What is the importance of the Battle of Midway?

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Despite changing naval warfare for good with their daring raid on Pearl Harbor with aircraft-carrier-based airplanes on December 7, 1941, the Japanese admiralty, as did their American counterparts, falsely believed that battleships were still the major players in any naval war. When intelligence reports came in from scouts that the...

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Despite changing naval warfare for good with their daring raid on Pearl Harbor with aircraft-carrier-based airplanes on December 7, 1941, the Japanese admiralty, as did their American counterparts, falsely believed that battleships were still the major players in any naval war. When intelligence reports came in from scouts that the American carriers Lexington, Enterprise, and Saratoga were not at Pearl Harbor, the Japanese high command was not concerned—they knew that the bulk of the battleships were still harbored at Pearl Harbor. In fact, Japanese pilots led by Mitsuo Fuchida were positively giddy when they discovered the placement of seven battleships in a row, including the USS Arizona and USS West Virginia, which they proceeded to sink using bombs and torpedoes dropped by the potent Aichi D3A Carrier-Borne Bombers.

The fact that the three carriers were unharmed, coupled with the transfer of three more carriers, the Yorktown, the Wasp, and the Hornet, from the east coast, helped bolster the reeling US navy at the Battle of the Coral Sea and then at Midway. While the Lexington was sunk at Coral Sea, its aircraft and those from the Yorktown inflicted major damage to the Japanese fleet: the Shokaku, Shoho, and Zuikaku were either sunk or heavily damaged. It was the first naval battle in history where the conflicting ships never came into sight of one another.

Even with the losses at Coral Sea, Japanese naval commander Yamamoto pressed on with the offensive against Midway. Yamamoto thought he could deal a final blow to the Americans with a decisive victory at Midway. Yamamoto knew that a protracted war was not in Japanese interests, and he hoped to force the US out of the war by destroying its remaining naval strength. With the loss of carriers at Coral Sea, the Japanese no longer had a numerical advantage against the Americans, who could use aircraft from the Enterprise, Hornet, and Yorktown (which had been damaged at Coral Sea but was still operational at Midway) along with ground-based aircraft from the island.

What resulted was a rout of the Japanese Imperial Navy, which lost four aircraft carriers and 292 aircraft and sustained more than 2,500 casualties. In contrast, the Americans lost the Yorktown and 145 aircraft and had slightly more than 300 casualties. By all accounts, the battle was a crucial victory for the United States military. The US military almost immediately went on the offensive in a war that would last another three years in the Pacific. Yamamoto had been proven both right and wrong. His attempt at delivering a final blow to the US fleet proved unattainable. He did, however, accurately predict that a prolonged war would ultimately lead to total Japanese defeat.

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The Battle of Midway was important in a couple of ways.  The largest importance the battle held was that it repelled the Japanese from advancing against the United States.  Following the success of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese military sought to make another advance that would permanently cripple the United States Navy and move them back to California, giving control of the Pacific Islands to the Japanese and allowing them significant advantage against the United States.  The Japanese forces failed to calculate that weakened is not the same as defeated.  American forces utilized intelligence and stealth in a much more effective manner than did the surprise element of Pearl Harbor.  Led by the strategically minded Admiral Chester Nimitz, U.S. Naval force was able to design an attack strategy that baited the Japanese vessels into a conflict that they were not expecting and for which they were not prepared.  Along these lines, the losses that the Japanese suffered were immense, losing significant aircraft and naval vessels as well as some of their best pilots.  From a momentum point of view, the battle was important in that it killed off Japanese advance and shifted the momentum to the American forces who were now able to repel the Japanese and could themselves advance further into the Pacific Rim.  Less than a year removed from Pearl Harbor, the Americans proved themselves to be the equal of the Japanese in the Battle of Midway.

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