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Friday, June 03, 2005

Midway: The Battle that turned the tide in the Pacific

63 years ago the Battle of Midway came at a low point in the War in the Pacific for the US Navy. The US was down to three aircraft carriers and not a whole lot else. Halsey was in the hospital. One of the carriers was pieced together with chewing gum and prayer. And the US codebreakers determined that the Japanese fleet, with four carriers and much more, was on its way to Midway, a tiny but important atoll 600 miles north of Hawaii.

Admiral Nimitz reached into his bag of tricks and put a surface admiral, Raymond Spruance, in charge of the the Navy's carrier fleet and sent him off to engage the enemy. Spruance set up a position that could protect Midway (if that was the target) or the US mainland (if that was the target) and sent aerial scout planes up to find the Japanese fleet. Finding the enemy first has always been a key factor in naval battles, but in the new world of carrier-dominated warfare, it was absolutely vital.

The US scouts found the Japanese fleet first. The US attacked first. The Japanese, diverted by the lumbering attack of US torpedo bombers, missed the collection of US dive bombers that proved fatal to their enterprise. The US caught a little luck in its timing and the Japanese carriers were caught with decks full of armed aircraft. Eventually the Japanese did find the US carriers, but it was a matter of too little, too late. The US lost USS Yorktown, but regained the initiative in the Pacific Theater, an initiative they never relinquished. With the sinking of so many Japanese carriers, the tide had turned...The Japanese would fight on, but their fate was sealed at the Battle of Midway, 63 years ago.

Update: (6/7/05) Note to John of the Castle: Howdy, Groundpounder! See also CDR Salamander's post here.

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