Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Book Recommendation: Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of Battle of Midway

You may feel that Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of Battle of Midway by  Jon Parshall and Anthony Tully, has an inaccurate title since few naval battles in history have had more stories written about them than Midway.

After having run the table for six months in 1942.  Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku, draws up plans to capture the island of Midway as a stepping stone for the conquest of Hawaii and then on to the West Coast of the US itself.  The Japanese empire is an unstoppable juggernaut at this point in time.

Then Commander Joe Rochefort, breaks enough of the JN-25 code to decipher that Objective AF is in fact Midway island.

Using that intelligence, Admiral Nimitz sends out a task force of three carriers to Yamamoto's four and in a titanic air/sea battle.  By daring and luck, the doomed island of Midway is saved.  The Teikoku Kaigun loses the carriers Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu and Soryu, at the cost of one US carrier, Yorktown. Ending any further hope of Japanese expansion in the Pacific and finally putting America on the offensive.

Funny thing about history, it can not help but tell you lies.

It's a matter of perception.  Thing One leads to Thing Two, which leads to Thing Three and on down the road to the Thing Ten which is the end of that chapter of the history book.  It tends to give you a sense of predestination that was usually never really there at all.

Thing Two might have happened for completely different reasons than Thing One.  Thing Two might have happened independently on it's own, regardless of what Thing One did or did not accomplish.

For instance Midway was hardly doomed.  There was no Japanese Marine Corps.  All landings were conducted by the Japanese Army.  What successes they had at amphibious operations were due to a complete lack of opposing forces.  Interoperability between the Japanese Army and the Navy was kept to an absolute minimum due to their mutual hatred of each other. There is always a degree of rivalry between a country's army and navy, it can in fact be healthy.  In Japan's case however the relationship had turned utterly toxic.  They actively and openly loathed each other to the point of actively sabotaging each others ongoing operations.
The invasion troops would have "landed," if that is even the word, on a coral reef that was two hundred meters from the beach.  They would have been wading in chest deep water for six hundred feet at a speed that was absolutely perfect for target practice.  No specialized equipment, no amphibious doctrine and no real training for this kind of frontal assault.

It would have still been possible to take the island if operational surprise had been absolute.


There was a Japanese reconnaissance submarine parked just outside of Midway.  Her captain's reports should have wholly altered the operational plan or canxed it entirely. Yamamoto's Operation MI was heavily dependent on catching his OPFOR completely off guard.

The American PBYs at Midway were all gone from dawn to dusk. Which meant the Americans were patrolling heavily and at great range.  There were construction lights and heavy equipment activity running through out the entire night, every night. Which meant the Marines were digging in and digging in deep.  Beaches were being mined and barricaded.  The surf was also being mined and barricaded.  It would have been reasonable to assume that the Marines were entrenching their lines of communication, (which they were BTW) as well as entrenching themselves.  This was not the pointless activity of an ambitious base commander.  The Marines were clearly and obviously expecting a hell of a fight.

There would be no operational surprise.  The Japanese amphibious troops were doomed.

And yet Operation MI proceeded as if operational surprise was still in play.

The plan depended on overwhelming fire power and yet Yamamoto went into battle with the minimum force necessary because of frivolous operations around the Pacific rim.

Coral Sea should have been an overwhelming victory but the air arm had been so unsupported that two fleet carriers were put out action.

The Aleutians, often believed in the West to have been an integral part of Operation MI, was no such thing at all.  It was simply a defensive perimeter expansion that was conducted concurrently.  And one that sucked up resources that should have been used at Midway.

Lastly there was the operation itself.  Genda's plan featured an overly complicated deployment that had three task forces.  An amphibious task force.  The carrier task force.  And finally the main body battleship task force.  The desire to give dreadnoughts a role to play when they no longer had one is indicative of the penultimate problem the Teikoku Kaigun had prior to engagement at Midway.

The Victory Disease.  

Shattered Sword is a compelling, well constructed and very engaging read, that tells a well known story in a very new way.  And shines a light at a new angle on the most important naval battle in the Pacific.  I highly recommend this book.

No comments: