The Battle That Doomed Japan

The Battle That Doomed Japan

By Capt. Nancy Aldrich

This morning, June 5, 2012, I went to the Naval Aviation Museum at Pensacola to witness a Ceremony Commemorating the Battle of Midway. The parking lot was packed, and the museum was crowded. I went into the atrium hoping to get a seat for the ceremony, but with over 1000 people in attendance there was standing room only, so I stood. 

At the end of the Ceremony, 5 Midway survivors, Wiley Bartlett, Victor Kalfus, Leon Resmondo, James Stofer and Charles Wheeler, who were in attendance, were presented with American Flags. A reception followed the ceremony, and each of the survivors sliced the cake using a Navy sword.

The Battle of Midway occurred 70 years ago, June 4-7, 1942, just 6 months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese planned to destroy what remained of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. They sent four aircraft carriers to the tiny Pacific atoll.

The U. S. was badly outnumbered, and had less experienced pilots. With the odds against them, they managed to sink the four aircraft carriers on the first day of the battle, putting Japan on the defensive. 

The U.S. cryptologists had been able to crack the Japanese communication codes. They were able to give Admiral Chester Nimitz notice of the day and time the strike would occur, and what ships the enemy was bringing to the fight. 

On Friday, June 1, 2012, Vice Admiral Michael Rogers, commander of the U.S. Fleet Cyber Command, said, “After the battle of Midway, we always maintained the initiative, and for the remaining three years of the war, the Japanese reacted to us.

“It all started really in May of 1942, with station Hypo (the Combat Intelligence Unit at Pearl Harbor) and the work of some great people working together to try to understand what were the Japanese thinking, and what were they going to do.”

Japan’s vessels outnumbered U.S. ships 4-to-1, and Japan’s aviators had more experience. It’s Zero fighters could outmaneuver U. S. aircraft. However, Admiral Nimitz said, “had it not been for the excellent intelligence that was provided, we would have read about the capture of Midway in the morning newspaper.” Unlike the U.S., Japan had little knowledge of what we were doing.

Retired Rear Admiral Mac Showers, who was an Ensign in the Office at the time, is the last surviving member of the intelligence team that deciphered the Japanese messages. He explained that the Japanese used 45,000 five-digit numbers to represent words and phrases. “In order to read the messages, we had to recover the meaning of each one of those code groups. The main story of our work was recovering code group meanings one-by-painful-one,” he said. 

A key breakthrough was when they determined that Japan was using the letters “AF” to mean Midway. Nimitz was convinced, but had to convince Admiral Ernest King, the Navy’s top commander. Nimitz sent a message to Oahu saying the island’s distillation plant was down, and it needed fresh water. Soon Japanese messages were picked up saying that “AF” had a water shortage. That was the convincing evidence.

The U.S. lost one carrier, 145 airplanes, and 307 men. According to the account by former Japanese naval officers, in “Midway: The Battle That Doomed Japan, The Japanese Navy’s Story,” Japan lost four aircraft carriers, a heavy cruiser, 291 airplanes, and 4,800 men. The defeat was so overwhelming that the Japanese navy kept the information a closely guarded secret. Most Japanese never heard of the battle until after the surrender.

Showers said, “It used to be, a lot of people thought intelligence was something mysterious, and they didn’t believe in it, and they didn’t have to pay attention to it. Admiral Nimitz was, fortunately, what we call intelligence friendly.”

That intelligence friendly attitude gave the U.S. Navy the information it needed to win the Battle of Midway, in June of 1942, and greatly diminished Japan’s air power capabilities, and eventually lead to the defeat of Japan and the end of World War II.

Make a Joyful shout to God, all the earth! Sing out the Honor of His name; Make His praise Glorious. Say to God, “How awesome are Your works!”   Psalms 66:1-3
Nancy Welz Aldrich

Available for speaking engagements

5 Responses to The Battle That Doomed Japan

  1. I salute you Captain Aldrich, for the gut wrinching reminder of a solemn time in our nation’s history for which our hearts and minds should always keep us humble… Good job, you have your finger on the pulse of nation Nancy, thank you! 🙂

  2. Roger Russell says:

    Good article and spot on. The Battle of Midway has always fascinated me, and I have studied it extensively. It’s a story that new American generations should know well. I thank you for reminding us of one of our best and blessed moments of this nation’s history.

    P.S. I also like the article on flight delays. Just flew in from Hawaii and was delayed twenty minutes at the arriving gate in Houston because the ground crew spotted the plane incorrectly.

    Roger. R.

    • Nancy says:

      Thanks, Roger. I agree that younger Americans do not know enough about our heros and their contributions to our freedoms. What a shame!
      About the arrival delay. I always hated those. It is pretty easy to explain to passengers why the delay on departure, and to make up some time. It is disappointing when the pilot works hard to get the plane to the destination on time, then have to sit for half an hour – or more – waiting for a gate!

  3. Dan Johnson says:

    Thanks Nancy for THE BATTLE THAT DOOMED JAPAN. This history should be known by all our young people in our nation. Unfortunately, most will never know. Keep up the good work, Nancy.

    • Nancy says:

      Thanks, Dan. It is a shame that our kids are not being taught our real history, but a made up history. “The truth shall make you free!” I guess it is up to us older folks to try to teach the younger generations what freedom means, and the price paid to achieve it! I try to do a little of that at the Museum. I am always amazed at what they don’t know when I speak with them about the 40’s.

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