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1942: Japanese beaten in Battle of Midway

AUDIO : US Captain Elliot Buckmaster describes the battle

The United States has routed the Japanese Navy in a major three-day battle over a remote US naval and air base at Midway Island in the Pacific Ocean.

The victory has dealt a severe blow to Japan's ambitions to advance right across the Pacific towards the US coast.

The tiny island, 1,000 miles north-west of Hawaii, was targeted as a potential launching pad for the Japanese advance.

The Japanese attacked in the early hours of 4 June with heavy air raids on the military base.


"Pearl Harbor has now been partially avenged"

Admiral Chester Nimitz, US Pacific Fleet

The US responded with a decisive counter-attack, using the US Pacific Fleet, army bombers and the marines. The Japanese were clearly taken by surprise by the scale of the American defence.

The battle was fought almost exclusively from aircraft carriers - only the second time this kind of fighting has been attempted.

The first was just a month ago, in the Battle of the Coral Sea, when the United States thwarted Japanese plans to invade Australia.

In that battle, the victory was not so decisive, and the United States lost one of its aircraft carriers, the USS Lexington.

Reporting on the end of the battle for Midway Island, the Commander-in Chief of the US Pacific Fleet, Admiral Chester Nimitz, said at least two enemy aircraft carriers had been completely destroyed, with all their aircraft, and at least two more seriously damaged.

Ten Japanese warships were also sunk or damaged.

By contrast, on the American side losses were relatively small. One American carrier was hit and some aeroplanes were lost.

Fighting is still continuing in the area, but although Admiral Nimitz stopped short of claiming the Japanese were defeated, he said, "a momentous victory is in the making."

He went on, "Pearl Harbor has now been partially avenged. Vengeance will not be complete until Japanese sea-power has been reduced to impotence. We have made substantial progress in that direction."

Meanwhile, fighting is continuing around the US naval base of Dutch Harbor, in Alaska. The Japanese are known to have landed on some of the westernmost Aleutian Islands, and bombed the harbour on 3 June.

No news has been received from the area since then.

In Context
The Japanese had invaded two Aleutian islands, Attu and Kiska, and attacked Dutch Harbor as a diversionary ploy to draw US forces away from the key battle at Midway.

But the US had broken Japanese military codes, and knew about the secret strategy - thus denying Japan an easy victory at Midway.

The loss of four aircraft carriers was more than the Japanese Navy could endure, and the battle proved a turning point in the Pacific War.

Six months to the day since the Japanese bombed the US Naval base at Pearl Harbor, they were placed on the defensive for the first time.

Slowly, the Americans drove them back, and eventually US forces occupied the major Japanese-held islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

The Japanese were finally forced to surrender on 15 August 1945 after the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Japan remained under US occupation for seven years, and there is a large and controversial US military base on Okinawa to this day.


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