Midway

The Battle of Midway was one of the most decisive battles in the history of warfare. In one action, the dreams of the Japanese empire were
extinguished in the flames and explosions which tore through the ships of their ever victorious navy. In the space of a few short hours, half of the
 Japanese heavy fleet carriers were sunk. The highly trained and experienced aircrews who had vanquished all opponents, were dead, blown out
of the sky or drowned in their sunken ships. Japan would never recover from the defeat. She would extend her grasp no further. It would take
three more years to reverse her gains in the last 6 months. Much blood and many tears would flow, but they would go no further.

Midway Chronology

Time* Event  

May 26

  The US carriers Enterprise and Hornet arrive at Pearl Harbor for immediate refueling after their aborted attempt to join the battle in the Coral Sea. They are ordered to move out to Midway when replenishment is completed.

May 27

 

Admiral Nagumo’s carrier force (Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu and Soryu) left port for Midway. Escorting the force were two battleships, three cruisers and a swarm of destroyers. The victors of Pearl Harbor, the scourge of the South Pacific and Indian Ocean, headed to destiny.

The US carrier Yorktown, still showing the scares of battle from the Coral Sea battle, enters Pearl Harbor’s dry-dock to undergo emergency repairs.

May 28

 

Task Force 16 sets sail for Midway Island to meet the Japanese invasion force. The force of two carriers (Enterprise and Hornet), six cruisers and nine destroyers set sail to do battle with nearly 90 Japanese warships. The slow battleships were intentionally left behind and ordered to protect America’s west coast. Nimitz had fully grasped the concepts of modern speed over firepower and the supremacy of airpower in naval action, something his counterpart Yamato was yet to learn.

On the other side of the Pacific, the Japanese Midway attack force sets sail. Included in the massive armada is the new battleship Yamato. This ship, the most powerful battleship in the world, carried 18” guns. The fleet includes two other 16” battleships and a swarm of cruisers and destroyers, as well as troop transports and support ships.

May 30
  In an amazing feat of dockyard efficiency and perseverance, Yorktown, still showing the scares of battle and showing the signs of hasty repair left Pearl Harbor to join the fleet at Midway Island. Task force 17 consisted of Yorktown, 2 cruisers and 5 destroyers.
                          
June 3
0900 PBY "Catalina" flying boats made contact with the Japanese support group 700 miles west of Midway.
1520   Nine B-17s from Midway made a high level bombing attack against the support group, now 570 miles from Midway.
June 4
0130   Four Catalina's flying boats attack the Japanese support force - they missed.
0430 Both sides launch scouts. Yorktown and PBYs on Midway Island provide the service for the Americans while the Japanese use
carrier borne as well as surface ship based sea planes to provide the coverage. The Japanese also launch their Midway strike (36 Vals, 36 Kates, 36 Zeroes).  
0445 The Midway strike flight finishes launching and heads for the island while Nagumo brings his Kate torpedo bombers on deck prepared for a launch against the American carriers if spotted.  
0500 The seaplane scout from the Japanese cruiser Tone was delayed in launch due to a faulty catapult but was launched only a half hour late.  
0520 Catalina's spot Nagumo's carriers. The Japanese Zero fighters pursue the Americans and begin a game of "cat and mouse" among the clouds above the Japanese fleet.  
0545 Catalina scout plane makes its first brief report on spotting the enemy fleet but details were not yet available.  
0555 Midway radar reports that it has identified the incoming enemy air raid and scrambles all planes still on the island.  

