Eighty years ago the US Navy inflicts a crippling defeat on the Japanese fleet six months after Pearl Harbour


The US Navy defeated the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) decisively at the Battle of Midway. The battle marked a number of milestones: code-breaking gave the Americans a clear advantage, cryptanalysis had truly come of age; the significant action was undertaken by carrier-based aircraft, the major surface units never saw each other; the last major thrust of the Japanese attack on the US and its possessions was utterly defeated; the IJN did not merely lose more carriers than the USN, Japan did not have the industrial capacity to replace them quickly, in an illustration of the fatal economic disparity between the two nations. The US Navy's code-breakers had revealed that the IJN planned to seize Midway Island from which it would have been able to menace Hawaii, so Admiral Nimitz could confidently concentrate his carriers to oppose it. All four Japanese carriers with 300 aircraft and 200 invaluable pilots were lost, whilst only the USS Yorktown was sunk. Only six months after Pearl Harbour, the Pacific War had turned against Japan.

As they fought to hold back Rommel's attack on their Gazala position in the Western Desert the British succumbed to the temptation to apply a colourful name to part of the battlefield and hoped that the ensuing action would justify the name. The "cauldron" was a defensive position that Rommel had withdrawn to in the face of British counter-attacks. The notion that the German and Italian forces were trapped and could be speedily reduced proved to be anything but the truth. Successive British attacks were poorly handled and suffered catastrophic losses, notably in tanks.

In further testimony to how much Churchill needed to bolster his political position in the face of almost a year of unrelieved military defeats, Churchill brought Stanley Bruce the former prime minister of Australia and High Commissioner in London since 1933, into the War Cabinet. Bruce had had a strong relationship with Stanley Baldwin but his insistence on clear war aims had alienated his British colleagues, most notably Churchill. Bruce had also resisted the deployment of Australian forces in the European theatre. Bruce's elevation to Cabinet rank was in reality insubstantial and essentially symbolic; when Churchill did not want his presence at meetings, Bruce was simply not informed that they were taking place.


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