June 4-6 1942: Battle of Midway

Discussion in 'Education' started by Xenophon, Jun 6, 2009.

  1. Xenophon
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    Xenophon Gone and forgotten

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    The Battle of Midway

    The rival plans


    With their forces over-running the Pacific islands and Southeast Asia the Japanese navy had to consider its next moves. Offensives in the Indian Ocean and against Australia were proposed but met strenuous opposition, and Admiral Yamamoto, Japan's Navy Commander in Chief was convinced that in 1942 Japan had to force and win a decisive carrier action with the Americans if she stood any chance of avoiding ultimate defeat.

    Admiral Ugaki suggested an assault on the Hawaiian Islands, but this was rejected at the time on the grounds that the Japanese could not achieve surprise, because forces on Midway would surely detect the invasion beforehand.. Also, the Japanese carries could not hope to achieve air supremacy over so large an area as the Hawaiian Islands and it would be difficult to keep an invasion force supplied with a large American base at Midway in Japan's rear areas. Yamamoto was determined to force the issue at Midway, and the Doolittle raid of 18th April, 1942 on Japan removed Army objections to his plans. Midway would be taken in an effort to force the US Navy into a decisive battle, and thus, win the war for Japan.

    The Japanese operation envisaged an opening assault on the Western Aleutians to act as a decoy, followed the next day by a carrier assault on Midway, and thence a landing there. Yamamoto anticipated that the Americans would be forced to give battle, with both numbers and quality decisively in Japan's favor. Yamamoto's weakness was his ignorance of the American carriers' location, but this was to be remedied by aircraft and submarine reconnaissance. Yamamoto was unaware that he had a far more crippling weakness, something the Americans called "magic."

    Commander Rochford, USN, was head of the super-secret "magic" program, that attempted to read Japanese codes, and had completely cracked Japan's diplomatic purple code. The naval codes were more difficult, and by his own estimate, they never could read more than 30% of any given code, the blanks were filled in by analysis and guesswork, that was quite often right on target. The current naval code was being read and understood, so he knew Japan was planing an offensive in the west, and suspected the target of "Operation AF" was an attack on Midway, yet he couldn't prove it. He proposed a trick to Fleet Admiral Nimitz, USN Pacific commander, for a simple trick, to have a false message placed in Midway's daily radio traffic, in the hope the Japanese would read it and report it. This ploy worked, a false report of water condenser failure was added to Midway's traffic, and Rochford's men soon had the following decryption: "AF reports water condenser failure." There was no longer any doubt, Midway was the target.

    But even armed with this information, the US forces faced impossible odds. The Americans lacked the strength to resist a force that contained 7 carriers, 11 battleships and numerous cruisers and destroyers. The US had only Enterprise and Hornet, the Yorktown had been severely damaged at Coral Sea, the Lexington was sunk, and Saratoga had been torpedoed and was out for at least 11 months. No battleships were available, and the US only had a handful of cruisers and destroyers. Yet Nimitz knew he had to give battle, if Midway were lost, Hawaii would soon follow, and the US West Coast would be wide open to attack. He could not afford to lose his fleet, and he had to fight, so he hoped and gambled on a desperate plan. The Enterprise and Hornet, under a cruiser admiral, Raymond Spruance (Halsey, the usual commander of this force, was sick with a skin condition, and had suggested him), would take his Task force to a point north west of Midway, and attempt to bushwack the approaching Japanese, then flee before a return strike could harm them. As Task Force 16 set out, the Yorktown arrived at Pearl Harbor, and by herculean efforts, she was made ready to fight in 72 hours (the original estimate was three months) and she followed her sisters, commanded by Admiral Frank "jack" Fletcher, an officer of lesser ability to Spruance.

    Yamamoto, as was his habit, split the Imperial Navy up into a number of task forces. The main strike force, 4 carriers under Nagumo, was furthest west, his main body 300 miles behind this, a cruiser force coming from the south east had the invasion troops, and there were also scouting elements. The Japanese had been to slow to deploy their submarines, they arrived to late to see the American carriers, so the Japanese were unaware they had left Pearl Harbor. The stage was set for the most incredible battle in US naval history.

    The action

    The vast Japanese armada approached Midway behind a weather front and where therefore shielded from observation. Since the Japanese subs had arrived late, both sides did not know where the enemy carries were.

    On 3rd June the Americans obtained contact and used their Midway based aircraft in a profitless attack. These planes, Marine flown, were obsolete types, including the Vought Vindicator dive bomber (so old, the fabric covered wings shred during dives) and the hopeless Brewster Buffalo fighter, a deathtrap. Yet the marine pilots pressed home attacks, which also included US army airforce B-17s, and obtained not a single hit. The Japanese had decided to wait until they were closer to attack, as had the US carriers. On the 4th, the Japanese launched over 100 planes against Midway, hitting the island hard, and again, Midway counterstrikes scored no hits at all. Nagumo was heavily concerned that US carries might be in the area, so he ordered his planes rearmed with torpedoes to deal with them. His Midway strike commander convinced him another Midway strike was needed, so he again ordered the load changed to contact bombs. At this point, a cruiser scout plane reported enemy carriers, and Nagumo AGAIN ordered his planes rearmed with torpedoes and armor-piercing bombs.

