Naval History and Heritage Command

The Navy Department Library

Related Content

Hough, Frank O., Verle E. Ludwig and Henry I. Shaw, Pearl Harbor to Guadalcanal, Vol. 1 of History of U.S. Marine Corps Operations in World War II.(Washington: Historical Branch, G-3 Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps): pp. 205-231

Battle of Midway

U.S. Marine Corps

Setting the Stage: Early Naval Operations1

Early in January 1942 the U.S. Pacific Fleet was looking for a way to strike back at the Japanese; and advocates of the fast carrier force, believing their case ironically had been proven by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor, were ready to test their theories.2 But first there were some fences to mend. The all-important communications chain to Australia and New Zealand was rather tenuous, and the bulk of the Navy had to be used for escort duty until reinforcements could be put ashore to bolster some of the stations along the route.

One of the most important links in this communication chain was Samoa. The worst was feared for this area when the Pago Pago naval station was shelled by a Japanese submarine on 11 January while the 2d Marine Brigade (composed for the most part of the 8th Marines and the 2d Defense Battalion) still was en route to the islands from San Diego. But on 23 January after the Marines' four transports and one fleet cargo vessel were delivered safely to Samoa, Vice Admiral William F. Halsey's Enterprise force, together with a new fast carrier force commanded by Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher and formed around the Yorktown,were released for the raiding actions that the fleet was anxious to launch.

While the 2d Marine Brigade unloaded at Samoa on 23 January, the Japanese landed far to the west at Rabaul where the small Australian garrison was quickly overrun. Although the importance of Rabaul to the Japanese was not realized at once, it was soon clear that from the Bismarcks the enemy could launch an attack through the Coral Sea toward Australia and New Zealand. This threat tended to increase rather than diminish the danger to Samoa. It was reasoned that a Japanese attack there would precede a strike at Australia or New Zealand to block U.S. Assistance to the Anzac areas. Japanese occupation of Makin Island in the Gilberts seemed to point toward Samoa, and naval commanders held that the best insurance against subsequent

Map 9: Marshalls, Gilberts and Eastern Carolines
Map 9: Marshalls, Gilberts and Eastern Carolines

moves would be a raid against the Marshalls, from which much of this Japanese action was mounted. Halsey's Enterprise force therefor set out to strike Wotje and Maleolap, seaplane bases in the Marshalls, while Fletcher prepared to attack Mili and Jaluit (also in the Marshalls) plus Makin with his Yorktown group.

A submarine reconnaissance found the Marshalls lightly defended and spotted the largest concentration of Japanese planes and ships at Kwajalein Atoll in the center of the island group. Halsey decided to add this choice target to his list, and for the missions he divided Task Force 8 into three groups. The Enterprisewith three destroyers would strike Wotje, Maloelap, and Kwajalein; Rear Admiral Raymond A. Spruance with the cruisers Northampton and Salt Lake City plus one destroyer would bombard Wotje; and Captain Thomas M. Shock in USS Chester, and with two destroyers, would shell Maloelap. The three southern atolls in the Marshalls group and Makin in the northern Gilberts would be attended to by Fletcher in the Yorktown with his independent command (TF 17) made up of the cruisers Louisville and St. Louis and four destroyers.

The twin attacks struck on 1 February. Halsey began launching at 0443 under a full moon when his carrier was just 36 miles from Wotje. Kwajalein, the main objective was 155 miles away. Nine torpedo bombers and 37 dive bombers led off the attack, the SBD's striking Roi air base on the northern end of the atoll and the torpedo bombers hitting Kwajalein Island across the lagoon.

At Kwajalein the hunting was better; but in spite of the fact that there was no fighter opposition, and that the reports brought back by pilots were enthusiastic, damage to the Japanese installations and shipping was slight. Five Wildcats shot down two Japanese planes over Maloelap, and nine SBDs that returned from Roi later sortied again and damaged some airfield installations. The surface bombardment, too, was disappointing, and the bombardment flagship, Chester, took a light bomb through her main deck and lost eight men killed and eleven wounded.

To the south, Fletcher had bad luck over Jaluit when his fliers found their targets concealed by thunder showers. Two Japanese ships off Jabor Town were hit, but not sunk, and the damage ashore was slight. A mine layer was hit at Makin, and damage at Mili was also slight.

Similar actions were continued in other areas of the Pacific to harass the Japanese and to provide at least one outlet for efforts to fight back at the enemy when the news from all other fronts was gloomy. Most notable were strikes in early March against Wake and Marcus Island, and the daring raid by planes of Admiral Wilson Brown's task force over New Guinea's 15,000-foot Owen Stanley Mountains to hit the Japanese newly moved into Lae and Salamaua. But in all cases actual damage to the enemy still failed to measure up to expectations, much less to the reports turned in by over-enthusiastic aviators.

Most audacious and unorthodox of the attacks, of course, was that which launched Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle and his Army raiders from the Hornet'sdeck to the 18 April Tokyo raid. Planned as "something really spectacular"--a proper retaliation for Pearl Harbor--the raid was designed more for its dramatic impact upon morale than for any other purpose. In that it was highly successful.

Map 10: Midway Islands, June 1942
Map 10: Midway Islands, June 1942

After security-shrouded planning and training, Doolittle's 16 B-25s left San Francisco on 2 April 1942 on board the Hornet which was escorted by cruisersVincennes and Nashville, four destroyers, and an oiler. After a 13 April rendezvous with the Enterprise of Halsey's TF 16, the raiding party continued along the northern route toward the Japanese home islands.3 Enemy picket boats sighted the convoy when it was more than 100 miles short of the intended launching range, and, with Doolittle's concurrence, Halsey launched the fliers at 0725 on 18 April while the Hornet bucked in a heavy sea 668 miles from the Imperial Palace in central Tokyo.4

Much of the raid's anticipated shock effect on Tokyo was lost by the coincidence of Doolittle's arrival over the city at about noon just as a Japanese air raid drill was completed. The Japanese, confused by the attack which followed their own maneuvers, offered only light opposition to the B-25s which skimmed the city at treetop level to drop their bombs on military targets. One plane which struck Kobe received no opposition, although two others over Nagoya and Osaka drew heavy fire from antiaircraft batteries; but none was lost over Japan.

Halsey managed to retire from the launching area with little difficulty, and both carriers returned to Pearl Harbor on 25 April. Although the raid did more to boost American morale than it did to damage Japanese military installations, more practical results came later. It allowed a Japanese military group which favored a further expansion of their territorial gains to begin execution of these ambitious plans, and this expansion effort led directly to the Battle of Midway which "... alone was worth the effort put into this operation by ... [those] ... who had volunteered to help even the score."5

The first of Japan's planned expansion moves in the spring of 1942 aimed for control of the Coral Sea through seizure of the Southern Solomon Islands and Port Moresby on New Guinea as bases from which to knock out growing Allied air power in northeastern Australia. Seizure of New Caledonia, planned as part of the third step in the second major series of offensives, would complete encirclement of the Coral Sea. This would leave the U.S. communications route to the Anzac area dangling useless at the Samoan Islands; and later Japanese advances would push the U.S. Pacific Fleet back to Pearl Harbor and perhaps even to the west coast.

Characteristically, the Japanese plan called for an almost impossible degree of timing and coordination. It depended for success largely on surprise and on the U.S. forces behaving just as the Japanese hoped that they would. But this second element was largely corollary to he first, and, when surprise failed, the Japanese were shocked to discover that the U.S. fleet did not follow the script.

JAPANESE CARRIER SHOHO, dead in the water and smoking from repeated bomb and torpedo hits, was sunk by carrier planes in the Coral Sea Battle. (USN 17026)
JAPANESE CARRIER SHOHO, dead in the water and smoking from repeated bomb and torpedo hits, was sunk by carrier planes in the Coral Sea Battle. (USN 17026)

The Japanese anticipated resistance from a U.S. carrier task force known to be lurking somewhere to the south or southeast, but they expected to corner this force in the eastern Coral Sea with a pincers movement of carrier task forces of their own. Vice Admiral Takeo Takagi would skirt to the east of the Solomons with his Striking Force of heavy carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku and move in on the U.S. ships from that direction, while Rear Admiral Aritomo Goto's Covering Force built around the light carrier Shoho would close in from the northwest. Destruction of the northeast Australian airfields would follow this fatal pinch of the U.S. fleet, and then the Port Moresby Invasion Group could ply the southeastern coast of New Guinea with impunity.

