The Battle of Midway officially lasted four days, but one day – June 4, 1942 – was the day that would change the war.
It was supposed to be a wipe out. Four Japanese carrier strike groups plus battleships, cruisers, submarines, light carriers and an amphibious landing force were armed to the teeth and intended to take the small island of Midway. And they were angry. Doolittle’s raid in April had embarrassed them. It was time to take some vengeance, extend the Japanese footprint in the Pacific, and hopefully draw the Americans into a major battle that would end in a Japanese victory, forcing the Americans to sue for peace. That was the plan.
And Midway was the target.
But unbeknown to the Japanese, the Americans were waiting. Superb cryptological work had broken the Japanese code and tipped them off to the Imperial Navy’s intentions. Admiral Nimitz sent just about everything he had – three carrier battle groups – to the area to thwart the attack.
Three carriers, one of them barely afloat after the Battle of Coral Sea, against four.
A great account of the battle can be read at eyewitnesstohistory.com. Suffice it to say that daring, a little luck, and heart-wrenching sacrifice resulted in an indisputable victory for the Americans.
By the end of the battle, all four Japanese carriers had been sunk. The Americans only lost one – USS YORKTOWN (CV 5). The assault was called off, and the Japanese never again regained naval superiority. The Battle of Midway marked the beginning of the end of war in the Pacific.
The naval history of the United States is full of heroic battles and great victories. Very few of them, however, featured a higher level of drama and breathtaking success – or had a bigger impact on a war’s outcome – than the Battle of Midway. It was truly a great moment in the long and proud history of the U.S. Navy.
To learn more about the Battle of Midway, visit the Naval History and Heritage Command’s excellent website (click here).