Eighty years ago this week, one of the greatest naval battles in American history was fought and won over two tiny islands in the Western Pacific called Midway for their geographic location halfway between Hawaii and Asia. After the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese military advance seemed unstoppable. Admiral Chester Nimitz was the new Pacific Fleet Commander. By early May 1942, Nimitz’s cryptologists, led by Cdr Joseph Rochefort and Lcdr Edwin Layton, had broken enough of the Japanese naval code to determine Midway was the next Japanese target. Both predicted within minutes, miles and bearings when and where the lead Japanese naval units would be detected on June 4. With that warning and rejecting Washington’s advice, Nimitz ordered the carriers USS Enterprise and Hornet to sail to “Point Luck” some 150 miles northwest of Midway to “bushwhack” the Japanese force. Task Force 16 would be joined by the carrier USS Yorktown, badly damaged at the Battle of Coral Sea in May and miraculously repaired in Pearl Harbor. Radm Raymond Spruance was the officer in tactical command, although junior to Radm Frank J Fletcher in Yorktown who had stopped the Japanese Navy at the Coral Sea. On June 4 and 5, the US Navy sank all four of Japan’s carriers, losing Yorktown. No opposing surface warships would come in direct contact. The surviving Japanese fleet was forced to retreat. This was the first decisive American naval victory of the war. Eighty years ago, one of the greatest naval battles in American history was won over two tiny islands in the Western Pacific called Midway for their geographic location halfway between Hawaii and Asia. Aside from the intelligence breakthrough, why did the US Navy win? The main reason was the influence of the “sixth domain” of war. Today, the first five domains are land, sea, air, space and cyber. The sixth is intellect and instinct. And luck, good or bad, always has an invisible hand in the war along with Clausewitz’s fog and friction. First, the US Navy was not numerically inferior in the one area counting most: tactical aviation. Midway was, in essence, a fourth land-based aircraft carrier giving Spruance a small advantage in aircraft. Second, leadership counted at all levels. Nimitz and Spruance were cerebral, thoughtful and patient who trusted subordinates. The original commander, Vadm William Halsey, contracted shingles and was ordered to a Pearl Harbor hospital. The two-star Spruance was elevated to command. Halsey was aggressive almost to excess and often incautious. If Halsey had been in command, would he have fought as clever a battle as Spruance did? Or would he have been more reckless? Would he have chosen to pursue the retreating Japanese fleet and run into the two main trailing Japanese forces that could have obliterated his inferior force: what Spruance did not do? Japanese Admiral Isokuro Yamamoto, the architect of the Pearl Harbor attack, lost the battle. The Japanese practice was to divide its forces. The Japanese Midway force was split three ways: four carriers to eliminate Midway’s resistance; the trailing amphibious force; and the main surface force with its battleship firepower well in the rear. However, three Japanese carriers were detached to support the Army’s invasion of two of Alaska’s tiny Aleutian Islands. If Yamamoto’s advance group had those additional carriers, even with surprise, the US Navy could not have prevailed. At the tactical level, Enterprise’s air group commander, Lcdr Wade McCluskey, ignored standard operational search procedures. He was rewarded by sighting a Japanese destroyer steaming at high speed to rejoin the main force after unsuccessfully depth charging the US submarine Nautilus. McCluskey’s instinct worked. Led by pilots such as Lt Dick Best who would sink two carriers in the battle, Navy dive bombers began the destruction of the Japanese flattops. Third, luck counts. Commanded by Vadm Nagumo Chuichi who led the Pearl Harbor raid, the lead force was preparing for a second strike on Midway when reports of American carriers were received. Nagumo ordered rearming his aircraft with torpedoes and anti-ship bombs. US torpedo planes, attacking at a low level, had drawn Japanese fighters down to the deck and away from the dive bombers at a horrible cost in which most were shot down. McCluskey attacked. With rearming ongoing, a few US hits caused massive secondary explosions that sunk the carriers. The Battle of Midway underscores the influence of the sixth domain of war. That said, the what-ifs are tantalizing. Had a Japanese search plane not been delayed in take-off; had Halsey been in command; had McCluskey not led, what would have been the outcomes? The writer is a senior advisor at Washington, DC’s Atlantic Council and a published author.