But Japanese overconfidence enabled U.S. intelligence to diagnose this operation in advance, and Fletcher's Task Force 17 had steamed into the Coral Sea where he all but completed refueling before the first Japanese elements sortied from Rabaul. On 4 May Fletcher's Lexington, Yorktown, screening ships, and support vessels were joined by the combined Australian-American surface force under Rear Admiral J.C. Crace of the Royal Navy.

On the previous day the Japanese had started their operation (which they called "Mo") like any other routine land grab. A suitable invasion force, adequately supported, moved into the Southern Solomons, seized Tulagi without opposition6 and promptly began setting up a seaplane base. There Fletcher's planes startled them next day with several powerful air strikes on the new garrison and on the Japanese ships still in the area. The U.S. carrier planes struck virtually unopposed,7 but they caused little damage in proportion to the energy and ammunition they expended. This startling deviation from the "Mo" script caused the Japanese to initiate the remaining steps of the operation without further delay.

The Battle of the Coral Sea proved the first major naval engagement in history where opposing surface forces neither saw nor fired at each other.8 Although both were eager to join battle, combat intelligence was so poor and aerial reconnaissance so hampered by shifting weather front that three days passed before the main forces found each other. But other things they did find led to a series of events on the 7th that might be described as a comedy of errors, although there was nothing particularly comical about them to those involved.

Early that morning an over-enthusiastic Japanese search pilot brought Takagi's entire striking air power down on the U.S. fleet tanker Neosho and her lone convoying destroyer, the USS Sims, be reporting them as a carrier and heavy cruiser respectively. This overwhelming attack sank the Sims and so damaged theNeosho

AN ARMY B-25, one of Doolittle's Raiders, takes off from the deck of the carrier Hornet to participate in the first U.S. air raid on Japan (USN 41197)
AN ARMY B-25, one of Doolittle's Raiders, takes off from the deck of the carrier Hornet to participate in the first U.S. air raid on Japan (USN 41197)

that she had to be destroyed four days later.

Not to be outdone, the Americans reacted similarly a short time later to a scout plane's report of two Japanese carriers and four cruisers north of the Louisiades. Actually these craft were subordinate enemy task group consisting of two old light cruisers and three converted gunboats. But more by good luck than good management, the attacking planes investigating the report sighted the Japanese Covering Force, then protecting the left flank of the Port Moresby Invasion Group, and concentrated on the Shoho to the virtual exclusion of her consorts. Against 93 aircraft of all types, the lone light carrier had no more chance than Task Force Neosho-Sims had against the Japanese, ad her demise prompted the morale-boosting phrase, "Scratch one flattop!"9

As a result of these alarms and excursions, both commanding admirals had missed each other once again. By midafternoon, however, Takagi had a pretty good idea of the U.S. carriers' location and, shortly before nightfall, dispatched a bomber-torpedo strike against Fletcher. Thanks to a heavy weather front, these planes failed to find their target, and American combat air patrol intercepted them on their attempted return. In the confusion of dogfights, several Japanese pilots lost direction in the gathering darkness and made the error of attempting to land on the Yorktown.10

Early the following morning, U.S. search planes finally located the Japanese carriers at about the time the Japanese rediscovered the U.S. flattops. As last the stage was set for the big show.

Loss of the Shoho had cut the Japanese down to size. The opponents who slugged it out on 8 May 1942 were evenly matched, physically and morally, to a degree rarely found in warfare, afloat or ashore.11 However, at the time the battle developed, the Japanese enjoyed the great tactical advantage of having their position shrouded by the same heavy weather front that had covered the U.S. carriers the previous afternoon, while Fletcher's force lay in clear tropical sunlight where it could be seen for many miles from aloft.

The attacking aircraft of both parties struck their enemy at nearly the same time (approximately 1100), passing each other en route.12 The two Japanese carriers and their respective escorts lay about ten miles apart. As the Yorktown's planes orbited over the target preparatory to the attack, the Zuikaku and her screening force disappeared into a rain squall and were seen

CAMOUFLAGED LOOKOUT TOWER AT SAND ISLAND stands amidst the damage caused by Japanese dive bombers which attacked Midway Atoll on 4 June 1942. (USN 17057)
CAMOUFLAGED LOOKOUT TOWER AT SAND ISLAND stands amidst the damage caused by Japanese dive bombers which attacked Midway Atoll on 4 June 1942. (USN 17057)

no more during the brief action that followed, thereby escaping damage. So all U.S. planes that reached the scene concentrated on the Shokaku, but with disappointing results.

The Yorktown's torpedo bombers went in first, low and covered by fighters. But faulty technique and the wretched quality of U.S. torpedoes at the stage of the war combined to make this attack wholly ineffective: hits (if any) proved to be duds, the pilots launched at excessive ranges, and the torpedoes traveled so slowly that vessels unable to dodge had only to outrun them. The dive bombers, following closely, scored only two direct hits. But one of these so damaged theShokaku's flight deck that she could no longer launch planes, although she still was capable of recovering them. Many of the Lexington's planes, taking off ten minutes after those from Yorktown, go lost in the overcast and never found their targets. Those that did attack made the same mistakes the Yorktown fliers committed. The torpedoes proved wholly ineffective, and the damaging bomb hit on the Shokaku was something less than lethal despite the pilot's enthusiastic report that she was "settling fast."13

The Japanese did considerably better, thanks to vastly superior torpedoes and launching techniques. Two of the power "fish" ripped great holes in theLexington's port side, and she sustained two direct bomb hits plus numerous near misses that sprang plates. The more maneuverable Yorktown dodged all of the torpedoes aimed at her and escaped all but one of the bombs. But this was an 800-pounder, and it exploded with such a spectacular display of flame and smoke that the Japanese pilots may be excused their claim that they had sunk her.

These events made up the Battle of the Coral Sea. It was all over by 1140.

Preoccupation of both forces with the flattops left opposing escort vessels unscathed, although the Japanese claimed to have left burning "one battleship or cruiser."14 The Americans had sustained far the heavier damage and casualties, but had inflicted the greater tactical blow in knocking the Shokaku out of further offensive action while both U.S. carriers still were operational. Even the crippled Lexington had put out fires, shored up torpedo damage, and was capable of sustaining 25-knot speed and conducting nearly normal flight operations an hour after the battle ended.

The Japanese had lost the greater number of planes: 43 from all causes against 33 for the Americans. Their command, accepting at face value the ecstatic reports of their pilots that they had sunk both U.S. carriers, started the beat-up Shokaku for home, and in the afternoon commenced withdrawal from the area on orders from Rabaul. Admiral Takagi concurred with higher authority that it would be unwise to risk the vulnerable transport convoy in the narrowing waters of the western Coral Sea in face of the Allies' Australian airfields under cover of the whittled-down air complement of the single operational carrier. So the Port Moresby Invasion Group was ordered back to Rabaul.

But the final, tragic act of the drama remained. The gallant old Lexington, her wounds patched up and apparently fit to return to Pearl Harbor for permanent repairs, was suddenly racked by a terrible

explosion. This resulted only indirectly from enemy action: released gasoline fumes were ignited by sparks from a generator someone had carelessly left running. This set off what amounted to a chain reaction. The best efforts of her crew availed nothing, and at 1707 her skipper gave the order to abandon ship. This movement was carried out in the best order, without the loss of a man. At about 2000, nearly nine hours after the Japanese had withdrawn from the battle, torpedoes of her own escort put her under the waves forever.

Loss of the Lexington gave tactical victory to the Japanese, But by thwarting the invasion of Port Moresby, principal objective of the entire operation, the United States won strategic victory. At the time the enemy regarded this merely a postponement of their invasion plans; but events would prove that no Japanese seaborne invasion ever would near Port Moresby again.

