On June 4, 1942, cloud cover briefly parted, exposing the Japanese fleet to American planes. We gained the advantage in the Battle of Midway Island, and the war in the Pacific turned in our favor. What if we hadn't found that hole in the clouds?Navy codebreakers had a pretty good idea about the Japanese battle plans, and order of battle, and Catalina patrols flying out of Midway had discovered the Invasion Fleet about 500 miles west of Midway, and bombed some ships, to little effect, and yet nobody in Tokyo (well, at sea on Yamato, another error) bothered to alert the First Carrier Striking Force that the Navy, Army Air Force, and Marines, were operating out of Midway and perhaps there might be carriers around. But the best Admiral Nagumo could do was put up a perfunctory search to the east. One scout plane flew over Enterprise and Hornet without seeing, and the notorious Tone scout plane, which reported a sighting of Yorktown, was delayed a half hour account catapult troubles. But was the delayed scout plane the missing horseshoe nail?
A month earlier at the Battle of the Coral Sea, the Japanese suffered damage to one of their carriers and serious aircraft losses on another. The American carrier Lexington was sunk, and the Yorktown was severely damaged.You fight with the Navy you have, and perhaps the Japanese thought Yorktown was sunk after Coral Sea, and the last known location of Enterprise and Hornet was off the Solomons, and even if Yorktown were still afloat, it would likely require the kind of work Shokaku required, and four carriers would suffice, reconnaissance planes or not.
But whereas the Japanese took months repairing the bombed carrier Shokaku and replenishing the lost planes of the Zuikaku, the crippled Yorktown was made seaworthy again at Pearl Harbor just 72 hours after limping into port.
The result of such incredible adaptability was that at Midway the Americans had three carriers (rather than two), against four for the Japanese (instead of a possible six).
Midway was probably the best chance for Japan to destroy U.S. naval power in the Pacific before America's enormous war industry created another new fleet entirely.