Mid­way De­ter­mined the War’s Out­come

Flight Journal - - 10 AVIATION MYTHS OF WORLD WAR II -

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)

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