Battle of Midway, 3-6 June 1942

In May 1942, at the Battle of the Coral Sea, the U.S. Navy stopped the Japanese advance in the Pacific Theater of Operations. At the second battle between opposing aircraft carrier forces, the Battle of Midway, 3-6 June 1942, the U.S. Navy defeated their Japanese opponents and decisively turned the tide of the war.

USS Yorktown (CV-5) shortly after she was hit by three Japanese bombs on 4 June 1942
USS Yorktown (CV-5) shortly after she was hit by three Japanese bombs on 4 June 1942.

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Battle of Midway, 3-6 June 1942

Ignoring their setback at the Battle of the Coral Sea, Japan turned toward the Central and North Pacific to launch a complicated operation: Admiral Yamamoto's two-pronged thrust at Midway and the Aleutians. With these moves Yamamoto hoped to overcome the reverses at Coral Sea, extend the Japanese defense perimeter, and possibly lure the remainder of the U.S. fleet to a decisive battle of annihilation. The Japanese had reason to be optimistic. Yamamoto had seven carriers, four seaplane carriers and 11 battleships, including three of the latest type. Against this, the U.S. Navy had only three carriers -- Yorktown, Enterprise, and Hornet -- and no battleships.

Torpedo Squadron Six (VT-6) Douglas TBD-1 Devastator aircraft are prepared for launching on USS Enterprise (CV-6) at about 0730-0740 hrs, Battle of Midway, 4 June 1942
Torpedo Squadron Six (VT-6) Douglas TBD-1 Devastator aircraft are prepared for launching on USS Enterprise (CV-6) at about 0730-0740 hrs, Battle of Midway, 4 June 1942.

The Japanese had intended to seize Midway Island with two days of shelling followed by an invasion force of 5,000 troops. But two American task forces under Rear Admirals Raymond A. Spruance and Frank J. Fletcher, assisted by planes based on Midway Island, intercepted and outfought the large enemy naval force gathered for the invasion. They rightly ignored the feint against the Aleutians and focused on finding and destroying the Japanese at Midway.

The battle was a disaster for the Japanese, who lost 4 carriers, a heavy cruiser, 3 destroyers, some 275 planes, at least 4,800 men, and suffered heavy damage among the remaining vessels of their fleet. American losses included one carrier, the USS Yorktown, one destroyer, about 150 planes, and 307 men.

Although the carrier planes had the decisive role, the contribution of Marines on Midway to the defense had been considerable. The aviation personnel of MAG-22 destroyed some 43 enemy aircraft (25 dive bombers and 18 Zeros) in air action, plus another 10 shot down by antiaircraft guns, at a cost of 49 Marines killed and 53 wounded.

Many historians and military experts consider the Battle of Midway as the turning point of WW II in the Pacific. Until May 1942, Japan's First Air Fleet was the strongest naval air force in the world, but at Coral Sea and Midway the core of the First Air Fleet was sunk and Japan's offensive capabilities were permanently weakened by the loss of many of their best naval pilots. After Midway, the U.S. Navy, backed by American industrial production, went on the offensive in the Pacific.

Recommended Books about the Battle of Midway

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