The Battle of Midway dealt a devastating catastrophe for the Japanese naval and air capabilities with destroying four carriers, one heavy cruiser, 248 aircraft, and 3,057 personnel. The Americans lost one aircraft carrier, one destroyer, 150 aircraft, and 307 personnel. Historically, Midway has been considered the turning point in the Pacific theater of World War II. Japan's shipbuilding and pilot training programs were unable to keep pace in replacing their losses, while the U.S. steadily increased its output in both areas that inevitably led denying Japan the ability to achieve its limited policy objective: to destroy the American carrier force in the Pacific and use the Aleutians and Midway Island as stepping stones for a Japanese invasion of Oahu in early 1943, which would force the Americans to negotiate for peace.
At the Battle of Midway in June of 1942, Admiral Chester Nimitz did the best job of addressing the issues of operational and strategic risk. First, Nimitz had a superior advantage of intelligence leading up to Midway that gave him the ability to understand the Japanese strategic and operational plan for the battle. Second, Nimitz had the industrial capacity and naval strength to match a portion of the Japanese fleet after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Third, Nimitz capitalized on a dispersed Japanese fleet with a concentrated force in a decisive naval battle. Finally, Nimitz had much less to lose than Yamamoto in a defeat at Midway, which shows that the U.S. was fighting a total war vis-à-vis Japan’s limited political objectives.
Nimitz’s Superior Intelligence
Nimitz had a superior advantage of intelligence leading up to Midway that gave him the ability to understand the Japanese strategic and operational plan for the battle. Ronald Spector argues, “codebreaking did not assure the American victory at Midway but it made victory possible.” The code-breakers gave Nimitz the date, place, time, and composition of the Japanese operations for Midway. Therefore, American cryptanalysts were able to decipher Yamamoto’s operational plan to attack Midway and use the Aleutians as a diversionary target. This intelligence allowed Nimitz to avoid a secondary naval battle and concentrate a surprise attack unforeseen by the Japanese at Midway. Nimitz was able to position the fleet out of the Japanese carrier’s striking range and hide fall under the protection of land based air at Midway. Aligning the three carriers and land-based air power was instrumental in matching and defeating the larger and more competent Japanese fleet.
On the Japanese side of intelligence, Yamamoto believed to have the element of surprise at Midway, which was thought to draw the Americans out of Pearl Harbor. Yamamoto had numerical naval superiority in the Pacific to defeat the Americans at sea but remained unaware that the code breakers ascertained its operational and strategic plan to attack at Midway. Spector argues that Japanese submarines knew the...