The Battle Of Midway: A Battleground Millions Of Years In The Making

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Midway Island. Photo credit: Getty

Getty

Six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese forces achieved a series of victories and captured resource-rich territories in Indonesia. However, the U.S. aircraft carrier, considered still a major threat to the Japanese fleet in the Pacific, were still operative. Destroying the remains of the Pacific Fleet would demoralize the Americans and bring them finally to the negotiation table. Beginning on June 4, 1942, Japan launched an attack towards the Midway, a small, tiny atoll located about 1,300 miles northwest of Hawaii. Midway was the site of a strategically important U.S. airbase, an objective that the Americans wouldn’t relinquish without a fight. A simultaneous attack by the Japanese army on the Aleutians was a diversionary tactic in support of the Japanes fleet’s engagement at Midway. As the U.S. ships leave the safety of the naval base at Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, four Japanese aircraft carriers hiding near Midway launch torpedo and dive bombers, accompanied by Zero fighter escorts, against Midway and the unsuspecting fleet.

The history of Midway can be traced far back into the geological past. Estimated 70 million years ago first lavas erupted from fissures on the seafloor. As the Pacific Plate moved further to the northwest, the future Midway site was carried over the central Hawaiian hot spot, a spot of hot material in Earth’s mantle rising up and causing partial melting, feeding volcanism on the surface. During this time, the Midway volcano gained 90% or more of its total volume over the course of 1 to 2 million years. The Pacific Plate continued to move to the northwest carrying Midway off of the hot spot, cutting the supply of magma off. Once the Midway volcano ceased activity some 27 to 29 million years ago, marine currents slowly started to wear down the mountain and the volcanic island began to sink into the sea. At the same time, corals started to grow over its top. Over time, the corals eventually created a carbonate platform at last 1,600 feet thick. Erosion by waves created a broad, flat surface, an ideal terrain for an airfield.

An American aircraft spotted by chance the Japanese fleet and the Americans were able to get their aircrafts stationed on Midway airborne. However, the planes were technically obsolete Brewster F2A Buffalo and Grumman F4F Wildcat fighters, no match for the more agile Japanese Zeros. Despite heavy bombardment, the airfield on Midway was still usable. Midway base launched four successive attacks against the Japanese fleet. In the ensuing battle over Midway, the Americans suffered heavy losses.

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