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NEWS | June 4, 2017

NRL Highlights Radar Accomplishments during Midway 75th Anniversary

By Jonathan Sunderman

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Midway, which is believed by many to be the turning point of World War II in the Pacific theater, and one of the seminal events in our Navy’s history.

Every year we commemorate the battle in which the toughness, initiative, integrity and accountability of American Sailors and Marines proved essential to the victory that changed the tide of the war in the Pacific and perhaps the course of world history.

Fought between June 4-7 of 1942, only six months after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor and one month after the Battle of the Coral Sea, the Battle of Midway was a decisive naval battle in the Pacific theater, inflicting devastating damage to the Japanese fleet, forcing them into a defensive posture for the remainder of the Pacific war.

The development of radar at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) and its use during the battle played a key role in the Navy’s success at Midway. NRL’s research, advanced technology, experimentation and prototyping resulted in deploying the fleet’s first shipboard radar.

This new technology provided U.S. aircraft carriers with a timely, long-range warning of approaching Japanese aircraft. Japanese aircraft carriers at the Battle of Midway did not possess radar and therefore did not enjoy advanced warning of approaching U.S. aircraft. Radar, then a technology in its infancy, proved to be one of several technological advantages U.S forces possessed at Midway, perhaps second only to code breaking.

After witnessing an at-sea radar testing demonstration in early 1939, Atlantic Squadron Commander Vice Adm. A.W. Johnson, a key proponent of the then-new radar technology, said, “The equipment is one of the most important military developments since the advent of radio itself. Its value as a defensive instrument of war and as an instrument for avoidance of collisions at sea justifies the Navy’s unlimited development of the equipment.”

The admiral’s strong support for the technology led to its rapid development and deployment on U.S. carriers prior to the start of the war.

In total, the Japanese lost four carriers, a heavy cruiser, 3,500 men and 270 aircraft during the battle.

The Americans lost one carrier, USS Yorktown (CV 5); 100 men and 130 aircraft. In return they had halted the mighty Imperial Japanese Navy, and gained the initiative. The tide of war had turned.

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