Midway, Battle of

views updated Jun 11 2018

Midway, Battle of (1942).Within a month of the Imperial Japanese Navy's surprise attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, commander in chief of Japan's Combined Fleet, realized that the Hawaii attack had not achieved its main purpose, the complete destruction of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, including aircraft carriers. On 14 January 1942, Yamamoto's staff recommended an attack on Midway, a defended American atoll 1,100 miles northwest of Pearl Harbor. Japanese planners assumed the U.S. Pacific Fleet would rush to the outpost's aid, whereupon the more powerful Combined Fleet would engage and destroy it. Such a victory could open the prospect of invading Hawaii, thus extending the Japanese defensive perimeter eastward. With the loss of their fleet and the bare essentials to their success against Japan, the Americans might accept a negotiated end to war.

Fearful that Hawaii was unobtainable and that, without it, possession of Midway would become a liability, the Naval General Staff in Tokyo fought the plan, presented on 2 April 1942; but by the 5th, Yamamoto had triumphed. Later, Yamamoto added a diversionary air raid on the small American air base at Dutch Harbor, Unalaska, and seizure of Attu and Kiska at the western end of the Aleutian chain. The main assault would be against Midway far south, with a naval air attack on 4 June and invasion 6 June. Late in May the Combined Fleet headed east.

In the meantime Adm. Chester Nimitz, commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, heeded warnings of an imminent assault upon Midway from Lt. Comm. Joseph J. Rochefort, whose cryptanalysts, using MAGIC, had entered the Japanese Navy's radio communication system. Knowing the Aleutians were a feint, Nimitz concentrated his three carriers where needed, misinformed the Japanese as to their location, and until the last minute denied the enemy accurate information about them. At the same time, first his cryptanalysts and then his patrol planes from Midway kept Nimitz and his tactical commanders at sea—Rear Admirals Frank Jack Fletcher and Raymond A. Spruance—informed of the progress of the enemy fleet.

Early on 4 June, Vice Adm. Chuichi Nagumo, commanding four of Japan's most powerful carriers, launched his attack upon Midway. Simultaneously, Midway‐based U.S. aircraft attacked his ships, but none gained a hit and most were shot down. Then, in quick succession, a Japanese scout plane reported the presence of an American carrier; U.S. carrier‐based torpedo planes began to attack Nagumo's carriers (almost all were shot down without getting a single hit); the Japanese aircraft that had attacked Midway returned, needing to land on deck; and three U.S. dive‐bomber squadrons, one from the Yorktown and two from the Enterprise, arrived over the Japanese Fleet. The dive‐bombers destroyed three of Nagumo's carriers: the Kaga, Akagi, and Soryu. The Hiryu survived long enough for her planes to hit the Yorktown, then she too sank under air attack from Yorktown and Enterprise. Defeated, Yamamoto turned his fleet homeward. On 6 June, aircraft from the Enterprise and Hornet sank a Japanese cruiser, while the Japanese submarine I‐168 finished off the damaged Yorktown.

Japan had gained possession of two barren islands in the Aleutians. It had lost four irreplaceable carriers and many equally irreplaceable aviators. The United States had also lost aviators, but only one carrier. The Japanese Combined Fleet no longer had an appreciable edge over the U.S. Pacific Fleet. The United States had saved Midway and perhaps Hawaii, gaining the opportunity to go on the offensive two months hence at Guadalcanal. In Admiral Spruance, it had found one of the Pacific War's most effective tactical naval commanders. And in retrospect, Midway proved to be the turning point of the naval war in the Pacific. The United States now seized the offensive.
[See also Guadalcanal, Battle of (1942–1943), Navy, U.S. 1899–1945; Pearl Harbor, Attack on; Sea Warfare; World War II, U.S. Naval Operations in: The Pacific.]


John B. Lundstrom , The First South Pacific Campaign: Pacific Fleet Strategy, December 1941–June 1942, 1976.
Hiroyuki Agawa , The Reluctant Admiral: Yamamoto and the Imperial Navy, trans. John Bester, 1979.
George W. Prange,, Donald M. Goldstein,, and and Katherine V. Dillon , Miracle at Midway, 1982.
John J. Stephan , Hawaii Under the Rising Sun: Japan's Plans for Conquest After Pearl Harbor, 1984.
Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon, eds. Fading Victory: The Diary of Admiral Matome Ugaki, 1941–1945, trans. Masatake Chihaya, 1991.

