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Battle of Midway

October 21, 2019 in History

By History.com Editors

The Battle of Midway was an epic clash between the U.S. Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy that played out six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The U.S. Navy’s decisive victory in the air-sea battle (June 3-6, 1942) and its successful defense of the major base located at Midway Island dashed Japan’s hopes of neutralizing the United States as a naval power and effectively turned the tide of World War II in the Pacific.

Japan’s Ambitions in the Pacific

Japan’s efforts to establish clear naval and air superiority in the western Pacific first hit a snag in the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942, when the U.S. fleet turned back a Japanese invasion force headed for New Guinea. Despite the setback, Admiral Isaroku Yamamoto, commander of the Imperial Japanese Navy, was convinced his forces enjoyed a numerical advantage over the Americans.

Hoping to replicate the success of the Pearl Harbor attack, Yamamoto decided to seek out and crush the rest of the U.S. Pacific fleet with a surprise attack aimed at the Allied base at Midway Island. Midway is located in the Pacific Ocean almost directly in between the United States and Japan.

After a diversionary attack by a smaller Japanese force on the Aleutian Islands, off the coast of Alaska, Yamamoto planned a three-pronged approach toward Midway. First, an air attack on the island launched from four first-line Japanese aircraft carriers, the Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu and Soryu, commanded by Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo. Second, an invasion force of ships and soldiers led by Vice Admiral Nobutake Kondo. And finally, once expected U.S. reinforcements from Pearl Harbor arrived, a joint strike by Nagumo’s forces and Yamamoto’s own fleet, which would be waiting 600 miles to the west.

The Battle of Midway.

U.S. Gains Advantage Thanks to Navy Codebreakers

U.S. Navy cryptanalysts had begun breaking Japanese communication codes early in 1942, and knew for weeks ahead of time that Japan was planning an attack in the Pacific at a location they called “AF.” Suspecting it was Midway, the Navy decided to send out a false message from the base claiming it was short of fresh water. Japan’s radio operators sent out a similar message about “AF” soon afterward, confirming the location of the planned attack.

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Source: HISTORY

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