The Second World War: The Battle of Midway

(tense music) (dramatic orchestral music) (slow orchestral music) (loud explosions) (airplane engine screams) – [Narrator] When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, they did so intending to smash in one single blow America’s resolution and its inability to retaliate They failed miserably on both counts The Japanese sank or badly damaged seven antiquated American battleships, but since they were lost in harbor many of their crews were saved And all but two of the ships were salvaged The raid also left most of Pearl Harbor’s shore installations intact Most important of all, the violation of United States territory united the nation behind the declaration of war on Japan Moreover, the loss of the battleships forced the United States Navy to use its aircraft carriers as the core of a more up-to-date Pacific fleet – Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy – [Narrator] The 1927 vintage Lexington and Saratoga and the much more modern Enterprise were out of port during the raid, and were therefore untouched By 1942, they were joined by the Enterprise’s sister ship, Yorktown, and the newly completed Hornet These carriers were well-fitted to take the offensive, for they carried a large number of effective fighters and dive bombers The Commander in Chief of the Central Pacific Fleet in 1942 was Admiral Chester William Nimitz Within weeks of his appointment

this great leader transformed the moral of his men, infecting them all with his own confidence in a final Allied victory (airplane engine putters) Following his appointment, Nimitz decided to mount a series of raids on Japanese-held islands in the Pacific The main reason for these raids, apart from harassing the Japanese, was to maintain the morale of his crews and give them valuable operational experience On separate occasions, his fleet attacked Japanese bases in the Marshall and Gilbert Islands Then in March he took his fleet to attack Wake and Marcus Islands These strikes were by no means small, and the damage inflicted on old targets throughout the first few months of 1942 was considerable (aircraft engine putters) One nightmare of prewar Japanese military strategists had been the possibility of an attack by aircraft from United States carriers on Japan’s own islands Their worst fears were fulfilled when, on the 18th of April 1942 16 United States Army B-25 Mitchells struck Tokyo They were led by Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle (aircraft engine putters) What was even more surprising was the fact that these 12-ton aircraft, normally land-based, took off from the decks of the United States carrier Hornet (aircraft engine putters) The very heart of Tokyo was bombed And although the damage was slight, the effect on the Japanese nation was enormous (ominous music) The horror of the Japanese people led to the commander of the Japanese fleet, Admiral Yamamoto, being granted permission for his grand plan A final showdown between the United States and Japanese fleets What Yamamoto did not include in his grand plan, however, was the fact that these plans would soon be known by his enemies By the end of April, American intelligence were able to decrypt 85% of Japanese signals This alone would give the Americans an incalculable advantage in the Pacific Intelligence had been coming in indicating a major offensive was being planned in the Southwest Pacific The United States decoders confirmed that Port Moresby was the target along with the secondary target on the Solomon Islands From these two strongholds, the Japanese could dominate, if not actually invade, Northern Australia The Japanese plan was to isolate Australia from the United States of America, first by seizing Port Moresby and establishing a seaplane base at the tiny island of Tulaghi in the Solomons Then they would take key points in New Caledonia, the New Hebrides, and Fiji To mount this offensive, the Japanese had assembled an invasion force which included a formidable striking force of six modern destroyers, two heavy cruisers, and the large fleet carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku (waves crashing) These carriers held 133 aircraft The main Port Moresby invasion force was to depart from Rabaul, but the striking force was to come from Truk in the Caroline Islands, about 1600 kilometers northeast of New Guinea The Americans acted quickly and the hunt was on Admiral Nimitz added a three-part naval force to the Coral Sea In tactical command of the whole force was Rear Admiral Frank J Fletcher on the carrier Yorktown, which was to lead Task Force 17 (ominous music) On the 1st of May, this force linked up with Task Force 11 commanded by Rear Admiral Fitch on the carrier Lexington just south of the Solomon Islands The two carriers, carrying 141 aircraft were escorted by five cruisers and 11 destroyers This force was joined later in the day by an Australian-American force of cruisers and destroyers under Rear Admiral John Crace

