The turning point

Six months after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor and one month after the Action of the Coral Sea, on June 4–7, 1942, a significant naval battle in the Pacific Theatre of World War II took place near a small atoll called Midway.

The formidable Imperial Japanese Navy attacking fleet led by Admirals Isoroku Yamamoto, Chichi Nagumo, and Nobutake Kond was routed by the U.S. Navy under the command of Admirals Chester W. Nimitz, Frank J. Fletcher, and Raymond A. Spruance.

The battle is famous for the fierce series of exchanges and violent clashes which saw the fortunes of both sides ebb and flow throughout the battle.

Fleet Admiral Chester William Nimitz

Commander in Chief, US Pacific Fleet.

Nimitz, Chester William (

Timeline of the Battle of Miday - 3rd - 6th June 1942.

In response to the surprise Doolittle air raid on Tokyo, an entire "barrier" plan was used to increase Japan's defensive perimeter. This included the attempt to trap the American aircraft carriers and the occupation of Midway. Additionally, this operation was seen as a warm-up for future Japanese assaults on Hawaii proper, Samoa, and Fiji. 

However, inaccurate Japanese predictions of the American response and poor first dispositions destroyed the plan. Most importantly, American cryptographers were able to ascertain the time and place of the intended attack, which allowed the U.S. Navy to plan its own ambush after being alerted.

The conflict involved four Japanese and three American aircraft ships. The heavy cruiser Mikuma and the four Japanese fleet carriers Akagi, Kaga, Sōryū, and Hiryū—part of the six-carrier force that had attacked Pearl Harbor six months earlier—were both sunk. While the destroyer Hammann and carrier Yorktown were lost by the United States, the carriers USS Enterprise and USS Hornet came out of the conflict unscathed. The result was a kick in the teeth for the Japanese who had up until that point, seemed virtually unbeatable.

Hiryū at anchor in Yokosuka, shortly after completion in 1939. Hiryū had a designed aircraft capacity of 64, plus nine spares.

Midway Island

Located 1,300 miles (2,100 km) northwest of Honolulu in the central Pacific Ocean, the Midway Islands are an unorganised territory of the United States. It consists of a coral atoll with a circumference of 15 miles (24 km) that encloses two major islands—Eastern (Green) and Sand islands—near the western end of the Hawaiian archipelago. It has a 2.4 square mile total area on land (6.2 square km). The subtropical climate features hot, dry summers and chilly, rainy winters.

Operations during the Battle of Midway.

Battle of Midway • History Infographics

The strategic significance of Midway was well proved during World War II. The U.S. Navy started construction of a sizable aviation and submarine base there in 1940.

The following year, Sand Island saw the construction of a seaplane hangar for a group of PBY Catalina flying boats, while Eastern Island gained three runways.

Midway's power plant, radio stations, and defence garrison were all located on Sand Island. Japan understood that keeping the atoll under its control would be essential to its objectives for the central Pacific.

USS Hornet at Naval Station Norfolk shortly before being shipped out to the Pacific, 1942.

Hampton Roads Naval Museum: Battle of Midway-70 Years Later

The American military position in Hawaii, 1,100 miles (1,770 km) to the southeast, may be significantly jeopardised if Japan were to take control of the islands. Furthermore, cutting off the supply lines between the US and Australia would cripple the Allied war effort and leave the southwest Pacific susceptible to invasion.

Comparison of the US and Japanese forces at the Battle of Midway.

Comparison of Ships during the Battle of Midway - Student Center |

As a result of Midway's importance in Japanese war strategy, on December 7–8, 1941, the Pacific War's first attack included it. The Japanese destroyers Sazanami and Ushio bombarded Sand Island's power facility and seaplane hangar around 12 hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Lieut. George Cannon remained at his position to command one of the island's defensive batteries despite being gravely wounded by a Japanese shell. Japanese ships were forced to leave the area, and Cannon—who later succumbed to his injuries—became the first American Marine to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor in World War II.


