by Gerald Boerner

  

“Our man in Tokyo is worth every cent we pay him.”
— Staff Officer at CINCPAC

“Our citizens can now rejoice that a momentous victory is in the making. Perhaps we will be forgiven if we claim we are about midway to our objective.”
— Admiral Chester Nimitz

“The good news was that Enterprise and the newly arrived Yorktown had attacked the Marshall and Gilbert islands. Those attacks had a great effect on morale.”
— Jack Adams

“We began intercepting Japanese radio transmissions, which indicated the two forces were very close to each other. We found out later that we were moving in opposite directions and passed each other by 32 miles.”
— Jack Adams

“…The atmosphere was very impersonal… Admiral Nimitz [would ask] me a question, and I would look over there and I would see four stars, and I would answer his question to the very best of my ability… he has the responsibility; along with this responsibility is this horrible thing of making a decision, which people not familiar with military operations never seem to understand. This is an awesome power to give somebody… he had bought what we had told him, very fortunately for this country.”
— Captain Joseph J. Rochefort, USN

“The first enemy carrier planes to attack were 15 torpedo bombers. When first spotted by our screening ships and combat air patrol, they were still not visible from the carriers, but they soon appeared as tiny dark specks in the blue sky, a little above the horizon, on Akagi’s starboard bow. The distant wings flashed in the sun. Occasionally one of the specks burst into a spark of flame and trailed black smoke as it fell into the water. Our fighters were on the job, and the enemy again seemed to be without fighter protection.”
— The Battle of Midway, “Five Minutes” that changed the World

  

Pearl Harbor: America Rebounds at Midway

Note:
Less than six months after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, four U.S. aircraft carriers surprised the Japanese force set to attack Midway Island. They destroyed the cream of the Japanese carrier resources. This prevented the Japanese military from isolating the U.S. forces in the Pacific. GLB

Midway_Mikuma The Battle of Midway is widely regarded as the most important naval battle of the Pacific Campaign of World War II. Between 4 and 7 June 1942, approximately one month after the Battle of the Coral Sea and six months after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States Navy decisively defeated an Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) attack against Midway Atoll, inflicting irreparable damage on the Japanese.

The Japanese operation, like the earlier attack on Pearl Harbor, aimed 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. It was hoped another demoralizing defeat would force the U.S. to negotiate an end to the Pacific War on conditions favorable to Japan.

The Japanese plan was to lure the United States’ few remaining carriers into a trap. The Japanese also intended to occupy Midway Atoll as part of an overall plan to extend their defensive perimeter in response to the Doolittle Raid. This operation was considered preparatory for further attacks against Fiji and Samoa.

Tojo Image The plan was handicapped by faulty Japanese assumptions of American reaction and poor initial dispositions. Most significantly, American codebreakers 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 were sunk in exchange for one American aircraft carrier and a destroyer. The heavy losses in carriers and aircrews permanently weakened the Imperial Japanese Navy. Japan’s shipbuilding and pilot training programs were unable to keep pace in replacing even her own losses, while the U.S. steadily increased output in both areas.

Japan had been highly successful in swiftly securing its initial war goals, including the conquest of the Philippines, Malaya, Singapore, and the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) with its vital resources. As such, preliminary planning for a second phase of operations commenced as early as January 1942. However, because of strategic differences between the Imperial Army and Imperial Navy, as well as infighting between the Navy’s GHQ and Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s Combined Fleet, the formulation of effective strategy was hampered, and the follow-up strategy was not finalized until April 1942. Admiral Yamamoto succeeded in winning a bureaucratic struggle, placing his operational concept—further operations in the Central Pacific—ahead of other contending plans. These included operations either directly or indirectly aimed at Australia and into the Indian Ocean. In the end, Yamamoto’s thinly-veiled threat to resign unless he got his way carried his agenda forward.

Midway_Atoll Midway Atoll, several months
before the battle. Eastern Island
(with the airfield) is in the
foreground, and the larger
Sand Island is in the
background to the west.

Yamamoto’s primary strategic concern was the elimination of America’s remaining carrier forces, which he perceived as the principal obstacle to the overall Pacific campaign. This concern was acutely heightened by the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo (18 April 1942) by USAAF B-25s launched from USS Hornet. 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. Sinking America’s aircraft carriers and seizing Midway, the only strategic islands besides Hawaii in the eastern Pacific, was seen as the only means of nullifying this threat. Yamamoto reasoned an operation against the main carrier base at Pearl Harbor would induce the U.S. to fight.

However, given the strength of American land-based air power on Hawaii, he judged the powerful American base could not be attacked directly. Instead, he selected Midway, at the extreme northwest end of the Hawaiian Island chain, some 1,300 miles (2,100 km) from Oahu. 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 base on Midway allowed submarines operating from Pearl Harbor to refuel and reprovision, extending their radius of operations by 1,200 miles (1,900 km). An airstrip on Midway served as a forward staging point for bomber attacks on Wake Island.

Yamamoto’s plan

Isoroku_Yamamoto 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 USS Enterprise and USS Hornet, forming Task Force 16, were the only carriers available to the U.S. Pacific Fleet at the time. USS Lexington had been sunk and USS Yorktown severely damaged (and believed by the Japanese to have been sunk) at the Battle of the Coral Sea just a month earlier. The Japanese were also aware that USS Saratoga was undergoing repairs on the West Coast after suffering torpedo 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 battleships) 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’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.

American reinforcements

Adm_Chester_Nimitz 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 William Halsey’s two-carrier (Enterprise and Hornet) task force at hand, though Halsey was stricken with psoriasis and had to be replaced by Rear Admiral Raymond A. Spruance (Halsey’s escort commander). Nimitz also hurriedly called back Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher’s task force, including the carrier Yorktown (which had been severely damaged at the Battle of the Coral Sea), from the South West Pacific Area. He 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, 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 USS Vestal, herself damaged in the attack on Pearl Harbor six months earlier, still aboard.

Yorktown_Pearl_Harbor_May_1942 USS Yorktown at Pearl Harbor
days before the battle.

On Midway Island, the USAAF stationed four squadrons of B-17 Flying Fortresses, along with several B-26 Marauders. The Marine Corps had nineteen SBD Dauntless dive bombers, seven F4F-3 Wildcats, seventeen Vought SBU-3 Vindicators, twenty-one Brewster F2A-3s, and six Grumman TBF-1 Avenger torpedo bombers, 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 Zuikaku was in port in Kure, 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 Shōkaku 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: Kaga and Akagi forming Carrier Division 1; Hiryū and Sōryū 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.

AkagiDeckApril42 Akagi, the flagship of the Japanese
carrier striking force which attacked
Pearl Harbor, as well as Darwin,
Rabaul, and Colombo, in April
1942 prior to the battle.

The main Japanese strike aircraft to be used were the Aichi D3A1 dive bomber and the Nakajima B5N2, which was capable of being used either as a torpedo bomber 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 D3A 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 less than their normal aircraft complement and few spare aircraft.

Allied code-breaking

Admiral Nimitz had one priceless asset: cryptanalysts had broken the JN-25 code. Commander Joseph J. Rochefort and his team at HYPO were able to confirm Midway as the target of the impending Japanese strike, to determine the date of the attack as either 4 or 5 June, and to provide Nimitz with a complete IJN order of battle. 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.

Wahiawa_Station HYPO 2 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, and the escort for the Carrier Striking Force was limited to just a few fast ships. For this reason, they knew the anti-aircraft guns protecting the carriers would be limited. Nimitz thus calculated 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.

Midway Memorial

  

Background and biographical information is from Wikipedia articles on:

Battle of Midway that can be found at…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Midway