6 June 1942
Atlantic Ocean : German submarine U-68 torpedoed and sank Panamanian tanker C. O. Stillman 60 miles southwest of Puerto Rico at 0307 hours; 3 were killed, 55 survived.
Near the Equator in the Central Atlantic, German armed merchant cruiser Stier intrcepted and sank Panamanian tanker Stanvac Calcutta with gunfire (12 were killed, 36 survived and were captured); Stier suffered two hits when Stanvac Calcutta returned fire with her 4-inch gun.
US Liberty type cargo ship George Clyton was torpedoed and severely damaged by German fast motor torpedoboat Essau launched by German merchant raider cruiser Michel in South Atlantic.
Bay of Biscay , France : A RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) Sunderland flying boat from Coastal Command detected German submarine U-74 on the surface , leaving her base at La Pallice with airborne radar and attacked with machine gunfire and bombs , severely damaging German submarine to force her returning back to her base at La Pallice.
Gazala , Libya : Gazala , Libya : German troops from 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions routed three Indian infantry battalions and four artillery regiments that failed to flee as the Operation Aberdeen offensive was called off on the previous day in Cauldron , Gazala Libya. With victory secured at this battle, Erwin Rommel moved the entire German 90th Light Division to reinforce the siege on Free French-held fort of Bir Hakeim. By 6 June, the Axis divisions which Rommel had despatched to Bir Hacheim four days earlier had surrounded Bir Hakeim fortress.
In Gazala , Libya, Desert Air Force P-40 Kittybombers repeatedly attacked Axis armor formations near the Knightsbridge box during the Battle of Gazala.
Bir-Hackeim , Gazala , Libya : From 5 to 6 June, the Desert Air Force flew fewer sorties at Bir Hakeim, concentrating on the Knightsbridge Box and around 11:00 a.m. on 6 June, German 90th Light Division attacked with the support of pioneers to try to clear a passage through the French minefields. The pioneers got within 800 m (900 yd) of the fort, having breached the outer minefield and during the night they managed to clear several passages into the inner perimeter. German infantry gained a foothold but the French troops in foxholes, dug outs and blockhouses, maintained a great volume of small-arms fire, which forced the Germans under cover. Operation Aberdeen, an attempt to destroy Axis forces in the Cauldron, which had begun on the night of 4/5 June, was a disastrous failure. Eighth Army commander General Ritchie considered withdrawing the French from the fort to release the 7th Motor Brigade but decided to keep possession of it. Ritchie was well aware of the importance of Bir Hacheim; that – in Auchinleck’s words – its loss would require him to ‘form a new and extended front facing southwards behind which we might be hemmed in and deprived of our power of manoeuvre. The threat to our rear would be increased.’ Meanwhile Luftwaffe Ju-87 Stuka dive bombers continued to hit Bir-Hakeim with successive air attacks. On ground though neither German 90th Light nor Italian Arierte armored division could advance beyond minefields yet.
“Our ground attacks repeatedly bogged down in the excellent French fortifications. During the first ten days of out attack against the French the British had remained amazingly calm. The “Ariete” Division alone was attacked by them on 2 June but it defended itself stubbornly. After a counter-attack by the 21st Panzer Division the situation there again became quiet.”
— General major Alfred Toppe
Libya , North Africa : In North Africa the RAF Desert Air Force deployed its “secret” Hurricane IID Tank Buster Squadron which had been training to deliver low-level attacks on enemy tank formations using Hurricane fighters fitted with dual 40mm cannon. Within ten days the squadron would make 37 sorties, damaging 31 enemy tanks (although very few were completely destroyed).
Egypt , North Africa : General Lewis Brereton, commander of the US 10th Air Force in the China-Burma-India theater, was transferred to Egypt.
Malta : Luftwaffe bombers made a heavy air raid on Malta though RAF and British anti aircraft defences shot down 13 German bombers.
Sevastapol , Russia : German troops continued the bombardment of Sevastopol, Russia from ground with large caliber weapons and heavy successive Luftwaffe air raids. The artillery bombardment targeted bunkers with 105 mm fire, which usually received 10–25 rounds. German Flak 36 37 mm guns also did an effective job of eliminating machinegun nests. The German forces were also quick to bring up 88 mm artillery guns to fire directly into bunker apertures. Between 2 and 6 June, the German 11th Army expended nine percent of its munitions (42,595 rounds, amounting to 2,449 tons of munitions) on pre-advance shelling. The railway guns also fired a few rounds at the main fortifications and rail lines, but most missed by some distance. The closest shell landed 80 meters away from its target. Soviet ammunition dumps were also targeted by these weapons, with no effect. The main fortifications, Soviet forts Stalin, Molotov, and Maxim Gorky (which lay in the path of LIV Corps) remained active. It was not until the afternoon of 6 June when a single 60 cm calibre mortar shell from the Karl-Gerät self-propelled mortar no. III, nicknamed Thor, knocked out Maxim Gorky’s second turret, damaging the weapon. This was the only success of the German super-heavy guns, which did not have an impact commensurate with their expense. The Luftwaffe had a greater impact, using its Ju 87 Stuka dive bombers to knock out the communications systems of the fort.
