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  • February 1st, 1942.

  • It's been almost two months since the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor by Japanese forces.

  • To the Japanese soldiers and sailors manning their posts on the Marshall and Gilbert Islands,

  • the Americans have practically been knocked out of the fight in the first round.

  • Nobody expected any less, the Americans are soft.

  • They have no stomach for war.

  • A few thousand feet above their heads, the Japanese begin to hear the sound of approaching

  • thunder through the clouds.

  • Sudden panic grips them as they realize that's no thunder- it's the roar of dozens of American

  • Devastator torpedo bombers and Dauntless dive bombers.

  • Launching from the decks of the USS Yorktown and the USS Enterprise, America's war against

  • the Japanese Imperial forces has officially begun.

  • Two separate carrier forces have been dispatched to strike at the Marshall and Gilbert Island

  • chains.

  • Accompanying each of the two carriers are cruisers and destroyers, who open up on shore

  • facilities with their guns.

  • Planes from the Yorktown and Enterprise bomb Japanese positions and strafe Japanese planes

  • caught on the ground.

  • By the end of the day three warships will be sunk, with several others damaged, and

  • 18 Japanese aircraft destroyed on the ground or shot out of the sky.

  • The Americans will lose fourteen aircraft and suffer heavy damage to one cruiser- but

  • though it's minor, the day ends in victory for the Americans, and shock to the Japanese.

  • The American navy was supposed to take years to recover from Pearl Harbor, not months.

  • The USS Enterprise, affectionately known by her crew as 'the big E', steams back towards

  • Pearl Harbor and en-route is assigned to lead the newly formed Task Force 16.

  • None of the thousands of sailors know it yet, but as the convoy of cruisers, destroyers,

  • and the USS Enterprise steam off into the west Pacific, they are sailing into the pages

  • of naval history.

  • The task force steams for Wake island.

  • The island was lost shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, despite the heroic defense

  • put up by the tiny Marine garrison and naval aviators.

  • Unable to match the Japanese surface fleet's might, a relief task force steaming for the

  • island had been recalled at the last minute, and now the US denies the Japanese navy use

  • of the island by establishing a submarine blockade.

  • The Japanese on the island are now on starvation rations, relief unable to reach them.

  • The Enterprise will make sure that the Japanese on Wake island remain isolated, and its aircraft

  • strafe and bomb the Japanese garrison, putting its airfield out of commission.

  • To ensure that the Japanese are unable to repair the air field, the island will be periodically

  • attacked by passing ships.

  • With the US Navy still rebuilding, the big E can't afford to get into a showdown with

  • the main Japanese fleet- but she will help ensure that Japan feels the sting of war,

  • just like the American soldiers, sailors, marines, and civilians on Pearl Harbor did.

  • Joining with the USS Hornet, the Enterprise sails deep into hostile waters until it's

  • only 650 miles from the Japanese mainland.

  • The task force has sailed in complete radio silence, the mission so top secret only a

  • handful of military and government personnel aware of the task force's location.

  • Fighters from the Enterprise have been screening the convoy's movement the entire time, wary

  • of being discovered and attacked by the Japanese- but the strict secrecy has kept the small

  • fleet safe from prying eyes.

  • Aboard the Hornet, US Army B-25 medium bombers roar to life.

  • These planes have been specially modified to be as light as possible, stripping away

  • most of their defensive armaments and reinforcing armor.

  • Nobody has ever launched such a massive plane from an aircraft carrier, but the big bombers

  • are the only plane the US has that can reach the intended target: Tokyo, Japan.

  • America is striking back, right at the beating heart of the Japanese empire.

  • The big planes lurch forward one by one.

  • Barely reaching take off speed before running out of deck, the first B-25, piloted by Lt.

  • Colonel James H. Doolittle, lifts up into the air.

  • With a cheer from the assembled sailors, the rest of the planes lift off.

  • Hours later, the planes drop high explosive and incendiary bombs over their assigned targets

  • in and around Tokyo.

  • The surprised Japanese barely manage to get more than a handful of fighters into the air,

  • of which three will be shot down, with the loss of no American aircraft.

  • Though the raid caused little more than superficial damage to Japanese forces, it shook Japanese

  • civilian's confidence in the ability of its military leadership to protect the home islands

  • from attack.

  • Even more importantly, it caused morale to soar back home, rallying Americans back from

  • the crushing defeat at Pearl Harbor.

  • But the Big E was done playing escort or picking fights with small Japanese outposts.

  • It was time to go toe to toe with the best Japan had to offer.

  • American intelligence had just uncovered Japanese plans to invade and take Midway island.

  • Led by Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, Japanese forces needed to draw American carriers into

  • an all-out fight and end their threat once and for all.

  • While strategically unimportant to the Japanese, Midway island was properly assessed by Yamamoto

  • of being of crucial strategic importance to the Americans.

  • Without its airfield and naval facilities, the US Navy would be hard pressed to launch

  • combat operations deep into the western Pacific.

