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The Battle of Midway

Attack on Japanese Cruisers Mogami and Mikuma from Air
Griffith Baily Coale #33
Charcoal, circa 1942

On the last day of the battle the two heavy cruisers the Mogami and Mikuma were attacked by American forces. The Mogami was heavily damaged and escaped, but the Mikuma was not so lucky.


Mikuma Capsizing at Sunset - Battle of Midway
Griffith Baily Coale #29
Charcoal, circa 1942



Deserted and gaunt, the sea around her stained with her thick black blood, the Mikuma capsizes to port and sinks as the setting sun disappears in the west.


Blitzed Oil Tanks
Griffith Baily Coale #24
Oil on canvas, 1942

The tanks filled with useless sludge burst into flames and send their black smoke rolling up like a smaller Pear Harbor during the attack on Midway Islands on June 4th. When the fire had ceased and the smoke had blown away, there remained burnt trees naked against the colorful sea, with a white sand dike surrounding the distorted shapes - the one at the right like a dead sperm whale in a dry pond.


Sinking Sun
Griffith Baily Coale #28
Oil on canvas, 1942

A Marine stands at parade rest on the bow of a PT boat as she moves slowly out to sea from Midway to give decent burial to Japanese fliers shot down on the islands during the battle. The red ball of the rising sun is prophetically repeated by the round disc and spreading rays of the sinking sun.


The Artists

Lieutenant Commander Griffith Baily Coale, USNR, is credited with founding the Navy Combat Art program. Prior to World War II he was a well-known mural painter based in New York City. In the time of rising tensions prior to the war he convinced Admiral Chester Nimitz to start the combat art program as a way of documenting the war in a way that words and photographs could not. Through the duration of the war Coale saw action in every ocean from the sinking of U.S.S. Reuben James in the North Atlantic to British action in Southeast Asia. Though not at Midway during the battle, he visited the island group before and after. His action-filled images reflect the high emotions that surrounded the event.

Robert Benny and Lawrence Beal-Smith worked as artists for the Abbott Laboratories project in World War II. That program began in 1943, when prominent artists were funded by Abbott to document various training and field operations with the United States military's help. The works they created helped inform and raise the morale of the public back home. For the Battle of Midway, these two artists worked from photographs and eyewitness accounts. Lawrence Beal Smith captures the tension on the U.S. carriers as planes take off to engage the Japanese fleet. Robert Benny shows the heroic moment of lone American plane attacking a Japanese ship amid the violence and noise of that much larger battle.

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11 May 2009