This Week in Maritime History: The Battle of Midway, Allied Forces Invade Normandy Beach
June 4, 1942: The Battle of Midway Begins
On this day in 1942, the four day sea and air battle between the U.S. and Japan began in the Pacific. This battle is highly regarded The outnumbered U.S. Pacific fleet successfully destroyed four Japanese aircraft carriers. The U.S. lost just one carrier, Yorktown, during what would become one of the most decisive battles in the U.S. victory over Japan.
The island of Midway became the center of Japan’s plan of attack against the U.S. fleet. Japanese Admiral Yamamoto planned to attack Midway with strike forces. When the U.S. Pacific Fleet arrived at Midway to respond to the Japanese invasion they would be surprised by the Japanese Fleet to the West. A successful attack would eliminate a U.S. Pacific Fleet and eliminate a threat to Japan in the Central Pacific.
U.S. intelligence broke the Japanese code and intercepted the Japanese Fleets, catching them by surprise 200 miles northeast of Midway. Three Japanese heavy carriers and one heavy cruiser were quickly destroyed. One Japanese carrier, the Hiryu, used its aircraft to sink U.S. carrier, Yorktown. U.S. dive-bombers were later able to mortally mortar the Hiryu, forcing its abandonment.
(PHOTO: Hiryū, shortly before sinking: this photo was taken by Special Service Ensign Kiyoshi Ōniwa from a Yokosuka B4Y off the carrier Hōshō.)
After four days, Japan had lost one cruise, four carriers, 292 aircraft and and more than 3,000 men, including 100 trained pilots that could not be replaced. The U.S. suffered the loss of the carrier Yorktown, one destroyer, 145 aircraft and 300 men. The Japanese losses severely paralyzed their naval ability- marking a great turning point in WWII.
To commemorate the 70th anniversary U.S. Sailors and Marines aboard the USS Enterprise paid tribute in a memorial celebration. The previous USS Enterprise and her air wing and Destroyer Squadron 2, are credited with sinking three of the four Japanese carriers that were destroyed. Midway was the first partnering of the USS Enterprise and Destroyer Squadron 2, a partnership that has continued to this day.
(PHOTO right: USS Yorktown at Pearl Harbor days before the battle.)
June 5, 1916: British Cruiser Hampshire Sinks off the Orkney Islands
On this day during WWI the British cruiser, Hampshire, sank in the North Sea after striking a German mine. British Secretary of State, Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener (pictured right), was among the passengers killed in the sinking.
Kitchener was known as a British war hero, earning this distinction for his leadership of the British Army in Sudan in 1898. He had also served as chief of staff during the Boer War from 1899 – 1902.
June 5, 1944: The Allies Prepare for D-Day
On this day during WWII, 5,000 allied naval and merchant ships crossed the English Channel to stage for the invasion of Normandy. On June 5, General Eisenhower decided that D-Day would be the following day, June 6, and what would become the largest amphibious operation in history. On June 5th, British bombers launched a massive assault on the unsuspecting Germans in an effort to make way for Operation Overlord.
June 6, 1862: Union Claims Memphis
Union forces claim Memphis, Tennessee, the Confederate army’s fifth-largest city through an attack launched from the Mississippi River. Thousands of civilians gathered along the river to see the Union fleet ram four Confederate vessels. Three of the four sunk and one was left severely damaged; crushing the Confederates naval power.
June 6, 1944: D-Day
After nighttime assaults scattered German troops and damaged German supplies, 18,000 British and American parachutists were already on the ground as day broke. Allied forces were met with heavy fire from German troops. The U.S. and Britain each lost about 1,000 troops and Canada lost 335. By the end of D-Day, more 160,000 troops had landed in Normandy.
Operation Neptune was the naval portion of the D-Day invasion, and is still today considered one of the most well planned and well thought out naval executions. The invasion included more than 5,000 vessels from eight navies carrying 150,000 men and nearly 30,000 vehicles. Nearly 1,000 of the vessels involved invasion were merchant ships. Several ships were used to control the isolation routes from a Germany naval attack and mine fields were laid to force German ships away from air protection. The only naval exchange on that day was when four German torpedo boats reached the Eastern Task Force, launching eighteen torpedoes and sinking the Norwegian destroyer Svenner. The allies lost two vessels to land mines, the USS Corry and the USS PC-1261.