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America's Comeback: The Battle of Midway

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
December 16, 2022 3:03 am

America's Comeback: The Battle of Midway

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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December 16, 2022 3:03 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Anne Claire tells the story of the Battle of Midway, America's "make or break" moment in World War II.

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Purchase all free clear mega packs today. This is Lee Habib and this is our American stories. And we love to tell stories about everything and one of our favorite subjects, American history. Up next, a story about one of the most important battles of the 20th century. On December 7th, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japanese forces and our Pacific fleet, it was nearly wiped out. We entered World War II down and out and looking for a major victory. That victory would come at Midway, a small island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Here's writer Anne Claire to tell the story of this major battle. The tiny 2.4 square mile Midway Atoll was annexed by the US in 1867. The descriptively, not really imaginatively, named Eastern and Sand Islands in the Atoll weren't inhabited and they weren't useful for resources, but their allure lay in their strategic location. The Atoll was about halfway between Asia and the US, or I suppose you could say Midway between them and pretty close to Hawaii.

And in 1940, work began on getting that area set up with air and submarine facilities. Now the famous Battle of Midway was actually not the first time in World War II that the Atoll came under fire. On December 7th, 1941, shortly after attacking Pearl Harbor, Japanese forces also attacked Midway.

The engagement was fairly short, but there was still loss of life. One notable case was Lieutenant George H. Cannon, who became the first US Marine to earn a Medal of Honor in World War II. Now, six months later in May of 1942, the Japanese goals toward Midway were more ambitious. Now, Admiral Yamamoto of the Japanese Navy had his eyes set on the destruction of Midway's defenses and the occupation of the Atoll by Japanese forces.

He set the date for the attack, June 4th, with Midway hopefully flattened and occupied by the 7th. Now, there were of course lots of facets to the plan, but part of it at least revolved around the American commander, Admiral Nimitz, kind of falling for a little misdirection because the Japanese forces were going to split up. Yamamoto sent a smaller force to attack Alaska's Aleutian Islands just before the main attack on Midway. If the American forces were drawn up to Alaska, that would open up the southern Pacific areas around Midway and around Hawaii for Yamamoto's forces to come in and do what they wanted to. Thankfully though, American cryptanalysts had broken the Japanese naval codes. They had an idea that Midway was the main target and so Admiral Nimitz planned a surprise of his own. Now, even knowing that Midway was the goal, the Americans were at a disadvantage because the Japanese had four aircraft carriers to bring to Midway.

The U.S. had two operational ones in the Pacific, the Hornet and the Enterprise. The Yorktown was still there, but it was at Pearl and it had been pretty damaged at the Coral Sea. The shipyard workers at Pearl had said that it was going to take three months to really get the Yorktown up and ready to go out and fight again, to which Admiral Nimitz responded he was going to need it in three days instead. And pretty amazingly, as can be said for a lot of the the work done by shipyard workers and other supporting people during the wartime, they made it happen.

They got the Yorktown sailing in time. Now the commanders in charge, Rear Admiral Frank Fletcher aboard the Yorktown to whom Nimitz gave overall tactical command and Rear Admiral Raymond Spruance aboard the Enterprise both moved their ships into position to quietly await the anticipated attack. And hopefully Admiral Yamamoto wouldn't see them coming, wouldn't know they were there. Now of course, one of the tricks with naval battles at this time was finding the other force because the ocean's a pretty big place. So the planes would have to go out, you know, hopefully with good weather and hopefully just get a look at where exactly the enemy were coming from and they could end up just missing each other completely. So flights from Midway made daily searches scanning the seas for the Japanese fleet. Now at 5.45 on June 4th, a patrol plane called in. Enemy planes had been spotted. Shortly thereafter, PBY spotted the main body of Japanese ships including some carriers. So first of all, Midway atolls defending planes took off.

