This week, the Navy will commemorate the 71st anniversary of the Battle of Midway. The battle, which took place June 4 to 7, 1942, changed the course of the war in the Pacific and highlighted naval aviation’s vast capabilities. Below are some significant events related to the Battle of Midway.
May 7 to 8, 1942
The Battle of the Coral Sea was first naval battle fought entirely by carrier aircraft. The U.S. Navy lost carrier Lexington and suffered damage to Yorktown. The Japanese Navy, however, lost the services of three carriers for the planned Midway operation. Shoho was sunk, Shokaku was damaged and Zuikaku suffered heavy losses to her air group.
Station HYPO (Pearl Harbor), the decrypt unit under Lt. Cmdr. Joseph J. Rochefort discovered “several significant indications of future enemy action” that included: “an attack in force on the Midway/Oahu Line the first week of June and a simultaneous attack on the Aleutians…” Less than a week later on May 20, HYPO intercepted a Japanese naval message proving conclusively the identity of Midway in Japanese naval message traffic.
U.S. Pacific Fleet OpPlan 29-42 was promulgated for the defense of Midway.
Task Force 17 under Rear Adm. Frank Jack Fletcher joined Task Force 16 under Rear Adm. Raymond A. Spruance about 350 miles northeast of Midway. Fletcher became the officer in tactical command for the battle. These two task forces were formed around three aircraft carriers (Yorktown, Enterprise and Hornet). Midway served as an unsinkable fourth carrier.
June 4, 6 a.m. +
Japanese planes from the First Mobile Force, Carrier Strike Force under Vice Adm. Nagumo Chuichi bombed Midway’s installations. Defending U.S. Marine Corps fighters suffered heavy losses, but shot down significant numbers of key pilots. The Japanese strike leader called for a second strike.
June 4, 7 a.m. +
A succession of attacks, which were delivered in piecemeal fashion, from Midway-based U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Army Air Forces planes that were scrambled an hour before to clear the field at the approach of the enemy, disrupted the Japanese carrier force’s cohesion. The presence of submarine Nautilus, the oldest and least maneuverable boat in the Pacific Fleet, further discomfited the enemy.
June 4, 7 to 9 a.m.
Strikes were launched from task forces 16 and 17. The Japanese, meanwhile, became aware of U.S. Navy carrier forces in the vicinity.
June 4, 9:17 a.m. +
Japanese carrier operations were disrupted by attacks in succession by Hornet’s torpedo planes, forcing the enemy to turn away from the wind, and then those from Enterprise. Yorktown’s air group arriveed soon thereafter, as did dive bombers from Enterprise that followed destroyer Arashi, which was detached earlier to destroy or drive off the persistent Nautilus back to the carriers.
June 4, 10:15 to 10:20 a.m.
Yorktown’s torpedo planes attacked Hiryu. Dive bombers from the two carriers attack the other three, inflicting crippling damage on Kaga, Soryu and the flagship Akagi. Only Hiryu escapeed destruction. Kaga and Soryu sank before the day was done; Akagi was scuttled the next morning.
June 4, noon to 2:28 p.m.
Hiryu planes carried out crippling strikes against Yorktown. First, dive bombers scored three direct hits, stopping her dead in the water and forcing Fletcher to transfer his flag to heavy cruiser Astoria and turn over tactical command to Spruance. After dogged damage control efforts enabled Yorktown to get underway again, torpedo planes scored two hits that forced her abandonment.
June 4, 4:58 p.m.
Dive bombers from Enterprise, which included those orphaned by the damage to Yorktown, crippled Hiryu, which was scuttled the next morning.
Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, commander in chief, Pacific Fleet, sends a message to his task force commanders: “You who have participated in the Battle of Midway today have written a glorious page in our history. I am proud to be associated with you…”
June 5, 2:36 p.m.
Tug (ex-minesweeper) Vireo arrived from Pearl and Hermes Reef and took Yorktown in tow.
June 6, 4:15 a.m.
Salvage party formed from Yorktown’s crew. The men gathered the previous day in a time-consuming process from the ships that had rescued them on the afternoon June 4, and began work to save their ship.
June 6, 1:34 p.m.
Poor sound conditions enabled the Japanese submarine I-168 to approach Yorktown and her screen of destroyers undetected, fire a spread of torpedoes that sunk destroyer Hammann as she laid alongside the carrier, and inflicted further damage (two hits) on Yorktown. Yorktown was abandoned. I-168 endured heavy depth charge attack, but escaped.
June 7, 4:58 a.m
Yorktown succumbed to the heavy cumulative damage from June 4 and 6, capsized and sunk.
Compiled by the Naval History and Heritage Command
Join the Naval History and Heritage Command for an interactive online expert panel about the impact of the Navy’s presence in the Pacific then and now. Naval historians and operations leadership will join the virtual panel that will be webcast live June 3 at 2 p.m. EDT on the Navy’s Google+ page. Use hashtag #MidwayHangout to ask questions.