The Japanese First Naval Squadron, commanded by Vice-Admiral Chuichi Nagumo of Pearl Harbour and bombing of Darwin fame, had sailed from its home base in Japan and was heading for Midway Island—located in the North Pacific Ocean, halfway between Asia and North America.
Nagumo’s squadron included: four aircraft carriers (Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, and Hiryu) and the battleship Kirishima. At the same time, the Japanese had sent an invasion force, including two battleships, towards Midway for the purpose of capturing the island (which was an American base). A third force, commanded by one of Japan’s top naval officers (and the mastermind behind the Pearl Harbour attack), Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, was at sea and included three battleships—one of which was the Yamoto, the largest and most heavily armed (with 18inch guns) battleship in the world.
Responding to the threat, Admiral Chester Nimitz ordered his carriers to sea. Rear-Admiral R.A. Spruance’s Task Force 16 (which included aircraft carriers USS Enterprise and USS Hornet) and Rear-Admiral F.J. Fletcher’s Task Force 17 (which included the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown) left Pearl Harbour independently. The two task forces made a rendezvous about 300 miles north-east of Midway. They located Nagumo’s squadron two days later on 4 June.Aircraft from the Enterprise, Hornet and Yorktown attacked Nagumo’s squadron but were driven off. A later attack serious damaged the Akagi, Soryu and Kaga, while aircraft from the Hiru badly damaged the USS Yorktown.
6 June: Yamamoto ordered the badly damaged Akagi to be sunk. The Hiru was attacked by planes from the Enterprise and sank. The carrier Soryu, already badly hit, sank with great loss of life. The Kaga, already damaged the day before, also sank. Nagumo had lost all four carriers.
7 June: The USS Yorktown, already damaged and steaming at reduced speed, was torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese submarine.
The Japanese failed to capture Midway and had lost four carriers (all of which had participated in the Pearl Harbour attack in 1941). Despite the defeat, the Battle of Midway was announced to the Japanese public as a stunning victory. Only the Emperor and the most senior officers of the navy were told the truth.