USA: Naval District Washington to Celebrate 71st Anniversary of Battle of Midway Victory

Naval District Washington to Celebrate 71st Anniversary of Battle of Midway Victory

Naval District Washington will be honoring the service and sacrifices of the Midway veterans during the 71st Battle of Midway Anniversary at the Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C., June 4, at 9 a.m.

June 4, 1942, was a historical game-changing day for the United States military. On that day, the U.S. Fleet defeated the finest of the Imperial Japanese Navy in the waters off a small Pacific atoll named Midway.

The Battle of Midway spanned three days, at the end of which large-scale Japanese expansion in the Pacific was no more.

“It was a major battle in terms of our own ability to meet the enemy and defeat him,” said Robert Cressman, a historian with the Naval History and Heritage Command. “The skill of the attacks and heroism was great on both sides.”

Cressman says Midway was a significant strategic target. “If the Japanese could capture Midway then they could attack Hawaii anytime.” He said recounting the plan of the Japanese Imperial Navy which was to capture Midway to lure the U.S. carriers that had roamed unimpeded between February and April, into decisive battle and destroy them. The object was to destroy what the Japanese considered its most dangerous element: its carriers.

“The Japanese planned to attack Midway and draw out our carriers,” he said.

But that didn’t happen thanks to intelligence, specifically the work of intelligence station HYPO Americans were ready and waiting. Retired Navy Capt. John Crawford told of how cryptologists broke the Japanese code which revealed what the bearings and location of the Japanese fleet. “It was miraculous, our intelligence predicted the time of the planned attack, the distance and location of the Japanese.”

Crawford was on the bridge of the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (CV-5) when the message came in at 4 a.m. “Our intelligence solved the problem. I was happy as a clam and I was relieved as I read the message to Capt. Buckmaster.”

The message also bore-out the Japanese military’s ominous attack plan. “Many planes were headed to Midway,” said Crawford.

“We were attacked first by dive bombers around noon, then aircraft from the Japanese carrier Hiryu followed our planes and attacked us,” Crawford said.

According to Cressman, from the Yorktown’s perspective, the Hiryu’s dive bombers came in at about 2:00 p.m., and stopped Yorktown with at least three bomb hits. Yorktown repaired, had just gotten underway and was proceeding fast enough to launch planes when the Hiryu torpedo planes (their second strike, unrelated to the first), attacked at about 4:40 p.m., scoring two hits.

Cressman said, June 4, she was attacked twice. Yorktown got hit a third time, by the submarine I-168, June 6.

“After the first attack, she got underway just in time to be attacked a second time, then took two torpedo hits that stopped the ship again, forcing her abandonment,” he said.

The crew was evacuated to several awaiting ships including USS Russell, the ship that now carried Crawford and some of his crewmates.

“What they did was transfer them to another ship and parcel them around,” said Cressman.

The next day USS Hammann was on scene, ready to provide power and maintenance support to the disabled Yorktown. In the area were American destroyers patrolling in an effort to protect Yorktown from the enemy.

Crawford said he was relaxed aboard the rescue ship destroyer Russell, then he learned the tide had changed in favor of the Americans.

“We knew by the time we were picked up that we had sunk most of the Japanese carriers.”

The Japanese had sustained relentless attacks from land and carrier based aircraft. However, danger still stalked the American fleet from beneath the waters. June 6, Japanese submarine I-168, a 1400-ton “Type 6-A” submarine torpedoed USS Yorktown and destroyer Hammann which exploded and sank immediately. The Yorktown went down the next morning.

At the outset of the Battle of Midway, the American fleet boasted three aircraft carriers: USS Hornet, USS Enterprise and USS Yorktown to Japan’s Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu and Soryu.

“We nailed three of the four in the first part of the battle,” said Cressman. “Hiryu, which survived the first devastating attack that morning, took mortal damage that same [June 4] afternoon. She had been the most successful Japanese carrier that day, having launched two attacks that damaged the Yorktown twice, first with bombs, second with torpedoes.”

All told, a devastated Japan lost four of its six fleet aircraft carriers that had attacked Pearl Harbor. Also lost were a large number of highly trained aviation mechanics.

Cressman says the veterans who fought valiantly in the Battle of Midway more than demonstrate the characteristics of honor, courage and commitment.

“The Navy has core values and the people who fought at Midway personify them.”

Robert Cressman is the author of several books, including The Official Chronology of the U.S. Navy in World War II. This chronology of American World War II naval operations greatly expands and updates a work published just ten years after the war. Drawing on information from more than four decades of additional research sponsored by the Naval Historical Center, the work addresses the operational aspects of every theater in the naval war.

Press Release, May 10, 2013; Image: US Navy