JAPANESE CRUISER MIKUMA, sunk at the Battle of Midway, lies battered and smoking from the attacks of pilots of MAG-22 and the American carriers. (USN 11528)
JAPANESE CRUISER MIKUMA, sunk at the Battle of Midway, lies battered and smoking from the attacks of pilots of MAG-22 and the American carriers. (USN 11528)

Japanese Plans: Toward Midway and the North Pacific

Apparently ignoring this setback in the Coral Sea, Japan next turned toward the Central and North Pacific to launch the second complicated operation on her schedule. Admiral Yamamoto's two-pronged thrust at Midway and the Aleutians would automatically wipe clean the Coral Sea reverses and extend the outer perimeter of defense a safer distance from the home islands. And in the bargain, Yamamoto hoped, these attacks would lure forth the remainder of the U.S. fleet so that he could finish off the job he started on 7 December.15

The admiral accepted his aviators' reports that they had destroyed both U.S. carriers in the Coral Sea, and he therefore reasoned that the U.S. could bring no more than two flattops against him anywhere in the Pacific. Actually the Pearl Harbor yard had put the Yorktown back into operation in less than 48 hours so that the U.S. had three carriers, including the Enterprise and the Hornet. But against these Yamamoto had seven, and four seaplane carriers as well. His force also contained 11 battleships, including three of the latest type.16 The U.S. had no battleships--or at least none in position for this upcoming battle.17 And Yamamoto also had a substantial edge over the U.S. in cruisers, destroyers, and submarines. But the Japanese admiral squandered this lopsided advantage by dispersing his armada in widely scattered groups and opened himself for defeat in detail by the inferior U.S. Pacific Fleet.18

This Japanese fleet, divided for the complicated plan into five major forces, with some of these split into smaller groups, steamed eastward independently to carry out the various phases of the second step in this strategy for 1942. Planes from two light carriers in the Second Mobile Force would strike Dutch Harbor, Alaska on 3 June to confuse the U.S. command and to cover diversionary Japanese landings in the western Aleutians by the Occupation Forces for Adak-Attu and Kiska. Next the Carrier Striking Force,commanded by Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, would soften Midway with the planes from the big fleet carriers Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu, and Soryu,19 and would then move on to strike the first blow at the U.S. Pacific Fleet if it challenged in a sortie from Pearl Harbor.

Admiral Yamamoto's Main Body, including three battleships and a light cruiser of his force plus the Aleutian Screening Force for four battleships and two light cruisers, then would go in for the kill against the U.S. Fleet. This engagement would be followed, after darkness on 5 June, by Vice Admiral Nobutake Kondo moving in to shell the U.S. base for two days. Then Kondo's convoyed Transport Group would approach to land the Midway Occupation Force of 5,000 ground troops. While crossing the Pacific, Yamamoto remained some hundreds of miles to the rear with his Main Body, awaiting word from the Advance Expeditionary Force of large fleet submarines already manning stations on the approaches to Pearl Harbor to warn about sorties of the American ships.

This ambitious plan might have worked, even though it was over-intricate. But again the Japanese had allowed their optimism and overconfidence to cast the U.S. Pacific Fleet in the role of a timid character actor cued for a vulnerable "walk-on" part. They begged the question of tactics before their plan moved to the operational stage. The U.S. Fleet, according to Japanese plans, would be steaming for the Second Mobile Force in the Aleutians, or would be vacillating in Hawaiian waters, until the strong Carrier Striking Force hit Midway and revealed the target of the main effort.20 In either event nothing but the small Marine garrison force would stand in the way of the occupation of Midway, and the Japanese would have an air base of their own there before the U.S. Fleet could reach them.

Midway Girds for Battle21

Even before these Japanese plans were made, and long before Admiral Yamamoto sortied eastward, all U.S. military planners recognized the vulnerable position of the Midway Atoll.22 Especially was this position clear in the light of early Japanese successes elsewhere in the Pacific, and none was more keenly aware of the grim situation that the atoll's small garrison force. The 12 PBYs of VP-21 were soon withdrawn, and little help was expected from the crippled fleet. But on 17 December, while the 6th Marine Defense Battalion worked to improve existing defense installations, 17 SB2U-3s (Vindicators) of Marine Scout-Bomber Squadron 231 (VMSB-231) flew in unexpectedly from Hawaii. Led by Major Clarence J. Chappell, Jr., and assisted in over-water navigation by a PBY, the obsolescent craft made the 1,137-mile hop in nine hours and twenty minutes.23 Other reinforcements, including about 100 officers and men of Batteries A and C of the 4th Defense Battalion, left Pearl Harbor on 19 December with the old Navy 7-inch24 and the 3-inch guns which had been shipped to Pearl Harbor for Midway prior to the outset of war.

This force, on board the USS Wright, arrived on Christmas Eve, and Lieutenant Colonel Harold D. Shannon, who commanded Marine defense forces on the atoll, turned over to Battery A (Captain Custis Burton, Jr.) the mission of installing and manning the 7-inch and 3-inch batteries to be emplaced on Eastern Island. Battery C (First Lieutenant Lewis A. Jones) was assigned the job of setting up its 3-inch battery on Sand Island.25

Next day Midway received another Christmas present: 14 Brewster F2A-3s, the air echelon of Marine Fighter Squadron 221 (VMF-221), flew in from the USSSaratoga which was retiring from the abortive attempt to relieve Wake Island. This squadron immediately began a daily schedule of air search and patrolling. On 26 December the USS Tangier brought in Battery B of the 4th Defense Battalion (First Lieutenant Frank G. Umstead); additional machine gunners and 12 antiaircraft machine guns from the Special Weapons Group of that same battalion; an aviation contingent of three officers and 110 enlisted Marines constituting the ground echelon of VMF-221; aviation supplies; additional radar; and much-needed base-defense artillery material. Umstead's 5-inch battery, along with the island's other 7-inch battery, were set up south of the radio station on Sand Island. By New Year's Day of 1942 Midway was garrisoned by a strongly-reinforced defense battalion, and one fighter and one scout-bomber squadron.

A major air base took shape on Eastern Island under the direction of Lieutenant Colonel William J. Wallace who on 9 January became commanding officer of the Marine Aviation Detachment. Individual aircraft bunkers and underground personnel shelters were built, emergency fueling expedients devised, radars calibrated, and inexperienced operators trained to use them properly. Colonel Wallace was assisted by Major Walter L.J. Bayler, the Marine aviation officer who had been sent back from Wake with that atoll's last reports.26

The first test of this defense came on 25 January during twilight general quarters when a Japanese submarine surfaced abruptly and opened fire on Sand Island, apparently trying to knock out the radio station. Battery D opened up with its 3-inch guns and forced the enemy craft to crash-dive three minutes after it had surfaced. Sand Island and the adjacent lagoon had receive from 10 to 15 indiscriminate hits, and Captain Buckner's Battery D had expended 24 rounds.

The next action against the atoll came two weeks later, on 8 February, when another submarine appeared less than 1,000 yards south of Sand Island and opened fire on the radio towers. Captain Loren S. Fraser's Battery A opened fire on this boat, and it submerged after Marines had returned two rounds. The enemy had hit a concrete ammunition magazine, but fortunately the small arms ammunition was no detonated. Two days later another submarine--or the same one--surfaced almost directly below two Marine fighter planes flying the sunset antisubmarine patrol. The submarine got off two rounds before First Lieutenant John F. Carey and Second Lieutenant Philip R. White, the fliers, could launch a diving attack. Both rounds from the submarine splashed in the lagoon, and then the boat was driven under water by the air attack just as the batteries of the 6th Defense Battalion were going into action. This was the last time for a number of months that Midway was troubled by enemy submarines.

As the winter wore on, Midway's air arm began to profit from the general expansion of Marine Corps aviation, and the two squadrons and their small provisional headquarters on 1 March became Marine Aircraft Group 22 (MAG-22). On 20 April Lieutenant Colonel Wallace was succeeded in command by Major Ira L. Kimes, and at the same time Major Lofton R. Henderson took command of VMSB-241 (the new designation of former VMSB-231). This was a busy time for MAG-22, which was then converting Eastern Island from a small advanced air base to a major installation capable of handling as many squadrons and aircraft types as could physically be accommodated and protected there.

