Both Admiral Spruance and Admiral Fletcher have pointed out that "in a duel between CV's the side which is able to strike the first blow against enemy CV's whose planes are on board wins." At Midway we won in precisely this manner. We were able to do this because we knew of the enemy's presence, the approximate composition of his force, and because we had calculated correctly his method of approach. The Battle of Midway was essentially a victory of intelligence.
The Japanese, on the other hand, probably did not know of the presence of our forces until shortly before our carrier planes attacked them. In attempting a surprise attack they were themselves surprised. The placing of our fleet to fall upon the enemy's flank was a piece of brilliant tactics, skilfully executed. Our single misfortune was the failure to locate and attack the fourth enemy carrier with sufficient promptness, when its presence was suspected. That failure cost us the Yorktown .
Midway was a contest of air power. There was no contacts of surface vessels in the entire action. Both Admiral Fletcher and Admiral Spruance were fully aware of the value of surface attacks had circumstances permitted. The reader of this narrative will understand why such attacks were not considered practicable.
Our pursuit of the enemy's fleeing forces, successful as it was, undoubtedly fell short of what might have been achieved had more complete information been promptly available to our task forces. As Admiral Nimitz says, "Early, accurate and continuous information of the enemy is essential for successful attack by carrier groups." Admiral Fletcher says, "Every effort should be made to locate and maintain contact with an enemy force by other than carrier aircraft." Admiral Spruance concurs: "Early and accurate information of movements of an enemy force to be attacked is essential for successful carrier operations."
Our scouts did their duty often at considerable danger to themselves. Several reports were cut short by attacks from enemy planes. Communications were on the whole efficient. All Midway planes and submarines were on a common frequency which our surface vessels could intercept, thus avoiding relays of information. Yet in spite of these precautions there were periods in which our forces were without vital information. As Lt. Comdr. John G. Foster, Jr., Air Operations Officer of the Hornet points out, "The lack of information on the enemy's surface forces between 0623 and 1000 [on June 4th] was serious and jeopardized the tactical advantage we enjoyed over the enemy. The delay of the Enterprise 's air group attack against the enemy carriers and the failure of the Hornet's VSB planes to make contact with the enemy can be attributed to this lack of information. Further, the loss of planes from the Hornet and Enterprise by water landings from lack of fuel can be partly attached to this unfortunate lack of information on the enemy's movements." Lt. Comdr. Foster further points out delays of over 2 hours in forwarding reports of certain important contacts, and remarks that delay in the running of code schedules represents "entirely too great a time lag and indidicates that only direct communication is sufficient. This is especially so where aircraft are involved."
One source of difficulty was the unsuitability of the PBY for tracking an enemy force because of its inability to face fighter opposition. Army B-17's seem well adapted for this purpose. Too many of our attacking forces failed to find targets. Had our scouts been able to track, they could have guided these groups to their objectives.
Our fighters proved inferior both in number and in performance to the Japanese Zeros. It has been suggested that the Marine air group operating from Midway should be equipped with Army-type fighters rather than carrier planes. Although the number of fighters on our carriers had been increased before Midway, they were still too few for their duties of combat patrol and escorting attack groups. Many officers believe the proportion of fighters should be increased, or even that some carriers should be equipped with fighters exclusively. It was observed that the greatest danger to attacking planes was not enemy antiaircraft fire, which was comparatively ineffective, but enemy fighter planes. This points the need for greater fighter protection for our attacking groups. This may also require greater range on the part of our fighters. Such protection might have reduced the very heavy losses among our TBD's.
It has been pointed out that they should be replaced by TBF's as soon as possible.
It is agreed that too many hits were required to sink enemy ships. Our fliers needed more effective bombs and torpedoes with heavier war heads. They had no armor-piercing bombs for attacks on armored ships. Fuses were too short, so that our hits frequently caused extensive superficial damage without sinking the targets.
Horizontal bombing did not prove very effective against ships. It is recognized that an "alert skipper" can maneuver from under bombs dropped from a high altitude, and the result, as someone has aptly said, is a series of "near misses." Dive bombers obtain a very much higher percentage of hits, but destroyers are not profitable targets even for them. However, the strafing of destroyers by our fighters proved damaging.
The operation of two or more carriers together proved of advantage in many ways and saved several planes which might otherwise have been lost.
The scope of this narrative has not permitted the mention of all officers who held important commands during the battle. Maj. Gen. Clarence L. Tinker, U.S.A., Commander of the Army Air Force in Hawaii, was at the scene of action and was lost on June 9th when the long-range bomber in which he was searching for the enemy was forced down at sea. Lt. Gen. Delos C. Emmons, U.S.A., was Commanding General, Hawaiian Department. Maj. Gen. Willis H. Hale, U.S.A., was head of the Bombing Command of the Army Air Force in Hawaii. Brig. Gen. Henry K. Pickett, U.S.M.C., was Commander of the United States Marine Corps forces in the Hawaiian area.
Neither has it been possible to name many of the officers and men who distinguished themselves by their heroism during the battle. The list is a long one. In a sense they were outstanding examples of a spirit manifested by all our men present.
It would be difficult to express this better than has Admiral Nimitz: "The performance of officers and men was of the highest order, not only at Midway and afloat, but equally so among those at Oahu not privileged to be in the front line of battle. I am proud to report that the cooperative devotion to duty of all those involved was so marked that, despite the necessarily decisive part played by our three carriers, this defeat of the Japanese arms and ambitions was truly a victory of the United States' armed forces and not of the Navy alone."
Interior of hangar, Midway
Burning oil tanks on Midway
62 These observations are based largely upon those submitted by officers who took part in the engagement, particularly Admiral Fletcher and Admiral Spruance, and the conclusions drawn by Admiral Nimitz.
Last updated: March 1, 2003Transcribed and formatted by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation