The Battle of Midway Essay

The Battle of Midway was fought between 3rd  and 5th June in 1942 pitting the United States war machine against the Imperial Japanese Navy. Most historians consider it as arguably the most pivotal battles in the Pacific war theatre considering what was at stake. The American president during that time, F.D Roosevelt, was well aware that only a decisive victory against the Imperial Japanese Navy would enable it to establish both air and sea supremacy while gearing towards attacking the Japenese archipelago (Beevor and Barrett) . On the other hand, Japan viewed the Midway Islands as a potential launch pad for future attacks on Hawaii and the United States hinterland (Lord). This research paper provides details of what sparked the battle, who the main players were, why Midway was a potential clash point and how cryptanalysis of the Japanese code helped tip the balance in favor of the United States.

After the devastating attack at Pearl Harbor, isolationism as per the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, was a position that the United States was no longer willing to hold. Without prior warning, and in the middle of negotiations to come up with a peaceful resolution of the economic conflict in the Pacific, Japan had launched an all out offensive on their rival. The aim was to cripple both air and naval capability of the United States, therefore making it unable to effectively launch future attacks on Japan. After this attack, a decision was soon reached by the top-brass in the United States government sanctioning retaliation. Symonds argues that for the sole purpose of boosting the morale of the American people, President Roosevelt ordered Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle to first launch an attack on Tokyo city, the heart of Imperial Japan (87). The “Doolittle Raid” ,as it was called was a fiasco, but soon sealed the fate of the Midway Island in far as an attack from Japan was concerned.

As the overall commander of the Imperial Japanese Navy, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto had been the chief architect of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Admiral Yamamoto’s strategic goal was to destroy all American aircraft carriers but it soon dawned on him that there were some that had escaped the attack. The plan now was to lure the remaining aircraft carriers, frigates, and gunships into open water, destroy them, and cripple the United States dominance. His plan nonetheless stalled as there was no unequivocal support for his plan. Feeling they had a duty avenge the Tokyo Raid as it was the emperor’s residence, all military leaders agreed to follow through with the plans and destroy the American fleet situated at Midway. On May 5th , at the Imperial Headquarters in the Japanese empire, the Combined Fleet Staff produced their plan for the attack, involving nearly the whole Japanese Navy. Kleiss et al estimates that at least 8 carriers, 22 cruisers, 21 submarines, 11 battleships, 210 ships and close to 600 aircraft were slated to participate in the battle  (Prange 45). It is also important to note that at that critical moment, the United States only had 76 ships, a third of which had never been used in battle.

The Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu (544-496 BC) once posited in his military treatise, The Art of War, that with intelligence, a battle is won even before it is fought (Kleiss, et al. 45). The United States military machine had hitherto invested heavily in intelligence gathering with cryptanalysts becoming an invaluable asset.

“There seemed to be too much gathering of data for their own sake without any thought of practical application—an inevitable development in a statistical and evaluation office unless sternly controlled..” (Prange 23)

Admiral Yamamoto’s plan was to coordinate battle groups stretched out in sea to lure the American fleet to their destruction. By falling for this bait, the United States would fatally compromise its position by not knowing the true strength of Yamamoto’s Imperial Japanese Navy fleet. Unbeknown to him, the United States had already successful broken the primary Japanese naval code nicknamed JN-25b in America (Kleiss, et al. 57 ). The commander of the United States Pacific Fleet, Admiral Chester Nimitz, thus knew exactly what the Japanese plan was, their strength and where they would be staging their attack. Commander Rochefort, the head of Navy intelligence at Pearl Harbor, had noticed delays in a changing the Japanese codebook and in late April concluded that a major assault was underway.

The assertions held by the code breakers proved correct when there was a sudden spike in Japanese messages in early May. Admiral Nimitz quickly assembled all the resources he could get, in anticipation of an attack by about five to six Japanese aircraft carriers. With him already, were two aircraft carriers, Hornet and Enterprise which also required additional reinforcements. The USS Yorktown, albeit damaged during the attack on Pearl Harbor, soon bolstered the fleet in preparation for battle.  The battle officially began on 3rd June in 1942. The Japanese were not aware of the information that had been intercepted by the United States and carried on with their original plan, moving in radio silence to prevent the United States at Midway. Nevertheless, the United States was the first to launch an attack on various Japanese carriers but inflicted no considerable damage. Early the next morning, at exactly 4.30, the Japanese launched an attack in cover of darkness damaging the United States base at Midway. In a well calculate response, United States dive bombers successfully sank three out of four of the Japanese aircraft carriers; Kaga, Soryu and Akagi (White 34). The remaining aircraft carrier, Hiryu, was soon attacked by 24 dive bombers launched from Enterprise and was also sunk (Parshall, et al. 56). The United States only lost three hundred servicemen compared to three thousand on the Japanese side.

“….damaged as to be of no further use. These losses were due” (Symonds 43)

All 4 Japanese aircraft carriers were lost and 248 aircraft in comparison to 1 destroyer, 1 aircraft carrier, and 149 aircraft. All in all, the United States emerge victorious, defeating the Japanese resolutely.

In conclusion, the Battle of Midway became a turning point in Pacific war as the United States successfully ended Japan’s dominance in South East Asia. The American success was largely credited to the vital intelligence that had been gathered on the plans made and Japan’s failure to use their most sophisticated aircraft carriers, Zuikaku and Shokaku. The Battle of Midway also serve as the foremost naval victory to be achieve by the Allied forces marking the rise of the United States as a super power.

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