beat them back then, glad they are on our side nowadays as China continues to grow.
The maintainers at Pearl did a monumental job at getting the battle damaged Yorktown back into battle.
Oh, and the Japanese had 5 carriers at the battle of Midway.
Ok, stand corrected make that 4 carriers.
When you think of US admirals, Nimitz, King, Spruance and Halsey come to mind, but never Fletcher. Fletcher has received criticism for his actions, whether justified or not. There is a very good book on Fletcher that is worth reading.
They thought of Fletcher enough to name a destroyer class after him.
The men did one heck of a job patching her up, though she was not 100% at Midway.
Frank Jack Fletcher, for whatever reason, suffered an incredible run of, for lack of a better phrase, bad luck.
IIRC, from Edwin Hoyt’s book on Nimitz, Adm King recalled Fletcher back to the States after Guadalcanal for a “chat”
It was after this evaluation that Fletcher eneded up on the beach more or less.
I will have to look up the name of the book when I get home from work in the am
The WWII Fletcher class destroyers were actually named after his uncle, Admiral Frank Friday Fletcher. As for Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher, a Spruance class destroyer is named in his honor.
Learn something new everyday. ;-)
Shattered sword is awesome book on the battle of midway.
All I can say is we were dang lucky then, extremely lucky, almost like, if not, Divine Intervention.
May God Bless those who fought and died in WWII....the World's Greatest Generation.
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