The Battle at Midway

Nothing distinguished the dawn of June 2, 1942, from countless other dawns that had fallen over

tiny Midway atoll in the North Pacific. Nothing, that is, except the tension, the electric tension of men

waiting for an enemy to make his move. On Midway's two main islands, Sand and Eastern, 3,632 United

States Navy and Marine Corps personnel, along with a few Army Air Force aircrews, stood at battle

stations in and near their fighters, bombers, and seaplanes, waiting for the Japanese attack they had been

expecting for weeks.

The carrier battle of Midway, one of the decisive naval battles in history, is well documented. But

the role played by the Midway garrison, which manned the naval air station on the atoll during the battle, is

not as well known. Midway lies 1,135 miles west-northwest of Pearl Harbor, Oahu. The entire atoll is

barely six miles in diameter and consists of Sand and Eastern islands surrounded by a coral reef enclosing a

shallow lagoon. Midway was discovered in 1859 and annexed by the United States in August 1867.

Between 1903 and 1940, it served both as a cable station on the Honolulu - Guam ? Manila underwater

telegraph line and as an airport for the Pan American Airways China Clipper (Miracle 5). In March 1940,

after a report on U.S. Navy Pacific bases declared Midway second only to Pearl Harbor in importance,

construction of a formal naval air station began.

Midway Naval Air Station was placed in commission in August 1941. By that time, Midway's

facilities included a large seaplane hangar and ramps, artificial harbor, fuel storage tanks and several

buildings. Sand Island was populated by hundreds of civilian construction workers and a defense battalion

of the Fleet Marine Force, while Eastern Island boasted a 5,300-foot airstrip. Commander Cyril T. Simard,

a veteran naval pilot who had served as air officer on the carrier USS Langley and as executive officer at

the San Diego Air Station, was designated the atoll's commanding officer. Along with the naval personnel

manning the air station was a detachment of Marines. The first detachment was from the Marine 3rd

Defense Battalion; it was relieved on September 11, 1941, by 34 officers and 750 men from the 6th

Defense Battalion under the command of Lt. Col. Harold D. Shannon, a veteran of World War I and duty in

Panama and Hawaii. Shannon and Simard meshed into an effective team righ!

t away.

World War II began for Midway at 6:30 a.m. December 7, 1941, when the garrison received word

of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. At 6:42 p.m., a Marine sentry sighted a flashing light out at sea and

alerted the garrison. Three hours later, the Japanese destroyers Sazanami and Ushio opened fire, damaging

a seaplane hangar, knocking out the Pan American direction finder and destroying a consolidated PBY

Catalina flying boat. The Japanese retired at 10:00 p.m., leaving four Midway defenders dead and 10

wounded. On December 23, 1941, Midway's air defenses were reinforced with 17 SB2U-3 Vought

Vindicator dive bombers, 14 Brewster F2A-3 Buffalo fighters, and pilots and aircrews originally intended

for the relief of Wake Island. The Buffaloes and Vindicators were cast-off aircraft, having been replaced by

the Douglas SBD-2 Dauntless dive bombers and Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat fighters on U.S. aircraft carriers.

The Buffaloes became part of MarineFighter Squadron 221 (VMF-221), while!

the Vindicators were put into Marine Scout Bombing Squadron 241 (VMSB-241), both making up Marine

Air Group 22 (MAG-22) under Lt. Col. Ira B. Kimes.

Midway settled into a routine of training and anti-submarine flights, with little else to do except

play endless games of cards and cribbage, and watch Midway's famous albatrosses, nicknamed gooney

birds, in action (Stevens 56). Then, in May 1942, Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto, commander in chief of the

Japanese Combined Fleet, came up with a plan, called Operation Mi, to draw out the U.S. Pacific Fleet by

attacking Midway. Using Midway as bait and gathering a vast naval armada of eight aircraft carriers, 11

battleships, 23 cruisers, 65 destroyers and several hundred fighters, bombers and torpedo planes,

Yamamoto planned to crush the Pacific Fleet once and for all. Alerted by his code-breakers that the

Japanese planned to seize Midway, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commander in chief, Pacific Command,

flew to the atoll on May 2, 1942, to make a personal inspection. Following his inspection, Nimitz took

Simard and