June 1, 2018
CACI Observes the 76th Anniversary of the Battle of Midway
The Battle of Midway, June 4-7, 1942, is often considered the U.S. Navy’s most important post-Pearl Harbor victory in the Pacific during World War II. This year marks the 76th anniversary of that pivotal battle.
The Japanese Strategy
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 not of great 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, and a possible invasion of Hawaii.
Yamamoto’s plan was to attack Midway and draw U.S. carriers into the battle, where they would be surprised and outgunned by Yamamoto’s huge fleet of carriers, aircraft, and warships.
He 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.
What he did not know was that U.S. Naval Intelligence had already discovered his plans.
The Intelligence Breakthrough
Weeks before the battle, naval radio operators began detecting communications Yamamoto had dispatched to prepare his forces. U.S. signals intelligence (SIGINT) analysts led by Commander Joseph Rochefort and Pacific Fleet Intelligence Officer Lt. Commander Edwin Layton also had exceptional knowledge and understanding of the Japanese language and culture. By May 16, American codebreakers in Hawaii were in possession of much of Yamamoto’s plans, including exactly where his fleet of carriers would be positioned. Armed with this stunning intelligence, U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Chester W. Nimitz developed a strategy to turn the tables on Yamamoto, and let the element of surprise work for him.
It was clear from the gathered intelligence that the Japanese would lead the assault with the First Carrier Striking Force, commanded by Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo. Nagumo had led the attack on Pearl Harbor just six months before, and was now steaming toward Midway with a fleet that included four aircraft carriers, two battleships, three cruisers, and 11 destroyers.
To counter this, Nimitz placed his own carriers – the USS Enterprise, Hornet, and Yorktown, which had been damaged a month earlier during the battle of the Coral Sea – on Nagumo’s flank, northeast of Midway. As Nagumo sped to Midway, Nimitz’s carriers lay in wait.
The Tide Turns
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. Initial strikes did not go well, however, and the American forces were decisively repelled by Nagumo’s own planes and withering fire from his ships. Nagumo then ordered his planes to land, refuel, and rearm for a counterattack. But this, too, Nimitz had considered.
At approximately 10:00, Pacific time, just as the Japanese planes prepared their counterattack, dive bombers from the Yorktown and Enterprise, dove 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.
Among the brave pilots was Lt. (j.g.) Jack “Dusty” Kleiss from the USS Enterprise’s elite Scouting Squadron Six. Kleiss took his SBD Dauntless into a near-vertical dive amid blistering anti-aircraft fire and released three bombs which fatally struck the deck of the Japanese carrier Kaga. Later that day, Kleiss also struck the carrier Hiryu and two days later contributed to the destruction of the cruiser Mikuma. Kleiss was the only pilot from either side to land hits on three different ships, which crippled the once-fearsome Japanese fleet.
By the morning of June 5, the battle was effectively over. While small strikes occurred over the next few days, in the end the Japanese 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, “After the shock of Pearl Harbor, the Battle of Midway will always be a fitting reminder of American resiliency and ingenuity. This is a day for every American to salute the character and fortitude of the courageous servicemen and women who fought for victory halfway around the world to ensure our freedom at home.”
In 2007, Dr. London was the recipient of 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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