World War II (detail from Pearl Harbor photo)

The Pacific Theater

Miracle at Midway

While fires still roiled out of control at Pearl Harbor, Japanese forces attacked more targets in the Pacific. Over the next three weeks, they swept across eastern Asia nearly to Australia, and invaded the Philippines. Because the Allies had agreed to give highest priority to defeating Germany and Italy, resources for combating Japan were limited. Still, the Allies began fighting back.

On April 18, 1942, Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle led sixteen B-25 bombers, launched from an aircraft carrier more than 600 miles out to sea, on a daring raid on Tokyo. Most of his planes hit targets in the capital. Although the raid caused modest damage, it embarrassed the Japanese government and greatly boosted U.S. morale.

In June 1942, the Japanese attacked the Midway Islands as a step toward taking Hawaii. But U.S. forces, having broken Japanese codes, lay in wait for their enemy. When the two fleets clashed, the Japanese seemed to be winning, easily destroying two waves of U.S. attack planes. Then a few U.S. dive bombers caught the Japanese carriers with planes refueling and sank three of them. Another was damaged and later sank. Although the United States also lost a carrier, it was easily replaced by U.S. industry. The Japanese never fully recovered.

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto
Midway Islands
Bombing of USS Yorktown during the Battle of Midway, June 4, 1942
The Japanese aircraft carrier Hiryu, burning after the Midway battle
American SBDs at Midway

Related Artifacts