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Battle of Midway Timeline

The strategic Pacific island of Midway becomes center stage for a complex Japanese Navy initiative to setup a launch post within reach of Hawaii.

Authored By Staff Writer

The Battle of Midway was the key naval battle in the Pacific Theater between the forces of the United States Navy and the Empire of Japan. Japan was key to knock out the remaining American carriers by luring them into a complicated trap. This included a diversionary invasion of the Alaskan Aleutian Islands chain in the north. The thought was to bring the American carriers out of Pearl Harbor and assail them in a final deathblow. A Japanese victory would secure their sphere of influence in the Pacific and help close the range on other targeted islands. The Japanese were also hopeful of an American negotiation to end the war in the Pacific with terms favorable to the Empire. The Americans, however, maintained other plans.


The Midway Atoll was strategically well-placed in the Pacific. Such was her global positioning that both sides knew of its general importance to further operations in the area. In late May, a four-group Japanese Navy task force let Japan to take the Midway Island chain. Within their ranks were four carriers and a ground invasion force. The Northern Task Force began their invasion of the Aleutian Islands with aircraft from the Junyo and Runyo carriers but American Admiral Chester Nimitz held his USN forces in check.


Unknown to the Japanese, American codebreakers were keenly deciphering all of the details of the upcoming Japanese invasion. They knew the attacks on the Aleutian chain were merely diversionary and allowed the American fleet time to set up a counter-ambush all their own. This proved critical to American success for their naval power in the Pacific was severely restricted after actions in Pearl Harbor just six months prior. At American disposal were the carriers USS Enterprise and USS Hornet. A damaged USS Yorktown soon joined them and was repaired in just three days. It would be some time before the USS Saratoga, out for repairs along the US west coast, would join them.


Some 162 IJN vessels made up the Midway Island plan. While IJN patrol aircraft missed coming upon the American counter-force, USN patrol aircraft spotted elements of the IJN invasion force some 700 miles to the west of Midway. The battleship Yamato was part of the main battle fleet located 300 miles behind. The rest of the force lay some 600 miles further south.


The USS Enterprise and USS Hornet now waited at their respective positions, ready to strike on the unsuspecting Japanese fleet. In the early morning hours of June 4th, Japanese Vice Admiral Nagumo launched over 100 fighters and bombers against Midway. The fighters served to provide cover for the incoming dive bombers.


The incoming air groups - and their launching carriers - were spotted by a USN PBY Catalina reconnaissance flying boat about an hour later. All of Midway's available fighters were launched in defense. Enterprise and Hornet moved into action. Japanese fighters tangled with the American defense while her dive bombers swooped in and attacked the island's key infrastructure to good effect. However, the defense was more than expected and forced the Japanese to consider a second assault wave. The initial attack also proved costly for the IJN as some 67 aircraft were either lost to landed back at the carriers with extensive damage. Confusion between the four Japanese carriers also added to the moment and slowly removed initiative away from the Japanese. The invading forces were still unaware of any impending involvement from USN carrier groups for none had yet been spotted. The second wave of attack aircraft was signaled and refueling and rearming aboard the Japanese carrier decks soon followed.


At 8:00AM, the USS Hornet and USS Enterprise launched a contingent of 151 aircraft. At about this time, a Japanese patrol plane finally spotted the incoming American carriers. Upon news of the sighting, Nagumo was taken completely by surprise - his aircraft were still in the process of rearming and refueling and a change of course was ordered for the fleet in response while Mitsubishi "Zero" fighter coverage helped in protection.


Hornet's bombers dove in but failed to connect, 35 of these 41 aircraft being lost. A 49-strong wave followed and was blessed by the actions of the previous wave for the Japanese fighter umbrella was brought down to sea level altitudes. Japanese carriers Akagi, Kaga and Soryu were all three slammed with American bombs. Akagi was hit twice while Kaga was hit four times. Soryu was nailed with three bombs herself. Their respective deck aircraft, fully armed and fuelled, began exploding and causing uncontrollable fires across their designs.


The Hiryu was luckily removed enough from the collection of three targeted IJN carriers and was able to launch her aircraft against the Yorktown. The Yorktown was just in process of recovering her aircraft when she was attacked and was to suffer three direct hits from IJN bombers. Two torpedoes from a second attack wave ultimately did the Yorktown in.


Hornet and Enterprise responded in defense of their sister and launched a 40-strong contingent of Douglas SDB dive bombers at Hiryu. Four direct hits destroyed her bow deck and four close-called rattled her under structure. Damaged proved severe enough that the Hiryu was out of action and later scuttled. The Yorktown, refusing to sink, was instead towed by USN surface vessels while her crew was abandoned.

Yorktown was later targeted and sunk by a passing IJN submarine some says later, bringing an end to her USN carrier. Despite her loss, the Americans could claim four Japanese carriers - these carriers were also involved in the attack on Pearl Harbor no less.


In the end, the Japanese Navy failed horribly in their MI operation. She lost four valuable carriers and hundreds of indispensable airmen and crews in the process and never fully recovered. American actions in Midway ensured their own respective presence in the Pacific Theater and proved that it was to be a was to be a long one, helping to bring the pressures of wartime to the doorstep of the Empire.


The Empire of Japan had now seen her peak and was headed towards a total dismantling.

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Total Battle of Midway Events: 26

1942
Monday
May 25th

A large Imperial Japanese Naval force sails for Japan towards Midway Island. The force Is made up of four task forces. One is charged with the invasion of the Aleutian Islands off of Alaska while the other three are to take Midway Island itself and assail the responding USN fleet. One group contains the required four aircraft carriers.

1942
Thursday
May 28th

The final Imperial Japanese Task Force leaves mainland Japan.

1942
Wednesday
June 3rd

The Northern Task Force begins its operation to take the Aleutian Island chain and divert USN forces to the region.

1942
Thursday
June 4th

At 4:30AM, the bombing of Midway Island begins with aircraft from Vice-Admiral Nagumo's First Carrier Strike Force.

1942
Thursday
June 4th

American fighter aircraft take heavy losses but force the Japanese Navy to launch a second attack.

1942
Thursday
June 4th

At 7:28AM, a Japanese reconniassance plane spots spots ten undetermined USN surface ships 200 miles northeast of the Japanese Midway invasion force.

1942
Thursday
June 4th

At 7:52AM, USS Enterprise and USS Hornet launch their dive bombers and torpedo planes.

1942
Thursday
June 4th

At 8:20AM, a surprised Nagumo receives his first report of American carriers in the area.

1942
Thursday
June 4th

At 8:37AM, aircraft of the second Japanese strike force returns to their respective carriers for rearming and refueling.

1942
Thursday
June 4th

At 9:00AM, USS Yorktown launches her aircraft with Nagumo's carrier force as the prime target.

1942
Thursday
June 4th

At 9:18AM, Nagumo reacts to the American presence and changes the course of his Carrier Strike Force.

1942
Thursday
June 4th

Between 9:30AM and 10:00AM, Torpedo planes from the USS Enterprise and USS Hornet begin their attacks on the Japanese carriers.

1942
Thursday
June 4th

The first wave of USN carrier dive-bombers has difficulty in locating their Japanese targets.

1942
Thursday
June 4th

All incoming USN Devastator attackers are shot down by Japanese Zero fighters in the span of six minutes.

1942
Thursday
June 4th

The initial American assault on the Japanese carrier strike force is over by 10:00AM.

1942
Thursday
June 4th

At 10:25AM, a follow-up strike made up of 37 Dauntless dive bombers finds the Japanese carriers - now stocked with armed and fueled aircraft on their decks.

1942
Thursday
June 4th

The three Japanese carriers - Kaga, Soryu and Akagi - are struck with bombs and ultimately sunk.

1942
Thursday
June 4th

At 12:00PM, Imperial Japanese Navy bomber aircraft strike against the attacking USS Yorktown.

1942
Thursday
June 4th

By 2:30PM, the USS Yorktown is severely damaged but does not sink.

1942
Thursday
June 4th

By 3:00PM, the crew of the USS Yorktown has abandoned their carrier. The damaged vessel is towed by USN ships.

1942
Thursday
June 4th

At 5:00PM, the Imperial Japanese aircraft carrier Hiryu is set ablaze after being struck by no fewer than five direct bomb hits from aircraft of the USS Enterprise.

1942
Friday
June 5th

The Japanese carrier Hiryu is scuttled.

1942
Saturday
June 6th

The USS Yorktown, now severely damaged and in tow of US Navy forces, is targeted and sunk by a Japanese submarine.

1942
Saturday
June 6th

The island of Kiska is taken by Japanese forces.

1942
Sunday
June 7th

The island of Attu is taken by Japanese forces.

1943
Sunday
August 15th

The Aleutian Islands Campaign comes to a close. The Japanese invasion is ultimately repelled.
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