0600   All planes on Midway Island have taken off, some stay to provide fighter protection while others proceed to the recently spotted Japanese ships.  
0605 A detailed report from the Catalina scout plane is sent. Yorktown's carrier based scout planes are recalled. Enterprise and Hornet steer for the enemy fleet and prepare to launch an all out strike at maximum range.  
0615   Twenty antiquated F2F Brewster Buffalos and six modern F4F Wildcat Marine fighters meet the Japanese air raid heading for Midway. The short melee ended with the downing of several of the Japanese bombers, and heavy losses to the Marine fighters (17 shot down and 7 badly damaged).
0635 The Japanese raid over Midway begins.  
0700 The Japanese raid over Midway is completed and the flight commander, Lt. Tomonaga, reports that a follow-up raid is needed to finish off the island's defenses.
0705   US aircraft from Enterprise and Hornet are ordered to make an all out strike at the Japanese carriers. The raid consists of 29 torpedo bombers, 67 dive bombers and 20 escorting fighters. It would take an hour to launch and assemble the groups for the raid.  
0710   Four B-26's armed with torpedoes and ten Marine torpedo bombers from Midway made contact with the Japanese carrier force and attacked. Japanese fighters intercepted the Americans and shot most of them down before they could launch their weapons. None of the attacks succeeded in hitting a target.  
0715 Nagumo, having just seen an attack on his group from Midway and not yet having any contact reports from his scout planes, decides to take the Kate torpedo bombers below deck to the hangars and have them rearmed with high-explosive bombs for a follow-up attack on Midway.  
0730 The Japanese scout plane from 'Tone' (the one which was delayed by 30 minutes) reports that it has spotted an enemy formation of 10 ships but neglects to provide information regarding composition (carriers in particular). Nagumo suspends the rearmament of the Kate's until clarification of the spotting report can be made.  
0750 Concerned about lack of fuel, Enterprise orders her dive bombers to proceed to the target and the other flights would proceed when assembled. Contact between the various groups was lost almost immediately.  
0755 Sixteen Marine dive bombers from Midway attack Nagumo's carriers. All available fighters are sent aloft to confront the new threat.
0810   The Japanese scout plane from 'Tone' reports that it has spotted an enemy formation of 5 cruisers and 5 destroyers. Relieved that there were no carriers in the force, but the report is short lived as a new American attack is reported to be heading in.  
0815   Fifteen B-17's, flying at 20,000 feet make a high altitude bombing run at Nagumo's carriers, no hits are achieved.  
0820 The Tone's scout plane reports that it has spotted an American carrier with the group previously spotted.  
0820 Eleven Marine bomb armed scout planes from Midway attack Nagumo's carriers.
0825   The US submarine Nautilus launches torpedoes at one of the battleships escorting Nagumo's force but the Japanese are able to dodge the pathetically slow American torpedoes.  
0830 Yorktown commences launching strike aircraft (17 dive-bombers, 12 Torpedo bombers)  
0835 The Midway strike force, low on fuel and with some seriously damaged aircraft, makes contact with the Japanese carrier force and requests immediate landing. Nagumo orders his bombers rearmed with torpedoes and armor-piercing bombs for a strike on the US carriers.
0840 The American strike groups begin to arrive in the area that they assumed the Japanese carriers would be only to find empty seas. Unknown to the strike leaders, Nagumo had changed course to the Northeast to close with Yorktown. Hornet's dive bombers headed Southeast (toward Midway) into empty sea. The two torpedo bomber groups spotted smoke on the northern horizon and headed for that. Enterprise's dive bombers headed Northwest (back along the expected path of the Japanese carriers). The strike was now completely uncoordinated.  
0920 The Japanese, their strike aircraft rearmed, on deck begin fueling and preparations for takeoff, receive report that an American raid is coming in.
           
