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World War II: Battle of Midway and the Aleutian Campaign

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Six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan prepared to deal one more decisive blow to the U.S. Naval forces in the Pacific. Its aim was to destroy U.S. aircraft carriers and occupy Midway Atoll -- a tiny but strategically important island nearly halfway between Asia and North America, that was home to a U.S. Naval air station. American codebreakers deciphered the Japanese plans, allowing the U.S. Navy to plan an ambush. On June 3, 1942, the Battle of Midway commenced. Aircraft launched from Midway Atoll and from carriers of both navies and flew hundreds of miles, dropping torpedoes and bombs and fighting one another in the skies. At the end of several days of fighting, the Japanese Navy had lost four aircraft carriers and nearly 250 aircraft and suffered more than 3,000 deaths. In contrast, U.S. losses amounted to a single carrier and 307 deaths. It was a decisive victory for the U.S. Navy, and was later regarded as the most important battle of the Pacific Campaign. But at the same time as this battle was taking place, a Japanese aircraft carrier strike force thousands of miles to the north was attacking the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. After bombing Dutch Harbor, Japanese forces siezed the tiny islands of Attu and Kiska. It was the first time since the War of 1812 that American soil had been occupied by an enemy. The Japanese dug in and held the islands until mid-1943, when American and Canadian forces recaptured them in brutal invasions. (This entry is Part 11 of a weekly 20-part retrospective of World War II) [45 photos]

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An SBD-3 dive bomber of Bombing Squadron Six, on the deck of USS Yorktown. The aircraft was flown by Ensign G.H. Goldsmith and ARM3c J. W. Patterson, Jr., during the June 4, 1942 strike against the Japanese carrier Akagi. Note the battle damage on the tail. (U.S. Navy)
An SBD-3 dive bomber of Bombing Squadron Six, on the deck of USS Yorktown. The aircraft was flown by Ensign G.H. Goldsmith and ARM3c J. W. Patterson, Jr., during the June 4, 1942 strike against the Japanese carrier Akagi. Note the battle damage on the tail. (U.S. Navy)
Aircraft carrier USS Enterprise at Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in late May 1942, being readied for the Battle of Midway. (U.S. Navy) #
TBD-1 torpedo bombers of Torpedo Squadron Six unfold their wings on the deck of USS Enterprise prior to launching an attack against four Japanese carriers on the first day of the Battle of Midway. Launched on the morning of June 4, 1942, against the Japanese carrier fleet during the Battle of Midway, the squadron lost ten of fourteen aircraft during their attack. (U.S. Navy) #
View showing the stern quarter of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise in the Pacific in 1942. (U.S. Navy) #
A Grumman F4F-4 "Wildcat" fighter takes off from USS Yorktown on combat air patrol, on the morning of 4 June 1942. This plane is Number 13 of Fighting Squadron Three, flown by the squadron Executive Officer, Lt(jg) William N. Leonard. Note .50 caliber machine gun at right and mattresses hung on the lifeline for splinter-protection. (Photographer Second Class William G. Roy/U.S. Navy) #
The Japanese carrier Hiryu maneuvers to avoid bombs dropped by Army Air Forces B-17 Flying Fortresses during the Battle of Midway, on June 4, 1942. (NARA) #
U.S. Navy LCdr Maxwell F. Leslie, commanding officer of bombing squadron VB-3, ditches in the ocean next to the heavy cruiser USS Astoria, after successfully attacking the Japanese carrier Soryu during the Battle of Midway, on June 4, 1942. Leslie and his wingman Lt(jg) P.A. Holmberg ditched near Astoria due to fuel exhaustion, after their parent carrier USS Yorktown was under attack by Japanese planes when they returned. Leslie, Holmberg, and their gunners were rescued by one of the cruiser's whaleboats. Note one of the cruiser's Curtiss SOC Seagull floatplanes on the catapult at right. (U.S. Navy) #
Black smoke rises from a burning U.S. oil tank, set afire during a Japanese air raid on Naval Air Station Midway on Midway Atoll, on June 4, 1942. American forces maintained an airstrip with dozens of aircraft stationed on the tiny island. The attack inflicted heavy damage, but the airstrip was still usable. (AP Photo) #
A VB-8 SBD lands far off center, flying right over the head of the Landing Signal Officer aboard USS Hornet during the Battle of Midway, on June 4, 1942. (U.S. Navy) #
