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Battle of Midway, a naval battle fought near the Central Pacific island of Midway, was the most important victory for the United States in World War 2. Before this battle Japanese forces were on the offensive, gradually capturing territory throughout Asia and the Pacific. Japan was now the dominant naval force after severely damaging the U.S. Pacific Fleet during the attack of Pearl Harbor six months prior (Newman). Japan was convinced that they were now in position to expand their empire in the Pacific, and Midway was the next strategic move. By capturing Midway the Japanese planned to use the island as an advance base, and hoped to further decimate the U.S. Pacific Fleet into eventual surrender. However, successful American communication intelligence resulted in breaking codes that provided crucial information on Japan's strategy to attack Midway. Being prepared for the conflict the U.S. Pacific Fleet were able to surprise Japan by being in position prior to the strike. This resulted in the sinking of four Japanese aircraft carriers, while losing only one carrier of their own. By successfully defending Midway, and by essentially wiping out the air power of the Japanese Fleet, the U.S. were able to regain Naval supremacy in the Pacific and focus their attention on the Europe-first strategy to eliminate the advance of the Third Reich in the European theater of the war.
The Japanese surprise attack on the United States Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 resulted in the decimation of the U.S. Navy. Without the support of its Navy, the American ground forces in the Pacific fought from a severe disadvantage for the first few months of the War as the Japanese took control of most of the islands in the Pacific and mainland Southeast Asia. During this time, the United States did attempt several bombing missions over Tokyo by flying off the carrier USS Hornet but the missions proved to be more psychologically beneficial for the Americans than militarily advantageous. The effort by the United States, however, did confirm to the Japanese the importance of their maintaining their stranglehold on the Pacific Islands in order to prevent the United States from establishing an airbase that would facilitate regular bombing raids onto the Japanese islands (Buell).
By the Spring of 1942, the Japanese Empire had attained most, if not all, of all their pre-War objectives. They had virtually neutralized the economic influence of the other nations involved in the area. These nations, the United States, Australia, Great Britain, and the Netherlands had been removed from the area and Japan was poised to extend its influence over the entire area. Unfortunately, Japan, like most imperialist nations, was not content with what it had already attained and began looking toward China and Manchuria. Historically, China had always represented a challenge for Japan and Manchuria was a barrier that the Japanese felt was necessary to protect them from the Russians. The Japanese Navy, meanwhile, was also not content with maintaining the status quo as it existed in the Spring of 1942. Instead, the Navy had eyes on the Hawaiian Islands and in order to successfully stage such an assault the Japanese needed to secure some islands near Hawaii that would serve as a support base for such an assault. One of the island groups that were important to such a strategy was the Midway islands.
The Japanese knew that any effort against the United States or its possessions had to be done quickly. The Japanese leadership recognized that the United States was a sleeping giant whose manufacturing and manpower capability was much greater than theirs and that allowing the United States to develop their resources would be disastrous for the Japanese Empire. This is what precipitated the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and it contributed to the Japanese fashioning any new strategy in the Pacific theater.
As the Japanese were preparing their operations for the Midway Island assault, the Japanese were under the impression that the United States was operating from a distinct disadvantage because they were without the services of two of her carriers, the U.S.S. Lexington and USS Yorktown (Fuchida). To the surprise of the Japanese, and to their ultimate demise, this information was incorrect as the U.S.S. Yorktown actually played a significant role in the ensuing battle. Relying on this misinformation, the Japanese dispatched the largest assembly of naval power toward Midway with the intent of engaging what they believed to be a weakened American navy. The goal of the Japanese Navy was to destroy the last vestiges of the American Navy which they believed would be either stationed at Midway or would be dispatched there from Pearl Harbor in order to protect the forces that were already there.
In an effort to provide a diversion, a limited force under the direction of Vice Admiral Hosogaya, led an invasion of the American holdings in the Aleutian Islands. The purpose of this diversion was to disguise the fact that their true target was Midway and by attacking the Aleutians the Japanese hoped to confuse the situation. The Japanese intelligence failed them as they not only did not appreciate the size of the United States fleet in the Pacific but they also were not aware that the United States' intelligence had acquired prior knowledge of their plans regarding an invasion of Midway. The United States' Navy had fortuitously had partially broken the Japanese naval code and, by doing so, had intercepted enough information to predict that the Japanese operation was intending to focus their main efforts on Midway. The breaking of this code allowed the American forces to take preparations necessary to discourage Japanese Midway efforts and to mount some counter intelligence of its own by allowing the Japanese to believe that the American forces on Midway were low on water. This was a vital subterfuge as Midway had no natural water supply and being short on water could drastically undermine the American forces ability to endure a long embattlement. The American leaders also allowed the Japanese to believe that the American Navy was short of carriers. The Americans kept its carriers south of Midway and away from Japanese observers. The combination of American intelligence efforts built the confidence of the Japanese invaders and contributed to the ultimate outcome.
The Japanese losses in the Battle of Midway were substantial. They lost four carriers that had formed the major part of the Japanese offensive efforts and their loss representative a shift in power in the Pacific. For the first time, the United States Navy had assumed the position as the superior power in the Pacific and the Japanese Navy, which had dependent so heavily on its Navy to establish control of the Pacific, was reduced to a secondary position which would force them to re-evaluate their policy in regard to how they conducted the War. Japan could not conduct naval operations in the Pacific without a superior naval force and the loss of four carriers and their crews proved to be deciding factor in the outcome of the War.
The Japanese also suffered serious losses in its air support not only in manpower but also in equipment. The Japanese Air Force was severely undermanned when the War began and, unlike the United States which enjoyed remarkable manufacturing capability, Japan did not possess the ability to manufacture new airplanes and airplane parts in the same quantity or quality that the United States could. Having lost a substantial number of its Air Force in the Battle of Midway, the Japanese Government was never able to completely build its air power to the level it enjoyed prior to said battle. Meanwhile, the United States exercised its superior manufacturing capacity from that point forward and by War's end held a 15 to 1 advantage in carrier strength in numbers and had a collateral advantage in the technical quality of those vessels as well.
The Battle of Midway was significant for a variety of reason and these significances would contribute heavily to the ultimate American victory but it is also interesting to note that the Battle represented, for the first time, a breakdown in Japanese readiness. Beginning with the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and throughout the next few months of the War the Japanese armed forces were extremely well prepared in every action that they engaged themselves. They were seemingly prepared for every contingency in these early battles and had assumed an air of invisibility. This all changed in the Midway battle. Part of the reason for the Japanese losses in Midway was their failure to properly perform its reconnaissance (Prange). The Japanese Air Force failed to broaden its search capabilities in such a manner as to detect the full measure of the forces available to the American forces at Midway. The Japanese failed to recognize that the American firepower was much greater than Japanese intelligence predicted and this greater power virtually ensured an American victory. The Japanese were also slow to react throughout the…[continue]
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[footnoteRef:32] This lack of forces for other Pacific struggles generally weakened the Japanese war effort, as the Japanese were forced to fight those battles with insufficient men, weapons, ammunition and other related materiel. [27: Eric Hammel. Guadalcanal: Decision at Sea: The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, November 13-15, 1942. Pacifica, CA: Pacifica Military History, 1999, p. 346.] [28: Colin G. Jameson. "Battle of Guadalcanal: 11-15 November, 1942." www.history.navy.mil Web site. 1944.
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