Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Battle of Midway

Well, it is time f or a short history lesson ladies and germs. Today is the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy. For my post on that please go here. However today we will be looking very briefly at the Battle of Midway. Man I sound like a boring history professor. Sorry about that.

June 4/5 is the 67th anniversary of the Battle of Midway. I am amazed at how many people know nothing about this battle that many feel was the actual turning point in the War in the Pacific. I know that most of you will skip this particular post but for those who might be interested here we go.

A bit of background is in order. The attack on Pearl Harbor was not a distant memory at this point in history, it had happened 6 months previously and the intervening time had not been a good one for the US forces battling Japan. The Japanese had made steady advances across the Pacific Basin and were making plans to strike Port Moresby in New Guinea which would put them within easy striking distance of Australia. The Battle of Coral Sea (May 4-8, 1942) was a direct result of this plan. During that engagement the carrier USS Yorktown was heavily damaged, in fact the Japanese believed they had sunk her. But they were wrong. She was towed slowly back to Pearl Harbor, arriving on May 26th where the damage repair estimate was that she would have to be in dry dock for at least 3 months to effect repairs. They didn't have that long. She was given a "down and dirty" repair over 4 days and then shipped back out.

Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto's plan was two fold. A feigned attack on the Aleutian Islands would draw the US fleet away. That would give the Japanese invasion forces the opening to invade Midway Island. When the US fleet returned to fight the invasion forces the Japanese Northern Fleet would surprise them and wipe out the US fleet. The plan had been in discussion for several months without a final decision. The Doolitle raid on Japan sealed the deal. The Japanese felt that they had to cement their line of defence as far east as possible so the attack on Midway was given the OK. What the Japanese didn't know however was that on March 13th American cryptanalysts had broken the Japanese Navy's "general purpose code" thereby setting in motion the events of June 4/5. By May of 1942 they were able to decipher that the Japanese planned to attack Midway Island and that the date had been set for June 4th.

On May 26th the USS Yorktown arrives in Pearl Harbor to begin repairs. On that same day the US fleet leaves for Midway and the Japanese Northern Fleet with the four carrier Kaga, Akagi, Soryu and Hiryu leaves for the area north of Midway.

Early on June 4 patrol planes spotted the body of the Japanese task force and the battle was joined. One of the most interesting things about this battle is that the ships in the task forces never actually saw each other, the battle was conducted by air with some submarine involvement. If you want an hour by hour description of the battle there are many sources that you can go to. In a condensed and abbreviated version here is what happened.
  • The Japanese launch air strikes on Midway, where heavy damage is inflicted
  • US carrier aircraft groups are launched and sustain terrible losses but are able to draw off Japanese defenders thereby leaving the way open for dive bombers from the carriers EnterpriseHornet to hit and sink Kaga and Akagi.
  • Planes from the Yorktown wreck the Soryu
  • Planes form the Hiryu inflict terrible damage on an already limping Yorktown
  • Planes from the Enterprise mortally wound the Hiryu
  • All four Japanese carriers are sunk outright or scuttled by the Japanese. Admiral Yamamoto abandons Midway invasion plans and withdraws from the field of battle.
  • Desperate measures are not enough to keep the Yorktown from rolling and sinking on June 7th.
The Battle of Midway was won because of good intelligence, good carrier tactics, a whole lot of luck and the courage and determination of many pilots who lost their lives. Japan lost all of the carriers which were responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbor and which represented 2/3 of her carrier fleet. She also lost over 100 well trained pilots who would be difficult if not impossible to replace. The Japanese advance was halted permanently and the balance of power in the war shifted to the US and her allies.

And that is your history lesson for the day.


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