NAVAL BASE KITSAP-BREMERTON, Wash. – USS Nimitz (CVN 68) and Naval Base Kitsap Sailors, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard workers and veterans gathered for a Battle of Midway ceremony held on Pier Charlie on Naval Base Kitsap-Bremerton, June 3.
The ceremony honored all the service members and shipyard workers who played a role in successfully defeating the Japanese navy at the battle of Midway June 4, 1942 and turning the tide of the war in the Pacific.
Prior to the battle, the Japanese fleet was becoming a large threat as they were dominating in battles throughout the Pacific.
Within the six months between the attack on Pearl Harbor and the battle of Midway, the then invincible Japanese navy prevailed in fights for land. Notable victories included Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies, and copious amounts of island groups.
“If we had gathered here 74 years ago today, the scene around us would have been very different,” said Capt. John Ring, Nimitz’s commanding officer. “For those living here, on the west coast, they went to bed at night worried they might wake up to find the enemy landing on their beaches.”
The fear of Japanese forces attacking the west coast was well justified. It was only a few months earlier that Japan devastated American shores with the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Japanese fleet commander Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto set a plan in motion to ambush the U.S. fleet, by setting up a false attack toward Alaska. A Japanese strike force would then invade the island of Midway, which housed a naval base. Next, they would wait for the U.S. Pacific Fleet to make their way towards Midway, where the Japanese fleet would be awaiting unseen to the west.
If this had happened, the U.S. Pacific Fleet would have taken huge loses allowing the Japanese to control and diminish any further American threats in the Central Pacific. However, the U.S. was able to anticipate the trap set by the Japanese fleet, largely in part to Navy cryptologists and advances in code breaking in solving Japan’s fleet codes.
The actual deciphering of Japan’s attack plans began many weeks before the battle. American radio nets in the Pacific region retrieved numerous orders Yamamoto sent out to Japanese fleet forces. Eventually, the planned day-of-attack and position of the Japanese carriers were exposed.
“Once Japan had taken the offensive here in the Pacific, they had only ever known victory,” said Ring. “We had three carriers, one of them nearly crippled, versus seven of theirs.”
Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, who was named commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific fleet in December 1941, realized that the U.S. fleet was in no condition for confrontation with the Japanese fleet. Once the precise plan of Japan’s attack was revealed, Nimitz, who was a skilled strategist, placed the few remaining U.S. carriers that survived the destruction at Pearl Harbor to flank the Japanese.
Nimitz wasted no time; as soon as dawn rolled in on June 4, two U.S. attack fleets caught the Japanese forces completely off guard. With air support from both Midway and carrier-based planes, Japan didn’t stand a chance. When the bombers got to the Japanese, they were completely vulnerable, as their carriers were caught refueling and rearming their planes.
By the time the battle had ended, Japan had lost four carriers, one cruiser, 292 aircraft and an estimated 2,500 casualties. While smaller in numbers, America still suffered the loss of approximately 300 service members as well as the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (CV 10) and the destroyer USS Hammann (DD 412).
“We won the battle of Midway because of who we are as a determined people and what we can do together as a nation,” said Ring. “There were determined people like the shipyard workers at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, who played a key role in the battle and in victory.”
The American victory became an important turning point in the war as it allowed the United States and its allies to move into an offensive position. Japan’s mass casualties placed their fleet at approximate parity with the U.S. fleet. The battle is often viewed as the turning point in the Pacific theater of World War II.
“They say that Midway turned the tide of war in the Pacific, but it wasn’t the place that did it,” said Ring. “I believe it was the Sailors, Marines and Airmen who fought with grit and determination and forced it to turn inch by inch. It was an all hands effort when naval forces collided at sea.”
As the ceremony concluded a commemorative wreath was tossed into the Puget Sound to honor the legacy and sacrifice of the more than 300,000 service members and shipyard workers who gave their lives in leading the U.S. to victory at Midway.
Story by MC3 Chad Anderson