Preparations for Battle, March 1942 to 4 June 1942 - Overview

By March 1942, Japanese Navy strategists had achieved their initial war goals much more easily than expected. They had therefore abandoned the prewar plan to then transition to a strategic defensive posture, but there was still dispute on how to maintain the offensive. Moving further south in the Pacific would isolate Australia, and possibly remove that nation as a threat to the freshly-expanded Japanese Empire.

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. Midway was a vital "sentry for Hawaii", and a serious assault on it would almost certainly produce a major naval battle, a battle that the Japanese confidently expected to win. That victory would eliminate the U.S. Pacific fleet as an important threat, perhaps leading to the negotiated peace that was Japan's Pacific War "exit strategy".

The Japanese planned a three-pronged attack to capture Midway in early June, plus a simultaneous operation in the North Pacific's Aleutian Islands that might provide a useful strategic diversion. In the van of the assault would be Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo's aircraft carrier force, which would approach from the northwest, supress Midway's defenses and provide long-range striking power for dealing with American warships. A few hundred miles behind Nagumo would come a battleship force under Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto that would contain most of the operation's heavy gun power. Coming in from the West and Southwest, forces under Vice Admiral Nobutake Kondo would actually capture Midway. Kondo's battleships and cruisers represented additional capabilities for fighting a surface action.

Unfortunately for the Japanese, two things went wrong even before the Midway operation began. Two of Nagumo's six carriers were sent on a mission that resulted in the Battle of Coral Sea. One was badly damaged, and the other suffered heavy casualties to her air group. Neither would be available for Midway.

Even more importantly, thanks to an historic feat of radio communications interception and codebreaking, the United States knew its enemy's plans in detail: his target, his order of battle and his schedule. When the battle opened, the U.S. Pacific fleet would have three carriers waiting, plus a strong air force and reinforced ground defenses at the Midway Base.

This page provides an overview of both sides' preparations prior to the beginning of the main phases of the Battle of Midway on 4 June 1942.

For images of these activities

Views of other aspects of the Battle of Midway Battle of Midway, Overview and Special Image Selection

Additional information and links to related resources, including a history of Battle of Midway communications intelligence FAQs: Battle of Midway, 4-7 June 1942.

To the best of our knowledge, the Online Library's pictures are all in the Public Domain, and can therefore be freely downloaded and used for any purpose.

Some images linked from this page may bear obsolete credit lines citing the organization name: "Naval Historical Center". Effective 1 December 2008 the name should be cited as: "Naval History and Heritage Command".

For higher resolution images see: Obtaining Photographic Reproductions

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