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The Battle of Midway was being fought 77 years ago today

Brandon Moseley

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From June 4 to June 7, 1942, one of the largest and most decisive naval battles of World War II was fought in the skies and waters over and surrounding Midway Island.

Japan had attacked the United State Navy at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. For almost seven months the Japanese Empire had won victory after victory massively expanding their empire across much of the Pacific as well as deep into Asia. French Indochina (Vietnam), Singapore, New Guinea, the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies, Hong Kong, Burma, Guam, Samoa, etc. had all fallen to the Japanese. They were even threatening Australia, India and Sri Lanka.

Japan’s main goals were to end the threat of an anticipated United States counter offensive and ending American support to China and Australia by ending the U.S. Navy’s presence in the central Pacific. The Japanese and U.S. aircraft carrier fleets had just fought the Battle of Coral Sea, which was costly to both sides, but which had left the allied sea lanes open to Australia temporarily checking Japan’s ambitions in the South Pacific.

Japanese master strategist Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto devised a cunning plan where he would send a powerful fleet to attack the Aleutian Islands to draw the American carriers north in defense of Alaska. Meanwhile his vaunted carrier task force would strike at Midway in the Hawaiian Islands. The U.S. carrier fleet would have to go from fighting one battle in the North Pacific and turn around and fight a much larger naval force that was between them and their home port of Pearl Harbor. After his carriers had eliminated the threat of the U.S. Navy’s pilots, Yamamoto himself would arrive leading a third even larger fleet, that featured the most powerful battleship task force in the world at the time to do away with the remaining surface ships of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, while landing Japanese ground forces on Midway. The Japanese would then contest for control of the Hawaiian Islands and attacking Pearl Harbor. Loss of air superiority over Pearl Harbor and naval superiority in the Hawaiian Islands would then force the U.S. navy to forward deploy from San Diego and San Francisco.

It was a brilliant plan, but it relied on surprise rather than brute force, which Yamamoto could have had if he combined his three fleets into one powerful super force. Unfortunately for Yamamoto, U.S. Naval Intelligence had cracked the Japanese codes, thus U.S. Admiral Chester Nimitz knew that the attack on the Aleutians was just a ruse to make him order his carriers north away from Hawaii.

During the Battle of Coral Sea the Japanese light carrier Shoho had been sunk. The carrier Shokaku had been severely damaged and was in drydock for months of repairs. The carrier Zuikaku was undamaged, but half of her air group had been lost and she was in port waiting for replacement planes and pilots so was unable to participate in the Midway mission. The American aircraft carrier U.S.S. Lexington (CV-2) had been lost and the Yorktown (CV-5) had been damaged in the battle. Japanese naval intelligence had listed the Yorktown as destroyed or inoperable.

Knowing battle was imminent, Nimitz had summoned Yorktown and her task force under Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher back to Pearl Harbor from the South Pacific and dock workers hastily repaired the damaged aircraft carrier. Efforts to finish repairs and resupply Saratoga (CV-3) and a shortage of escort ships meant that the fourth American carrier would arrive from California too late to participate in the battle. Admiral Raymond Spruance was given command of the larger U.S. task force, Enterprise (CV-6) and Hornet (CV-8) because Vice Admiral William Halsey was sick.

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While the Japanese were landing ground troops on Attu and Kiska in the Aleutians (the first time the U.S. had lost North American soil since the War of 1812), Nimitz instead ordered the aircraft carriers Hornet, Enterprise, and Yorktown to a position where they could defend Midway, the Japanese main target.

On June 3, 1942 a U.S. Navy PBY Catalina floatplane found the Japanese carrier fleet alerting U.S. forces that the attack was underway. On June 4, the Japanese carriers Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, and Hiryu launched a massive aerial bombardment with 108 aircraft on the U.S. base at Midway. 25 of those planes were lost or severely damaged in the attack.

The Japanese had no idea that the three U.S. carriers were just to the east of the island and ready for battle. The Japanese aircraft did a lot of damage to Midway and destroyed the American fighters defending Midway; but the airfield remained intact so the airbase was still a threat from U.S. bombers. The Japanese air crews headed back to their carriers to rearm and refuel for another bombardment of the little island base to take out the airfield. 52 American aircraft launched from Midway, including B26s and B17s, launched from the airbase before the Japanese attack attacked the Japanese fleet. 17 of these aircraft were lost in the attacks. They cost the Japanese just three fighters. One B26 narrowly missed hitting the Japanese flagship, the carrier Akagi, in a suicide attack.

