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80th Anniversary of the Battle of Midway: June 4-7, 1942

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Eighty years ago, on June 4-7, 1942, the United States defeated Japan in a decisive naval and air battle known as the Battle of Midway. The battle came after a Japanese attack on a US base on Midway Atoll, a tiny island in the Pacific. Japan never recovered from its losses, and the battle is known as a turning point in the Pacific Theater during WWII.

Following the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo in April 1942 and the Battle of the Coral Sea in May, Japan began planning the attack at Midway in hopes of destroying the US Pacific Fleet. They wanted military dominance in the region and a base for future military operations.

Burning oil tanks on Sand Island, Midway Atoll, following Japanese air attack on June 4, 1942.

Unbeknownst to Japanese forces, US cryptanalysts had broken Japanese codes and were aware of the impending attack plans. This gave officials time to prepare a counteroffensive. On June 4, 108 Japanese aircraft took off from four Japanese aircraft carriers, the Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, and Hiryu. They attacked the US base on Midway, inflicting heavy damage.

US Navy Torpedo Squadron 6 prepare to launch from the USS Enterprise. June 4, 1942

American Admiral Chester Nimitz, commander of the Pacific Fleet, had sent two task forces to meet the Japanese. Task Force 16, which included the Hornet and Enterprise, under Rear Admiral Raymond Spruance; and Task Force 17, with the carrier Yorktown, under Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher. The Yorktown was damaged but had undergone hasty repairs at Pearl Harbor and was ready for the fight.

Bombers took off from the US fleet and attacked Japanese carriers Akagi, Kaga, and Soryu, causing devastating damage. The ships were set ablaze and abandoned. The Hiryu launched counterattacks and bombed the Yorktown, disabling the ship. Though it managed to stay afloat, the captain ordered the ship abandoned. A Japanese torpedo finished off the Yorktown two days later, and she sank.

Scene on board the USS Yorktown after she was hit by three Japanese bombers on June 4, 1942

With only the Hiryu remaining, a scout plane from the Yorktown located the Japanese ship and sent dive-bombers from the Enterprise to attack. At least four bombs hit the Hiryu, and she sank.

During the Battle of Midway, the Japanese sustained heavy losses, including 3,000 men and four carriers. American casualties included 300 men and one carrier. The battle set the stage for landings on Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands and prevented Japan from launching a major offensive in the Pacific again.

Our friends at Stories Behind the Stars have headed up a special project to write the story of each American torpedo bomber that participated in the Battle of Midway. Learn about their efforts on this Facebook page. To learn more about the Battle of Midway, search Fold3® today!

56 Comments

  1. Robert Lynn says:

    Dear Ms. Ashcraft,
    We’re you able to locate the information on the following:

    *The Morning Reports for Hotel Company, 31st Infantry Regiment for January, 1920 to February, 1920.

    *A list of commissioned officers of Hotel Company, 31st Infantry Regiment from October, 1919 to February, 1920.

    *A list of American Red Cross doctors that served with AEF Siberia from 1918 to 1920.

    Respectfully Submitted,

    Robert A. Lynn

    [email protected]
    407-757-7902 Cell

  2. Robert McKinley says:

    It was actually the Yorktown, which has been badly damaged at the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942, which had undergone hasty repairs at Pearl Harbor and not Enterprise as noted in your article. Enterprise and Hornet, which had launched the Doolittle Raid in April 1942, were not damage at all going into Midway and survived that battle without major damage.

  3. Jane says:

    The story and the importance of how Joseph Rochefort and his men determined Midway was going to be attacked was very important. And the truth between him and the Redman Brothers. Why did they treat him so horribly?

    • John Conley says:

      Sheer jealousy. The brothers thought Hawaii was the goal, not Midway. Rochefort committed the unpardonable sin of being right.

    • Russ Greenlaw says:

      And- Rochefort was a mustang – up from the ranks/merchant service rather than Academy.

