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Battle of Midway - Battle

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Battle of Midway
Yamamoto's plan
Prelude to battle
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Initial air attacks

Initial attacks on Midway transport group. 1. Light cruiser Jintsu, flagship 2. Destroyers 3. Transports 4. B-17 attack, 17:00 on 3 June. 5. PBY torpedo attack 01:00 4 June
The first air attack took off at 12:30 on 4 June, consisting of nine B-17s operating from Midway. Four hours later they found the Japanese transport group 570 miles to the west. Under heavy anti-aircraft fire, they dropped their bombs. Though hits were reported, none of the bombs actually landed on target and no significant damage was inflicted. Early the following morning, Akebono Maru sustained the first hit when a torpedo from an attacking PBY flying boat struck her around 01:00. Nagumo launched his initial attack, consisting of 36 dive-bombers, 36 torpedo bombers, and 36 fighters at 04:30 on 4 June. At the same time, he launched eight search aircraft (one 30 minutes late due to technical issues, and one which was forced to turn back), as well as his combat air patrol (CAP).

Japanese reconnaissance arrangements were flimsy, with too few aircraft to adequately cover the assigned search areas, laboring under poor weather conditions to the northeast and east of the task force. Yamamoto's faulty dispositions had now become a serious liability.

American radar picked up the enemy at a distance of several miles and interceptors were soon scrambled. Unescorted bombers headed off to attack the Japanese carrier fleet, their fighter escorts remaining behind to defend Midway. At 06:20, Japanese carrier aircraft bombed and heavily damaged the U.S. base. Midway-based Marine fighter pilots, flying obsolescent Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats and obsolete Brewster F2A-3s, intercepted the Japanese, suffered heavy losses, though they managed to destroy four bombers and at least three Zeros. Most of the U.S. planes were downed in the first few minutes; several were damaged, and only two remained flyable. A total of three Wildcats and 13 Buffalos were shot down. American anti-aircraft fire was accurate and intense, damaging many Japanese aircraft and claiming a third of the Japanese planes destroyed. Another attack would be necessary to neutralize Midway's defenses before troops could be landed on 7 June; American bombers could still use the airbase to refuel and attack the Japanese invasion force.

Having taken off prior to the Japanese attack, American bombers based on Midway made several attacks on the Japanese carrier fleet. These included six TBF Avengers and crews, from Hornet's VT-8, on their first combat operation, and four USAAC B-26 Marauders, all armed with torpedoes. The Japanese shrugged off these attacks with almost no losses, while destroying all but one TBF and two B-26s. In return at least two Japanese fighters were shot down. One B-26, which had been hit by anti-aircraft fire from Akagi, made no attempt to pull out of its run and narrowly missed crashing directly into Akagi's bridge. This experience may well have contributed to Nagumo's determination to launch another attack on Midway, in direct violation of Yamamoto's order that the carrier force should keep its reserve strike force armed for anti-ship operations.

B-17 attack misses Hiryū; this was taken some time between 0800-0830. A Shotai of three Zeros is lined up near the bridge. This was one of several CAPs (Combat Air Patrols) launched during the day.
Admiral Nagumo, in accordance with Japanese carrier doctrine at the time, had kept half of his aircraft in reserve. These comprised two squadrons each of dive-bombers and torpedo bombers, the latter armed with torpedoes, should any American warships be located. The dive bombers were, as yet, unarmed. As a result of the attacks from Midway, as well as the morning flight leader's recommendation regarding the need for a second strike, at 07:15, Nagumo ordered his reserve planes to be re-armed with general purpose contact bombs for use on land targets. This had been underway for about 30 minutes, when, at 07:40, a scout plane from the cruiser Tone signaled the discovery of a sizable American naval force to the east. Nagumo quickly reversed his order and demanded the scout plane ascertain the composition of the American force. Another 40 minutes elapsed before Tone's scout finally radioed the presence of a single carrier in the American force, TF 16 (the other carrier being missed).

Nagumo was now in a quandary. Rear Admiral Yamaguchi Tamon, leading Carrier Division 2 (Hiryū and Sōryū), recommended Nagumo strike immediately with the forces at hand: 18 Aichi D3A2 dive bombers aboard each of Sōryū and Hiryū, and half the ready CAP aircraft. Nagumo's seeming opportunity to hit the American ships, however, was now limited by the fact his Midway strike force would be returning shortly and needing to land promptly or ditch (as is commonly believed). Because of the constant flight deck activity associated with combat air patrol operations during the preceding hour, the Japanese never had an opportunity to spot their reserve for launch. The few aircraft on the Japanese flight decks at the time of the attack were either CAP fighters, or (in the case of Sōryū) fighters being spotted to augment the CAP. Spotting his flight decks and launching aircraft would have required at least 30–45 minutes. Furthermore, by spotting and launching immediately, Nagumo would be committing some of his reserve to battle without proper anti-ship armament; they had just witnessed how easily unescorted American bombers were shot down by their own fighters. (In the event, poor discipline saw many of the Japanese bombers ditch their bombs and attempt to dogfight interceptor F4Fs.) Japanese carrier doctrine preferred fully constituted strikes, and in the absence of a confirmation (until 08:20) of whether the American force contained carriers, Nagumo's reaction was doctrinaire. In addition, the arrival of another American air strike at 07:53 gave weight to the need to attack the island again. In the end, Nagumo chose to wait for his first strike force to land, then launch the reserve force, which would have by then been properly armed and ready. In the final analysis, it made no difference; Fletcher had launched beginning at 07:00, so the aircraft which would deliver the crushing blow were already on their way. There was nothing Nagumo could do about it. This was the fatal flaw of Yamamoto's dispositions: it followed strictly traditional battleship doctrine.

Last Updated ( Thursday, 16 April 2009 20:56 )