Related Resources: Battle of
Midway: 4-7 June 1942
1. Early in June, near the island of Midway about 1,100 miles to the westward of Pearl Harbor, units of our Army, Navy, and Marine Corps joined action with a strong Japanese invasion fleet which was approaching our Midway outpost. The voluminous reports of the details of the battle of Midway have been studied and evaluated so that this resume now becomes possible.
2. After the defeat of the Japanese in the Battle of the Coral Sea between May 4th and May 8th, our shore-based reconnaissance aircraft and submarines reported a general withdrawal of enemy naval ships from the southwest Pacific toward Japan. Concentrations of enemy naval units made it apparent that large scale offensive operations were planned by the enemy, but the exact nature of the plan of attack could only be guessed. The enemy had learned in the Battle of the Coral Sea that the sea approaches to Australia were strongly defended. It appeared logical, therefore, to assume that the enemy's next thrust would come in some other area - possibly Hawaii, Alaska, the Panama Canal Zone, or even the Pacific Coast of the United States. In accordance with this estimate, United States naval surface forces were deployed in the area between Midway and the Aleutian Islands. Bases in the outlying islands and in Alaska were reinforced by long-range, shore-based aircraft. Similar precautionary measures also were taken on the Pacific Coast and in the vicinity of the Panama Canal.
3. At about 9 a. m., Jane 3, United States Navy patrol planes reported a strong force of enemy ships about 700 miles off Midway, proceeding eastward. Nine United States Army "Flying Fortresses" [four-engine B-17 bombers] based on Midway immediately were ordered to intercept and attack the approaching enemy. The Japanese force was observed to be approaching in five columns and was composed of many cruisers, transports, cargo vessels and other escort ships. The Army bombers scored hits on one cruiser and one transport. Both ships were severely damaged. and left burning. Some lesser damage was done to other vessels in the formation. Later, during the night, four Navy "Catalina" flying boats located and attacked the same enemy group by moonlight. These four planes scored two torpedo hits on large enemy ships, one of which is believed to have sunk.
4. About dawn on June 4th, several groups of Army medium and heavy bombers, and United States Marine Carps dive bombers and torpedo planes took to the air from Midway to attack the approaching enemy. The results of this attack were as follows:
(a) Four Army torpedo bombers attacked two enemy aircraft carriers through a heavy screen of enemy fighter protection and a curtain of antiaircraft fire. One torpedo hit on a carrier is believed to have been made. Two of the four bombers failed to return.
(b) Six Marine Corps torpedo planes attacked the enemy force in the face of heavy odds. It is believed this group secured one hit on an enemy ship. Only one of these six planes returned to its base.
(c) Sixteen Marine Corps dive bombers attacked and scored three hits on a carrier, which is believed to have been the Soryu. Only half of the attacking planes returned.
(d) Another group of 11 Marine Corps dive bombers made a later attack on enemy ships and reported 2 bomb hits on an enemy battleship, which was left smoking and listing.
(e) A group of 16 United States Army "Flying Fortresses" carried out high-level bombing attacks, scoring 3 hits on enemy carriers. One carrier was left smoking heavily.
5. Meanwhile, at 6:35 a. m. (Midway time, June 4th), shortly after the Marine Corps planes had left Midway to carry out an attack mission, the island, itself, was attacked by a large group of carrier based enemy planes. They were engaged by a badly outnumbered Marine Corps fighter force, which met the enemy in the air as be arrived. These defending fighters, aided by anti- aircraft batteries, shot down at least 40 of the enemy planes. Several more were damaged. As the result of this fighter defense, the material damage to shore installations, though serious, was not disabling. No plane was caught grounded at Midway.
6. The Midway-based air forces had struck the approaching Japanese fleet with their full strength, but the enemy did not appear to have been checked. It was estimated that only about 10 enemy ships had been damaged out of a total enemy force of approximately 80 ships then converging upon Midway.
7. It was learned later that our aerial attacks had caused the enemy carrier force to change its course. They began a retirement to the northwestward some time between 8:30 and 9:30 a. m., on the morning of June 4th. Their complete change of course was not observed by our shore- based planes because the change came after the planes had delivered their attacks and while they were returning to Midway to rearm.
8. Meanwhile, United States naval forces afloat were being brought into position. Our carrier- based aircraft were launched and were proceeding to the spot where the enemy's previous course and speed would have placed him had he chosen to continue the assault, as expected. Unaware of the enemy's change of course, one group of carrier-based fighters and dive bombers searched along the reported track to the southeast until shortage of gas forced them to abandon the search and go in to Midway. Some were forced down at sea when they ran out of gas. Most of those forced down were later rescued. The commanding officer of a different flight composed of fighters, dive bombers, and torpedo planes made an accurate estimate of the situation and concluded that the enemy was retreating. Fifteen torpedo planes from this group, therefore, located the enemy to the westward and proceeded to attack at once without protection or assistance of any kind. Although some hits were reported by radio from these airplanes and although some enemy fighters were shot down, the total damage inflicted by this squadron in this attack may never be known. None of these 15 planes returned. The sole survivor of the 30 officers and men of this squadron was Ensign G. H. Gay, Jr., U.S.N.R., who scored one torpedo hit on an enemy carrier before he was shot down.
9. Other carrier-based groups of torpedo planes proceeded to press the attack after the enemy had been located. In spite of heavy losses during these attacks, the torpedo planes engaged the attention of the enemy fighters and antiaircraft batteries to such a degree that our dive bombers were able to drop bomb after bomb on the enemy ships without serious interference. As the result, the Navy dive bombers scored many hits and during this phase of the action inflicted upon the enemy the following damage:
(a) The Kaga, Akagi, and Soryu, aircraft carriers, were severely damaged. Gasoline in planes caught on their flight decks ignited, starting fires which burned until each carrier had sunk.
(b) Two battleships were hit. One was left burning fiercely.
(c) One destroyer was hit and is believed to have sunk
10. Shortly after this battle, a force of about 36 enemy planes from the undamaged carrier Hiryu attacked the United States Aircraft carrier Yorktown and her escorts. Eleven of 18 Japanese bombers in the group were shot down by our fighters before their bombs were dropped. Seven got through our fighter protection. Of these 7, one was disintegrated by a surface ship's antiaircraft fire; a second dropped its bomb load into the sea and plunged after it; while a third was torn to shreds by machine-gun fire from United States fighter planes. Four enemy bombers escaped after scoring three direct hits.
11. Shortly afterward, 12 to 15 enemy torpedo planes escorted by fighters attacked the Yorktown. Between 4 and 7 of this group were destroyed by our fighters and 3 were shot down by antiaircraft fire before they could launch their torpedoes. Five succeeded in launching torpedoes but all 5 were destroyed as they attempted to escape. The Yorktown was hit during this assault and put out of action. The damage caused a list which rendered her flight deck useless for landings and takeoffs. Her aircraft, however, continued the battle operating from other United States carriers.
12. While this attack on the Yorktown was in progress, some of her own planes located the Japanese carrier Hiryu in company with battleships, cruisers, and destroyers. Our carrier planes immediately launched an attack against this newly located force. The Hiryu was hit repeatedly and left blazing from stem to stern. She sank the following morning. Two of the enemy battleships were pounded severely by bombs and the heavy cruiser was damaged severely.
13. During the same afternoon (June 4th), a United States submarine scored three torpedo hits on the smoking carrier Soryu as the enemy was attempting to take it in tow. These hits caused an outbreak of fresh flames which engulfed the carrier and forced the crew to abandon ship. At about sunset heavy explosions and huge billows of smoke were observed. The Soryu sank during the night.
14. Just before sunset. (June 4th) United States Army bombers delivered a heavy bomb attack on the severely crippled and burning ships. Three hits were scored on a damaged carrier (probably the Akagi); one hit was scored on a large ship; one hit on a cruiser which was left burning; and one destroyer was damaged and believed to have sunk,
15. The situation at sundown on June 4, was as follows:
(a) United States forces had gained mastery of the air in the region of Midway.
(b) Two carriers, Kaga and Akagi, had been hit by many bombs and torpedoes from Army planes and carrier-based naval aircraft in the morning, and the Akagi had been further damaged by Army aircraft in the late afternoon, One of these two carriers was reported by Ensign Gay to have been shelled and finished off by a Japanese cruiser. Both enemy carriers sank or were sunk by the Japanese before morning.
(c) The Soryu had been hit heavily by Marine Corps dive bombers, Army bombers, carrier- based planes, and a submarine. She sank during the night.
(d) The Hiryu had been put out of action by carrier aircraft after her own planes had damaged the Yorktown. The Hiryu sank early the following morning.
(e) Two enemy battleships had been damaged, one severely.
(f) One enemy destroyer had been sunk,
(g) One enemy transport and several other ships had been damaged.
(h) The U. S. S. Yorktown. had been put out of action.
16. Early in the morning of June 5th, an enemy submarine shelled Midway briefly but caused no damage. Our shore batteries returned the fire. At dawn our forces were marshalling their strength for further assaults against the enemy fleets which by now had separated into several groups, all in full retreat. Unfavorable flying weather made search to the northwest of Midway difficult and hazardous but a flight of United States Army "Flying Fortresses" managed to contact an enemy contingent of battleships and cruisers to the westward of Midway. They attacked, and scored a direct hit on the damaged cruiser. Another bomb damaged the same cruiser's steering gear. She was last observed listing badly and turning in tight circles. This attack was followed quickly by a second Army air force attack which scored a hit on the stern of a heavy cruiser. Meanwhile, at about, noon (June 5th) United States Marine Corps aircraft located the damaged enemy cruiser and delivered one direct hit.
