Following the action in the Coral Sea May 4th-8th,1942, there was a lull in Japanese operations in the Southwest Pacific. Did it, as was popularly supposed, mean that the enemy had retired for the purpose of reorganizing his forces for an all-out assault on Australia? Or was he preparing to strike in an entirely different direction?
During mid-May, United Nations planes delivered two to three times as many blows against enemy bases in the Solomons and New Guinea as Japanese bombers made on Port Moresby and others of our bases. This husbanding of air strength, together with almost complete absence in southern waters of Japanese men-o'-war except for an occasional submarine, seemed to indicate that the enemy had for the time at least abandoned his designs on Australia and was looking for a more vulnerable point of attack. The enemy, moreover, knew that shortly after the Coral Sea fight most of our available carriers were in the South Pacific. Although the Enterprise and Hornet had arrived just too late for the battle, they had undoubtedly been sighted by the enemy. He also knew that the Lexington and Yorktown had been damaged in the fight, even if he was not aware that the former subsequently had been lost. Altogether, this concentration of American naval strength in the South Pacific very probably appealed to the Japanese High Command as offering a most strategic moment for a heavy blow against our positions in the mid-Pacific.
From an analysis of all the reports received before, during, and after the Battle of Midway, it is believed that the Japanese gathered together the following forces for participation in this campaign:
Commander in Chief First Air Fleet (F): Carrier Division 1:Akagi (F).
Battleship Division 3:Haruna (F).
Carrier Division 2:Soryu (F).
Cruiser Division 8:Tone (F).
Destroyer Squadron 10:Nagara (F).
Cruiser Division 7:Mogami (F).
Battleship Division 3, Second Section:Hiyei.
Carrier Division:1 aircraft carrier or converted aircraft carrier. Cruiser Division 4 (part):1 Atago class heavy cruiser. Destroyer Squadron 2 (part):Jintsu
1 Takao class heavy cruiser.
1-2 Myoko class heavy cruisers (?).
Transport Division (?):8-12 transports. Air Squadron 7:Chitose.
Transport Divisions:4-6 cargo ships. Air Squadron II (?):2-4 Kamigawa class converted seaplane tenders. Destroyer Squadron 4:12 destroyers.
The situation from the Navy's viewpoint was serious. The principal naval force available on the West Coast consisted of battleships with a light destroyer screen. It was by no means certain that our ships in the South Pacific could be brought north in time to protect Midway. Further-
more, permanent repairs to the Yorktown would require considerable time and might even necessitate a visit to the mainland. The remaining air groups of both the Lexington and Yortown were on the latter carrier urgently requiring reorganization. The entire force had been at sea since the middle of February and was in need of rest. In addition, an attack on our Aleutian bases seemed to be a logical concurrent operation for the Japanese. To meet this particular threat to Alaska five cruisers and four destroyers, all the spare ships within reach, were dispatched to support our forces in the Alaskan area.
It was necessary to mobilize at once the defense of Midway. Task Force SUGAR,1 which included the carriers Enterprise and Hornet was immediately ordered north. It arrived at Pearl Harbor May 26th and sailed on the 28th, under the command of Rear Admiral Raymond A. Spruance. Task Force FOX had already been recalled and arrived at Pearl Harbor May 27th. Due to the excellent work of the navy yard, the service force, and the supporting services, it proved possible to restore the Yorktown and its planes to fighting condition in 3 days, so that the force was able to sail on the 30th, under the command of Rear Admiral Frank J. Fletcher.
On May 31st, it is interesting to recall in passing, four Japanese midget submarines made a "suicide" attack on the harbor of Sydney, Australia, possibly as a feint to divert attention from the impending blow in the mid-Pacific. The attack on Dutch Harbor and Forts Glenn and Mears in the Aleutians occurred on June 3d. This may have been intended as a diversion for the Midway attack, but more probably was a cover for the Kiska and Attu occupation. Fog obscured the subsequent movements of the enemy in Alaska and handicapped the efforts of our air forces in seeking him out.
