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The Battle of Midway (June 4th to 7th 1942) was a sea and air battle between the Japanese and Americans near the island of Midway, a thousand miles (1600 km) west of Hawaii. Japan lost four aircraft carriers, America only one. It was the turning point of the Pacific part of the Second World War, turning the war in favour of the Americans.

The top admirals at the battle: Yamamoto for the Japanese and Spruance for the Americans.

Aircraft carriers:

  • Japanese (4): Hiryu (sunk), Soryu (sunk), Akagi (sunk), Kaga (sunk)
  • American (3): Yorktown (sunk), Hornet, Enterprise

Before the battle Japan had more warships than anyone in the Pacific. America had lost most of their ships six months before at the Battle of Pearl Harbor. But it had broken the secret code of the Japanese and knew they would strike at Midway. That allowed America to put what few ships it had at the right place at the right time.

The battle turned at about 10:20 in the morning: the Japanese were preparing to send out a second wave of bombers, which were sitting on the flight decks of the carriers ready to take off in five minutes. Just then American dive bombers suddenly appeared from behind the clouds and destroyed the bombers and the three aircraft carriers they were on: the Akagi, Kaga and Soryu. Only the Hiryu was left.

The fighter planes that were supposed to protect the carriers while the bombers got ready had been drawn off to fight American torpedo bombers. They destroyed most of them, but left the three ships naked and helpless.

The Hiryu went on to destroy the Yorktown, but in the end it was sunk too.

Before Midway and the Battle of the Coral Sea a month before, sea battles were largely a fight between battleships with big guns. It had been that way for hundreds of years. But now the Americans had shown that it was aircraft carriers and their warplanes that mattered most. The Japanese knew that air power was important in sea battles, but the Americans had an even more profound understanding of this new fact.

Admiral Yamamoto, even after he lost his four carriers, still had far more ships. He might have pressed home his advantage to take Midway. And in the old days he would have. But having lost all his carriers he no longer had any air cover. His ships would be sitting ducks. So he had to pull back.

Churchill had said the British and Americans would gain the upper hand in the Pacific by May 1942. Not bad. He based that on how fast Japan, America and Britain were building ships. Battleships and carriers take years to build, so the loss of four carriers at Midway was a grave one for Japan: for every carrier Japan built, America built two. So once America got the lead, Japan would never catch up.

After the battles of Midway and the Coral Sea, Australians no longer had to fear the Japanese landing on their shores.

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