They weren't going to be caught grounded like American forces in the Philippines and other places had been. The Japanese planes met them. Records show that the American planes were pretty well swarmed, each pilot trying to shake from one to five Japanese fighters apiece. And it was a pretty intense fight for the American planes because the Japanese Zeros had the double advantage of being more maneuverable and also having more seasoned pilots. One of Midway's groups of pilots had only had a week of training in their planes before the attack. Now of the 27 American planes that were defending the atoll, by the end of the battle at this stage, 15 of them were missing, seven were severely damaged, and by 6.30 a.m. the first bombs are already falling on Midway itself with the result of all of the above ground structures being destroyed or damaged.

They had done their best. The Japanese forces weren't checked and most of Midway's fighters were gone. Three of the Japanese carriers were still either undamaged or at least not damaged enough to actually hamper them. So that was the first stage of the battle, but there was a lot more to come. Now though, the planes from the Enterprise, the Hornet, and the Yorktown still waiting quietly out of sight had to come in and have their say. And you're listening to writer Anne Claire tell the story of the Battle of Midway and imagine starting out a mission with 27 planes by the end of it 15 are missing and seven are damaged.

Those are some really tragic odds. When we come back, more with Anne Claire on the Battle of Midway here on Our American Stories. Folks, if you love the stories we tell about this great country and especially the stories of America's rich past, know that all of our stories about American history from war to innovation, culture, and faith are brought to us by the great folks at Hillsdale College, a place where students study all the things that are beautiful in life and all the things that are good in life. And if you can't get to Hillsdale, Hillsdale will come to you with their free and terrific online courses.

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Say what to watch into your Xfinity voice remote. And we return to our American stories and the story of the Battle of Midway. When we last left off, the first stage of the Battle of Midway had resulted in what appeared to be a Japanese victory. But the tide was about to change in a major way.

Here again is Anne Claire to tell this story. Now after the initial attack on the Midway atoll, Japanese Admiral Nagumo, who was kind of running operations there at the battle, must have thought things were going quite well. The goal had been to engage Midway quickly and stealthily enough that the American Navy wouldn't be able to intervene in time.

And as far as his patrols had told him after these first hits on the atoll, he had succeeded. More importantly, they hadn't spotted any American aircraft carriers and they weren't really expecting to. Now when his pilots radioed in that another strike at Midway itself was necessary after that initial assault, he began making preparations. To do this, the planes and the hangars needed to be re-armed though with bombs rather than torpedoes.

Now this was a little bit of a process. According to one of my sources, it would likely take maybe 40 minutes, so it would take a little while to get all the planes re-armed. But again, since there hadn't been any enemy aircraft carriers sighted, that wasn't a big deal necessarily. But as they were re-arming the planes, word came in.

At least one American aircraft carrier had been spotted after all. Now Ngumu faced a difficult choice. He needed to shift his attention to this carrier. However, his planes returning from Midway needed to refuel and re-arm and there were still those in the hangar that were being ready for another assault on the ground.

So he made his choice and this was a choice that would greatly impact the outcome of the battle and of history as well. He decided that they would wait the return of the Midway attack unit and then carry out an air attack. So it was all a matter of timing. Could the Japanese get their planes in the air in time to attack the U.S. ships or would his four carriers be caught with their flight decks full? Now meanwhile, as they're trying to figure all this out, the U.S. task forces were waiting quietly. Word came that the Japanese carriers had been sighted and so they prepared to enter the fray. In spite of there being a pretty uncooperative wind, the Enterprise and Hornet launched their scout bombers, torpedo planes and fighters.

The Yorktown's planes were temporarily held in reserve. Unfortunately, the American pilots didn't know their targets had moved. Now the Enterprise and Hornet did not break radio silence to inform their pilots of this. So the Hornet's fighters and bombers turned south and they missed the Japanese carriers completely, exhausting their fuel and a lot of them having to land in the sea. However, the torpedo squadron from the Hornet had become separated from the main group.

They turned north and they discovered the enemy carriers. This torpedo squadron was supposed to be supported by other planes but they didn't have them and they went in to attack anyway. One by one, the torpedo planes fell.

Of 15, none made it. None made it back to their ship. Now less than an hour behind the Hornet's torpedo squadron came the Enterprise's torpedo planes. These planes came in, again, without fighter protection. But also, they attacked anyway and it's unlikely that most of them even had a chance to drop their torpedoes and try and make a hit. Now unlike the previous attackers, the Yorktown's pilots did have some fighter protection at first. However, they were quickly engaged by enemy aircraft and yet another torpedo squadron began its approach pretty well alone.