Frank Uhlig, Jr.

Midway, Battle of

views updated May 14 2018


MIDWAY, BATTLE OF (4–6 June 1942), a major engagement of aircraft carriers that reversed Japan's initial tactical successes in the Pacific during World War II. After ravaging the U.S. Battle Fleet at Pearl Harbor, the Japanese steamed unimpeded across the western Pacific, their progress delayed only briefly by the indecisive Battle of the Coral Sea (3–8 May 1942). Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, commander of Japan's Combined Fleet, resolved to take Midway Island and force Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, to commit his weakened forces to a final clashat sea.

At Nimitz's disposal were the carriers Enterprise and Hornet and their support ships under Rear Adm. Raymond A. Spruance, and a task force built around the carrier Yorktown. In overall sea command was Rear Adm. Frank J. Fletcher, who flew his flag from the Yorktown.

Late in May, Yamamoto's great fleet of 185 battle-ships, carriers, cruisers, destroyers, submarines, and auxiliary vessels steamed eastward from various Japanese bases, while a diversionary assault fleet steamed toward the Aleutians in a bid to draw the Americans away from the Midway area. Yamamoto planned to shatter Midway's

defenses with aircraft from the carriers Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu, and Soryu under Vice Adm. Chuichi Nagumo and clear the way for an invasion force of some 5,000 troops. Yamamoto steamed toward Midway, convinced through intelligence reports that there were no American carriers in the area of Midway.

Nimitz anticipated Yamamoto's battle plans precisely. He sent a few warships northward to cover the Aleutians, stationed his three carriers 350 miles northeast of Midway, and waited. On 3 June the Japanese mounted their deceptive strike at the Aleutians, and on 4 June the first wave of Japanese aircraft hit Midway. Shortly after 7 a.m., Spruance launched his air strike on the zigzagging Japanese fleet. Meanwhile, the flight leader of the returning Japanese air strike radioed Nagumo that one more bombing attack on Midway was needed. Accordingly, the Japanese admiral ordered his torpedo-laden reserve aircraft to re-arm with bombs for another strike at the island. This was the first fatal decision of the battle. When a scout plane sighted the U.S. naval force, Nagumo halted the re-arming operation and ordered part of his second wave to attack the American ships with torpedoes, the rest to hit Midway again with bombs. However, before launching these attacks, he decided to recover the planes of his returning first Midway strike. This was his second fatal decision. Shortly after recovery was made, Nagumo had to dodge U.S. torpedo attacks; the torpedo aircraft were massacred, but behind them came U.S. dive-bombers that struck the Japanese carriers while their flight decks were loaded with fueled and armed aircraft. The Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, and Hiryu burst into flame and sank with their planes.

On 5 June, Yamamoto canceled the invasion of Midway. Spruance pressed further his attack on the retreating Japanese fleet and sank the cruiser Mikuma. The American naval triumph was flawed when a lurking Japanese submarine torpedoed the listing and vulnerable Yorktown, along with a lone ministering destroyer. On 7 June, the Yorktown succumbed to its many wounds and the Battle of Midway was over. The U.S. Navy, having inflicted enormous and irreparable damage on a vastly superior fleet, effectively turned the tide of the naval war in the Pacific.


Levite, Ariel. Intelligence and Strategic Surprises. New York: Columbia University Press, 1987.

Lord, Walter. Incredible Victory. New York: Harper and Row, 1967; 1969; Short Hills, N.J.: Burford Books, 1997.

Morison, Samuel Eliot. History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Vol. 4: Coral Sea, Midway and Submarine Actions. Edison, N.J.: Castle Books, 2001.

Prange, Gordon W., Donald M. Goldstein, and Katherine V. Dillon. Miracle at Midway. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1982; Norwalk, Conn.: Easton Press, 1990.

Spectre, Ronald H. Eagle Against the Sun: The American War with Japan. New York: Vintage Books, 1985.

Thaddeus V.Tuleja/a. r.

See alsoCoral Sea, Battle of the ; Navy, United States ; Pearl Harbor ; World War II, Navy in .

Midway, Battle of

views updated May 17 2018

Midway, Battle of in 1942, off the Midway Islands in the central Pacific, a decisive sea battle in which the US navy repelled a Japanese invasion fleet, sinking four aircraft carriers. This defeat marked the end of Japanese expansion in the Pacific during the Second World War.

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Battle of Midway 1942

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