Midway Sentinal

Fall 2009


The decisive American victory at the Battle of Midway in June 1942 had profound effects on the Outcome of World War II in its entirety, having both short- and long-term global consequences. The well-documented short-term consequence was that the battle ended a series of consecutive offensive successes by Japan in the Pacific. Much less appreciated is the long-term consequence that the decisive victory by the United States at Midway permitted both America and Great Britain to continue to focus the majority of their military resources on Europe rather than in the Pacific.

In the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and of Germany's and Italy's declaration of war against the United States four days later, the United States was faced with a dilemma in its military response to these events. Should its main focus of military action be in the Atlantic or the Pacific? America was not fully prepared for war in 1941 and did not have the capability of fighting a two-ocean war. Efforts in one theater of operation would automatically limit efforts in the other; attempts by the United States to bolster its military strength in the Atlantic would result in a diminution of its efforts in the Pacific. Weighing the circumstances, America, along with Great Britain committed to its "Europe First" policy on December 22, 1941. This decision had significant military implications regarding United States' efforts to constrain Japanese successes in the Pacific. During this time, America would have to forego its attempts to take back its territories captured by Japan, namely the Philippine Islands, Wake Island, Guam and the western Aleutian Islands.

There were several reasons for this strategic decision implemented jointly by the U.S. and Great Britain which gave the conflict in Europe precedence over the war in the Pacific. First, Great Britain was the only country remaining in Europe that was free of German domination and, as such, it represented the last bastion of democracy in western Europe; second, Britain was the only country in Europe that America could count on as a military base; third, German submarine attacks against U.S. Merchant Marine vessels in the Atlantic were raging and the allies were losing these battles; and fourth, Britain's colonies in southeast Asia, namely Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaya had fallen to the Japanese military by June 1942, which prevented their recapture by the U.S. or Britain.

During the summer of 1942, the military situation in Europe was precarious at best. Germany was winning the Battle of the Atlantic; during June, 823,656 tons of allied shipping were lost at sea, the worst losses of that year so far. In addition, the military outcome in North Africa was in doubt, as Tobruk had fallen into German hands ten days before the Battle of Midway; the German army was at the doorsteps of Stalingrad and the Caucasus oil fields in southeast Russia, and most importantly, Germany was ahead of the United States in the development and implementation of jet and rocket technology. Although this latter scientific achievement was in the early stages of its development, the Germans were rapidly closing in on realizing the full potential of the science so as to produce a potent and superior military weapon in its fight against the Allies. Time was of the essence to prevent the Germans from gaining air superiority over the skies of Europe, as well as the capability of reaching Britain and the United States with intercontinental ballistic missiles.

If the United States had lost all three of its carriers at Midway, and Japan's carrier strength had remained intact, President Roosevelt would have faced a difficult decision because Hawaii and the entire west coast of the United States would have been vulnerable to Japanese attack. In addition, Australia, a significant ally in the Pacific and a critical base for American military operations, would have—at the very least—been isolated by Japan's control of the sea lanes to and from Australia. Japan would have had the ability to bomb our oil reserves in Hawaii, which, even without an invasion, would have successfully forced the United States Navy to withdraw to San Diego. This in turn would have necessitated a significant movement of naval forces from the Atlantic to the Pacific, with no certainty of victory assured by these deployments. This change of tactical superiority in favor of Japan would have seriously affected the time line of our offensive assault on North Africa and our decision to invade Normandy in 1944. Furthermore, these circumstances would have provided Germany with the time needed to develop its superior weapons in its fight against the Allies, which could have tipped the outcome of the war in Germany's favor or—at the very least—left the conclusion of the war in Europe uncertain.

In addition to the events taking place in Europe, the Soviet Union had exposed the Manchurian border to Japanese attack by transferring many of its forces to the west in its fight against Germany. This transition left the border open to Japanese incursion, causing a dilemma to the Soviet Union's military strategy at that time: either they would have to weaken their forces in the west or leave their left flank vulnerable to Japanese attack. A decisive victory by Japan at Midway would have also given Japan the option to invade the Soviet Union on its eastern border. The Soviet Union would then have been compelled to fight the war in Europe on two fronts, further weakening that country's ability to resist the German army while the Allies invaded North Africa and later Normandy. These events would have clearly delayed the Allies' time table in taking the offensive in Africa and on the beaches of Normandy.

The foregoing reveals how fragile the balance of victory was in World War II and how events in the Pacific clearly influenced events in the Atlantic and their ultimate outcomes. It describes how the decisive victory of the U.S. Navy at Midway influenced the whole of World War II, affecting the outcomes not only in the Pacific but in the Atlantic as well, and paved the way for the ultimate victory by the United States and its allies over Japan and Germany.


Ewa Marine Corps Air Field was the first U.S. military installation to be attacked by Japanese aircraft on December 7, 1941. An all-out effort is being pursued by John Bond in Hawaii to designate the airfield as an National American Battlefield under the National Park Service (NPS). This would set the stage for the airfield to become a National Monument under the NPS. The designation would make Ewa Marine Corps Air Field the first National Park and National Battlefield in West Oahu. The IMMF fully supports this effort. To reach John Bond you may call him at 808-685-3045.

Chris and I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year.

Written By:

James M. Dangelo

Chairman and Founder, IMMF

Written By:

M. Christine Sims

Vice President and Chairman, IMMF

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