The Significance of the Battle of Midway
Natalie L. Cosans
Saint Jane de Chantal
Winning Entry in the 2002 "Battle for Midway Essay Contest"
The Battle of Midway, June 3-7, 1942, was one of the most important naval battles of World War II. The Japanese
assembled a fleet of more than 200 ships for the Battle of Midway. The Japanese believed that the Midway Islands, at the
tip of the Hawaiian Islands, was critical to Japanese defenses after the American strike on Tokyo in April 1942. Intent to capture
Midway and weaken the U.S. Pacific Fleet, the Japanese attacked. The Battle of Midway marked the end of Japanese supremacy
in the Pacific.
The Japanese Admiral Yamamoto and his staff devised a plan to attack Midway Island, and they called it Operation MI. The
Japanese hoped the battle would lead to the destruction of the American fleet and allow them full control of the Pacific Ocean and
a base for raids on the main American Pacific base at Pearl Harbor. The main goal, however, was to draw out and destroy the
remains of the American fleet, especially the carriers that escaped the bombing at Pearl Harbor.
The bold and ruthless offensive was the brainchild of Admiral Yamamoto, Commander-in Chief of the Japanese Fleet.
Yamamoto was anxious to destroy U.S. power in the Pacific, while Japan still had the upper hand (The Readers Digest 136).
Surprise would be the cornerstone of Japan's battle plans. Yamamoto counted on sneaking into the Midway area undetected, as
Nagumo had done at Pearl Harbor. However, it was Yamamoto who would soon be surprised. The United States was now at war
and very much on the alert.
The Americans wanted a major victory after the damaging blow given to them by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor. Many Japanese
ships were moving freely about the Pacific. The Americans needed a way of tracking their movements. American code-breaking
experts worked on decoding the Japanese secret military code. They eventually were able to decode a small portion of the coded
Japanese messages. This important breakthrough allowed the Americans to learn about the Japanese preparations for the Battle
It was Wednesday, May 20, 1942, when allied stations in the Pacific piked up a lengthy encoded radio signal from Admiral
Yamamoto to his fleet. The intercepted message was sent back to Pearl Harbor and deciphered by the U.S. Combat Intelligence
Unit (HYPO). The Japanese were planning an attack somewhere in the Hawaiian Islands. HYPO was able to determine that the
code name for the target was "AF" (The Readers Digest 164). What Admiral Nimitz and others did not know yet was the
location of "AF". Evidence pointed to Midway but was not yet conclusive.
To check to see if the Japanese target was Midway, the U.S. was ordered to send an unencoded radio signal that the island
was having trouble with its water distillation plant. Soon after, the Japanese were signaling that "AF" had water problems. The
Americans were now able to confirm that "AF" was the Japanese code word for Midway. With this knowledge in hand, the
Americans could now prepare for the attack. It would be the Japanese who would be surprised this time.
The Japanese assembled a fleet of more than 200 ships and devised an elaborate plan for the battle that included an attack on
the American base in the Aleutians. This attack was part of Yamamoto's strategy; he wished to deceive Admiral Nimitz into thinking
that the Aleutians were the main objective. Yamamoto was counting on the element of surprise and expected little resistance to
the more than 200 ships he had assembled for the battle.
The Americans knew when and where the attack would come and were able to plan for Midway's defense. Admiral Nimitz was
responsible for developing plans to counter the Japanese battle plans. Nimitz built his defense plans around aircraft carriers. The
airplanes, he reasoned could strike quickly and cover great distances. Nimitz decided to keep his battleships on the U.S. West
Coast. Historians credit him for his superb command decisions.
The Japanese made two assumptions during their planning for the Battle of Midway. The first assumption was that they
would have the element of surprise. Second was that the American counterattack, if any, would come from a great distance. Both
these assumptions were false which were key to the Japanese defeat at Midway.
The U.S. Navy succeeded in an important victory over the Japanese Navy. The Japanese lost four large carriers that had
attacked Pearl Harbor and close to 300 planes including their trained combat pilots. Although outnumbered by the Japanese,
the Americans lost one carrier and 147 planes. The Japanese offensive in the Pacific had been stopped due to superior
cryptanalysis and superb command decisions. The Japanese Navy was no longer the superior naval force in the Pacific.
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