On June 4, 1942, the Battle of Midway, one of the most decisive American victories against Japan during the Second World War, began. During the four-day sea and air battle, the overwhelmed U.S. Pacific fleet managed to destroy four Japanese aircraft carriers while losing only one, the Yorktown, to the previously invincible Japanese navy.
In six months of offensives before Midway, the Japanese had triumphed in the Pacific lands, notably in Malaysia, Singapore, the Dutch East Indies, the Philippines and many groups of islands. The United States, however, was a growing threat, and Japanese admiral Isoroku Yamamoto sought to destroy the U.S. Pacific fleet before it was large enough to surpass its own.
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Thousands of miles northwest of Honolulu, the strategic island of Midway became the center of his plan to break American resistance to Japanese imperial designs. Yamamoto’s plan consisted of a feint towards Alaska followed by an invasion of Midway by a Japanese strike force. When the United States Pacific fleet arrived at Midway to respond to the invasion, it would be destroyed by the larger Japanese fleet waiting in the west. If successful, the plan would eliminate the U.S. Pacific fleet and provide an advanced outpost from which the Japanese could eliminate any future U.S. threats in the central Pacific. The American intelligence services, however, broke the Japanese naval code and the Americans anticipated the surprise attack.
Meanwhile, 200 miles northeast, two American attack fleets took the Japanese force by surprise and destroyed three large Japanese aircraft and a heavy cruiser. The only Japanese carrier that originally escaped destruction Hiryu, dropped all of its aircraft against the American task force and successfully damaged the American aircraft carrier Yorktown, forcing his abandonment. Around 5 p.m., dive bombers from the American aircraft carrier Company returned the favor, fatally damaging the Hiryu. He was scuttled the next morning.
By the end of the Battle of Midway, Japan had lost four aircraft carriers, a cruiser and 292 aircraft, and killed around 2,500 people. The United States has lost the Yorktown, the destroyer USS Hammann, 145 planes and made approximately 300 victims.
The losses of Japan hampered its naval power – bringing the Japanese and American maritime power to an approximate parity – and marked the turning point in the peaceful theater of the Second World War. In August 1942, the great American counteroffensive began at Guadalcanal and did not stop until the capitulation of Japan three years later.