The American aircraft carrier USS Yorktown and other ships of the formation are firing barrage to repel the attack of Japanese torpedo bombers in the Battle of Midway Atoll. The Yorktown, already damaged during the first attack by Japanese carrier-based dive bombers, is in the center. Three bombs hit the ship. 4 June 1942
80 years ago, a major naval battle took place between fleets USA and Japan at Midway Atoll. There was a radical turning point in the Pacific War in favor of the United States.
The Japanese fleet lost 4 heavy aircraft carriers, 1 heavy cruiser, about 250 aircraft and the best pilots. The imperial fleet of Japan never recovered from such losses, and the empire lost its strategic initiative.
In the spring of 1942, the unfavorable military situation continued for the United States and Britain in the Asia-Pacific theater. Winter 1941–1942 The USA and England suffered heavy losses in their naval forces, lost important strategic positions and points: Hong Kong, Singapore, British Malaya, part of Burma, the Philippines, the Dutch Indies, New Britain, most of New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and a number of other islands in the Pacific Ocean . The Empire of Japan carried out a number of successful military operations, capturing the most important strategic areas and rich sources of raw materials.
The position of China, which continued to fight against the Japanese invaders, worsened. The threat of a Japanese invasion of Australia, Hawaii, Ceylon and India loomed. The situation with sea communications in the Pacific and Indian Ocean has become more complicated, and hence the situation with the transfer of troops, reinforcements and supplies.
On April 5-9, 1942, the Japanese attacked Ceylon, the British Eastern Fleet lost an aircraft carrier, 2 cruisers and a destroyer and retreated to the coast of Africa. The Japanese established dominance in the eastern Indian Ocean. The British in May began to seize the bases in Madagascar, which belonged to the French. Britain concentrated its efforts on the defense of India, concentrating ground forces there and Aviationto then launch a counteroffensive in Burma.
However, Japan was unable to inflict a decisive defeat on the US in the Pacific during the blitzkrieg. The war has entered a protracted phase. The huge military and economic superiority of the United States (not counting the British Empire and its dominions and colonies) over the limited military and economic potential of the Empire of Japan began to affect. Japan's dominance at sea, in the air and on land quickly came to an end.
The Pacific Ocean has become the main theater of war for the United States. A continuous stream of ships, aircraft, various equipment and manpower headed here. Washington saw that the German blitzkrieg had failed, the war on the Russian front was dragging on. Therefore, one could not worry about Europe and go about their business in the Pacific Ocean. The Americans sought to regain their lost positions in the Pacific Ocean, strengthen and expand them, and achieve dominance in China. The American armed forces quickly recovered from the first bitter defeats, were able to create a strong defense and even go on the counteroffensive.
In April 1942, an agreement between Washington and London regarding the division of strategic war zones came into force. Britain was responsible for the Middle East and the Indian Ocean, including Malaya and Sumatra; The United States is over the Pacific Ocean, including Australia and New Zealand.
USS Enterprise at Pearl Harbor on the eve of the Battle of Midway. March 1942
USS Yorktown at Pearl Harbor after the Battle of the Coral Sea. After completing urgent repairs, the ship sailed for Midway on 30 May.
USA: from strategic defense to private offensive operations
The Pacific Theater was divided into two main areas: the Southwest and the Pacific. The first included Australia, the western group of the Solomon Islands, the Bismarck Islands, New Guinea, the Philippines, the Dutch Indies, except for Sumatra. The commander-in-chief of the southwestern region was General D. MacArthur with headquarters in Melbourne (then Brisbane). The Pacific region was divided into three parts: northern, central and southern. The commander-in-chief of all forces in the Pacific region was the commander of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral C. Nimitz. His headquarters was at Pearl Harbor.
At a meeting at the White House on March 5, 1942, President Roosevelt declared that Australia and New Zealand must be held and attacked in the Pacific. In April, the Naval Staff developed an offensive plan that included three successive stages of action. MacArthur and Nimitz received directives from the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, which ordered: to hold key positions in the Pacific Ocean and Australia, to actively act on enemy communications and prepare for the offensive. Subsequent directives provided for offensives to capture the islands of Tulagi and Santa Cruz, then the rest of the Solomon Islands and the northern coast of New Guinea, reaching the approaches to the Philippines. However, the Japanese were ahead of the Americans and were the first to launch an offensive in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
By the spring of 1942, there had been some changes in the views of the allies on the use and further development of forces and means of fighting at sea. The American command recognizes that the stake in the Pacific Ocean must be made on the use of aircraft carriers and naval aviation. The Americans had 7 aircraft carriers against 11 Japanese, so it was necessary to accelerate the construction of aircraft carriers. Also, an important role was still assigned to battleships, attention to submarines increased.
