World War II and the Battle of Midway

About the Battle of Midway in World War II between the United States and Japanese naval and aerial fighting forces.

MIDWAY, 1942

In a 4-day showdown, from June 3 to 6, Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto lost his bid to capture Midway Island, the Central Pacific base from which he hoped to carry the war to the U.S. As an opening feint, Yamamoto sent a diversionary force north, to Dutch Harbor in the Aleutians, hoping to draw Adm. Chester Nimitz's fleet away from Midway. Nimitz, planning strategy from Pearl Harbor, was not fooled.

The Japanese bombed Midway with 108 planes flying from 4 carriers: the Kaga, Akagi, Soryu, and Hiryu. Simultaneously, 26 Midway-based aircraft struck back. The U.S. attack was ineffectual. No hits were scored and 15 planes were shot down.

The Japanese task force commander, Adm. Chuichi Nagumo, "broke the spot" twice in rapid succession, ordering planes massed on the flight decks taken below for armament changes. In response to radioed reports that a 2nd bombing strike at Midway was required, Nagumo had torpedoes removed from the planes and fragmentation bombs refitted. When news of an approaching U.S. carrier came in, minutes later, he ordered the torpedoes replaced. On each occurrence, the carrier ordnancemen, hoping to save time, violated safety procedures, storing the torpedoes and bombs near the planes instead of in the heavily armored magazines. Nagumo was caught by U.S. bombers while engaged in the 2nd rearming. He also had cleared his decks to take on the returning 1st strike, now unarmed, a decision that left him without the capability to launch defensive planes.

Steaming from Pearl Harbor, Task Force 16 (with the carrier Yorktown) closed to intercept Nagumo. U.S. Admirals Frank Fletcher and Raymond Spruance launched a total of 152 planes: 43 torpedo bombers (Squadrons 3, 6, and 8), 65 dive bombers, and 46 "Wildcat" fighters. Torpedo Squadron 8, striking alone without fighter protection, lost all 15 planes. Torpedo 3's 12 planes were also annihilated. Torpedo 6 fared little better, losing 10 of 14. Hornet's fighters, heading out on a calculated bearing for Nagumo which was incorrect, ran out of gas and all 30 planes were lost by ditching in the water. The Enterprise's 10 "Wildcats," also low on fuel, aborted and returned to the carrier.

Nagumo's "Zero" fighters, absorbed with attacks on Torpedo 3 and by dogfighting with Yorktown's 6 fighters, were drawn away from the Japanese carriers, leaving them unprotected. Yorktown's 17 dive bombers, unopposed, now scored 4 direct hits on the Kaga and it blew apart in massive explosions enhanced by the stockpiled--and unprotected--bombs and torpedoes in the rearming areas. The Enterprise's 33 dive bombers next hit the Akagi and Soryu, causing similar explosions. Another 15 U.S. planes were shot down in this attack.

Air elements of the last Japanese carrier remaining afloat--the Hiryu--attacked the Yorktown. Hiryu's bombers broke through the Yorktown's defenses, inflicting fatal damage. The carrier--dead in the water and abandoned--and the destroyer Hammann, left to assist it, were both sunk by the Japanese submarine I-168 the next day. The Enterprise's 10 dive bombers retaliated, accompanied by 14 of Yorktown's now-homeless planes, scoring 4 decisive hits on the Hiryu. Hiryu's Capt. Tomeo Kaku, and his superior, Adm. Tamon Yamaguchi, facing the loss of their ship, committed suicide before the carrier sank.

Admiral Yamamoto, shattered by his defeat, retreated to Japanese ports after shelling Midway briefly. He had lost his 4 carriers and 13 other ships, all 275 planes, and nearly 5,000 men. Nimitz lost the Yorktown and Hammann, 91 aircraft (60% of the committed planes), and just over 300 men. But he had prevented the Japanese from moving on to attack, and perhaps capture, the Hawaiian Islands.

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