(ominous music) On the 3rd of May the Japanese seized the tiny island of Tulaghi without meeting any opposition The next day they were struck by aircraft from the Yorktown (aircraft engines roar) (rapid gunfire) This American strike sunk a destroyer and several minor Japanese ships that cost the Americans the advantage of surprise The Japanese now knew that at least one United States carrier was in the vicinity Throughout the 5th and 6th of May, the Japanese and American spotter planes sought each other out, but in vain (ominous music) It was on the 7th of May that the two enemies eventually made contact, but both sides suffered equally from errors and accidents Just after 0700 hours, a Japanese search plane spotted what he took to be an enemy carrier and a cruiser southwest of Guadalcanal Rear Admiral Hara, in immediate command of the Japanese carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku, launched a full-scale attack 51 dive bombers escorted by 18 Zero fighters took off for the offensive The two ships spotted, however, were in fact the tanker USS Neosho and an escorting destroyer They were easy targets However, whilst this attack was underway, news reached Rear Admiral Hara that the real United States force had been spotted farther away to the northwest All he could do was wait anxiously for his aircraft to return But it wasn’t only the Japanese that made a mistake At 0815 hours, a United States reconnaissance plane reported seeing two Japanese carriers and four large cruisers just north of Misima Island near the tip of New Guinea Admiral Fletcher on the Yorktown, convinced that he had found the main Japanese force, launched his full-scale attack 93 aircraft took off from the carriers Yorktown and Lexington In fact, the reconnaissance pilot had only spotted one of the Japanese support groups, two cruisers and two destroyers The day was saved by the sharp eyes of Lieutenant Colonel Hamilton, Commander of the Lexington’s dive bomber squadron While on the way to attack the support group, Hamilton drifted off course to the east He spotted a much more important force: A covering force for the Port Moresby invasion, commanded by Rear Admiral Aritomo Goto from the carrier Shoho The American planes were redirected (gunfire pops) At first, the highly-maneuverable Japanese carrier managed to dodge the American attacks The Shoho was eventually overwhelmed and sunk (aircraft engine roars) (rapid gunfire) Meanwhile, Fletcher had directed the Australian-American force under Rear Admiral Crace against the Port Moresby invasion Crace’s force was attacked by land-based Japanese aircraft from Rabaul and later by United States B-26’s from Australia, mistaking them for Japanese Luckily, neither attack was successful Another amazing mistake on the part of the Japanese took place on the 7th of May 27 Japanese aircraft out looking for the United states fleet spotted Yorktown They mistook it for a Japanese carrier and attempted to land 10 were shot down (aircraft engine roars) (loud splash and explosion) (aircraft squeals) (aircraft engine roars) (rapid gunfire)

(waves crashing) News of the loss of Shoho and the presence of the United States Australian force off Port Moresby persuaded the commander of the invasion force, Vice Admiral Inoue, to delay the attack on Port Moresby First he would deal with the United States carrier fleet (waves crashing) (ominous music) Early on the morning of the 8th, the two carrier forces finally located each other After the loss of Shoho, both sides now had two carriers each, but the Japanese only had 95 operational aircraft against the Americans’ 118 Shortly after 0900 hours, both sides aircraft were launched and the Battle of the Coral Sea commenced (eerie electronic music) (aircraft engine roars) The Japanese attack inflicted significant damage on both the Yorktown and Lexington Yorktown managed with clever maneuvering to avoid the Japanese torpedoes, but bombs exploding in the water nearby badly damaged her below the water line Another bomb went down through four decks, where, consequently, it exploded, killing 37 of their crew and wounding 33 (aircraft engine roars) (loud gunfire) The Lexington, bigger and less maneuverable than the Yorktown, was hit by two torpedoes, as well as several bombs and was listing badly on the port side Meanwhile, United States pilots were launching an assault on the Japanese carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku (aircraft engine roars) Zuikaku, the flagship, was hidden by a rainstorm, so the full weight of the American attack fell on her sister ship, Shokaku The few defending Zeroes were able to force the first wave of American devastators to launch their torpedoes too far away to make any hits But the second wave of dauntless dive bombers that followed, were much more successful One dauntless pilot, Lieutenant John Powers had vowed to sink an enemy carrier unaided During the attack on Shokaku he swooped in a daring low level attack releasing his bomb a mere 19 meters above the carriers deck In the resulting explosion, Powers crashed to his death in the sea But the damage to the flight deck, caused as a result of his bomb was so severe that the carriers aircraft were no longer able to take off or land Further bombs completed the job Shokaku had to withdraw from the battle No longer with air cover Inoue had to call off the whole operation and withdraw his invasion force The Battle of the Coral Sea was thus a strategic success for the Americans But it was marred by a serious and unexpected incident Two hours after the last plane had retired from the battle, the Lexington erupted in a huge explosion (loud explosion) Ironically this was nothing to do with the attack But was caused by a mere spark from a generator which had accidentally been left running The fires were fed by petrol fuel