The accumulation of US forces and resources in the Pacific theater proceeded at an accelerated pace. Of the 8 divisions that left the country before August, 5 divisions were sent to the Pacific Ocean. By October, 5 air armies were deployed in the region: the 10th - in India, the 5th - in Australia, the 13th and 7th - in the Solomon and Hawaiian Islands, the 11th - in Alaska and the Aleuts. Most of the Navy and merchant fleet (for the transport of goods) was concentrated in the Pacific Ocean. The United States launched a forced and massive construction of warships and auxiliary vessels. Ships were raised and repaired at Pearl Harbor. Created new air and naval bases.
During strategic planning for the summer and autumn of 1942 in the Pacific Ocean, the American command gave the initiative to the enemy, intending to prevent the further advance of the Japanese. This led to battles in the Coral Sea, near Midway Atoll, to stubborn battles in the Solomon Islands, and to the activation of the Japanese in China.
The return of aircraft to the American aircraft carrier Lexington during the battle in the Coral Sea. Estimated shooting time 14:00. The picture was taken from the port side overlooking the stern. The frame shows a bomb-damaged battery of 5-inch guns. On the flight deck, the Douglas TBD-1 Devastator torpedo bomber is seen taxiing after landing. In the background, a Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat fighter is seen coming in to land.
USS Lexington during the Battle of the Coral Sea. Apparently, the picture was taken in the middle of the day, at about 14:30, after returning aboard the 2nd torpedo squadron and the start of damage control, but before the start of the fire that destroyed the ship. This is the last known shot of the Lexington in working condition. The picture was taken from the heavy cruiser Portland. 8 May 1942
Japan: the desire to develop an offensive
By the spring of 1942, the Japanese armed forces had achieved major successes in a short time. At the same time, the losses of the Japanese were relatively small, while the Anglo-Americans suffered serious losses. Therefore, the Japanese high command decided that large-scale operations must be continued, making new seizures and creating a favorable military-political situation for a long time. By keeping the strategic initiative, forcing the US and Britain to remain on the defensive.
Two options for further large-scale expansion were discussed:
1) the Indian direction, with the capture of Ceylon, India, access through the Red Sea to the Middle East and connection with the German-Italian allies;
2) the capture of Australia. The Australian question caused a heated discussion between the navy and army command. The army command resolutely opposed the development of an offensive to the south. It required significant efforts by the army, which weakened other areas, in particular, the Kwantung Army, where the question was about the invasion of Russia.
However, the Japanese Headquarters abandoned both options for continuing aggression. Ground forces and the Air Force were required for the war with Russia, which was planned to begin in 1942. At the first stage of the campaign, during which they were going to capture Primorye, they intended to use 30 divisions, 1 aircraft and about 500 tanks. True, the Japanese leadership did not dare to start a war with Russia. But a strong grouping on the border of the Russian Far East was preserved.
Thus, the Japanese Headquarters temporarily postponed plans for an invasion of Russia, an offensive in India and Australia. By May 1942, the Japanese had made a compromise decision to develop an offensive in the Pacific. On May 5, the Japanese Headquarters issued a directive in which the Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet was ordered "in cooperation with the ground forces to carry out the occupation of about. Midway and Key Points in the Western Aleutian Islands". It was also planned to capture the islands of Samoa, Fiji, New Caledonia, New Guinea, and strengthen positions in the Solomon Islands. Offensive operations in China were also planned.
Japanese carrier-based aircraft take off from the Hiryu aircraft carrier on the eve of the Battle of Midway Atoll
During the battle at Midway Atoll, the Japanese heavy cruiser Mogami, performing an anti-submarine maneuver, rammed the Mikuma, and she was seriously damaged. On the evening of June 6, 1942, American planes attacked the cruiser, and she, having received 9 hits from 227-kg and 454-kg bombs, sank.
Battle in the Coral Sea
The first objects of capture planned by the Japanese command were Tulagi Island (Solomon Islands) and Port Moresby (New Guinea). The capture of these positions made it possible to increase pressure on Australia. The operation was entrusted to the 4th fleet of Admiral S. Inoue - 1 light aircraft carrier ("Shoho"), 4 heavy and 3 light cruisers, 9 destroyers. Plus transports with troops. The 4th Fleet did not have heavy aircraft carriers, so the convoy was additionally covered by the aircraft carrier formation of Admiral T. Takagi - 2 heavy aircraft carriers ("Zuikaku" and "Shokaku") with 125 aircraft on board, 2 heavy cruisers, 6 destroyers and 6 submarines. The operation was also provided by the 25th air flotilla (162 aircraft) from the 11th air fleet, which was based at the Rabaul airfield.
In April, the Americans received information about the preparation of the enemy for an attack on Port Moresby. From the Pacific Fleet, two aircraft carrier formations were sent to the Coral Sea under the command of F. Fletcher, consisting of the heavy aircraft carriers Yorktown and Lexington (143 aircraft), 5 heavy cruisers and 9 destroyers. The Australian squadron of Admiral D. Kreis also obeyed the Americans - 3 cruisers and 2 destroyers. Thus, the number of aircraft on Japanese and American aircraft carriers was approximately equal. But the Allies had superiority due to coastal aircraft - 450 against 315 Japanese.
