One June 4, 1942 the United States Navy won one of the greatest sea battles in history. It wasn’t supposed to happen, but the Navy cryptographers had broken the Imperial Japanese Navy code and knew the exact time and place of the attack. As a result, the United States was able meet and destroy much of the Japanese fleet.
That fleet had planned to accomplish two things. The first objective was to draw the few remaining US Aircraft Carriers into an ambush and sink what remained of the USN air offensive capabilities.
Once that was done, the Japanese would land troops on Midway Island, defeat the US Marines and Sailors there, and seize the island. That done, they could directly threaten the US Mainland and Hawaii.
A victory at the United States to sue for peace on terms favorable to the Japanese. That would leave the Japanese free to concentrated on defeating Australia and New Zealand. The Pacific would then be their territory and Japan would conceivably rule half the world.
It was another meant to be another in an unbroken string of Japanese victories that started even before they attacked Pearl Harbor and bought the US into the war.
Despite a costly victory at the Battle of the Coral Sea, the US was still on the defensive. This was perhaps the lowest point in the War in the Pacific. The Japanese stood on the verge of total victory.
All of that was naught to be because the US defeated the Japanese at Midway.
All of that was for naught as the United States Navy defeated them.
Back in December, I mentioned “A Dawn Like Thunder” in the post Day of Infamy. I recommend that book to you again. It covers the Battle of Midway quite well, especially the sacrifice of Torpedo Squadron 8.
Here is a short film, made by the great director John Ford featuring those doomed sailors.
On the morning of June 4, these men likely knew that the odds of their seeing the sunset were slim at best. Yet, in the best tradition of the U.S. Military they carried their attacks forward.
Here is a another Ford film, a documentary about the battle itself.
The US victory at Midway did not end the war. It did not even stop the Japanese from attacking. What it did do was save the United States from defeat at the hands of the Japanese.
The remaining members of Torpedo Eight would go on to fight at Guadalcanal which turned out to be a close battle that the Japanese almost won. Along the way to victory, there were victories and defeats on both sides, but the United States finally captured and held the island. From there, the Navy and Marines fought island to island to island defeating the Japanese a great cost in lives.
Fast forward two years to June 4, 1944.
The United States Army liberated Rome, Italy from the Germans. Italy had already capitulated, but the Germans had simply started to treat the Italian people as subjects, not allies.
Liberating Rome had taken six months of hard fighting and the victory should have been widely celebrated. In fact, it was for about 24 hours.
Often forgotten is that the campaign in Italy went on for several more months as the Germans slowly retreated up the peninsula back towards Germany. Liberating Rome was significant, but like Midway it wasn’t the end of a war or even a campaign.
The main reason that many people don’t remember the Liberation of Rome is that something that another momentous event took place on June 6, 1944.
The Allies invaded France and started the roll back of German forces that would end up winning the War in Europe.
That too was a near thing as the United States Army forces who landed at Omaha Beach were almost thrown back into the seat. A defeat here would likely have meant that no further attempts to liberate Europe would be attempted for years, if ever.
Here is a nice documentary that mixes footage from the invasion with an interview of a man that landed on the beach that day.
Two Junes, two years apart and the world had changed. Japan and Germany were now on the defensive. By June 1945, the War in Europe would be over, and in August 1945 Japan would surrender.