This week marks the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Midway, one of the most important naval battles of World War II.
Naval Air Station-Corpus Christi marked the anniversary with a ceremony aboard the USS Lexington. The ship did not serve in the battle as it was not commissioned until 1943. The previous Lexington, better known as the “Lady Lex”, was sunk at the Battle of Coral Sea.
On June 3, 1942, U.S. Navy forces engaged the Japanese Navy off the coast of Midway Island.
The battle was a turning point for the U.S. during World War II.
“That initial major victory is what helped, as we say, turned the tide of war,” said NAS-CC’s Training Squadron 31 Executive Officer Cmdr. Robert Stochel.
In June 1942, the U.S. Navy was still reeling from the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor and defeat at the Battle of Coral Sea. That changed at Midway.
“There’s a lot of dynamic movement and moving pieces that make it an amazing case study and story,” Stochel said.
Stochel, who was a history major at the U.S. Naval Academy, has studied Midway extensively. He says that while the Navy was outgunned at Midway, surprise, and accurate intelligence, were key to victory.
“An under-armed force defeated a much bigger, superior force,” Stochel said. “That's what makes it monumental. There's some luck and timing, but intelligence was a huge piece.”
Four Japanese and three American aircraft carriers participated in the battle. The four Japanese fleet carriers: Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, and Hiryu, were part of the six-carrier force that had attacked Pearl Harbor six months earlier. They were sunk at Midway, as was the heavy cruiser Mikuma. The U.S. lost the carrier USS Yorktown and the destroyer USS Hammann, while carriers USS Enterprise and USS Hornet survived the battle.
The American victory forced Japan to shift its resources in the Pacific, and essentially ended Japanese imperial expansion.
“One begat another to set those conditions, to keep that push through the Central Pacific,” Stochel said.
While the Lexington wasn’t at Midway, Corpus Christi has a connection to the battle.
Lt. Cdr. John C. Waldron, who Waldron Road and Waldron Field are named for, was killed at the Battle of Midway.
On the second day of the battle, Waldron led a squadron of 15 torpedo bombers in an attack against a Japanese carrier group. Of the 30 men in the attack, only one survived.