Contents - Hirohito's War
13 Battle of Midway: Nimitz’s Lucky Day
[4–7 June 1942]
[Maps: 13.1, 13.2, 13.3]
Yamamoto’s Advance to Midway and the Aleutians (p 374) Commander Layton, Captain Rochefort, and Naval Intelligence (p 376) Nimitz’s Plans and Preparations (p 379) Japanese and US Aircraft Compared (p 379) The Missing Carriers (p 381) Admiral Spruance to the Fore (p 382) Where were the Pickets? Where were the Spotter Planes? Planning and Operation Failures of the Japanese Navy (p 383) First Contact over Midway (p 386) Spruance Launches Carrier Attack (p 387) US Torpedo Bombers into the ‘Meatgrinder’ (p 390) Lieutenant McClusky’s Lucky Strike and Thirty Minutes that Changed the War (p 391) The Hiryu versus USS Yorktown (p 394) Aftermath and Reactions to Midway (p 395) US and Japanese Aircraft Carriers: Performance and Design (p 398) Explanations, Recriminations and Plaudits (p 400) The Rewards of Victory (p 404)
Yamamoto’s Advance to Midway and the Aleutians: [Map: 13.1] Imperial Navy Order No.18, “The Commander in Chief of the Combined Fleet is to cooperate with the army in the occupation of the Midway and strategic points west of the Aleutians.”1 Thus Yamamoto’s plan to win a decisive naval encounter and thus the Pacific War was set in motion. By 5 May 1942 Yamamoto had won his battle with the army to further expand Japan’s defensive perimeter while at the same time trying to tease out the American carrier fleet with the aim, as always with Japanese strategy, of trying to win the ‘Tsushima-style’ mega-victory. But how would the US carrier fleet be cajoled into putting to sea?
The plan was to occupy America’s Aleutian Islands, which curl out into the northwest Pacific like a dog’s tail from the south of Alaska. In addition Yamamoto’s new naval expedition intended to extend Japan’s reach by the occupation of the Midway Islands that Vice-Admiral Chuichi Nagumo described as the “sentry for Hawaii,”2 albeit one that lay a not inconsiderable 1,300 miles west of Honolulu. These were US territories and surely Admiral Nimitz would have to send his fleet, including his carriers, to their rescue? If so, for Yamamoto and Japan, the hoped for ‘knock-out’ victory could be at hand. As the Americans had done with MacArthur, the Imperial Japanese HQ had plumped up Yamamoto’s reputation for propaganda purposes and in doing so had handed him power, which they would later regret. Opposition to Yamamoto’s plans within Naval HQ in Tokyo was swept aside when he threatened to resign unless he got his way. In terms of his popularity in Japan, Yamamoto was in his pomp.
Yamamoto’s strategy would unfold with an invasion of the Aleutians to be followed immediately with the capture of Midway Island with transports carrying 2,000 troops sent from Saipan. Air support would come from Vice-Admiral Nagumo’s carrier force lying off Midway. Meanwhile Yamamoto, with Japan’s main force, would wait north of Midway blocking the path of the US carrier fleet’s fastest route from Pearl Harbor to the Aleutians. It was a battle plan with split objectives for the Japanese navy; providing support for the occupation of the Aleutians, providing air cover for the amphibious invasion of the heavily defended Midway some 1,670 miles to the south, and lying in wait to destroy the US carrier fleet. Above all Yamamoto assumed that he would dictate the course of events. As Mitsuo Fuchida, a fleet aircrew captain, and Yamamoto’s strike coordinator, who had led the first strike at the Battle of Pearl Harbor, would