Japanese Type 97 shipboard attack aircraft from the carrier Hiryu amid heavy anti-aircraft fire, during the torpedo attack on USS Yorktown in the mid-afternoon of June 4, 1942. At least three planes are visible, the nearest having already dropped its torpedo. The other two are lower and closer to the center, apparently withdrawing. Smoke on the horizon in right center is from a crashed plane. (U.S. Navy) #
Smoke rises from the USS Yorktown after a Japanese bomber hit the aircraft carrier in the Battle of Midway on June 4, 1942. Bursts from anti-aircraft fire fill the air. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy) #
Scene on board USS Yorktown, shortly after she was hit by three Japanese bombs on June 4, 1942. The dense smoke is from fires in her uptakes, caused by a bomb that punctured them and knocked out her boilers. Panorama made from two photographs taken by Photographer 2rd Class William G. Roy from the starboard side of the flight deck, just in front of the forward 5"/38 gun gallery. Man with hammer at right is probably covering a bomb entry hole in the forward elevator. (U.S. Navy) #
Black smoke pours from the aircraft carrier Yorktown after she suffered hits from Japanese aircraft during the Battle of Midway, on June 4, 1942. (U.S. Navy) #
A Japanese Type 97 attack aircraft is shot down while attempting to carry out a torpedo attack on USS Yorktown, during the mid-afternoon of 4 June 1942. (U.S. Navy) #
Navy fighters during the attack on the Japanese fleet off Midway, in June of 1942. At center a burning Japanese ship is visible. (NARA) #
The Japanese aircraft carrier Soryu maneuvers to avoid bombs dropped by Army Air Forces B-17 Flying Fortresses during the Battle of Midway, on June 4, 1942. (U.S. Navy) #
The heavily damaged, burning Japanese aircraft carrier Hiryu, photographed by a plane from the carrier Hosho shortly after sunrise on June 5, 1942. Hiryu sank a few hours later. Note collapsed flight deck over the forward hangar. (U.S. Navy) #
Flying dangerously close, a U.S. Navy photographer got this spectacular aerial view of a heavy Japanese cruiser of the Mogima class, demolished by Navy bombs, in the battle of Midway, in June of 1942. Armor plate, steel decks and superstructure are a tumbled mass. (AP Photo) #
The USS Yorktown lists heavily to port after being struck by Japanese bombers and torpedo planes in the Battle of Midway on June 4, 1942. A destroyer stands by at right to assist as a salvage crew on the flight deck tries to right the stricken aircraft carrier. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy) #
Crewmen of the USS Yorktown pick their way along the sloping flight deck of the aircraft carrier as the ship listed heavily, heading for damaged sections to see if they can patch up the crippled ship, in June of 1942. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy) #
After Japanese bombers damaged the USS Yorktown, crewmen climb down ropes and ladders to small boats that transferred them to rescue ships, including the destroyer at right, on June 4, 1942 in the Pacific Ocean. Later, a salvage crew returned to the abandoned ship and as she made progress toward port, a torpedo from a Japanese submarine destroyed and sank the Yorktown. (AP Photo/US Navy) #
The United States destroyer Hammann, background, on its way to the bottom of the Pacific after having been hit by a Japanese torpedo during the battle of Midway, in June of 1942. The Hammann had been providing auxiliary power to damaged USS Yorktown while salvage operations were underway. The same attack also struck the Yorktown, which sank the following morning. Crewmen of another U.S. warship, foreground, line the rail as their vessel stands by to rescue survivors. (AP Photo) #
A U.S. seaman, wounded during the Battle of Midway, is transferred from one warship to another at sea in June of 1942. (LOC) #
Japanese prisoners of war under guard on Midway, following their rescue from an open lifeboat by USS Ballard, on June 19, 1942. They were survivors of the sunken aircraft carrier Hiryu. After being held for a few days on Midway, they were sent on to Pearl Harbor on June 23, aboard USS Sirius. (U.S. Navy) #
Bleak, mountainous Attu Island in Alaska had a population of only about 46 people prior to the Japanese invasion. On June 6, 1942, a Japanese force of 1,100 soldiers landed, occupying the island. One resident was killed in the invasion, the remaining 45 were shipped to a Japanese prison camp near Otaru, Hokkaido, where sixteen died while in captivity. This is a picture of Attu village situated on Chichagof Harbor. (O. J Murie/LOC) #