On 10 March, during the work and reorganization, the Marine fliers got their first test against enemy aircraft. Radar picked up a Japanese four-engined "Mavis" (Kawanishi 97) approximately 45 miles west of Midway, and 12 fighters under Captain Robert M. Haynes vectored out to intercept. They made contact with the enemy flying boat at 10,000 feet and shot it down.

Although the enemy plane did as well as it could to fight off this attack, this contact was more important as intelligence for Nimitz' staff in Pearl Harbor than as a test for the Marine fliers. Two aircraft of this type had tumbled four bombs into the hills behind Honolulu on the night of 3-4 March, and Nimitz already believed that this portended an offensive toward Hawaii. Now this new sighting near Midway gave added weight to his estimate, and this information went into the CinCPac intelligence "hopper" which shortly thereafter reached the considered opinion that the Japanese attack would strike Midway. By this time the Japanese code had been broken, also.27 Thus were the fragments pieced together into Nimitz' May 1942 decision which caused him to wager nearly every ship he had in an early sortie from Pearl Harbor to the position 300 miles northeast of Midway from which the Japanese could be intercepted.

It was a bold, even though well-calculated, wager. The many ships on South Pacific convoy duty had to be left on their important jobs; Halsey's Enterprise andHornet had rushed from the Doolittle launching area part way to the Coral Sea and back again to Pearl Harbor where they were placed under a new commander, Rear Admiral Raymond A. Spruance; Fletcher's Yorktown had just limped in from the Coral Sea needing an estimated 90 days of repair work; and all the Fleet's battleships were on the west coast where they could not be used (partly because Nimitz felt he did not have enough air strength to protect them, anyway). But Nimitz was convinced that his intelligence estimate was correct, and that the stand had to be made.

For the engagement Nimitz gave Fletcher, in over-all tactical charge,28 direct command of Task Force 17 which included the Yorktown (rushed into shape in two days rather than 90), two cruisers, and six destroyers. Spruance commanded Task Force 16 which included the Enterprise and Hornet, six cruisers, and nine destroyers. Four oilers and 19 submarines also were assigned to the area, and, in addition, a North Pacific Force was formed of five cruisers and ten destroyers to screen the Aleutians. The Japanese had him outnumbered on all counts, and Nimitz knew that the enemy would be gunning for the three U.S. carriers. But his carriers likewise were his only hope, and the admiral ordered his subordinates to apply the rule of calculated risk when they went in with their air groups to stop the Japanese.

While Nimitz readied this reception committee, the Japanese completed their Midway plans and polished the rough operational edges with carrier training and

rehearsals. By the last week of May, all Japanese fleet elements were underway, and on decks Imperial sailors sunbathed and sang songs--vocal eruptions of what has been described as the "Victory Disease."29

Meanwhile on Midway, the focal point for these vast efforts, Marines got their first inkling of all this attention when Nimitz flew in on 2 May to see their senior officer, Lieutenant Colonel Shannon, and the atoll commander, Commander Cyril T. Simard. The admiral inspected the installations, and then directed Shannon to submit a detailed list of all supplies and equipment he would need to defend the atoll against a strong attack. Nimitz promised that all available items requested would be forwarded immediately, and within less than a week men and material were being embarked in Hawaii to bolster the island's strength.

Three more 3-inch antiaircraft batteries totaling 12 guns, a 37mm antiaircraft battery of eight guns, and a 20mm antiaircraft battery of 18 guns were temporarily detached from the 3d Defense Battalion of Pearl Harbor; and two rifle companies of the 2d Marine Raider Battalion, together with a platoon of five light tanks, also were sent along to Midway. For MAG-22, still flying Brewster fighters and Vought Vindicator dive bombers, there would be 16 SBD-2 dive bombers and seven relatively new Grumman F4F-3 fighters.

Shortly after his return from Midway to Pearl Harbor, Nimitz arranged "spot" promotions to captain and colonel respectively for Simard and Shannon, and described to them in a joint personal letter the steps being taken to reinforce their atoll against the anticipated attack. Japanese D-Day, the admiral predicted would be about 28 May. On the day they received this letter, Simard and Shannon conferred on their final plans for defense, and that evening Colonel Shannon assembled his key subordinates and warned them of the impending enemy attack. Additional defensive measures and priorities of final efforts were outlined, and all recreational activities suspended. May 25 was set as the deadline for completion of the measures ordered.

On the 25th, however, came two welcomed changes for the picture. First, Nimitz passed the word that the Japanese attack was not expected until early June, and, second, the first reinforcements arrived. On this date the USS St. Louis came in with the 37mm antiaircraft battery of the 3d Defense Battalion plus the two companies of raiders. Four of the 37s were emplaced on each island while Raider Company C (Captain Donald H. Hastie) went to Sand Island, and Company D (First Lieutenant John Apergis) to Eastern Island.

Next day the aircraft tender Kittyhawk arrived with the 3d Defense Battalion's 3-inch antiaircraft group commanded by Major Chandler W. Johnson, the light tank platoon for the mobile reserve, and the SBD-2s and the F4F-3s. In the following week additional Army and Navy planes arrived, and by 31 May there were 107 aircraft on the island.30

For the ground forces and key civilian workers who had remained behind to help defend the island, the week was equally busy. Reinforcing weapons were installed, tanks tested in the sand, all defensive concentrations registered in, and the emplacing of an extensive system of obstacles, mines and demolitions completed. Sand Island now was surrounded with two double-apron barbed wire barriers, and all installations on both islands were ringed by protective wire. Antiboat mines of sealed sewer pipe, and obstacles of reinforcing steel lay offshore; the beaches were sown with homemade mines of ammunition boxes filled with dynamite and 20-penny nails; cigar box antitank mines covered likely beach exits; and bottles of Molotov cocktail stood ready at every position. A decoy mockup airplane (a JFU-Japanese fouler-upper) was spotted prominently on the seaplane apron, and all underground fuel storage areas on Sand Island were prepared for emergency destruction by demolition.31

Midway Versus the Japanese, 4-5 June 1942

A Midway PBY spotted the approaching Japanese first, at about 0900 of June 3,32 and tracked them long enough to report eleven ships making 19 knots eastward. These vessels were probably the transport and seaplane groups of the Occupation Force, and they were attacked at 1624 by nine B-17s which Captain Simard sent out following the PBY's contact report. The pilots reported having hit "two battleships or heavy cruisers" and two transports in the group then 570 miles away from Midway, but the fliers were mistaken in both ship identification and in calling their shots, for they actually hit nothing. A Catalina scored on one of these oilers later that night in a moonlight torpedo run.

This was enough to convince Fletcher that the battle would soon be on, and he changed course from his station 300 miles east-northeast of Midway to gain a new position about 200 miles north. From there he could launch his planes the following morning against the Japanese carrier force which was expected to come in from the northwest. U.S. intelligence still was good. Nagumo continued to steam in from the northwest while his transports were under attack, and near daybreak on 4 June, when the Yorktown launched an early-morning search and while 11 PBYs were going up to patrol from Midway, he had reached a position approximately 250 miles northwest of the atoll. There at 0430 the Japanese admiral launched 36 "Kate" torpedo planes and 36 "Val" dive bombers, plus 36 escorting Zeros, for the first strike against the atoll.

At 0545 one of the Midway PBYs sighted these planes about 150 miles out from the island, and a short time later another PBY reported visual contact with two enemy carriers and the balance of the Japanese Carrier Striking Force some 200 miles from Midway. Enterprise intercepted this report, but Fletcher wanted to recover his search planes and sift further intelligence before launching his strike, and so he ordered Spruance to take the van southwesterly and lead off the attack against the enemy carriers.