and vapor from the ruptured tanks It took until the next day to put the fire out But by then the damage was so severe that she had to be abandoned 2,735 crew were saved But 216 had died in the fire She was sunk by a torpedo fired from an American destroyer The Americans had lost one carrier, a tanker, and a destroyer While the Japanese lost one carrier, and one destroyer But only 564 United States sailors and airmen had been killed compared to Japanese losses of 1,074 men Japan also lost 77 aircraft compared to America’s 66 The battle turned back the Japanese threat to Port Moresby and consequently to Australia The Coral Sea had been the first sea battle ever where two fleets had engaged on the high seas without being in sight of one another and relying entirely on aircraft to strike the enemy The Americans were quick to master this new type of Naval warfare and were ready to use it again at a later date That date was not far away Japan’s admirals were already planning another battle where they hoped to cripple the United States Pacific fleet once and for all By attacking Midway Atoll, at the far western end of the Hawaiian chain of islands, the Japanese hoped to lure the United States Pacific fleet into the open sea and destroy it (ominous music) On the 20th of May 1942 allied listening stations around the Pacific picked up a lengthy radio signal in code from Admiral Yamamoto to his fleet The message was relayed to the United States Combat Intelligence Unit at Pearl Harbor and deciphered It was revealed that the Japanese Navy was about to mount a powerful attack on the mid-Pacific Atoll of Midway with a secondary diversionary attack on the Aleutians further north Dutch Harbor in the Aleutians will be hit on the 3rd of June and Midway the next day Operation MI, the Midway strike, had all the hallmarks of Japanese planning It was over complex Made unjustified assumptions about how the enemy would react and fail to concentrate force Even so, the plan might well have worked had the Americans not discovered it’s secrets The very choice of Midway was flawed One of Yamamoto’s carrier captains called it an impossible and pointless operation But while the Japanese leaders were debating where to strike, their minds had been made up for them The Doolittle Raid on Tokyo the previous April had put their sacred emperor in danger The mortified generals and admirals knew then that every gap in Japan’s defensive perimeter must be plugged Yamamoto’s plan was thus While part of his fleet were attacking Midway, the rest of the fleet would create a diversionary attack on the Aleutians If Midway fell, this would pose a serious threat to Pearl Harbor Therefore, Admiral Nimitz would have to attempt to retake Midway Waiting for him would be the Japanese Pacific fleet Supported by land base aircraft operating from the newly captured island Yamamoto would spring the trap and achieve what had eluded him at Pearl Harbor The destruction of American Naval power in the Pacific Yamamoto believed that following the destruction of Nimitz fleet, the western seaboard of the United States of America would be at the mercy of the Japanese President Roosevelt would therefore have no alternative other than to sue for peace At least that is how the Japanese saw it Yamamoto committed almost the entire Japanese fleet to his plan 160 warships including eight aircraft carriers with more than 400 carrier based aircraft The force was separated into five battle groups At the head of the force was the first carrier striking force With four carriers and 225 dive bombers