The Japanese had persisted in their efforts to take control of the Midway Islands and bases in the Aleutians despite suffering a strategic loss at the Battle of the Coral Sea (May 4–8, 1942). Adm. Yamamoto Isoroku dispatched the majority of the Kid Butai ("Mobile Force"), a vast carrier battle group under the leadership of Vice Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto.

Nagumo Chuichi, in an effort to engage the numerically superior U.S. Pacific Fleet in a naval engagement. Two light aircraft carriers, two seaplane carriers, seven battleships, fifteen cruisers, forty-two destroyers, ten submarines, as well as different support and escort vessels were added to the four heavy aircraft carriers, Akagi, Hiryu, Kaga, and Soryu.

Their instructions were to attack the American navy, destroy it, and take over Midway.

Vice Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto

Yamamoto saluting his Japanese naval pilots before the battle.

5 things you didn't know about the Battle of Midway - We Are The Mighty

After cracking the Japanese JN25 naval code, American intelligence was able to ascertain the Japanese intentions, giving the Americans enough time to plan their defence. Only two of his heavy carriers—the Hornet and the Enterprise—were combat ready, and Adm. Chester Nimitz, commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, was unable to deploy a single battleship.

Vice Adm. William "Bull" Halsey, the most senior carrier commander, would completely miss the engagement due to a terrible case of neurodermatitis, adding to the difficulty of the situation. He was replaced by Rear Admiral Raymond A. Spruance. Spruance had plenty of experience in commanding cruiser divisions but lacked experience in commanding carriers.  Halsey reassured Nimitz that he was the man for the job and ordered Spruance and Fletcher to rely on their newly inherited staff, particularly Captain Miles Browning, a carrier warfare expert with a track record of success.

Enter the Yorktown

The Japanese thought the third carrier, the Yorktown, had sunk after suffering such severe damage at the Battle of the Coral Sea that it took nearly two weeks for it to make its way back to Pearl Harbor. According to an initial damage assessment, repairing the ship would take three months. Repair teams had a three-day deadline from Nimitz.

USS Yorktown being hastily repaired at Pearl Harbor after Battle of Coral Sea, 29 May 1942. Despite extensive damage, it took repair crews - working around the clock - just three days to get her seaworthy enough to take part in the Battle of Midway.

USS_Yorktown_(CV-5)_in_a_dry_dock_at_the_Pearl_Harbor_Naval_Shipyard,_29_May_1942_(80-G-13065).jpg (5734×4565) (

The Yorktown miraculously steamed out of Pearl Harbor on the morning of May 30 after spending less than 72 hours in dry dock. It would join the remainder of Nimitz's force, which also consisted of the Enterprise, the Hornet, eight cruisers, and eighteen destroyers, at a meeting location 350 miles (570 km) northeast of Midway, code-named "Point Luck." They awaited Yamamoto's armada's approach there. The Americans could send around 115 land-based Navy, Marine Corps, and Army Air Forces planes from Midway and Hawaii, whereas the Japanese had no such capability. There were also about 19 submarines in the American fleet.

Ground soldiers worked around the clock to fortify the Midway Islands' fortifications in anticipation of the assault. The Coast Artillery unit strengthened its own positions and helped set up underwater barriers. Along with doing rigorous training and continuing their routine patrols, infantry companies helped unload ships, made and planted antitank mines, and helped build other mines as needed. The Second Raider Battalion's Companies "C" and "D" lay antitank mines, helped with beach patrol, ship unloading, and carrying gasoline drums for fuelling the planes. The Third Defense Battalion's Antiaircraft and Special Weapons Group worked diligently to have its guns ready for action the day after they arrived. They then worked on emplacements, ammo storage, and protection for their guns.

Underwater hazards almost completely encircled the islands, with additional safety measures at the most vulnerable beaches. "Molotov cocktails" were handed to the gun crews (antitank grenades). As well as numerous controlled and contact antipersonnel and antitank mines, there were also water mines planted in the waters surrounding the island.