Bryansk , Russia : In German occupied Russian territory , on June 5, a further five thousand German troops launched Operation Birdsong, against 2,500 partisans between Roslavl and Bryansk. In a four week sweep, 1,193 partisans were killed, for a loss of 58 German dead. But a German military report expressed dissatisfaction at the results. ‘The partisans’, one senior officer complained, ‘continued their old tactic of evading, withdrawing into the forests, or moving in larger groups into the areas south and south-west of the Roslavl—Bryansk highway and into the Kletnya area.’ Although no further partisan attacks were reported in the ‘pacified’ area, the officer wrote, nevertheless ‘mines continued to be planted’ and several German vehicles had been damaged. Within two months, Soviet partisans had returned to the ‘Birdsong’ area in force.
Emden , Germany : 233 British bombers (124 Wellington, 40 Stirling, 27 Halifax, 20 Lancaster, 15 Hampden, 7 Manchester) from RAF Bomber attacked Emden, Germany during night, destroying 300 houses, killing 17 civilians, and wounding 49; nine bombers were lost on this mission
London , UK : Twenty people killed and 59 wounded when an unexploded German bomb detonated in Elephant and Castle.
Koblenz , Germany : SS Colonel Adolf Eichmann ordered the deportation of 450 Jews from the Koblenz region; the inmates of a mental home in a nearby village were, he said, to be included. To maintain secrecy, and deception, Eichmann’s office insisted that the words ‘deportation to the East’ should not be used in describing these moves, but instead ‘people who emigrated elsewhere’.
Indian Ocean : Japanese submarine I-16 sank Yugoslavian freighter Susak with her deck gun just off the coast of Portuguese Overseas Province of Mozambique.
Pacific Ocean : During morning recon aircraft from Midway island and Task Force 16 discovered two Japanese heavy destroyers (one with a crushed bow) and two escorting destroyers straggling well behind retreating Japanese fleet , all in air attack range of US carriers of Task Force 16 (USS Enterprise and USS Hornet) north east of Midway island. These were Japanese heavy cruisers Mikuma and Mogami , that crashed each other accidently due to submarine attack approach of USS Tambor. During noon Admiral Spruance commanding Task Force 16 launched three air attack waves from both of his carriers to finish them off. During afternoon SBD Dauntless dive bombers from USS Enterprise and USS Hornet attacked, damaging destroyer Arashio (37 were killed), destroyer Asashio (22 were killed) with near misss, and hit Japanese heavy cruiser Mogami with four bombs (81 killed) , causing heavy damage although she survived and eventually reached Japanese naval base at Truk and remained out of survice due repair work for more than one year.
Other SBD Dauntless dive bombers hit Japanese heavy cruiser Mikuma with five 250 kg bombs , causing fatal damage to cruiser Mikuma, which would sink later in the day (650 killed, 240 survived). As US Navy Task Force 16 sailed eastward to refuel due to reluctance of Admiral Spruance to engage enemy surface forces beyond air cover of Midway island (in hindsight a wise cautious attitude) , thus breaking contact with the Japanese fleet, the Battle of Midway drew to a close.
Note : Historian Samuel E. Morison noted in 1949 that Spruance was subjected to much criticism for not pursuing the retreating Japanese, thus allowing their surface fleet to escape. Clay Blair argued in 1975 that had Spruance pressed on, he would have been unable to launch his aircraft after nightfall, and his cruisers would have been overwhelmed by Yamamoto’s powerful surface units, including Yamato. Furthermore, the American air groups had suffered considerable losses, including most of their torpedo bombers. This made it unlikely that they would be effective in an airstrike against the Japanese battleships, even if they had managed to catch them during the daytime. Also, by this time Spruance’s destroyers were critically low on fuel
Last shots of Battle of Midway were fired by Japanese though. Meanwhile, salvage efforts on crippled American aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (which was hit by three bombs and two air launched torpedoes on 4th June) were encouraging, and she was taken in tow by USS Vireo and one of her escort desroyers USS Hammann evacuated remaining crew and keeping contact with hull of Yorktown which is listing. In the late afternoon of 6 June, the Japanese submarine I-168, which had intercepted abandoned carrier in tow and her escorts , managed to slip through the cordon of destroyers (possibly because of the large amount of debris in the water), fired a salvo of torpedoes, two of which struck already heavily USS Yorktown. There were few casualties aboard since most of the crew had already been evacuated, but a third torpedo from this salvo struck the destroyer USS Hammann, which had been providing auxiliary power to USS Yorktown. USS Hammann broke in two and sank with the loss of 80 lives, mostly because her own depth charges exploded. With further salvage efforts deemed hopeless, the remaining repair crews were evacuated from USS Yorktown. Throughout the night of 6 June and into the morning of 7 June, USS Yorktown remained afloat; but by 05:30 on 7 June, observers noted that her list was rapidly increasing to port. Shortly afterward, the ship turned onto her port side, and lay that way, revealing the torpedo hole in her starboard bilge—the result of the submarine attack. Captain Buckmaster’s American flag was still flying. All ships half-masted their colors in salute; all hands who were topside stood with heads uncovered and came to attention, with tears in their eyes. Two patrolling PBYs appeared overhead and dipped their wings in a final salute. At 07:01, the ship rolled upside-down, and slowly sank, stern first, with her battle flags flying.
