The Battle of Midway was a sea-based battle between the United States and Japan which occurred between June 4th and June 7th, 1942. Named for its location near the Midway island in the Pacific Ocean, the Battle of Midway was important because it was the first decisive victory for Allied Forces in the Pacific during World War II. The United States sunk four Japanese carriers (the only four that Japan brought to the fight) and one heavy cruiser, significantly damaged two destroyers and second heavy cruiser, and destroyed 248 aircraft. In comparison, the United States lost only one carrier, one destroyer, and 150 aircraft.
The Battle of Midway occurred only about six months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. The Japanese had won numerous battles after Pearl Harbor, and were very strong in the Pacific. However, America had a large portion of its fleet at Midway and considered it to be strategically important given its relative proximity to the Hawaiian Islands. Japan decided to attack Midway in an effort to further weaken American naval power by inflicting another catastrophic blow to its fleet.
Victory at the Battle of Midway was made possible by three important factors. First, the United States broke Japan’s JN-25 code shortly before the battle commenced. As a result, the United States knew at least a week in advance that the Japanese would attack Midway on June 4th or 5th. Therefore, much unlike the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States knew where and when Japan would attack, and even knew roughly how many ships and planes it would attack with.
Second, in preparation for the known strength, the commander of the Pacific fleet brought a reinforcement carrier, the Yorktown. The Yorktown had recently sustained significant damage, and despite estimates that it would be months before the ship would be ready for battle, it sailed to Midway after only three days of repairs at Pearl Harbor. Had the JN-25 code not been broken, the Yorktown certainly would not have been rushed to Midway. Although the ship was ultimately sunk, it provided valuable assistance throughout most of the battle.
Third, the United States had land-based aircraft available for the fight. The Army Air Force (which predated the United States Air Force as a separate branch of service) had four B-17 squadrons on the island, and the Marine Corps had additional planes. These planes, which did not need to take off and land from a carrier, provided strategic flexibility that the Japanese lacked. Because the United States knew of the pending attack, it dispatched these planes when the Japanese fleet was still 500 miles away. The United States inflicted damage with bombs and one torpedo before the Japanese even reached the eventual site of the battle.
With these advantages in place, the United States was able to execute the successful battle plan which resulted in many more Japanese losses than American. The battle certainly didn’t win the war in the Pacific, but it was a turning point. It was the beginning of a war of attrition which the United States would eventually win. Perhaps indicative of its importance, Chicago Municipal Airport was renamed to Midway Airport in 1949 in honor of the Battle of Midway and the men who fought there.
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