10 Facts About the Battle of Midway

Gabrielle Kramer

3 mins

05 Jun 2018

The Pacific theatre of World War Two is not given much attention in Britain today but it made up a substantial part of the conflict. Fought between the Allies and the Empire of Japan, it lasted from 7 December 1941 until 2 September 1945.

One of the most significant confrontations of the Pacific War began on 4 June 1942 when Japanese planes launched bombing raids on Midway, a group of islands under US control. Here are 10 facts about the battle.

1. US intelligence detected that an attack was coming

Japan’s Naval General Operational Code used book ciphers, making it significantly easier to break than the Germans’ Enigma and Lorenz codes. As a result, US troops had been alerted earlier in the year that Japan was planning an attack.

2. The Midway attack was commanded by the same man who oversaw Pearl Harbour

Chuichi Nagumo went on to kill himself in the later Battle of Saipan.

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3. It was one of two simultaneous attacks launched by Japan

At the beginning of the Battle of Midway, the Japanese Army was also attempting to invade the Aleutian Islands. Some believe the Aleutian attack was launched to draw US forces away from Midway, making the latter invasion easier for the Japanese.

4. The US was still recovering from Pearl Harbour

The US Air Force and Navy were majorly depleted in the surprise 1941 attack. All eight of the navy’s battleships were damaged, with two lost completely and the rest taken out of commission. This meant that the US had none available to fight in the Battle of Midway.

5. American vessels were seriously outnumbered

A map of the Battle of Midway produced by the United States Military Academy.

The Japanese attack on Midway involved four aircraft carriers, seven battleships, 150 support ships, 248 carrier aircraft and 15 submarines. The US defence, meanwhile, was made up of just three aircraft carriers, 50 support ships, 233 carrier aircraft, 127 land-based aircraft on Midway and eight submarines.

6. The Japanese were expected to win

Considering the numbers, many thought the Japanese would win the battle and invade Midway. It had been more than 50 years since the Japanese Navy had lost a battle.

7. Yet the US won

Despite their vessels being vastly outnumbered, successful US intelligence and careful planning led to a decisive victory for the Americans.

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8. The Japanese suffered major losses

After four days of battle, Japan withdrew from Midway on 7 June. In their attempt to invade the US territory, the Japanese lost nearly 300 aircraft, all four of its aircraft carriers and 3,500 men.

9. But they did sink a US aircraft carrier

The aircraft carrier USS Yorktown is hit by a Japanese torpedo during the Battle of Midway.

Despite its ultimate failure at Midway, Japan did destroy a number of US aircraft and naval vessels, including one destroyer and the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown.

10. It was a turning point in the Pacific

The US had been on the defence in the Pacific theatre since the attack on Pearl Harbour. But after the Battle of Midway, Japan and the US more or less switched roles, with the former spending much of the rest of the war defending – rather than attacking – territories in the Pacific.