90 Seconds Over Midway

By Bob Magill

The beginning of this month marked the 70th anniversary of the pivotal Battle of Midway (June 3- 6, 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 and for which President Franklin Delano Roosevelt later prayed on D-Day, was extended to us and is the only way to account for what historian Gordon Prange called the “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 of destruction 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) Two of the six Japanese carriers in the Pearl Harbor 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 four carriers to our three (Hornet, Enterprise, Yorktown) plus the unsinkable carrier of Midway island itself.

3) United States 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 ordered our three carriers to lie secretly in wait to the northeast of Midway.

5) After being ordered to Midway, our 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 the commander of the Japanese fleet, Admiral 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 the presence of one of our carriers (the only one spotted) – in order to attack it they had to recover the Midway attack planes, change their bombs from contact (land) bombs to armor-piercing ones and 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. Our dive bombers were at 15,000 feet and came up unobserved and unattacked.

10) The American 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 two groups of dive bombers arrived at the same time above three of the Japanese carriers who were turning into the wind, just five minutes before the enemy carriers were to launch an attack on the known US carrier.  Simultaneously there were loose contact bombs on the decks of the Japanese carriers, all of their 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 fourth Japanese carrier, several hours later — she was hit by  dive bombers just before she could launch another attack with her planes.

The end result: four Japanese carriers sunk, vs one US carrier; 2500 Japanese lost — including many experienced pilots, vs 307 US men lost,  322 Japanese planes lost vs 147 US planes.

More importantly, it changed the balance of sea power in the Pacific from that point on, shortened the war, saved lives, and provided a huge boost to our nation’s war-time morale.

More than planning. More than luck.

Bob Magill is an experienced attorney and litigator who is chairman of the Constitutional Law Committee of the Michigan Bar Association, President of the Williams College Alumni Association for Michigan, President and Founder of the charitable organization His Eye Is On The Sparrow, and a former professor of business law at the Ave Maria Law School.  He can be reached at bmagill@magillrumsey.com

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