The two task forces ordered to engage the more menacing fleet approaching Midway were organized as follows:
Task Force SUGAR, Rear Admiral Raymond A. Spruance.
2 aircraft carriers:
Enterprise (F), Capt. George D. Murray.
35 VSB, 14 VTB, 27 VF.Hornet , Capt. Marc A. Mitscher.
35 VSB, 14 VTB, 27 VF.
Task Force SUGAR, Rear Admiral Raymond A. Spruance - Continued.
Cruisers, Rear Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid.
5 heavy cruisers:
Pensacola ,2 Capt. Frank L. Lowe.
Northampton ,2 Capt. William W. Chandler.
Vincennes ,2 Capt. Frederick L. Riefkhol.
Minneapolis ,3 Capt. Frank J. Lowry.
New Orleans ,3 Capt. Walter S. De Lany.
1 light cruiser:
Atlanta ,3 Capt. Samuel P. Jenkins.
Destroyers, Capt. Alexander R. Early.
Balch , Lt Comdr. Harold H. Tiemroth.
Benham , Lt. Comdr. Joseph M. Worthington.
Phelps (F), Lt. Comdr. Edward L. Beck.
Worden , Lt. Comdr. William G. Pogue.
Aylwin , Lt. Comdr. George R. Phelan.
Monaghan , Lt. Comdr. William P. Burford.
Ellet , Lt. Comdr. Francis H. Gardner.
Maury , Lt. Comdr. Gelzer L. Sims.
Conyngham , Lt. Comdr. Henry C. Daniel.
Task Force FOX, Rear Admiral Frank J. Fletcher.
1 aircraft carrier:
Yorktown (F): Capt. Elliott Buckmaster.
36 VBS,4 12 VTB,5 25 VF.
Cruisers, Rear Admiral William W. Smith.
2 heavy cruisers:
Astoria (F 6 ), Capt. Francis W. Scanland.
Portland , Capt. Lawrence T. Du Bose.
Destroyers, Capt. Gilbert C. Hoover.
Hammann (F), Commander Arnold E. True.
Morris , Commander Harry B. Jarrett.
Russell , Lt. Comdr. Glenn R. Hartwig.
Anderson , Lt. Comdr. John K. B. Ginder.
Hughes , Lt. Comdr. Donald J. Ramsey.
Commander of submarines, United States Pacific Fleet, Rear Admiral Robert H. English.
Cachalot Grenadier Pompano Cuttlefish Grouper Porpoise Dolphin Growler Tambor Drum Gudgeon Tarpon Finback Narwhal Trigger Flying Fish Nautilus Trout Gato Pike Tuna Grayling Plunger Greenling Pollack
After leaving Pearl Harbor, these two task forces refueled at sea and effected their rendezvous northeast of Midway on June 2d. The combined force then proceeded under the command of Admiral Fletcher to an area of operation north of Midway.
On full consideration, it had been decided not to employ the battleships on the West Coast in defense of Midway. To strike at long range at the enemy carrier force was deemed imperative, and it was therefore thought unwise to divert from the forces supporting our carriers the ships which would be necessary to screen battleships.
Admiral Ernest J. King, Commander in Chief, United States Fleet, believed that the Japanese plans were designed to trap a portion of our fleet. For that reason he directed that only strong attrition tactics be employed, and that our carriers and cruisers not be unduly risked. To understand the Midway Battle, one should remember that our naval forces operated under a conservative policy necessitated by the superiority of the enemy's force, and under the restraint imposed by the defense of a fixed point.
1 Numbers identifying task forces have been omitted from all Combat Narratives in the interest of security. The signal flag names for the first letter of surnames of commanding officers have been substituted for these numbers.
2 Enterprise group.
3 Hornet group.
4 This scout bombing squadron was composed of: VB-3, 18 SBD's and VS-5, 18 SBD's.
5 This torpedo squadron was VT-3 ("3" indicates a squadron from the Saratoga).
6 After damage to Yorktown, Admiral Fletcher transferred his flag to Astoria.
Last updated: March 1, 2003Transcribed and formatted by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation