The Battle of Midway was an early key naval battle in the Pacific Theater between the forces of the United States Navy (USN) and the Empire of Japan. Japan was keen on knocking out the remaining American carriers by luring them into a complicated trap - this to include a diversionary invasion of the Alaskan Aleutian Islands in the north. This would force the American carriers out of Pearl for the final deathblow. A Japanese victory would then 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 on terms favorable to the Empire. The Americans, however, forged ahead with other plans.
The Midway Atoll was strategically placed in the Pacific Ocean for both sides knew of its general importance for further operations in the region. In late May, a Japanese Naval task force departed Japan to undertake the operation to claim Midway - within their fleet were four aircraft carriers and a ground invasion force. The Northern Task Force began their invasion of the Aleutian Islands with aircraft from IJN Junyo and IJN Runyo but USN Admiral Chester Nimitz held his forces in back from commitment to the ruse.
Unknown to the Japanese, American codebreakers had deciphered details of the planned invasion and recognized the Aleutian assault as merely diversionary which allowed time for the American fleet to set up a counter-ambush all their own. This proved ultra-critical to American success in the following months for their naval power had been hugely restricted after the attack on Pearl Harbor just six months prior. At the American's disposal were aircraft carriers USS Enterprise and USS Hornet. USS Yorktown soon joined them after undergoing repairs while USS Saratoga was still in harbor along the U.S. West Coast, having suffered battle damage.
Some 162 IJN vessels made up the Midway Island contingent. IJN patrol aircraft missed encountering the massed American counter-force though USN patrol aircraft spotted elements of the IJN invasion force some 700 miles to the west of Midway. The battleship IJN Yamato was part of the main fleet and located 300 miles behind. The rest of the force lay 600 miles further south.
USS Enterprise and USS Hornet now waited at their respective positions, ready to strike 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 serving to protect the waves of incoming dive bombers.
The Japanese air groups - and their launching carriers - were spotted by a U.S. Navy PBY Catalina reconnaissance flying boat about an hour later. All of Midway's available fighters were launched in its defense and USS Enterprise and USS Hornet both 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 Japanese commanders to consider a second assault wave to help further diminish resistance. The initial attack proved costly for the IJN as some 67 aircraft were either lost to enemy action or landed back at the Japanese carriers with extensive damage. Confusion between the four Japanese carriers also added to the moment and slowly removed initiative away from the attackers. 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 green-lighted and refueling and rearming commenced aboard the IJN carrier decks.
At 8:00AM, USS Hornet and USS Enterprise launched a combined force of 151 aircraft. At about this time, a Japanese patrol plane finally spotted the incoming American carriers. Upon news of the sighting, Japanese Admiral 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. Mitsubishi "Zero" fighter coverage was called in for local defense.
USS Hornet's bombers flew in but failed to connect their ordnance and 35 of these 41 attacking aircraft were lost to Japanese guns. A 49-strong wave then followed by the Americans and benefited by the actions of the previous wave for Japanese fighter coverage was now down to lower altitude. Japanese carriers IJN Akagi, Kaga and Soryu were all three slammed with American bombs. Akagi was hit twice while Kaga was hit four times and Soryu took on damage from three bombs. Their respective deck aircraft, fully armed and fuelled, began exploding and causing uncontrollable fires.
The Hiryu was luckily removed enough from the collection of the three targeted IJN carriers that she was able to launch her aircraft against USS Yorktown. USS Yorktown was just in process of recovering her aircraft when she was attacked and suffered three direct hits from IJN bombers. Two torpedoes from a second attack wave ultimately finished off the American vessel.
USS Hornet and Enterprise responded in her defense and launched a 40-strong contingent of Douglas SDB dive bombers at IJN Hiryu. Four direct hits destroyed her deck at the bow and four near-hits rattled her under structure. Damaged proved severe enough that Hiryu was eventually placed out of action and later scuttled by the Japanese. USS Yorktown, refusing to sink, was instead towed by accompanying surface vessels while her crew was abandoned. Days later, she was targeted and sunk by a passing IJN submarine, bringing about an end to her USN carrier. Despite her loss, the Americans could claim four important Japanese aircraft carriers - these carriers being Pearl Harbor attack veterans - while also avenging the Japanese attack on Hawaii in the process.
In the end, the Japanese operation was a terrible failure - four key carriers were lost along with thousands of personnel including irreplaceable and experienced airmen and aircraft. American actions during the Midway Campaign ensured their own respective presence in the Pacific Theater would be solidified by the event. For the Japanese military, it had now witnessed its peak as an unstoppable fighting force - and it now faced the very real possibility of defeat with a war inching its way to Tokyo itself. ©www.SecondWorldWarHistory.com
There are a total of (26) entries in the Timeline of the Battle of Midway (June 3rd - 7th, 1942). Entries are listed below by earliest date to latest date.