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Authors: Craig L. Symonds

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The Battle of Midway (Pivotal Moments in American History)

THE BATTLE OF MIDWAY

PIVOTAL MOMENTS IN AMERICAN HISTORY
Series Editors
David Hackett Fischer
James M. McPherson
David Greenberg

James T. Patterson
Brown v. Board of Education: A Civil
Rights Milestone and Its Troubled Legacy

Maury Klein
Rainbow’s End: The Crash of 1929

James McPherson
Crossroads of Freedom:
The Battle of Antietam

Glenn C. Altschuler
All Shook Up: How Rock ’n’ Roll
Changed America

David Hackett Fischer
Washington’s Crossing

John Ferling
Adams vs. Jefferson:
The Tumultuous Election of 1800

Joel H. Silbey
Storm over Texas: The Annexation
Controversy and the Road to Civil War

Raymond Arsenault
Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle
for Racial Justice

Colin G. Calloway
The Scratch of a Pen: 1763 and the
Transformation of North America

Richard Labunski
James Madison and the
Struggle for the Bill of Rights

Sally McMillen
Seneca Falls and the Origins of the
Women’s Rights Movement

Howard Jones
The Bay of Pigs

Elliott West
The Last Indian War:
The Nez Perce Story

Lynn Hudson Parsons
The Birth of Modern Politics:
Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams,
and the Election of 1828

Glenn C. Altschuler and
Stuart M. Blumin
The GI Bill: A New Deal for Veterans

Richard Archer
As If an Enemy’s Country: The British
Occupation of Boston and the Origins of
Revolution

Thomas Kessner
The Flight of the Century: Charles
Lindbergh and the Rise of American
Aviation

CRAIG L. SYMONDS

THE BATTLE OF MIDWAY

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Copyright © 2011 by Craig L. Symonds

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Symonds, Craig L.
The Battle of Midway / Craig L. Symonds.
p. cm.—(Pivotal moments in American history)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-19-539793-2
1. Midway, Battle of, 1942.
2. World War, 1939–1945—Naval operations, American.
3. World War, 1939–1945—Naval operations, Japanese. I. Title.
D774.M5S93 2011
940.54’26699—dc22   2011010648

1 3 5 7 9 8 6 4 2
Printed in the United States of America
on acid-free paper

For my grandson,
Will Symonds

CONTENTS

Maps

Editor’s Note

Introduction

1
CinCPac

2
The Kid
ō
Butai

3
The Brown Shoe Navy

4
American Counterstrike

5
Seeking the Decisive Battle

6
Pete and Jimmy

7
The Code Breakers

8
The Battle of the Coral Sea

9
The Eve of Battle

10
Opening Act

11
Nagumo’s Dilemma (4:00 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.)

12
The Flight to Nowhere (7:00 a.m. to 11:20 a.m.)

13
Attack of the Torpedo Squadrons (8:30 a.m. to 10:20 a.m.)

14
The Tipping Point (7:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.)

15
The Japanese Counterstrike (11:00a.m.to 6:00 p.m.)

16
Denouement

Epilogue

Acknowledgments

APPENDIX A American and Japanese Aircraft Carriers

APPENDIX B American and Japanese Aircraft

APPENDIX C American Order of Battle at Midway

APPENDIX D Japanese Order of Battle at Midway

APPENDIX E How Much Did the U.S. Know of Japanese Plans?

APPENDIX F The Flight to Nowhere

Notes

A Note on Sources

Bibliography

Index

EDITOR’S NOTE

I
n a matter of eight minutes on the morning of June 4, 1942, three of the four aircraft carriers in Japan’s principal striking force were mortally wounded by American dive bombers. The fourth would follow later that day. The Japanese Navy never recovered from this blow. These pivotal minutes—the most dramatic in World War II, indeed perhaps in all of American history—reversed the seemingly irresistible momentum toward Japanese victory and started the long comeback of American forces from the disasters at Pearl Harbor and the Philippines six months earlier.

Craig Symonds begins the riveting story of the Battle of Midway with the arrival of Admiral Chester Nimitz at Pearl Harbor on Christmas Day, 1941, to start the planning for the counteroffensive that led to those climactic moments near Midway Atoll, a thousand miles west of Hawaii. American aircraft carriers had been absent from Pearl Harbor when the Japanese struck on December 7, 1941. That fortuitous absence seemed to make little difference at the time, for in the ensuing four months Japanese forces advanced from one triumph to the next until they had conquered Malaya and Singapore, the Dutch East Indies, the Philippines, and Indochina. Japan thereby created its Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere, which stretched from China to the mid-Pacific and almost from the borders of Alaska to Australia. So easy were these conquests that they led to an overweening disdain for their enemies—especially the United States—which Japanese historians subsequently and ruefully labeled “the victory disease.”

One Japanese leader who did not suffer from this disease was Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku, commander in chief of Japan’s combined fleet and the architect of the Pearl Harbor attack. The survival of America’s small fleet of carriers enabled the United States to begin a series of counterthrusts in early 1942, including the Doolittle raid over Tokyo, culminating in the Battle of Coral Sea in May. Yamamoto was determined, in Symonds’ words, “to eliminate the threat of more carrier raids by engineering a climactic naval battle somewhere in the Central Pacific that would destroy those carriers once and for all.” He designed a campaign by Japan’s large striking force of four carriers and numerous battleships, cruisers, destroyers, and submarines, designated the Kidō Butai, to draw out the American carriers (only three were available) defending the outpost on Midway Atoll. Yamamoto planned for his superior force to pounce and sink them.

In the event, however, it was the Americans who did the pouncing and sinking. This victory is often described as “the miracle at Midway,” a success that depended on the lucky timing of the dive-bomber attack that screamed down from the sky at precisely the moment when Japanese fighter planes (the famous Zeroes) were preoccupied with shooting down the hapless American torpedo planes, whose only accomplishment—though it was a crucial one—was to distract the fighters. Symonds makes clear that while luck played a part, the American victory was mainly the result of careful planning, the effective use of radar (which the Japanese did not have), and superior intelligence. The Americans had partially broken the Japanese naval operations code, which gave them timely intelligence of Japanese intentions and actions. Symonds gives much credit to Joseph Rochefort, an unsung hero of the battle, who as head of the Combat Intelligence Unit was principally responsible for decoding and interpreting Japanese communications.

One of the many great strengths of this book is its emphasis on the important “decisions made and actions taken by individuals who found themselves at the nexus of history at a decisive moment.” Symonds’ vivid word portraits of these individuals—Japanese as well as Americans—their personalities, their foibles and virtues, are an outstanding feature of
The Battle of Midway.
Readers will come away not only with a better understanding of the strategies, operational details, and tactics of this pivotal battle but with greater appreciation for the men whose decisions and actions made it happen.

James M. McPherson

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