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
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
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
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.