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Midway

U.S. Navy Douglas SBD-3 "Dauntless" dive bombers from scouting squadron VS-8 from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-8) approaching the burning Japanese heavy cruiser Mikuma to make the third set of attacks on her, during the Battle of Midway, 6 June 1942. Mikuma had been hit earlier by strikes from Hornet and USS Enterprise (CV-6), leaving her dead in the water and fatally damaged. Note bombs hung beneath the SBDs. (US Navy Photograph)

U.S. Navy Douglas SBD-3 “Dauntless” dive bombers from scouting squadron VS-8 from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-8) approaching the burning Japanese heavy cruiser Mikuma to make the third set of attacks on her, during the Battle of Midway, 6 June 1942. Mikuma had been hit earlier by strikes from Hornet and USS Enterprise (CV-6), leaving her dead in the water and fatally damaged. Note bombs hung beneath the SBDs. (US Navy Photograph)

Seventy two years ago at 0430 hours on the 4th of June, the Battle of Midway was in its infancy with Japanese scout aircraft launching in search of their American quarry. By the end of the ferocious battle, an American aircraft carrier and a destroyer had been sunk, around 150 aircraft were lost and 307 were killed in action. However, of the massive fleet of four aircraft carriers, two battleships and a plethora of other vessels, none of the carriers would return, lost with their entire air wings to American aerial and naval firepower.  With a heavy cruiser sunk and another crippled, 248 Japanese aircraft taken down and over 3057 Axis Japanese combatants were tallied dead.

Midway was arguably one of naval aviation’s most defining moments where carriers faced off against one another using not the deck guns of traditional navy ships but rather the cannons and bomb racks of carrier-based aircraft to effect a stunning and decisive victory upon an enemy with superior numbers; an enemy that had once sailed upon the Pacific Ocean during WWII with impunity. With this phenomenal victory in hand, the United States would be able to go on the offensive, tearing a swath through what was previously the strongest naval force in the world. The infamous Imperial Japanese Combined Fleet Commander Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s objective with an attack on Midway was to render useless the US Navy’s Pacific fleet aircraft carriers which had thoroughly embarrassed the IJN with the carrying out of the Doolittle Raid earlier that year and then the subsequent Battle of Coral Sea which saw an incredible infliction of damage upon the IJN attacking force by American and Australian naval units. With a successful attack on and occupation of Midway, Japanese Pacific naval expansion could continue, relatively unhindered. Furthermore, the proximity of Midway Atoll to Hawaii appealed to his long-term strategic planning. You can probably guess what Yamamoto would have done if he had been able to establish an airbase on the islands. He took into account the fact that there was already a defensive force on the islands, but hoped that his attack would be fast enough to accomplish his ends before American carriers would be able to steam to their location and defend. Once the carriers got there, he hoped to set up a trap and destroy them all. What the Imperial Japanese Navy and Yamamoto didn’t take into account was the dedication, tenacity and skill of US military intelligence, which was able to intercept vital communications and piece together the Japanese plan of attack and order of battle. When Yamamoto’s strike force got within range, they were in for a very nasty shock.

Under the command of famed Admirals Chester W. Nimitz, Frank J. Fletcher and Raymond A. Spruance, the US Pacific Fleet was poised with an ambush of their own with three carriers among a number of other surface and subsurface warfare ships in addition to the land-based bomber and fighter aircraft already at Midway. The fleet carrier Yorktown (CV-5) was thought by the Japanese to have been damaged heavily at Coral Sea, so significantly that she and her air wing wouldn’t be able to join in the inevitable battle at Midway. However, what seemed to required months of repair in Washington was done in under 72 hours by committed Navy personnel at Pearl Harbor, readying the Yorktown for a maximum of three weeks of operations before she absolutely had to return to port for a full set of repairs and a refit. Squadrons were reorganized and retasked to the Task Force 17 carrier, now flying the flag of RADM Fletcher while the USS Enterprise (CV-6) and USS Hornet (CV-8) of Task Force 16, under the command of RADM Spruance, were simultaneously prepared for battle. Meanwhile, squadrons of Avengers, Wildcats, Dauntlesses, Vindicators, Flying Fortresses and more were stationed on the Atoll, 126-strong in total.

At 1026 hours on the 4th, the main American attack on the Japanese strike force began.

To Be Continued.

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About Ian D'Costa (256 Articles)
Ian is the editor-in-chief of the Tactical Air Network. His work has been republished and quoted in a number of publications, including The Toronto Star, Airsoc, Business Insider and The Aviationist. You can reach him at idcosta@tacairnet.com.

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