    • John Conley says:

      Never heard that about the guy…. learn something new every day. Thanks

    • Ann Cramer says:

      My father was part of Rochefort’s codebreaker team, but he never talked much about it because he was sworn to secrecy due to the confidential nature of the work. I would love to know more about it, because his knowledge went with him when he passed away in 2004. He did disclose that “the Japanese didn’t know we set a trap for them”. Intriguing

    • Jane Inden says:

      As an amateur genealogist I learned the Redman brothers were my Grandfather’s 1st cousins. I would love to know if he knew about their naval careers. Their father migrated from Illinois to California with his wife and family, eventually divorced, remarried and had these two sons. I greatly appreciate your message informing me that your father was with Rochefort, only too sorry he wasn’t able to tell you more.

    • Russ Greenlaw says:

      There is a large book on Rochefort as a person, his posting to Japan to learn the language and culture, and his communications/code breaking team at “Station Hypo”. Your father might be in the book, since a number of team members are discussed, as well as other participating Naval groups such as the radio triangulation stations which provided the incoming messages and the other Naval communication/code breaking groups. Get “Joe Rochefort’s War” by Elliot Carlson, 572 pages, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, 2011. ISBN 978-1-59114-161-7 (paperback ed.)

    • Jane Inden says:

      Thanks for Roquefort book information, which I’ve ordered.

  4. Doug Mutter says:

    My father-in-law, Delbert Bromley, was a Marine machine gunner on Midway during and after the attack. By the time the Marines were removed and sent back to Hawaii, they were “rock happy.”

    • KAREN BOWMAN says:

      My uncle didn’t get to engage in this battle. He died on the USS Lexington in the Battle of the Coral Sea. I never got to meet him: Bkr 3rd Class Robert Leland Whiteley, USN.
      War is hell.

    • Barbara Martin says:

      My dad, US Marine Major Walter R. Winter was in Midway during this time too. I don’t know all of the details – I would like to know more – my dad died in 1980 when I was 19, I requested his service records once but never received them.

  5. Gary Krieger says:

    I found the above article on the Battle for Midway very interesting. I served on the USS Midway CVA -41 an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War in 1965. I have always wondered if there is a connection between the ship being named the USS Midway the carrier, and the United States defeating Japan during the Battle of Midway. I don’t know if the USS Midway CVA-41 that I served on actually participated in the Battle of Midway during World War 2. If anyone could please clarify that for me I would appreciate it.

    • Duane Cassida says:

      The USS Midway was the first ship of the Midway class of carriers and was the largest ship in the world at the time of its commissioning in September 1945 at 1001 feet in length. The USS Midway was named in honor of the Battle of Midway but did not participate in WWII being commissioned after the war ended. The ship displaced 45,000 tons at commissioning but grew to displace 64,000 tons after modernization with an angled flight deck in 1955 to handle jet aircraft.

    • Russ Greenlaw says:

      Midway, originally CVB-41 (“B” for Battle) was commissioned in 1945, and did not see
      action in the war. Yes, She was named for the Battle of Midway. Sistership Coral Sea (CVB-43) was named for that battle. CVB-42 (Franklin D. Roosevelt) was to have been Coral Sea but her name was changed due FDR’s death on Thursday, 12 April 1945.
      I happen to know this date because I was born two days later on Saturday, 14 April. There are several books which give the histories of all the US carriers, including design details, trade-offs, and designs never built. Haven’t found yet what the name of -43 was to have been. All the carriers between Lexington/Saratoga (CV-2, -3) and Midway were smaller than Lex and Sara. While working for Navy, I visited Hunters Point Naval Ship Yard in SF and saw Midway alongside the new Enterprise (CV(N)-65) which dwarfed Midway. I recall that Midway was there for angle deck installation, but not certain that it had not been done earlier. Midway is a museum ship in San Diego.

    • Pete Siegel says:

      Carriers used to be named for famous battles, Yorktown, Saratoga (a key Revolutionary War battle), Coral Sea, and others. My Dad was the Air Group Flight Surgeon on the USS Oriskany (CV-34) on her first deployment in 1950 – 51. She became the first ship in the Navy reef program and rests in 200″ down in the Gulf of Mexico about 24 miles south of NAS Pensacola “The cradle of Naval Aviation.”