0925   Hornet's torpedo bombers head into the attack. They were not protected by fighters and in order to deliver their weapons, they had to fly low and slow. The patrolling Japanese fighters pounced on the easy targets and one-by-one, each of the American planes was shot down. Only one man, Ensign George H. Gray survived the onslaught. Through the remainder of the day, he would cling desperately to a seat cushion not daring to inflate his raft for fear that it would be spotted by the Japanese fleet which surrounded him.
0940 The Enterprise's torpedo bombers attack the Japanese carriers. The defending Zeroes and anti-aircraft fire wrecked havoc among the attacking aircraft.  
0945   Enterprise's dive bombers sight a Japanese destroyer (which had been tasked to drive off the Nautilus and was now returning to the carrier group). The group commander decided to follow the ship's heading and soon after spotted the Japanese carriers.
1000 The Yorktown's torpedo bombers attack the Japanese carriers. The defending Zeroes and anti-aircraft fire wrecked havoc among the attacking aircraft.  
1020 The last group of American attack aircraft, a combination of Yorktown and Enterprise dive-bombers, arrived independently over the Japanese carriers. The Japanese fighter protection had been spent destroying the previous waves of attackers and the carriers stood defenseless against the American raiders. The Japanese decks were at their most vulnerable, still crammed with fully armed and fueled strike aircraft. All Admiral Nagumo could do was watch the destruction of his once proud fleet. 

 Akagi, Nagumo's flagship, was struck amidships. The bomb penetrated the deck and detonated torpedoes in the hanger. This destroyed the flight deck and started numerous fires. A second bomb hit among the planes on deck starting a massive fire that engulfed the ship.  Akagi was doomed. Nagumo transferred his flag from the stricken ship minutes later to the cruiser Nagara. 

Kaga received four bomb hits. One blew up a fuel truck on deck which threw burning gas over the island, incinerating everyone on the bridge. The other three bombs hit the packed aircraft and the entire flight deck was ablaze. The inferno was out of control in minutes. 

Yorktown's bombers hit Soru, striking with three bombs. One bomb penetrated to the hanger deck and caused massive damage while the others hit among the planes on deck starting fires which spread throughout the ship in minutes. 

In the span of 5 minutes, the Japanese carrier strike fleet, the dreams of victory and empire were engulfed in flame and destruction.  

1100 Yorktown launches scout planes to search west for the survivors of the Japanese "carrier" group. Meanwhile Hiryu launches her surviving torpedo planes and half her escorts for a raid on the American carriers.
1150 The American strike force lands back at their carriers and reports that one Japanese carrier (Hiryu) survived.
1155 Hiryu launches her torpedo planes and the last of her fighters to attack the American carriers.  
1200   Yorktown radar picks up an incoming raid. The raid consisted of 18 Val dive bombers escorted by Zeroes. Yorktown's fighters hit the attackers, killing 10 of the bombers. Two more fell to anti-aircraft. However, the remaining Japanese airmen, showing the skill and bravery that had brought them this far delivered their bombs with devastating effect. One bomb hit the flight deck, tearing a huge hole in the wooden deck. A second bomb, hit the funnel. A third bomb penetrated four decks and blew up deep in the bowels of the ship. Fires started which threatened the ships magazine and fuel bunkers. The funnel hit extinguished the engines and speed dropped as the boilers lost draft.  
1235   Yorktown's flight deck is repaired, but her engines come to a stop and she is dead in the water. Enterprise begins landing Yorktown aircraft as Japanese raid has disabled her.
1325 Yorktown repairs her plant and begins refiring her boilers. She is able to make 20 knots.  
1350 Yorktown's fires, save for the fire below deck, are under control and flight operations recommence.  
1400   Yorktown's radar reports another incoming raid. Fighters intercepted the Japanese torpedo planes and shot several down.  
1430   Yorktown scout planes spot the survivors of the Japanese "carrier" force.
1445 Japanese torpedo planes, under intense anti-aircraft fire, drive home their attacks on Yorktown. Two torpedoes struck Yorktown. All steam and electrical power was lost, the rudder was jammed, and the ship was again dead in the water. The ship quickly flooded and took on a 26-degree list. Counter-flooding was impossible with no power for the pumps and the ship was in danger of capsizing. The order went out to abandon ship.
           
