Ken Beaton: Battle of Midway happened 75 years ago
Thirty seconds over Tokyo on April 18, 1942 changed Japan’s attitude from invincible to vulnerable. Looking for a scapegoat, the Japanese Prime Minister, Hideka Tojo, forced the commander of Tokyo’s anti-aircraft defense to commit suicide. Failure wasn’t tolerated.
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto studied a Pacific Ocean map similar to a chess player studying a chess board. He decided to expand Japan’s occupied territory to Midway Island, making it impossible for the Americans to repeat an attack. He had two goals. First: to lure the U.S. Navy into his trap at Midway and annihilate them. Second: attack and conquer Fuji, Samoa and Hawaii, forcing America into a negotiated peace, to form the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, “Asia for Asians.”
Born in 1900, Joseph Rochefort graduated from high school in 1918 to enlist in the Navy. After he became an officer, a fellow officer noticed Joe’s talent, solving crossword puzzles. He enrolled and graduated from cryptographer school. After serving under the best cryptographers, the Navy assigned him to Tokyo to learn Japanese.
As an expert Japanese linguist and trained cryptanalyst, Captain Rochefort replaced the Officer in Charge of Station Hypo in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in early 1941. He handpicked his staff. They broke the Japanese main fleet cipher, JN-25.
Captain Rochefort and his staff worked 12-plus hours for days decoding Japanese radio traffic in the early days of 1942. Joe wore slippers and a bathrobe over his khaki uniform. Sometimes he didn’t bathe for days. In May of 1942 Rochefort and his staff were decrypting 500 to 1,000 Japanese decrypts a day.
Admiral Nimitz trusted Rochefort’s information; the Imperial Japanese Navy was going to attack Midway Atoll on Thursday, June 4, 1942, with four fleet carriers, Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu, four of the six carriers that attacked Pearl Harbor six months earlier. The IJN’s other task force was steaming to the Aleutians Islands, Attu and Kiska, a diversion.
Before dawn on June 4, 1942 Lt. Howard P. Ady, Jr.’s squadron, VP-23, was briefed. “The Japanese fleet will be approaching from 320 degrees.” Ady was assigned to sector 315 degrees. He was responsible for 307 1/2 to 322 1/2 degrees. At 05:30 hours Lt. Ady reported sighting two of the Japanese carriers. “General Quarters!”
USS Yorktown, CV-5, and USS Enterprise, CV-6, sent a total of three squadrons of dive bombers, SBDs. Enterprise Air Group Commander McClusky led the attack to destroy the carriers Kaga and Akagi on June 4, 1942. The Soryu and Hiryu were sunk on June 5.
When “General Quarters” is announced, every sailor runs to his battle station. For example eight cooks could be assigned as loaders at a Bofors (a quad 40), four 40mm antiaircraft cannons (each firing up to 120 rounds a minute), one gunner’s mate operates the vertical movement and another gunner’s mate operates the horizontal movement with an officer — a total of 11 shipmates at that battle station. Enemy planes flew toward their ship to torpedo or bomb it while the quad 40 was attempting to destroy the planes, similar to opposing gunfighters at the OK Corral.
Our carriers, Enterprise, Hornet and Yorktown, sprung their trap and launched their fighters, dive bombers and torpedo bombers. During the June 4-7, 1942 battle, the IJN lost four carriers, Akagi, Hiryu, Kaga and Soryu and the heavy cruiser, Mikuma, 3,057 sailors and 248 aircraft. Midway was Japan’s first naval defeat since the Battle of Shimonoseki Straits in 1863, a disastrous loss!
In 1941 Admiral Yamamoto told his Japanese superiors, “In the first six to twelve months of a war with the United States and Great Britain I will run wild and win victory upon victory. But then, if the war continues after that, I have no expectation of success.” Fortunately, his six months prediction was correct, Dec. 7, 1941 to June 7, 1942. The Battle of Midway was the greatest victory for the USN. The IJN never recovered.
Captain Rochefort and his team translated a cable, Admiral Yamamoto planned to fly to Bougainville on April 18, 1943, a year after Doolittle’s Raid. Admiral Halsey ordered 18 P-38 fighters with wing tanks to shoot down Yamamoto’s plane. Halsey had to wait more than a month, May 21, 1943, for the Japanese government to announce Yamamoto’s death.
Admiral Nimitz’ leadership skills with accurate information and every sailor doing their job are the reasons why Alaska and Hawaii are our 49th and 50th states with English not Japanese the spoken language in Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington. Thank every vet for his or her service with a special thanks to our World War II vets.
You may decide to watch the movie, “Midway,” with an international cast. It was the 10th grossing film in 1976 with a running time of 131 minutes.