Friday, June 3, 2011

Battle of Midway, 4-7 June 1942

The Battle of Midway, fought over and near the tiny U.S. mid-Pacific base at Midway atoll, represents the strategic high water mark of Japan's Pacific Ocean war. Prior to this action, Japan possessed general naval superiority over the United States and could usually choose where and when to attack. After Midway, the two opposing fleets were essentially equals, and the United States soon took the offensive.

Japanese Combined Fleet commander Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto moved on Midway in an effort to draw out and destroy the U.S. Pacific Fleet's aircraft carrier striking forces, which had embarassed the Japanese Navy in the mid-April Doolittle Raid on Japan's home islands and at the Battle of Coral Sea in early May. He planned to quickly knock down Midway's defenses, follow up with an invasion of the atoll's two small islands and establish a Japanese air base there. He expected the U.S. carriers to come out and fight, but to arrive too late to save Midway and in insufficient strength to avoid defeat by his own well-tested carrier air power.

Yamamoto's intended surprise was thwarted by superior American communications intelligence, which deduced his scheme well before battle was joined. This allowed Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, the U.S. Pacific Fleet commander, to establish an ambush by having his carriers ready and waiting for the Japanese. On 4 June 1942, in the second of the Pacific War's great carrier battles, the trap was sprung. The perserverance, sacrifice and skill of U.S. Navy aviators, plus a great deal of good luck on the American side, cost Japan four irreplaceable fleet carriers, while only one of the three U.S. carriers present was lost. The base at Midway, though damaged by Japanese air attack, remained operational and later became a vital component in the American trans-Pacific offensive.

Dauntless dive bombers

USS Yorktown (CV-5)

Japanese aircraft carrier Hiryu
SBD "Dauntless" dive bombers from USS Hornet (CV-8) approaching the burning Japanese heavy cruiser Mikuma to make the third set of attacks on her, during the early afternoon of 6 June 1942.

Mikuma had been hit earlier by strikes from Hornet and USS Enterprise (CV-6), leaving her dead in the water and fatally damaged.

Photo was enlarged from a 16mm color motion picture film. Note bombs hung beneath these planes. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives Collection.

Scene on board USS Yorktown (CV-5), shortly after she was hit by three Japanese bombs on 4 June 1942. Dense smoke is from fires in her uptakes, caused by a bomb that punctured them and knocked out her boilers.

Taken by Photographer 2rd Class William G. Roy from the starboard side of the flight deck, just in front of the forward 5"/38 gun gallery. Man with hammer at right is probably covering a bomb entry hole in the forward elevator.

Note arresting gear cables and forward palisade elements on the flight deck; CXAM radar antenna, large national ensign and YE homing beacon antenna atop the foremast; 5"/38, .50 caliber and 1.1" guns manned and ready at left.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, U.S. National Archives Collection.

The burning Japanese aircraft carrier Hiryu, photographed by a plane from the carrier Hosho shortly after sunrise on 5 June 1942. Hiryu sank a few hours later. Note collapsed flight deck over the forward hangar.

Donation of Kazutoshi Hando, 1970. NHHC Photograph.

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