67 years ago today, the battle for Midway Island took place. Most Americans at the time didn’t even know where or what Midway Island was.
In June 1942, a month after the decisive U.S. victory in the Coral Sea, Japan was dealt a fatal blow at Midway Island-a blow that would turn the course of World War II in favor of the Allies. In August 1942 ALL HANDS, then known as the Bureau of Naval Personnel Information Bulletin, published the following account of the Battle of Midway-the beginning of the end of the fight in the Pacific.
Early in June, near the island of Midway, about 1100 miles to the west of Pearl Harbor, units of our Army, Navy, and Marine Corps joined action with a strong Japanese Invasion fleet which was approaching our Midway outpost.
At about 9 a.m., June 3, Navy Patrol planes reported a strong force of enemy ships about 700 miles off Midway, proceeding eastward. Nine U.S. Army B-17 Flying Fortresses based on Midway immediately were ordered to intercept and attack the approaching enemy. The Japanese force was approaching in five columns and was composed of many cruisers, transports, cargo vessels, and other escort ships. The Army bombers scored hits on one cruiser and one transport. Both ships were severely damaged and left burning.
About dawn on June 4, several groups of Army medium and heavy bombers and U.S. Marine Corps dive bombers and torpedo planes took to the air from Midway to attack the approaching enemy. Four Army torpedo bombers attacked two enemy aircraft carriers through a heavy screen of enemy fighter protection and a curtain of anti-aircraft fire. One torpedo hit on a carrier is believed to have been made. Two of the four bombers failed to return.
Six Marine Corps torpedo planes attacked the enemy force in the face of heavy odds. It is believed this group scored one hit on an enemy ship. Only one of the six planes returned to its base.
Sixteen Marine Corps dive bombers attacked and scored three hits on a carrier, which is to have been the Soryu. Only half of the attacking planes returned. Another group of 11 Marine Corps dive bombers made a later attack on enemy ships and reported two bomb hits on an enemy battleship, which was left smoking and listing.
A group of 16 U.S. Army Flying Fortresses carried out high-level bombing attacks, according three hits on enemy carriers. One carrier was left smoking heavily.
Shortly after the Marine Corps planes had left Midway, the island itself was attacked by a large group of carrier-based enemy planes. They were engaged by a badly out-numbered Marine Corps fighter force, which met the enemy in the air as he arrived. These defending fighters, aided by anti-aircraft batteries, shot down at least 40 of the enemy planes. As the result, the material damage to shore installations, though serious, was not disabling. No plane was caught grounded at Midway.
Meanwhile, U.S. Naval forces afloat were being brought into position. Our carrier-based aircraft were launched and were proceeding to the spot where the enemy’s previous course and speed would have placed him had he chosen to continue the assault. Unaware of the enemy’s of course, one group of Navy fighters and dive bombers searched along the reported track to the southeast until shortage of gas forced them to abandon the search. Some were forced down at sea when they ran out of gas. Most were later rescued.
A different flight composed of fighters, dive bombers, and torpedo planes concluded that the enemy was retreating. Fifteen torpedo planes from this group, located the enemy westward and proceeded to attack at once without protection or assistance of any kind. Although some hits were reported by radio, and although some enemy fighters were shot down, the total damage inflicted in this attack may never be known. None of the 15 planes returned. The sole survivor of the 30 officers was Ensign G.H. Gay Jr., who scored one torpedo hit on an enemy carrier before he was shot down.
Other torpedo planes proceeded to press the attack after the enemy had been located. In spite of heavy losses during these attacks, the torpedo planes engaged the attention of the enemy fighters and anti-aircraft batteries to such a degree that our dive bombers were able to drop bomb after bomb on the enemy ships without serious interference. Navy dive bombers scored many hits and inflicted upon the enemy the following damage:
The Kaga, Akagi, and Soryu, aircraft carriers, were severely damaged. Gasoline in planes caught on their flight decks ignited, starting fires which burned until each carrier had sunk. Two battleships were hit. One was left burning fiercely. One destroyer was hit and is believed to have sunk.
Shortly after this battle, a force of about 36 enemy planes from the damaged carrier Hiryu attacked the U.S. aircraft carrierYorktown and her escorts. Eleven of 18 Japanese bombers in this group were shot down before their bombs were dropped. Seven got through our fighter protection. Of the seven, one was disintegrated by a surface ship’s anti-aircraft fire; a second dropped its bomb load into the sea and plunged in after it; while a third was torn to shreds by machine gun fire from U.S. fighter planes. Four enemy bombers escaped after scoring three hits.
