TECHNOLOGY: Battle of Midway, Rise of the Aircraft Carrier
Still on Top After 70 Years
June marks the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Midway, considered by most military historians to be the turning point in the Pacific during World War II.
In 1942, a large Japanese fleet, led by four heavy aircraft carriers, planned to destroy the three U.S. carriers they missed during the Pearl Harbor attack six months earlier. But by early June, Naval Intelligence had cracked the Imperial Japanese Navy code and Admiral Chester Nimitz, the head of the Navy’s Pacific forces, knew where the enemy was and what their plans were.
After three days of battle, where the opposing surface ships never saw each other, Japan lost all four of its heavy carriers as well as hundreds of planes and thousands of sailors and pilots. U.S. losses were limited to one carrier – the USS Yorktown (CV-5) – a destroyer, the USS Hammann (DD-412), less than 150 planes and 305 men. After Midway, Japan was never able to launch a large naval offensive again.
The battle anniversary also marks the emergence of the aircraft carrier over the battlship as the mainstay of the U.S. Navy – a position it holds to this day.
The U.S. Navy is the only one in the world with more than a couple of large aircraft carriers that can launch fighters and bombers as well as helicopters and radar planes from their flight decks.
But other navies from Brazil and the U.K. to India and China are building or buying flatops to protect their shores and project power far out at sea.
Carriers have evolved over the last 70 years with angled flight decks allowing takeoffs and landings simultaneously, jet powered aircraft and nuclear propulsion, which has increased flat tops’ range and freed them from dependence on the refueling ship. You can read about it – and the changes coming with the next super carrier – the USS Gerland R. Ford (see the photo below) – in an article your 4GWAR editor wrote for the April issue of the Navy League’s Seapower magazine.
For more information and photographs about the Battle of Midway, click here to go to the Navy History and Heritage Command website.