what turned the tide of the pacific naval war in favor of the allies? The naval war in the Pacific was not going well for the allies. Japan had gained control of much of the Pacific and it looked like they would soon dominate the region.
The allies were losing battle after battle and it seemed like Japan would eventually win control of the Pacific.
What turned the tide of the naval war in favor of the allies? Some say it was America’s use of two new weapons – the atomic bomb and radar. Others say that it was America’s superior navy and strategy. But whatever turned the tide, it is clear that victory was essential for defeating Japan and ending World War II.
On July 5, 1859, Captain N.C. Brooks staked a claim to the Midway Islands on behalf of the United States of America. The coral atoll, which is comprised of Eastern Island as well as the bigger Sand Island located to the west, has a total land area of just 2.4 square miles (6.2 square km). In the same year that the United States legally acquired Midway, 1867, a coal depot intended for use by transpacific steamers was built on the island, but it was never put into use. After then, the Midway incident received barely a trace amount of attention for many years. Midway was put under the jurisdiction of the United States Navy Department in 1903 by President Theodore Roosevelt, and the atoll became a connecting point for the underwater cable that was being built between Hawaii and the Philippines at that time. The true importance of Midway was not recognized until after the invention of air travel, at which point it was already too late. By 1935, the islands had already established themselves as a standard pit stop for transpacific flights.
It was World War II that provided a decisive demonstration of Midway’s significance as a strategic location. 1940 was the year when construction of a large air and submarine facility for the United States Navy got underway at that location. By the next year, Eastern Island would have three runways, while a seaplane hangar was constructed on Sand Island for a squadron of PBY Catalina flying boats. Both of these developments took place the following year. In addition to being the location of Midway’s military garrison, Sand Island was also the site of the island’s power plant and radio facilities. Japan was aware that gaining control of the atoll was going to be essential for the execution of its strategies in the central Pacific. In the event that Japan was able to take control of the islands, the American military presence in Hawaii, which is located around 1,770 kilometers to the southeast, would be in grave danger. In addition, the supply lines between the United States and Australia may be disrupted, which would render the Allied war effort ineffective and make it possible to take control of the southwest Pacific.
Because Midway played such an important role in the Japanese military’s strategic plans, the island was included in the first attack that kicked off the Pacific War on December 7 and 8, 1941. The Japanese destroyers Sazanami and Ushio launched their assault on the power plant and seaplane hangar located on Sand Island around 12 hours after the bombing on Pearl Harbor. Lieut. George Cannon, who had been gravely injured by a Japanese shell, stayed at his position to oversee one of the island’s defense guns despite the fact that the shell had struck him. The Japanese ships were eventually coerced into retreating, and Cannon, who later succumbed to his wounds, became the first United States Marine to be posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for valor during World War II.
The Japanese maintained their efforts to capture the Midway Islands and bases in the Aleutians after suffering a strategic defeat at the Battle of the Coral Sea (which took place between May 4 and May 8, 1942). Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku wanted to have a naval confrontation with the numerically superior United States Pacific Fleet, so he sent the majority of the Kid Butai (also known as “Mobile Force”), which was a huge carrier combat group led by Vice Admiral Nagumo Chuichi. In addition to the four heavy aircraft carriers Akagi, Hiryu, Kaga, and Soryu, the Japanese fleet had two light aircraft carriers, two seaplane carriers, seven battleships, fifteen cruisers, 42 destroyers, ten submarines, and a variety of support and escort boats. They were given the instructions to attack and destroy the American navy while simultaneously invading Midway.
Following the decryption of the Japanese JN25 naval code, the United States Intelligence Community was able to discern the intentions of the Japanese government, allowing the United States time to plan their defense. However, Admiral Chester Nimitz, who was in charge of the United States Pacific Fleet at the time, was unable to gather even a single battleship, and only two of his heavy carriers, the Hornet and the Enterprise, were in a state of readiness for action. The situation was made much more difficult by the fact that his most senior carrier commander, Vice Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, had been rendered helpless by a severe case of neurodermatitis and would not participate in the conflict at all. The Japanese were under the impression that a third carrier, the Yorktown, had been destroyed during the Battle of the Coral Sea, and it took the ship over two weeks to make her way back to Pearl Harbor after suffering severe damage. Initial estimates of the extent of the ship’s damage suggested that it would take at least three months to get it back into operation. Nimitz gave the personnel working on the repairs three days to complete their tasks. In a miraculous turn of events, the Yorktown was able to leave Pearl Harbor on the morning of May 30 after spending less than three days in dry dock. At the meeting site, which was optimistically code-named “Position Luck,” it would join the rest of Nimitz’s force, which comprised the Hornet, the Enterprise, eight cruisers, and eighteen destroyers. This point was located 350 miles (560 kilometers) northeast of Midway. They remained there as Yamamoto’s fleet made its way closer to them. In contrast, the United States was able to dispatch around 115 land-based Navy, Marine Corps, and Army Air Forces aircraft from Midway and Hawaii. The Japanese had no land-based air assistance at their disposal. In addition, there were around 19 submarines in the American navy.
When an American observation aircraft saw lead portions of the invasion force some 500 miles (800 km) west of Midway on June 3, 1942, Japanese deck gunners opened fire on the plane, which marked the beginning of the engagement. The combat started at 9:04 AM. At around 9:25 AM, roughly 700 miles (1,100 km) west of Midway, a second surface contact was established with an American pilot who reported that he had identified the “main body” of the Japanese fleet. This contact took place on a volcanic island. In point of fact, these warships made up a rather small proportion of the overall landing and occupation force.
