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The Official Magazine of the United States Marine Corps

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Battle of Midway

Official U.S. Navy Photograph - Thirty miles from Midway, 27 United States Marine Corps fighters intercept 60 to 80 Japanese bombers.

Just six months after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, which nearly decimated the United States’ naval power, the United States found an opportunity to even the playing field.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph - Dauntless dive-bombers make their run before engaging Japanese warships during the titanic battle of Midway in June, 1942. A Japanese warship burns far below

Adm. Chester W. Nimitz had a valuable asset the Japanese could not foresee — the U.S. Navy intelligence had broken Japan’s naval code. The U.S. now knew the timing and location of the next Japanese attack. The intercepted information showed that the Imperial Japanese Navy was divided and none of their battle formations could support each other, making it easier for Nimitz to defend and counter against an attack. Japan remained almost totally unaware of the surviving carriers – or the planned U.S. attack, and appeared to assume that America was still inoperable from the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor.
In the buildup for the approaching battle, one notable carrier was USS Yorktown. Japanese dive bombers had severely damaged Yorktown one month prior at the Battle of Coral Sea. Japan expected it to sink or be out of the fight for months to come. Just three days after docking at Pearl Harbor for repairs, it was battle ready. Now with USS Yorktown back in the fleet, Nimitz could successfully defend Midway Island.

Marine aviators at Midway Island with Marine Air Group 22 were also ready for the upcoming fight.

During the Battle of Midway, in June 1942, Marine Corps dive-bomber pilot Capt. Richard E. Fleming took charge of the squadron after his commander was shot down in the initial attack against Japan’s fleet. Fleming risked his life by exposing himself to enemy fire in order to score a hit on a Japanese aircraft carrier. Despite his own injuries, and flying a severely damaged aircraft through hazardous weather and total darkness, Fleming made it back to base in one piece. The following morning, he led his unit to bomb more enemy carriers and ships. Fleming commenced his glide bombing attack from 4,500 feet through heavy anti-aircraft opposition and continued his attack even after being hit and while his plane was burning. Amidst a hail of 179 hits from Japanese fighter guns and antiaircraft batteries, he descended to 500 feet, dropped his bomb toward the stern of the Japanese cruiser Mikuma, and then crashed to the sea in flames. Fleming received the Medal of Honor for his dauntless perseverance and unyielding devotion to duty.

In addition to these attacks, torpedo planes from the USS Yorktown and two other carriers, the USS Enterprise and the USS Hornet, destroyed four Japanese carriers while fighters took down 200 experienced Japanese pilots. In contrast, the U.S. lost about 150 planes and USS Yorktown, which received heavy damage from submarine torpedo attacks. The crew of Yorktown had enough time to abandon ship to safety before it sank.

The U.S. victory at Midway was the first step starting the momentum that led to eventual U.S. naval superiority. The battle is often referred to as the turning point of the Pacific theater, reducing Japan’s ability to make major offensive moves and paving the way for continued allied operations and advances in the Pacific.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1007596242 Paul Campbell

    I was very proud to serve in VMA 241, namesake VMSB 241 from 1964 to 1969. The squadron deactivated at the end of 1969. We fly A-4Bs, we were stationed at NAS Los Alamitos. I started out as a planecaptain and end my tour as flightline NCO. Every marine in the squadron work hard to keep up the tradition of VMSB 241. SEMPER FI 

  • Dsdunes

    When supplies for the pacific theatre were in short supply, courage was not.

  • Spockearth214

    SBDs took out the carriers not TBDs but the tbd did draw off the Jap CAP.

  • Fridley

    My father was on Midway watching as the battle played out. If the Marines hadn’t overcome the Japanese fleet, I, my children and grandchildren wouldn’t be here. The U.S. would have lost many generations. SEMPER FI!

  • Skippertom

    And Henderson Field on Guadalcanal was named for Marine Major Lofton Henderson, commanding officer of VMSB-241 who was killed in action at the Battle of Midway while leading his squadron into action against the Japanese carrier forces thereby becoming the first Marine aviator to perish during the battle. Ooraugh!

  • Skippertom

    And Henderson Field on Guadalcanal was named for Marine Major Lofton Henderson, commanding officer of VMSB-241 who was killed in action at the Battle of Midway while leading his squadron into action against the Japanese carrier forces thereby becoming the first Marine aviator to perish during the battle. Ooraugh!