Four modified tuna fishing boats (YPs) were stationed in Lisianski, Gardner's Pinnacles, Laysan, and Necker Islands to make rescues, while one PY boat (U.S.S. Crystal) was stationed at Pearl-Hermes.

The Hawaiian Sea Frontier Forces sent out Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron One, a group of 11 PT boats under the command of Lt. Clinton McKellar, Jr., to be placed under the supervision of the Commanding Officer, Midway. These boats did a great job of saving airmen who were trapped at sea and helping to repel the enemy air onslaught on Midway. These boats would have undoubtedly been crucial if the Japanese had attempted a landing.

3rd June - First attacks

The first clashes of the battle occurred on 3rd June 3, 1942, at 9:04 AM. Japanese deck gunners opened fire on an American reconnaissance plane after it spotted the lead components of the invasion force about 500 miles (800 km) west of Midway.

Approximately 700 miles (1,100 km) west of Midway, a second surface contact was made at 9:25 AM, with an American pilot stating that he had spotted the "main body" of the Japanese fleet. These ships actually made up a very modest percentage of the landing and occupying force.

A PBY Catalina scout plane, similar to the one that first spotted the incoming Japanese ships.

5 things you didn't know about the Battle of Midway - We Are The Mighty

A flight of Boeing B-17 bombers from the U.S. Army Air Forces was sent out of Midway at 12:30 PM. They launched an ineffective attack on a portion of the Japanese invasion force in the late afternoon, which was by this point roughly 220 miles (350 km) southwest of the American fleet. Although American strategic bombers proved to be great platforms for surveillance, they would show to be of limited effectiveness against moving naval targets at Midway and elsewhere in the Pacific. They could hover for extended periods of time at heights outside the range of Japanese antiaircraft fire because to their high operational ceiling and long range, and their onboard weaponry provided an effective barrier against carrier-based fighters.

Before the B-17s arrived back at Midway at 9:15 PM, a quartet of Consolidated PBY Catalina seaplanes took off from the base. In the early hours of June 4, this unit encountered a Japanese surface force and launched a torpedo strike and strafing run. The Japanese tanker Akebono Maru was damaged by a Catalina, marking the sole American aircraft to launch a successful torpedo assault throughout the whole conflict. The Catalinas were informed via radio that Japanese aircraft were attacking the islands as they made their way back to Midway.

4th June – the attack on Midway Island

The first signs of danger for the Americans on Midway itself was a Catalina pilot eagerly radioing, "Many planes headed Midway, bearing 320, distance 150," at 5:45 AM on 4th June. Two of the Japanese carriers were spotted within a short period of time, and by 6:00 AM nearly all of Midway's aircraft were airborne and engaged in combat patrol. Around 30 miles (48 km) from Midway, more than two dozen Marine fighters—a mix of Brewster F2A Buffaloes and Grumman F4F Wildcats—sighted and engaged the initial wave of Japanese aircraft.

Midway Island burns following the Japanese attack on 4th June 1942.

70th Anniversary - The Battle of Midway | The National WWII Museum Blog (

Squadrons of Mitsubishi A6M "Zero" fighters escorted formations of Japanese Aichi D3A "Val" dive-bombers and Nakajima B5N "Kate" torpedo bombers. The ratio of American to Japanese pilots was about 4-to-1. Furthermore, the capable Zero - one of the best fighter planes of the war - clearly outperformed the Buffalo and the Wildcat. Despite the imbalance, the Marines only mildly wounded the assailants but at a great cost, losing more than half of their force.

Time of key events on 4th June 1942 during the Battle of Midway.

Timeline-Battle-of-Midway.jpg (2000×1042) (

The aircraft bombardment of Midway started around 6:30 AM when the fighter screen on the island had been mostly destroyed. The Japanese attack, which lasted for around 30 minutes, severely damaged both Sand and Eastern island buildings. However, the runways at Midway were mostly unscathed, probably because the Japanese intended to use them once the invasion was over. Less than 10 Japanese planes were lost in their attack on the island between the aerial combat and Midway's antiaircraft defences.