Midway was the launch point for a bomber formation of Boeing B-17s belonging to the United States Army Air Forces around 12:30 pm. In the late afternoon, they launched an ineffective attack on a portion of the Japanese invasion force, which was located around 220 miles (350 km) to the southwest of the American fleet at that point in time. The use of American strategic bombers against moving naval targets at Midway and elsewhere in the Pacific would show to be limited; yet, these aircraft would prove to be effective surveillance platforms. Their high operational ceiling and long range allowed them to loiter for extended periods of time at altitudes that were unreachable by Japanese antiaircraft fire, and their onboard armament presented a formidable defense against carrier-based fighters. In addition, they were able to outrange Japanese antiaircraft fire.
At around 9:15 o’clock in the evening, prior to the return of the B-17s, a four-ship formation of Consolidated PBY Catalina seaplanes took off from Midway. This group engaged a Japanese surface force in a torpedo assault and strafing run at around 1:15 AM on June 4, during the early hours of the day. The torpedo strike on the Japanese tanker Akebono Maru that was carried out by one of the Catalinas was the only one that was successful out of all of those that were carried out by American aircraft during the whole conflict. The Catalinas were on their way back to Midway when they heard over the radio that the islands were being attacked by Japanese aircraft. This information came as they were getting closer to their destination.
The assault on the ship Midway
On June 4, at around 5:45 a.m., a Catalina pilot radioed an exciting unencrypted message that said, “Many aircraft headed Midway, bearing 320, distance 150.” Within a few of minutes, two of the Japanese carriers were seen, and by 6:00 AM, the vast majority of Midway’s aircraft had taken to the air and were engaged in combat patrol. Just after 6:15 in the morning, almost two dozen Marine fighters, which included a combination of Brewster F2A Buffaloes and Grumman F4F Wildcats, spotted and attacked the first wave of Japanese aircraft around 30 miles (48 kilometers) from Midway. Squadrons of Mitsubishi A6M “Zero” fighters were responsible for providing protection for formations of Japanese Aichi D3A “Val” dive-bombers and Nakajima B5N “Kate” torpedo bombers. It was about a four-to-one disadvantage for the American pilots. In addition, the Zero was clearly better than both the Buffalo and the Wildcat in every conceivable way. In spite of being outnumbered, the Marines were able to inflict minor wounds on their adversaries, but at a tremendous cost, suffering casualties equal to or more than fifty percent of their whole strength.
After the island’s fighter screen had been decimated to a great extent at around 6:30 in the morning, the aerial assault of Midway commenced. The Japanese assault on the islands of Eastern and Sand lasted for approximately a half an hour and did considerable damage to the buildings on both of those islands. The runways on Midway were, however, for the most part spared damage, which may have been due to the fact that the Japanese intended to utilize them after they had successfully finished the invasion. During their assault on Midway, the Japanese military lost less than ten aircraft as a result of the aerial combat and the antiaircraft defenses that were in place there.
During the time when Midway was taking the full weight of the Japanese attack, land-based aircraft from Midway were making their way toward the Japanese fleet. After seven o’clock in the morning, four Martin B-26 Marauders belonging to the United States Army Air Forces launched a torpedo assault run on the Akagi, which was Nagumo’s flagship. They were being pursued by six Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bombers belonging to the United States Navy. The majority of the American aircraft that participated in the effort were shot down, and none of them made hits. This was mostly due to the poor performance of the United States Mark 13 torpedoes. On the other hand, the Imperial Japanese Navy had airborne and surface torpedoes of exceptional quality, and the Japanese would keep their technical edge in this area until the war was over.
Around this time, Nagumo made a choice that would have lasting repercussions. An after-action report from the Hiryu’s air commander, Lieutenant Joichi Tomonaga, stated that a second strike on Midway would be required to sufficiently subdue the island in advance of the planned amphibious assault. Midway’s planes were evidently still operating. In addition, the scout aircraft belonging to Nagumo had not found any indication that the United States Navy was present in the area. This was not the fault of the pilots in the least, since the search area was a vast stretch of water that was greater than the whole of the United Kingdom, and visibility was significantly restricted in certain locations due to the presence of cloud cover. At 7:15 in the morning, Nagumo, confident that he had not lost the element of surprise and that the American fleet was not any closer than Hawaii, gave the order for the torpedoes on the planes that were fueled and ready to fly on the Kaga and the Akagi to be replaced with bombs. These planes were on both ships. When one of Nagumo’s scouts reported seeing “10 enemy surface ships” at 7:28 AM, the situation rapidly shifted. However, the scout did not provide any clue as to the composition of the opposing force. In light of the fact that there is a likelihood of American carriers being in the vicinity, Nagumo decided to put a stop to the rearming operation. At 7:45 in the morning, Hitler gave the order for those aircraft that had not yet had their torpedoes replaced to begin making preparations for an assault on American naval formations. The flight decks and hangar decks of the Japanese carriers were now covered with fuelled and armed aircraft, in addition to ammunition that had not been secured.
