70 Years Ago
For after the Doolittle Raid, Japanese strategy changed. Until then, the strike on Hawaii had been meant to cripple the US Pacific Fleet, and prevent them from interfering with Japanese plans for the conquest of the Philippines and other points in the South Pacific.
After the raid, Japanese plans began to include a possible invasion of Australia, the taking of Midway Island, and an eventual invasion of Hawaii.
Whether or not the Japanese could have pulled it off became academic, when US intelligence broke the Japanese secret code. And through that means, the Americans leaarned of the next moves the Japanese had in mind.
It allowed the new commander of the US Pacific Fleet -- Admiral Chester Nimitz -- to understand the Japanese plan, and marshal his remaining available forces to meet the Japanese where they planned their main thrust: Midway.
Something the Japanese did not expect, what with their diversionary plans for action in the Aleutians.
The main Japanese strike force again centered on thier carriers, less two of those that had attacked Pearl Harbor (the Shokaku and Zuikaku had been damaged in the earlier Battle of the Coral Sea, and could not participate). However, the Japanese considered it more than enough, believing that the Americans had lost two of their four remaining carriers in that battle (the Lexington and the Yorktown). Plus, as backup to the carrier force, the Japanese had the new super battleship Yamato, weighing in at over 70,000 tons and mounting the largest sea-going guns in the world.
But Nimitz -- having learned from his naval codebreakers the plans and force deployment of the Japanese -- was able to mass his forces accordingly, in contradiction to Japanese expectations. And he was able to have the Yorktown -- damaged, not sunk in the Coral Sea battle -- repaired in time to join the Hornet and Enterprise, northeast of Midway, in time to spring the ambush.
Midway itself was reinforced and made ready.
When Japanese carrier planes struck Midway on June 4, they caused extensive damage to the island's defenses, but not to its airstrip. Marine and US Army Air Corps fighters and bombers rose to defend the island, and launch ineffective attacks against the Japanese naval strike force, giving Nimitz time to bring his carriers into position.
The first US carrier planes to find the Japanese fleet were old Douglass Devastator torpedo bombers, obsolete but resolute. Torpedo Squadron 8 from the USS Hornet led the attack, losing 15 of their 16 planes. Other torpedo squadrons would fare as badly, scoring no hits, but bringing Japanese fighter cover down to defend against the low-flying torpedo planes.
Confusion on the part of the Japanese led them to prepare their planes after their first raid on Midway, for a second raid on the island; during which time, one of their belatedly launched scout planes located a US carrier to the northeast, causing a change in plans and the hasty rearming of their planes for an attack against that carrier.
And it was then -- in a battle that luck counted as much as advanced warning -- that squadrons of dive bombers from the American carriers, almost at the end of their fuel for an attack, found and mauled the ill-prepared, vulnerable Japanese carrier force, sinking 3 of their 4 carriers. Japanese planes meantime found and crippled the Yorktown; but planes from that carrier, along with bombers from the other two, found and sank the last Japanese carrier of their strike force.
With the loss of all four of the carriers from the main Japanese strike force, Admiral Yamamoto reluctantly turned back and abandoned his planned invasion of Midway. And with that, the high water mark of Japanese success in the Pacific War had been reached.
It cost many American lives, and the loss of the Yorktown, along with two other ships; but it crippled the Japanese carrier forces, derailed their overreaching long range strategy that had been fatally deemed necessary after the Doolittle Raid, and it spelled the beginning of the end for the Japanese plans for conquest and domination in the Pacific.
Remembered this day, 70 years later.
Labels: Battle of Midway