  • Yamamoto's plan was simple: attack Midway and lure out the two surviving American carriers,

  • the Enterprise and the Hornet.

  • With the island just outside of the range of American air forces in Pearl Harbor, if

  • the US wanted to hold it it would have to commit its remaining aircraft carriers.

  • With the Lexington and Yorktown sunk at the Battle of the Coral Sea, mopping up what was

  • left of American resistance in the Pacific should be a piece of cake.

  • The Americans were aware of the key components of Yamamoto's plans, and rushed to put together

  • a force capable of fighting off up to five carriers.

  • Unknown to the Japanese, the Yorktown had in fact not been sunk, though needed an estimated

  • several months of repairs to be battle worthy again.

  • Admiral Chester W. Nimizt gave the repair crews three days, and in an incredible feat

  • of human endurance, the crews restored the Yorktown to battle-capable state within the

  • allotted time, with further repairs continuing even as she steamed towards Midway.

  • The USS Hornet, a still badly damaged Yorktown, and a force of 7 heavy cruisers, 1 light cruiser,

  • 15 destroyers, 16 submarines, and 127 aircraft stationed on Midway itself would be led into

  • the teeth of the Japanese Navy by the Enterprise herself.

  • Opposing the American defenders was a force of 4 carriers, 2 battleships, 6 heavy cruisers,

  • 1 light cruiser and 14 destroyers, with a reinforcing fleet just a few days behind the

  • main fleet consisting of 2 light carriers, 5 battleships, 4 heavy cruisers, and 2 light

  • cruisers.

  • The Battle of Midway would be America's own Thermopylae, and despite the odds the Big

  • E was itching for a proper stand-up fight at last.

  • At 9 am on the 3rd of June, a sole American patrol aircraft spots the Japanese occupation

  • force, mistaking it for the main force.

  • Nine B-17s are immediately dispatched to attack the Japanese ships, but run into a transport

  • group instead and decide to attack.

  • They are immediately met by heavy enemy anti-aircraft fire, severely degrading the accuracy of the

  • American bombers.

  • Despite several bombing runs, not a single Japanese ship is hit, and the American planes

  • limp back to base.

  • An auspicious start to the American defense of Midway.

  • At 4:30 AM the next day, a force of over a hundred Japanese planes lumbers towards Midway.

  • They are spotted an hour later by American patrol aircraft, who also manage to spot the

  • location of two of the Japanese carriers.

  • The Americans have to make a very difficult choice- they have an opportunity to attack

  • the Japanese carriers and potentially cripple the Japanese navy, but to do so their bombers

  • will have to fly unescorted as the escort fighters are desperately needed to defend

  • the island itself.

  • A choice is made, and the American bombers take to the sky without their escorts.

  • By six am, the battle for Midway has officially begun.

  • Japanese planes tear through the sky, their escort fighters met in the air by six American

  • F4Fs and 20 F2As.

  • The F2As are all but obsolete as they engage in battle with modern Japanese zeros, which

  • are at the time, the most advanced fighter in the world.

  • In mere minutes 15 of the American planes have been downed, though they've managed to

  • down five of their own.

  • The Japanese bomb the air fields, hangars, and defensive fortifications, but while the

  • American fighters are getting knocked out of the sky, US anti-aircraft gunners are deadly

  • accurate, forcing many Japanese aviators to miss their targets.

  • The attack is forced to break off, and the returning pilots radio the rest of the fleet

  • that at least one more air attack would be necessary to prepare Midway for invasion.

  • As the Japanese attack is returning, the American attack on the Japanese carriers is in full

  • force.

  • 52 American dive bombers and torpedo planes descend on the Japanese forces, but are met

  • by the carrier group's combat air patrol.

  • A fierce battle ensues in the sky above the carriers, with the Japanese inflicting terrible

  • losses on the Americans.

  • One American B-26, seriously damaged by anti-aircraft fire and possibly out of control, aims straight

  • for the bridge of the Akagi, where Admiral Nagumo is leading this battlegroup.

  • At the last moment though the plane cartwheels out of control and crashes into the ocean

  • harmlessly.

  • No Japanese vessel suffers more than superficial damage.

  • Things are not going well for the already vastly outnumbered Americans.

  • While under attack, Japanese Admiral Nagumo receives a contact report from a scout plane

  • searching for the US fleet.

  • The plane however is unable to determine the size or exact composition of the fleet, and

  • Nagumo orders the plane to approach at all risk and determine if the American carriers

  • are present.

  • He is under orders to make the destruction of the surviving American carriers his top

  • priority, after which mopping up any defense on Midway, or the rest of the Pacific, was

  • simply a matter of time.

  • As the scout plane struggled to determine if American carriers were present, completely

  • unbeknownst to the Japanese was the fact that the American carriers had already launched

  • their own attacks, spearheaded by torpedo and dive bombers from the USS Enterprise.

  • The Americans operate under radically different doctrine than the Japanese, and are operating

  • on the gamble that the Japanese carriers would be caught trying to recover planes from the

  • attack on Midway, making them critically vulnerable.

