Vengeance at Midway
For almost three months now, much of the news has been on COVID-19 issues. In these uncertain times, it may be worthwhile to reflect on the past for a better appreciation of what we have today. In the first week of June 1942, barely two months after the Fall of Bataan, one of the most decisive naval engagements of World War II took place that led to the eventual defeat of Japan.
When Japanese navy carrier planes carried out their deadly attack on the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor in December 1941, I had barely turned seven and was completely unaware of what was taking place or how my life would change in the next few years. There were not too many Japanese in our community. A few were hard-working gardeners and landscape specialists. One was a prominent newsman, respected and well-liked by his colleagues. I would never have thought of them as potential enemies. Through the entire years of enemy occupation, I never heard of Bataan, Corregidor, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Gen. Masaharu Homma, the Death March, or the murder in cold blood of some 300 captive Filipino soldiers by Japanese troops after the surrender of Bataan. After the war, I had some vague idea of what took place but I did not have the time or the inclination to get into too much detail. Besides, there was not much literature available on the conflict except for official versions issued by government PR men. Many of the books that provide a more accurate and balanced version of what happened have only come out in this century, or in the last decades of the 20th century.
Attack on Pearl Harbor
The architect of the attack on Pearl Harbor was Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, commander in chief of the Japanese Combined Fleet. A graduate student at Harvard, he more than anyone in the Japanese Navy understood and appreciated the vast industrial potential of the United States. His idea of a devastating, first strike on the enemy was fueled by realization that this industrial complex was bound to get stronger in a long, drawn-out struggle.
The stunning and daring air attack in the early hours of Dec. 7, 1941, resulted in the destruction of 18 US ships including eight battleships, over 300 aircraft destroyed or damaged, with 2,400 servicemen dead. Fortunately for the Americans, three aircraft carriers were out at sea, and would deliver the counterpunch later. The Japanese lost 29 planes, mostly dive bombers. For them, the attack was a huge success.
Battle of Midway
Many of us are aware of Pearl Harbor. Only a few know about Midway, a tiny atoll in the Central Pacific area. Six months after Pearl Harbor, US forces in the Pacific commanded by Adm. Chester Nimitz prepared for an impending invasion of Midway. For Admiral Yamamoto, control of Midway meant control of the Pacific with Hawaii and the US West Coast seriously under threat. His plan was to confront and destroy the remaining US aircraft carriers.
The Strike force was led by Vice Adm. Chuichi Nagumo, with four of the same aircraft carriers used in the Pearl Harbor attack. Although outnumbered—three US aircraft carriers (Yorktown, Enterprise, and Hornet) to four of Japan (Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, and Hiryu)—US forces led by Adm. Raymond Spruance knew where to expect the Japanese carriers and prepared to set up an ambush. Earlier, American intelligence analysts under Commander Joseph Rochefort had broken the Japanese naval codes.
On June 4, 1942, after a day-long battle of mainly carrier-based aircraft, all four Japanese carriers were sunk, 257 planes destroyed and over 120 of Japan’s best naval aviators, veterans of Pearl Harbor, perished. American losses were one aircraft carrier and over 50 planes. The Battle of Midway has been described as “the first decisive defeat by the Japanese Navy in 350 years.” It marked the beginning of the end of the Japanese empire. Admiral Nimitz would say, “vengeance will not be complete until Japanese seapower is reduced to impotence… we are midway to that objective.” Admiral Spruance would later serve as US ambassador to the Philippines.
Had the United States lost the Battle of Midway, the long road to Tokyo would have been even longer and much more difficult for the Allies. For the Philippines, Japanese occupation would have continued for a protracted period of time.
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