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The United States Navy Memorial

Navy Memorial Honor, recognize, & celebrate the men and women of the sea services.

Battle of Midway - A Date to Remember

06/03/2015 1:15PM

 

December 7th and August 6th are two dates that many Americans associate with the U S in World War II --the beginning and the end.  However, there is one date in the Pacific that most Americans are not as familiar with as they should be – June 4, 1942.  Whereas December 7. 1941 was the devastating Japanese attack on the Navy of the United States at Pearl Harbor. The Battle of Midway on June 4, 1942, a scant six months later, was the battle which took the initiative from the Japanese and that marked the turning point of the war at sea.  Though it took three more years before the war was over, the Battle of Midway signaled the beginning of the end for the Imperial Forces of Japan.

Like a steamroller, the Imperial Navy had previously expanded its hegemony over a large part of the Pacific and China.  Countries fell like the proverbial dominos.  Destruction of the American Navy would complete the Japanese Navy’s mission to control the Pacific Ocean.  At Pearl Harbor, it did that, temporarily. For the next several months, Japan continued its conquests until its fortunes turned with the Battle of Coral Sea.  Though Japan was considered the tactical winner over the combined navies and air forces of Australia and the United States, it was unable to set up a land base from which its planes could attack northern Australia.  It would be dependent upon its carriers until this could be achieved.  At this time the Japanese had a formidable carrier fleet; including Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, and Hiryu which had been part of the carrier fleet providing the airplanes over Pearl Harbor and would participate at Midway.

Sensing victory, the Japanese choose Midway as the place to eliminate the American carriers.  Unfortunately for the Japanese, the American code breakers had identified Midway as the Japanese target.  Admiral Chester W Nimitz, CINCPAC, reinforced Midway and concentrated his carrier forces at sea off Midway.  Japanese Fleet Commander Admiral Yamamoto felt that the Americans would send a large part of its force to defend Midway and he ordered Vice Admiral Nagumo to attack Midway to draw the US Navy out for a major battle of annihilation. 

Unfortunately for the Japanese, the three American carriers – USS Yorktown, USS Hornet, and USS Enterprise -- destroyed the four Japanese carriers while losing only one of its own.   The American Navy remained strong while the Japanese Navy was crippled.  Its march across the Pacific was halted and the retrenchment back to the inner islands.  The end of the war was in sight after the Battle of Midway though there would be savage fighting and many lives would be lost before the end of the war.  

By: 
RADM Edward K Walker, Jr, SC, USN, (Ret.) and Marilyn Reid Pollow, USNMF Vice President, Finance and Administrative Services