These were to bombard Midway before the invasion force with 5,000 men were to be landed from 12 transport ships The invasion force was protected by two support groups Each 80 kilometers away 950 kilometers behind this force would be the main Japanese battle fleet with seven battleships These were to finish off the United States Pacific fleet after the carriers had inflicted the decisive damage Knowing that the odds were stacked heavily against him, Nimitz staked everything on his faith and the aircraft carrier and it’s ability to strike from long range He decided that his much slower battleships would be a liability and ordered them to stay on the United States west coast Nimitz divided his force into two battle groups Taskforce 16 with the carriers US Hornet and Enterprise And Taskforce 17 with the carrier Yorktown (ominous music) On the 28th of May, Taskforce 16 left Pearl Harbor Meanwhile Taskforce 17 had been delayed Having just returned from the Battle in the Coral Sea Yorktown was badly damaged The Pearl Harbor crews told Nimitz that the repairs would take three weeks to complete Nimitz however asked for the Yorktown’s repairs to be completed in 48 hours Working around the clock, the job was completed And on the 30th of May under the command of Admiral Frank Fletcher, the Yorktown left port Once at sea, Fletcher was to take tactical command of the United States force “You will be governed by the principle “of calculated risk” Nimitz commanded Warned by intelligence they were in position well before the Japanese submarines had established a cordon west of Hawaii to watch for the United States fleet (ominous music) Midway Island A small outpost midway between the US state of Hawaii and Japan and the centre gate to Pearl Harbor The island was on a state of alert They know that somewhere beyond the clouds and the horizon lay the Japanese fleet Intelligence had reported that the attack on the island was due the next day The Midway garrison had been reinforced And during the previous night, flying fortresses had landed at Midway By 0700 hours they were on the runway being refueled Bombs were loaded and their guns were fully armed Once the enemy had been sighted, they would be in place and ready to mount an air raid attack on the fleet On dawn patrol, Ensign Jack Reid, flying a Catalina flying boat from Midway was scouring the skies looking for signs of the enemy fleet At 0900 hours he spotted the transport ships and escort cruisers of the Japanese invasion force A signal was relayed to Fletcher aboard the Yorktown This target was not his prime concern He wanted the Japanese carrier striking force Instead he ordered an attack to be mounted by the Midway based B-17 Flying Fortresses As the bombers lumbered down the air strip, news came in to Fletcher that the Japanese diversionary attack was already underway (ominous music) (faint explosion) In the early hours of the morning, the Japanese had attacked the Aleutian islands Torpedo bombers and Zero Fighters from the carrier Ryujo attacked the United States base at Dutch Harbor on Unalaska Island They inflicted damage on the oil dumps, barracks, hospital, and a church However, inexperienced pilots from the other carrier in the force, Junyo got lost The American flying boats had spotted the Japanese but they were too far away from the United States ships or shore based aircraft to make effective attacks Meanwhile, Nimitz, not deceived by this diversion,

