What were the stakes in the Battle of Midway? How did the outcome of that three-day clash in June 1942 affect the outcome in the Pacific theater of conflict, ultimately resulting in U.S. victory over Japan in the summer of 1945 when World War Two ended?
More than seven decades after the battle, those questions continue to be discussed and debated. The event launched a stream of books, magazine and journal articles, movies, documentaries and, nowadays, YouTube videos. It may be that no other American battle has received as much attention except, perhaps, the June 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn.
My high-level review of this material leads me to two conclusions: the stakes were high, and the victory proved crucial to U.S. fortunes in the Pacific.
One of the more recent books about the battle, Anthony Tully and Jonathan Parshall’s Shattered Sword (2006), characterizes Midwayas a “reprieve” for the U.S. Navy. It was, in a sense, a chance for a breather that allowed American forces to get up off the mat and regroup to battle what had seemed a juggernaut.
“If Midway checked the ambitions of Japan and signaled the destruction of its primary means of naval offense, it foretold just the opposite for the Americans,” Tully and Parshall wrote.
The battle achieved rough parity for the U.S. against Japan for the rest of 1942, and, equally important, “American commanders, for the first time since their humiliation at Pearl Harbor,could now legitimately contemplate offenses of their own against the enemy,” they write.
Shattered Sword concludes that victory at Midway “created the moral and material basis for the crucial American campaign at Guadalcanal.”
Japan’s military would suffer greater losses during battles in the Solomons that stretched on throughout 1943. Yet, Midway “clearly opened the gates to this hellish attritional cycle,” according to Tully and Parshall.