Pearl Harbor Repairs Crucial in Battle of Midway
This month Naval Sea Systems Command personnel across the globe recognize the 78th Anniversary of the Battle of Midway (June 4-7, 1942), widely recognized as one of the greatest U.S. naval victories. Some historians attribute the triumph to the interception of Japanese communications intelligence, the bravery of our Navy and Marine pilots, and luck. But an overlooked key factor was the emergent repairs performed by workers from Navy Yard Pearl Harbor (now a NAVSEA field activity) and how they contributed significantly to the victory by returning to the fight a U.S. aircraft carrier thought lost by both the Japanese and Americans.
Eight days before the Battle of Midway, USS Yorktown (CV 5) limped into Navy Yard Pearl Harbor (now called Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard), and berthed at Pier B-16. Enemy bombs dropped during the Battle of the Coral Sea a month earlier had heavily damaged Yorktown and rendered her unfit for combat operations. Without Yorktown, the Imperial Japanese Navy outnumbered the U.S. Navy in aircraft carriers four to two.
Defying estimates that predicted Yorktown required at least three months of repairs at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, 1,400 Pearl Harbor workers labored around the clock according to their motto, "we keep them fit to fight." In 72 hours they restored the ship to a battle-ready state. Necessary repairs included patching the ship's flight deck and replacing whole sections within the ship's skin.
Time was of the essence. Repair work proceeded without technical planning. Planners and job foremen provided advice directly from the Yorktown's original construction drawings and diagrams.
Without time to train, squadrons from USS Saratoga (CV 3) augmented Yorktown's air complement. Yorktown deployed for Midway Island three days after going into dry dock at Pearl Harbor, to join Task Force 17. As the ship sailed to battle, work crews from the repair ship USS Vestal (AR 4) and Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard continued their repair work at sea, disembarking onto small boats the following day.
Yorktown joined the fight, teaming up with USS Enterprise (CV 6) and USS Hornet (CV 8), June 2. Like the Battle of the Coral Sea, aircraft were responsible for a majority of the damage and casualties at the Battle of Midway. American forces secured the victory by sinking all four Japanese large aircraft carriers near Midway Island, only 1,331 miles northwest of Hawaii.
USS Yorktown was the key to victory. Yorktown's air group fatally damaged the Japanese aircraft carrier Soryu and shared in the destruction of the carrier Hiryu and cruiser Mikuma. However, successive strikes by dive bombers and torpedo planes from Hiryu seriously damaged Yorktown. The ship's crew abandoned the ship on the afternoon of June 4. Three days later the ship sunk.
The American fleet had been on the defensive since the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor. After the Battle of Midway, America took the offensive against the Japanese that extended to victories for the next three years, from Guadalcanal to Okinawa. On Sept. 2, 1945, Japan surrendered to the U.S. on the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Harbor, Japan.
Today, Navy Yard Pearl Harbor continues as Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility.
Learn more about this NAVSEA field activity and national asset here.