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We all know that the Battle of Midway was a disaster for the Japanese Empire, and a turning point of the Pacific War. Events did not turn out as the IJN had hoped. But the result by no means was a foregone conclusion. The IJN had been a little bit overconfident, and a little bit unlucky. But they had achieved the primary set of circumstances they had been seeking: bringing all of the US' fleet carriers to a decisive engagement where the IJN had... well if not numerical superiority, at least numerical parity (larger number of ships, fewer planes; but more experienced pilots)

If the results had been reversed would Midway been strategically decisive for Japan? That is to say, had Japan lost 1 carrier and the US their 3 would this brought them to the point where they could have concluded the Pacific War in their favour?

Unlike Japan, the US could replace its loses... but this takes time, and effort. Moreover, without a fleet the Japanese forces would go largely unchecked for quite some time. Do any reputable historians argue that Midway provided an opportunity for the Japanese to "wipe out" the U.S. navy to a degree that would force it to make peace, providing the strategic opportunity that Japan sought? Or did it only ever provide the chance for a tactical achievement for the IJN?

Edit: Sorry folks coming here hoping to be able to provide answers to the question. Apparently the query: "Could the US have won the Pacific war without its original 3 carriers?" is subject only to speculation, and cannot be answered. /satire

closed as primarily opinion-based by Tomas By, Kentaro Tomono, Jos, Lars Bosteen, Steve Bird Jul 14 at 6:43

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    VTC for opinion-based. This is a not a historical question that has a clear answer, more an invitation to debate. – Tomas By Jul 13 at 23:52
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    Although there is a bit of latitude for military history questions, hypotheticals are explicitly out of scope on H:SE. We discuss the history that happened, we don't speculate. Can you revise the question to avoid the hypothetical? – Mark C. Wallace Jul 13 at 23:59
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    primarily opinion-based - "discussions focused on diverse opinions are great, but they just don't fit our format well. Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than on facts, references, or specific expertise." – Tomas By Jul 14 at 8:54
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    The Japanese Navy's war plan was, in essence, to keep rolling a six-sided die and hope a one didn't turn up. At Pearl Harbour they rolled a five, at Coral Sea a three, and at Midway a one. Expecting every plan, no matter how unsound or complicated, to keep turning up roses is no way to run a war against a competent enemy. The only strategic opportunity the Japanese had at Midway was that - if they didn't have a disaster, they got to keep trying to have disaster. – Pieter Geerkens Jul 14 at 14:56
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    Well, noted author Jon Parshall, co author of "Shattered Sword - The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway" on the Combined Fleet website examines naval production presuming the USN lost all three carriers at Midway. See combinedfleet.com/economic.htm under the section Strategic Implications. One might also consider, regardless of what happened at Midway, the Manhattan Project would go on . . . sooner or later there would be an island from which to launch bombers that could reach the Japanese home islands and return. – R Leonard Jul 15 at 13:57
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As long as the US was willing to keep fighting, nothing would have been strategically decisive for Japan. Quoting from this page that explores a Japanese victory at Midway:

In other words, even if it had lost catastrophically at the Battle of Midway, the United States Navy still would have broken even with Japan in carriers and naval air power by about September 1943. Nine months later, by the middle of 1944, the U.S. Navy would have enjoyed a nearly two-to-one superiority in carrier aircraft capacity!

  • But what could the Japanese have done in that year, particularly to Hawaii. – Tomas By Jul 13 at 23:53
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    Hawaii proper is still a long long way from Midway. The Japanese could do nothing with Midway except waste resources on it while being attrited by US forces operating much closer to bases. The Essex carriers were coming off slipways and the submarine torpedo problems were being fixed. Actually taking Midway might be a bigger disaster than the actual outcome. – Jon Custer Jul 14 at 1:36
  • But there was only one other carrier (Saratoga), and it had no air wing (it was on Yorktown), so they could possibly have destroyed the fuel storage and the rest of the Pacific fleet. – Tomas By Jul 14 at 8:38
  • @TomasBy, the US would have had two carriers (the USS Wasp was in the Atlantic at the time of the Battle of Midway, while Saratoga was en route to Pearl Harbor, carrying half an air wing and enough spare aircraft to make up the other half), and destroying "the rest of the Pacific Fleet" would be rather hard, as most of it was out and about in the Pacific, escorting convoys, sinking Japanese subs, engaging Japanese surface forces, and doing other things that a fleet tends to do in wartime. – Mark Jul 15 at 23:47
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    @TomasBy US carriers would not be required to defend Pearl Harbor in 1942, though they'd be useful to attack the retreating, possibly damaged and diminished, strike force over its thousands of miles home. In Dec 1941 the Japanese had surprise and the defenses at Pearl Harbor (and the US military in general) was severely lacking. By late 1942 a similar Japanese carrier strike on Pearl Harbor would have met an alert, coordinated, prepared air defense complete with patrols and radar. See history.army.mil/books/wwii/Guard-US/ch8.htm for post-attack preparations. – Schwern Jul 20 at 19:58
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By no means, the Midway provided IJA especially Imperial Japanese Ground Army with such "strategic opportunity". Why? Because Imperial Japanese Navy lied even to the Imperial Japanese Ground Army that they had won the battle. This page says,

大本営陸軍報道部・海軍報道部は上から下ってきた報告を各自そのまま報道し、お互いの戦果の実情は全くわかっていませんでした。

Translated

Each headquarters of the Imperial Japanese Ground Army and Imperial Japanese Navy announced their result of battle at their own will respectively, so that the "truth" was unknowable even to each other.


1942(昭和17)年6月7日、米側の短波放送がミッドウェーで大戦果をあげたという報道に、陸軍報道部では動揺が広まりましたが、海軍の方からは何の連絡も入って来ませんでした。

Translated

On 7th Jan, 1942, the Japanese Ground Army caught the shortwave radio announcement by the U.S that the U.S had made a great victory at the battle of Midway and the waves of shock spread among them, but there was no report coming from the very Japanese Imperial Navy.


6月11日になり、海軍部はやっとミッドウェーで大勝利したと発表しています。ところがこれは大敗北だったのであり、海軍はこれを隠蔽していたので国民はもちろん、陸軍報道部員さえ真相はよくわかりませんでした。

Translated

On 11th June, several days after the war, the headquarters of the Japanese Imperial Navy announced officially they had won the battle. But the truth is it was a disaster, the JIN concealed to Japanese people even including the staffs of Japanese Ground Army.

Thus there is no way, Japanese Imperial Navy gained "what they were looking for", but it became a complete confusion to all of the people even including the Japanese Ground Army, and this "practice" will continue until the end of the war.

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    So you are saying that because the Japanese navy lied to the Japanese army, a decisive Japanese victory over the Americans at Midway could not have been of strategic importance? – Tomas By Jul 13 at 23:46
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    @TomasBy That is as if I was asked "if XXX had occurred, what would have happened?", I can not answer at all. – Kentaro Tomono Jul 13 at 23:49

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