By John R. Desselle, Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division
The Battle of Midway, one of the most important battles of the Pacific campaign in World War II, occurred between June 4 and 7, 1942. The battle took place only six months after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor and one month after the Battle of the Coral Sea. The U.S. Navy defeated an attacking fleet of the Japanese navy near Midway Atoll, inflicting devastating damage on the Japanese fleet.
The following lays out the battle in the Pacific which military historians have called “the most stunning and decisive blow in the history of naval warfare.”
Midway is a small and independent group of islands northeast of Hawaii, located near the northwestern end of the Hawaiian archipelago, about one-third of the way from Honolulu, Hawaii to Tokyo, Japan.
Prior to the Battle, U.S. forces Assemble
USS Hornet (CV 8)
USS Hornet (CV-8) at Pearl Harbor, May 26, 1942, just after the Battle of Coral Sea, and just before the Battle of Midway.
USS Enterprise (CV-6)
A deck landing accident on May 28, 1942 aboard USS Enterprise (CV-6) just a week before the battle. Plane guard destroyer, USS Monaghan (DD-354) is in the left background. Enterprise was then en route to the Midway area. Lt. Cmdr. Lindsey, commanding officer of Torpedo Squadron Six (VT-6), was flying out with the rest of the air group to join the ship when the crash took place.
USS Yorktown (CV-5)
USS Yorktown (CV 5) arrives at Pearl Harbor after the Battle of Coral Sea, May 27, 1942, with her crew manning the rails in whites on the flight deck. After repairs, she departed on May 30 to take part in the Battle of Midway.
Torpedo Squadron Six (VT-6)on USS Enterprise
Torpedo Squadron Six (VT-6) TBD-1 aircraft prepare for launching on USS Enterprise (CV-6) the morning of June 4, 1942. Eleven of the 14 TBDs launched from Enterprise are visible.
The Battle Begins
At 4:30 a.m., the Japanese bombing of Midway Island begins with aircraft from Vice Admiral Nagumo’s First Carrier Strike Force. American fighter aircraft take heavy losses but force the Japanese navy to launch a second attack. At 7:52 a.m. U.S. Forces retaliate. USS Yorktown (CV 5) and USS Enterprise (CV 6) dive bombers take on the Japanese aircraft carriers Soryu, Akagi and Kaga in the morning of June 4, 1942.
USS Yorktown (CV-5) under attack by Japanese dive bombers
Meanwhile, Japanese planes hit USS Yorktown (CV 5), seen here shortly after she was hit by three Japanese bombs on June 4, 1942. Dense smoke is from fires in her uptakes, caused by a bomb that punctured them and knocked out her boilers.
USS Yorktown (CV-5)
Later USS Yorktown (CV-5) is dead in the water after being hit by Japanese bombs on June 4, 1942. The ship was hit shortly after noon.
Japanese aircraft carrier Hiryu maneuvering during a high-level bombing attack by U.S. Army Air Force B-17 bombers.
The Japanese cruiser Mikuma capsized at sunset. The moment was captured in art and described as “deserted and gaunt, the sea around her stained with her thick black blood, the Mikuma capsizes to port and sinks as the setting sun disappears in the west.”
Japanese Aircraft Carrier Kaga
The Japanese aircraft carrier Kaga lays helpless in the foreground with the planes she sought so hard to launch caught on the deck while the other aircraft carrier Akagi burns.
“Last Moments of Adm. Yamaguchi,” a Japanese war art painting by Kita Renzo, 1942. Rear Adm. Tamon Yamaguchi, commander of the Japanese Carrier Striking Force’s Carrier Division Two, elected to remain aboard his flagship Hiryu when she was abandoned during the early morning of June 5, 1942.
Midway by the Numbers
The Japanese lost 4 carriers, 256 aircraft and 2,204 men while the U.S. lost 1 carrier 150 aircraft and 307 men. The American victory at Midway made it possible for the U.S. Navy to eventually reclaim maritime superiority in the Pacific. Click here to learn more on the Battle of Midway