1530   Enterprise commences launch of a strike force of 24 dive bombers.
1605   Hornet launches a strike force of 16 dive bombers.
1640   Kaga, fires still burning out of control, was ordered abandoned.  
1705   Enterprise strike force hits Japanese carrier Hiryu and battleship. Hiryu is pummeled with bombs and is burning out of control as the American bombers depart.  
1715 After fighting fires for seven hours, Akagi was finally abandoned.  
1730 Hornet dive bombers attack Japanese force hitting a battleship and heavy cruiser. The carrier Hiryu is ignored as it was completely engulfed in fire.
1810   Twelve B-17s from Oahu made a low level attack on the Japanese "carrier" group.
1913   Fires still burning throughout the ship, Soryu slips beneath the waves.  
1920 The last of Enterprise's and Hornet's combat air patrols lands as night falls.
1925   Two massive explosions ripped through Kaga, tearing her apart. The wreck sank within minutes.
June 5
0230 The burned out hulk of the Hiryu finally sinks.  
0430 B-17s from Midway scout for enemy ships  
0700 Twelve Marine dive-bombers launched from Midway targeting Japanese cruisers.
0810   Marine dive-bombers, commence attacks on cruiser - ineffective  
0830   Eight B-17 make a high altitude bombing run against the cruiser group
1320 Seven B-17s set out to attack the remnants of the strike group, contacting a single cruiser 300 miles NW Midway, which it attacked.  
1435   Viero takes Yorktown in tow, making 2 knots.
1500   Enterprise launches 32 dive bombers intended for the now carrier-less carrier group..
1510   Hornet launches strike force of 26 dive bombers, also targeting the "carrier" group..
1545 Five B-17s set out to attack the remnants of the strike group, contacting a single cruiser 425 miles NW Midway, which it attacked.
1830   Enterprise and Hornet groups make contact with an enemy cruiser and attack it.  
2000   Enterprise and Hornet recover their strike groups.  
June 6
0510 TF16 launches scouts operates west semi-circle to 200 miles.
0645   Scouts contacted cruisers Mikuma and Mogami with 3-4 destroyers 435 miles west of Midway.  
0755 Hornet launches a strike force of 26 dive bombers.
0950   Hornet strike force attacks a group of Japanese cruisers and destroyers.  
1045   Enterprise launches 34 strike aircraft at the enemy cruiser force.  
1150   The Enterprise strike group attacks Mogami and Mikuma, sinking the later.  
           
June 7
1200 A salvage crew boards Yorktown as destroyer Hammann is secured alongside to assist.  
1335   The Japanese submarine I-168, sent by Yamamoto to track down the crippled Yorktown, found her target and launched four torpedoes. One torpedo missed, One hit the Hammann, sinking her almost immediately and the two others struck Yorktown. Shortly after Hammann had sunk, her depth charges exploded causing more damage to Yorktown. The list was reduced to 17 degrees but shock damage was extensive. The salvage crew was removed and would be put back on board the next morning after contact was made with a fleet salvage tug. However, at 0330 the next morning, Yorktown started to listing to port again. By 0500, she turned over on her side and sank. The Battle of Midway was over.  

  * All times are in Z+12 and rounded to the nearest 5 minutes


COMINT and Midway

In this day and age, it is difficult to imagine the difficulties faced in the intelligence services of World War II in gathering and collecting information on the enemy.
Today, satellites can pick up any electronic transmission and super computers can break the most extravagant codes.Today, satellites can pick up any electronic
 transmission and super computers can do anything from convert PDF to Word to break the most extravagant codes.” and link the words “convert PDF to Word”    
 Although not as formidable as Hollywood or Tom Clancy would like us to believe, it is quite remarkable what can be done today. Our intelligence services have
extensive capabilities to intercept, decode and interpret messages. This is the essence of modern "communications intelligence" and it had it's birth at Midway.

With the massive losses sustained by the US Navy at the outset of the war in the Pacific, the Americans were forced into a distinctly defensive posture. This meant that
the initiative, the choice of time and place to fight, would be with the Japanese. Since the resources were to scarce to guard against all contingents, the Americans were
forced to guess where the blow would fall and move their meager forces to counter the threat. One tool that was beginning to prove itself was the fledgling COMINT
groups. The Battle of Coral Sea was the first time that the analysis provided by COMINT was used in a tactical battle, and that action showed that COMINT could
be decisive if acted upon in a timely manner. 