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Still not realizing that the main threat was from the American aircraft carriers, not the U.S. Army Air Corps, U.S. Navy, and Marine planes based on the island; Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, who commanded the carrier task force, made the error of deviating from Yamamoto’s orders as well as standard Japanese operating practices and ordered all of his reserve bombers, which had been armed with torpedoes and bombs especially for naval combat to instead rearm with bombs to attack the island.

45 minutes later a Japanese scout plan reported seeing a sizable American fleet to the east of the island. Nagumo then ordered his crews to rearm the planes they had just rearmed with bombs for land assault to instead be rearmed again with naval bombs and torpedoes again. Another 30 minutes passed before the scout plane reported seeing one American aircraft carrier. Now the planes from the morning attack on Midway were returning low on fuel. If Nagumo launched his attack, those planes and pilots would have run out of fuel while the flight decks were used to launch. Nagumo ordered the decks used for the returning planes and pilots.

By this time the combined air arms of three American aircraft carriers were already in the air bound for the Japanese fleet. The American attack was not well coordinated. Hornet’s flight group went off in the wrong heading so never made contact with the Japanese fleet. Lt Commander John Waldrop broke away from Hornet’s main group and led his torpedo bomber squadron on the correct heading. The Douglas TBD Devastator torpedo bombers of VT-8 attacked the Japanese fleet and all 15 were shot down. Ensign George Gay who was later rescued at sea was the only survivor of VT-8. Devastators from Enterprise’s VF-6 attacked next with no success and a loss of 10 of 14 planes. This was followed by Devastators from Yorktown’s VT-3 which lost 10 of 12 planes (the painfully obsolescent Devastators were never used in combat again after Midway). No Japanese ships had been sunk even though some torpedoes came very close and they had forced the Japanese ships to take evasive maneuvers. The Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zeroes protecting the Japanese carriers were following the attack runs of the unprotected slow old torpedo bombers down to just off the surface of the ocean and had used lots of ammunition.

At that moment, three squadron of Americans Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers arrived: VB-3 from Yorktown and VS-6 and VB-6 from Enterprise. Enterprise’s nearly two full squadrons attacked Kaga almost simultaneously. She received four or five direct hits which caused numerous explosions of the bombs that were stacked in the hangar. Lieutenant Richard Halsey Best and his two wingmen attacked the Akagi. She was hit only once, but the bomb hit midship igniting a tremendous explosion of the fuel and stacked bombs in the hangars. Yorktown’s VB-3 attacked Soryu. Despite the valiant efforts of VT-3, Hiryu was not hit. Massive fires were soon raging on Soryu, Kaga, and Akagi.

Rear Admiral Tamon Yamaguchi on the Hiryu took operational command of the Japanese force, while Nagumo was being evacuated from the burning Akagi. He responded by launching 18 Aichi D3A dive bombers and six Mitsubishi A6M “Zero” fighters to follow the American attack force that was returning home critically low on fuel. The Japanese found the Yorktown and attacked. Yorktown was hit by three bombs. The Japanese lost 16 aircraft in this attack. The returning Japanese pilots reported having sunk an American aircraft carrier.

The Yorktown’s crew, working feverishly, covered the holes on the flight deck to get the flight deck operational again and got the boilers working again in under an hour. The Japanese collected all their remaining Japanese aircraft on Hiryu and launched a second attack wave of ten Nakajima B5N torpedo bombers and six of the A6M Zero fighters. This wave also found Yorktown, but the Americans had done such a good job of repairing the aircraft carrier that the Japanese pilots could not tell it had been damaged. Yorktown was hit by two torpedoes and lost all power. The Japanese lost seven airplanes in this attack. The returning Japanese pilots reported sinking a second American aircraft carrier convincing Yamaguchi that there was only one American aircraft carrier left.

That afternoon a scout plane from Yorktown found the Hiryu. Enterprise sent 24 SBD dive bombers (including aircraft formerly assigned to Yorktown) to intercept. Hiryu was hit four times. Hornet due to a communications mix-up was late to launch. Their planes targeted the remaining Japanese escorts ships; but failed to score any hits. Yamaguchi and the Hiryu’s captain chose to go down with the ship.

The Japanese fleet under Yamamoto continued on towards the American fleet through the night in hopes of surface combat. With the Yorktown out, Fletcher ceded command of his task force to Spruance. Spruance had been moving towards the Japanese forces all day and into the night to give more of his pilots a chance to return before they ran out of fuel. That night he switched directions to avoid encountering the powerful Japanese battleships at night.

On June 5, Spruance launched his planes on a search and destroy mission in hopes of finding the main Japanese fleet; but failed. American planes did attack one Japanese destroyer; but scored not hits.