A machine gun firing on Sand Island, Midway Islands, 4 June 1942.

The Battle Of Midway - An epic real color footage! (

US retaliation

Land-based aircraft from Midway were moving toward the Japanese fleet as Midway took full brunt of the Japanese assault. A group of four U.S. Army Air Forces Martin B-26 Marauders launched a torpedo assault run on Nagumo's flagship, the Akagi, shortly after 7:00 AM. Six US Navy Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bombers followed them closely.

Due in large part to the poor performance of American Mark 13 torpedoes, the majority of American aircraft were shot down during the effort, and none of them scored hits. On the other hand, the Imperial Japanese Navy had top-notch airborne and surface torpedoes, and the Japanese would hold the technological superiority in this field until the end of the war.

The Japanese carrier, Akagi.

S0OlGdh.jpg (1014×1280) (

Nagumo’s quandary

At this point, Nagumo made a crucial choice. The Hiryu's air commander, Lieut. Joichi Tomonaga, stated in an after-action report that a second attack on Midway would be required to sufficiently quieten the island prior to the intended amphibious assault because the island's aircraft were evidently still operating.

Furthermore, no evidence of an American naval presence in the area had been found by Nagumo's scout planes.

This wasn't really the pilots' fault because the search area included an oceanic area bigger than the entire United Kingdom and visibility was severely compromised in some places by cloud cover.

Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo

Naval History and Heritage Command - Photo NH 63423

Japanese 'Zero' fighter taking off from a carrier during the battle.

Nagumo gave the order to replace the torpedoes on the fuelled and ready planes on the Kaga and the Akagi with bombs at 7:15 AM, thinking he still had the advantage of surprise and that the American fleet was no closer than Hawaii. At 7:28 AM, one of Nagumo's scouts reported seeing "10 enemy surface ships," though he gave no further details about the composition of this group.

Nagumo stopped the rearming effort when he realised there might be American carriers nearby. He gave the order for the planes whose torpedoes had not yet been changed at 7:45 AM to be ready for an assault on American naval forces. The Japanese carriers' flight and hangar decks were now filled with fuelled, armed, and unattended weapons.

1943 US Office of Naval Intelligence map showing key events at the Battle of Midway.

The Battle of Midway (

Almost an hour had passed since the first American attack on the Japanese carrier force when a second wave of planes based at Midway began their assault. A squadron of 16 U.S. Marine Corps Douglas SBD Dauntless dive-bombers targeted the Soryu at 7:55 AM, however they failed to make any hits and lost half of their crew to Japanese fighters and antiaircraft fire. About 15 minutes later, U.S. Army Air Forces B-17s bombed the carrier group from a high altitude, but they did not themselves sustain any damage.

A squadron of 11 U.S. Marine Corps Vought SB2U Vindicator dive-bombers, the last of Midway's aircraft, targeted the Japanese battleship Haruna at around 8:20 AM. However, the majority of these aircraft were shot down by the Japanese fighter screen, and the few bombing sorties that they did manage to complete were off target. Up to this point, the Japanese was winning the Battle of Midway without question.

A U.S. Marine Corps Vought SB2U-3 Vindicator dive bomber of Marine scout bombing squadron VMSB-241 taking off from Eastern Island, Midway Atoll, during the Battle of Midway, 4-6 June 1942. This aircraft was flown on 4 June by 2nd Lt. George T. Lumpkin (pilot) and Pfc. George A. Toms (gunner) in an attack on the Japanese battleship Haruna.

The Battle Of Midway - An epic real color footage! (

Nagumo finally got word that there was a carrier in the American naval force as the Vindicators were being chased away. The timing of this news could not have been worse. The fighters of Nagumo's combat air patrol also required refuelling and rearmament since they were returning from the Midway attack and running low on fuel. He would run the danger of losing a large number of expert pilots when their aircraft crashed into the Pacific if he decided to launch his ready aircraft in response to the immediate threat.

