Remembering the Battle of Midway

Just after midnight on 4 June, Admiral Nimitz, based on patrol plane reports, advised Task Forces 16 and 17 of the course and speed of the Japanese “main body,” also noting their distance of 574 miles from Midway. Shortly after dawn, a patrol plane spotted two Japanese carriers and their escorts, reporting “Many planes heading Midway from 320 degrees distant 150 miles!”


[Narrator] The Japanese thought they could make a surprise attack on Midway Island and capture the airbase. The battle plan was to consist of three parts. The striking force commanded by Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo was to come from the north and destroy the defenses on the island. Then, the occupation force commanded by Vice Admiral Nobutake Kondo was to capture and occupy the island. Finally, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto and his fleet would defend the island from a counterattack. Due to the efforts of the U.S. Navy’s cryptanalytic team led by Joseph Rochefort, the U.S. Navy learned of the plan and were able to prepare for the attack. The carriers were called to Pearl Harbor and after some repairs to USS Yorktown, they head 350 miles northeast of Midway to wait for the incoming attack. June 4th, 06:30, the Japanese dropped bombs along the north side of the Eastern Island and in the hangar and barracks area on Sand Island. The powerhouse on Eastern Island and the oil tanks on Sand Island were their primary targets. As the Japanese attack was ending, the U.S. bombers from Midway, four B26s and six TBFs, find their target at 07:05. 16 of Major Henderson’s SBDs dived through the clouds, emerging to encounter heavy antiaircraft fire from Hiryu. Sweeney’s B17 started their attack, going after Soryu, Hiryu, and Akagi. During this attack, Nautilus appears, putting even more pressure on the Japanese Navy. SP2U dive bombers start their attack. They were engaged by a large number of Japanese fighters, forcing them to give up their attack and choose a battleship as their target instead. Amidst the confusion, Nagumo receives a report that the U.S. have at least one carrier in the area. When the action winds down, he repositions his fleet to engage the carrier. The Hornet and the Enterprise had launched airplanes earlier with the Hornet group flying West and on no contact, the Hornet’s Torpedo Squadron, led by Lieutenant Commander John C. Waldron, broke off and turned south. At 09:20 they found the Japanese carriers. The AT-6 arrives before the rest of the Enterprise group. They target Kaga at 09:38 and fire off some torpedoes, but none hit. 12 torpedo bombers from Yorktown target Hiryu, but score no hits. 17 dive bombers from Yorktown’s BB3 begin their attack, and target Soryu, scoring three hits, causing fires on all three aims. When the Enterprise group arrives, they don’t see any Japanese carriers. Lieutenant Commander Clarence W. McClusky, Jr. spots a Japanese destroyer, and making the most important decision of the entire action, turns his whole group north. When McClusky and the Enterprise bombers arrive, they attack Kaga, scoring five direct hits and set the carrier ablaze. Dick Best’s and his two wing men turned their attack on Akagi. With one lucky shot, a bomb sliced through the flight deck and exploded in the upper hangar in the midst of the aircraft there. Shortly after, the carrier burst into flames. Three carriers are disabled, but the last carrier escapes undamaged, so the Yorktown sends out 10 scout bombers to search for it. At 11:52, radar picks up a large number of planes heading for Yorktown and fighters are ordered to intersect the approaching plane. They quickly cut down the attackers, but seven bombers break through, only to meet a formidable screen of antiaircraft fire. Despite this, three hits had been made on Yorktown. Damage to the Yorktown proved not to be serious and repairs were made quickly. The hole in the flight deck was covered in less than half an hour. By 14:20, the 10 bombers of VS5, that Yorktown sent out earlier, find the last Japanese carrier. Yorktown’s radar picks up a second incoming Japanese attack, bearing 340 degrees. U.S. fighters are launched from Yorktown to shoot down several of the torpedo planes before the ships open fire. Of the planes that got past, four were able to drop their torpedoes. Two of these, the Yorktown avoided by skillful maneuvering. Two others, however, could not be avoided and they caught her midships on the port side. With the Yorktown listing heavily to port, the orders were given to abandon ship, and Admiral Fletcher moves to the Astoria. At 15:30, the Enterprise began launching an attack group of 26 scout bombers. The Enterprise squadron sighted the Japanese force at 16:50. They dove in from the sun and scored four direct hits on Hiryu, which was soon a mass of flames. With the bombing of the fourth Japanese carrier, the U.S. had won control of the air. The Battle of Midway was essentially a victory of intelligence. We knew of the Japanese presence, the approximate composition of their force, and had calculated correctly their method of approach. (calm orchestral music)

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