This week marks the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Midway, the turning point of the Second World War in the Pacific, and a pivotal moment in Pacific history. Neal Conan has more in today’s Pacific News Minute.
The improbable victory at Midway began with an intelligence coup, a unit of cryptanalysts at Pearl Harbor lead by Lieutenant Commander Joe Rochefort broke the Japanese Navy code. Now, “breaking the code” didn’t mean that they could read every message perfectly…far from it.
“I would receive the decrypted messages, in Japanese, but not in full,” Rochefort recalled. “They might say, ‘From Commander in Chief Sixth Fleet to Commander in Chief Striking force. You will…’ then a bunch of blanks. My job was to fill it in.”
Rochefort worked closely with Admiral Chester Nimitz’s intelligence chief, Commander Edwin Layton. In his memoir, Layton describes Nimitz putting him on the spot in late May. Layton stuck his neck out, and detailed exactly when and where the Japanese carriers would be sighted on the morning of the fourth of June.
On the basis of that estimate, Nimitz sent almost everything he had to ambush a much larger Japanese force.
When the sighting signal came in at 6 AM on June 4, Nimitz turned to Layton with a smile, “You were only five minutes, five degrees and five miles out.”
With a combination of skill, luck and courage, Navy fliers pressed home devastating strikes that sank four of the Japanese carriers that had lead the attack on Pearl Harbor just six months earlier. The spectacular sequence of Japanese victories that followed Pearl Harbor signaled the end for European empires in the Pacific; though there was a long way left to go, Midway ensured that the following era would be dominated by the United States.