On June 3, 1942, a Japanese aircraft carrier strike force launched air attacks over two days against the Dutch Harbor Naval Base and Fort Mears in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. In this photo, bombs explode in the water near Dutch Harbor, during the attack on June 4, 1942. (U.S. Navy) #
U.S. forces watch a massive fireball rise above Dutch Harbor, Alaska after a Japanese air strike in June of 1942. (U.S. Navy) #
Defending Dutch Harbor, Alaska during the Japanese air attacks of June 3-4, 1942. (U.S. Navy) #
Bombing of SS Northwestern and oil tanks in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, by Japanese carrier-based aircraft on June 4, 1942. (U.S. Navy) #
U.S. soldiers fight a fire after an air raid by Japanese dive bombers on their base in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, in June 1942. (AP Photo) #
Oil tanks, the SS Northwestern, a beached transport ship, and warehouses on fire after Japanese air raids in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, on June 4, 1942. (U.S. Navy) #
The ruins of a bombed ship at Dutch Harbor, Alaska, on June 5, 1942. (U.S. Navy) #
Decoy aircraft are laid out by occupying Japanese forces on a shoreline on Kiska Island on June 18, 1942. (U.S. Navy) #
A train of bombs drops from United States Army Air forces plane on territory in the Aleutians held by the Japanese in 1943. (LOC) #
Bombs dropped from a U.S. bomber detonate on Japanese-occupied Kiska Island, Alaska, on August 10, 1943. (USAF) #
Japanese ship aground in Kiska Harbor, on September 18, 1943. (U.S. Navy) #
Dozens of bombs fall from a U.S. bomber toward Japanese-occupied Kiska Island, Alaska, on August 10, 1943. Note the craters from previous bombing runs and the zig-zag trenches dug by the Japanese. (USAF) #
Adak Harbor in the Aleutians, with part of huge U.S. fleet at anchor, ready to move against Kiska in August of 1943. (NARA) #
USS Pruitt leads landing craft from USS Heywood toward their landing beaches in Massacre Bay, Attu, on the first day of the May 11, 1943 invasion of Attu. Pruitt used her radar and searchlight to guide the boats nine miles through the fog. The searchlight beam is faintly visible pointing aft from atop her pilothouse. Some 15,000 American and Canadian troops successfully landed on the island. (U.S. Navy) #
Landing boats pouring soldiers and their equipment onto the beach at Massacre Bay, Attu Island, Alaska. This is the southern landing force on May 11, 1943. The American and Canadian troops took control of Attu within two weeks, after fierce fighting with the Japanese occupying forces. Of the allied troops, 549 were killed and 1,148 wounded -- of the Japanese troops, only 29 men survived. U.S. burial teams counted 2,351 Japanese dead, and presumed hundreds more were unaccounted for. (LOC) #
A Canadian member of the joint American-Canadian landing force squints down the sights of a Japanese machine gun found in a trench on Kiska Island, Alaska, on August 16, 1943. After the brutal fighting in the battle to retake Attu Island, U.S. and Canadian forces were prepared for even more of a fight on Kiska. Unknown to the Allies though, the Japanese had evacuated all their troops two weeks earlier. Although the invasion was unopposed, 32 soldiers were killed in friendly-fire incidents, four more by booby traps, and a further 191 were listed as Missing in Action. (LOC) #
Wrecked Japanese planes, oil and gas drums are a mass of rubble on Kiska, Aleutian Islands, on August 19, 1943, as a result of Allied bombings. (NARA) #
A group of approximately 40 dead Japanese soldiers on a mountain ridge on Attu Island on May 29, 1943. Several groups of Japanese soldiers were encountered in this manner by U.S. troops, who reported that the Japanese realized they were trapped and decided to either attack in suicidal Banzai charges, or (as in this photo) to commit hara-kiri as a group, killing themselves with their own hand grenades. (U.S. Army Signal Corps) #
A heavily damaged midget submarine base constructed by occupying Japanese forces on Kiska Island, photo taken sometime in 1943, after Allied forces retook the island. (U.S. Navy) #
On Kiska Island, after Allied troops had landed, this grave marker was discovered in a small graveyard amid the bombed-out ruins in August of 1943. The marker was made and placed by members of the occupying Japanese Army, after they had buried an American pilot who had crashed on the island. The marker reads: "Sleeping here, a brave air-hero who lost youth and happiness for his Mother land. July 25 - Nippon Army" (U.S. Navy) #

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