On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, launching the United States into World War II.
On December 8, 1941, Japan invades Malaya as the US and Great Britain officially declare war against Japan.
On December, 9, 1941, Japan’s ravenous hunger for more territory drives them to invade the Philippines.
On January 23, 1942, Japanese forces land in the Solomon Islands, about 300 miles east of Papua New Guinea and about 800 miles from the northeastern tip of Australia.
On April 9, 1942, American Major General Edward King surrendered the nearly 75,000 American and Filipino troops on the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines. This led to the infamous Bataan Death March, where thousands of American and Filipino troops died from starvation, disease and at the hands of the Japanese.
On April 18. 1942, American Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle led a daring aerial attack on Tokyo. It was the first time the US attacked the Japanese homeland, shattering their feeling of invincibility.
Between May 3-8, 1942, is the Battle of the Coral Sea. It’s the first strictly naval aerial battle between the US and Japan. The successful naval battle not only demonstrated the importance of aircraft carriers to the war effort, but it also stalled the Japanese advancement towards Australia. They ended up abandoning their airstrip at Port Moresby.
On May 6, 1942, all or the remaining US forces in the Philippines unconditionally surrender to the Japanese.
In May, American intelligence crews had broken the Japanese communication code and identified a target known only as AF. It was suspected that AF could refer to Midway Island where the US maintained a base. In order to find out, they had the communications staff at Midway send out a false message stating that their water purification system was down and that they were low on fresh water. Not long after Midway sent out the fake message, the Japanese sent out their coded message that AF was low on fresh water, confirming the target.
Based upon this information, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, set the plans in motion to send American naval forces to Midway to counter the Japanese attack.
The Japanese wanted to take Midway away from the US in their quest to drive the US out of the Pacific Ocean and for its important strategic location from which to launch future attacks. Midway was located only 1,200 miles west northwest of Hawaii. The location of Midway was so important to the Japanese that they sent their fleet with four aircraft carriers, the Akagi, Kiryu, Kago and Soryu, to Midway.
On June 2, 1942, the US fleet, including all three of the Yorktown class aircraft carriers, the Yorktown, Enterprise and Hornet, took position to the northeast of Midway in anticipation of the arrival of the Japanese fleet. The American task force was placed under the command of Rear Admiral Frank J. Fletcher.
On June 3, 1942, American search planes located part of the approaching Japanese fleet. The Japanese carriers were not spotted which greatly concerned Fletcher as he needed to know their location.
On this day, June 4, 1942, early in the morning, planes for Midway and the Yorktown took off in search of the Japanese carriers and fleet. The US scout planes found the Japanese over two hours before the Japanese discovered the American fleet and carriers. Japanese leaders did not expect the US to have carriers in the area, so they were taken by surprise.
From June 4 through June 7, 1942, the two opposing forces fought a vicious battle. The Japanese pounded Midway and launched aerial attacks against the American fleet and carriers. The American launched their own attack against the Japanese fleet.
By the end of June 7, 1942, the Japanese fleet had been decimated and forced to retreat back to Japan. They lost all 4 of their aircraft carriers, 1 cruiser, hundreds of airplanes and about 4,800 men. The US lost only 1 carrier, the Yorktown, 1 destroyer, over 100 airplanes and only 307 men.
The Battle of Midway was a costly but decisive victory for the US in the Pacific. It prevented the Japanese from obtaining the strategic atoll known as Midway. It also stopped any further eastward expansion of the Japanese. It was a major turning point of the war in the Pacific.
Sinking 4 of the Japanese aircraft carriers and driving their fleet back to Japan was a huge morale booster to the entire US Pacific fleet. My dad was in the US Navy, stationed in the Pacific at the time and I remember watching the 1976 movie Midway with him. He commented at things throughout the movie, mostly of the events that were depicted accurately. After the movie ended, he told me that when word of the US victory and sinking of the Japanese carriers reached his ship, the entire ship celebrated along with every other ship that he knew of. The knowledge that they could land such a devastating blow made everyone realize that they could and would win the war with Japan. In my dad’s words, the Battle of Midway literally changed the war in the Pacific.
Sources for the above includes: The Battle of Midway at a Glance; Battle of Midway; The Battle of Midway, 1942; Battle of Midway Begins; World War II: Battle of Midway – Turning Point in the Pacific; Battle of Midway; Battle of Midway; The Battle of Midway; Timeline of Selected Events 1931-1945; Today, May 6, 1942: Unconditional Surrender of All US Forces in Philippines; Today, May 3, 1942: First Air-Naval Battle in History.