  • While Japanese doctrine states that planes are to be held in reserve until an attack

  • can be fully constituted, the Americans decide that it's more important to keep the Japanese

  • occupied and thus hamper a counter-attack.

  • Thus they launch their fighters, bombers, and torpedo planes piecemeal, each small attack

  • element flying to the enemy as fast as possible.

  • It'll mean higher casualties, and it's a massive gamble that US aviators will pay for dearly.

  • Dive bombers from the Hornet mistake the enemy contact report and fly at a heading of 265

  • degrees, rather than the 240 degrees reported by the scout plane, completely missing the

  • Japanese forces.

  • Disagreeing over the heading, the group's torpedo bombers break off and head off on

  • the correct heading.

  • The strike has been launched at the very edge of the plane's maximum ranges though, and

  • ten of the planes are forced to turn back and ditch, never reaching their targets.

  • American Devastators however follow a correct heading and make contact with the Japanese

  • fleet.

  • Their fighters however had lost contact with their escort, ran low on fuel, and were forced

  • to turn back to the Enterprise for refueling.

  • This leaves the Devastators without any air cover, but knowing that the Japanese carriers

  • must be destroyed before they can in turn destroy the outnumbered American fleet, the

  • devastators fly into the teeth of fierce Japanese resistance to deliver their torpedoes.

  • Twenty minutes later, more torpedo attack aircraft from the Enterprise join in the action.

  • Swift and agile Japanese zeroes pounce on the unescorted torpedo planes though, tearing

  • through them with devastating consequences.

  • Over half of the attacking force is shot out of the sky, without a single hit on an enemy

  • vessel.

  • The Battle of Midway is very quickly turning into a losing proposition for American forces.

  • However, one pilot's gamble would change the course of the war in the Pacific.

  • Confusion has thrown two of the Enterprise's dive bomber squadrons way off course, and

  • they are running low on fuel.

  • Air Group Commander C. Wade McClusky Jr. faces a tough choice: continue the search of turn

  • back for the Enterprise before his aircrew is forced to ditch their planes.

  • War material is still in short supply after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and subsequent

  • losses in the Coral Sea- the US Navy could ill-afford to be ditching perfectly good planes

  • and potentially losing their crews as well.

  • Despite these considerations though, McClusky decides to continue the search for the Japanese

  • carriers.

  • By sheer luck, McClusky's air group spots the wake of the Japanese destroyer Arashi,

  • which is steaming at full speed to rejoin the carriers after chasing off an American

  • submarine earlier in the morning.

  • Like a giant homing beacon, the aircraft follow the big ship's wake straight to their target,

  • and suddenly fully laid out before and below them is the Japanese fleet.

  • The combat air patrol which had just devastated the first American attack, inflicting horrendous

  • losses, is out of position and low on fuel and ammo, chasing an attack wing from the

  • Yorktown that had just arrived on target as well.

  • On carriers Kaga and Akagi, Japanese aircraft from the Midway attack are being recovered

  • and re-armed for an attack on the US carriers.

  • The decks are clogged with men, planes, bombs, and fuel, and overhead three American strike

  • groups have just arrived from three different directions.

  • It's time for payback.

  • The Japanese put up a desperate screen of anti-aircraft fire, but with their Zeroes

  • miles away, the American planes are almost completely unopposed.

  • An order is given for the attacking aircraft to split into two groups, one attacking the

  • Kaga and the other the Akagi.

  • However a miscommunication leads to both groups descending on the Kaga, which is only corrected

  • at the very last moment with dive bombers pulling out of their attack run and re-targeting

  • the Akagi.

  • The Kaga suffers multiple direct hits, the dive bomber's 500 pound bombs smashing into

  • her deck.

  • One of the bombs hits right in front of the bridge, instantly killing all of the Kaga's

  • senior officers.

  • Another rips open her flight deck, exposing the hangar below.

  • Japanese machine gunners desperately try to fend off the attack but to no avail, themselves

  • gun downed by strafing American planes.

  • The attack on the Akagi is less successful, with the torpedo planes and dive bombers only

  • scoring glancing blows.

  • However, one bomb manages to hit the midship elevator and penetrate through to the hangar

  • below, which is full of aircraft and fuel.

  • The explosion starts a fire that within hours engulfs the entire ship.

  • At the same time the Enterprise's attack is exacting deadly revenge on the Akagi and Kaga,

  • Yorktown's bombers strike at the Soryu.

  • Several hits ignite huge stores of gasoline, setting off the same bombs and torpedoes being

  • loaded onto Japanese planes and meant to destroy the American carriers.

  • In the span of an hour, Japan has just lost three of its largest aircraft carriers.

  • Admiral Nagumo is found in a state of shock, and forced to leave his sinking ship by aides.

  • The battle was not over however.

  • The lone surviving Japanese carrier, Hiryu, launches its own counter-attack against the

  • Americans.

  • The Japanese aviators follow the returning American planes to the Yorktown, and are immediately

  • met by fierce anti-aircraft fire.

  • The