17. In the afternoon of June. 5th, Army "Flying Fortresses" attacked enemy cruisers again and scored three direct hits upon one heavy cruiser. On the return trip, one of these planes was lost; a second was forced down at sea 15 miles from Midway. All except one of the crew of the second plane were rescued. A local bad weather condition to the northwest of Midway hampered the search operations of our carrier planes which were seeking the enemy in that area. Throughout the night of June 5-6th, our aircraft carriers steamed to the westward in pursuit of the enemy.
18. Early in the morning of June 6th a search by carrier aircraft discovered two groups of enemy ships, each containing cruisers and destroyers. Between 9:30 and 10 a. in,, our carrier planes attacked one group which contained the heavy cruisers Mikuma and Mogami and three destroyers. At least two bomb hits were scored on each cruiser. One of the destroyers was sunk. The attacks were carried on until 5:80 p. m. The. Mikuma was sunk shortly after noon. The Mogami was gutted and subsequently sunk. Another enemy cruiser and a destroyer also were hit during these series of attacks
19. It was during this afternoon (June 6th) that the United States destroyer Hammann was torpedoed and sunk by an enemy submarine. Most of her crew were rescued. The Hammann was the destroyer announced as lost in Admiral Nimitz' Communique No. 4 (June 7th, 1942).
20. After June 6 repeated attempts were made to contact the remainder of the Japanese invasion fleet but without success. It was on June 9th, while one of these searches was being carried out by a group of long-range Army medium bombers under the command of Maj. Gen. Clarence L. Tinker, U. S. A., that the plane carrying General Tinker was forced down at sea and lost.
21. The following is a recapitulation of the damage inflicted upon the enemy during the battle of Midway:
(a) Four Japanese aircraft carriers, the Kaga, Akagi, Soryu, and Hiryu were sunk.
(b) Three battleships were damaged by bomb and torpedo hits, one severely.
(c) Two heavy cruisers, the Mogami and the Mikuma were sunk. Three others were damaged, one or two severely.
(d) One light cruiser was damaged.
(e) Three destroyers were sunk and several others were damaged by bombs,
(f) At least three transports or auxiliary ships were damaged, and one or more sunk.
(g) An estimated 275 Japanese aircraft were destroyed or lost at sea through a lack of flight decks on which to land.
(h) Approximately 4,800 Japanese were killed or drowned
22. Our total personnel losses were 92 officers and 215 enlisted men.
23. Our forces fought. under the command of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, U.S.N., Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet. Other officers who hold important commands during the battle were Lt. Gen. Delos C. Emmons, U.S.A., Commanding General, Hawaiian Department; Maj. Gen. W. W. Hale, U.S.A., Head of the Bombing Command of the Army Air Force in Hawaii, and Brig. Gen. Henry K. Pickett, U.S.M.C., Commander of U. S. Marine Corps forces in the Hawaiian area.
24. Among the officers who held important commands at the scene of the action were Maj. Gem. C. L. Tinker, U.S.A., Commander of the Army Air Force in Hawaii. General Tinker was lost in action. Vice Admiral, then Rear Admiral, F. J. Fletcher, U.S.N., Rear Admiral H. A. Spruance, U.S.N., Rear Admiral T. C. Kincaid, U.S.N., and Rear Admiral W. W. Smith, U.S.N., had commands at sea throughout the action. Capt. C. T. Simard, U.S.N., had command of the naval air station at Midway. Col. Harold D. Shannon, U.S.M.C., was the commanding officer of ground troops at Midway. Lt. Col. Ira L. Kimes, U.S.M.C., was the commanding officer of the Marine Corps aircraft at Midway. Lt. Col. W. C. Sweeney, Jr., U.S.A,, commanded a formation of heavy Amy bombers.
25. The battle of Midway was a complex and widespread action involving a number of engagements lasting more than three days and nights. Even our active participants in the numerous attacks and counterattacks are unable to give confidently an accurate account of the damage inflicted by any one group in the many individual and unified attacks of our Army, Navy, and Marine Corps personnel.
Source: Office of Naval Intelligence. O.N.I. Weekly. 3, no.46 (15 Nov. 1944): 3692-3699.
Note by Naval Historical Center Staff: This document was based on information available to the writer(s) at the time it was prepared. Such contemporary information was frequently incomplete and often inaccurate. Documents should be examined carefully and compared to other sources of information, such as other documents and later scholarly works, to determine accuracy. Documents can only tell us what the author thought happened, would happen, or ought to have happened. The facts and data provided by documents, however, reflect contemporary knowledge of events and are therefore essential to our understanding of the past.
11 May 2009