There were a lot of heavy losses in these different groups but there was some success. Of the three carriers under torpedo attack, all had been at least hit. And also, the valiant efforts of these torpedo planes had two results that had a really huge impact on the battle. First, the Japanese carriers were kept busy maneuvering and they weren't able to launch their own bombers. And secondly, the Japanese fighters were flying low, focusing on the torpedo attacks, which meant they were unprepared for the approach of high-flying US dive bombers.

They met very little opposition until after they dropped their bombs and had scored at least 11 direct hits. Simultaneously, the Yorktown's dive bombers attacked the carrier to the east. Scoring at least five direct hits, they wreaked havoc on the carrier's flight deck.

As the surviving US planes returned their respective carriers, Vumo's powerful fleet was left with three carriers hit and in flames. But the planes that returned to the Yorktown didn't have a whole lot of time to celebrate. They were quickly warned to take off again and head over to the Enterprise because word came that Japanese forces were headed to attack the Yorktown. So in spite of anti-aircraft fire and defending fighters, Japanese planes managed to land three 250 kilogram bombs on the Yorktown before being shot down. The explosions on the aircraft carrier started fires and extinguished all but one of the Yorktown's boilers. Now, the carrier's crew set to work and soon actually got the carrier limping along again and able to start refueling her surviving fighters.

Then word came from one of the accompanying ships, the Pensacola, which had been monitoring radar that more Japanese planes were approaching. Now, the Yorktown launched her planes and the ships that screened her set up a heavy curtain of anti-aircraft fire to protect the wounded carrier. Only two Japanese torpedoes hit home, but they were enough.

Attempts to restore power failed and everything went dark below the decks. Fearing that the Yorktown would just capsize completely, orders were given to abandon ship. Lieutenant Joseph Pollard, who was a flight surgeon, shared memories in writing of abandoning the Yorktown, describing how hard it was to even stand on the slick deck, searching for life preservers, trying to find a way to get the wounded safely off of the ship. Now, ships stood by to rescue the survivors as, meanwhile, American planes had located the source of these attacks that fourth Japanese aircraft carrier, the Hiryu. After six direct hits, that carrier was also in flames, which left U.S. pilots in control of the air.

The final stages of the Battle of Midway took the next couple of days. During it all, the Yorktown did remain afloat but crippled. Salvage crews even returned to the carrier, hoping to repair her enough to get her back home and, in the process, finding and saving some wounded who'd been overlooked in the evacuation. Until about 1 35 p.m. when four torpedo wakes were sighted to the Yorktown store board's side. The impact was tremendous, but she still didn't sink right away.

But at 3 30, someone noticed that the Yorktown's list was increasing again, and at 5 01, she disappeared into the sea. So, in spite of the loss of the loss of the Yorktown, and the many men who paid the ultimate sacrifice, the Battle of Midway wound up unquestionably being an American victory. Japan's loss of four aircraft carriers and over a hundred irreplaceable trained pilots really derailed their plans for expansion in the Pacific and was a major turning point in the war.

Which is probably one reason why Hollywood's made a few movies about it. And a special thanks to Anne Claire for setting on record what happened in the middle of the Pacific in the most important battle in our history. And to disarm and eliminate from competition four aircraft carriers is a big deal. And if you've ever seen an aircraft carrier or been on one, you know you don't make them in a day or a week and how important they are in navy battles and how important it is to protect those carriers and what they are and what they mean, the significance of taking them out. Well, it was indeed the turning point in the war in the Pacific.

The story of Midway, the story of the greatest battle of the 20th century when it came to naval battles here on Our American Stories. Passing the ball is fun. The Frito-Lay Pass the Ball Challenge is more fun. Join Frito-Lay, the official USA snack of the FIFA World Cup 2022 for their Pass the Ball Challenge. Look for the Golden World Soccer Ball and explore the ever-growing community. Then pass the ball to friends for a chance to score custom swag.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2022-12-18 00:21:40 / 2022-12-18 00:30:01 / 8

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