On the night of June 5, the submarine U.S.S. Tambor reported “four large ships” just 90 miles to the west of Midway. Spruance assumed this was the main Japanese force to invade the island so moved to block the invasion force. In reality this was just four cruisers and two destroyers that Yamamoto had detached to bombard the island and later ordered to turn back. They spotted Tambor following them and took evasive action. In the confusion, the heavy cruisers Mogami and Mikuma collided. The Mogami was heavily damaged. The Tambor attacked, but was unsuccessful. An SBD dive bomber later sunk the Mikuma. The Mogami returned to port for repairs. The commander of the Tambor lost his command for the vagueness of his report and the unsuccessful attack. Two destroyers were also bombed and strafed. as they retreated back towards the main Japanese fleet.

The American sailors continued to work on the badly damaged Yorktown. The minesweeper U.S.S. Vireo was towing the ship in hopes of bringing the stricken aircraft carrier back to Pearl Harbor for repairs and an eventual return to the war. On June 6 the Japanese submarine I-168 fired off a salvo of torpedoes that hit Yorktown and the destroyer U.S.S. Hamann, which was supplying auxiliary power to the aircraft carrier. Hammann broke apart immediately and eighty sailors on the destroyer were killed. The Yorktown sank on June 7.

The Japanese lost approximately 3,057 men, 37 were captured, four carriers, one cruiser, and 248 aircraft, while the United States lost approximately 307 men (including 3 who died in captivity), one carrier, one destroyer, and 144 aircraft. This critical US victory stopped the growth of Japan in the Pacific and turned the tide of the war. put the United States in a position to begin shrinking the Japanese empire through a years-long series of island-hopping invasions and several even larger naval battles.

The 24 newer, faster, mass-produced Essex class of American aircraft carriers, then in production, came on line beginning in December of 1942 giving the U.S. naval and air superiority in both theatres of the war. The second ship in that class, CV-10 originally the Bon Homme Richard, was renamed the Yorktown after CV-5 was lost. She served from 1943 until 1970 and has been a museum ship in Charleston, South Carolina since 1975.

(Wikipedia and the World War II museum website were consulted in the writing of this article).

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Jefferson County health officer, UAB head say COVID-19 numbers are improving but flu season is near

Eddie Burkhalter

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Dr. Mark Wilson and Will Ferniany, the CEO of the UAB Health System, held a press briefing on Friday to discuss the state of coronavirus and what’s being done to mitigate the disease

Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson said Friday that the county’s COVID-19 numbers are improving, but with schools reopening and flu season approaching, it’s critical for the public to continue wearing face masks and practicing social distancing. 

Wilson and Will Ferniany, the CEO of the UAB Health System, held a press briefing on Friday to discuss the state of coronavirus and what’s being done to mitigate the disease that has killed 1,825 people in Alabama and infected 102,196.

In the last few weeks, the number of new daily COVID-19 cases and the percent of tests that are positive in Jefferson County has begun to decline, Wilson told reporters, but he put that decline into perspective. 

“Keep in mind though that this is a slight improvement from being at a pretty bad place with really high numbers, so we still have a long way to go,” Wilson said. 

There have been 13,682 confirmed coronavirus cases and 262 deaths in Jefferson County as of Friday, and 939 cases were added within the last week. The county’s seven-day average of new daily cases fell from its peak of 295 on July 18 to 156 on Thursday.

Wilson said there is good evidence that the county’s face covering order is making a difference in the spread of the disease, and that he thanks the public for making that difference, and asked that they keep doing so. 

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“We have four levels of surge,” Ferniany said, referring to UAB Hospital’s process of temporarily adding hospital bed capacity for COVID-19 patients by removing beds from other areas. “We’re on level two capacity.” 

Ferniany said the hospital is running at 90 percent capacity, which he said is a “very full hospital” and that between March and around July 20, the hospital was caring for between 60 and 70 coronavirus patients daily, and reached a peak of 130 patients a little more than a week ago. 

“Today we’re at 97 patients in-house, and roughly 40 percent are in the ICU,” Ferniany said. 

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Ferniany said the hospital’s ability to care for COVID-19 patients is now limited by the numbers of nurses and other staff, and that UAB is “down several hundred nurses” and burnout from long periods of caring for coronavirus patients is common. 

Both Ferniany and Wilson said they’re very concerned about the upcoming flu season and the impact it could have on hospital capacity, as physicians continue to care for COVID-19 patients. 

“The 2018-2019 flu season was the worst flu season we have seen in 40 years, and we actually asked the governor back then to declare a state of emergency because our hospitals were full then with influenza,” Wilson said. 

Wilson urged the public to get their annual flu shots once available on Sept. 1 to help prevent additional strain on hospitals statewide. Public health officials worry that the combination of flu and COVID-19 could be difficult to handle — both on a system-wide level and the level of an individual person.