During the course of the assault that was being carried out on Midway, Fletcher and Spruance were keeping an eye on the flow of signals in an attempt to ascertain the size and location of the Japanese fleet. After six o’clock in the morning, Midway sent out a radio transmission stating that two carriers had been seen, and the American admirals took urgent action. The location of Spruance’s Task Force 16, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) to the southwest of Fletcher and Task Force 17, brought it closer to the Japanese fleet. Spruance was given orders by Fletcher to sail in a southwesterly direction and confront the enemy. Fletcher, who had scouts in the air, would retrieve his aircraft and retain the Yorktown in reserve against the potential danger posed by more Japanese carriers. Spruance took a risk by launching his planes at 7:00 AM from a distance that almost ensured that many of his aircraft would not have enough fuel to return. His goal was to capture the Japanese ships before they could prepare for a second assault on Midway.
A second wave of aircraft stationed in Midway began their assault on the Japanese carrier force little under an hour after the first strike by the United States against the Japanese carrier force. At 7:55 in the morning, a squadron of 16 Douglas SBD Dauntless dive-bombers from the United States Marine Corps bombed the Soryu. However, they were unable to score any hits and lost half of their number to antiaircraft fire and Japanese fighters. Roughly 15 minutes later, U.S. Army Air Forces B-17s carried out a high-level bombing of the carrier group, although the attack had minimal impact and the B-17s themselves took no casualties. The last of the Midway’s aircraft, a squadron of eleven United States Marine Corps Vought SB2U Vindicator dive-bombers, began their attack on the Japanese battleship Haruna at around 8:20 in the morning. However, the majority of these aircraft were shot down by the Japanese fighter screen, and the few bombing sorties that they were able to complete were inaccurate. Up to this point, the Japanese had achieved an unquestionable victory in the Battle of Midway.
The Vindicators were being driven away when Nagumo finally got confirmation that the American naval force did, in fact, contain a carrier. This information came as the Vindicators were being driven away. The timing of this announcement could not have been more inconvenient. The aircraft that participated in the assault on Midway were making their way back to base while running low on gasoline. In addition, the fighters that were part of Nagumo’s combat air patrol needed to be refueled and rearmed. If he decided to fire his available aircraft for an assault on the approaching danger, he ran the chance of losing dozens of talented pilots when their aircraft crashed into the Pacific Ocean. The preceding hour and a half had been spent by Nagumo illustrating the futility of trying uncoordinated strikes on a well-defended carrier battle group without having fighter escort present. Instead of taking a chance on the same result, Nagumo took a choice that would have a significant impact on how the Pacific War would play out. Before he would launch a coordinated assault on the American navy, he would evacuate his flight decks and bring his aircraft back to base.
At around 10:50 in the morning, while the other three Japanese carriers were burning, Rear Adm. Tamon Yamaguchi, the commander of the combat group that comprised the Soryu and the Hiryu, ordered a hurriedly organized assault force into the air. Yamaguchi would function as the de facto commander of the other ships in the Japanese fleet for the next half an hour, until Nagumo was able to reinstall his flagship as the flagship of the Japanese fleet. After the American strike group had returned to the Yorktown, the aircraft from the Hiryu carried out a dive-bombing assault soon after noon, which caused the American carrier to capsize and sink. Despite the fact that the American fighter screen and antiaircraft defenses had inflicted a devastating toll on the Japanese, the Yorktown was struck by three bombs, which caused significant damage but did not cause it to be destroyed. Fletcher shifted his flag to the cruiser Astoria as repair crews labored to patch the flight deck and get the ship’s boilers back up and running.
After a frantic hour of labor, the majority of the Yorktown’s boilers were brought back online, and by 2:30 in the afternoon, the ship had set sail. However, within minutes, a second wave of aircraft from the Hiryu attacked the carrier. This time they were more successful. The Yorktown came to a halt for the second time when it was struck by a pair of torpedoes, and the ship started to list in an unsafe direction. The order to leave ship was given by Captain Elliott Buckmaster of the Yorktown at around 2:55 in the afternoon.
However, at this point in time, American scouts had discovered the Hiryu, and at 3:30 in the afternoon, a combined force of Dauntlesses from the Enterprise and the Yorktown took to the air. They weren’t alone for long, as other dive-bombers from the Hornet soon joined them. Due to the fact that all of the available fighters were assigned the mission of maintaining a combat air patrol over the fleet, the American bombers would fly without an escort. Because Fletcher realized that Task Force 17 was no longer a functional carrier battle group and because he did not want to waste valuable time by transferring his flag to the Enterprise, he handed over operational control of the fleet to Spruance just before 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon. Spruance was also aware that Task Force 17 had ceased to be a functional carrier battle group.
After attacking the Hiryu for the first time at around 5:00 in the afternoon, the initial wave of American bombers soon reduced the Japanese carrier to a smoldering wreck. At least four American bombs hit the Hiryu, and then the Dauntlesses from the Hornet, which arrived half an hour later, switched their attention to other ships that were a part of the Hiryu’s combat group. This assault, as well as a later high-altitude hit by B-17s originating from Midway and Hawaii, did not result in any serious damage being sustained by the surviving Japanese ships.
After successfully retrieving his aircraft, Spruance decided to steer Task Force 16 east, away from the day’s action, rather than west in the direction of the Kid Butai’s wreckage in order to continue his chase of it. Even with the loss of four carriers, the Japanese surface fleet continued to pose a considerable danger, hence taking this course of action turned out to be one of the most astute decisions that could have been made at the time. History would later demonstrate this. By retreating to the east, the American ships remained inside the line of sight of the land-based planes operating off of Midway. Overnight, Task Force 17’s destroyer Hughes was assigned with the responsibility of ensuring the safety of the disabled Yorktown. In the evening, both the Kaga and the Soryu went down together.
