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Deck Log (June 2021): A Closer Look At The Battle of Midway

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Last month, we celebrated VE Day. But the European theater of WWII was not the only venue in which the U.S. military and her allies were successful. Take the Battle of Midway, for example.

During WWII in the Pacific, the United States had been caught off-guard by the attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. And then in May of 1942, Japan enjoyed some success by destroying the USS Lexington and damaging the Yorktown.

Thanks to Naval Cryptographers, the U.S. Fleet was forewarned of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s (IJN) intention to attack Midway Island, allowing the carriers Yorktown, Enterprise and Hornet, along with 8 cruisers, 15 destroyers, and 16 submarines to be positioned strategically for the attack.

Expecting four or five Japanese carriers to close Midway from the northwest, Nimitz's Operations Plan 29-42 - detailing the defense of Midway - directed Fletcher and Spruance to operate northeast of Midway, on the flank of the anticipated enemy thrust. Fletcher and Spruance were to avoid placing themselves between the enemy and Midway, and instead "inflict maximum damage on enemy by employing strong attrition tactics." In a separate letter, Nimitz continued: "You will be governed by the principle of calculated risk, which you shall interpret to mean the avoidance of exposure of your force to attack by superior enemy forces without good prospect of inflicting ... greater damage on the enemy."

The battle occurred from 4-7 June 1942, during which the U.S. lost the Yorktown and the destroyer Hammann, including about 150 aircraft and 307 personnel (3 were prisoners).

However, the IJN lost 4 fleet carriers and a heavy cruiser, 248 aircraft, and over 3000 personnel. Although Admiral Spruance took some criticism for not pursuing the Japanese fleet following the battle, the likelihood that a follow-up pursuit would be successful is doubtful for a number of reasons. U.S. destroyers were critically low on fuel; American air groups had suffered considerable losses, including most of the torpedo bombers; and the U.S. would be unable to launch aircraft after nightfall. These problems would have given a likely edge to the retreating Japanese fleet.

Still, the heavy losses on the part of the IJN proved to be a turning point in the Pacific Theater, a devastating blow that Japan was unable to overcome. Although the U.S. suffered significant loss, the U.S. war machine was better prepared to bounce back from this loss. This battle paved the way for the Guadalcanal campaign, and began the attrition of the IJN that ultimately weakened Japan and allowed the Allied forces to stop the spread, and then push back the Japanese territory.

This June, we at Old Salt Coffee Company hoist our mugs to the personnel who fought valiantly in the Pacific Theater of WWII. Hoo-yah!


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