Meanwhile the Midway Marines were ready for the first shock of attack. Ground force defenders at general quarters manned every weapon and warning device, and MAG-22, which already had fighters up to cover the sorties of the PBYs stood by for orders. At 0555, shortly after the second PBY report had fixed the position of the Japanese Striking Force, the 6th Defense Battalion radar logged a report of "many planes," and the Naval Air Station raised similar blips almost simultaneously. Air raid sirens began to wail, Condition One was set, and the MAG-22 pilots manned their planes. Both squadrons were in the air in less than 10 minutes, VMF-221 heading to intercept the enemy planes and VMSB-241 off to rendezvous station 20 miles east where the dive bomber pilots would receive further instructions.

The VMF fliers under Major Floyd B. Parks sighted the Zero-escorted Val dive bombers at 0616 about 30 miles out from Midway, and Captain John F. Carey, leading one of Parks' divisions in an F4F-3, launched the attack from 17,000 feet. The Marine fliers were hopelessly outnumbered, and they found that the Zero fighters could "fly rings around them." they had time for only one pass at the bombers, and then had to turn their attention to the swarm of Zeros, from one to five of which got on the tail of each Marine fighter. Only three of the original 12 Marine pilots survived this brawl, and although the damage they inflicted on the enemy has never been assessed, it is believed that they splashed a number of the bombers and some of the Zeros. Other Zeros were led into the Midway antiaircraft fire.

Meanwhile another group of 13 Midway fighters under Captain Kirk Armistead came in for an attack against the enemy air formation. Again the damage inflicted upon the enemy was undetermined, but fewer Marine pilots were lost. For better or for worse, however, the fighter defense of Midway had been expended, and the problem now passed to the antiaircraft guns on the atoll.

The first Japanese formation attacked at about 0630 from 14,000 feet. Antiaircraft fire knocked down two of these horizontal bombers before they could unload, but 22 came on through to drop their bombs. And just as these initial explosions rocked the two islands, 18 planes of the enemy's second wave came over for their strike. Since each of these Japanese formations had left the carriers with 36 planes, it is possible that the Marine fliers scored some kills.33

The Kaga aircraft group in the first wave, assigned to attack the patrol plane facilities on Sand Island, dropped nine 242-kilogram bombs on and about the seaplane hangars, setting them aflame and starting a large fire in the fuel oil tanks 500 yards to the north. The Akagi planes plastered the north shore of Eastern Island to destroy the Marine mess hall, galley, and post exchange. These the returning enemy fliers described as hangars.34 Other targets of the Japanese dive bombers included the already-flaming fuel storage at the north end of Sand Island, the Sand Island dispensary, and the Eastern Island powerhouse which suffered direct hits from two 805-kilogram bombs. These hits virtually destroyed the entire plant. And at the very end of the strike, the 6th Defense Battalion's Eastern Island command post received a direct hit which killed the Marine sector commander, Major William W. Benson, and wounded several other men. After these bombers completed their runs, the Zeros came in for strafing attacks. This one and only air strike on Midway was over shortly after 0700.

Marine defense batteries fired throughout these attacks, and one source credited this antiaircraft fire with 10 kills.35 Reports from Marine flyers would appear to require an increase of this estimate, however, since returning Midway pilots described enemy planes falling out of formation and other foundering into the water.36 But Japanese authorities claim that only six of their planes--three level bombers, two dive bombers, and a fighter--failed to make it back to the carriers.37 This controversy probably will never be resolved, for regardless of how many of these Japanese planes made it back to their carrier decks, Fletcher and Spruance--with a certain unintentional assistance from Nagumo--initiated action which resulted in the destruction of all these planes, anyway.

Nagumo's mistake was a natural one for a commander who believed himself to be unopposed on a "field" of battle of his own choice. Lieutenant Joichi Tomonaga, the flight officer who had commanded the first attack wave against Midway, radioed during his return fight that "There is need for a second attack wave." Meanwhile, with Nagumo still ignorant of the U.S. fleet's presence in the vicinity, six American TBFs and four B-26s from Midway came in to attack his ships. This convinced the Japanese admiral that Tomonaga was right, and he sent below to hangar spaces the 93 planes he had kept spotted for strikes against possible surface opposition. These planes were to be re-armed with bombs for the second strike. Then Nagumo called in the returning planes to arm them for the new attack on the atoll. While his men were involved in this work on the flight deck and in hangar spaces, Nagumo got the belated word from a Tone search plane that U.S. ships, including at least one carrier, were in the area. This caused another change of mind, and the admiral ordered the planes' ordnance changed again, from bombs back to torpedoes with which to attack the surface ships. But this decision was just tardy enough to allow Spruance to catch him with his planes down, and with torpedoes and bombs strewn in great confusion about the hangar deck.38

Meanwhile, as Nagumo vacillated, Admiral Nimitz's orders for Captain Simard to "go all out for the carriers," while Marine antiaircraft batteries worried about Midway, were under execution. VMSB-241, like the fighter squadron, had divided into two striking units, the first composed of 16 SBD-2s led by Major Lofton Henderson, and the second of 11 SB2U-3s commanded by Major Benjamin W. Norris. Hendersons' group climbed to 9,000 feet to locate the enemy carriers, which were then undergoing the attack from the TBFs and the B-26s. Fliers of this group sighted the Japanese ships at 0744, but as the SBDs spiralled down they were set upon by swarms of Nakajima 97s and Zeros flying air cover, which were soon reinforced by more fighters from the carriers below. Henderson and several other were shot down (only eight of these planes got back to Midway) and the strike scored no hits although some were claimed.39

Next came an attack by 15 B-17s led by Lieutenant Colonel Walter C. Sweeney, USA, but again claims of hits were optimistic. And as these Flying Fortresses pulled away, Major Norris came in with his 11 Vindicators which had taken off with Henderson. Beset by the Zeros, Norris turned to the nearest target at hand, and the Marines crowded their ancient planes into a standard glide run almost on top of the Japanese battleship Haruna--previously claimed as an Army B-17's victim off Luzon. Some of the fliers also went after the Kirishima, which was nearby, but neither attack managed any hits. Three Marines were shot down, and the group was credited with splashing two enemy fighters, plus two probables.40

By 1100 all surviving Marine aircraft had made their way back to he atoll where all hands grimly assessed the battle's damage and prepared for subsequent action. Of the VMF-221 fighters which had gone in against the attacking Japanese planes, only 10 returned, and of this number only two were in shape to leave the ground again. Thirteen F2A-3s and two F4Fs were missing, along with the eight craft lost from the Henderson group and the three shot away from the Norris force. Slick black smoke from oil fires billowed up from the islands, and ruptured fuel lines left more than two-thirds of the aviation fuel temporarily unavailable. Gasoline had to be sent to the field from Sand Island, and hand-pumped from drums. The Marine ground defense force had sustained 24 casualties, and four ordnance-men of VMF-221 had been lost to a direct bomb hit.

At 1700 a burning enemy carrier was reported 200 miles northwest of Midway, and Major Norris prepared VMSB-241's six operational SBD-2s and five SB2U-3s for a night attack. The planes took off at 1900, but could not find the carrier. Major Norris failed to return from this mission, although the other pilots managed to home by the light of oil fires and the antiaircraft searchlights which were turned up as beacons.41 Meanwhile, the Battle of Midway had been decided at sea in a fight of carrier aircraft.

Battle of the Carrier Planes, 4 June 1942

While the land-based fliers had their morning go at the Japanese Striking Force,   and while Nagumo juggled his planes and decisions, Spruance steamed southeast to lead off the attack against the enemy. The American admiral intended to hold his planes until he drew within about 100 miles of the Japanese. But when he heard of the strike on Midway, Spruance launched two hours before this intended range would have been reached. By this calculated risk he hoped to catch the Japanese planes back on their carriers rearming for a second attack on the atoll. And about twenty minutes later Nagumo made the decision which set up himself and his planes as exactly the target Spruance hoped his pilots would find.42

Enterprise and Hornet began launching at about 0700, sending off every operational plane they carried, except a few to cover the task force. The strike was led by 29 Devastator (TBD-1) torpedo bombers, and these were followed by 67 Dauntless dive bombers and 20 Wildcat fighters. Eighteen other Wildcats, plus a like number withheld to relieve them later, patrolled overhead. Yorktown held back its planes for about two hours; Fletcher considered that the aircraft from his carrier might be needed against other enemy carriers not yet located, but by 0838 there had been no enemy sightings, and he decided to launch half his dive bombers and all his torpedo planes, along with escorting fighters. By shortly after 0900 the Yorktown had 17 SBDs, 12 TBDs, and six F4F-3s in the air, and other planes ready for takeoff.

