Originally published on June 9, 2017
This past week in June was one during which two significant events that helped turn the tide of evil into the light of freedom occurred. No, not this week; rather three-quarters of a century ago at opposite ends of the Earth. In both cases, the events underscored the determination, bravery, and selfless sacrifice of what Tom Brokaw–and now the nation–refer to as The Greatest Generation.
Prelude to Battle (April, 1942)
After the devastation wreaked by Japanese forces during the surprise attack on Pearl
Harbor on December 7, 1941, Admiral Yamamoto had designed to use the momentum to continue expanding the Japanese military sphere of control even father across the Pacific. The next operation was to take control of Midway Island as a base from which to stage Japanese forces to spread control into the Eastern Pacific and–when the time was right–attacks on the West Coast of the United States.
The United States had a few surprises of its own. On April 18, 1942, Army Air Corps B-25
bombers led by [then] LtCol Jimmy Doolittle took off from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet to conduct a surprise strike on the Japanese homeland. The mission was a success–not because it did major damage in Japan but because of the psychological effect of what had been portrayed by the Emperor as an untouchable Japanese homeland being attacked. This was also an psychological boost for Americans, who learned of the raid when President Roosevelt announced that the the attack on Japan had occurred–and quipped that it was launched from our secret base at Shangri-La (Historical note: Later, based on this quip, an aircraft carrier was, indeed, christened USS Shangri-La).
June 4-7, 1942
The Battle of Midway – Pacific Theater of Operations
America was not done yet with its one-two punch… Navy and Army cryptologists had cracked some of the Japanese staff-level code and were piecing together the puzzle. Their work was validated by the Japanese forces participating in the Battle of Coral Sea being those that had been identified in analysis of the Japanese staff code. This was important because that validation played an important part in Admiral Nimitz’s decision to preempt Japan’s assault on Midway Island some weeks later.
Japan changed their staff-level codes after the Doolittle Raid. But Naval Intelligence came up with another plan to trick the Japanese into showing their intent. They sent a message about Midway for the Japanese to intercept that led to Midway Island being validated as the intended target.
USS Yorktown, severely damaged at the Battle of Coral Sea, was made seaworthy
and ready for action to set sail only four days after arriving at Pearl Harbor to join naval forces setting the trap northeast of Midway based on intelligence analysis. The Japanese leadership had considered USS Yorktown to essentially be a write-off at best.
As Admiral Yamamoto stated after the attack on Pearl Harbor, “I fear all we have done is to
awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” This fear was about to be realized at the Japanese Fleet’s expense.
This year marked the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Midway–Turning Point in the Pacific…
The Japanese invasion force was detected and, later, their carriers were spotted as
predicted and aircraft from American carriers attacked at maximum range. Attack after attack weakened the Japanese defenses until Japanese air cover was nearly non-existant. In the end, Japanese forces attacked Midway twice and then attacked USS Yorktown twice–but did not sink her. Later, as she was being towed back to Pearl Harbor, a Japanese submarine torpedoed USS Yorktown and sent her to the bottom of the Pacific.
The Japanese were not so lucky, losing escort ships and having 2 front-line carriers sunk and 2 others severely damaged enough to be put out of action completely. The Japanese fleet retreated back to Japan on June 7, 1942. The American victory was a second psychological victory for the Americans, serving to partially demoralize the Japanese Fleet as well as boosting the resolve of American Forces.