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64 years ago today...

It was 64 years ago today that the Imperial Japanese Navy's self-image of invincibility was irreparably shattered, when a rag-tag force of American ships (one barely out of the repair yard) took on the cream of the Japanese fleet and sent four of the aircraft carriers who attacked Pearl Harbor barely seven months before to the bottom of the Pacific.

The Battle of Midway was, arguably, the most important naval battle not only of World War II, but of the 20th Century. IT began a virtually unbroken streak of American victories and Japanese defeats, a chain of battles that finally came to an end in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And many consider it the birth date of America as a global superpower.

On that beautiful day in 1942, Americans found themselves vastly outnumbered and outgunned. The one concrete advantage we had was that the Japanese were convinced that we had one or two aircraft carriers available. Thanks to truly heroic work by the yard workers at Pearl Harbor, the Yorktown (barely patched together, and in dire need of far more extensive repairs) joined her sisters Enterprise and Hornet for the battle.

However, we had another advantage, one strictly on paper, but worth at least another two aircraft carriers. We had broken the Japanese code, and knew their battle plans.

Horrible mistakes were made on both sides. Errors and misjudgments and miscommunications all added together in the inevitable fog of war. Just to cite one example, American torpedo bombers got separated from the dive bombers and fighters, and made solo attacks on the Japanese fleet -- with catastrophic results. Of two squadrons of bombers, only one man survived.

But their sacrifice was not in vain. They drew all the Japanese defenses down to sea level, leaving the skies bare for the arriving dive bombers. In short order, the Akagi, Kaga, and Soryu were blazing wrecks, leaving only Hiryu still intact. The Japanese managed to strike back, crippling the already-wounded Yorktown and leaving her vulnerable to a submarine attack. The Hiryu herself was sent to a watery grave the next day.

Japan never recovered from this blow. Four of their front-line carriers -- and more importantly, their highly skilled aircrews -- were gone, never to be fully replaced.

On this day, we should all pause to remember those died 64 years ago.

(Correction: 64 years, obviously, as several pointed out. I fell prey to one of the more insidious traps for the amateur World War II historian, and confused the events of June 4-6, 1942, with those of June 6, 1944. Both were momentous turning points in the war -- one in the Pacific, one in Europe -- and they just happened to occur on the same day two years apart.)


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference 64 years ago today...:

» Murdoc Online linked with Midway

» Winds of Change.NET linked with Battle of Midway - 1942

» Murdoc Online linked with Midway

» Blue Crab Boulevard linked with Thank You

Comments (20)

Might I recommend: Midway: ... (Below threshold)

Might I recommend: Midway: The Battle that Doomed Japan, the Japanese Navy's Story, by Mitsuo Fuchida. Fuchida had been an airman at Pearl Harbor, but was too sick to fly at Miday, so we see what happened on the Japanese Carriers.

Nit: 64 years, not 62.... (Below threshold)

Nit: 64 years, not 62.

David: I've had that book for a couple of years now and just haven't had time to get to it. My favorite remains "Incredible Victory" by Walter Lord. I read it in seventh grade and I was a changed person. Really.

"We had broken the Japanese... (Below threshold)
Old Coot:

"We had broken the Japanese code, and knew their battle plans."

Wondering whether the contemporaneous ACLU-type moonbats expressed any outrage that we likely violated someone's privacy rights in breaking the code. Or maybe we did a better job of obtaining proper search warrants then. Just curious.

I like just about everythin... (Below threshold)

I like just about everything Lord has written and Incredible Victory is great. ANd even though current scholarship debunks a lot of Lord's thoughts on "A Night to Remember", that remains my favorite book of his. Next vacation take both Lord and Fuchida, read Lord first and then hit Fuchida. That was essentially the combination I did when I was a kid (I went through my everything Midway phase).

Japanese were fueling their... (Below threshold)
Eon the terrible:

Japanese were fueling their planes and there were bombs stacked on the decks of their aircraft carriers when out dive bombers struck and set them ablaze and they were four of the six that had luanched aircraft on peral harbor

Having that material availa... (Below threshold)

Having that material available on that many ships simultaneously was a tactical decision. They had either been pressed into it or it was calculated risk that failed. There's a difference between luck and opportunity.

62 years, 64 years, whateve... (Below threshold)

62 years, 64 years, whatever.

There's a new book about Midway titled "Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway'.

Excellent book, dispels some myths. i.e. few Japanese planes were on the carrier decks when the dive bombers attacked. what doomed the carriers was poor damage control and fire fighting techniques.

The winning of the Battle o... (Below threshold)

The winning of the Battle of Midway can be attributed to one man. Yes folks, that man was John Joesph Rochefort, the head of HYP0. It was his brilliant insight and dedicated hard work that broke the Japanese JN25 code. It was also his brilliant idea of having Midway to send a message in the clear about the fresh water distillers, that confirmed the real target. For this was the foundation that took us all the way to Japan. This man never got the recognition that he deserved, even after all of these years.

The sailors and airmen deserve a lot of credit for executing Admiral Nimitz's plan, but without Rochefort, there would have been no decisive victory at Midway.

I have read several volumes on the service that Rochefort did for his country in the time of dire circumstances and everyone of the authors reached the same conclusion--the brilliance of Rochefort, was the major contributing factor to our naval and land victory over the Empire of Japan.

