The Battle of Midway in the Pacific


Nothing distinguished the dawn of June 2, 1942, from countless other dawns that
had fallen over tiny Midway atoll in the North Pacific. Nothing, that is, except
the tension, the electric tension of men waiting for an enemy to make his move.
On Midway\'s two main islands, Sand and Eastern, 3,632 United States Navy and
Marine Corps personnel, along with a few Army Air Force aircrews, stood at
battle stations in and near their fighters, bombers, and seaplanes, waiting for
the Japanese attack they had been expecting for weeks. The carrier battle of
Midway, one of the decisive naval battles in history, is well documented. But
the role played by the Midway garrison, which manned the naval air station on
the atoll during the battle, is not as well known. Midway lies 1,135 miles west-
northwest of Pearl Harbor, Oahu. The entire atoll is barely six miles in
diameter and consists of Sand and Eastern islands surrounded by a coral reef
enclosing a shallow lagoon. Midway was discovered in 1859 and annexed by the
United States in August 1867. Between 1903 and 1940, it served both as a cable
station on the Honolulu­ Guam­Manila underwater telegraph line and as an airport
for the Pan American Airways China Clipper (Miracle 5). In March 1940, after a
report on U.S. Navy Pacific bases declared Midway second only to Pearl Harbor in
importance, construction of a formal naval air station began. Midway Naval Air
Station was placed in commission in August 1941. By that time, Midway\'s
facilities included a large seaplane hangar and ramps, artificial harbor, fuel
storage tanks and several buildings. Sand Island was populated by hundreds of
civilian construction workers and a defense battalion of the Fleet Marine Force,
while Eastern Island boasted a 5,300-foot airstrip. Commander Cyril T. Simard, a
veteran naval pilot who had served as air officer on the carrier USS Langley and
as executive officer at the San Diego Air Station, was designated the atoll\'s
commanding officer. Along with the naval personnel manning the air station was a
detachment of Marines. The first detachment was from the Marine 3rd Defense
Battalion; it was relieved on September 11, 1941, by 34 officers and 750 men
from the 6th Defense Battalion under the command of Lt. Col. Harold D. Shannon,
a veteran of World War I and duty in Panama and Hawaii. Shannon and Simard
meshed into an effective team right away. World War II began for Midway at 6:30
a.m. December 7, 1941, when the garrison received word of the Japanese attack on
Pearl Harbor. At 6:42 p.m., a Marine sentry sighted a flashing light out at sea
and alerted the garrison. Three hours later, the Japanese destroyers Sazanami
and Ushio opened fire, damaging a seaplane hangar, knocking out the Pan American
direction finder and destroying a consolidated PBY Catalina flying boat. The
Japanese retired at 10:00 p.m., leaving four Midway defenders dead and 10
wounded. On December 23, 1941, Midway\'s air defenses were reinforced with 17
SB2U-3 Vought Vindicator dive bombers, 14 Brewster F2A-3 Buffalo fighters, and
pilots and aircrews originally intended for the relief of Wake Island. The
Buffaloes and Vindicators were cast-off aircraft, having been replaced by the
Douglas SBD-2 Dauntless dive bombers and Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat fighters on U.S.
aircraft carriers. The Buffaloes became part of MarineFighter Squadron 221 (VMF-
221), while the Vindicators were put into Marine Scout Bombing Squadron 241
(VMSB-241), both making up Marine Air Group 22 (MAG-22) under Lt. Col. Ira B.
Kimes. Midway settled into a routine of training and anti-submarine flights,
with little else to do except play endless games of cards and cribbage, and
watch Midway\'s famous albatrosses, nicknamed gooney birds, in action (Stevens
56). Then, in May 1942, Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto, commander in chief of the
Japanese Combined Fleet, came up with a plan, called Operation Mi, to draw out
the U.S. Pacific Fleet by attacking Midway. Using Midway as bait and gathering a
vast naval armada of eight aircraft carriers, 11 battleships, 23 cruisers, 65
destroyers and several hundred fighters, bombers and torpedo planes, Yamamoto
planned to crush the Pacific Fleet once and for all. Alerted by his code-
breakers that the Japanese planned to seize Midway, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz,
commander in chief, Pacific Command, flew to the atoll on May 2, 1942, to make a
personal inspection. Following his inspection, Nimitz took Simard and Shannon
aside and asked them what they needed to defend Midway. They told him their
requirements. "If I get you all these things, can you hold Midway against a
major amphibious assault?" Nimitz