Thursday, December 7, 2017

Cataline Recommends: Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of Battle of Midway

Busy day today.  So this is my Pearl Harbor Day post.

My own little way of saying, suck it, Japan!


Pawn Takes Castle
by Tom Freeman

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.


Jew613 said...

The Japanese military's dysfunction during that era was legendary. Even within the same branches of service the level of bickering had risen to elaborate plots and even assassination between the different factions.

The Navy abandoning 69,000 battle hardened Imperial soldiers on Rabual, or the refusal of the Japanese Army in China to shift the forces fighting the ROC to block the Americans were just some of the disastrous decisions coming from this infighting.

The situation wasn't healthy for Japan when Yamamoto was alive but once he was killed the lack of clear leadership became much worse.

John Williams said...

I've always thought bypassing Rabaul and isolating the Japanese troops there was a "haul ass & bypass" move that caught the Japanese by surprise since it was a change from the sequential island hopping strategy employed to date. That the IJN abandoned them was inconceivable till now. This is a book in need to read. Thanks for bringing it to my attention & highlighting it's significance.

Cataline Sergius said...

One the interesting things this book brought up was just how land poor the war in the Pacific made the Japanese.

By contrast, every one of Hitler's earlier conquests acted as a force multiplier. Czechoslovakia, got him the Skoda Works. Belgium got him Fabrique Nationale. France basically doubled his industrial capacity.

But every expansion by Japan just made them poorer. The only thing their conquests got them was more peasants and rice paddies. There was no industrial capacity in that part of the world back then.

Every supply run made to garrisons bleed them just a little more because there was nothing but an empty hold returning to Japan.

RobM said...

I have the book, but haven't read it. Have been meaning to. Thanks for the review and renewing my interest to dig in! I thought the big opportunity that Midway presented was being able to attack their carriers. It's not that Midway was in danger of being overrun, but that once we knew it was going to be attacked, and by what , the decision was made to sink as many Jap flattops as possible and Midway presented SINCPAC with the opportunity to hit at 4 at once time.

Looking forward to the book. I just finished Hornfischer's latest , The Fleet at Flood Tide.. and I highly recommend it. ( his other two books are excellent also btw)

Jason Starks said...

I believe most IJN(Imperial Japanese Navy) amphibious landings were conducted by naval personal, not army troops. The IJN had sailors trained for land fighting organized into SNLF(Special Naval Landing Force) units.

As the war progressed they were encountered as do or die garrisons on Pacific islands. I've read that the USMC rated them not as good in combat as Japanese Army infantry, though just as fanatical.