On June 5, the Yorktown was pulled alongside another vessel and a salvage effort was initiated. Both the Akagi and the Hiryu were sunk, despite the fact that they had both been able to make it through the night without sinking. Yamaguchi made the decision to go down with his flagship, and Rear Adm. Tomeo Kaku, the commander of the Hiryu, was there to accompany him. Despite the fact that such a choice was completely consistent with the Japanese honor code (Bushido), it resulted in the loss of a highly respected flag officer for the Japanese navy as well as one of the military’s most senior aviators.
On the afternoon of June 5, General Spruance ordered roughly 60 bombers to be sent out in an effort to capture the retreating Japanese surface force. However, the Americans were only successful in locating one ship, which was the destroyer Tanikaze. The Tanikaze was entrusted with ensuring that the Hiryu was successfully sunk, and despite being the subject of many assaults, it was able to escape mostly uninjured and rejoin the Japanese fleet. Despite being the target of multiple attacks, the Hiryu was successfully sunk. The next day, Spruance resumed the chase, and Dauntlesses from the Hornet and the Enterprise located a group of straggling ships from the main Japanese force. The Japanese ships were an easy target for the dive bombers since they were not protected by an escort of fighter aircraft. The cruiser Mikuma went down in flames, while the destroyers Asashio and Arashio, in addition to the cruiser Mogami, sustained significant damage.
During this time, maintenance teams were working around the clock to rescue the Yorktown. Early on the morning of June 6, the destroyer Hammann had moored itself to the carrier, and other ships had begun to form a protective ring around the larger vessel. Throughout the course of the day, dozens of men worked tirelessly to put out fires and bring floods under control. They were making significant headway until, at 1:35 in the afternoon, lookouts detected the wakes of approaching torpedoes. Explosions soon shook both the Hammann and the Yorktown after the Japanese submarine I-168 had neared the recovery operation without being discovered. The order to leave the Hammann was delivered very instantly, and the ship sunk within minutes of the order being made. Some of the surviving warships attempted to use depth charges in their assault on the I-168, but the submarine managed to get away. The Yorktown, in spite of all the damage it had taken, had managed to stay afloat despite listing, and the rescue team had hoped to be able to continue their work the next day. However, during the early morning hours of June 7, the Yorktown began to list more severely, and at around 5:00 AM, the carrier sank “with all her battle flags flying.”
The material losses that Japan suffered during the Battle of Midway were devastating. Over three hundred and twenty aircraft along with four aircraft carriers and a heavy cruiser were sunk in the Pacific Ocean. There were around 3,000 Japanese sailors and airmen who were killed, and there was little chance to collect any survivors who may have gone into the sea since the Japanese fleet fled the battle area in relative speed. The victory cost the United States one aircraft carrier, one destroyer, and roughly 150 aircraft, of which more than two thirds were carrier-based aircraft. In all, the United States lost more than 200 aircraft. The United States suffered just 317 fatalities among its sailors, airmen, and Marines stationed at the Midway garrison. This was a comparatively low number.
In the days that followed the combat, U.S. Navy patrols in the region surrounding Midway discovered some survivors. Among them were roughly thirty crewmen who had been assigned to the engineering department of the Hiryu. The Americans may get critical information on the capabilities of the Japanese navy by conducting interrogations on these prisoners of war. An American Catalina flying boat found the two-man crew of one of the Enterprise’s Devastators on June 21, more than two weeks after the conflict, around 360 miles (nearly 580 kilometers) north of Midway. They would be the last survivors of the Midway incident to be found in the Pacific Ocean.
The official combat narrative of the war written by the United States Navy described the battle of Midway as “a triumph of intelligence,” and this description was absolutely accurate. American cryptanalysts had a significant impact on the battle of Midway, contributing not only to the deciphering of the Japanese naval code JN25 but also to the successful completion of a cunning plan to confirm that Midway was going to be the target of the Japanese assault. However, intelligence was not sufficient to win the fight on its own. Both Fletcher and Spruance used effective carrier strategies, and Fletcher’s choice to hand over operational responsibility to Spruance late on the evening of June 4 helped to guarantee that the American command structure would not be disturbed at an essential phase of the conflict.
The military conflict between the United States and Japan reached a critical juncture after the Battle of Midway, which brought the Pacific naval forces of both nations to a position of close parity and signaled a turning point in the conflict. It was also the most devastating naval loss Japan had suffered since 1592, when Korean commander Yi Sun-shin annihilated Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s invading fleet. This defeat took place in the Pacific Ocean. The Japanese were persuaded to abandon their intentions to invade New Caledonia, Fiji, and Samoa, and they lost all but the last remnants of their previous strategic initiative as a result. This was a significant win for the Allies in terms of their strategic position.
The American aircraft carriers were separated into two groups: Task Force 16, which included the Enterprise and the Hornet and was led by Halsey’s replacement, Rear Adm. Raymond Spruance, and Task Force 17, which included the Yorktown and was led by Rear Adm. Frank Jack Fletcher. Both groups were commanded by Rear Adm. Frank Jack Fletcher. Fletcher would have ultimate tactical command because of his seniority in rank; nevertheless, he would offer Spruance a large amount of operational discretion. This was a stroke of good luck, since Spruance was widely considered to be the best American naval commander during the war.