As Spruance had hoped, Nagumo continued for more than an hour to steam toward Midway, and the first U.S. planes found the Japanese Carrier Striking Forcewith its flattops in the center of a larger formation consisting of two battleships, three cruisers, and 11 destroyers. By 0917, Nagumo had recovered his Midway attack planes, and at that time he made a 90-degree change of course to east-northeast. This course change caused 35 of the Hornet's SBDs and escorting fighters to miss the battle, but Hornet's torpedo planes found the enemy and went in low without fighter cover.

The 15 obsolete Devastators met heavy antiaircraft fire from the Japanese Striking Force, and pulled down upon themselves the bulk of the Zeros patrolling overhead. Against this combined fire, few of the planes got close enough to Japanese ships to launch torpedoes, and again, as in the Coral Sea battle, any hits scored by the slow unreliable torpedoes of that period proved duds. This antiaircraft and fighter opposition started while the planes had yet eight miles to go to reach the Japanese ships, and only one Devastator pilot lived to pull up from this attack.43

The 14 TBDs from the Enterprise fared only a little better. Four of these planes, likewise striking without fighter escort, survived their torpedo runs against the Japanese ships, although they scored no hits. But these two Devastator attacks, costly as they were, served to pull down the Zero canopy to such a low altitude that the following SBDs from Enterprise and Yorktown had an easier time of it.

These Dauntless dive bombers came in at about 1020 while Nagumo's ships still were dodging the Devastators. The Akagi took two hits which set her afire, and Admiral Nagumo transferred his flag to the light cruiser Nagara.44 The Kaga sustained four hits, and at 1925 she blew up and sank. The Soryu was hit three times by the planes and also struck by three torpedoes from the submarine Nautilus which arrived on the scene between 1359 and 1495.45 Finally the Soryu'sgasoline stowage exploded and broke the ship in half.

By 1030, Nagumo had lost the services of three carriers, and in all three cases, as Spruance had hoped, the American attack had caught the ships in process of refueling and rearming the planes of their Midway strike. But even with these ships and their planes gone, Nagumo still was determined to fight back with his surviving carrier, the Hiryu, which had escaped damage by getting far out of position in some of the earlier evasive actions to escape the torpedo planes. "Although defeat now stared the Japanese starkly in the face, they felt that the battle had to be continued as long as we retained even a small part of our striking power."46

When the Akagi was shot from under Nagumo, the Japanese Striking Force commander temporarily passed his command to Rear Admiral Hiroaki Abe on board the heavy cruiser Tone, and command of air operations simultaneously passed to Rear Admiral Tamon Yamaguchi in the Hiryu. At about 1050 two float planes from the cruiser Chikuma sighted the Yorktown task group and guided to it a strike of 18 dive bombers and six fighters up from the Hiryu. The U.S. air patrol and antiaircraft fire knocked down or turned back most of these enemy planes which arrived at about noon, but those that got through scored three hits which started fires. Within 20 minutes the big carrier was dead in the water.

Her crew got her underway again in about an hour, but a second strike from the Hiryu appeared early in the afternoon. Although the Japanese lost half of the 10 Kate torpedo bombers and six Zero fighters of this attack, four of the Kates came in to attack the Yorktown at masthead level. Launching at a range of about 500 yards, two of the torpedo planes scored hits which left the carrier not only dead in the water but listing so badly that she was abandoned a few minutes later.47

Meanwhile, one of Yorktown's search planes (one of 10 scout bombers sent out before the first attack on the ship) spotted the Hiryu, two battleships, three cruisers, and four destroyers at 1445, and reported the position of these enemy ships. At 1530 Spruance had 24 SBDs48 up from the Enterprise, and they found the Hiryu and her screening ships at 1700. Using the same tactics which had paid off in their morning attacks, the dive bombers scored four hits which finished operations for Nagumo's fourth and last flattop.49 The bombing cost three SBDs and their crews.

During all this action Admiral Yamamoto, still miles to the rear, considered himself fortunate to have drawn out the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Shortly after noon, when he heard of the Hiryu's first strike against the Yorktown, the Japanese commander order the Aleutian Screening Group and Admiral Kondo's Second Fleet to join his Main Body by noon the next day to finish off the U.S. ships and complete the occupation of Midway. And a full hour and twenty minutes after he heard of the fate of Nagumo's final carrier, Admiral Yamamoto sent out a message in which he reported the U.S. fleet "practically destroyed and ... retiring eastward," and he called on Nagumo, the Invasion Force (less Cruiser Division 7 ) and the Submarine Force to "immediately contact and attack the enemy." A stimulating message, but "In the light of the whole situation ... so strangely optimistic as to suggest that Commander in Chief was deliberately trying to prevent the morale of our forces from collapsing."50 Nagumo's morale obviously needed to be stimulated by stronger stuff; at 2130 he reported: "Total enemy strength is 5 carriers, 6 heavy cruisers, and 15 destroyers. They are steaming westward. We are retiring to the northwest escorting Hiryu. Speed, 18 knots."51 Yamamoto's answer relieved Nagumo of command in favor of Rear Admiral Kondo: but later messages told the commander in chief that there was little chance of finding the U.S. Fleet until after dawn next day. At 0255 on 5 June the admiral changed his mind, abandoned the Midway venture, and ordered a general withdrawal.

Admiral Spruance, now more on his own than ever, following Fletcher's move from the damaged Yorktown to the Astoria,52 of course did not know of Yamamoto's decision; but he did know that vastly more powerful enemy surface forces could well be nearby, quite possibly with additional carriers that had come in with the Main Body or with another enemy force. His problem, as he saw it, was to avoid combat in which he could be hopelessly outclassed, especially at night, and yet at the same time keep within air support distance of Midway in case the Japanese should persist in their assault plans. This he succeeded in doing, but in the process lost contact with the enemy fleet. He did not regain contact until 6 June.

In the early morning hours of 5 June, however, a retiring Japanese column of four cruisers and two destroyers was sighted by U.S. submarineTambor; and when the Japanese sighted the Tambor, evasive action resulted in a collision of their cruisers, Mogami and Mikuma. While the other Japanese cruisers retired at full speed, these two lagged behind with the destroyers to screen them, the Mogami with a damaged bow and the Mikuma trailing oil. The submarine continued to stalk these four ships, did not manage to gain a firing position, but at break of day reported their position.

Captain Simard sent 12 B-17s out from Midway to attack these ships, but the Flying Fortresses had trouble locating their targets, and Simard then ordered a Marine bombing squadron off on this mission. Captain M.A. Tyler with six SBD-2s and Captain Richard E. Fleming with six SB2U-3s took off at about 0700 to attack the ships which were then reported to be 170 miles west of the atoll. They located the ships at about 0800, and Tyler led his division out of the sun toward the stern of the Mogami while Fleming and the other Vindicator pilots went down at the Mikuma.

Both divisions met heavy antiaircraft fire, but Tyler and his fliers bracketed their target with six near misses which caused some topside damage to theMogami.53 Fleming's plane was hit, but the pilot stayed on course at the head of his attack formation and crashed his plane into the Mikuma's after gun turret.54This additional damage further slowed the cruisers, and Admiral Spruance's carrier planes found the cripples the following day, the 6th. The attack of these planes sank the Mikuma and inflicted enough additional damage on the Mogami to keep her out of the war for the next two years.

