Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Battle of Midway

History - Military history -- List of battles -- World War II

The Battle of Midway, fought in World War II, took place on June 5, 1942 (June 4 in US time zones). The United States Navy defeated a Japanese attack against Midway Island, marking a turning point in the war in the Pacific theatre.

Fought just a month after the Battle of the Coral Sea, Midway was the first purely carrier battle. Skill, daring, and luck all played a part. The attack on the island of Midway, which also included a feint to Alaska by a smaller fleet, was a ploy by the Japanese to draw the American carrier fleet into a trap. With the remaining American ships destroyed, the Japanese hoped to invade Hawaii.

Midway by itself was not overly beneficial in the larger scheme of Japan's success: they were keen on concentrating on the Samoa Islands, Fiji and Australia to expand their new-found regime. However, it was close to Japan and also US territory, and it would be in the best interests of their defence to invade the islands.

Typical of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto's battle plans, the Japanese one for Midway was brazen, complicated and ingenious, and designed to lure the US fleet into an uncompromising situation.

However, the US Naval Intellegence had been reading the Japanese code for months, and believed that they were planning an attack on Midway Island. However, they had no way of confirming this. An ingenious suggestion, by a young officer, led them to discover the Japanese plan: to radio the base commander at Midway radio Pearl Harbor, in plain English that the island was running low on drinking water. If the Japanese referred to this in their coded messages, then the US knew that Japan was planning to attack Midway. The Japanese fell into US Intellegence's trap.

At dawn on June 4, Japanese carrier aircraft bombed and heavily damaged the base on Midway. U.S. carrier forces, led by Rear Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, had the advantage of knowing, through decryption of Japanese Navy communications, what the enemy was up to. When the Japanese aircraft returned to their carriers, Admiral Chuichi Nagumo decided to re-arm them with bombs for a second strike at Midway. While being serviced, the waiting American ships were detected. Nagumo eventually decided to change the arms load for an attack against the American ships. With torpedoes and bombs stacked, and fuel hoses snaking across their decks, the Japanese carriers made vulnerable and highly volatile targets.

Spruance launched an attack from the carriers USS Enterprise and Hornet against the Japanese carriers. Anti-aircraft fire and fighters shot down 35 of 41 torpedo bombers, including every plane of Hornet torpedo squadron 8. (See George H. Gay) This action brought the Zeros down so low that the American dive-bombers could attack almost without opposition. Five minutes later, three Japanese carriers, the Akagi, Kaga and Soryu, were ablaze, abandoned, or crippled.

Aircraft launched from the remaining Japanese carrier Hiryu struck the USS Yorktown, which was severely damaged, but survived this and a second attack, only to be sunk by a Japanese submarine on June 7. The same submarine sank the destroyer USS Hammann which had been assigned to remain with the Yorktown. Aircraft from the Enterprise in turn attacked the Hiryu and set her ablaze, and damaged the destroyer Isokaze. After this, Spruance, in concert with the forces on Midway, launched attacks that crippled and destroyed the Japanese cruisers Mogami and Mikuma.

Having scored a decisive victory, American forces retired. The loss of four carriers stopped the expansion of the Japanese Empire in the Pacific, and put Japan on the defensive. It had been six months to the day since the attack on Pearl Harbor. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto had predicted to his superiors that Japan would prevail for only six months to a year against the United States, after which American resources would begin to overwhelm the Japanese Navy.

Table of contents
1 Order of Battle

Order of Battle


Advance Expeditionary Force

Carrier Striking Force

Midway Occupation Force Main Body Northern Area Force

United States

Task Force 17

Task Force 16 Submarines Midway Garrison