Shortly afterward, 12 to 15 enemy torpedo planes escorted by fighters attacked Yorktown. Five succeeded in launching torpedoes, but were destroyed as they attempted to escape. Yorktown was hit and put out of action. The damage caused a list which rendered her flight deck useless. Her aircraft, however, continued operating from other U.S. carriers.
While this attack on Yorktown was in progress, some of her own planes located the carrier Hiryu in company with battleships, cruisers, and destroyers. Our carrier planes immediately attacked this newly-located force. Hiryu was hit repeatedly and left blazing from stem to stern. She sank the following morning. Two of the enemy battleships were pounded severely by bombs and a heavy cruiser was damaged severely.
During the same afternoon (June 4), a U.S. submarine scored three torpedo hits on the smoking carrier Soryu as the enemy was attempting to take her into tow. Soryu sank during the night.
Just before sunset (June 4) U.S. Army bombers delivered a heavy bomb attack on the crippled and burning ships. Three hits were scored on a damaged carrier (probably Akagi); one hit was scored on a large ship; one hit on a cruiser was left burning; and one destroyer was believed sunk.
By sundown on June 4 the United States forces had gained mastery of the air in the region of Midway.
At dawn (June 5) our forces were marshalling their strength for further assaults against the enemy fleets which by now had separated into several groups, all in full retreat.
In the afternoon of June 5, Army Flying Fortresses attacked enemy cruisers again and scored three direct hits upon one heavy cruiser. One the return ship, one of these planes was lost; a second was forced down at sea 15 miles from the Midway. All except one of the crew of the second plane were rescued. Early on June 6 an air search discovered two groups of enemy ships, each containing cruisers and destroyers.
Between 9:30 and 10:00 a.m., U.S. carrier planes attacked one group which contained the heavy cruisers Mikuma and Mogamiand three destroyers. At least two bomb hits were scored on each Japanese cruiser. One of these destroyers was sunk.
The attacks were carried on until 5:30p.m. Mikuma was sunk shortly after noon. Mogami was gutted and subsequently sunk. Another enemy cruiser and a destroyer also were hit during these series of attacks.
It was during this afternoon (June 6) that the U.S. destroyer Hammann was torpedoed and sunk by an enemy submarine. Most of her crew were rescued.
Repeated attempts were made to contact the remainder of the Japanese invasion fleet but without success. The battle was over.
The following is a recapitulation of the damage inflicted upon the enemy during the battle of Midway.
Four Japanese aircraft carriers, the Kaga, Akagi, Soryu, and Hiryu were sunk. Three battleships were damaged by bomb and torpedo hits, one severely. Two heavy cruisers, Mogami and Mikuma were sunk. Three others were damaged, one or two severely. One light cruiser was damaged. Three destroyers were sunk and several others were damaged by bombs. At least three transports or auxiliary ships were damaged, and one or more sunk.
The Battle of Midway was a complex and widespread action involving a number of engagements lasting more than three days and nights. Even our active participants in the numerous attacks and counter-attacks are unable to give an accurate account of the damage inflicted by any group in the many individual and unified attacks of our Army, Navy, and Marine Corps personnel.
Note that NOTHING was said about the code breakers, nor their work, as at the time that was still Top Secret. CDR Rochefort and his folks at Hypo had broken JN-25 which was the Japanese code, and the translated phrase “AF is short of water” was the clue that ADM Nimitz needed to move the Pacific Fleet. Sadly, he could not reinforce Midway itself (nor could they later reinforce Guam) for fear of giving away the fact they knew the attacks were coming.
I have been very lucky that during my Navy career, I actually got to Midway Island and was able to walk the ground both on Midway and East Island (which is basically as it was left in 1945).
It literally sent chills down my back to know that I was on the same land that was one of the first turning points in the war against Japan.
I have also seen the actual debriefing chart used to debrief ADM Nimitz after the battle occurred. That chart hangs in the Flag Cabin at Makalapa, HI across from ADM Nimitz desk. It also includes both US and Japanese movements, and the HYPO code information extracted from JN-25.
There will be a wreath laying at the Navy Memorial in DC today 4 June, between 2-3 pm. ADM Roughead the CNO and Gen. Amos the Asst. Commandant of the Marine Corps will be the speakers. This IS open to the public!