"Rock 'em and sock 'em and don't lose your shirt," is how Naval District Washington Historic and Heritage Command historian Robert Cressman characterizes tactics of service-members who fought and defeated the Japanese in the Battle of Midway June 4-7 1942.
The United States military obliterated Japan's naval strength during what would be touted one of the most decisive battles in naval warfare history. But what were the key elements that led to the historic success at Midway?
"Intelligence, competent commanders, the decision to take a risk and the willingness to give subordinates the freedom to fight," said Cressman.
Prior to the Battle of Midway, Japan had been successful in the spread of imperialism capturing territory throughout Asia and the Pacific. The Battle of Midway was the turning point shifting momentum to the United States.
Midway, a naval base and refueling stop for trans-Pacific flights located in the North Pacific Ocean, about one-third of the way from Honolulu to Tokyo, was a significant strategic target. "If the Japanese could capture Midway then they could attack Hawaii anytime," Cressman said.
The Japanese planned to capture Midway to lure the U.S. carriers that had roamed unimpeded between February and April, into decisive battle and destroy them. The object was to destroy what the Japanese considered its most dangerous element, its carriers. But the Americans were waiting. They had gotten wind of the plan, thanks to cryptologists who broke the Japanese code.
"We were at a disadvantage because they had more carriers than us but we found them before they found us," said Retired Navy Capt. John W. Crawford who received the deciphered message from cryptologists while onboard the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown. The message revealed the bearings and location of the Japanese fleet.
"It was miraculous. Our intelligence solved the problem and predicted time of arrival and distance of the Japanese fleet," Crawford said. "I was astonished."
Retired Marine Corps Maj. Albert Grasselli, a Pearl Harbor survivor was a member of Marine Air Group 21 (stationed at Ewa Marine Air approximately 15 miles west of Pearl Harbor) during the Battle of Midway. Grasselli was one of the first designated aerial navigators in Marine aviation history.
"During the main battle I flew ammo from Pearl Harbor to Midway," he said. "We shot a couple of ships and airplanes but we also got hit badly."
Grasselli navigated 24 planes safely into Midway where he witnessed the devastation.
"The Marines on Midway and American carriers got hit. We lost 80 percent of our pilots in air to air combat."
Because of the significant American losses, Grasselli didn't know right away that the U.S. had been successful in quashing the Japanese ambush plan at Midway.
"I guess I knew when what was left of the Japanese Fleet started sailing away," said Grasselli.
The bravery of the U.S. service members cost Japan four irreplaceable fleet carriers, while only one of the three U.S. carriers present was lost. The base at Midway, though damaged by Japanese air attack, remained operational and later became a vital component in the American trans-Pacific offensive.
The Battle of Midway put an end to large scale Japanese expansion in the Pacific.
Every year, naval commands worldwide honor the sacrifices made by U.S. service members at the Battle of Midway.
Naval District Washington (NDW) will host the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the historic Battle of Midway on June 4, 2012 at the United States Navy Memorial in downtown Washington, D.C. (701 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, across the street from the National Archives).
The Battle of Midway Commemoration event is free and open to the public.
Robert Cressman is the author of several books including The Official Chronology of the U.S. Navy in World War II. This chronology of American World War II naval operations greatly expands and updates a work published just ten years after the war. Drawing on information from more than four decades of additional research sponsored by the Naval Historical Center, the work addresses the operational aspects of every theater in the naval war. He is currently working on a book about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Oahu, December 7, 1941.
For more information on the Battle of Midway or to learn about U.S. Naval History go to the Naval History and Heritage Command website http://www. history.navy. mil/. The official Facebook page of the Naval History and Heritage Command http://www.facebook.com/ navalhistory is also a resource for events and information.