    While this was going on, Spruance was hoping to catch the Japanese rearming and refueling their planes. He had a rough idea of the enemy's location from a PBY sighting. He believed that the only way to be successful was to launch a co-ordinated strike of torpedo planes and dive bombers. The Hornet launched it's strike first, and it's dive bombers failed to find the target, and returned home. The torpedo squadron did find it however, and it's commander decided to go it alone. The result was a slaughter, the dozen or so TBD Devastators were all shot down, only 5 managed to launch a torpedo, no hits were scored, and only one man, ensign George Gay survived the attack.

    While this was going on, Lt Commander Wade McClusky, Enterprise's air group commander, was sure the enemy was near, even though they had found nothing. He was leading his bombers, as well as the Yorktown's SBD Dauntless dive bombers, a slow but deadly type that would sink more Japanese ships then any other WWII aircraft. Nearing the end of his search range, McClusky saw a lone destroyer speeding southwest. Gambling that it was heading for the Main fleet, he turned his planes after it and sped on. The enterprise and Yorktown's Torpedo planes attacked at this point, and did no better then the Hornet's attack. The Japanese zeros cut the planes up, and now were all less then 1,000 feet off the water trying to shoot down the remaining, fleeing US planes. At THAT moment, McClusky's dive bombers appeared overhead!

    Enterprise aircraft went after the Akagi and the Soryu, while the Yorktown's group went after the Kaga, the other Jap carrier, the Hiryu, was obscured in a rain squall. The American planes came roaring down from 20,000 feet, the zeros had no chance to intercept, and the Japanese AA fire was slow to engage, having been firing at the torpedo planes. McClusky couldn't have picked a better moment, the Japanese carries were loaded with fueled and armed planes on their flight decks, which would doom them. The Americans were on target, bombs ripped through the Akagi, Kaga and Soryu, causing uncontrollable fires. Three of the six Carriers that had struck pearl Harbor 6 months earlier were now gone, as well as the flower of Japanese naval aviation.

    The Hiryu got it's strike off in time to follow the fleeing American planes, and they found the Yorktown, and did severe damage to her. But the Enterprise and Hornet got off a follow-up strike, and quickly sank the Hiryu, making Midway an unmitigated disaster from which Japan would never recover. Yamamoto called off the Midway invasion, and sailed home, having lost a cruiser to further US attacks. The US lost the Yorktown and a destroyer to a japanese submarine while retiring, but the end result of Midway was the end of Japanese offensives in the Pacific, and within two months, the US would undertake their first Pacific offensive, Operation Watchtower, the invasion of Guadalcanal.

    Pearl Harbor had been avenged, thanks to the hard work of code breakers, the cool decisiveness of Nimitz, the skill of Spruance, and the bravery and dedication of men like Wade McClusky and the officers and men of the United States Navy.

    [​IMG]
     
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  2. Xenophon
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    Xenophon Gone and forgotten

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    SBD Dauntless Dive bombers from Enterprise, Yorktown and Hornet about to hit the Japanese navy:

    [​IMG]
     
  3. Xenophon
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    Xenophon Gone and forgotten

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    The Yorktown under heavy air attack:

    [​IMG]
     
  4. Xenophon
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    Xenophon Gone and forgotten

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    Stricken IJN cruiser flees the US Navy:

    [​IMG]
     
  5. Xenophon
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    Xenophon Gone and forgotten

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    TBD Devastators prepare for lauch, this type was obsolete and most would be shot down and their crews killed, yet their bravery deply impressed the Japanese:

    [​IMG]
     
  6. strollingbones
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    strollingbones Diamond Member

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    excellent thread..thank you
     
  7. Xenophon
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    Xenophon Gone and forgotten

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    I might add bones, that the men who fought were all volunteers, men of the regular US Navy with ships built before the war started.

    USS Enterprise:

    [​IMG]

    This ship would earn 19 of the 21 battle stars issues by the US in WWII (a battle star is earned for a major battle)
     
  8. Xenophon
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    Xenophon Gone and forgotten

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    The IJN Akagi, flagship and victim of Enterprise SBDs:

    [​IMG]
     
  9. Xenophon
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    Xenophon Gone and forgotten

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    Wade Mcclusky, who's gamble won the battle of Midway and changed the pacific war forever:

    [​IMG]
     
  10. strollingbones
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    strollingbones Diamond Member

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    yes its amazing what these "old men" now....did back when they were barely out of their teens..stop and talk to them....they were pilots , bombers, sailors.....some will talk some wont....i never ask about d day ....few talk about it
     

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