Battle of Midway year ago, changed entire Pacific War (6-4-43)

The Pittsburgh Press (June 4, 1943)

Battle of Midway year ago, changed entire Pacific War

Victory won in hour saved continental U.S. from attack; fliers proved courage in greatest air-sea conflict
By Frank Tremaine, United Press staff writer

U.S. Pacific Fleet HQ, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii –
One year ago today, in the space of less than an hour, the United States won the Battle of Midway and the entire outlook of the Pacific War was changed.

It was not possible at the time to assess completely the results of the battle. Today, well-informed military quarters believe it is no exaggeration to say that defeat might have meant the loss of the war.

The United States now appears ready to go on the offensive.

War’s biggest naval force

After the United States defeated a two-pronged naval sally in the Coral Sea in May 1942, with the loss to Japan of 16 ships, including the carrier Ryukaku, and possibly prevented an invasion of Australia, the Japs gathered the biggest naval force of the war (80 or more ships) for a thrust at Midway, tiny bastion northwest of Hawaii, and sent a smaller force toward the Aleutians.

That the major forces intended to carry on past Midway to Oahu and America’s principal naval base here seems certain now. Success of the enemy undertaking and the accompanying smash at the Aleutians would have put the continental United States in extreme danger of attack.

Catalina patrol planes sighted the Jap fleet during the day of June 3. A few hours later, four patrol bombers loosed their torpedoes and the fight was on.

Planes attacked Midway

Next morning, June 4, planes from the Jap striking force attacked Midway and were met by Marine fighters. At the same time, Marine dive bombers and torpedo planes and Army heavy and medium bombers attacked the Japs. They damaged about 10 ships and the enemy changed course.

Next Navy carrier-based dive bombers and torpedo planes struck. They severely damaged the carriers Kaga, Akagi and Sōryū, damaged two battleships and sank a destroyer. The land-based planes made daring and effective attacks but it was the Navy’s carrier-based planes which broke the back of the attack by knocking out three of the four Jap carriers.

It was this phase of the battle which in less than an hour changed the course of the war.

Carriers sunk or scuttled

It developed that the three damaged Jap carriers were wrecked. They sank or were scuttled as derelict. The Jap planes had no place to land and the enemy’s aerial striking arm was crippled. Three enemy battleships were damaged, one severely.

That afternoon, planes from the Hiryū found the carrier USS Yorktown and made an attack on her from which she never recovered, though it took a Jap submarine to finish her off later while she was in tow. Planes from the Yorktown and other carriers went after the Hiryū and knocked it off.

The Japs lost 20 ships sunk or damaged, 275-300 planes, and 4,800 men or more. The United States lost the Yorktown and the destroyer Hammann. With them died 92 officers and 215 men. The United States lost an unstated number of planes.

Greatest air-sea battle

There were many notable features about Midway. It was the greatest air-sea battle in history. There was no direct ship-to-ship contact except by submarines.

One notable feature was the courage shown by U.S. fliers. Another was the ending of the myth that Jap fliers would rather die than turn back rom an attack. Some of them did turn back, and they were members of Japan’s first team.

The Japs had said that U.S. fliers would not die to press home attacks, but they did. The Americans, many flying outmoded planes, threw themselves with complete disregard of their lives against the enemy force. They forced it to turn back, smashed it, routed it, kept after it until June 6 when the fleeing enemy got beyond their range.

Dives to his death

Cpl. Eugene T. Card of Oakland, California, told me how Capt. Richard Fleming of St. Paul, Minnesota, near exhaustion from two previous attacks, his arm bandaged and his dive bomber riddled and in flames, dived to within 300 feet of a Jap cruiser before he released his bomb. The bomb hit and exploded. The cruiser rocked and began to list.

Capt. Fleming, his job done, plunged into the sea just off the bow of the ship.

Maj. Lofton Henderson of Gary, Indiana, for whom Henderson Field on Guadalcanal was named, was last seen diving his crippled and burning plane into the smokestack of an enemy cruiser to deal it a blow.

Thirty members of VT-8 attacked a carrier. One lived through the fire that met them – Ens. G. H. Gay Jr. of Houston, Texas. He watched two enemy carriers sink, one of them hit by his own “Torpron Eight,” while he floated on a rubber life raft throughout the day and a night.

Marauders hit carrier

Four Army B-26 Marauder medium bombers were used for the first time as torpedo planes. They fought their way back through enemy fighter planes and gunfire to hit a carrier. Two came back.

A handful of Marine fighters, flying crates pronounced obsolete, fought off Jap bombers at Midway and shot down at least 43. The fighters went in against odds of 4–1 and figured their chances of getting back were less than 1–10.

Most of the Marines plunged into the water during the battle but many were rescued. They saved Midway from the first attack and the Japanese never had the chance to come back.