On May 3, 1942, the Japanese, without encountering resistance, landed part of the landing on Tulagi, and the other part headed for Port Moresby. Having received news of this, Fletcher sent a group led by the aircraft carrier Yorktown to Tulagi. Another group was refueling from a tanker at the time. On May 4–5, American aircraft from aircraft carriers attacked Japanese transports and cruisers, but were not successful. The Japanese realized that American aircraft carriers were operating in the battle area.
Both sides conducted active aerial reconnaissance. On May 6, the Japanese discovered an American carrier group 420 miles from Tulagi, but then lost contact. At this time, American intelligence discovered an enemy landing at the eastern tip of New Guinea. On May 7, American aircraft (more than 90 aircraft) attacked the Shoho light aircraft carrier. 15 minutes after the start of the attack, Shoho sank. It would seem that the Americans should continue and attack the enemy landing ships. However, this did not happen. For no apparent reason, the Americans were satisfied with the destruction of only the aircraft carrier.
Meanwhile, the Japanese discovered and attacked the large tanker Neosho and the destroyer Sims. The destroyer was lost, the tanker was severely damaged. Neither side has yet discovered the main carrier forces of the enemy. And the outcome of the battle was largely determined by who was the first to detect the enemy and strike. At dawn on May 8, Japanese and American reconnaissance aircraft began searching again and soon discovered the enemy. Almost simultaneously, 80 American and 72 Japanese aircraft took off. The distance between the connections was about 165 miles. The planes flew towards each other, but there was no oncoming battle, as they were flying at different heights and in difficult meteorological conditions.
Japanese aircraft carrier "Shoho" under the blows of American torpedo bombers TBD-1 "Devastator"
The first to notice the enemy was a group of 49 aircraft from the aircraft carrier Yorktown. The Americans attacked the aircraft carrier Shokaku. But before that, the Americans made an almost 20-minute pause in anticipation of torpedo bombers. As a result, the Japanese managed to raise the fighters, which inflicted heavy losses on the torpedo bombers. The American attack was unsuccessful, but it distracted enemy fighters from the wave of dive bombers. The Japanese aircraft carrier caught fire. Then it was attacked by planes from the Lexington, and the Japanese ship received more damage.
Meanwhile, Japanese aircraft launched successful strikes on the aircraft carriers Lexington and Yorktown. Thus, the Lexington was attacked by Japanese carrier-based dive bombers and torpedo bombers and was hit by two torpedoes and five bombs. The ships were on fire. But the planes were able to board their ships. Connections began to quickly leave in a southerly direction. The damage inflicted on the Lexington led to an explosion of gasoline vapors inside the ship. 216 of the 2 crew members died. Due to the impossibility of saving the aircraft carrier, the order was given to abandon the ship. After the crew members were evacuated, the Lexington was torpedoed by escort destroyers. In essence, the Americans were left with one damaged aircraft carrier, and the formation lost its combat effectiveness.
At this time, the fire continued on the Shokaku. Returning Japanese planes were forced to land on the Zuikaku. Admiral Takagi decided to temporarily abandon further attacks in order to refuel the planes. And the commander of the 4th fleet, Admiral Inoue, ordered to postpone the operation to capture Port Moresby and withdraw all forces from the battle area. This decision caused a sharp discontent of the high command. The commander of the United Fleet, Admiral I. Yamamoto, ordered the pursuit of the enemy. On May 9, the Japanese ships went south, but the enemy was no longer found. The battle is over.
In quantitative terms, the losses were approximately equal: one aircraft carrier was killed and one damaged, 77 Japanese and 66 American aircraft were destroyed. But the dead aircraft carriers were not of equal value: the Japanese lost a light aircraft carrier, and the Americans lost a heavy one. Tactically, it was a Japanese victory. But strategically, this was an unexpected blow for the Japanese fleet: in previous battles at sea, the Japanese had a minimum of losses and won serious victories. The Japanese command abandons the operation to capture Port Moresby.
The American aircraft carrier USS Lexington burns shortly after being hit by Japanese torpedoes and bombs during the Battle of the Coral Sea. The ship has a noticeable trim on the nose, but it still keeps moving, receives and launches aircraft. The picture was taken around noon, before the end of extinguishing a fire from a bomb hitting a chimney. Grumman F4F Wildcat fighter flies over the ship
An explosion on the USS Lexington during the battle in the Coral Sea. Apparently, this is an explosion in the central part of the ship, which thundered at 17:27, towards the end of the crew leaving the ship. Near the aircraft carrier, the heavy cruiser Minneapolis and the destroyers Morris, Anderson and Hammann are visible.
Explosion on USS Lexington. Due to the impossibility of saving the aircraft carrier, the order was given to abandon the ship. After the crew members were evacuated, the Lexington was torpedoed by escort destroyers.
The American aircraft carrier Lexington, abandoned by the crew, is on fire and sinking in the Coral Sea
To be continued ...