The Second World War engaged the energies of the American people for almost four years and was fought on a scale not even conceived by prewar observers. The war in the Pacific was long and arduous due to the fact the Japanese were never willing to surrender. At the beginning of the war most battles were fought between aircraft carriers and their planes. The most significant of these was the Battle of Midway. This island was barren, but a strategically important outpost guarding the western approaches to the Hawaiian Islands and the United States itself. The Battle of Midway was the turning point of the war in the Pacific.
In 1895, Japan embarked on an imperialist policy of expansion when she occupied Formosa. In 1931, Japan invaded Manchuria and in 1937 she attacked China. When Germany overran France and Holland in 1940 placing British, French, and Dutch far eastern colonies at Japans mercy following her attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan advanced in three directions: the Dutch east Indies and Philippines, into mainland China, and into the Pacific towards Guam. By the spring of 1942, Japan had overrun most of the Southern and Western Pacific and needed to protect the oil and raw materials it had seized.
The commander and chief of the Japanese Navy Admiral, Isoraku Yamamoto conceived an intricate plot to ambush and destroy Admiral Chester Nimitzs Pacific fleet at Midway. This small but strategically important island guarded the Western approaches to the Hawaiian Islands and the United States. Yamamotos plan called for a decoy attack on the islands of the Aleutian chain in the Northern Pacific. Then a bombardment of Midway by a powerful carrier strike force was to be followed by an infantry landing. Yamamoto believed this would lure the American Pacific Fleet out into the open where he could destroy it.
The Americans however had broken the Japanese code and knew that a major attack on one of the Pacific bases was imminent. Knowing that AF was the code name for the Japanese target, US naval intelligence asked commanders in positions likely to get attacked to report to HQ with some distinguishing problem. Midway complained of a faulty seawater distillation plant and sure enough a little while later a radio message from Japanese intelligence was intercepted reporting that AF had this trouble. Admiral Nimitzs plan was to split his force into two strong carrier groups to surprise the would be supriser. Task Force 16 comprising of the aircraft carriers Hornet and Enterprise escorted by six crusiers and nine destroyers went to sea commanded by Rear Admiral Raymond Sprunce. The carrier Yorktown, which was being repaired from damages it recived in the battle of Coral Sea, would form Task Force 17 with two crusiers and five destroyers under the command of Admiral Frank Fletcher.
On June 1,1942 the entire strength of the Japanese combined fleet was at sea. By June 2 the two US task forces were sationed some 250 miles Northeast of Midway(Prange 184). The Japanese had not yet fixed the position of Fletchers and Spruces command because the submarine screen had arrived on patrol late allowing the American ships to slip through. The next day as planned the Japanese attacked the Aluetian Islands of Atta and Kiska(Prange 184). When dawn broke on the fourth of June, Task Forces 16 and 17 were 200 miles northeast of Midway. At 5:30 AM, a U.S. Catalina flying boat spotted the Japanese carriers and raised the alarm at the same time Midway radar picked up approaching enemy fighters(Prange 184).
The Japanese first strike of 76 bombers escorted by 36 fighters under the command of Lt. Toicka Tomanaga were closing in on Midway(Morison 104). The Japanese planes were intercepted by 26 American Brewster Buffalos and Grumman Wildcats(Morison 104). The American planes shot down a few bombers but were no match for the Japanese Zeros. The Japanese attack was only a partial success. A second strike was needed to destroy a still operational airfield. Nagumo, suspecting that American warships might be in the area, had his remaining planes armed with armor piercing bombs and torpedos. After he heard Lt. Tomanagas report, he rearmed the planes with incidieray and high explosive bombs for a second raid on Midway. Fifteen minutes later, while his crews were working on switching the armarments, Nagumo heard from one of his scout planes of the precense of US warships in the area(Morison 105). Then at 8:20, he learned of American carriers bringing up the rear of an American force(Morison 105).
At 9:30 while the Japanese carrier deck was littered with unarmed and unfueled aircraft, the first of Task Force 16 strike force roared into view 117 aircraft in all(Costello 294). An hour flying time behind them were another 35 planes from Tack Force 17(Costello 294). The formations from Hornet and Enterprise consisted of low flying Douglas Devastator torpedo bombers with a fighter cover of Grumman Wildcats as well as high flying unprotected Douglas Dauntless bombers(Costello 295). 15 Devastator torpedo bombers from Hornet, unprotected by fighter cover went up against a 50 strong cover of Zeros and contrated anti-aircraft fir and were all shot down(Costello 295). Next, 14 Devestators from Enterprise arrived and 11 were lost(Costello 295). When the Yorktowns 12 Devestators arrived they too attaked, scoring no hits and only two surviving(Costello 296). With the airbattle taking place above him, Naguma launched his remaining 102 planes(Costello 296).
Unnoticed by Nagumos sailors, 55 Douglas dive bombers were about to start their run. Two bombs, one 1000 pounds and the other 500 pounds struck the Akagi, Nagumos flag ship. Next, four 1000 pound bombs hit Kiya and later three plowed into Soruyu, seeling the fate of Japans largest carriers and a compliment of around 200 aircraft. In little more time than it takes to boil an egg, America had changed the fate of the war in the Pacific.
The American raid was hardly over, when the remaining Japanese carrier Hiryu sent out a counter strike. At 11:00, 15 dive bombers escorted by half a dozen Zeros took off on a direct course for the Yorktown. Only 8 dive bombers managed to get through the American fighter umbrella to the Yorktown and only one got away after the attack but three 500 pound bombs struck the carrier causing boiler room damage.
24 Dauntless dive bombers from Enterprise followed by 16 from Hornet took off to attempt to locate and destroy the last Japanese carrier. The formation found the remaining carrier under an umbrella of six Zeros. The enemy fighters were able to eliminate the first elements of the American attack. But those lagging in the rear hit the Hiryu four times setting it ablaze. As darkness fell on June 4th, Fletcher turned East to avoid an encounter with the remainder of Nagumos force. At 2:15 June 5th, appaled by his lossess, Yamamoto canceled the invasion of Midway and withdrew. This marked the last major offensive of the Japanese Navy in World War II.