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A summary of return to the battle of midway an article by thomas b allen

What Lord meant is that the odds against the Americans at Midway were so great that their eventual success was no less than incredible—hence the title of his book: Fifteen years later, Gordon Prange continued that theme in his book Miracle at Midway.

Embedded in these book titles, and in their conclusions as well, is the implication that the American victory in the Battle of Midway was largely the product of fate, or chance, or luck, or some other unworldly force—that it was a miracle after all.

The fate of nations and the course of history had changed in an astonishing five-minute flurry of American bombs. To be sure, chance played a role at Midway, as it has in every military engagement throughout history. But to attribute the American victory predominately to luck is a disservice to the principal players.

  • Allen's writings range from articles for National Geographic Magazine to books on American history;
  • The Wildcats launched without mishap, but then one of the torpedo bombers had engine trouble;
  • Launch delays cropped up almost from the start;
  • Two months after Midway, 10,000 Marines went ashore on Guadalcanal, and the American offensive did not stop until August of 1945.

Chester Nimitz was easy to underestimate. At age 56, with snow-white hair and piercing light-blue eyes, he was a quiet man who seldom betrayed his emotions. Undemonstrative and restrained, he rarely swore or even raised his voice.

When exasperated, his most confrontational declaration was: That was exactly the kind of man that President Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted in command at Pearl Harbor after the disastrous Japanese attack on December 7, 1941.

To be sure, the Japanese had clearly demonstrated at Pearl Harbor that aircraft carriers had supplanted battleships as the principal offensive weapons of modern navies. The 36,000-ton Saratoga had been victimized by a Japanese submarine in January and sent back to Puget Sound, Washington, for a full refit; the 37,000-ton Lexington was sunk in the Battle of the Coral Sea in May. The Americans had very nearly lost the Yorktown in that same engagement.

The carrier came limping into Pearl Harbor on May 27, trailing a 10-mile-long oil slick, leaving Nimitz with only two fully operational aircraft carriers: Nimitz, with Admiral Raymond A. He knew about the impending attack thanks to the work of a dedicated group of code breakers that had predicted it would come toward the end of May or early June, with four or possibly five carriers.

If the crippled Yorktown could be repaired in time—which was problematic—Nimitz would have three carriers.

  1. While Spruance was a reliable professional, however, he was a specialist in surface warfare, with no experience commanding naval aviation forces; Fletcher, too, was a surface officer.
  2. He had found the Kido Butai.
  3. Launch delays cropped up almost from the start.

But the Japanese force included at least two battleships Nimitz had noneits strike aircraft had a greater range than the American planes, and its Zero fighters were superior in both range and maneuverability to the U.

If Nimitz decided to oppose the Japanese attack, all he could count on for sure were the two carriers of Rear Admiral William F. Asked to recommend someone to replace him for the coming fight, he named Raymond Spruance, the rear admiral who commanded the vessels of his cruiser-destroyer screen.

While Spruance was a reliable professional, however, he was a specialist in surface warfare, with no experience commanding naval aviation forces; Fletcher, too, was a surface officer. In addition to the superiority of the Japanese carrier force, Nimitz had to take into consideration the fact that the Allied grand strategy, crafted even before hostilities began and confirmed at least twice since, was to defeat Germany first. Given all that, Nimitz had to ask himself if Midway was of such strategic importance that it justified risking his remaining aircraft carriers in an unequal fight with the Kido Butai.

To be sure, Midway was a valuable mid-ocean outpost for the Americans, and Japanese occupation of it would have been a serious nuisance. One option for Nimitz was to avoid battle altogether and wait for the Saratoga and Yorktown to return to the fleet, when he would again have four carriers.

By then the Japanese might well have seized Midway, but their grip—at the end of a 2,500-mile supply line from Japan—would be very tenuous, and the Americans could take it back rather easily.

This was the conservative—and arguably the responsible—alternative. Given the circumstances, few would have faulted Nimitz if he had chosen the first option and avoided battle with the approaching Kido Butai. The American chief of naval operations, Admiral Ernest J. The choice belonged to Nimitz: He was certainly cognizant of the risks, but in his mind the decision to fight for Midway was no gamble.

He calculated the odds coolly and rationally, and believed that he held a winning hand. Walter Lord stated that the Americans had no right to win, but Nimitz fully expected to.

Rear Admiral Raymond Spruance was a man very much in the same mold as Nimitz: When Bull Halsey realized his illness meant he could not possibly command Task Force 16 in the forthcoming operation, he did not hesitate to recommend Spruance for the job.

Tall and ruggedly handsome, with a bad-boy allure that made him attractive to women, Browning was something of an eccentric in the aviation community. He was an excellent pilot and an imaginative tactician, but he was also cocky and dismissive of others—characteristics that did not endear him to subordinates.

The ebullient Halsey had gotten along well with Browning, and had recommended him for his promotion to captain. Before Halsey left for the hospital, he urged Spruance to rely heavily on Browning and his expertise in air operations during the coming fight.

Browning, for his part, clearly expected Spruance to defer to him in the management of the air assets of Task Force 16.

