Today in 1942, the Battle of Midway began. It was to last four days, and was one of the most important battles in the Pacific Theater of World War II. The American fleet, outnumbered by the Japanese, scored a major victory. The Americans lost the Yorktown, an aircraft carrier, but took out four Japanese carriers.
Prior to the Battle of Midway, the Japanese navy was a seemingly unstoppable force. They scored military victory after military victory throughout the Pacific. They were unmatched in the region until the United States entered the War, at which point Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto took notice.
The "Midway" in "The Battle of Midway" refers to an island located to the north of Hawaii. It is very strategically located and became a focal point of Yamamoto's plan to win the War. The Japanese navy was to give the impression of heading towards Alaska, to be followed up by a smaller force invading Midway. The main body of the fleet was to wait in the wings for the Americans to rush to the island's defense, at which point the US forces would be crushed.
Had the plan succeeded, it would have been a devastating loss for the Americans. However, American intelligence operatives were able to decipher the Japanese naval code, allowing them to anticipate the maneuver.
Two hundred miles from Midway, American naval forces intercepted the Japanese navy and sunk three of their carriers and one heavy cruiser. One of the carriers, the Hiryu, was also to scramble its aircraft in time to attack the American carrier Yorktown. Enough damage was done that the ship had to be abandoned. The Hiryu was destroyed by American bombers shortly thereafter.
The Americans came out of the Battle of Midway relatively unscathed, suffering about 300 casualties. The Japanese, however, suffered about 2,500 casualties and lost significantly more aircraft and ships.
Thanks to the gains made during the Battle of Midway, the previously indomitable Japanese navy was handicapped, giving the United States fleet a fighting chance. America would ultimately prevail in the Pacific theater, largely thanks to their victory at Midway.