Nagumo had also spent the previous 90 minutes demonstrating the futility of attempting uncoordinated attacks on a well-defended carrier battle group without fighter escort. Rather than risk the same outcome, Nagumo made a decision that would determine the course of the Pacific War. He would clear his flight decks and recover his planes before launching a concerted attack on the American fleet.

The U.S. Carriers attack

The American carriers were split into two groups: Task Force 16, led by Halsey's successor Rear Adm. Raymond Spruance and including the Enterprise and Hornet, and Task Force 17, led by Rear Adm. Frank Jack Fletcher and included the Yorktown. Fletcher would have overall tactical command due to his position as the senior, but he gave Spruance a lot of operational latitude. Fortunately, Spruance was undoubtedly the best American naval commander of the conflict, so this was fortunate.

A group of F4f Wildcats ready to take off from the USS Hornet during the Battle of Midway.

Flight of the Devastators

Fletcher and Spruance were keeping an eye on the signals traffic as the attack on Midway progressed in an effort to ascertain the size and location of the Japanese fleet. Midway radioed that two carriers had been detected just after 6:00 AM, and the American admirals immediately took action.

Spruance's Task Force 16 was closer to the Japanese fleet because it was about 10 miles (16 km) southwest of Fletcher and Task Force 17. Spruance was directed to sail southwest and engage the enemy by Fletcher.

Fletcher, who had scouts in the air, would retrieve his aircraft and keep the Yorktown in reserve in case more Japanese carriers threatened. Spruance gambled by launching his planes at 7:00 AM from a distance that all but ensured that many of his aircraft would not have enough fuel to return in an effort to intercept the Japanese ships before they could make a second attack on Midway.

U.S. Navy Torpedo Squadron 6 (VT-6) Douglas TBD-1 Devastator aircraft are prepared for launching aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) at about 0730-0740 hrs, 4 June 1942. Eleven of the fourteen TBDs launched from Enterprise are visible. Three more TBDs and ten Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat fighters must still be pushed into position before launching can begin.

The TBD in the left front is Number Two (BuNo 1512), flown by Ensign Severin L. Rombach and Aviation Radioman 2nd Class W.F. Glenn. Along with eight other VT-6 aircraft, this plane and its crew were lost attacking Japanese aircraft carriers somewhat more than two hours later. The heavy cruiser USS Pensacola (CA-24) is in the right distance and a destroyer is in plane guard position at left.

U.S. Navy photo 80-G-41686

No more information regarding the location of the Japanese fleet was provided to the American carrier pilots as they attempted to approach it. The American strike force would come piecemeal, if at all, due to the lack of contact between Midway and the carriers and between the ships and their own planes. Numerous aircraft were forced to ditch at sea, return to the Hornet, or land at Midway without ever finding the Japanese.

After finding his scouts and concluding that the Japanese had found his fleet, Fletcher started launching planes from the Yorktown at 8:38 AM.

1943 US Office of Naval Intelligence map showing US attacks on the Japanese carriers.

The Battle of Midway (

15 Douglas TBD Devastator torpedo bombers from the Hornet were the first American carrier aircraft to attack the Japanese at 9:20 AM. Torpedo Squadron 8's assault on the Soryu was a complete failure.

The squadron's solitary survivor, pilot Ensign George Gay, would spend the following 30 hours drifting in the Pacific as the combat raged all around him. All of the Devastators were shot down. Enterprise and Yorktown torpedo squadrons launched similar attacks at 10:20 AM. Only six of the 41 Devastators that were launched at Midway made it back to their carriers; none of them conducted a successful torpedo strike.

The tide turns

The Devastators of the Yorktown held a special status since they were the only torpedo squadron to engage in combat with a fighter escort. The slow-moving Devastators were joined by a dozen Yorktown-based Grumman F4F Wildcats, and the Japanese combat air patrol reacted instantly. They unknowingly made room for a new threat as they descended to a level close to sea level to intercept the American fighters.