Despite the fact that American carrier aircraft were trying to get closer to the Japanese navy, they were not provided with any more direction on the location of the fleet. Due to the lack of connection between Midway and the carriers, as well as the lack of communication between the ships and their own aircraft, the American attack force would come piecemeal, if it came at all. Dozens of aircraft had little choice except to turn around and go back to the Hornet, land at Midway, or ditch out at sea since they were unable to find the Japanese. Fletcher started firing aircraft from the Yorktown at 8:38 in the morning after he had successfully retrieved his scouts and was under the impression that the Japanese had located his fleet.
At around 9:20 in the morning, fifteen Douglas TBD Devastator torpedo bombers embarking on the Hornet were the first American carrier aircraft to attack Japanese territory. The assault that Torpedo Squadron 8 carried out on the Soryu was a complete and utter failure. Every single one of the Devastators was brought down by enemy fire, and the lone survivor of the squadron, pilot Ensign George Gay, was forced to spend the next thirty hours drifting aimlessly in the ocean as the conflict raged around him. Torpedo squadrons from the Enterprise and the Yorktown both attacked at the same time, 10:20, with comparable consequences. Only six of the forty-one Devastators that were launched at Midway were able to make it back to their carriers, and not a single one was able to carry out a torpedo assault that was effective.
In May of 1942, during the Battle of the Coral Sea, the United States navy successfully repelled an invasion force from Japan that was heading for New Guinea. This was the first time that Japan’s plans to establish unambiguous naval and aviation supremacy in the western Pacific ran into a problem. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, commander of the Imperial Japanese Navy, was confident that his men had a numerical edge over the American forces despite the defeat.
In the hopes of achieving the same level of success as the attack on Pearl Harbor, Yamamoto devised a plan to locate the remainder of the United States Pacific fleet and destroy it in a surprise assault that was directed at the Allied base on Midway Island. The island of Midway is situated in the Pacific Ocean, practically squarely in the middle of the distance between Japan and the United States.
After a smaller Japanese force staged a diversionary assault on the Aleutian Islands, which are located in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Alaska, Yamamoto planned a three-pronged approach on Midway. First, an aerial assault was launched from four first-line Japanese aircraft carriers, the Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu, and Soryu, under the leadership of Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo. The attack was directed towards the island. The second threat was an invading fleet headed by Vice Admiral Nobutake Kondo that included both ships and ground troops. And lastly, after the anticipated American reinforcements from Pearl Harbor came, a coordinated attack by Nagumo’s troops and Yamamoto’s own navy, which would have been waiting 600 miles to the west, was planned to take place.
Navy cryptanalysts had began cracking Japanese communication codes early in 1942, and as a result, they had known for many weeks in advance that Japan was preparing an assault in the Pacific at a place that they referred to as “AF.” The Navy came to the conclusion that it was Midway and decided to send out a bogus communication from the base reporting that it was running low on fresh water. Soon after that, Japan’s radio operators broadcasted a similar message regarding “AF,” which confirmed the area of the assault that was going to be organized.
Because Japan’s fleet was spread out over such a large area, Yamamoto was forced to broadcast his entire strategy over the radio. This gave Navy cryptanalysts stationed in Hawaii the ability to determine when Japan intended to launch its attack (on either June 4 or 5), as well as the intended order of battle for the Imperial Japanese Navy. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, who is the commander in chief of the United States Pacific Fleet, might devise a strategy to repel the invasion if he had access to this intelligence.
The Japanese made the assumption that the United States aircraft carrier Yorktown, which had been severely damaged at the Battle of the Coral Sea, would not be available at Midway. In point of fact, the crippled carrier was rebuilt in just two days at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard. It then departed on May 30 to reassemble with other American ships near Midway in order to be ready for the assault by Japan.
Kondo’s invasion force, which they believed to be the main Japanese fleet due to a misunderstanding. The Battle of Midway began with this failed attempt, which was the first military action of the conflict.
Additional B-17s departed Midway before dawn on the next day to launch a second assault on the Japanese invasion force, which was equally unsuccessful. During this time, Nagumo carried out the initial phase of Japan’s assault according to the plan. A total of 108 Japanese airplanes were launched from four different aircraft carriers and attacked Midway. The first Japanese assault began at 3 a.m. and lasted until 7 a.m., during which time it caused considerable damage to the American base but did not stop the United States from continuing to utilize its airport and maintain its anti-aircraft defenses.
Soon after that, just as Nagumo’s pilots were informing him that another bombardment on the base would be required, United States planes that had been launched from Midway started targeting the four Japanese carriers, but they were unsuccessful in their mission. During the time when Nagumo was preparing Japanese aircraft for a second air assault, a Japanese scout plane discovered sections of the United States fleet to the east of Midway. This included the ship USS Yorktown. When the remainder of the Japanese aircraft returned from Midway, Nagumo altered strategies and gave orders for the planes that were still armed to prepare for an attack on the American ships.
At the same time, a group of United States Devastator torpedo bombers from the carriers Hornet and Enterprise arrived in the area to launch an assault on the Japanese vessels. They were not protected by other fighter aircraft, therefore they were easy targets for the Zero fighters of the Japanese. However, approximately an hour later, as the Japanese were refueling and rearming their aircraft, a second wave of American carrier-launched bombers attacked, striking three Japanese ships and setting them fire. These carriers were the Akagi, the Kaga, and the Soryu.
The only Japanese aircraft carrier to survive the battle, the Hiryu, retaliated by launching two rounds of strikes on the American battleship Yorktown, which was forced to leave ship but managed to stay afloat. The four Japanese aircraft carriers were rendered inoperable when dive bombers from the United States based on all three carriers returned to the battle to target the Hiryu and set fire to her as well.
