An Invincible Fleet and a Flawed Plan: The Japanese at Midway

Note: This is the first of a series of articles coming over the next few days about the Battle of Midway, a major turning point of the Second World War.

The Battleship Yamato, Flagship of the Combined Fleet and symbol of Japanese Naval Power

The Imperial Japanese Navy under the command of Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto had been humiliated. On April 18th 1942 16 B-25 bombers under the command of Colonel Jimmy Doolittle were launched from the deck of the USS Hornet and bombed Tokyo.  Though the physical damage was insignificant the psychological impact was massive on the Japanese military establishment. Yamamoto and his deputy Rear Admiral Matome Ugaki had explored the possibility of attacking Midway in the early months of 1942 as the Japanese armed forces competed with each other to determine an overall strategy for the war effort. The Army was insistent on a China strategy while the Navy preferred expansion in the Western, South and Central Pacific.  Yamamoto’s idea envisioned seizing Midway and using it as a forward base from which an invasion of Hawaii could be mounted as well as the bait to draw the carrier task forces of the U.S. Navy into battle and destroy them.

Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto, CinC Combined Fleet

The Japanese certainly had the forces to accomplish the mission outnumbering the U.S. Navy which had taken heavy losses at Pearl Harbor and in the Far East.  Following the Doolittle raid Yamamoto went ahead with the plan to invade Midway. The operation, named MI was coupled with an invasion of the islands of Attu and Kiska in the Aleutians which would form a picket line to prevent future attacks on the Japanese mainland. Fuchida

Yamamoto’s plan was not without its critics, the majority of the Staf of the First Air Fleet embarked on the First Carrier Striking Force was not in favor including the leader of the Pearl Harbor attack Commander Mitsuo Fuchida who considered it “grammar school strategy.”   Despite objections from them as well as his Fleet Operations Officer Yamamoto directed that the plan be implemented.  The plan was to have the First Carrier Striking Force attack Midway and reduce its defenses so that the Invasion Force could undertake the task of invading and occupying Midway.  Supporting these forces was the Main Body built around Battleship Division One included Yamamoto’s flagship the 72,000 ton behemoth Yamato.  Another strong force was assigned to the Aleutian operation. The task forces were spread out across the North Pacific and would not able to provide mutual support to each other in a timely manner.

Japanese Forces were organized in the following manner.

Main Body, Admiral Yamamoto

BatDiv 1, Admiral Yamamoto

BB Yamato (flagship, Yamato), Captain

BB Nagato (Nagato), Captain Hideo Yano

BB Mutsu (Nagato), Captain Teijiro Yamazumi

Carrier Group, Captain Kaoru Umetani

CVL Hosho (Hosho), Captain Umetani

Air Unit (8 bombers), Lieutenant Yoshiaki Irikiin

DD Yukaze (Minekaze), Lieutenant Commander Shizuka Kajimoto

Special Force, Captain Kaku Harada

Chiyoda (seaplane carrier, Chitose), Captain Harada

Nisshin (seaplane carrier, Nisshin), Captain Katsumi Komazawa

Screen (DesRon 3), RADM Shintaro Hashimoto

CL Sendai (flagship, Jintsu), Captain Nobue Morishita

DesDiv 11, Captain Kiichiro Shoji

DD Fubuki (Fubuki), Captain Shizuo Yamashita

DD Shirayuki (Fubuki), Captain Taro Sugahara

DD Hatsuyuki (Fubuki), Captain Lieutenant Commander Junnari Kamiura

DD Murakumo (Fubuki), Captain Commander Hideo Higashi

DesDiv 19, Captain Ranji Oe

DD Isonami (Fubuki), Commander Ryokichi Sugama

DD Uranami (Fubuki), Commander Tsutomu Hagio

DD Shikinami (Fubuki), Commander Akifumi Kawahashi

DD Ayanami (Fubuki), Commander Eiji Sakuma

1st Supply Unit, Captain Shigeyasu Nishioka

Naruto (Oiler), Captain Nishioka

Toei Maru (Oiler)

It was Yamamoto’s plan to use this force to polish off U.S. Forces that would only enter the fight after he had taken Midway. Despite the success of his carrier task forces at his heart Yamamoto was still a Battleship Sailor and believed that his battleships would be the deciding factor in the final destruction of the U.S. Navy forces in the Pacific.  This force could be augmented by the Aleutian Guard Force, detached from the Main Body under the command of Vice Admiral Shiru Takasu and was composed of the following fleet units:

