In This Article Battle of Midway

  • Introduction
  • Official Histories and Publications
  • Pacific War Overviews
  • Pacific War Operations
  • Relevant Pearl Harbor Works
  • Encyclopedias
  • Generalist Works
  • Japan at War
  • Strategy
  • Aircraft Carrier Operations
  • Analytical Studies
  • Nautical Archaeology
  • Codebreaking and Intelligence
  • Aleutian Campaign
  • Aircraft Carriers and the US Navy
  • Submarine Operations
  • Aviation Overviews
  • Squadron Studies
  • Aircraft Studies
  • Assessments
  • Controversies

Military History Battle of Midway
by
Anthony Tully
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 November 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0153

Introduction

Following the successful attack on Pearl Harbor and the effective destruction or crippling of the US Navy’s battle line, Japan’s First Air Fleet carriers of Kido Butai proceeded to rage almost unopposed for the next four months. Mindful of the importance of their aircraft carriers, which had escaped being at Pearl Harbor, the Americans were careful to choose their moments of deployment carefully. In the meantime, the commander in chief of the Combined Fleet, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, grew impatient with the delay in bringing the enemy carriers to pitched battle. As long as the US carriers remained at large, both Japan’s plans and defense perimeter were threatened. Fully aware that Japan had perhaps a year, at most, before the full weight of America’s industrial might came to bear, Yamamoto devised a plan that he hoped would force a decisive carrier and surface battle on Japan’s terms and at a time of Japan’s choosing. There was one crucial catch. Yamamoto’s plan as conceived depended heavily on the element of surprise; that is, the American carriers must be lured into defending Midway. There was almost no allowance for Admiral Chester W. Nimitz having already placed his carriers in position beforehand. Yet, due to epic and brilliant codebreaking, that is exactly what happened. Sufficiently persuaded and forewarned by intelligence work, Nimitz stationed three carriers northeast of Midway. These carriers were in position well before the morning of 4 June 1942, the day Japanese admiral Chuichi Nagumo’s carriers were to raid Midway. The result was the Battle of Midway. By the time it was over, the invasion had been repelled, and four of Japan’s six fleet carriers and one of its heavy cruisers had been sunk. American losses in aircraft and pilots were severe, and an aircraft carrier and destroyer were sunk. But the Japanese navy could not afford such a trade. The heretofore seemingly invincible weapon system, the elite sword that was Kido Butai, had been shattered. Two of the three carrier divisions that formed the core of the First Air Fleet had been destroyed. After Midway, the United States and its allies wrested the strategic initiative from the Japanese and never really lost it again.

Official Histories and Publications

Official histories either covering the Battle of Midway or including it as part of an overview form important primary sources of the battle. Tsunoda 1971, the Midway volume of the official Japanese war history, helped reveal the errors in the Allied understanding of the battle. Craven and Cate 1948–1958 remains a principal reference on the Army Air Force’s role at Midway, and Hough, et al. 1958 covers the land defense preparations. Kirby 1957–1969 and Roskill 1954–1961 complement each other for giving Great Britain’s perspective. Morison 2001 is the starting point for the American side. The US Strategic Bombing Survey (USSBS) produced two important works, with Interrogations of Japanese Officials (US Strategic Bombing Survey 1946) containing numerous immediate postwar interviews, and Campaigns of the Pacific War (US Strategic Bombing Survey 1969) serving as a still-important translation of official Japanese documents. The English translation in US Office of Naval Intelligence 1947 and the Japanese original of the Nagumo Action Report (Takeshita 1971) are the primary-source foundations for the progress of the battle from the Japanese side.

  • Craven, Wesley F., and James Lea Cate, eds. The Army Air Forces in World War II. 7 vols. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948–1958.

    E-mail Citation »

    This is a general but detailed rich overview of the deployment and operations of the US Army Air Forces in World War II. The chapter on Midway gives a good description of the B-17 strikes against the Japanese fleet, and the role of land-based air during the battle.

  • Hough, Frank O., Verle E. Ludwig, and Henry I. Shaw Jr. History of U.S. Marine Corps Operations in World War II. Vol. 1, Pearl Harbor to Guadalcanal. Washington, DC: US Marine Corps, 1958.

    E-mail Citation »

    The official history of the US Marine Corps. The section on Midway gives good details of the preparations to repel the Japanese invasion and the events of the battle. The defense of the island and destruction ashore during the Midway are described.

  • Kirby, Stanley Woodburn. The War against Japan. 5 vols. London: H. M. Stationery Office, 1957–1969.

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    The definitive official British military history of the war. Forming part of the official British histories, the volumes have broad overview but predate the declassification of intelligence data.

  • Morison, Samuel Eliot. History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. Vol. 4, Coral Sea, Midway and Submarine Actions, May 1942–August 1942. Edison, NJ: Castle, 2001.

    E-mail Citation »

    The fourth olume of S. E. Morison’s celebrated histories, originally published in 1948; it covers Midway in considerable detail. For the Japanese side, it uses mostly information from the US Office of Naval Intelligence and the interrogations of Japanese officials. Though very early in publication, and thus dated with notable inaccuracies of detail, it remains a useful overview and important historiography reference.

  • Roskill, Stephen W. The War at Sea, 1939–1945. 3 vols. London: H. M. Stationery Office, 1954–1961.

    E-mail Citation »

    The official Royal Navy history of World War II. The Royal Navy equivalent of S. E. Morison’s fifteen-volume History of United States Naval Operations of World War II. Regarding Midway, it closely follows Morison’s text.

  • Takeshita Takami. Nantōhōmen kaigun sakusen. Vol. 1, Gato dakkai sakusen kaishimade. Senshi Sōsho 49. Tokyo: Asagumo Shinbunsha, 1971.

    E-mail Citation »

    Translates as “Southeast area naval operations to the beginning of operations to recapture Guadalcanal”; excerpts as translated by Rear Admiral Edwin T. Layton, US Navy (Ret.) The seminal official Japanese reference work on the operational history of the Pacific War. Restricted to those with proficient reading knowledge of Japanese. However, for those familiar with Japanese-language characters and references and notes for place names, it is possible to locate sections of interest by use of the convenient chronological section headers.

  • Tsunoda Hitoshi, ed. Middouē kaisen. Senshi Sōsho 43. Tokyo: Asagumo Shinbunsha, 1971.

    E-mail Citation »

    The Midway volume of the official Japanese history when published in 1971 announced major corrections from the Japanese. Edited by Tsunoda and incorporating new research and interviews, it went well beyond a basic official reference. It is worth noting that information derived from its extensive Midway volume forms the corpus of the related Midway chapter in Paul Dull’s book (Dull 1978, cited under Pacific War Operations).

  • US Office of Naval Intelligence. The Japanese Story of the Battle of Midway: A Translation. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1947.

    E-mail Citation »

    Better known and more commonly referred to as the “Nagumo Report,” this is in fact the detailed action report of the First Air Fleet (Detailed Action Report 6), as translated by Fred Woodrough Jr.

  • US Strategic Bombing Survey. Interrogations of Japanese Officials. 2 vols. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1946.

    E-mail Citation »

    The title is the content. These two volumes contain scores of interviews of Japanese officials made immediately postwar. Despite errors of recall or moments of deliberate misdirection, the interviews remain crucial sources both of facts and contemporaneous mindsets.

  • US Strategic Bombing Survey. The Campaigns of the Pacific War. New York: Greenwood, 1969.

    E-mail Citation »

    This is an important book compiled from the USSBS surveys, and it contains many translated Japanese source documents and reports. Though some errors appear, it remains an influential and important primary source.

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