Even though the majority of the fighting in the Battle of Midway had concluded by the evening of June 4, American forces at sea and on Midway Island maintained their assaults against Japanese forces throughout the course of the next two days.
During the process of salvaging the crippled carrier Yorktown, the destroyer USS Hammann provided cover for the operation. On June 6, however, a Japanese submarine arrived in the area and fired four torpedoes, which hit both of the United States ships. The Hammann went down in a matter of minutes, while the Yorktown ultimately capsized and went down the next day.
The fighting at Midway Island came to a conclusion on June 6 when Yamamoto gave the order for his ships to evacuate. In the end, Japan had lost as many as 3,000 men (including more than 200 of their most experienced pilots), nearly 300 aircraft, one heavy cruiser, and four aircraft carriers as a result of the battle. On the other hand, the United States had lost the Yorktown and the Hammann in addition to approximately 145 aircraft and approximately 360 servicemen.
As a direct consequence of the victory that the United States achieved in the Battle of Midway, Japan gave up its goal to extend its sphere of influence in the Pacific. As a result, Japan spent the rest of World War II fighting on the defensive. The combat boosted the confidence of the American troops and lowered the morale of the Japanese, which resulted in a significant shift in the direction of the war in the Pacific in favor of the Allies.
In the northern part of the island of Luzon in the Philippines, where the Japanese had landed in December 1941, they pushed American and Filipino troops under the command of General Douglas MacArthur back to the Bataan Peninsula and took control of the capital city of Manila. The Japanese started their assault on the Allied line that stretched across Bataan at the beginning of January. Despite their resolute defense of the peninsula and the tremendous losses they inflicted, American and Filipino troops were gradually driven back, and their supplies and ammunition started to run short (Map).
As the United States’ standing in the Pacific continued to deteriorate, President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave General Douglas MacArthur the order to move his headquarters from the island stronghold of Corregidor to the continent of Australia. As MacArthur prepared to leave the Philippines on March 12, he handed over leadership of the islands to General Jonathan Wainwright. After reaching Australia, General Douglas MacArthur gave a well-known radio address to the people of the Philippines, during which he pledged, “I Shall Return.” In April 3, the Japanese military mounted a significant assault on the trenches held by the Allies on Bataan. On April 9, the last 75,000 soldiers under the command of Major General Edward P. King were turned up to the Japanese. King was cornered, and his lines had been destroyed. These captives suffered through the infamous “Bataan Death March,” which resulted in the deaths of roughly 20,000 people (and in other instances led to their escape) as they were being transported to POW camps located in other parts of Luzon.
After ensuring the safety of Bataan, the Japanese commander, Lieutenant General Masaharu Homma, turned his attention to the United States troops who were still present on Corregidor. The Allied headquarters in the Philippines were located on the little fortress island of Corregidor, which is located in Manila Bay. On the night of May 5/6, Japanese soldiers made their landing on the island and were greeted with intense resistance. They rapidly received reinforcements and were able to drive the American soldiers back after establishing a beachhead. Later that day, Wainwright questioned Homma about the conditions of capitulation, and by the 8th of May, the Philippines had completely capitulated. Despite suffering a loss, the heroic defense of Bataan and Corregidor gained the Allied troops in the Pacific a significant amount of time that they could use to reorganize.
Roosevelt gave the go-ahead for a daring attack on the Japanese home islands in an attempt to improve the morale of the general population. The plan, which was conceived of by Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle and Navy Captain Francis Low, called for the raiders to fly B-25 Mitchell medium bombers from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-8), bomb their targets, and then continue on to friendly bases in China. Doolittle and Low were responsible for the conception of the plan. Unfortunately, on April 18, 1942, the Hornet was seen by a Japanese picket boat, which forced Jimmy Doolittle to launch the mission 170 miles away from where they had originally planned to take off. As a direct consequence of this, the aircraft were unable to reach their bases in China due to a shortage of fuel, which compelled the pilots to either eject safely or crash their aircraft.
The raid received the intended boost in morale, despite the fact that the damage that was caused was very little. The Japanese were taken aback since they had been under the impression that their home islands were impregnable to invasion. As a direct consequence of this, a number of fighter units were returned for deployment in defensive operations, which prevented them from participating in frontline combat. When Roosevelt was questioned about the origin of the bombers, he responded by saying, “They came from our secret base at Shangri-La.”
After achieving victory in the Philippines, the Japanese turned their attention to completing their conquest of New Guinea by seizing control of Port Moresby. By acting in this manner, they wanted to draw the aircraft carriers of the United States Pacific Fleet into the conflict so that they might be destroyed. Admiral Chester Nimitz, the Commander-in-Chief of the United States Pacific Fleet, was made aware of the imminent danger after Japanese radio intercepts were decoded. In response, he ordered the aircraft carriers USS Yorktown (CV-5) and USS Lexington (CV-2) to head toward the Coral Sea in an effort to stop the invasion force. This force was about to come into contact with Admiral Takeo Takagi’s covering force, which consisted of the carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku, in addition to the light carrier Shoho. This force was led by Rear Admiral Frank J. Fletcher (Map).
On May 4, the Yorktown carried out three attacks on the Japanese seaplane base at Tulagi, which resulted in the destruction of a destroyer and a disabling of the facility’s reconnaissance capabilities. Two days later, land-based B-17 bombers saw the Japanese invasion fleet and attempted to strike it, but they were unsuccessful. In the latter part of that day, both carrier forces started conducting vigorous searches for one another. On May 7, both fleets successfully launched all of their aircraft, and they were able to successfully locate and target subordinate units of the other fleet.
