The 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Midway
Today marks the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Midway. The significance of this battle in American history should never be understated. Six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Imperial Japanese Navy outnumbered the U.S. Pacific Fleet and aimed to finish it off. On June 4, 1942 the Battle of Midway commenced. After four days of battle by sea and air, the United States had achieved a decisive victory. Many historians consider this to be the turning point in the Pacific theatre of World War II. 75 years later, it's important that we remember how America’s Pacific Fleet turned the tide against the Empire of Japan.
Anyone who desires to study military history will quickly learn that intelligence is often the difference between success and failure. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, U.S. intelligence services worked tirelessly to break Japan’s naval codes. These codes were referred to as JN25 by the U.S. and according to slate.com, “Were made up of 90,000 words and phrases.”
The Communications Intelligence Unit Pearl Harbor. (Photo: navycthistory.com)
Captain Joseph John Rochefort was one of the major figures responsible for the advancements in the U.S. Navy’s cryptology and intelligence gathering capabilities. In 1941 he was placed at Station HYPO in Pearl Harbor. Before long, his team had broken Japan’s naval codes. The National Security Agency website writes that, “After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Rochefort and the Station HYPO experts were eventually able to read enough of Japanese naval communications to provide daily intelligence reports and assessments regarding Japanese force disposition and intentions.” After this breakthrough, Rochefort and his team began to intercept messages that indicated Japan’s intent to attack a target in the Central Pacific. The Japanese referred to this target simply as, “AF.” Rochefort suspected that Midway Island was the target in question. To prove his suspicion, his team came up with an experiment to confirm if AF was indeed Midway.
A portrait of Captain Joseph John Rochefort. (Photo: NSA.gov)
Slate.com again writes that, “Pearl Harbor and Midway Island were connected by an underwater cable that was invulnerable to Japanese interception.” This allowed Station HYPO in Pearl Harbor to securely send a message to Midway. The order for Midway was to transmit a radio message that the, “Island’s desalinization plant had broken down.” Midway broadcast this message without encryption to ensure that the Japense could read it. Like the Americans had hoped, the Japanese intercepted the message and soon relayed that, “AF’s desalinization plant was out of order.” Japan had taken the bait and Rochecort’s suspicion was confirmed. Midway was indeed Japan’s intended target.
The Midway Memorial Marker. Dedicated in 2015. Located at Midway Atoll, United States Minor Outlaying Islands. (Photo: American Battle Monuments Commission)
Admiral Chester Nimitz commanded the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Even with this information, it was still difficult for him to risk his last three aircraft carriers in an attempt to ambush the Japanese at Midway. Station HYPO had predicted that Japan would either attack in late May or early June. History shows that they were right. With this information that could change the war in front of him, Nimitz decided to commit his forces and the American fleet moved into position to ambush the Japanese at Midway.
General Douglas MacArthur and Admiral Chester Nimitz. (Photo: United States National Archives)
Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku commanded the Japanese fleet that originally hoped to draw out the American fleet and destroy the aircraft carriers that had eluded destruction at Pearl Harbor. To his shock, the Americans were ready for him. After four days of intense combat, history.com writes that, “Japan had lost four carriers, a cruiser and 292 aircraft, and suffered an estimated 2,500 casualties.” U.S. loses were much more manageable, losing the USS Yorktown, the destroyer USS Hammann, 145 aircraft, and around 300 casualties.
The Battle of Midway. (Photo: reference.com)
American dive-bombers proved to be one of the biggest difference makers in the battle. These bomber aircraft managed to catch Japan’s carriers while they were refueling and rearming their planes. This made them extremely vulnerable and allowed the Americans to sink four of these large carriers that were pivotal to Japanese naval strength. The carriers that had been destroyed were previously used in the attack on Pearl Harbor. In comparison to its enemy, the U.S. only lost one of its coveted aircraft carriers at Midway.
The Douglas SBD Dauntless. This aircraft served as a dive-bomber and scout plane for the United States throughout World War II. (Photo: en.wikipedia.org)
Japan was never able to fully recover from its crushing loss at the Battle of Midway. The Japanese Navy lost valuable trained mechanics and aircraft ground crews as a result of the battle. The loss of these skilled men was felt up until the very end of the war. Perhaps most damaging of all was Japan losing its feeling of invincibility over American forces. The following year, the same code breaking that enabled American success at Midway led to an aerial ambush that killed Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku. Isoroku was the architect of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.
The last Photo taken of Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku before his plane was shot down by American forces. (Photo: wearethemighty.com)
While the Japanese were forced to retreat and rebuild after Midway, American forces began to push forward to Guadalcanal and continually added to its strength. In a way, Midway was a fitting form of payback for America after it had been shaken to its core by Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. 75 years later, it’s important that we never forget what led to our victory at the Battle of Midway.