  • The nearest target was the big carrier Kaga; five miles to its right and a few miles ahead of it was the Japanese flagship Akagi;
  • Author's Biography Thomas B;
  • He was certainly cognizant of the risks, but in his mind the decision to fight for Midway was no gamble;
  • Two of his bomber pilots ran out of fuel and ditched in the water.

All three American carriers were there at a few minutes past 6 a. I will follow as soon as planes recovered.

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Since it would take most of an hour to launch air groups from two carriers, which would add another 20 miles to the flight by the time all planes were up and in their formations, Spruance decided to continue steaming toward the target for another 45 minutes before launching. It would still be a long flight to the target, but the later launch should allow the attack planes sufficient time to get the job done and get back safely.

Having turned 40 only days before, he was the oldest pilot on board. McClusky had spent most of his career as a fighter pilot, but by virtue of his seniority he now found himself in command of a bomber group. Launch delays cropped up almost from the start.

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The planes had been lined up on the flight deck for launch since well before dawn, but a number of them developed engine problems during the launch and had to be manhandled up to the forward elevator and lowered back down to the hangar deck in order to clear the flight deck.

All of that took time. There were other delays. It took another 20 minutes to bring up the Wildcats via the forward elevator and the Devastators via the rear elevator. The Wildcats launched without mishap, but then one of the torpedo bombers had engine trouble. It was fixed but that, too, ate up time. Five minutes earlier his radio intelligence officer reported that he had intercepted a contact report from a Japanese scout plane.

Soon the enemy would know where the Americans were and the opportunity for surprise would be lost. Time was running out. Instead of a coordinated attack by bombers and torpedo planes, McClusky would have to do his best with dive-bombers only.

It was a long flight, and the wait over the task force and the climb to altitude had burned up a large amount of fuel. Ensign Lew Hopkins looked at his fuel gauge and concluded that it was going to be a one-way flight.

Although low on fuel, McClusky continued the search. He turned the formation slightly to the right and flew due west for 35 miles, then he turned right again to the northwest, intending to conduct a standard box search. Two of his bomber pilots ran out of fuel and ditched in the water. McClusky guessed at once that it was a laggard from the Kido Butai and, using that V-shaped bow wave as a guide, he altered course to follow the arrow just east of due north.

Ten minutes later, at 10: As he flew closer, the specks resolved themselves into surface ships. He had found the Kido Butai. At age 32, Best was younger than most of the squadron commanders, and looked younger still.

Out of uniform he might have had trouble getting a Honolulu bartender to serve him a beer. A New Jersey native, he was whippet thin with an aquiline nose and prominent ears. But he was a great pilot.

He often had to endure some good-natured banter because his middle name was Halsey and, indeed, he claimed a distant relationship with the admiral. As McClusky, Best, and the commander of VS-6, Lieutenant Earl Gallaher, approached the Kido Butai that morning, they saw so many valuable targets below them that there was confusion about which to attack.

The nearest target was the big carrier Kaga; five miles to its right and a few miles ahead of it was the Japanese flagship Akagi. According to doctrine, Gallaher and Best were to lead their two squadrons against different ships. He saw the two carriers not as near and far, but as left and right. The Americans had gained a crucial advantage by arriving over the Kido Butai at a critical moment; now the confusion in assigning targets threatened to waste it.

National Archives Best used hand signals to prepare the pilots of his squadron to dive on the target. Already committed to the dive, 10 of the VB-6 pilots joined the onslaught on the Kaga.

Thomas B. Allen

Twenty-seven American planes dove on the Kaga. They plastered it with bombs, and within minutes it was a smoking wreck. But this left only three planes for the attack on the Akagi. Best gathered his two wingmen, one on each side, and the three American planes flew toward the Akagi in a shallow V formation. Kroeger and Weber released their bombs at almost the same moment.

The immediate damage was extensive, but the secondary damage was catastrophic.

  1. Given all that, Nimitz had to ask himself if Midway was of such strategic importance that it justified risking his remaining aircraft carriers in an unequal fight with the Kido Butai.
  2. Author's Biography Thomas B. Nimitz, with Admiral Raymond A.
  3. By then the Japanese might well have seized Midway, but their grip—at the end of a 2,500-mile supply line from Japan—would be very tenuous, and the Americans could take it back rather easily.

Other ordnance lay on the carts and on the racks along the bulkhead. Within minutes, that ordnance began to cook off, and once the explosions started, the aviation fuel from the wrecked planes fed the fires. Meanwhile, approximately 10 miles to the north, Yorktown planes were hitting the carrier Soryu. In an electrifying five-minute period, three-quarters of the Kido Butai was destroyed.

This history-changing strike had been made possible because: This is not to imply that these four men were the only ones whose actions mattered. Hundreds of others, from flag officers to plane pushers, played crucial roles as well in the victory that turned the tide in the Pacific War and triggered the American counteroffensive in the Solomon Islands.

Two months after Midway, 10,000 Marines went ashore on Guadalcanal, and the American offensive did not stop until August of 1945. There was luck involved, to be sure—but sometimes bold and courageous men make their own luck. Naval Academy in Annapolis, and the author or editor of 25 books on Civil War and naval history.