COMINT consists of two distinct phases - interception/decoding and interpretation. Communications is one of the most important aspects of military science.
Throughout history, armies have always strived to capture the enemy's messages. Over time, fast men on horses, gave way to telegraphs and radios, but the need
to intercept those messages never stopped. Codes have always been used to mask the meaning of messages and cryptology, code generating and code breaking,
was a major intelligence function for centuries. At the beginning of World War II, the Americans were in very good shape in this area. Most of the Japanese
diplomatic and military codes had been broken and  could be read, if not in real time, then with minimal delays. The US Navy often knew as much or more
than the local Japanese commanders.

However, this did not mean that they knew what they were reading. The COMINT history leading up to the Battles of the Coral Sea and Midway,
showed the importance of the second phase - interpretation. 

On April 24 OP20G, the US Navy communication intelligence group, led by Lt. Commander Edwin Layton, intercepted a message a indicating that the Japanese
were about to commence a major offensive operation. It called for the occupation of Port Moresby, Tulagi and a place called "RY" which was as yet undetermined.
Times of departure were noted and from that, it was determined that the offensive would occur in late May. Based on this information and several other intercepts
over the next few days, Nimitz felt confident in sending the carriers Lexington and Enterprise to the Coral Sea. The Americans intercepted the invasion force, and
although the battle was a draw tactically, the Americans had stopped a major Japanese threat and achieved a strategic victory.

More importantly, the action had proved the worth of COMINT and confidence in the new service was gaining. During the first week of May, the Americans knew
that another major attack was in the works for late May or early June. An intercept on May 6 indicated that all the Japanese fleet carriers were preparing for action.
Nimitz had four carriers at this time. Yorktown and Lexington were in the Coral Sea, while Enterprise and Hornet were heading there. Nimitz was in a quandary,
if he were to have any force to counter this major Japanese offensive, he would have to know where to send his carriers in short order.

During the next week, OP20G received additional information on the Japanese order of battle, including large contingents of landing and occupation forces.
They had also determined that the target location was "AF", but had no idea where "AF" was. Nimitz felt that the logical target was Oahu. Layton knew
that "AH" was the code for Oahu but was unable to convince Nimitz that the island was not the target. Layton had already surmised that the "A" designation
was for islands in the Hawaiian chain but that could include anything from Oahu to Midway.

In mid-May, Layton received permission to send a message in plain language (easily intercepted by the Japanese), that Midway's distillation plant had broken
down and there was a serious shortage of fresh water on Midway. The Japanese dutifully sent their message to their forces that "AR is short of water".
On May 17, Nimitz began moving his forces to Midway. Yamamoto, hoping to draw the US Navy into an ambush at Midway, was himself about
to be ambushed, all thanks to COMINT, the unsung hero of Midway.


Hollywood and War

I must admit, I like war movies. However, I'm also enough of a historian to realize that most of them are unadulterated crap when it comes to
telling the truth about a war. Either they report the myth, or they throw in some ridiculous love story, or they simply spew propaganda.
Sometimes they manage to do all three. 

But every once in a while Hollywood, or more importantly the entertainment industry worldwide, gets their act together and actually produces
something that is historically accurate, relying on the truth of battle for tension and excitement instead of some nonsense some pathetic playwright
dreams up. Das Boot, The Longest Day, Dawn Patrol, VTora Tora Tora and Zulu are some of the best.

Included in this list is Midway. This movie does a remarkable job of presenting a historically accurate picture of this battle. There is a silly love
interest, but even this isn't bad because it is overlaid with the Japanese internment issue of the day. The history is good, the story is good,
Midway
is a good film and I'd recommend it to anyone interested in the battle - or simply a good war movie.

  

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