The Battle of Midway--which many historians and military experts consider the decisive naval engagement of the Pacific War--was over, and all actions following those of 4 June were anti-climactic. The U.S. had lost 98 carrier planes of all types, and would lose the Yorktown, then under tow. The Japanese carriers sustained total losses of about 322 planes of all types.55 And with the four carriers had gone the cream of their experienced naval pilots. This, along with later losses in air battles over Guadalcanal, was a blow from which the Japanese never fully recovered.56

Although the carrier planes had decided the large issue, the contribution of Marines to the defense of Midway had been considerable, from the inception of base development to the end of the action. Not only had the 3d and 6th Defense Battalions contributed their share of labor, vigilance, and flak, but the aviation personnel of MAG-22, at a cost rarely surpassed in the history of U.S. naval aviation, had faced a superior enemy and exacted serious damage. At a cost of 49 Marines killed and 53 wounded, Midway had destroyed some 43 enemy aircraft (25 dive bombers and 18 Zeros) in air action, plus another 10 shot down by antiaircraft guns.57

In another air-air action, similar to that at Coral Sea, Fletcher and Spruance had sent the proud Imperial Fleet scurrying home to Japan without firing a shot from its superior naval rifles. Yamamoto could gain little consolation from the fact that the northern operation had secured two Aleutian bases: what good the bowl if the rice is gone? For "...unlike most of the Nipponese war lords, [Yamamoto] appreciated American strength and resource."58 He knew that destruction of the U.S. Fleet early in 1942 was a necessary prerequisite to the year's plans for control of the Coral Sea and the American sea lanes to Australia and New Zealand, and, in the final analysis, the necessary prerequisite to the success of Japan's entire war effort.59

But now that the Japanese clearly were defeated at Midway, they no longer could overlook the setback they had received at Coral Sea in phase one of their 1942 plans, and phase three--occupation of the Fijis, Samoa and New Caledonia--soon was scrapped. "The catastrophe of Midway definitely marked the turning of the tide in the Pacific War..."60 and from arrogant offense the Japanese soon turned to chagrined defense and ultimate defeat. U.S. plans for a first offensive already were well advanced, and the rest of 1942 was destined to be a most gloomy period for the Japanese.

In Battle That Doomed Japan, Fuchida and Okumiya devote their final chapter to a scholarly and complete analysis of this defeat, and they end on an introspective note:

In the final analysis, the root cause of Japan's defeat, not alone in the Battle of Midway but in the entire war, lies deep in the Japanese national character. There is an irrationality and impulsiveness about our people which results in actions that are haphazard and often contradictory. A tradition of provincialism makes us narrow-minded and dogmatic, reluctant to discard prejudices and slow to adopt even necessary improvements if they require a new concept. Indecisive and vacillating, we succumb readily to deceit, which in turn makes us disdainful of others. Opportunistic but lacking a spirit of daring and independence, we are wont to place reliance on others and to truckle to superiors. Our Want of rationality often leads us to confuse desire with reality, and thus to do things without careful planning. Only when our hasty action has ended in failure do we begin to think rationally about it, usually for the purpose of finding excuses for the failure. In short, as a nation, we lack maturity of mind and the necessary conditioning to enable us to know when and what to sacrifice for the sake of our main goal.

Such are the weaknesses of the Japanese national character. These weaknesses were reflected in the defeat we suffered in the Battle of Midway, which rendered fruitless all the valiant deeds and precious sacrifices of the men who fought there. In these weaknesses lies the cause of Japan's misfortunes.61


[1] Unless otherwise noted the material in Part V is derived from Rising Sun in the Pacific; S.E. Morison, Coral Sea, Midway and Submarine Actions, May 1942-August 1942: History of United States Naval Operations in World War II (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1949), hereinafter cited as Coral Sea and Midway;U.S. Sea Power; M. Fuchida and M. Okumiya, Midway: The Battle That Doomed Japan (Annapolis: U.S. Naval Institute, 1955), hereinafter cited as Battle That Doomed Japan; Marines at Midway; "The Japanese Story of the Battle of Midway," ONI Review, May 1947, hereinafter cited as ONI Review.

[2] "There was still much difference of opinion [about the effectiveness of the carrier striking force] until 7 Dec 1941 when the Japanese attack took the controversy out of the laboratory class ... Japan knifed us with our own invention." Capt Miles R. Browning, USN, "The Fast Carrier Force," MC Gazette, June 1946, 19.

[3] Plans called for the bombers to land on friendly Chinese fields some 1,093 miles from Tokyo, and completion of this trip for the planes loaded initially with four 500-pound bombs and 1,140 gallons of gasoline required that they be launched within 500 miles of Tokyo.

[4] Although the picket boats were prompt with a warning, Japanese interception attempts were tardy. It was assumed that Navy planes, with a shorter range than B-25s, were on the carrier, and that the force could not strike Japan until the ships steamed for another day.

[5] Rising Sun in the Pacific, 398.

[6] Tulagi, with which U.S. forces were to get better acquainted, was the capital of the British Solomon Islands Protectorate. Officials and such garrison as existed had been amply forewarned and evacuated several days earlier. See VI of this volume.

[7] Experience to date had indicated to he Japanese that one of their landings constituted a fait accompli which no enemy would dare dispute, and the naval force supporting the landing had departed in order to get on with the war. Takagi's powerful Carrier Striking Force at this time lay north of Bougainville to keep beyond the range of Allied air search.

[8] "So many mistakes were made on both sides in this new mode of fighting that it might be called the Battle of Naval Errors." Coral Sea and Midway, 63.

[9] "Scratch one flattop! Dixon to Carrier, Scratch one flattop!" Voice radio report LCdr R.E. Dixon to USS Lexington, quoted in Coral Sea and Midway, 42. Action against the Shoho was U.S. Navy Air's first attack on an enemy carrier.

[10] Six planes in two groups of three each. Although they were recognized and fired on, all but one escaped. In this action the Japanese lost 9 planes in combat and 11 attempting night landings without benefit of homing devices, against U.S. loss of 2 fighters.

[11] A lucid summary of the several factors involved occurs in Coral Sea and Midway, 48. Fletcher's potential marked advantage in surface screening strength had been dissipated when, early on 7 May, he had dispatched Crace's force of cruisers and destroyers on a dash westward to intercept the enemy transport convoy expected to round the southeastern tip of New Guinea the next morning en route to attack Port Moresby. For analysis of this perhaps ill-judged move and its results, see Ibid., 37-39.

[12] "The story current shortly after the battle, that the Japanese and American planes sighted but paid no attention to each other when passing on opposite courses, is not true." Ibid., 52n.

[13] Ibid., 51.

[14] Ibid., 56.

[*] Due, no doubt, to continuing classification at the time of writing, this account is reticent on the role played by Magic--the incredibly successful American code-breaking effort: Nimitz did not need to gamble, he was reading the Japanese Navy's communications nearly as soon as the Japanese commanders.

[15] Battle That Doomed Japan, Chaps 4 and 5, passim. The Aleutians phase was intended only as a diversion and to protect the northern flank of the Midway thrust, the plan being to withdraw the landing troops in September. Ibid., 79.

[16] Adm Yamamoto flew his flag in the Yamato, the largest, fastest, and most heavily armed (18" guns) ship in the world.

[17] Although some of the battleships knocked out at Pearl Harbor had been put back in service, and three others had been brought around from the Atlantic, these ships were operating from the west coast as a final defense for the U.S.

[18] In view of subsequent developments, Morison describes Yamamoto's disposition as "cockeyed." Coral Sea and Midway, 77-79. See also Battle That Doomed Japan, 73-78. These Japanese authors, although sometimes carefully kind to Yamamoto (who was killed later in a Solomon Islands air action), are most often highly critical of the Japanese Navy and of war plans in general. Although the work is valuable and serious (n.b. the final two paragraphs of the book, at pages 247-248), the authors sometimes sound like men on the morning after, ruefully surveying the night before.

[19] Absent members of the original Pearl Harbor striking force were the Shokaku and the Zuikaku, the former undergoing Coral Sea damage repairs, and the latter reforming its air groups battered in that same action. Presence of these big carriers at Midway might well have been decisive.

[20] Fuchida and Okumiya state that Japanese plans "calculated that the enemy naval forces would be lured out by the strike on Midway Island and not before."Battle That Doomed Japan, 128. But in this calculation their overconfidence must have been tempered somewhat, else why the diversion into the Aleutians? Morison discusses this faulty Japanese strategy, probably more realistically. Coral Sea and Midway, 74-79.

