Seventy-five years ago (
Just six months after the catastrophic Japanese surprise attack on
"Midway" referred to the small atoll roughly halfway between North America and
The odds at the
No military had ever won more territory in six months than had
American intelligence officers -- often eccentric and free to follow their intuitions -- had cracked the Japanese naval codes, giving the Americans some idea of the Japanese plan of attack at Midway.
American commanders were far more open to improvising and risk-taking than their Japanese counterparts. In contrast, Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto created an elaborate but rigid plan of attack that included an invasion of the
But such impractical agendas dispersed the much larger Japanese fleet all over the central and northern Pacific, ensuring that the Japanese could never focus their overwhelming numerical advantages on the modest three-carrier American fleet.
A month earlier at the Battle of the
But whereas the Japanese took months repairing the bombed carrier Shokaku and replenishing the lost planes of the Zuikaku, the crippled Yorktown was made seaworthy again at
The result of such incredible adaptability was that at Midway the Americans had three carriers (rather than two), against four for the Japanese (instead of a possible six).
Midway was probably the best chance for
Just months after Midway, new American Essex-class carriers -- the most lethal afloat -- would be launched. Before the war ended, 17 of the planned 24 carriers would see action.
In contrast, in the months after Midway, tens of thousands of new and superior Hellcat fighters, Avenger torpedo bombers and Helldiver dive bombers rolled off American assembly lines in numbers unmatched by the Japanese.
During the Battle of Midway itself, Japanese Admiral
In contrast, American Admirals
At Midway, 37 of the 41 slow-flying and obsolete American Devastator torpedo bombers lumbered to their deaths, as they were easily picked off by Japanese air cover.
But such heroic sacrificial pawns drew off critical Japanese fighter protection from the fleet. In its absence, scores of high-flying Dauntless dive bombers descended unnoticed to blast the Japanese carriers with near impunity.
Americans took chances to win an incredible victory. The Japanese command chose to play it safe, trying not to lose advantages accrued over the prior six months.
Midway was not the beginning of the end for
Before Midway, the Americans had rarely won a Pacific battle; afterwards, they seldom lost. America's culture of spontaneity, flexibility and improvisation helped win the battle; Japanese reliance on rote probably lost it.
We should remember those lessons 75 years later.