Monday, June 4, 2012

The Battle of Midway

Six months after Pearl Harbor, the Battle of Midway on June 4-7, 1942, was fought over the tiny U.S. Pacific base at Midway atoll. Potentially, it was the strategic high point for Japan's war in the Pacific. Until now, Japan had enjoyed naval superiority over the United States, choosing where and when to attack. But Midway would be the battle that changed the war in favor of the U.S. The 2 fleets opposing each other at and above Midway were essentially equals. But after Midway the United States was able to take the offensive.

The Japanese, embarrassed by the Doolittle’s Raid on their home island in April, and humbled at the Battle of the Coral Sea in May, sent its navy to move on Midway in order to draw out and destroy the U.S. Pacific Fleet's aircraft carrier force. The plan was to quickly take out Midway's defenses, invade the atoll's two small islands, and establish an air base there. Japan expected the U.S. carriers to fight but assumed they would arrive too late to save Midway.

With superior U.S. communications intelligence,* the Japanese plan was thwarted, and the U.S Fleet trapped the Japanese on this date, 70 years ago, in the second of the Pacific War's great carrier battles. The skill and sacrifice of American Navy pilots cost Japan 4 carriers while only 1 of the 3 U.S. carriers was lost. In addition to the carrier, the U.S. lost 307 men and 145 planes. Japan, however, lost 4,800 men, 4 aircraft carriers, a heavy cruiser, and 291 planes. Also, the air base at Midway, though damaged in the Japanese air attack, remained operational and later became a vital component in the U.S. Pacific offensive.

The Battle of Midway
Source: Nauticos

Following the battle, back at Pearl Harbor, Dad recalled making repairs to one of the carriers in that battle, but he did not remember which one (there were so many ships to repair in the months after the Pearl Harbor attack). He also remarked seeing lots of damaged planes, a testimony to the ferocity of the Battle of Midway. As the victorious ships returned, Dad clearly remembered seeing all the sailors waving and cheering from their ships and on the docks as they reentered the harbor at Pearl.

*See "Navy marks Battle of Midway's 70th anniversary" for a current photo and article about retired Rear Adm. Mac Showers, the last surviving member of the intelligence team that deciphered the Japanese messages, which changed the outcome for the U.S. in the Battle of Midway.