By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice
June 4 is the 80th anniversary of a pivotal event in WWII history, the Battle of Midway, which occurred in 1942. This battle between the United States and the Imperial Japanese Navy changed the trajectory of the war and occurred six months after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
What Happened during the Battle of Midway?
According to the History Channel, the Midway Islands are located in the Pacific Ocean about halfway between the United States and Japan. They sit northwest of the Hawaiian island chain.
The goal of the Japanese Navy was to engage and destroy the rest of the U.S. Pacific naval fleet through a surprise attack, then invade the Midway Islands. But before the attack, the Japanese Navy was forced to transmit its strategy to attack the U.S. by radio.
Navy cryptanalysts based in Hawaii detected the transmission, providing U.S. forces with precious extra time to prepare a counterattack. Consequently, the U.S. Navy caught the Japanese Navy by surprise because U.S. carrier forces were just east of Midway and ready for battle.
When Japanese Navy planes returned to their aircraft carriers, the U.S. attacked those aircraft carriers and destroyed four of them, causing the Japanese Navy to abandon the battle. This event was a major turn in the right direction for the U.S. forces because Japan’s attempt to establish strategic dominance in the region by destroying the U.S. Pacific fleet was defeated.
Interestingly, the Japanese Vice Admiral, Chuichi Nagumo, who commanded the attack in the Battle of Midway was also the same commander who oversaw the invasion of Pearl Harbor.
Japan Paid a Heavy Price for Losing the Battle of Midway
The Battle of Midway came at a significant cost for Japan. For example, in addition to losing four aircraft carriers and a cruiser ship, Japan lost 300 planes, compared to the 150 aircraft lost by the U.S. In addition, 3,000 Japanese servicemembers were killed during the event, compared to the loss of 360 U.S. servicemembers.
The victory had a substantial impact on raising U.S. servicemember morale, which had suffered greatly during previous battles in the Pacific. By contrast, war morale in Japan dropped significantly.
Related link: Oldest U.S. World War II Veteran Dies at 112
Why the Battle Changed WWII
The opportunity to be prepared for an attack and to launch a counterattack was undoubtedly a major factor in the success that the United States had in the Battle of Midway. According to the Naval History and Heritage Command, this counterattack by U.S. military forces was a massive defeat to the Imperial Japanese Navy through the use of intelligence analysis and the courage, determination, and heroism of United States forces.
The Naval History and Heritage Command also notes that the Battle of Midway was especially significant because the four destroyed Japanese aircraft carriers were all a part of the devastating attacks on Pearl Harbor.
Ultimately, the success of the United States forces derailed the Japanese offensive altogether. After the Battle of Midway, the balance of power in the Pacific Ocean shifted and the Japanese military was forced to postpone its plans to advance on New Caledonia, Fiji, and Samoa.
Take a Few Moments on June 4 to Remember Those Who Fought at the Battle of Midway
On June 4, please take a few moments to remember the servicemembers who fought and gave their lives at the Battle of Midway. Be sure to honor them for protecting our way of life.