The Battle of Midway
The Battle of Midway
THE BATTLE OF MIDWAY
On June 4–7, 1942, American naval and air forces met the Japanese near Midway Atoll in one of the most decisive naval battles of the war. The Battle of Midway would become a turning point in the naval war in the Pacific, as the Japanese losses sustained there proved irreparable.
Following the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo in April 1942, the Japanese felt the need to force a decisive battle with the U.S Pacific Fleet that would leave America powerless in the Pacific and perhaps even lead America to accept peace on Japan’s terms. The Japanese developed a complex plan, to be carried out under the general direction of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, that involved attacking and occupying both the Aleutian Islands in Alaska and Midway Atoll, not far from Hawaii, in an attempt to lure the American fleet into a trap. However, American cryptanalysts were able to break enough of the Japanese code to be fairly certain of the basics of the Japanese plan.
American admiral Chester Nimitz, commander of the Pacific Fleet, sent two task forces to meet the Japanese at Midway: Task Force 16, with the carriers Hornet and Enterprise, under Rear Admiral Raymond Spruance; and Task Force 17, with the carrier Yorktown, under Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher. The Japanese Midway force brought four carriers: the Soryu, Hiryu, Kaga, and Akagi.
The Japanese began carrier-based air attacks on the Midway Islands at dawn on June 4 in preparation for a land invasion. As the Japanese carriers were preparing to recover the planes from their Midway strike and launch others, various waves of Midway- and carrier-based American planes found the Japanese ships. Although the American planes in these initial attacks sustained great losses themselves, they did not do serious damage to the Japanese. However, they did prepare the way for subsequent American dive-bombers from the Enterprise and Yorktown to cause devastating damage to three of the Japanese carriers. Planes from the Enterprise destroyed the fourth Japanese carrier later that day as well, and all four carriers would eventually sink from the attack.
However, the Americans also sustained a carrier loss when—on the afternoon of the 4th—Japanese planes found the Yorktown and damaged her badly enough that the captain had the ship abandoned. A Japanese submarine finished off the Yorktown two days later and sunk it.
As a result of the various engagements between the Japanese and Americans from June 4th to 7th, the Japanese sustained heavy losses: 3,000 men and 4 carriers, while the Americans lost 300 men and 1 carrier. The Battle of Midway would prove a turning point in the naval fight in the Pacific, as it hobbled the Japanese carrier fleet and put Japan on the defensive at sea for the remainder of the war.
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Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz
Two days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Admiral Chester Nimitz was named Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. The fate of the Pacific War rested on Nimitz's shoulders. In the years that followed, Admiral Nimitz proved himself to be one of the best naval warfare tacticians in history. In June 1942, Nimitz dealt a devastating blow to Japanese forces at the Battle of Midway. One historian called Midway "the most stunning and decisive blow in the history of naval warfare." Three years after Midway, Admiral Nimitz accepted the unconditional surrender of the Japanese on behalf of the United States aboard the USS Missouri.
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Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey
Fleet Admiral William Halsey lived by the slogan "hit hard, hit fast, hit often." Halsey was an aggressive and effective commander, and he was never content with playing defense. Poor health forced him to sit out the Battle of MIdway but Halsey returned with a vengeance during the Battle of Guadalcanal. He took command of the South Pacific Fleet at a time when victory was far from certain. Halsey proved his skill as he led his fleet in the decisive Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, which forced the Japanese to finally abandon the island. Few men did more to defeat Imperial Japan than Admiral Halsey.
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The Battle of the Coral Sea
In 1942, Headline: The Battle of the Coral Sea begins
May 3, 1942, the first day of the first modern naval engagement in history, called the Battle of the Coral Sea, a Japanese invasion force succeeds in occupying Tulagi of the Solomon Islands in an expansion of Japan’s defensive perimeter.
The United States, having broken Japan’s secret war code and forewarned of an impending invasion of Tulagi and Port Moresby, attempted to intercept the Japanese armada. Four days of battles between Japanese and American aircraft carriers resulted in 70 Japanese and 66 Americans warplanes destroyed. This confrontation, called the Battle of the Coral Sea, marked the first air-naval battle in history, as none of the carriers fired at each other, allowing the planes taking off from their decks to do the battling. Among the casualties was the American carrier Lexington; “the Blue Ghost” (so-called because it was not camouflaged like other carriers) suffered such extensive aerial damage that it had to be sunk by its own crew. Two hundred sixteen Lexington crewmen died as a result of the Japanese aerial bombardment.
Although Japan would go on to occupy all of the Solomon Islands, its victory was a Pyrrhic one: The cost in experienced pilots and aircraft carriers was so great that Japan had to cancel its expedition to Port Moresby, Papua, as well as other South Pacific targets.
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