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.
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.
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.
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!