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The Battle of Midway

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The Battle of Midway
John Hays
ENG/102
November 10, 2013
Dr. Lisa Tilley

The Battle of Midway

The Battle of Midway was fought over land and at sea near the small United States Pacific base of Midway Island; this sea and air battle “represents the high water mark of Japan's Pacific Ocean war.” (Naval History and Heritage Command, 2010, p.1) Thus, prior to this battle, Japan’s Navy possessed sea and air superiority over the United States and could choose when and where to attack. “After Midway the two opposing fleets were essentially equals, and the United States soon took the offensive.” (Naval History and Heritage Command, 2010, p.1) The Battle of Midway was a strategic point when the United States turned the tide of World War II in the Pacific because; the United States Navy stopped the Japanese advance and they put the Japanese Navy on the defensive.
By March 1942, Japan’s Navy high command initial goals were achieved easier than what they had planed. Therefore, they had turned their sights into making an offensive war plan and not to transition into a “strategic defensive posture, but there were still disputes on how to maintain the offensive” (Hone, 2013, p.1). Most historians speculate, “Moving further south in the Pacific would isolate Australia, and possibly remove that nation as a threat to the freshly expanded Japanese Empire.” (Naval History and Heritage Command, 2010, p.1)
Therefore, the June Midway Battle turned out to be the most damaging battle of the Pacific war for the Japanese. In this new history author Symonds describes it as "the most complete naval victory since... Trafalgar" (historynet.com p.1). Midway had far-reaching effects on the course of the pacific war. As Symonds explains, “on the morning of June 4 the Japanese navy claimed the initiative and was in a position to choose from at least a half-dozen strategic options. On the other hand, the U.S. Navy still reeling from the attack on Pearl Harbor - was strictly on the defensive and able to do little beyond desperately trying to defend its crippled Hawaiian base and its vulnerable outpost on Midway Island.” (Guttman, 2012, p.1) Following the first day of battle Japan’s Navy’s fortunes had been completely reversed. According to Guttman “the Japanese had lost four of their largest and best aircraft carriers, along with their irreplaceable veteran aircrews, and the U.S. Navy had gained a strategic initiative it would never again relinquish.” From the first day of the sea battle the Japanese Naval Command had no other options than holding a perimeter defense of the Japanese controlled islands. (Guttman, 2012)
However, “the American island base at Midway was also an attractive target, and the Doolittle Raid on Japan prompted a decision to attack there as the next major offensive goal” (Naval History and Heritage Command, 2010, p.1) suggests naval historians. One of the main reasons the Japanese selected Midway Island was “Midway was a vital sentry for Hawaii", and a preemptive attack on the island of Midway would most likely prompt a major land and naval battle furthermore, the Japanese fully intended on winning the decisive battle.” (Naval History and Heritage Command, 2010, p.1) That victory would eliminate once and for all the United States Navy as a serious threat, The Japanese believed that if they could damage the United States Naval fleets the United States would negotiate a peaceful end of the conflict, this was Japans exit strategy. (Naval History and Heritage Command, 2010, p.1)
The ability of the American to ship and store supplies at the island of Midway became valuable for the resupply efforts over the Pacific Theatre of Operations. Aircraft carriers and other resupply ships could not have sustained the fight we put up against the Imperial Japanese Forces as we did at Guadalcanal, and the Solomon Islands (and until these battles were outright won the Battle of Midway would place the U.S. on par with the Japanese Forces). Therefore, on the June 26, 1942 “The Japanese Northern Force, which included two light carriers, sailed from Ominato toward the Aleutians. The next day, Japanese forces began getting underway for Midway. Chief among them was First Mobile Force, Carrier Strike Force (Vice Admiral Nagumo Chuichi), comprising the four large carriers Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, and Hiryu with a total of 229 carrier aircraft” (Naval History and Heritage Command, 2010, p. 1). On June 28th 1942, the Japanese attack fleet’s, Main Body (Admiral Yamamoto in command of the attack group from the battleship Yamato) left multiple bases from within the Japanese islands. Leaving shortly after was the Japanese war fleet, the carrier escort force (commanded by Rear Admiral Tanaka Raizo), the escort fleet included 15 transport ships, sailing from Saipan; furthermore, the war fleet also contained the Occupation Support Force (commanded by Rear Admiral Kurita Takeo) sailed from the island of Guam and, 17 patrol seaplanes supported these forces. (Naval History and Heritage Command, 2010)
Japanese planes attacked midway at 0616 on June 4, 1942, the main targets were the islands power plants and oil holding installations. American historians state “Ten torpedo-bombers had taken off from Midway to attack the Japanese carriers. However, the defense of these ships was such that none scored a hit and only three planes returned to Midway” (History Learning Site, 2000, p.1). A second attack by and Vindicator scout-bombers also failed to damage any of the Japanese war ships however, this attack had achieved one strategic advantage, this attack had forced the Japanese carriers to launch many Zero fighters to protect the fleet from attack. After the fighters landed they needed to be refueled and rearmed causing the fleet to be vulnerable to attack as it had very little fighter air cover furthermore, the Japanese carriers were not in a position to do a great deal other than reequip the planes. (History Learning Site, 2000)