A Dauntless dive bomber from the Norfolk-based Scouting Squadron Eight (VS-8) lands on USS Hornet (CV-8) during the Battle of Midway.

Hampton Roads Naval Museum: Battle of Midway-70 Years Later

Lieut. Comdr. Wade McClusky was searching the Pacific for any sign of the enemy while running low on gasoline and without any new knowledge regarding the location of the Japanese fleet.

The air group commander of the Enterprise had reached the anticipated site of intercept at 9:20, but Nagumo had altered their path. Nimitz would subsequently describe McClusky's next action as "one of the most important decisions of the battle."

McClusky decided against bringing his squadron of Douglas SBD Dauntless dive-bombers back to the Enterprise and instead continued his search to the northwest, where he ultimately spotted the Japanese destroyer Arashi hurrying to meet up with the rest of the fleet.

Around 10:00 AM, the Dauntlesses noticed the Kaga and the Akagi and prepared to attack.

Clipping found in Honolulu Star-Bulletin in Honolulu, Hawaii on Jun 5, 1942. Hawaiian newspaper front page headlines about the beginning of the Battle of Midway.

As the torpedo strike was coming to an end, the Enterprise's Dauntlesses dove out of the sun and struck at 10:22 AM. They immediately scored numerous devastating bomb hits on both the Kaga and the Akagi. 17 Dauntless aircraft that had been with the Yorktown torpedo attack group dove on the Soryu almost simultaneously.

The three Japanese carriers were engulfed in flames in a matter of minutes, and the Pacific's momentum had changed. The dive-bombers had severely damaged the Kid Butai, but they were not unharmed; the Enterprise lost more than a dozen Dauntlesses. Nagumo had to evacuate the Akagi due to out-of-control fires, and he shifted his flag to the light cruiser Nagara.

Midway-based Douglas SBD Dauntless, photographed in Midway Islands area a few days before the battle.

The Yorktown crippled

Rear Admiral Tamon Yamaguchi, leader of the combat group that included the Soryu and the Hiryu, gave the order to launch a hastily put-together attack force into the air at around 10:50 AM as the other three Japanese carriers burnt. Yamaguchi would effectively command what was left of the Japanese fleet for the ensuing 30 minutes until Nagumo had re-established his flagship.

USS Yorktown Yorktown at the moment of impact of a torpedo from a Nakajima B5N of Lieutenant Hashimoto's 2nd chūtai   colorized by Ahmet Asar

Following the American strike groups return to the Yorktown, the Hiryu's aircraft launched a dive-bombing attack that caused the American carrier to list. Although the American fighter screen and antiaircraft defences had dealt the Japanese a painful blow, the Yorktown had suffered substantial and extensive damage from three bomb hits.

Fletcher relocated his flag to the cruiser Astoria as repair crews laboured to patch the flight deck and get the boilers back in working order.

Photograph taken from the deck of the Yorktown during the attack. It had just been hit by three Japanese bombs.

Most of the Yorktown's boilers were brought back online after an hour of frantic work, and by 2:30 PM the ship was sailing. However, a second wave of Hiryu planes attacked the ship in a matter of minutes. The Yorktown came to a stop again after taking two torpedo strikes, at which point it started to list seriously. Elliott Buckmaster, the commander of the Yorktown, issued the order to leave ship at 2:55 PM.

Spruance takes command

However, American scouts had already discovered the Hiryu by this point, and at 3:30 PM, a combined force of Dauntlesses from the Enterprise and the Yorktown took to the sky. Additional dive-bombers from the Hornet soon joined them.

All available fighters were ordered to maintain a combat air patrol above the fleet, so the American bombers would fly alone.

Fletcher handed over operational control of the fleet to Spruance just before 4:00 PM after realising that Task Force 17 was no longer a useful carrier fighting group and choosing not to waste time by relocating his flag to the Enterprise.