    • Russ Greenlaw says:

      Named for famous battles, yes, but also for famous prior ships of historical significance (Ranger, Wasp, Hornet and others) which themselves may have been named for battles. Lexington (CV-2) and Saratoga (CV-3) are in both categories, which I believe were named for battles before being converted to aircraft carriers. Tradition is being carried on with the newer classes of assault ships which are carriers also having landing craft.

    • John Wayne Carlson says:

      @Russ Greenlaw, the CVB designation was for “Large Aircraft Carriers”. Used from 1945-1952. After that they were reclassed as CVAs and later CV.

    • russ greenlaw says:

      Roger that on the CVBs – and I messed up on Enterprise- she was originally CVA(N) later CV(N) – somebody in the navy got paid for changing stuff around, like F4Hs becoming just F4s. I heard a talk circa 1997 by former skipper of Enterprise (-65, not -6) about how he was interviewed by Rickover before being approved as skipper. ADM Rickover kept him waiting in an anteroom to get him nervous. But he passed. Later had to sign a receipt for being custodian of 8 nuclear reactors.

  6. Ronda says:

    Thank you for the article and remembering.

  7. Trina A Parkinson says:

    My grandfather, Dean G Winters, was a Marine, one of Carlson’s Raiders and was on Midway during this battle. He talked about the unshaken bravery of the young pilots. I remember as when I was young he told me that he believed Midway was a miracle for our country. He always taught me to respect the freedom that I have because someone else had paid the price.

    • Steve Watson says:

      Amen on your grandfathers wisdom. All Americans should respect and honor the freedoms we enjoy, thanks to the many brave and courageous military personnel who kept these freedoms alive.

  8. Andy Howell says:

    Midway Airport in Chicago is named to commemorate the victory at Midway. Exhibits and memorials at Midway Airport remind travelers of this battle’s historic significance as a turning point of the Pacific War.

  9. Raymond says:

    I was on the USS Hornet CVS 12 for 1 1/2 years . I alway felt very proud of its history and very privileged to have served on its flight deck where Doolittle launched his attack on Japan.
    I took my family to Alemeda where the Hornet was in dry dock to see what the ship their Father served on.
    GOD Bless our Brave Troops and GOD Save our Country.
    Raymond

    • Duane Cassida says:

      CVS-12 was not the ship that launched the Doolitle Raid. That ship was CV-8 the original carrier named USS Hornet. That ship was sunk at the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands a few months after Midway. CV-12 is an Essex class carrier that entered service in mid 1943 and is currently a museum in Alemeda CA

    • Steven Houde says:

      Sorry, my friend, but that was impossible, as the U.S.S. Hornet—the carrier that launched Doolittle’s Raiders—was sunk by the Japanese in 1942.

    • Bill says:

      Raymond, thank you for your service.

      I can only imagine what it was like and how you & your shipmates felt knowing the Doolittle Raid was the beginning of payback for the destruction at Pearl Harbor.

      God Bless You, and I’m in agreement with you that we pray God will save the United States of America.

  10. Gil Cividanes says:

    The turning point in the War in the Pacific.

    • Russ Greenlaw says:

      Turning point – depends on how you measure that. Battle of Coral Sea, month earlier, prevented Japanese from capturing Port Moresby on the Island of New Guinea (very close to Australia), after Coral Sea Japan never held new territory south of that place – that is to say, Japan’s offensive success in South Pacific ended at Coral Sea. Their losses at Midway prevented them from winning at Guadalcanal in the Solomons, so it is no less true to say Midway was also turning point. Samuel Eliot Morison wrote several books covering these events – see Naval Institute.

  11. Mike says:

    Why don’t you put stories of midway torpedo bombers on you website that I paid for instead of Facebook? I hate Facebook.

  12. Ami Kyle says:

    My uncle, Warren Richardson, was killed along with 79 other sailors when the USS Hammann was torpedoed along with the Yorktown on June 6. The Hammann was providing support in salvaging the Yorktown. The crew had also rescued numerous sailors and several pilots during the battle. The destroyers and other ships don’t get the attention that the carriers and pilots get, but they are no less important.

