CACI Commemorates the 72nd Anniversary of the Battle of Midway, June 4-7, 1942
When America Began the Road to Victory After Pearl Harbor
"Midway thrust the warlords back on their heels, caused their ambitious plans ... to be canceled, and forced on them an unexpected, unwelcome, defensive role."
- Samuel Eliot Morison, the U.S. Navy's official historian of World War II
June 4th marks the 72nd anniversary of the start of the Battle of Midway, perhaps the most important naval battle in the Pacific during World War II. With many in the U.S. Navy considering this to be the most important victory in naval history, the anniversary of this battle and the Navy's birthday are the two events celebrated by the service each year around the world.
The consequences of the Japanese capturing the Midway Atoll were unthinkable. The northeastern Pacific Rim would have been essentially defenseless and the United States would have been severely diminished as a strategic Pacific power. The attack was crucial to Japanese plans to later move on Fiji, Samoa, and Hawaii.
The Importance of Intelligence
The plan of attack by Japanese Combined Fleet Commander Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was to lure America's few remaining carriers into a trap and sink them. He wanted to quickly knock down Midway's defenses, follow up by invading the atoll's two small islands, and establish a Japanese air base.
Yamamoto expected the U.S. carriers to come out and fight, but superior American communications intelligence had deduced his scheme well before the battle commenced.
While intelligence has always been important in the history of warfare, the Navy was limited at Midway as some traditional sources such as prisoner interrogation and capture of documents proved to be unworkable. However, the Navy was skilled at electronic communications surveillance and intercepted more than 1,000 messages revealing plans to occupy Midway and trap the U.S. fleet. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, the U.S. Pacific Fleet commander, had his carriers ready and waiting to attack the Japanese forces.
With the effective U.S. intelligence, the Navy suffered the loss of only one carrier, the USS Yorktown. After planes launched from her decks helped destroy three of the four Japanese carriers, the ship was struck by three aircraft bombs. The next day, the compromised ship was hit by torpedoes from the Japanese submarine I-168 and eventually sunk, not to be seen again until May 19, 1998 by oceanographer Dr. Robert D. Ballard.
The kind of communications intelligence relied on at Midway is also one of the main weapons used in the current fight on terrorism. The expertise of the U.S. military and Intelligence Community in intercepting and analyzing enemy communications is a key reason why our adversaries often resort to older communications tactics such as couriers.
Contributions From the Sky
The most significant plane of the Battle of Midway, the SBD Dauntless, sitting aboard the new USS Yorktown. The "Swiss cheese" wing flaps are clearly visible. The edge of the F4F Wildcat is visible on the left.
While ships receive much of the attention in key naval battles, it is the planes launched from their decks that do much of the damage. The SBD Dauntless was probably the most important aircraft at the Battle of Midway, providing the final blows that took down all four Japanese carriers involved in the engagement. Three of the blows were delivered in a matter of just six minutes. The Dauntless also inflicted heavy damage on two destroyers. The aircraft was especially adept at accurate steep dive attacks with its "Swiss cheese" wing flaps, describing the three-inch holes in the dive brakes. The Battle of Midway represented the Dauntless's greatest contribution to World War II.
The front-line fighter, the F4F Wildcat, also made key hits at Midway. The aircraft's main role in the battle was providing defense cover for the other planes and ships.
Many TBF Avengers pilots made the ultimate sacrifice at the Battle of Midway, and while the Avenger was unable to damage the Japanese fleet, its heroic aviators successfully battled for American control of the sky.
Six TBF Avenger aircraft were utilized in Midway as part of Torpedo Squadron 8, housed on the USS Hornet. Attacking the enemy fleet without any fighter coverage, the Avenger pilots fared among the least well in the battle. Only one of the aircraft survived the battle. While torpedo bombers did not actually damage the Japanese fleet at Midway, the sacrifices of their pilots were instrumental in reducing Japanese fighter cover and opening the skies for the higher-altitude dive bombers that arrived later.
A Lasting Impact
The Battle of Midway established American dominance in the Pacific and gave the U.S. government the confidence and popular support to initiate a European campaign, which started with D-Day. This battle was certainly one that changed the course of World War II.
The new USS Yorktown is currently the centerpiece of Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant, S.C. It pays tribute to military victories and sacrifices in all wars and houses the Congressional Medal of Honor Museum.
After the Yorktown was lost, the under-construction Bon Homme Richard was renamed Yorktown in honor of the fallen ship. Perhaps inspired by her predecessor, the aircraft carrier had numerous successful missions in the Pacific, earning 11 battle stars and the Presidential Unit Citation. The new Yorktown had a later moment of historical significance in serving as a recovery ship for the Apollo 8 program, and today stands as a reminder of the Battle of Midway as the centerpiece of the Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum in South Carolina. Aircraft heroes of Midway such as the SBD Dauntless, F4F Wildcat, and the TBF Avenger are among the fleet currently displayed on its decks.
According to Dr. J.P. (Jack) London, CACI Executive Chairman and Chairman of the Board, "The retired USS Yorktown docked in South Carolina is a fitting reminder of American resiliency and the impact of the Battle of Midway 72 years later. After the horror and shock of Pearl Harbor and the sinking of the predecessor Yorktown, we built an even bigger ship that helped win World War II and stood the test of time. It is also fitting that some of the types of planes so pivotal in that momentous battle have returned to its decks. I salute the good character and fortitude of our service members who gave the ultimate sacrifice halfway around the world to ensure our security at home."
"They had no right to win. Yet they did, and in doing so they changed the course of a war ... Even against the greatest of odds, there is something in the human spirit – a magic blend of skill, faith, and valor – that can lift men from certain defeat to incredible victory."
- Inscription on World War II memorial in Washington, D.C. commemorating
the Battle of Midway, from author Walter Lord's book,
Battle of Midway (Incredible Victory)