Between the 4th and 7th of June, 75 years ago in 1942, the astonishing naval battle of Midway happened. A heavily outgunned American navy was ambushed by the Japanese, and despite all odds, won a decisive victory.
The story before
After having a great success at Pearl Harbour, just 6 months before the battle, the Japanese navy had 6 large aircraft carriers. These held over 400 planes and had been dominating the Pacific war, sinking many British warships.
The Americans responded by issuing an air attack on Tokyo, from the carrier USS Hornet. This provoked the Japanese, so they devised a wipeout plan to destroy the American carrier fleet. The place where their plan was staged, was an Allied air base on the island of Midway, situated far in the Pacific Ocean.
The plan went somewhat like this:
- The Japanese used Submarine – launched reconnaissance to see when the American ships were leaving Pearl Harbour
- They had an ambush submarine to take out the ships leaving Pearl Harbour
- They were then to take out the surviving ships with the rest of the Navy
It would have worked quite well, but the problem was the Japanese used radio to communicate the plan, and 90% of this was intercepted by the Americans. So the Americans destroyed the Submarine launched reconnaissance, and the ambush submarine was too late.
The rest of the Japanese plan was based on the belief that the Americans had only two carriers. In fact, the USS Yorktown that they believed to be sunk was actually repaired. The Americans had three carriers, eight cruisers and 15 destroyers in two task forces. The Japanese had four large and two medium carriers, eleven battleships with numerous cruisers and destroyers, in addition to the amphibious task force with which he planned to seize Midway.
But the Americans were ready, due to their intercepted radio. They reinforced the Island of Midway with more aircraft and stationed their carriers behind it.
The first attack was from Midway. They sent bombers to the Japanese carriers but failed to cause much damage. The Japanese retaliated, sending 100 bombers that damaged the Midway air base, but it remained functional. Then the American carriers closed nearer. the Japanese Navy was not expecting them to be there. They could not take on both Midway ant the Carriers that were coming at once.
The full strike force of the carriers was sent to the Japanese carriers. The Japanese were about to sent bombers back to Midway, but when USS Yorktown came into view, they switched their armament to torpedoes and sent them to strike the carrier.
When the American fighters reached the Japanese carriers, their plan was to overwhelm them with torpedo bombers and dive bombers. But the squadrons became separated. The slow, low, torpedo bombers reached the carriers first but were taken down by the Japanese fighter planes.
With a stroke of luck, lost dive-bombers from USS Enterprise found their way to the Japanese carriers following a wake left by a Destroyer!
While the Japanese fighters were distracted by the almost finished off torpedo bombers, the dive bombers had a clear shot at the Japanese carriers. Both Kaga and Akagi were hit, starting fires. Then bombers from Yorktown took out Hiryu.
The Japanese sent out a strike force of just 40 planes to the USS Yorktown. Despite radar warning and precautionary defences, the carrier was hit twice by torpedoes and four times by bombs. The carrier was seriously damaged but remained afloat. This is probably due to the American Navy’s investment in good fire-control systems.
Because of the attack, Japanese carrier Hiryu had revealed itself and was later bombed and destroyed. A few days later, USS Yorktown was sunk by a Japanese submarine.
The casualties went as following:
The Japanese lost
- 4 aircraft carriers
- 1 heavy cruiser
- 3,500 men
- 270 aircraft
The Americans lost:
- 1 aircraft carrier
- 100 men
- 130 aircraft
The rare, truly decisive battle turned the tide of the war, pretty much enting the Pacific encounters.