The successful surprise attack by the Japanese on America's Pearl Harbor was a painful humiliation to the United States Navy. One more large-scale defeat might have crippled the fleet beyond repair, leaving the US mainland itself dangerously vulnerable.
By comparison the Japanese were brimming with confidence. Their fleet was large, experienced and still undefeated.
This state of affairs meant that the next confrontation would almost certainly be seminal. Another rout by the Japanese would leave America's own Western shores vulnerable to an attack or even more unthinkable -- an invasion. Fortunately, American Naval cryptographers were on the job. They had broken Japan's infamous JN-25 Code, but they still weren't sure if a location they heard referred to as "AF" referenced Midway Island as the location for the next Japanese attack.
In the spring of 1942, Japanese intercepts began to make references to a pending operation at a place designated as "AF." The Americans believed "AF" might be Midway. Based on the information available, logic dictated that Midway would be the most probable place for the Japanese Navy to make its next move.
But they had to be sure.
If they were certain about the location, an enormous strategic advantage was gained. The US Navy would know where and when the next attack would be. So instead of being victims of another surprise, this time they might be the perpetrators.
The American commanding officer of the Midway installation was instructed to send a message in the clear indicating that the installation's water distillation plant had suffered serious damage and that fresh water was needed immediately. Shortly after that an intercepted Japanese intelligence report stated simply: "AF is short of water."
Now America knew everything.
Armed with that information and Admiral Chester Nimitz's indomitable fighting fleet, everything changed. A decisive victory was scored while the Japanese lost the cream of their battle-tested Navy pilots, four aircraft carriers, more than 260 airplanes, and more than 3,000 men.
The tide had shifted and the Japanese reign over the Pacific, which only seemed to be beginning, was suddenly, swiftly and terribly ended forever.
At the heart of Midway were two proud Navies fighting for control of a vast ocean. The museum features scale models of some of the great ships that fought on, and in some cases disappeared into, the Pacific during that world-changing battle.Return to videos