Douglas Dauntless (SBD) dive-bombers fly in military precision over an aircraft carrier during the Battle of Midway.

Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Around 5:00 PM, the first wave of American bombers attacked the Hiryu, soon reducing the Japanese carrier to a blazing wreck. The Hiryu was hit by at least four American bombs, and the Hornet's Dauntlesses, which arrived a half-hour later, began focusing on the Hiryu's battle group's other ships. The other Japanese ships were not significantly harmed by this attack, nor were they by a subsequent high-altitude B-17 bombardment from Midway and Hawaii.

The Japanese aircraft carrier Hiryu maneuvers to avoid bombs dropped by USAAF Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress bombers during the Battle of Midway on 4 June 1942.

U.S. Navy photo USAF-3725

After getting his aircraft back, Spruance decided to steer Task Force 16 east, away from the day's fighting, as opposed to west, in search of the Kid Butai's wreckage. The Japanese navy excelled in night battles, and despite losing four carriers, their surface force remained a serious danger. History would show that this was an extraordinarily wise course to take. The American ships remained in range of Midway's land-based planes by turning to the east. Task Force 17's destroyer Hughes was charged with watching over the damaged Yorktown at night. The Kaga and the Soryu both sank that evening.

June 5th - 6th

The Yorktown was towed on June 5 and a salvage effort got under way. Both the Hiryu and the Akagi, which had survived the night by staying afloat, were scuttled. Rear Admiral Tomeo Kaku, the Hiryu's skipper, and Yamaguchi chose to die together with their flagship. While this choice was perfectly consistent with the Japanese honour code (Bushidō), it also cost the Japanese navy one of its most senior naval aviators and a highly respected flag officer.

The burning Japanese aircraft carrier Hiryu, photographed by a Yokosuka B4Y aircraft from the carrier Hosho shortly after sunrise on 5 June 1942. Hiryu sank a few hours later. Note collapsed flight deck at right. Part of the forward elevator is standing upright just in front of the island, where it had been thrown by an explosion in the hangar.

U.S. Navy photo NH 73064

In an effort to catch the retreating Japanese surface force on the afternoon of June 5, Spruance sent over 60 bombers into the air, but the Americans were only able to locate the destroyer Tanikaze. Despite being the subject of numerous attacks, the Tanikaze, which had been charged with making sure that the Hiryu truly sank, was able to escape relatively unharmed and re-join the Japanese fleet.

The following day, Spruance resumed the pursuit, and Dauntlesses from the Enterprise and the Hornet located a group of survivors from the main Japanese fleet. The Japanese ships were easy prey for the dive-bombers because they had no fighter escort to protect them. The destroyers Asashio and Arashio, as well as the cruiser Mogami, suffered significant damage, and the cruiser Mikuma was sunk.

The Japanese heavy cruiser Mikuma, photographed from a USS Enterprise (CV-6) Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless during the afternoon of 6 June 1942, after she had been bombed by planes from Enterprise and USS Hornet (CV-8).

Note her shattered midships structure, torpedo dangling from the after-port side tubes and wreckage atop her number four 203 mm gun turret.

A.D. Brick or CP(PA) J.S. Mihalovitch, USN - U.S. Navy photo 80-G-414422

Repair teams were frantically working to salvage the Yorktown in the meanwhile. Early on June 6th, the destroyer Hammann had anchored to the carrier, and as the day went on, additional ships joined the expanding ring of protection.

Numerous soldiers worked all day to put out fires and manage floods, and things were going well when, at 1:35 PM, lookouts noticed the wakes of approaching torpedoes.

Explosions quickly shook both the Hammann and the Yorktown after the Japanese submarine I-168 sneaked up on the recovery effort.