Both the warship USS Sims and the oiler Neosho sustained significant damage at the hands of the Japanese. Shoho was spotted by American planes, which proceeded to sink it. On May 8, the conflict restarted, and both fleets immediately began waging enormous attacks on one another. The US pilots dropped out of the sky and struck Shokaku with three bombs, which caused it to catch fire and put it out of commission for good.
In the meanwhile, the Japanese launched an assault on the Lexington, using bombs and torpedoes to sink her. Even though it was damaged, the crew of the Lexington was able to keep the ship from sinking until the fire spread to a compartment that stored aviation fuel and caused a catastrophic explosion. As quickly as possible, the ship was deserted and scuttled to avoid being captured. During the assault, Yorktown was also subjected to damage. After Shoho and Shokaku were both destroyed, Takagi made the decision to retire, putting an end to the possibility of an invasion. The Action of the Coral Sea was the first naval battle that was fought exclusively with airplanes, and it was a triumph of strategic significance for the Allies.
After the Combat of Coral Sea, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, commander of the Japanese Combined Fleet, developed a plan to pull the surviving ships of the United States Pacific Fleet into a battle where they might be destroyed. This strategy was put into action after the Battle of Coral Sea. In order to do this, he intended to launch an assault on the island of Midway, which is located 1,300 miles to the northwest of Hawaii. Yamamoto was aware that the United States would deploy their last aircraft carriers to defend Pearl Harbor, which made him an essential part of the defense. Because he was under the impression that the United States had only two operable carriers, he set out with four, in addition to a sizable force of battleships and cruisers. Nimitz was aware of the Japanese plan thanks to the efforts of US Navy cryptanalysts, who broke the Japanese JN-25 naval code, and he sent the carriers USS Enterprise (CV-6) and USS Hornet, under the command of Rear Admiral Raymond Spruance, as well as the hastily repaired Yorktown, under the command of Fletcher, to the waters north of Midway in order to intercept the Japanese and stop them from carrying out their plan.
Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, the commander of the Japanese carrier force, ordered a series of attacks to be carried out on Midway Island at 4:30 in the morning on June 4. The Japanese bombarded the American base while their little aviation force on the island was easily defeated. While the Nagumo’s pilots were making their way back to the carriers, they suggested making a second attack on the island. Because of this, Nagumo decided to give the order for his reserve aircraft, which had previously been equipped with torpedoes, to be rearmed with bombs. During the course of this operation, one of his scout aircraft reported that it had located the American carriers. After hearing this, Nagumo immediately reversed his directive to rearm in order to launch an assault on the ships. When Nagumo was reloading the torpedoes into his aircraft, American jets suddenly arrived above his fleet and began attacking.
At around 7:00 in the morning, Fletcher and Spruance started launching aircraft while using reports from their own scout planes. The TBD Devastator torpedo bombers from Hornet and Enterprise were the first squadrons to arrive in the Japanese territory. When they attacked at a low level, they failed to land a hit and took a significant number of losses. Despite their inability to accomplish their mission, the torpedo aircraft were effective in removing the Japanese fighter cover, which made room for the American SBD Dauntless dive bombers.
At 10:22, they launched their attack and scored many hits, which resulted in the destruction of the carriers Akagi, Soryu, and Kaga. In retaliation, the lone surviving Japanese carrier, the Hiryu, conducted a counterattack, which resulted in the destruction of Yorktown twice. In the afternoon of that day, US dive bombers came back and sank Hiryu, thereby securing their triumph. After losing his carriers, Yamamoto decided to terminate the operation. After being disabled, the Yorktown was placed under tow, but while being towed to Pearl Harbor, it was destroyed by the submarine I-168.
As the Japanese advance in the central Pacific was halted, the Allies devised a strategy to stop the enemy from occupying the southern Solomon Islands and using them as bases for attacking Allied supply lines to Australia. This plan was successful, and the Japanese were unable to advance further into the central Pacific. In order to achieve this objective, it was agreed that landing operations would take place not only on Guadalcanal, where the Japanese were constructing an airstrip, but also on the smaller islands of Tulagi, Gavutu, and Tamambogo. Securing these islands would also be the first step toward isolating the main Japanese base, which is located on New Britain’s Rabaul island. The 1st Marine Division, which was commanded by Major General Alexander A. Vandegrift, was tasked with doing the bulk of the work necessary to secure the islands. A task force that would be headquartered on the carrier USS Saratoga (CV-3) and headed by Fletcher would provide assistance for the Marines while they were at sea. An amphibious transport force that would be commanded by Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner would also provide support.
The Marines began their invasion of all four islands on August 7th. On Tulagi, Gavutu, and Tamambogo, they were greeted with stiff opposition; nonetheless, they were able to overpower the 886 defenders who fought to the last man. The landings of 11,000 Marines on Guadalcanal were carried out with little to no resistance from the local population. They continued their advance inland and were successful in securing the airport the next day, at which point they renamed it Henderson Field. The landing operations were assaulted by Japanese aircraft originating from Rabaul on both August 7 and August 8. (Map).
These assaults were successfully repelled by aircraft based at Saratoga. Fletcher made the decision to evacuate his task force on the evening of the 8th because they were running short on fuel and he was anxious about future losses of aircraft. Turner had little option but to follow, despite the fact that only around half of the Marines’ supplies and equipment had been landed, since his air support had been gone. That evening, the situation became much more dire when Japanese surface troops at the Battle of Savo Island defeated and sunk four Allied cruisers—three from the United States and one from Australia.
