Midway Sentinal

Winter 2008


The International Midway Memorial Foundation (IMMF), in association with the U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation will host a Battle of Midway Symposium on June 4, 2009. The U.S. Navy Memorial is located at 701 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C. The symposium will be divided into two sessions: from 0900 to 1130, and from 1400 to 1600. There will be a Battle of Midway ceremony on the parade grounds of the Navy Memorial from 1200 to 1230, following which there will be a ninety minute lunch break. Invited Midway veterans are Admiral Max Showers, USN (U.S. Naval Intelligence Communications at the HYPO Unit at Pearl Harbor); Captain Jack W. Crawford, USN (USS YORKTOWN) and LCDR John S. Urban, USN (Ret.) (USS HORNET). The panelists include Dr. Richard C. Thornton, Professor of History and International Affairs at George Washington University, whose discussion will be focused on the series of events involving French Frigate Shoals and how they affected the outcome at Midway, and Dr. James Perry, who received his Ph.D in history from George Washington University. Others who have been invited to participate include Dr. William S. Dudley, former Director of the Naval Historical Center and Rear Admiral Jay DeLoach, USN (Ret.), the current Director of the Naval Historical Center. All Midway veterans are invited to attend. Further details will follow in the Spring issue of the newsletter.


There is a long-held view that the Battle of Midway was an "Incredible Victory" against overwhelming odds by the U.S. Navy. Some authors have labeled the battle "Miracle at Midway"

This premise is challenged by authors Parshall and Tully.

Parshall and Tully's assertion: "...The myth in question is the persistent belief that in defeating the Japanese the Americans miraculously triumphed against 'overwhelming odds.' Ths myth, which is the most pernicious one concerning the Battle of Midway, has never been seriously questioned even though evidence to the contrary was readily available. The continuance of this myth suggests that it fits conveniently into the glorification of this, possibly the greatest U.S. naval victory of all time....."

Discussion: The authors point out that the Japanese operational plan was such that the majority of Japanese ships in total never fired a shot at Midway. The Main Body was over three hundred miles to the west. This point is true; however, U.S. forces attacked the Japanese flank at the point where its forces were the weakest and had the greatest opportunity to inflict the most damage on the enemy - its four carriers. In military tactics, the main purpose of a flanking movement is to strike the enemy at its weakest point, even though the enemy has numerical superiority.

Parshall and Tully then stress the fact that Nagumo's First Striking Force had twenty ships and that the U.S. Navy had twenty-five ships. Of these Japan had four carriers with 248 aircraft and the Americans had three carriers with a total of 233 aircraft. They accurately state that the United States had nearly 120 aircraft on Midway Atoll. With these numbers, one could conclude that an American victory would be probable; however, in reality, events proved otherwise, and the odds shifted clearly in Japan's favor.

We will begin with Midway. Of the approximately 120 aircraft available on Midway, only 38 planes reached their target - the Japanese Task Force. Sixteen SBD-2s were outdated and their pilots only knew how to glide bomb. The twelve B-17s, as we found out, were ineffective. The six TBFs were new and the four B-26s were adequate, but even these planes faced the overwhelming numerical and technical superiority of the Japanese Zero. The TBFs and the B-26s attacked the Japanese carriers at 0700 while the SBDs and the B-17s struck at 0800. These land-based air attacks on the carriers were not synchronized and the two groups were separated from each other by one hour due to the varying speeds of the aircraft leaving Midway.

Some of the aircraft from the three American carriers fared no better. The torpedo planes from the HORNET and ENTERPRISE arrived at 0920 and 0940 respectively and, without fighter support, faced the numerical and technical superiority of the Japanese Zero, which resulted in none of the torpedo bombers hitting a single ship.

In addition, the dive-bombers and fighters from the HORNET lost their way to the target and never played a role in the battle. The loss of these planes combined with the loss of the torpedo bombers from the HORNET and ENTERPRISE, plus the 17 SBDs held back in reserve on YORKTOWN, reduced the effective number of aircraft from the U.S. carriers from 233 to 154 planes and from three effective carriers to two, thus increasing the odds in Japan's favor from 4 to 3 to 2 to 1.

The first component of the designation of "Miracle at Midway" came about with the fortuitous finding of the Japanese destroyer Arashi returning to its fleet by ENTERPRISE's SBDs. The USS NAUTILUS had been shadowing the Japanese fleet attempting to make a torpedo attack. The submarine was kept at bay by the Arashi which had just depth-charged the NAUTILUS about 35 miles away from the Japanese fleet. Having attacked the NAUTILUS, the destroyer was returning home to the fleet. The ENTERPRISE's dive bombers were low on fuel and were about ready to turn back to the U.S. carriers when they spotted the destroyer. Had the NAUTILUS not been doing its job at that moment - shadowing the Japanese fleet for a potential torpedo attack - the SBDs from ENTERPRISE would have never found the Japanese Task Force.

The second component of the label "Miracle at Midway" was the uncoordinated-coordinated attack by aircraft launched from the YORKTOWN forty-five minutes later than those planes launched by the ENTERPRISE, which were following the destroyer Arashi home to the Japanese Task Force. The arrival of YORKTOWN's and ENTERPRISE's dive-bombers flying at a high altitude with YORKTOWN's torpedo planes coming in at a low altitude simultaneously caught the Japanese Combat Air Patrol (CAP) at low altitudes, permitting the U.S. dive-bombers to attack the Japanese carriers unmolested. This series of events was truly miraculous in nature and aided in the sinking of three Japanese carriers that morning.

These events, although they may have not been planned to occur as they did, by any reasoning were extraordinary and an unlikely series of events that define the word miracle.

Written By:

James M. Dangelo

Chairman and Founder, IMMF

Written By:

M. Christine Sims

Vice President and Chairman, IMMF

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