The fourth Japanese aircraft carrier, Hiryu, had been obscured by cloud cover and was undetected during the attacks. In retaliation, a small force of aircraft was scrapped together aboard Hiryu and launched against the Yorktown. The Japanese aircraft located the Yorktown and wounded her with three bomb and two torpedo hits, but American planes found Hiryu three hours later. Twenty-four Enterprise dive-bombers so damaged the Hiryu that she sank the following day.
Yorktown Meets Her End At Hands Of Japanese Sub
Despite her serious damage, it appeared that the Yorktown might survive yet again. However, on the morning of June 6, the crippled carrier was spotted by the Japanese submarine I-168 and sent to the bottom by two torpedoes. The destroyer Hammann was sunk in the same attack.
A total of 147 American planes were lost during the Battle of Midway, along with 307 sailors and airmen. Aside from their four aircraft carriers, the Japanese also lost the heavy cruiser Mikuma, while her sister, Mogami, was severely damaged. Perhaps most devastating of all for the Japanese was the loss of 332 aircraft and many experienced pilots who were irreplaceable. A total of 2,300 Japanese sailors and airmen were killed.
Six Short Minutes That Changed Course Of the South Pacific
In six minutes McClusky’s and Leslie’s dive- bombers had changed the course of the Pacific War. Three carriers had been sunk, and a fourth soon followed them to a watery grave. The United States had wrested the initiative from Japan. From now on, the Japanese would be forced to fight defensively in the Pacific.
Although he had suffered huge losses, Admiral Yamamoto still hoped to extract victory from the ashes by luring Spruance’s naval forces into a night battle against his powerful battleships. However, the cautious Spruance would not permit his ships to be caught in a night surface action against a superior enemy force. The Japanese were also supremely proficient at night fighting.
Yamamoto Assumes Responsibility For Devastating Defeat
When Yamamoto realized that Spruance was not chasing him, he concluded that the battle near Midway was over and canceled the rest of the operation. When a subordinate wondered who would apologize to the Japanese emperor for the defeat, Yamamoto answered, “Leave that to me. I am the only one who must apologize to His Majesty.” He then retired to his cabin and refused to see anyone for three days.
The victory enabled Admiral Nimitz to issue a statement that “Pearl Harbor has now been partially avenged.”
Reporter Casey wrote that if the Japanese had won at Midway, “We might well have been moving our bases to a more suitable place—such as the bottom of the Grand Canyon.”
Japanese Captain Yasumi Toyama, who served in the battle, declared, “After Midway we were defensive, trying to hold what we had instead of expanding.”
A Decisive Battle For the History Books
Three years after World War II ended in 1945, experts at the Naval War College completed an analysis of the Battle of Midway. They praised Spruance’s calm, decisive leadership and concluded that the crucial victory transformed the Pacific War.
The analysis of the battle reads in part, “By destroying four of Japan’s finest aircraft carriers together with many of her best pilots it deprived the Japanese Navy of a large and vital portion of her powerful carrier striking force; it had a stimulating effect on the morale of the American fighting forces; it stopped the Japanese expansion to the east; it put an end to Japanese offensive action which had been all conquering for the first six months of war; it restored the balance of naval power in the Pacific which thereafter steadily shifted to favor the American side; and it removed the threat to Hawaii and to the west coast of the United States.”
This article by John Wukovits originally appeared on Warfare History Network.