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‘Stunning And Decisive’: U.S. Navy Commemorates 80th Anniversary Of Victory At Midway

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USA/Japan: TBD-1 torpedo bombers on the deck of USS Enterprise before launching an attack against four Japanese carriers in the Battle of Midway, 4 June, 1942. The squadron lost ten of fourteen aircraft during the attack. (Photo by: Pictures from History/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Pictures from History/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

While many paused on June 6 to remember the 78th anniversary of the Normandy Invasion — better known as Operation Overlord or D-Day — another monumental anniversary passed with much less fanfare: the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Midway.

The battle began on June 4, 1942, and ended on June 7 — and it represented not just a turning point in the Pacific theater but the first major naval defeat suffered by a previously unbeatable Japanese Imperial Navy. Military historians have referred to Midway as “the most stunning and decisive blow in the history of naval warfare.”

Vice Admiral Nagumo’s First Carrier Strike Force began bombing Midway Island — just over 1000 miles northwest of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii — early in the morning on June 4. Within several hours, despite heavy losses early on, U.S. forces responded. Dive bombers from the USS Enterprise and the USS Yorktown engaged three Japanese aircraft carriers: Soryu, Akagi and Kaga.

The Yorktown, which had only just returned to sea after spending several days in dry dock at Pearl Harbor for repairs, was stuck early on and rendered dead in the water.

By late afternoon, the Yorktown had been abandoned and survivors diverted to other ships. Dive bombers from the USS Enterprise moved on the Japanese carrier Hiryu, landing half a dozen direct hits.

The larger B-17 — Boeing’s Flying Fortress — bombers took off from Midway Island and joined the battle. By day’s end, between the B-17s and the dive-bombers, American pilots had damaged or destroyed three of the Japanese aircraft carriers.

For two more days, B-17s continued to launch from Midway while the USS Hornet and USS Enterprise supplied fighters and dive-bombers — and they proceeded to pick off several more of the Japanese cruisers and planes in the process.

On the afternoon of June 6th, torpedos struck the already-damaged Yorktown — and early on the morning of the 7th, the carrier disappeared beneath the waves for the last time. “She turned over on her port side and sank in about 3,000 fathoms of water with all her battle flags flying.”

All told, the Battle of Midway cost the Japanese Imperial Navy dearly: they lost 4 carriers, 256 planes, and roughly 3000 men. The United States, in contrast, lost only one carrier — the Yorktown — along with 150 aircraft and 307 men.

Their sacrifice gave the United States the momentum it needed to wrest control of the Pacific from the Japanese.

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