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Miracle at Midway, or how you can lose worse by winning?

© Final Sword Productions LLC 2005


Midway is often labelled, incorrectly in my opinion, the turning point of the Pacific War. It was certainly a noticeable victory. We lost one carrier. Japan loses four and doesn’t take the island. However I will argue that Japan would have been worse off taking the island. So my POD is that the Japanese submarine screen finds the US fleet. Nagumo alters course and we have another Coral Sea. We trade Yorktown for a Japanese carrier and the US fleet retires back out of range towards Hawaii. The Japanese take Midway and Kure and the remaining ships sail away. Now what? [Note you can have a no battle result of the US discovering they have been discovered and withdrawing then; add one carrier to each side and proceed].

Look at the map: http://home.att.net/~hawaii/vLeeward.html

US occupy the little atolls between Midway and the main Hawaiian islands. This replaces the Solomons campaign. Without Midway there is no way we risk Guadalcanal. So what follows is an Army and Army Air Corps based campaign out of Port Mosbey under Macarthur and a mostly USN campaign aimed at besieging Midway. This is more strain on both sides but quite asymmetrically so. In OTL the two navies essentially beat each other to dead over the Solomons. The Japanese had a huge advantage in aircraft range. We had a huge advantage in having an airfield, Henderson Field on Guadalcanal, at the actual battle zone.

However the biggest difference is that from Rabaul the Japanese fleet and supporting air units could be used to oppose both the USMC/USN in Guadalcanal and the US and Australian armies and Air Forces in New Guinea. We had two theaters. Japan had one and could easily swing strength from one axis to the other.

Now Japan faces war in two divergent theaters. Having taken Midway they must try to supply their garrison in the face of US raids by submarines, air and surface forces. Essentially we are talking a repeat of the Malta convoy battles in an area where because of the string of atolls the US will have more land based air more easily placed than Japan will out of Wake and Midway. The USN will also have their main base at Pearl available and the main fleet. In the South and Southwest Pacific in OTL the USN always had to weight forces sent south against the need to cover Pearl and California. Here the main fleet can fight while shielding both.

The likely net result is better for the US and worse for Japan. Instead of the US getting sucked into a slow advance on Rabaul, which was essentially a sideshow, there is simply no need to continue the New Guinea campaign beyond Buna. So by mid-1943 New Guinea becomes a holding operation. With Buna liberated, northern Australia is shielded. After that it is a matter of digging in and fighting attritional air campaigns against Rabaul.

The carrier battles to defend Midway will be in a situation much less favorable to Japan. The need to keep their air base on Midway supplied will chain their carrier force to a need for continual sorties to fight the convoys through. In reverse the USN can always disengage under unfavorable conditions, as even the loss of an atoll or two further up the chain doesn’t really threaten the main Hawaiian Islands.

At some point the IJN just wouldn’t be able to take the strain and Midway would be left to its fate. However a long siege of Midway would have fixed the USN on the most advantageous line of advance. Midway-Wake-Marianas-Iwo-Okinawa. The offensive stage of the Pacific war would skip the continental size land theaters of New Guinea and the Philippines. Instead it would be a material fleet war aimed at severing Japan’s links with Southeast Asia.

Japan gains the advantage of knowing exactly where the next strike will come. We gain the advantage of ten more divisions out of what became Macarthur’s theater available for Europe in 44-45. We couldn’t have supplied them before we cleared Antwerp but once we managed that the effect of an extra US field army in the ETO is major. It still doesn’t get us to Berlin. That decision was political. It does definitely get us to Prague and probably ends the war in Europe a month earlier.

However the biggest difference is an almost funny afterthought. We would have taken Okinawa months earlier but with nowhere near the ground strength in the Pacific to contemplate an invasion of the Japanese Home Islands. So while the Japanese Army massed in Kyushu we would have taken Pusan in Korea to complete the blockade ring. This would have put Rhee’s Korean Nationalists on the ground as a liberation government ahead of Kim Il Sung’s reds. Kim got tremendous popularity from being the liberator while Rhee came in as auxiliaries to the US occupation forces. Now the reverse is true, Might also have gotten us a partition of Korea in 1945 more to our liking, say at the Korean waist.

However the biggest thing is that extra army in Europe and a clear Europe first strategy. The Southwest Pacific was a giant resource drain. We were badly stretched in 1943. Here the overstretch is avoided. Sometimes you win by losing.

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