June 3, 2019
CACI Commemorates the 77th Anniversary of the Battle of Midway, June 4-7, 1942
"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
Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy
The tiny islands of the Midway Atoll were the scene of a decisive naval battle that turned the tide of World War II in the Pacific.
It is considered by many historians to be one of the U.S. Navy’s most decisive naval battles … yet the opposing fleets never actually met on the water.
The Battle of Midway was fought almost entirely with aircraft, launched from both carriers and by land, in a combat environment that tested the courage and willpower of the naval aviators of both sides. It was a struggle in which a numerically inferior U.S. Navy beat back a massive Japanese attack with air power and, most critically, intelligence. We commemorate the 77th anniversary of Midway today.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Navy cryptanalyst Joseph Rochefort was credited with breaking the Japanese Flag Officers Code, providing a decisive advantage to American forces.
America’s Midway Islands were home to U.S. submarine and seaplane bases and served as a forward staging point for American bombers. While the islands were of little military value, Japanese Combined Fleet Commander Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto sought to use them to lure American naval forces into a trap and cripple U.S. Pacific power. Occupying Midway would also extend Japan’s defensive perimeter and position it for further attacks in the Pacific, including a possible invasion of Hawaii.
What Yamamoto did not know was that U.S. Naval Intelligence had already discovered his plans.
Weeks before the battle, naval radio operators began detecting communications that Yamamoto had dispatched to prepare his forces. U.S. signals intelligence (SIGINT) analysts, led by brilliant Japanese linguist and Navy cryptanalyst Joseph Rochefort, commander of the code-breaking team at Station Hypo in Hawaii, intercepted and broke Yamamoto’s code.
Armed with this stunning intelligence, U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Chester W. Nimitz had all the information he needed to determine the date, time, and location of the attack; the strategic order of battle; and the locations of Japanese ships. Nimitz would turn the tables on Yamamoto and let the element of surprise work for him.
Photo courtesy of U.S. Naval History and
U.S. Navy Douglas SBD-3 "Dauntless" dive-bombers attacking a burning Japanese heavy cruiser during the Battle of Midway.
Battle in the Skies
Yamamoto began his attack in the early morning of June 4, 1942, sending 108 dive bombers, torpedo bombers, and fighter escorts of 36 planes each to raid Midway. He believed his superior force and the element of surprise would deal a fatal blow to the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
American scout planes found the Japanese early in the morning of June 4, and planes were launched from Midway itself to meet the Japanese ships. However, the American forces were decisively repelled by planes and withering fire from Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo’s First Carrier Striking Force. Nagumo then ordered his planes to land, refuel, and rearm for a counterattack. But this, too, Nimitz had considered.
Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy
Admiral Chester W. Nimitz anticipated the Japanese attack following U.S. codebreaking efforts, soundly defeating the Japanese First Carrier Strike Force.
At approximately 10:00, Pacific time, the Japanese planes prepared their counterattack. Unbeknownst to them, Nimitz’s Rear Admirals Raymond Spruance and Frank Fletcher had already begun actions that would change the course of the battle. At their orders, dive bombers had been launched from the Yorktown and Enterprise, and as the Japanese continued their preparations, the bombers came in undetected from 15,000 feet. In a matter of seconds, they dealt lethal blows to three of Nagumo’s carriers, leaving them listing and aflame, and soon knocked out the fourth.
Photo courtesy of Military Times
Navy dive bomber LTG Paul Holmberg earned the Navy Cross for “outstanding courage and determined skill” during Midway.
By the morning of June 5, the battle was effectively over. Japan had suffered a crushing defeat, losing all four carriers, 322 aircraft, and over 5,000 sailors. On the American side, 147 aircraft, the Yorktown, a destroyer, and more than 300 seamen were lost. The Japanese Navy never recovered, and the tide of war in the Pacific was turned.
According to CACI Executive Chairman and Chairman of the Board Dr. J.P. (Jack) London, “The Battle of Midway is an enduring reminder of American resiliency and resourcefulness.”
A retired naval aviator himself, Dr. London also had the privilege of meeting one of the pilots who played a key role in the American victory. While serving as aide and administrative assistant to the Vice Chief of the Naval Material Command in 1969, he was introduced to Rear Admiral Paul Holmberg. As a Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Admiral Holmberg took part in dive-bombing attacks against several Japanese ships, inflicting particular damage on the carrier Akagi. For his actions, LTG Holmberg was awarded the Navy Cross.
“America is forever grateful for the bravery of our naval aviators and sailors, the ingenious intelligence work of our codebreakers, and the steadfast leadership of Admiral Nimitz,” says Dr. London. “Together, they were inspired to victory.”
In 2007, Dr. London received the Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz Award from the Navy League of the United States for service and support to the U.S. Navy as an industry civilian and executive leader.
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