Remembering The Battle of Midway Island June 4-7, 1942

Yesterday we remembered the attack on Pearl Harbor 79 years ago. Today, I want to follow up on the aftermath of that attack, which would be a true turning point in the Pacific war, the Battle of Midway Island, some six months after the Pearl Harbor attack.

Japanese Admiral Yamamoto understood that the American Navy still had its aircraft carriers, that they had escaped the original Pearl Harbor surprise attack. He also knew that if he could take out those carriers, the Americans would be crippled for a long time. 

Midway Atoll, looking just south of west across the southern side of the atoll, 24 November 1941.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Midway Atoll, looking just south of west across the southern side of the atoll, 24 November 1941.

He ordered one of the largest Japanese naval operations in the war to that time to do two things; to take out the American carrier force in the Pacific and to take Midway Island to have a more advanced forward position in the Pacific to lay further attacks on the U.S. Midway Island is the northern most island in the long Hawaiian chain of islands.

The Japanese aircraft carrier Hiryu maneuvers to avoid bombs dropped by USAAF Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress bombers during the Battle of Midway.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
The Japanese aircraft carrier Hiryu maneuvers to avoid bombs dropped by USAAF Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress bombers during the Battle of Midway.

If he would have succeeded in this effort, the war in the Pacific might have had a very different outcome, at least temporarily.

The Japanese attacked Midway with their carrier based bombers and fighters. The American fleet, far outnumbered by the Japanese fleet in all areas, rushed to Midway to brunt the ongoing attacks. The Japanese had four carriers in their fleet, the Americans only two. 

USS Yorktown (CV-5) is hit on the port side, amidships, by a Japanese Type 91 aerial torpedo during the mid-afternoon attack by planes from the carrier Hiryu, in the Battle of Midway.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
USS Yorktown (CV-5) is hit on the port side, amidships, by a Japanese Type 91 aerial torpedo during the mid-afternoon attack by planes from the carrier Hiryu, in the Battle of Midway.

The American fighter and bomber pilots off of the USS Hornet and the USS Enterprise took off to try to find the Japanese fleet and to do as much damage as possible. They found the Japanese carriers and were able to take out three of them, leaving only the carrier Hiryu to fight on. In the meantime, the Japanese pilots found the American fleet and did their own damage. They severely damaged the USS Hornet, causing her to list heavily, making it impossible to land back on her deck. 

The only place now for the Hornet’s pilots to land now was the Enterprise. 

U.S. Navy Torpedo Squadron 6 (VT-6) Douglas TBD-1 Devastator aircraft are prepared for launching aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
U.S. Navy Torpedo Squadron 6 (VT-6) Douglas TBD-1 Devastator aircraft are prepared for launching aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise.

This carrier based air battle went on for three days. It was one of the most intense naval air battles in the entire war, indeed, in history. In the end, it would be a true turning point in the Pacific war. Yamamoto’s hopes for crushing the U.S. Pacific fleet were not only dashed, but his own mighty carrier force was completely lost when, on June 7, American dive bombers were able to severely damage the last Japanese carrier, the Hiryu. The Japanese decided to scuttle the Hiryu and to retire to lick their severe wounds.

The burning Japanese aircraft carrier Hiryu.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
The burning Japanese aircraft carrier Hiryu.

The Battle of Midway confirmed Yamamoto’s worst fear, that the Pearl Harbor attack had awakened a sleeping giant. The Japanese got their first real taste of that giant at Midway. 

The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (CV-5) burning after the first attack by Japanese dive bombers during the Battle of Midway.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (CV-5) burning after the first attack by Japanese dive bombers during the Battle of Midway.

Though Jimmy Doolittle’s earlier B-25 raid on Tokyo let the people of the Japanese capital and home island know that they were not invulnerable, Midway showed them that the might, the determination and the fighting skill of the U.S. Navy was just getting started. They were coming, and over the next three years, they came with a vengeance.   

The Veterans Site honors the memory of all those who fought the good fight at the Battle of Midway, on the island itself, on the sea and in the air. To know this history is to remember the tough, determined, committed and courageous generation that led America at that time. We will not forget!

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