GUARD (Aleutians Screening) FORCE, VADM Shiro Takasu in Hyuga

Chief of Staff, Rear Admiral Kengo Kobayashi

BatDiv 2

BB Hyuga (flagship, Hyuga), Captain Chiaki Matsuda

BB Ise (Hyuga), Captain Isamu Takeda

BB Fuso (Fuso), Captain Mitsuo Kinoshita

BB Yamashiro (Fuso), Captain Gunji Kogure

Screen, RADM Fukuji Kishi

CruDiv 9, Rear Admiral Kishi

CL Kitakami ( flagship, Kuma), Captain Saiji Norimitsu

CL Oi (Kuma), Captain Shigeru Narita

DesDiv 20, Captain Yuji Yamada

DD Asagiri (Fubuki), Commander Nisaburo Maekawa

DD Yugiri (Fubuki), Captain Masayoshi Motokura

DD Shirakumo (Fubuki), Commander Toyoji Hitomi

DD Amagiri (Fubuki), Captain Buichi Ashida

DesDiv 24, Captain Yasuji Hirai

DD Umikaze (Shiratsuyu), Commander Nagahide Sugitani

DD Yamakaze (Shiratsuyu), Commander Shuichi Hamanaka

DD Kawakaze (Shiratsuyu), Commander Kazuo Wakabayashi

DD Suzukaze (Shiratsuyu), Commander Kazuo Shibayama

DesDiv 27, Captain Matake Yoshimura

DD Ariake (Hatsuharu), Commander Shoichi Yoshida

DD Yugure (Hatsuharu), Commander Kiyoshi Kamo

DD Shigure (Shiratsuyu), Commander Noboru Seo

DD Shiratsuyu (Shiratsuyu), Lieutenant Commander Kimmatsu Hashimoto

2nd Supply Unit, Captain Matsuo Eguchi

San Clemente Maru (oiler), Captain Eguchi

Toa Maru (oiler)

The force that was the true heart of the Japanese Navy in early 1942 was the First Carrier Striking Force which at Pearl Harbor and in the months following had run roughshod over all Allied opposition.  Initially composed of 6 flattops the force was reduced to four when the Shokaku was heavily damaged and Zuikaku’s air group decimated at the Battle of the Coral Sea on 8 May 1942.  Nevertheless it was still a formidable and experienced force in its own right.  Commanded by Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo it was composed of the following units:


Carrier Group, VADM Nagumo

CarDiv 1

CV Akagi  (flagship, Akagi) 21 Zero fighters, 21 dive bombers, 21 torpedo bombers

CV Kaga (Kaga) 21 Zero fighters, 21 dive bombers, 30 torpedo bombers

CarDiv 2 — RADM Tamon Yamaguchi

CV Hiryu (flagship, Hiryu) 21 Zero fighters, 21 dive bombers, 21 torpedo bombers

CV Soryu (Hiryu) 21 Zero fighters, 21 dive bombers, 21 torpedo bombers

Support Group — RADM Hiroaki Abe CruDiv 8

CA Tone (flagship, Tone)

CA Chikuma (Tone)

2nd Section, BatDiv 3 —

BB Haruna (Kongo)

BB Kirishima (Kongo)

Screen (DesRon 10) — RADM Susumu Kimura

CL Nagara (flagship, Nagara)

DesDiv 4 — 4 DDs

DesDiv 10 — 3 DDs

DesDiv 17 — 4 DDs

Supply Group — 5 oilers, 1 DD

The Invasion Force under the command of Vice Admiral Nobutake Kondo was a formidable surface strike group in its own right and was built around 2 Fast Battleships, 9 Heavy Cruisers and a light carrier.

MIDWAY INVASION FORCE, (2nd Fleet), VADM Nobutake Kondo

Invasion Force Main Body

CruDiv 4 (less 2nd section)

CA Atago (flagship, Takao),

CA Chokai (Takao)

CruDiv 5 (less 2nd section)

CA Myoko (Myoko)

CA Haguro (Myoko)

BatDiv 3 (less 2nd section) —

BB Kongo (Kongo)

BB Hiei (Kongo)

Screen (DesRon 4) — RADM Shoji Nishimura

CL Yura (flagship, Nagara)

DesDiv 2 — 4 DDs

DesDiv 9 — 3 DDs

Carrier Group Zuiho (CVL) — 12 Zero fighters, 12 torpedo bombers; 1 DD

Supply Group — 4 oilers, 1 repair ship

Close Support Group — VADM Takeo Kurita

CruDiv 7

CA Kumano (flagship, Mogami)

CA Suzuya (Mogami)