“We have no reason to think that somebody can’t get the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, which could be a deadly combination,” Wilson said. 

Wilson said while he isn’t certain what Gov. Kay Ivey may decide about the statewide mask order, but “in Jefferson County, it’s very likely I’m going to be pushing to continue face coverings through the flu season,” Wilson said.

Wilson in July advised school superintendents in Jefferson County that middle and high school students should attend school virtually only for the first nine weeks, a stronger recommendation than most superintendents elsewhere have received. 

Wilson told reporters Friday that his recommendation for virtual-only classes to start was done to keep kids, teachers, staff and families safe. 

“We’re probably going to have some cases. It’s inevitable, but what we want to do is everything we can as kids go back to school to reduce the spread within school so that schools can stay open.” 

There are also preliminary plans for a new testing site for children as schools reopen, Wilson said, but those plans continue to be developed. 

Ferniany said UAB Hospital on Thursday got initial approval from the hospital’s board to expand COVID-19 testing capacity. 

Our goal is to try to expand it significantly by the end of December. We probably can’t get it up faster than that, but this pandemic is not going away by the end of December so I think we will have a significant increase in our ability to have rapid tests in place by the end of this year,” Ferniany said.

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Health

Seventeenth Alabama inmate dies after testing positive for COVID-19

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

William Edward King, 65, is the 17th Alabama inmate to die after testing positive for COVID-19.

King tested positive for COVID-19 on June 1 at a local hospital, where he was being treated for an end-stage preexisting medical condition, the Alabama Department of Corrections announced on Thursday.

King’s condition improved, and he was released, but his health worsened, and he was returned to the hospital on July 26. He was discharged from the hospital on Aug. 11 and was taken to a hospice care area inside the Kilby Correctional Facility, where he died later that day.

Six more inmates and another staff member have also tested positive for COVID-19, ADOC said Thursday.

There have been 296 confirmed coronavirus cases among inmates and 340 self-reported cases among prison staff. Two prison workers at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women have died after testing positive for COVID-19.

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Congress

Ivey urges Alabamians to complete census or risk losing federal funding, seat in Congress

Micah Danney

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Gov. Kay Ivey urged all Alabama residents to complete the 2020 census before the Sept. 30 deadline in a 30-second video released on Friday.

In the video, Ivey said, “Complete your 2020 Census today. We only have until Sept. 30th. Without you, Alabama stands to lose billions in funding, a seat in Congress and economic development opportunities.

“It only takes minutes to complete. Go to my2020census.gov or participate by phone or mail. Be counted – if not for you, for those in Alabama who depend on you for a brighter tomorrow.”

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National

Jones says Mitch McConnell failed country by adjourning without COVID-19 aid

Eddie Burkhalter

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U.S. Sen. Doug Jones speaks during a livestreamed press briefing. (VIA SEN. DOUG JONES'S OFFICE)

Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, on Friday expressed his concern over the Senate majority leader adjourning the Senate without passing another round of COVID-19 relief aid.  

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, adjourned the Senate until Sept. 8 without passage of relief aid that Jones said is critical for struggling citizens and businesses. 

Jones’s statement:

“Mitch McConnell’s decision to adjourn the Senate without any further efforts to fulfill the Senate’s obligation to the American public during a healthcare and economic crisis demonstrates an unconscionable failure of leadership. Congress acted swiftly in March as the pandemic took hold and every American who put their lives on hold and stayed home for weeks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 did so out of a patriotic duty and a belief that it would give our government leaders time to implement a plan to get this virus under control.

“Now, it’s been five months and not only do we still have no national strategy, our nation is facing some of the highest rates of coronavirus spread in the world, over 167,000 Americans dead, unprecedented housing and eviction crises on the horizon, and we are slowly coming out of the worst economy since the Great Depression and the highest level of unemployment ever recorded.

“The House of Representatives passed a relief bill on May 15th – three months ago – because it was clear even then that this virus would be with us longer than we had hoped and that more support to American businesses and American citizens would be needed to save lives and save livelihoods. Sadly, however, instead of using this legislation as a framework for a bipartisan relief package, Mitch McConnell buried it in his office and sat on his hands, letting vital programs expire without even participating in efforts to reach agreement. 

“His decision to send the Senate home for the next three weeks is an insult to every sacrifice made, every job lost, every small business that has had to close its doors, every person who had to say their final goodbye to a loved one over Facetime, and every graduation or wedding or birth celebrated over Zoom instead of in person. The American people have done their duty, and today Mitch McConnell has thrown in the towel and given up on doing his.”

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