With sinking of USS Yorktown , Battle of Midway drew to a close. It was an astonishing US naval victory that not only checked or at least slowed down Japanese advance in Pacific and South East Asia , sinking of four Japanese fleet carriers from First Carier Strike Force and loss of entire Japanese first line of pilots and aircrews (322 Japanese aircraft destroyed) meant that Japanese naval aviation was dealt a blow which they could never recover from. In addition Japanese Imperial Navy lost one heavy cruiser and and another Japanese cruiser heavily damaged. The Americans rejoiced at their victory, which had been made all the more pleasurable by the fact that three of the Japanese aircraft carriers sunk had been among the five which had taken part in the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Battle of Midway has often been called “the turning point of the Pacific”. It was the Allies’ first major naval victory against the Japanese. Had Japan won the battle as thoroughly as the U.S. did, it might have been able to conquer Midway Island. Saratoga would have been the only American carrier in the Pacific, with no new ones being completed before the end of 1942. While the U.S. would probably not have sought peace with Japan as Yamamoto hoped, his country might have revived Operation FS to invade and occupy Fiji and Samoa; attacked Australia, Alaska, and Ceylon; or even attempted to conquer Hawaii.
Although the Japanese continued to try to secure more territory, and the U.S. did not move from a state of naval parity to one of supremacy until after several more months of hard combat, Midway allowed the Allies to switch to the strategic initiative, paving the way for the landings on Guadalcanal and the prolonged attrition of the Solomon Islands campaign. Midway allowed this to occur before the first of the new Essex-class fleet carriers became available at the end of 1942. The Guadalcanal Campaign is also regarded by some as a turning point in the Pacific War.
Some authors have stated that heavy losses in carriers and veteran aircrews at Midway permanently weakened the Imperial Japanese Navy. The loss of four large fleet carriers and over 40% of the carriers’ highly trained aircraft mechanics and technicians, plus the essential flight-deck crews and armorers, and the loss of organizational knowledge embodied in such highly trained crews, were still heavy blows to the Japanese carrier fleet. A few months after Midway, the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service sustained similar casualty rates in the Battle of the Eastern Solomons and Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, and it was these battles, combined with the constant attrition of veterans during the Solomons campaign, which were the catalyst for the sharp downward spiral in operational capability.
After the battle, Shōkaku and Zuikaku were the only large carriers of the original Pearl Harbor strike force still afloat. Of Japan’s other carriers, Taihō, which was not commissioned until early 1944, would be the only fleet carrier worth teaming with Shōkaku and Zuikaku; Ryūjō and Zuihō were light carriers, while Jun’yō and Hiyō, although technically classified as fleet carriers, were second-rate ships of comparatively limited effectiveness. In the time it took Japan to build three carriers, the U.S. Navy commissioned more than two dozen fleet and light fleet carriers, and numerous escort carriers. By 1942 the United States was already three years into a shipbuilding program mandated by the Second Vinson Act of 1938.
Both the United States and Japan accelerated the training of aircrew, but the United States had a more effective pilot rotation system, which meant that more veterans survived and went on to training or command billets, where they were able to pass on lessons they had learned in combat to trainees, instead of remaining in combat, where errors were more likely to be fatal.
By the time the battle ended, 3,057 Japanese naval personnel had died. Casualties aboard the four sunk Japanese carriers were: Akagi: 267; Kaga: 811; Hiryū: 392 (including Rear Admiral Tamon Yamaguchi who chose to go down with his ship); Soryū: 711 (including Captain Yanagimoto, who chose to remain on board); a total of 2,181. The heavy cruisers Mikuma (which was also sunk; 700 casualties) and Mogami (badly damaged; 92) accounted for another 792 deaths.
In addition, the destroyers Arashio (bombed; 35) and Asashio (strafed by aircraft; 21) were both damaged during the air attacks which sank Mikuma and caused further damage to Mogami. Floatplanes were lost from the cruisers Chikuma (3) and Tone (2). Dead aboard the destroyers Tanikaze (11), Arashi (1), Kazagumo (1) and the fleet oiler Akebono Maru (10) made up the remaining 23 casualties.
At the end of the battle, the U.S. lost the carrier USS Yorktown and a destroyer, USS Hammann. Total of 149 aircraft from US Navy and US Marine Corps were lost. Total 307 American naval personnel had been killed, including Major General Clarence L. Tinker, Commander, 7th Air Force, who personally led a bomber strike from Hawaii against the retreating Japanese forces on 7 June. He was killed when his aircraft crashed near Midway Island.
Attu Island , US Alaskan Territory , Aleutian Islands : Japanese troops from Northern Strike Force began to land Attu island.