Yamamoto watched in horror as his once mighty fleet crumbled before him. Akagi, Soryu and Kaga were out of action. Hiryu, fighting in vain to remain formidable, immediately launched torpedo raids against any American carriers they could find. They zeroed in on the first carrier in sight: Yorktown. Three blasts rocked the mighty carrier, knocking out her boilers. Damage control efforts proved so successful that the second wave of Japanese torpedo planes mistook her for Enterprise.
The second strike proved fatal. Yorktown, dead in the water, began to list to port. As all hands prepared to abandon ship, Photographer's Mate 2nd Class William Roy clicked away. Sensing the historical significance of his images, he grabbed two life vests: one for himself and one for the rolls of film packed tightly in waterproof containers.
U.S. dive bombers returned later in the afternoon and delivered the knockout punch to Hiryu. By nightfall, both sides began to withdraw. Yorktown had absorbed two devastating attacks, yet remained afloat. Hiryu, a little more than a smoldering shell of its former glory, was scuttled the next day.
Efforts to save the Yorktown began in earnest. USS Vireo (AT 144) prepared to take Yorktown under tow as USS Hammann (DD 412) pulled alongside to provide auxiliary power. Salvage efforts showed promise. Yorktown, it seemed, would live. Optimism grew on the surface while the Japanese submarine I-168 approached undetected below. Seaman Jim Cunningham was finishing lunch on the Hammann's mess decks when something caught his eye. A picture was hanging there that he had never noticed before. It was a small drawing of a devil holding a pitchfork riding on a torpedo. Painted on the torpedo was the word "HAMMANN". A small chill went up his spine. Just then the alarm for General Quarters sounded. A torpedo fired from I-168 was spotted in the water and closing in fast. Cunningham barely made it to his GQ station on the fantail when it hit. The blast rocked the ship and Hammann disappeared beneath the waves only minutes later. Cunningham was lucky. He and the other survivors were picked up quickly. Moments later another torpedo was spotted heading directly towards Yorktown.
That final strike rendered all efforts to save her useless. She began to take on water much more quickly, and early the following morning, she slipped beneath the waves.
The battle's injured arrived to Pearl Harbor to receive treatment. Some rejoined the war effort immediately - three more years of hard fighting lay ahead before Japan finally and formally surrendered to Nimitz aboard the battleship USS Missouri (BB 63).
For some, the rehabilitation would continue years after the war ended. For all, the memories of those June days around a tiny atoll in the Pacific would never fade.
For more information on the Battle of Midway, visit the Naval History and Heritage Commands website, or click here