CACI Commemorates the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Midway, June 4-7, 1942
When America Began the Road to Victory After Pearl Harbor
Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy
"Please accept my sympathy for the losses sustained by your gallant aviation personnel based at Midway. Their sacrifice was not in vain. When the great emergency came, they were ready. They met unflinchingly the attack of vastly superior numbers and made the attack ineffective. They struck the first blow at the enemy carriers. They were the spearhead of our great victory. They have written a new and shining page in the annals of the Marine Corps."
- Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, (U.S. Navy), dispatch to all Marines after the Battle of Midway
June 4th marks the start of what many historians consider to be the decisive naval battle in the Pacific during World War II … perhaps the most significant of any battle on the world’s oceans during that conflict. The Battle of Midway raged from June 4-7 in 1942. It was a pivotal encounter that began the reversal of Japanese successes following their devastating attack on Pearl Harbor just six months earlier.
Dr. J.P. (Jack) London, CACI Executive Chairman and Chairman of the Board, attended the 70th Battle of Midway Commemoration Dinner at the Army Navy Country Club in Arlington, Virginia and a commemorative ceremony at the U.S. Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C. On these occasions the U.S. Navy’s Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert was the senior and presiding naval representative. Dr. London serves on the Board of Directors of the U.S. Navy Memorial.
Dr. London commented that the epic event helped shape the outcome of the war and the history of our nation: "Midway was one of those once in a generation moments that truly made a difference to all Americans. Just six months into a brutal war with enemies on two fronts, what Admiral Nimitz and his gallant warriors did was a blunt reminder to the Japanese that the U.S. Navy was determined to avenge Pearl Harbor. And it served as a great morale boost for those on the home front, as they mobilized for the long struggle ahead. Midway was the greatest naval victory in the U.S. Navy’s long and remarkable history – one to always be remembered by the American people."
The Turning Point
Looking back, it’s frightening to consider how the war might have progressed if the enemy had won the battle, coming as it did after the U.S. Navy’s loss of the carrier Lexington at the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Japanese capture of Wake Island.
Had the Japanese captured the Midway Atoll, the northeastern Pacific Rim would have been essentially defenseless. Japanese success would have ensured their naval supremacy in the Pacific until perhaps late 1943. The Midway operation, like the attack on Pearl Harbor that had plunged the United States into war, was not part of a campaign for the conquest of the United States itself, but was aimed at its elimination as a strategic Pacific power, thereby giving Japan a free hand in establishing its Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. It was also hoped that another defeat would force the U.S. to negotiate an end to the Pacific War with conditions favorable for Japan.
Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy
"The Battle of Midway was the turning point of the war, for up to that time Japan had been on the offensive. But after the Battle of Midway, the Japanese were forced to adopt defensive strategy. It was carrier-based bombers that turned back our fleet there. We lost four carriers to this type of attack."
- Capt. Taijiro Aoki, Imperial Japanese Navy, Commanding Officer of aircraft carrier Akagi, sunk in Battle of Midway
The Japanese plan of attack was to lure America's few remaining carriers into a trap and sink them. The Japanese also intended to occupy Midway Atoll to extend Japan's defensive perimeter farther from its home islands. This operation was considered preparatory for further attacks against Fiji and Samoa, as well as the invasion of Hawaii.
An Enemy Plan … Thwarted by Intelligence
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 embarrassed 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.
Photo courtesy of U.S. Naval Historical Center
"I feel we are all ready . . . I actually believe that under these conditions we are the best in the world. My greatest hope is that we encounter a favorable tactical situation, but if we don't and the worst comes to the worst, I want each of us to do his utmost to destroy our enemies. If there is only one plane left to make a final run-in, I want that man to go in and get a hit. May God be with us all."
- LCDR John C. Waldron, USN, Commanding Officer of USS Hornet's Torpedo Squadron 8, killed during Battle of Midway
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 June 4, 1942, in the second of the Pacific War's great carrier battles, the trap was sprung. The perseverance, 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.
The Beginning of the End
It was a crushing defeat for the Japanese and permanently weakened the Japanese Navy, particularly through the loss of over 200 naval aviators. Strategically, the U.S. Navy was able to seize the initiative in the Pacific and go on the offensive. 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.
"The Navy, Marine Corps, and Cost Guard join in admiration for the American naval, Marine and Army forces, who have so gallantly and effectively repelled the enemy advance on Midway, and are confident that their comrades in arms will continue to make the enemy realize that war is hell."
-Admiral Ernest J. King, Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Fleet, message to Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet
For a full account of the role intelligence played in the Battle of Midway, see this The Washington Times feature: http://www.washingtontimes.com/specials/battle-midway-70th-anniversary/.