Miracle at Midway; Prange, Gordon W.; 1982; Open Road Media; 414 pgs; notes, index, Order of Battle, bibliography, chronology;
Dec 7, 41: the US enters the war after Pearl Harbor
Jun 4, 42: Midway
Dec, 42: Stalingrad
Jun 6, 44: D-Day
May 8: The Germans surrender
Sep 2: After six years (and one day)… the war ends with VJ Day.
When it comes to battles during WWII, the two that stand out the most are the Battle of the Bulge and Midway. There are others, of course: the Battles of the Atlantic/Britain/Stalingrad/Kursk; D-Day, Alamein, Market Garden and many more… and that is just the EOT. But these two stand out.
The Battle of the Bulge was the most costly, especially for the Americans. But it lasted for a month, and its ultimate outcome was inevitable. The decisive action at Midway was over in under seven minutes; the final outcome was by no means clear; and ownership of the Pacific was at stake.
Prior to Midway was the Battle of the Coral Sea. This was the first carrier vs. carrier battle ever fought. No ships saw the enemy. The Japanese had two of its Pearl Harbor veteran carriers damaged. The US also had two carriers damaged. Due to a non-battle related incident, the Lexington was sunk (actually, scuttled). Both sides towed their wounded carriers back to their home bases. The Coral Sea was a draw. But it set the stage for what happened next.
The Japanese were already planning an attempt to take and occupy Midway, a small atoll north and west of Hawaii, consisting to two small islands, Sand and Eastern, where the US had an airbase and refueling port. The American code breakers lead by Rocheport had broken much of the Japanese JN25 code and knew that AF, as the Japanese code worded it, aka Midway, was the target.
The Japanese were told that their two damaged Pearl Harbor veteran carriers would take three months to repair. The Midway invasion fleet set sail with the other four carriers that hit Midway: Akagi, Horyu, Soryu and Kagi. The Japanese also wanted to hit the Aleutians as a feint. Following behind the two attack fleets was the rest of the Japanese navy, including the largest battleship ever built, the Yamato, which carried Yamamoto, the fleet admiral. Nagumo, who lead the Pearl Harbor attack, lead the Midway attack force.
The Yorktown was towed back to Pearl and there, the shore crews also said three months were required to fix her up. Nimitz gave them two days. In a minor miracle, Yorktown sailed two days later to join her sister carriers Enterprise and Hornet. Fletcher and Spruance were to lead the American side.
As history records, the two fleets met north and west of Midway. A couple of squadrons of bombers found the Japanese carriers without fighter cover and hurriedly attempting to re-arm their planes to fight the American fleet (rather than to attack Midway itself). To this point, the US had had zero luck. But this time, in under seven minutes, three Japanese carriers were burning and subsequent action sunk the fourth. The cream of Japan's naval fliers and ground crews were wiped out.
Later, the Yorktown survived two airborne attacks, only to be sunk by a submarine's torpedo.
One difference between the Americans and the Japanese: When the Yorktown was sinking, the captain confirmed that all crew were off the ship, and then grabbed his kit and left. When Akagi went down, they Japanese spent most of the time trying to figure out who should or should not commit Hara Kiri.
I knew a lot about Midway, but this was still a stimulating read. The main reason the Japanese lost the battle was arrogance… what they called "victory disease". On paper, they were way ahead. There were other reasons too: Failure to deploy their battle ships; Inferior damage control technology (a consequence of the Bushido code); Poor use of scouts; Biting off more than you can chew; etc.
War is hell. The US launched around 30 torpedo bombers… old slow and carrying shitty US torpedoes. Not one hit its target, or if it did, it failed to explode. The crews knew their likely fate and only one or two of them escaped it.
If the Japanese had succeeded, the Pacific would have been theirs for some time. As it was, from June 6, 1942 (two years before D-Day), every subsequent move of the Japanese took them closer to home.
If the Japanese had been succeeded, I suspect that Tokyo would have been nuked. In any case, many more people, mostly Japanese, would have died.
The book is well researched with loads of detail.
Lee Moller is a life-long skeptic and atheist and the author of The God Con.