  13. Linda Bryan says:

    My family and I lived on Midway for a year and a half in the mid 50’s. It was heaven. My dad fought in WWII and his ship, The Quincy was sunk and he managed to make it through the night by holding onto a vinegar barrel, which we still have.

    • Trina says:

      Linda, what a great treasure to remember his story. Did they still have gooney birds on the island? My grandfather talked about the gooney birds and said they were cool.

    • Pat Miner says:

      I was a senior in high school on Midway, 1974-1975, graduating from the DoDEA school George C Cannon – named after the Marine Lt who was the first to die in battle during Midway invasion. Midway grew in population and services over the years. Australian Ironwood trees were planted and thrived there. After the base was closed in later years, the US F&WS took over the island. Buildings have been left to decay and been destroyed. All the trees have been removed and it is now a sad looking flat place. Verbasina, an invasive species of ground plant, has overtaken the island and makes it very difficult for the Laysan Albatross to land/takeoff safely. Midway was a national bird sanctuary and we were not allowed to have cats on the island. Albatross are beautiful birds in flight and their mating rituals are unique and they mate for life.
      It was fun watching them migrate back to the island and regain their ability to land on solid ground after being at sea for many months. They’d come in, build their ground nests, lay their solitary egg, raise the hatchling and teaching it to fly. Goonies do go through “teen” years of adolescence learning mating rituals, etc. Unfortunately, they are a sought after delicacy by sharks that patrol the lagoon and areas outside the reef. You can imagine the impact on hatchlings if both parents didn’t return to their nests, let alone the left behind mate that had to determine to eat or starve along with the chick. We couldn’t feed them as they dine on regurgitated squid. While Midway has been dedicated as a part of the US Park system, it is off limits to American citizens despite pleas to Congress to allow it to be reopened to visitors.

  14. Charlotte Bryan-Matzke says:

    Thank you for such a wonderful article about the Battle of Midway. My dad, Robert “Gene” Bryan was serving in the Pacific fleet on board the USS Ellet when they were part of the battle.

  15. Claire Tryon says:

    I very much appreciate all the stories of WW2. My dad and 3 Uncles served in Germany and France 1917-18. My Uncle George, USN was Commander of Submarine #2 in the Atlantic. What a frightful looking sub.. They all made it home to their Mother & family. President Wilson presented her with a Copper plaque with all their names & Units engraved Thanking her for their service. Also 3 of their sister served in Europe at the same time as Nurses. God Bless America and all those that have served. I served in Korea. I am now 84.

  16. Toni Adams Montgomery says:

    My Father E.O. Adams was captured off Wake Island. We saw a movie made about his P.O.W. camp that was about one prisoner with no mention of the workers who were on the Island preparing a landing strip. Last Man off Wake Island is a book about Dolittle. The workers were employed by MK out of Idaho and some were captured by the Japanese. Others were kept to finish the landing strip as POW’s. They were killed by the Japanese after they completed the job. Subsequently a monument was put on the island to commemorate these men. My Father was 18 Years old when captured and changed who he was forever. He later went to Enowetok Atol to build the models for the testing of the atom bomb. It would be very nice if this complete story was told. The book was no better not giving the full account. All the familys of the workers and Marines would like to see the whole story.

    • John Howard says:

      The best account of the Battle of Wake Island is Wake Island Command by Commander Winfield Scott Cunningham. He was in command at Wake when the Japanese attacked. He gives a eyewitness account of the battle including the role of the civilian contractors. He then goes to describe his captivity and repatriation. He does not provide much detail on the civilians after the capture because they (Sailors and Marines) were separated from them.

  17. John W Tice says:

    My father was a Tech-Sergeant in the 6th Marines Defense battalion stationed on Midway during that battle. Over 100 Japanese planes bombed and gunned the island setting fire to numerous buildings including the large gasoline dump. The Marines and aircraft crews stayed up all night putting out fires and anticipating more attacks.

  18. Harry Kooyman says:

    I flew out of Midway from 1963-65 US Navy, (AEWBARRONPAC) i.e. Airborne Early Warning Suadron Pacific. Our squadron flew missions 24-7 in order to prevent a surprise attack on the USA. The aircraft we flew were Lockheed Warning Stars (WV-2/EC121).Many of the original buildings from WW2 were still there -including the desalinization plant (mentioned in Roquefort’s message and the Japanese referred to as “AF”). Most of the wooden buildings have been torn down, but our flight crew barracks were saved. I am told that it was designated a “Historical Site”…Not sure why.

