A Dramatic Turnaround Worthy of a Movie
The Japanese inflicted significant damage, but a second strike was necessary. Japanese aircraft were recovered and readied. Amdist that, the Japanese learned that American carriers were present. Midway wasn’t going anywhere, and destroying carriers was more important. Accordingly, orders were given to switch from bombs intended for ground targets, to anti-ship bombs and torpedoes. In the meantime, US carriers launched their own aircraft against the Japanese. First to arrive were Devastator torpedo bombers – slow planes that had to fly low, steady, and straight, to launch their torpedoes. 41 Devastators attacked without fighter escort. 35 were shot down, without scoring a hit. The Japanese resumed refueling and rearming to strike the American carriers. While the American torpedo bombers were slaughtered, a flight of American Dauntless dive bombers was lost, trying to locate the Japanese.
They neared the point beyond which they would lack sufficient fuel to return to their carriers, but their commander pushed on. Eventually, he spotted a lone Japanese destroyer below. Guessing it was headed to rejoin its fleet, he used its wake as an arrow, which led him to the Japanese fleet. A Japanese fleet caught at the worst possible time for an attack from dive bombers. Rearming and refueling, the carrier decks and hangars were full of bombs, torpedoes, and gas. There was no air cover – Japanese fighters had gone down to destroy the torpedo bombers that had attacked at low level. They hadn’t yet regained altitude when the American dive bombers showed up high above and dove down. Within five minutes, three out of the four Japanese aircraft carriers were aflame. The fourth was sunk later that day.