Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
E-mail this article
Print this Article

There isn't any good reason why they won, except their ingenuity, dedication, will, and perhaps a bit of serendipity.

Walter Lord, who penned the book Incredible Victory about the Battle of Midway, used the phrase: "They had no right to win… but they did, and in doing so they changed the course of a war", a quote which now adorns the Midway dedication stone at the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C. Perhaps if you ask one of the veterans from Midway, they would look at it a little differently.

When asked what he would like people to remember about the battle, retired U.S. Marine Corps Major Albert Grasselli, a former Marine pilot, said simply the following.

"We won," he said.

The Battle of Midway is being commemorated this year for its 70th anniversary. The battle, which took place from June 4-8 1942, was a turning point in the Pacific War and arguably set the stage for the United States to help win the Second World War. A ceremony will be taking place at the Navy Memorial located in downtown Washington on June 4.

The battle is noted as being the first real turning point in the war, and the first decisive victory by the United States in the war with Japan. The Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) had already made broad strokes in the Pacific, beginning with the attack on Pearl Harbor, the invasion of the Philippines, Malaya and Singapore, the Battle of Wake Island and recently a tactical victory at Coral Sea.

However, as retired Capt. John Crawford, a Midway veteran, notes, American forces had a trick up their sleeves moving in to the days before Midway: they had cracked the codes.

“It was miraculous; our intelligence predicted the time of the planned attack, the distance and location of the Japanese” said Crawford. "Our intelligence had solved the problem. I was happy as a clam."

The IJN had planned to draw the U.S. fleet out of the newly reinforced Pearl Harbor in what they believed to be a required defense of Midway Atoll, but since American cryptologists had recently deciphered JN-25 (the American code name for the Japanese cipher), Adm. Chester Nimitz was able to set a plan into motion that would turn the U.S. forces from the hunted to the hunter.

By positioning his carriers to the northeast of Midway, Nimitz was able to keep them out of sight until the last possible moment. Still, considering all these advantages, circumstances could have still played out in the IJN's favor: their forces could have been consolidated, or American bombers who had been pursuing the IJN forces at an incorrect bearing could have not found the Japanese ships.

But even considering the bit of luck they had, it ended up in the hands of the Sailors at Midway to deliver the first real blow to the Japanese fleet. Their commitment certainly translated into a right to win.

“The Navy has core values and the people who fought at Midway personify them," said Robert Crawford, a historian with the Naval History and Heritage Command.