refused to divert large forces north away from Midway (ominous music) The 4th of June and the United States main prey, the Japanese carrier striking force under Admiral Nagumo was zigzagging through dense fog Completely oblivious to Fletcher’s fleet lying in wait for them In the early hours of the morning they reached calm and clear conditions At 0430 hours, Nagumo launched his first strike 108 aircraft took off from the carriers to attack Midway (loud gunshots) They were immediately spotted on Midway’s radar The Zero Fighters appeared from behind the clouds and the islands defenses went into action immediately (loud gunshots) Midway’s fighters went up to engage the enemy (loud buzzing) (loud gunshots) (loud explosion) (loud gunshots) (engines buzzing) (loud explosions) (loud gunfire) Considerable damage was inflicted on the airfield buildings and garrison But the air strip remained intact A few transport aircraft were damaged, but most of the fighter and bomber aircraft were in the air and out of the way during the attack As the fires burned over Midway, the extent of the damage was surveyed (crackling) Nagumo was now in a quandary His first attack had not knocked out the airfield as planned It was still operational A second air attack was needed He had been following Yamamoto’s orders and had held back his best air crews, their planes being armed with anti-ship weapons in case the United States fleet had arrived sooner than expected Yet his search planes had spotted no United States ships And he needed to finish the job at Midway Before he had made a decision however, the Americans had made up his mind for him The bombers from Midway had arrived overhead and were attacking his ships Although they did no damage, they did change the course of the battle The Japanese commander ordered his second wave torpedo bombers to be rearmed with bombs for another attack on Midway At 0728 hours, 15 minutes after the commander had ordered his aircraft below, one of Nagumo’s search planes spotted 10 United States warships some 335 kilometers northeast of the Japanese carriers Ironically, this plane had taken off 30 minutes late that morning Had it taken off on time, it would have spotted the Americans 30 minutes earlier and got the news back before the torpedo bombers had been sent below If this had been the case, Nagumo would almost have certainly sent his aircraft against the United States fleet and the course of the battle, and of the entire war in the Pacific might have been very different As it was, Nagumo was yet again in a quandary Should he turn his attention to the United States ships, or concentrate on Midway? He halted the rearming But there was one more question for the Japanese commander to worry about Did the United States force include carriers? His worst fears were realized when at 0820 hours a scout reported that the enemy was accompanied by what looked to be a carrier The news could not have reached Nagumo at a worse moment His first wave was just arriving back from the attack on Midway and had to land to refuel What bombers he did have available would have to fly without fighter escort

and were only armed with bombs and not torpedoes By 0918 hours, the Japanese flight decks were full of aircraft Some now rearmed, others being refueled The carriers were like floating bombs Also unbeknown to Nagumo, Fletcher had launched his aircraft and was about to attack at any moment (loud buzzing) News that airborne Catalinas had spotted the Japanese carrier fleet had reached Fletcher that morning at 0534 hours Fletcher had ordered the Hornet and the Enterprise ahead to attack while the Yorktown waited to retrieve the spotter planes At 0700 hours the Hornet and Enterprise still a long way off from the Japanese carriers launched their aircraft 152 of them They were aware that the Japanese were landing aircraft after the attack on Midway But they were taking a big gamble launching from such a dangerous long range Yet these men were to make probably the most decisive naval airstrike in history However, what these pilots didn’t know was that Nagumo had changed course when he decided to reload his aircraft As a result, the first aircraft had difficulty locating their prey (ominous music) At 0928 hours the first United States torpedo planes from the Hornet appeared over the Japanese fleet diving in to attack The Japanese launched their Zeroes Attempting to drive the bombers away from the ships And there was a fierce and bloody fight in the skies (loud buzzing) (loud explosion) (faint gunfire) (loud screeching) (loud gunfire) By 0945 hours, another wave of torpedo bombers arrived from the Enterprise Followed by another wave from the Yorktown at 10:15 (loud screeching) (loud gunfire) The American losses were high The Zeroes and anti-aircraft fired from the ships were taking their toll Only four out of the Enterprises first wave made it back to the carrier The Hornet and Yorktown crew suffered equally (loud rumbling) Those that did make it back, had the problems of landing a battle damaged aircraft on a rolling carrier deck This pilot wasn’t so lucky Others landed in flames (ominous music) Amazingly, this pilot survived Lieutenant Commander McClusky scanned the sparkling blue Pacific northeast of Midway island He was leading 33 dive bombers from the Enterprise and was lost He needed to make a decision