CA Mikuma (Mogami)

CA Mogami (Mogami)

DesDiv 8 — 2 DDs 1 oiler

Transport Group — RADM Raizo Tanaka

12 transports carrying troops

3 patrol boats carrying troops

1 oiler

Escort (DesRon 2) — RADM Tanaka

CL Jintsu (flagship, Jintsu)

DesDiv 15 — 2 DDs

DesDiv 16 — 4 DDs

DesDiv 18 — 4 DDs

Seaplane Tender Group — RADM Riutaro Fujita

Seaplane Tender Div 11

Chitose (CVS) — 16 fighter seaplanes, 4 scout planes

Kamikawa Maru (AV) — 8 fighter seaplanes, 4 scout planes

1 DD;

1 patrol boat carrying troops

Minesweeper Group

4 minesweepers

3 submarine chasers

1 supply ship

2 cargo ships

The Northern Force which was assigned to the invasion and occupation of Attu and Kiska was commanded by Vice Admiral Moshiru Hosogaya included the carriers Ryujo and Junyo which had they accompanied the First Carrier Striking Force might have given the Japanese the edge that they would have needed to recover when that force was destroyed on June 4th.  This force was composed of the following units:

NORTHERN (Aleutians) FORCE (5th Fleet) — VADM Moshiro Hosogaya

Northern Force Main Body

CA Nachi (flagship, Myoko)

Screen —

2 DDs

Supply Group —

2 oilers, 3 cargo ships

Second Carrier Striking Force — RADM Kakuji Kakuta

Carrier Group (CarDiv 4)

CVL Ryujo (flagship, Ryujo) — 16 Zero fighters, 21 torpedo bombers

CV Junyo (Junyo) — 24 Zero fighters, 21 torpedo bombers

Support Group (2nd section, CruDiv 4) —

CA Maya (Takao)

CA Takao (Takao)

Screen (DesDiv 7) —

3 DDs

1 oiler

Attu Invasion Force — RADM Sentaro Omori

CL Abukuma (flagship, Nagara)

DesDiv 21 —

4 DDs

1 minelayer

1 transport carrying troops

Kiska Invasion Force — Capt. Takeji Ono

CruDiv 21 —

CL Kiso

CL Tama 

AMC Asaka Maru (auxiliary cruiser)

Screen (DesDiv 6) —

3 DDs

2 transports carrying troops

Minesweeper Div. 13 —

3 minesweepers

Submarine Detachment — RADM Shigeaki Yamazaki

SubRon 1 — I-9 (flagship)

SubDiv 2 — 3 submarines

SubDiv 4 — 2 submarines

Note all Japanese Fleet information obtained online at

These forces were augmented by a submarine screening force and land based naval air forces stationed at Wake and Kwajalein.

The plan was complicated and depended on the Americans reacting exactly as the plan anticipated them doing.  Yamamoto never expected that the Americans would be waiting for his forces and had knowledge of his plans due to the efforts of U.S. Navy code breakers under the direction of Commander Joseph Rochefort and the Fleet Intelligence Officer Captain Edwin Layton had broken the top secret Japanese Navy JN-25 Code.  Thus despite the massive amount of forces involved the plan was seriously flawed and left the advanced forces vulnerable to unexpected American moves.

Next: Calculated Risk: The American Forces and Strategy at Midway


Filed under History, Navy Ships, US Navy, world war two in the pacific

6 responses to “An Invincible Fleet and a Flawed Plan: The Japanese at Midway

  1. John Erickson

    Hmm, I don’t seem to be getting my posts through. Good stuff, Padre, and an interesting new site to check out!

    • John Erickson

      Padre- Is this a new site, or an old one being rebuilt? It’s got a few holes and missing/broken links. Just curious if you knew the history, before I go blindly offering help to a potentially sinking ship (pardon the comparison).

      • padresteve

        Same site.Your posts are coming through here. Maybe WordPress is acting up.

    • padresteve

      They are showing up on my end of the world..
      Sorry for the delay I was on the road tonight.

  2. padresteve

    There was a problem in the HTML coding. All is back to normal

    • John Erickson

      Thanks VERY much, Padre. I was having problems over the past couple days, as well. We lost power for over 6 hours Wednesday, which screwed up the wireless modem we use. Then, the Email I normally use just vanished for a few hours yesterday, followed by the wi-fi connection just locking up last night for over an hour. Quite an adventurous past couple of days. You know the old Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” Well, the past few days have been MIGHTY interesting! 😉
      I appreciate your patience. In all things, especially in my case.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s