The Hammann was ordered to be abandoned almost quickly, and it sank in a matter of minutes. The I-168 was attacked with depth charges by some of the remaining warships, but the submarine managed to escape. Despite all the damage, the Yorktown managed to stay afloat, though it was listing, and the salvage team had hoped to pick up their work the following day. On June 7, however, the list of the Yorktown grew during the night, and at around 5:00 AM the carrier sank "with all her battle colours flying."

The heavily listing Yorktown being abandoned.

U.S. Navy photo 80-G-17061


Japan sustained catastrophic material losses at Midway. More than 320 aircraft, a heavy cruiser, and four carriers were despatched to the Pacific Ocean's depths. A limited chance was left to find survivors who may have fallen into the water because the Japanese fleet left the combat area rather quickly, resulting in about 3,000 Japanese sailors and airmen being lost. One carrier, one destroyer, and approximately 150 aircraft—more than two-thirds of which were carrier-based—were lost in the triumph for the US.

The number of Americans who died from the Midway garrison's 317 sailors, airmen, and Marines was comparatively low.

An injured or exhausted rescued U.S. Navy flight crew man is taken on a stretcher out of a Consolidated PBY-5 Catalina on Midway Islands, after the Battle of Midway in June 1942.

Cdr. John Ford, USNR - U.S. Navy "Battle of Midway" movie screenshot

Nearly 30 crew members from the Hiryu's engineering department were among the survivors found by U.S. Navy patrols in the days following the combat in the area surrounding Midway. These prisoners of war's interrogation would give the Americans crucial information regarding Japanese naval capabilities. The two-man crew of one of the Enterprise's Devastators was spotted on June 21, more than two weeks after the conflict, by an American Catalina flying boat around 360 miles (or about 580 kilometres) north of Midway. They would be the final Midway survivors to be found in the Pacific.

The only survivor out of the six land-based Avenger torpedo bombers at the Battle of Midway 25 June 1942.

Photos of Battle of Midway | History Lovers Club | Page 11

Midway was undoubtedly "a victory of intelligence," as stated in the official U.S. Navy combat narrative of the fight. American cryptanalysts played a significant part at Midway, from deciphering the Japanese JN25 naval code to carrying out a cunning plan to confirm that Midway would be the target of the Japanese attack. But intelligence wasn't enough to win the war. Both Fletcher and Spruance used effective carrier tactics, and Fletcher's decision to give Spruance operational control late on June 4 assured that the American command structure would not be compromised at a crucial juncture in the war.

Comparison the casualties between Japan and the United States during the Battle of Midway.

Casualties-of-Battle-of-Midway.jpg (2000×2000) (

After the events of Midway and the exhausting attrition of the Solomon Islands campaign, Japan's ability to replace its losses in materiel (particularly aircraft carriers) and men (particularly well-trained pilots and maintenance crewmen) quickly became insufficient to cope with the rising casualties, whereas the United States' enormous industrial and training capabilities made losses far easier to replace.

The Battle of Midway represented a turning point in the military conflict between the two nations and brought the Pacific naval forces of Japan and the United States to almost parity. Additionally, it was the most resounding naval loss for Japan since Toyotomi Hideyoshi's invading fleet was obliterated in 1592 by the Korean admiral Yi Sun-shin.

Japanese prisoners of war on board USS Ballard (AVD-10) after being rescued from a lifeboat two weeks after the Battle of Midway.

Photos of Battle of Midway | History Lovers Club | Page 10

The Japanese were forced to abandon their preparations to attack New Caledonia, Fiji, and Samoa, and they lost all but the last traces of their earlier strategic initiative, which was a major strategic triumph for the Allies.

Further reading


Ahmet Asar


Cdr. John Ford, USNR - U.S. Navy "Battle of Midway" movie screenshot

A.D. Brick or CP(PA) J.S. Mihalovitch, USN - U.S. Navy photo 80-G-414422

U.S. Navy photo 80-G-41686

U.S. Navy photo 80-G-17061

U.S. Navy photo NH 73064

Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Naval History and Heritage Command - Photo NH 63423 -

U.S. Navy photo USAF-3725