OPINION: Remembering the 'Miracle at Midway' 70 years later
This past week marked the 70th anniversary of the pivotal Battle of Midway (June 4- 7, 1942). I have reviewed numerous accounts of this battle and have concluded that the large number of coincidences that occurred seriatim to give us victory were due to more than luck. I submit that the protection of divine Providence, upon which the Declaration's signers relied, was extended to us and is the only way to account for what Gordon Prange called "Miracle at Midway."
Here are 12 things, among others, which had to happen in order for 3 of the 4 Japanese carriers to be vulnerable to the dive bombers for the 90 seconds and the 4th vulnerable again, in the same manner, 7 hours later.
1) Our carriers had left Pearl Harbor shortly before the attack came on Dec. 7 -- otherwise, they would have been doomed.
2) 2 of the 6 Japanese carriers in the Pearl attack were damaged in the battle of the Coral Sea, May 4- 8, and could not participate in the Midway attack. That evened things out -- the Japanese attack group would only have 4 carriers to our 3 (Hornet, Enterprise, Yorktown) plus the unsinkable carrier of Midway Island itself.
3) U.S. Naval radio intelligence had cracked the Japanese naval code, JN-25 -- and was able to decipher some of the messages about the planned Midway attack, enabling us to accurately guesstimate the timing and route of the attack --- a few days before the JN-25 was changed again, blocking our decoders.
4) The Navy brass acted on this intelligence (the Army wasn't so sure about it - it was new) and shipped out 3 carriers to lie secretly in wait to the northwest of Midway.
5) Our 3 carriers slipped out of Pearl just before the Japanese picket submarines got there to spy on naval movements -- the subs never saw the carriers and couldn't alert Yamamoto.
6) As the time of battle drew near, a Japanese scout plane did not accurately transmit information about our carriers until after the first wave of Japanese planes had taken off to hit Midway.
7) When the Japanese carriers learned of ours (only one had been spotted) - in order to attack the spotted U.S. carrier, they had to recover the Midway attack planes, change their bombs from contact (land) bombs to armor-piercing ones, refuel, all while being under attack. This cost them quite a bit of time.
8) That time allowed the dive bombers from the Enterprise and Yorktown to find the Japanese carriers.
9) The Japanese carriers were first under attack by torpedo bombers at a low altitude -- resulting in their guns and Zeros being focused low, and not high. The dive bombers were at 15,000 feet and came up unobserved and unattacked.
10) The U.S. dive bombers originally did not know exactly where the Japanese carriers were and the two groups had two different clues which led them to the specks on the ocean that were the enemy carriers.
11) The 2 groups of dive bombers arrived at the same time above 3 of the carriers who were turning into the wind to launch, just 5 minutes before the enemy carriers were to launch an attack on the known U.S. carrier, at a time when there were loose contact bombs, all enemy attack planes were on the ships and not launched, and refueling was going on below the top deck for the recovered planes -- a time of maximum vulnerability.
12) A set of similar circumstances occurred for the 4th Japanese carrier, several hours later -- she was hit by dive bombers just before she could launch another attack with her planes.
End result --- 4 Japanese carriers sunk, vs. 1 U.S. carrier; 2,500 Japanese lost -- including many experienced pilots, vs. 307 U.S. men lost, 322 Japanese planes lost vs. 147 U.S. planes and more importantly, it changed the balance of sea power in the Pacific from that point on.
More than planning. More than luck.
Bob Magill Jr. Ann Arbor