Images provide clues to the final moments of Midway ships

Haunting new images have been revealed of shipwrecks caused by one of the most significant naval battles of the Second World War.

The Battle of Midway, fought on 4 June 1942, saw the United States Navy inflict a crippling blow on the Japanese Imperial Navy in the North Pacific Ocean, just six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. It put the United States on to the offensive for the rest of the Pacific War.

Yet for all its significance, the outcome was largely the work of just 34 airmen in aerial bombers within the space of five minutes on the morning of 4 June. Several Japanese aircraft carriers, including Akagi and Kaga, which had been part of the Pearl Harbor fleet, were sunk, while the US also lost its carrier Yorktown.

The survey, carried out by the Ocean Exploration Trust, marks the first time anyone has seen Akagi since it sank in 1942. It was located in 2019, as MHM reported at the time.

The three wrecks explored – Yorktown, Akagi, and Kaga – are all located within the bounds of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, one of the largest marine conservation areas in the world, and a UNESCO world heritage site.

The watery remains of USS Yorktown, sunk during the Battle of Midway in June 1942. It was one of the most significant engagements of World War II. Image: Ocean Exploration Trust / NOAA

Lying more than 16,000 feet (4,900m) below the surface, the wrecks were photographed from underwater vehicles launched by the trust’s research ship Nautilus, as part of a wider survey conducted to support the conservation of the monument.

The team spent 43 hours surveying the wrecks, assessing the damage caused and the condition of the 80-year-old vessels today.

‘We methodically circumnavigated these historic wrecks, bringing to light many features in great detail, including their armament, and sinking-related damage,’ explained Daniel Wagner, chief scientist with the Ocean Exploration Trust.

‘Many anti-aircraft guns were still pointing up,’ he added, ‘providing clues about the final moments on these iconic ships.’

In their survey, the trust collaborated with experts from around the world, including Japanese archaeologists. As Kosei Nomura, minister of the Japanese Embassy, said, ‘We meet on those same Pacific waters in which Japan and the US once met in battle, but this time as allies and fellow researchers.’

‘It is meaningful that Japan and the US are now deepening their cooperation at Midway, utilising such cutting-edge technology,’ Nomura added.

The survey team held ceremonies at the site to honour those who died, and livestreamed a video of the explorations for the general public.