Where he had expected to find the enemy there was nothing And his planes would soon have to turn back for lack of fuel But McClusky had a hunch He decided to continue his search a little further west and the gamble paid off Nimitz later described this as the most important decision of the battle A few minutes later, McClusky spotted the wake of an enemy destroyer and followed it Just after 1000 hours he found the Japanese carriers The first waves of bombers which had attacked previously had suffered disastrously Most of them had been shot down by the Zeroes But this first attack had let McClusky’s dive bombers come in unnoticed Joined by a further 17 dive bombers from the Yorktown, McClusky could not have arrived at a better moment The decks of the Japanese carriers were crammed with nearly 100 aircraft as they prepared for their own strike against the United States carriers All of them were loaded with explosives and high octane fuel The tiniest spark would turn them into floating infernos As the Japanese carriers were turning into the wind to launch their aircraft, 50 United States dive bombers were hurdling in from the sky (loud gunfire) (loud screeching) The first hits turned the carriers Akagi, Kaga, and Soryu into exploding torches One Japanese sailor later recalled “The terrifying scream of the dive bomber “reached me first, followed by the crashing “explosion of a direct hit “There was a blinding flash and then a second explosion “much louder than the first.” (loud gunfire) (loud screeching) (loud gunfire) (loud buzzing) Within minutes, most of the Japanese first air fleet had been wiped out The 4th carrier, Hiryu was saved and tried a desperate counter attack At 1200 hours she launched her aircraft against the Yorktown (loud gunfire) (loud buzzing) (loud gunfire) During this stage of the battle, despite desperate maneuvering, the Yorktown took several direct hits (loud gunfire) You can see here how a large carrier

with her powerful engines can turn dramatically in full rudder Here you can see the effects of a bomb exploding close to the Yorktown Notice how the aircraft bounces on the flight deck (ominous music) The Yorktown fought hard for survival against the Japanese bombers But it was in vain (ominous music) (slow paced music) By 1440 hours, following another direct hit from a torpedo, the Yorktown was so badly crippled that Fletcher had no other alternative than to abandon her He handed command over to Admiral Spruance, commander of Taskforce 16 At 1700 hours, Spruance launched his aircraft from the Hornet and Enterprise Their mission? To attack the Hiryu (loud buzzing) (suspenseful music) The attack took the Japanese by surprise Once again the aircraft were on deck as they were preparing for a twilight raid on the remaining American carriers (eerie music) (loud gunfire) Four direct hits set her decks ablaze The Hiryu was crippled beyond repair During the night of the 4th of June, whilst the United Stated crews onboard Hornet and Enterprise prepared their aircraft for the next days battle, the Japanese carriers Soryu and Kaga sank to the bottom of the ocean (ominous music) As dawn broke on the morning of the 5th of June, news came back to the United States fleet that the Hiryu, still burning like a torch was sinking fast Shortly afterwards, reports came back that the remaining carrier, Akagi, had followed the same fate as the other three Four of Japan’s finest carriers had gone (ominous music) On the 6th of June, Yamamoto gave the order for a general withdrawal But not before United States planes attacked two of the Japanese cruisers Sinking one of them and badly damaging the other (loud buzzing) (loud gunfire) (ominous music)

On the morning of the 7th of June, damage control crews boarded the Yorktown in an effort to save her However, a short while later she was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine and was sent to the bottom (loud explosions) Also on this day, the Japanese landed on the islands of Attu and Kiska in the Aleutians Capturing a little more than a weather station (loud gunfire) These two western most islands in the Aleutian chain were so peripheral that they were of little consequence to the Americans In fact, so much so they took four days before the Americans actually knew they were there And even then, made no immediate effort to regain them Whilst both sides claim the previous battle in the Coral Sea a Victory, there could be no doubt about Midway The United States had destroyed the Japanese main striking force of four carriers and a heavy cruiser, 322 aircraft, and almost 5,000 men and officers The United States Pacific fleet, far from being destroyed as Yamamoto had promised, had won the remarkable victory And what’s more, as often happens in military history, they won a victory against an enemy far superior in terms of numbers Whilst the Japanese effort was compromised by poor strategy, tactical error, and misfortune, the Americans were aided by excellent intelligence, naval air organization, tactical command, and most important of all, a great deal of luck Despite the loss of one carrier, 137 aircraft, and 307 men, the Americans had turned the tide of war in the Pacific No longer would Japan be in position to risk a major fleet versus fleet action and were now on the defensive By the time Japan had rebuilt it’s fleet, American power had become fully mobilized into the unstoppable might that Yamamoto had so feared (dramatic music) (upbeat music)