It's a question that is not easily answered, but what truly was the impact of the Battle of Midway?
If one were to look at the sheer statistics, there's an obvious answer: the U.S. Navy lost one carrier and a destroyer to the Imperial Japanese Navy's (IJN) four carriers and heavy cruiser. However, its clear that Midway represented something so much more than just the sunken ships.
In response to a question about what he would like people to remember about U.S. veterans who fought in the Battle of Midway retired Marine Corps Maj. Albert Grasselli paused and offered a succinct answer.
“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 decisive victory by the U.S. in the war with Japan. The 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.
What had changed at Midway? The Americans had scored a huge victory on the intelligence front by the cracking of JN-25, the Japanese navy's cryptography used for high-importance messages such as ship movements and commands. Adm. Chester Nimitz and his staff had taken a large gamble and won. The IJN no longer was seen as the invulnerable force it once was.
As mentioned before, first and foremost there was the loss of four aircraft carriers: the Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu, and the Soryu. As the IJN had begun the Pacific war with 10 carriers, it was the largest and most developed carrier fleet in the world, and historians believe that they had the men and the aircraft to back them up. Following Midway, there was only the Shokaku and Zuikaku left available for offensive operations. However, with the loss of these carriers at Midway, the Japanese found themselves short of fleet carriers, and almost as important: trained aircrews.
The loss of life at Midway was substantial: there were thousands of deaths, but they were overwhelmingly Japanese service members and carrier-related (On the Akagi: 267; Kaga: 811; Hiryu: 392; Soryu: 711). Over 40 percent of highly trained carrier aircraft mechanics and technicians were lost, along with vital flight deck personnel and armorers.
The Empire of Japan never achieved the level of operational readiness that they had enjoyed prior to the battle, as according to IJN doctrine it took nearly two years for aircrew to be properly trained. By the Battle of the Philippine Sea, which was called by Americans "the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot", pilots were being shot out of the sky en masse due to their relative lack of experience and training.
Ultimately, the Battle of Midway represented attrition in its aftermath. It was clear at this point that the Japanese war machine was not going to be able to make the strokes that it had previously made in the Pacific without grand tactical changes and reinforcements that they proved unable to achieve. The Battle of Midway represented something greater than the four carriers and 3,000 lives: it represented the beginning of the end for the Pacific War.
“It was the first time we’d engaged the enemy and won following the loss of bases in the South Pacific,” said Grasselli.