On Saturday, April 18, 1942 Sixteen United States Army Air Corps B25B bombers took off from the United States Navy aircraft carrier Hornet and flew to Tokyo, Japan. Upon arrival over Japan, the bombers attacked various targets in the city. They then flew to China where the surviving air crews were eventually repatriated. Not all of the flight crews survived. Three were Killed in Action, Eight captured by the Japanese, with only Four surviving imprisonment.
Damage to the targets in Tokyo was minimal, but the Japanese were severely shaken that any allied planes were able to reach the homeland and drop bombs. If only they knew what lay ahead…
As a result of the attack Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto decided that the United States base on the Midway Islands needed to be captured. That would give the Japanese a base from which to pose a direct threat to the Hawaiian Islands and thus force the Americans to negotiate a peace with Japan .
The plan was brilliant. Attack and capture Midway, which would force the US Navy to send it’s meager (compared to later in the war) force of aircraft carriers out defend and retake the islands. The invasion force would consist of battleships and troop carriers, which would be tempting targets for the Americans. Lying in wait for the American carriers would be four Japanese carriers. Soryu, Hiryu, Akagi, and Kaga. These were four of the six carriers that had mounted the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The Americans were supposed to be crushed by the overwhelming naval power of the Imperial Japanese Navy, but as the saying goes, “The best laid plans of mice and men, oft go awry.”
Unbeknownst to the Japanese, American cryptographers had broken the Japanese code and were aware of the plan. As a result, it was the American Navy that sprang the trap, not the Japanese.
The battle started early on the morning of June 4, 1942. At 0925 the first American torpedo bombers started to attack the Japanese ships. In quick order, they were shot down and their crews mostly lost. An hour later the tide turned as American dive bombers attacked the Akagi, Soryu, and Kaga. Within minutes the three carriers were aflame and out of service. By the early evening, the Hiryu had also been found and attacked. By the next morning all four carriers, along with most of their crews, would be at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. The battle ran through June 6, with more Japanese ships being damaged or sunk. The invasion of Midway was called off due to the loss of air cover.
The major US losses were the aircrews from the Enterprise, Hornet, and Yorktown torpedo bomber squadrons, and the Yorktown itself.
That’s an incredibly brief synopsis of the battle, and books many books have been written about it.
“Miracle at Midway” is an older book, but well worth reading.
“Shattered Sword” is a newer book and is a well detailed account of the battle from the Japanese perspective.
Just released is Never Call Me a Hero: A Legendary American Dive-Bomber Pilot Remembers the Battle of Midway by N. Jack “Dusty” Kleiss, was a pilot who flew a bomber at the Battle of Midway. He died last year shortly after his 100th birthday, but he left us his remembrance of the battle. Mine should be arriving sometime tomorrow on the 75th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Midway.
Here is a US Navy training film from the 1950s. It contains an analysis of the battle.
And a documentary made by famous director John Ford.
Finally, Ford’s tribute to Torpedo Squadron 8. Most of the Naval Aviators seen in this move died in the early phase of the battle.