[21] Editor's Note: Material contained in Chapters 3 and 4 is derived mainly from Chapters III and IV of the historical monograph Marines at Midway by Lieutenant Colonel Robert D. Heinl, Jr., published by Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1948, This has been extensively rewritten and checked against sources subsequently brought to light.

[22] See Part II for a description of the geography and history of Midway.

[23] This was then the longest massed flight of single engine landplanes on records, and it had been carried out with no surface rescue craft available. CO MAG-21 serial 1173 to MGC, 19Dec41. The flight took off from Hickam since Ewa's runways were too short for the heavily-laden planes to use with complete safety.

24] These 7-inch weapons had been removed from pre-World War I battleships and stored in reserve at naval yards. K.J. Bauer, "Ships of the Navy, 1775-1945", (MS available from the author).

[25] Interview with LtCol C. Burton, Jr., 26Sep47, hereinafter cited as Burton. The two Eastern Island batteries were located side by side on the south shore of the island, near the western tip, and the San Island battery was set up along the north shore of Sand Island.

[26] LtCol W.J. Wallace ltr to Col C.A. Larkin, 18Jan42.

[27] Battle That Doomed Japan,, 131; U.S. Sea Power, 686.

[28] Fletcher was senior to Spruance, and thus became Officer in Tactical Command. But as it turned out, Spruance exercised practically an independent command during the critical days of 4-6 June, and this probably was fortunate because Fletcher had no aviation staff while Spruance had inherited Halsey's.

[29] Battle That Doomed Japan, 245. "... the spread of the virus was so great," the authors say, "that its effect may be found on every level of the planning and execution of the Midway operation."

[30] By this date the daily aviation gasoline consumption of planes based on Eastern Island was 65,000 gallons, and the following numbers of planes were based there; U.S. Army--four B-26s and 17 B-17s; U.S. Navy--16 PBY-5As and six TBFs; U.S. Marine Corps--19 SBD-2s, 17 SB2U-3s, 21 F2A-3s, and seven F4F-3s.

[31] The demolition system worked, too. On 22 May a sailor threw the wrong switch and blew up a good portion of the aviation gasoline. The supply was so critical after this that the pilots who arrived on the Kittyhawk did not get a prebattle chance to check out in their SBD-2s. pipe lines also were wrecked in the blast, and MAG-22 thereafter had to refuel all planes by hand from 55-gallon drums.

[32] Midway (Zone plus 12) time and West Longitude date.

[33] Maj W.S. McCormick, and experienced antiaircraft officer, counted the 22; and Capt M.A. Tyler, a VMSB-241 pilot with a grounded plane, counted the 18. CO, VMF-221 Rept to CO, MAG-22, 6Jun42, 1. However, Battle That Doomed Japan, 155, reports that "not a single hit" was sustained by the Japanese bombers until they struck in two waves of 36 planes each. This seems highly improbable in view of eyewitness accounts and damage sustained.

[34] ONI Review, 45-48. Information on ground defense from CO, 6th DefBn Rept to CO, NAS, Midway on action of 4-5Jun42, 13Jun42, 1-8.

[35] ONI Review, 72.

[36] CinCPac Rept to CominCh on the Battle of Midway, 8.

[37] Battle That Doomed Japan, 156.

[38] ONI Review, 17-19, 44-45.

[39] Statement of Capt E.G. Glidden, 7Jun42, 1. Japanese sources disclose, however that no hits were scored in this attack. The Guadalcanal airfield, captured two months later, was named in Maj Henderson's honor. Rear gunners of this strike group are credited with four enemy kills plus two additional probables.

[40] ONI Review, 19; USSBS Interrogations, Nav No 2, Capt Susumu Kawaguchi, IJN,I,6. See also Coral Sea and Midway, 111, for Adm Morison's dismissal of damage claims by land-based fliers.

[41] VMSB-241 Rept of Combat, 7Jun42, 3.

[42] In his introduction to Battle That Doomed Japan, Spruance writes: "In reading the account of what happened on 4 June, I am more than ever impressed with the part that good or bad fortune sometimes plays in tactical engagements. The authors give us credit, where no credit is due, for being able to choose the exact time for our attack on the Japanese carriers when they were at the greatest disadvantage--flight decks full of aircraft fueled, armed and ready to go. All that I can claim credit for, myself, is a very keen sense of the urgent need for surprise and a strong desire to hit the enemy carriers with our full strength as early as we could reach them."

[43] Ensign George H. Gay was this sole survivor. His plane splashed shortly after he had pulled up from his run which had skimmed a carrier deck at about 10 feet. Gay's gunner had been killed, but Gay was rescued from his life raft next day by a Catalina.

[44] Although the Akagi remained afloat, she was abandoned at 1915 and later scuttled by a torpedo from one of her screening destroyers.

[45] Battle That Doomed Japan, 185, 189-191, presents strong evidence to indicate that this was not the Soryu but the Kaga, and that the one torpedo which actually hit proved a dud.

[46] Battle That Doomed Japan, 191. In Coral Sea and Midway, at page 132, Adm Morison points out that the Japanese at this time assumed from scout plane reports that the U.S. force had no more than two carriers, and possibly only one. The Japanese authors in Battle That Doomed Japan point out on page 174, however, that while the torpedo planes were yet approaching for their first strike against Nagumo, "Reports of enemy planes increased until it was quite evident that they were not from a single carrier."

[47] The speed with which her crew had put Yorktown in shape after the first attack led the Japanese to believe that this second strike was against a different carrier. They had by now spotted all three U.S. carriers, but at this point they thought they had destroyed two of them. This second strike still did not finish the battered carrier, however. She remained afloat and regained some degree of equilibrium without human aid. Salvage parties went on board the following day, and the ship was taken under tow. But one of Nagumo's float planes spotted her early on 5 June, and a submarine was sent out to finish her off. The sub found the carrier on the 6th, put two torpedoes in her, and she finally went down early on 7 June.

[48] Ten of these were refugees from Yorktown, and the others veterans of the earlier strikes.

[49] The Hiryu floated in flames until, as in the case of the Akagi, one of the ships of her screening force put her to death with torpedoes at 0510 next morning.ONI Review, 13.

[50] Battle That Doomed Japan, 213.

[51] Ibid. To which message the authors quote a response by one of Yamamoto's staff officers, who, they say, "voiced the defection of the entire Combined Fleet staff..." Made by Rear Admiral Matome Ugaki, Yamamoto's chief of staff, the statement must likewise be considered a classic of understatement; "The Nagumo Force has no stomach for a night engagement!"

[52] Shortly after 1300 on 4 June, Spruance radioed his disposition and course to Fletcher on board the Astoria, and asked if Fletcher had instructions for him. Fletcher replied: "None. Will conform to your movements." Coral Sea and Midway, 141n.

[53] USSBS Interrogations, Nav No 83, RAdm Akira Soji, I, 363. Adm (then Capt) Soji had command of the Mogumi during this action.

[54] Fleming's dive "...crashed into the after turret, spreading fire over the air intake of the starboard engine room. This caused an explosion of gas fumes below, killing all hands working in the engine room. This was a damaging blow to the cruiser, hitherto unscathed except for the slight hull damage received in the collision with Mogami. Both cruisers were now hurt, and they continued their westward withdrawal with darkening prospects of escaping the enemy's fury."Battle That Doomed Japan, 226.

[55] Ibid., 250. This figure may be suspect. It exceeds considerably the regular complement of the four carriers.

[56] For a discussion of the "crack-man policy" of the Japanese Navy Air Force, see Battle That Doomed Japan, 242-243.

[57] These are reported figures based on the soundest possible estimates. The Japanese account in Battle That Doomed Japan does not bear them out. The authors list only six planes lost in the Midway strike and 12 in combat air patrol.

[58] Coral Sea and Midway, 75.

[59] Ibid. See also Battle That Doomed Japan, 60.

[60] Battle That Doomed Japan, 231.

[61] Ibid., 247-248.

NOTE: Original documents cited above should be located at the National Archives, College Park, MD.

11 May 2009


Published:Tue Apr 28 14:18:40 EDT 2015