While it is true that we lost the Yorktown, there were already new aircraft carriers coming of the building ways and were on the way to being commissioned. It took a little while for these ships to reach the battle zone, but when they did, it was all over but the shouting.

Don't forget about the submarine force too. They are the ones that sank most of the merchant shipping of Japan. Without the vital supplies to carry on the war, Japan was doomed.

jpmRead the histor... (Below threshold)


Read the history of this battle. In short, the Japanese thought they needed bombs for their dive bombers, but when they discovered the Naval targets, they flew back to their carriers (without dropping ordinance). This allowed a group of American dive bombers or torpedo planes to "stumble" upon them with both bombs and torpedos out on the wooden flight decks.

That combination was truly devastating for the Japanese fleet.

It was part of the American plan to lure the Japanese fleet into striking distance and hopefuly remain undetected.

Don't sweat the date, Jay. ... (Below threshold)

Don't sweat the date, Jay. We knew what you meant.

I was just glad to see that someone else was writing about Midway...

Thanks for reminding us of ... (Below threshold)
Mike Johnson:

Thanks for reminding us of the date, Jay Tea. We moved to NH fro Mass a few years ago.
There is a marker at the Kittery Point (ME) Cemetery to Captain John R. Alvord. Capt. Alvord flew with the Marine VMF-211 squadron based on Midway. He was one of eleven in the first flight of fighters to meet the Japanese. Only two survived. Capt. Alvord did not. All members of the squadron were awarded the Navy Cross.

Actually, the Hiryu ... (Below threshold)
Alexander K. McClure:

Actually, the Hiryu was sunk on the same day, just later in the afternoon.

In short, the Japanes... (Below threshold)

In short, the Japanese thought they needed bombs for their dive bombers, but when they discovered the Naval targets, they flew back to their carriers (without dropping ordinance).

Need to make a little correction here. The Japanese were rearming and refueling their dive bombers (Vals) and level bombers (Kates) for a second strike on the island of Midway, when the scout plane from the Tone spotted the Yorktown. (The scout plane took off the Tone a half hour later than the rest of the scout planes from the other cruisers). Genda gave the order to have the rearming halted when he learned of this news. This planes were sent to the hanger deck so that they could recover the first strike aircraft from Midway. That is when the SBDS caught the Japanese with their pants down. As they say, the rest is history

I also read Incredible Vict... (Below threshold)

I also read Incredible Victory, but I read it in elementary school (I started out early with my addiction to war porn). The most moving part of the whole story was that of Ensign Gay, the sole survivor of Torpedo 8 from the Hornet. After being shot down, while he bobbed up and down in the ocean, he had a "ring-side seat" as the US navy dive bombers reduced the Japanese carriers to flaming wrecks. He died a few years back and his last wish was to have his ashes spread over the ocean at Midway to be with his fallen comrades.

Smitty beat me to my point.... (Below threshold)

Smitty beat me to my point. Anyone interested in this battle needs to read "Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway," by Parshall and Tully (who run a web site on the IJN). Probably the best book ever done on Midway, and really discredits Fuchida's book.

I don't want to dismiss the... (Below threshold)

I don't want to dismiss the victory of Midway for it was important and the men lost deserve our admiration.

But there were two things that made that battle successful. 1) Yes the break of the japanese code. 2) The failure of the japenese in the attack on Pearl Harbor to have destroyed the fueling depot on Ford Island.

Had the Japenese destroyed the fuel facilities most likely the remaining assets at Pearl would have been redepoyed to San Diego. For being unable to refuel none of the carriers would have been able to respond. Not only that but their tactical combat range would have been severly curtailed having been so redeployed.

Yes, the failure of the Jap... (Below threshold)

Yes, the failure of the Japanese to bomb the fuel depot and the repair facilities at Pearl Harbor did contribute to the victory at Midway. You can also say the the Doolittle raid on Tokyo and other Japanese cities two months before also had an effect. If that would not have happened, the Japanese code would have never been broken as swiftly as it was. You could also say the attack on Pearl Harbor also played a small part in the Japanese being shellacked at Midway. Everything that occurred during the six months before the battle contributed to the victory at Midway and hence the final outcome of the war.

Nimitz and the rest of the Navy in the Pacific did not realize at the time the importance of the battle to the over all strategy in defeating the Japanese. It was only after the war, the Navy and others realized what had happened. They also realized that they could still lose the war, if they just sat on the defensive.

One more item that contribu... (Below threshold)
Big D:

One more item that contributed to the American success - enormous luck. Pure and simple.

The Navy has modeled the battle of Midway hundreds of times, and rarely (if ever) has the result been an American victory.

One more item that co... (Below threshold)

One more item that contributed to the American success - enormous luck. Pure and simple.

Point Luck was the name where the American carriers were to rendezvous. It was named by an obscure Lt Commander on Nimitz's staff. At the time, Nimitz commented that it sounded more like a prayer.

I need help. I am trying to... (Below threshold)
Bill Hunteman:

I need help. I am trying to find a document that lists how many people were on ADM Nimitz's staff. Preferably showing numbers in 1942 and in JUL/AUG 1945. Any help greatly appreciated!






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