Midway Determined the War’s Outcome
In June 1942, the outnumbered U.S. Navy was committed to the defense of Midway Atoll 1,100 miles northwest of Honolulu. Reinforced by land-based aircraft, the Pacific Fleet’s three aircraft carriers faced four Japanese flattops, all veterans of Pearl Harbor.
On June 4, Japan’s six-month string of nearly unbroken victories came to an abrupt halt. At day’s end, all four Imperial carriers were destroyed in exchange for USS Yorktown. The “incredible victory” (the title of Walter Lord’s best seller) set the United States on the offensive two months later at Guadalcanal.
Midway, however, was not the all-or-nothing gamble so often depicted. Had America lost—possibly with Midway itself in enemy hands—the outcome of the war would not have changed. The following summer, the new generation of American ships and aircraft began arriving in Hawaii, with the same goal as before: dropping anchor in Tokyo Bay.
Drastic as Midway was for Japan, other battles bled her nearly dry. Off Guadalcanal in October, Japan lost more aircrew in the Santa Cruz battle than at Midway. Subsequently, the conquest of the Marianas, beginning with Saipan in June 1944, further sealed Tokyo’s fate.
The real significance of Midway is that it ended Japan’s strategic initiative and hastened final victory. The overwhelming industrial power of the United States permitted no other outcome.
Strike photo taken from 20,000 feet shows the first attempt to sink the Akagi by B-17Es from the 431st BS based on Midway on June 4, 1942. High-level bombing of ships was largely ineffective. (Photo courtesy of Stan Piet)