  19. Ken Merrick says:

    My uncle “Bill” (William) Leonard was a Wildcat Pilot in VF-42 on Yorktown for both Coral Sea and Midway and earning a Navy Cross for each action. He served in the Pacific throughout the war and retired 30+years later as a Rear Admiral.

  20. Bob Fuerst says:

    Here are the stories in Fold3 of the 84 Torpedo Squadron crewmembers killed in Battle of Midway.
    https://www.fold3.com/search?docQuery=(filters:!((type:general.title.content.doc-type,values:!((label:Memorial,value:STORY_PAGE)))),keywords:`“Torpedo+squadron”,Midway,“SBTSProject”`)

  21. Michael Hills says:

    Did the USS Tennessee take part in the Battle of Midway? I understand the Tennessee was part of the force in the Battle of Coral Sea.
    My uncle served on the US Tennessee when it was sunk in the attack on Pearly Harbor, and continued to serve on the repaired Tennessee during the rest of WWII.

    • Duane Cassida says:

      The USS Tennessee, BB-43, was damaged at Pearl Harbor although not that seriously. It was patched up and returned to the West Coast for completion of repairs. It then spent the rest of 1942 patrolling the West Coast to prevent a Japnese landing which was a big concern in 1942. USS Tennessee was not a participant at the Battle of the Coral Sea or the Battle of Midway. With a top speed of around 20 knots, Tennessee and the other WWI battleships were not able to stay with the fast carriers. USS Tennessee spent most of 1943 in a shipyard being modernized before spending the last 18 months of the war serving as a gun platform to soften up the beaches for troop landings.

    • John Conley says:

      No U.S. battle ships took part in either Coral Sea or Midway. They were kept on the west coast of California. They were simply too slow …. they could not keep up with the carriers, destroyers or cruisers. The fast battleships would be coming however… the last 4 were of the Iowa class.

    • russ greenlaw says:

      Samuel Eliot Morison wrote that not only were the old BBs slow, they used more fuel than the
      newer BBs (low pressure boilers are less efficient) and the navy had a shortage of oilers early in the war (having lost one at Coral Sea) – particularly for operations in Southwest Pacific, i.e. Solomons.

  22. Tina Carlson says:

    My grandfather was on the Yorktown and then transferred to the Enterprise after the Yorktown sank. He had a picture of the ships that surrounded the Yorktown on the wall of their house in their living room I saw it everyday when I was 10 until I left my grandparents house.. thank you to those men and women for your service

  23. THOMAS KEITH says:

    Facing Fearful Odds: The Siege of Wake Island, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 1997; won the General Wallace M. Greene Jr. Award in 1998 from the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation
    Victory in Defeat: The Wake Island Defenders in Captivity, 1941-1945, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, 2010
    both by Gregory J. W. Urwin

  24. Ron Oliver says:

    Some years ago at a Veterans Day meal at a restaurant I sat next to an old gentleman in the foyer who told me he was one of the pilots at Midway. An honor to meet him. Also I heard long ago that as an aircraft carrier was sinking, some of the men delayed their departure by eating the ice cream stored for the fleet. Also, my mother told that when the announcement was finally made about the sinking of the carrier (about a month after for security reasons) they were greatly worried about men they knew on it until they checked letters received and dated after the sinking.

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  26. Kathleen Monks says:

    My father fought at Midway. He was a gunner’s mate at the time. Unfortunately, I do not know what ship. He was extremely proud to serve and he did talk about it with every veteran he met. I honestly think, that is why he never suffered from PTSD.

  27. Brice Freeman says:

    @ Jenny Ashcraft – Do you have an ETA for when the WWII Morning Reports will be added to Fold3? There are many of us checking the Morning Reports daily (okay multiple times daily), eagerly awaiting their posting. Many thanks to the Fold3 team for adding this extraordinarily valuable content.

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