Lightnings in the Pacific were rarer than hen's teeth at this point in the war, though, and they wouldn't fit on a carrier, so the allies still had some fierce air battles before victory was in sight. The first notable clash of U.S. and Japanese air power in the Pacific Theater was in the Coral Sea. The Japanese, feeling somewhat invincible, decided to have a go at Australia. An invasion force set sail for Port Moresby in New Guinea, in hopes of establishing an airfield that would cut supply lines to Australia and serve as a springboard for later offensive efforts. The U.S. Navy caught wind of the operation from their signal experts and sent a couple carriers to meet the Japanese fleet. The first naval battle in history fought between opposing ships who never once sailed in sight of each other began. The fight was fought entirely with aircraft, and the Americans managed to give as good as they got. Both sides lost a carrier, and both fleets retreated to lick their wounds. But the Japanese plans were spoiled, and the Japanese would never experience the unique culinary delight that is Vegemite. More importantly, two of their vital carriers that would have otherwise been present at Midway would be in dry dock during that fateful battle.

Midway is a depressingly barren little blister of rock out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean whose claim to fame is that it is halfway between the U.S. and Japan, thereby giving it some strategic significance as a good place to stop and go to the bathroom. The Japanese decided they would lure the American carrier fleet there by staging an invasion and sink it (the carriers, not the island), and launched the largest modern fleet ever to put to sea in order to do just that. At the same time, they also launched a smaller and somewhat pointless attack on the Aleutian Islands near Alaska, which no one in their right mind would ever perceive as being of any military use whatsoever. The Japanese reasoned that the Aleutians would make ideal air bases to disrupt American lend-lease support for Russia. Given that Americans sent all of their lend-lease shipments through the Atlantic and North Sea to the port of Murmansk, and that fog, mist and snow enshrouded the islands most of the year, it wasn't a particularly well thought out strategem. The Americans put up some token resistance and moved on, leaving the Japanese the proud owners of some very cold and unpopular real estate on which they could build fog-enshrouded airfields for their pilots to fly around trying to locate before they ran out of fuel.

About the only thing the Japanese accomplished in the Aleutians that had any impact on the course of the war was to lose a Zero, which was forced to ditch and was recovered nearly intact by American forces. It was promptly whisked away to the weapons labs. The gobs of useful information learned about the plane finally shattered the mystique surrounding the Zero and helped the Americans to design a carrier fighter that would soon make life miserable for Japanese pilots, the Grumman Hellcat.

dauntless

The battle for Midway did not turn out like the Japanese had hoped, either, as the Americans managed to decipher their codes and were waiting for the attack. While the Japanese were beating up Midway Island, the Americans launched several torpedo plane attacks on their carriers. The torpedo planes failed to hit anything, and were torn to ribbons by the Japanese defenses, but they did succeed in luring patrolling Japanese Zeroes down to sea level, leaving the carriers unprotected from the dive bombers which soon arrived overhead. Navy Dauntlesses sank three of the four Japanese carriers in the fleet within minutes. The fourth, Hiryu, launched its remaining planes and mortally wounded the U.S.S. Yorktown. Enterprise responded with another strike that put Hiryu out of the battle. The Japanese fleet got in the last word, though, when their submarine I-168 snuck a torpedo into the Yorktown while it was undergoing salvage operations. But the Japanese had lost the battle and withdrew from Midway, leaving behind four fleet carriers, their aircraft and highly trained crews. The tide of naval power in the Pacific turned in favor of the American Navy.