In carrying out the task assigned … you will be governed by the principle of calculated risk, which you shall interpret to mean the avoidance of exposure of our forces without good prospect on inflicting, as a result of such exposure, greater damage on the enemy. (Extract from CINCPAC Operational Order to TF 17 Commander)

first hit

In every battle there is a moment when the combatants, and the world, seem to catch their breath. It is a fleeting moment, lost in the blink of an eye. But in that same blink, everything changes. Such moments are borne of desperation, of courage, of plain dumb luck. But they are pivotal – for what was before is forever changed afterwards. Until 1019 on the morning of 4/5 June 1942, things had gone badly for the US and its allies. With few exceptions, the Allies were fighting a losing battle in the Pacific. Indeed, as events unfolded that morning, it appeared as of the rout was on. The attacks by land-based air forces from Midway had utterly failed culminating in the loss of many aircraft. The strikes by the torpedo aircraft were decimated – an entire squadron of TBDs shot down with only a sole survivor to claim witness. An entire airgroup missed the Japanese carriers and the battle altogether and of the remaining forces, they were scattered and disorganized. The future was looking grim. At 1019, Hiryu’s senior lookout shouted he had spotted dive bombers attacking Kaga from overhead. Despite being thrown into a hard turn, Kaga was struck by a 500 lb bomb and then successive strikes utterly crushed her…

At 1024 Soryu was struck a mighty series of blows…

At 1026, LT Dick Best led a flight of two other SBDs away from Kaga in an attack on Akagi. Attacking in a "V" formation from a right-hand turn, history held its breath as the first bomb missed and the third narrowly missed the carrier. But the second bomb, a 1,000 pounder from LT Best’s aircraft bore through the aft edge of the elevator and exploded in the upper reaches of the Akagi’s hangar bay, in the midst of the refueled/rearming aircraft parked there. In the blink of an eye, fate turned and three carriers lay burning.

To be sure the battle was not over and a dreadful price remained to be extracted from the American carriers. Likewise, Kido Butai had not seen the last of the Americans either and would pay the final price later in that day.

Across a seaborne canvass that stretched over 176,000 sq nm, larger than the country of Sweden (as Parshall & Tully observe) the battle see-sawed back and forth. No other naval engagment has seen such breath-taking distances involved and few, short of a Trafalgar, have seen such a decisive turn of events. We honor today those who fought and gave their all in this signatory battle.

- SJS

_____ Notes: 1) Previous postings this series:

2) To appreciate the sweep of events and the timescale involved, the reader is recommended to view the history of the battle as laid out over at Historyanimated, located here for the Battle of Midway.

3 Comments

  1. I like the overall look, but it attacks my eyes as left heavy when the page first comes up….I think you’re ready for prime time!

    I’d like to get the “now reading” plugin, if you can attach it to an email!

  2. Owen Miller

    Good morning,
    I have enjoyed reading your account of the Battle of Midway. I especially
    like your conclusions and lessons learned.
    Like you I have studied the battle
    for some years and have been fortunate enough to interview a number of the vets
    while they were still with us. I don’t
    think we will ever know the answers to
    the riddles of Midway.
    In my research I have come upon two
    stories that confict with the accepted
    view that only three SBDs dove on Akagi.
    I would like to know if you have ever
    encountered either.
    Ed Kroeger told me that more than
    three planes dove on Akagi although he could not say how many. Both Best and
    Kroeger told me both their bombs were
    hits and that Weber missed close aboard.
    Lew Hopkins told me that nine SBDs dove
    on Akagi and that he was the last in.
    So have you ever encountered either
    of these eye witness accounts? I look
    forward to your thoughts.
    Hopkins got to see the three burning CVs from the morning strike. Best and
    Kroeger got to see four following the
    afternoon strike. Can you imagine?

    Blue skies,
    Owen Miller

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