Home / Community / Commemorations & Celebrations / Then and Now: MIDWAY and the U.S. Navy Aircraft Carrier

Then and Now: MIDWAY and the U.S. Navy Aircraft Carrier

By Vice Adm. DeWolfe Miller III, Commander, Naval Air Forces/Commander, Naval Air Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet

Midway. The mere mention of it warms the heart of a U.S. aircraft carrier Sailor. At Midway Island, American aircraft carriers secured the greatest victory in our Navy’s history and changed the course of World War II. The aviators who served and flew off carriers Enterprise, Hornet and Yorktown struck a decisive blow against the powerful Japanese fleet. During the Battle of Midway, the aircraft carrier proved to be the preeminent weapon system in the naval arsenal, a distinction that it holds today and will hold for the foreseeable future.

SBD Dauntless dive bombers from USS Hornet (CV-8) approaching the burning Japanese heavy cruiser Mikuma to make the third set of attacks on her, during the early afternoon of 6 June 1942. Mikuma had been hit earlier by strikes from Hornet and USS Enterprise (CV-6), leaving her dead in the water and fatally damaged. Photo was enlarged from a 16mm color motion picture film. Note bombs hung beneath these planes. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Midway, a feature-length film scheduled for release on November 8, tells the story of the Sailors and aviators who fought so bravely in June 1942. This retelling comes at a critical time for our Navy and our nation. Seeing the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Midway on the big screen serves as a reminder of the cost of unpreparedness in an age of great power competition.

Under the brave leadership of Admirals Raymond Spruance and Frank Fletcher, our Sailors displayed toughness and answered the call. Young aviators, lacking experience and flying planes that were no match for the Japanese aircraft, stared death in the face and delivered. Overcoming long odds, these heroes carried the day and prevailed in war at sea.

USS Enterprise (CV-6) steaming at high speed at about 0725 hrs, 4 June 1942, seen from USS Pensacola (CA-24). The carrier has launched Scouting Squadron Six (VS-6) and Bombing Squadron Six (VB-6) and is striking unlaunched SBD aircraft below in preparation for respotting the flight deck with torpedo planes and escorting fighters. USS Northampton (CA-26) is in the right distance, with SBDs orbiting overhead, awaiting the launch of the rest of the attack group. Three hours later, VS-6 and VB-6 fatally bombed the Japanese carriers Akagi and Kaga. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives.

Unlike the fleet of late 1941 and early 1942, today’s aircraft carriers are trained, equipped, and ready for a high-end fight. The large-deck nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and embarked carrier air wing are relevant and potent year after year and decade after decade because they remain lethal, agile, and resilient. Modern carrier strike groups (CSGs) comprise an ever-changing combination of cutting-edge technology, next generation aircraft, and advanced weapons systems to remain dominant over realized and potential threats. They are central to conduct of Distributed Maritime Operations within the modern Fleet Design.

Torpedo Squadron SIX (VT-6) TBD-1 aircraft are prepared for launching on USS Enterprise (CV-6) at about 0730–0740, 4 June 1942. Eleven of the 14 TBDs launched from Enterprise are visible. Three more TBDs and ten F4F fighters must still be pushed into position before launching can begin. The TBD in the left front is Number 2 (Bureau No. 1512), flown by Ensign Severin L. Rombach and Aviation Radioman 2nd Class W. F. Glenn. Along with eight other VT-6 aircraft, this plane and its crew were lost attacking Japanese aircraft carriers somewhat more than two hours later. USS Pensacola (CA-24) is in the right distance and a destroyer is in plane guard position at left (80-G-41686).

The CSG provides our national command authority with options, access, and a survivable forward presence that allows for a rapid response to a wide spectrum of threats or natural disasters. The speed, composition, integration, and maneuverability of a CSG allow it to penetrate contested waters and airspace, enabling the embarked air wing to project unrelenting power over great distances. The CSG’s ability to sail and fight anywhere in the maritime domain enables the United States to continue to secure peace, stability, and strategic lines of commerce and communications around the world.

ARABIAN SEA (Oct. 20, 2019) Sailors upload ordnance to an F/A-18E Super Hornet attached to Fist of the Fleet of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 25 on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72). Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of naval operations to ensure maritime stability and security in the Central Region, connecting the Mediterranean Sea and the Pacific Ocean through the western Indian Ocean and three strategic choke points. With Abraham Lincoln as the flagship, deployed strike group assets include staffs, ships and aircraft of Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 12, Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 2, the guided-missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf (CG 55) and Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 7. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Mohamed Labanieh/Released)

America requires the right aircraft carriers—and enough of them—to operate with allies, overmatch adversaries, and defend national interests in this age of great power competition. In the future, when the president and fleet commanders ask the familiar question, “Where are the carriers?” the answer must be, “On station and ready.”

And manned with Aviators and Sailors with the same grit and determination as their predecessors at Midway.

NOTE: This blog is the first of a four-part series to honor the Navy victory at the Battle of Midway and to highlight current Navy capabilities against modern and future U.S. adversaries.

Check Also

PCU John F. Kennedy’s Seal Crafted to Honor the President

By Capt. Todd Marzano Commanding Officer Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) John F. Kennedy During my time …