Last week marked the anniversary of two of the most important battles in American history: Midway June 3rd-7th, 1942 and the Normandy invasion June 6th, 1944. Both battles have been analyzed and re-analyzed in millions of books, research papers and reports. What has been missing, however, is how seemingly minor, secondary or unexpected events became the hinges on which these battles turned, Midway more than Normandy. American code breakers concluded from radio intercepts that the combined Japanese fleet under Admiral Isokuro Yamamoto was enroute to seize the two tiny islands comprising Midway. So alerted, even with Washington dissenting on that evaluation, Admiral Chester Nimitz, Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet ordered the task force with aircraft carriers USS Enterprise and Hornet under the command of Rear Admiral James Spruance to intercept and “bush wack” the Japanese fleet. USS Yorktown badly damaged at the May Battle of the Coral Sea and its task force commanded by Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher would soon follow after a miraculous repair effort made her seaworthy again. If Hitler had listened to his generals and ordered Panzers commanded by the Desert Fox, Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, into action, Normandy might not have succeeded Fletcher was in tactical command. But after Yorktown was disabled, Spruance assumed command. The Japanese Strike Group under Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, who led the attack on Pearl Harbor, centered on four aircraft carriers and an accompanying fleet superior in firepower to Spruance’s. On June 3rd, Midway’s bombers, with staggering losses, failed to damage any of Nagumo’s fleet. Nagumo launched his strikes against Midway early on June 4. That morning, a flight of antiquated Brewster Buffalos from Midway conducted a brave but futile attack. All were destroyed by Japanese Zero fighters, failing to hit any Japanese warship. However, in the fog, friction and chance of war, the doomed Buffalos made a decisive difference. Nagumo’s carriers were forced to conduct high speed evasive manoeuvres to evade enemy bombs. During that forty-five minutes, none of the Japanese aircraft could be rearmed and refuelled as the carriers rapidly changed course. As bombs were being loaded on Japanese aircraft to press further attacks against Midway, Nagumo received a report sighting enemy aircraft carriers. The quandary: continue striking Midway or rearm with torpedoes to attack the approaching enemy fleet. Nagumo chose the latter course. It would cost him the battle. The decks of all four Japanese carriers were awash with bombs, torpedoes and aviation fuel as the aircraft were being rearmed for the new mission. Spruance launched at his aircraft’s maximum range without regard to fleet battle tactics requiring coordinated attacks. In theory, the first attack wave was horizontal bombers followed by dive bombers. Then, torpedo planes flying at wave top heights would apply the coup d’gras. Just the reverse happened. Hornet’s Torpedo Squadron 8, commanded by Lcdr John Waldron, was the first to reach the Japanese fleet and was slaughtered by Japanese fighters. Only Ensign George Gay survived. But Japanese fighters lost the advantage of altitude. The higher flying American bombing squadrons would face no fighter opposition. Enterprise’s Bombing 6 led by Lcdr Wade McCluskey should never have found the Japanese fleet. Running low on fuel, McCluskey disregarded the standard expanding square search pattern and turned the other way. Fortuitously, the Japanese destroyer Arashi was sighted steaming at high speed presumably to rejoin the fleet. In another act of fate, Arashi had been depth charging the submarine USS Nautilus that had found herself in the middle of the enemy fleet. Bombing 6, joined by two other squadrons, pounced on the highly vulnerable Japanese carriers. A handful of hits sent three to the bottom. The fourth would be sunk later in the day. The Navy lost Yorktown and a destroyer. But the Japanese Navy was dealt a decisive blow, retreating back to Japan and abandoning Operation MI against Midway. Had the Buffalos not cost Nagumo time to rearm; if the Navy had attacked according to its tactics; and had McCluskey not turned the other way, the battle might have had a different outcome. Normandy was successful in large part because Hitler was convinced the Pas d’Calais was the objective given its proximity to the English coast, not Normandy. Putting General George Patton in command of the phantom First US Army Group, FUSAG, armed with rubber decoy planes, tanks and artillery pieces, was masterful deception confirming the Fuhrer’s sense of strategic infallibility. If Hitler had listened to his generals and ordered Panzers commanded by the Desert Fox, Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, into action, Normandy might not have succeeded. But Hitler also left strict orders not to be awakened on June 6th. His generals, fearful of the Fuhrer’s wraith, waited to alert him of the landings. Too often we forget battles can be won or lost on such details. Dr Harlan Ullman is UPI’s Arnaud deBorchgrave Distinguished Columnist. He is Senior Advisor at the Atlantic Council and his next book is The Fifth Horseman: To Be Feared, Friended or Fought in a MAD-Driven Age.