Japanese vessels flew the flag of the Imperial Japanese Navy.
Japanese vessels flew the flag of the Imperial Japanese Navy.

The Battle of Midway was fought between the third and the seventh of June in 1942, as Japanese aircraft carriers launched torpedo and bomber attacks against the American airbase on Midway Island and the American aircraft carriers sent to defend it. Despite the loss of the USS Yorktown, the battle ended in a decisive victory for the United States, with the sinking of all four Japanese aircraft carriers.

The Japanese Fleet

The Japanese fleet in the Battle of Midway included the aircraft carriers Kaga, Soryu, Akagi and Hiryu along with a small escort of destroyers and cruisers. Admiral Yamamoto, the Japanese commander, hoped to take Midway Island and sink America's remaining aircraft carriers to knock America out of the war in the Pacific. Yamamoto also planned to attack the Aleutian Islands of Alaska as a diversion tactic. On the fourth of June, the first waves of Japanese bombers, dive bombers and torpedo bombers left the Japanese carriers and hit Midway Island in what was intended to be a devastating surprise attack. However, the Americans were not surprised at all.

The American Fleet

United States intelligence had successfully deciphered Japanese military code JN-25, so Admiral Nimitz knew all about the attack on Midway before it happened. Although American forces were still outnumbered, Nimitz was able to place three aircraft carriers in position to ambush the Japanese fleet when it arrived -- the USS Yorktown, Enterprise and Hornet. The Yorktown is also known as CV-5, the Enterprise as CV-6 and the Hornet as CV-8. When the Japanese planes attacked Midway Island, all three American carriers launched attacks on the Japanese fleet.

The American Counterattack

The American aircraft carriers launched torpedo planes and dive bombers against the Japanese fleet, but the dive bombers from the USS Hornet were unable to find their targets on the open ocean. The Hornet's Torpedo Squadron 8 did find the Japanese, but was wiped out by the Japanese fighter escort without causing any damage. Torpedo Squadron 6 from the USS Enterprise and Torpedo Squadron 3 from the USS Yorktown also suffered almost total losses. Only six of the 41 American torpedo planes made it back. However, the Japanese were so preoccupied with these attacks that they didn't notice the American dive bombers coming in behind them. When the dive bombers hit, the Japanese carriers were refueling and rearming their planes. American bombs landed directly on the flammable fuel lines and explosives. Kaga, Soryu and Akagi were soon sinking.

Hiryu Strikes Back

The Japanese fleet still had one aircraft carrier left. On June sixth, Japanese dive bombers and torpedo planes from the Hiryu attacked the USS Yorktown. Three dive bombers landed successful hits on the American carrier, but American seamen succeeded in containing the fires. However, the torpedo planes struck next and launched two torpedoes into the Yorktown, forcing the crew to abandon ship. The USS Enterprise launched a dive bomber attack on the Hiryu and destroyed it on the seventh. The destroyer USS Hartmann sent a salvage crew to save the Yorktown, but Japanese submarines sank the Hartmann and finished off the Yorktown as well. With all four Japanese carriers gone, the Battle of Midway was over. Japanese losses are estimated at 322 airplanes and 5,000 men. The United States lost 147 airplanes and about 300 sailors.