It was at this moment, when Japanese fighter planes were rearming that the Japanese carriers were defenseless against an air attack, that “Nagumo received news of an incoming aerial attack from planes from both the 'Hornet' and 'Enterprise'. All that Spruance had left behind were sufficient planes to give his ships aerial cover - the rest were sent to attack the Japanese fleet. Spruance's planes first left the fleet at 07.52 led by Lieutenant-Commander McClusky. In all, 67 Dauntless dive- bombers, 29 Devastator torpedo-bombers and 20 Wildcat fighters were involved” (History Learning Site, 2000, p.1). However, the squadrons were not grouped together they were spread over a vast area thus, making it difficult to communicate between the squadrons. In essence, four squadrons advanced on the Japanese without being able to communicate effectively. “Unknown to them, Nagumo had changed course and when the planes arrived at the point that they believed the Japanese would be at - they found nothing. Some planes searched in vain; many of the fighters had to ditch as they simply ran out of fuel. However, the torpedo squadrons, flying low over the water, did find the Japanese carriers - but they had no fighter cover for the attack” (History Learning Site, 2000, p.1).
American search planes brought the Japanese fleet to the American carriers and the bomber squadrons brought the Japanese carrier group to its knees thanks to the intelligence efforts. Scouts planes found the Japanese carrier task force early in the morning. American intelligence documents state, “Although initial strikes by Midway-based planes were not successful, American carrier-based planes turned the tide. Torpedo bombers became separated from the American dive-bombers and were slaughtered (36 of 42 shot down), but they diverted Japanese defenses just in time for the dive-bombers to arrive; some of them had become lost, and now by luck they found the Japanese” (Prados, 1996, p. 1). Furthermore, the Japanese aircraft carriers task force was caught attempting to refuel and rearm their warplanes, making them vulnerable to an air attack. The American bomber and torpedo planes sank four heavy carriers, the entire strength of the Japanese carrier task force; the carriers Hiryu, Soryu, Akagi, and Kaga, taking with them 322 aircraft and more than five thousand sailors were lost at sea. The Japanese also lost multiple other war ships and support ships. American losses were 147 aircraft and more than three hundred sailors. (Prados, J, 1996)
After the air attacks occurring mid-morning on the Japanese carrier task force, only the Hiryu remained sea worthy. Japanese historians state, “Shortly before 1100 she launched eighteen dive-bombers, escorted by six fighters, to strike a retaliatory blow. At about noon, as these planes approached USS Yorktown (CV-5), the most exposed of the three American aircraft carriers, they were intercepted by the U.S. combat air patrol, which shot down most of the bombers. Seven, however, survived to attack, hitting Yorktown with three bombs and stopping her” (Naval History and Heritage Command, 2010, p.1)
“While Yorktown's crew worked to repair damage and get their ship underway, a second force left Hiryu, this one consisting of ten torpedo planes and six fighters” (Mrazek, 2011, p.1) Although the U.S. Yorktown was moving again after some quick repairs, even launching more fighters, the Japanese aircraft made it through the heavy gunfire resulting with two torpedoes, hitting the Yorktown resulting in two torpedoes putting holes in her hull. “The stricken ship again went dead in the water and took on a severe list” (Naval History and Heritage Command, 2010, p.1). The Yorktown was listing severely to port, and the captain was convinced that the Yorktown was going to roll over and sink thus, he ordered the Yorktown crew to abandon the ship. (Naval History and Heritage Command, 2010)
Following the June 4, 1942 air assault on Midway's oil refineries and the day's many air and sea battles between the opposing carrier forces, the Japanese high command briefly considered continuing the Pacific offensive campaign. However, “as the full extent of their disaster became clear, they began a general retreat” (Naval History and Heritage Command, 2010, p.1). After withdrawing briefly to avoid a engagement at night, the two carriers pursued the Japanese fleets, unsuccessfully attempting to attack as many ships as they could while pursuing the withdrawing fleet.
The Yorktown, had two gaping holes in both the port and starboard sides of the ship, the ship remained floating through the night of six and seven of June 1942, while her escorting destroyers successfully kept Japanese submarines away from the vulnerable ship, the crew took care of wounded sailors and kept watch for more Japanese air planes. As the sun rose, it was made visible that the Yorktown was extremely low in the water with and listing badly to the port side. At sunrise on June 7, the USS Yorktown rolled over on her port side and sank by the stern.
The consequences of the Battle of Midway for the Japanese were huge. During one battle they lost four irreplaceable aircraft carriers considered to be vital for the Pacific campaign. Whereas the Americans could replace the Yorktown, the Japanese would have found it very difficult to replace one carrier, let alone four. Regardless of the task of building new carriers, replacing the experienced crew would be impossible. The Japanese Navy would never be able to replace the four carriers it lost during the battle of Midway nor, was the Japanese Navy capable of any further offensive campaigns. Thus, the battle over and around the island of Midway was the turning point in the Pacific during World War Two.

References
Erickson, R. (June 19, 2013). ProQuest. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.apollolobrary.com/docview/1406184959
History Learning Site. (2000). History Learning Site. Retrieved from http://www.historylearingsite.co.uk/battle_midway.htm
Hone, T. C. (August, 2013). ProQuest: The Battle of Midway. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.apollolibrary.com/docview/1427459140
Mrazek, R. J. (December, 2011). ProQuest. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.apollolibrary.com/docview/910328524
Naval History and Heritage Command. (2010). Naval History and Heritage Command. Retrieved from http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/events/wwii-pac/midway/midway.htm
Prados, J. (1996). The Battle of Midway. Retrieved from http://www.history.com/topics/battle-of-midway
Symonds, C. L. (2011). Historynet.com. Retrieved from http://historynet.com/book-review-the-battle-of-midway-by-craig-l-symond.htm…...

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