Following the completion of Henderson Field and the establishment of a defensive perimeter around their beachhead, the Marines were successful in reinforcing their position. On the 20th of August, the first aircraft arrived, coming in from the USS Long Island, which served as an escort carrier. The aircraft at Henderson, which would become known as the “Cactus Air Force,” would prove to be very useful in the next battle. The Japanese ground troops were routed to Guadalcanal, with Major General Kiyotake Kawaguchi gaining charge at the front, while the mission of retaking the island from the Americans was given to Lieutenant General Harukichi Hyakutake in Rabaul.
As soon as the time was right, the Japanese began to probe their strikes on the Marines’ defenses. At the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, which took place on August 24-25, the two fleets confronted one other as the Japanese continued to transport reinforcements to the region. A triumph for the United States of America, the Japanese were unable to deliver their transports to Guadalcanal when they lost control of the light carrier Ryujo. On Guadalcanal, Marines under the command of Vandegrift labored to improve their defensive positions and profited from the arrival of fresh supplies.
Every day, the planes of the Cactus Air Force flew above to protect the field from the bombers that were flown by the Japanese. Because they were unable to deploy transports to Guadalcanal, the Japanese started bringing men there using destroyers in the middle of the night. This strategy was successful and became known as the “Tokyo Express,” but it included stripping the troops of all of their heavy equipment. The Japanese military launched a full-scale assault on the position held by the Marines beginning on September 7. Despite being ravaged by sickness and famine, the Marines fought valiantly and successfully repelled every attack by the Japanese.
Midway through September, Vandegrift received reinforcements, which allowed him to extend and finish completing his fortifications. Both the Japanese and the Marines engaged in constant back-and-forth combat over the subsequent several weeks, but neither side was able to get the upper hand. In the night of October 11-12, during the Battle of Cape Esperance, American ships commanded by Rear Admiral Norman Scott were victorious against their Japanese counterparts, destroying a cruiser and three destroyers. The combat shielded the arrival of forces from the United States Army on the island and stopped reinforcements from reaching the Japanese.
Two nights later, the Japanese sent a squadron that was based on the battleships Kongo and Haruna to protect transports headed to Guadalcanal and to assault Henderson Field. This was done in an effort to get the upper hand in the conflict. The battleships began their assault on the airstrip at 1:33 AM, and they continued for over an hour and a half, causing the destruction of 48 aircraft and the deaths of 41. The Japanese convoy was being unloaded on the 15th when it was attacked by the Cactus Air Force, which resulted in the loss of three cargo ships.
Kawaguchi began a big onslaught against Henderson Field from the southern flank on October 23, and it lasted for five days. Two nights later, they came dangerously close to breaking through the line held by the Marines, but they were driven back by Allied reserves. On October 25-27, at the height of the action near Henderson Field, the opposing ships engaged in combat during the Battle of Santa Cruz. The Japanese were able to achieve a strategic success by sinking the Hornet; but, they sustained heavy casualties among their air crews and were ultimately forced to retire.
After the naval Battle of Guadalcanal, which took place between November 12 and 15, the tide on Guadalcanal eventually swung in the favor of the Allies. In a series of aerial and naval actions, US forces sunk two battleships, a cruiser, three destroyers, and eleven transports in return for two cruisers and seven destroyers. These engagements took place in exchange for two cruisers and seven destroyers. The fight provided the Allies with naval supremacy in the waterways around Guadalcanal, which made it possible for enormous reinforcements to arrive and for offensive operations to get underway. In December, the XIV Corps took over for the devastated 1st Marine Division, which had been pulled from combat. XIV Corps began its offensive against the Japanese on January 10, 1943, and by February 8, they had succeeded in driving the enemy from the island. The invasion of the island, which took place over the course of six months, was the first step in driving the Japanese backwards and was one of the longest campaigns of the Pacific War overall.
In the meanwhile, Japan seized the opportunity presented by the successful assault on Pearl Harbor and conquered dozens of islands scattered throughout the Pacific. The tide of the war, however, shifted as a result of a string of successes achieved by the Allies in the years 1942 and 1943. The Japanese navy was involved in two important conflicts in the Pacific, both of which ended in tragedy.
The tide shifted as the leaders of the Axis overreached themselves, and the Allies moved their more enormous economy and people into warfare mode. This caused the tide to turn.
The critical naval action, which took place from June 3 to June 6, 1942, swung the balance of power in the Pacific Theater. As a result of this conflict, Japan lost her finest naval pilots as well as four essential aircraft carriers, and she never entirely recovered from the blow. In the Pacific theater of the war, the United States of America and her allies were losing ground to the Japanese. The Battle of Midway brought about these changes.
The decisive victory of the United States Navy in the air-sea battle (June 3-6, 1942) and its successful defense of the major base located on Midway Island effectively turned the tide of World War II in the Pacific Theater. This victory effectively dashed Japan’s hopes of neutralizing the United States as a naval power.
The turning point of the Pacific Naval War was the Battle of Midway. After suffering a string of defeats at the hands of the Japanese, American forces were able to achieve a decisive victory that turned the tide in their favor. This battle is considered one of the most important in military history, as it demonstrated that Japan could be beaten and showed the world that America was willing to fight for its freedom. What do you think was the most important factor in this victory?