‘God-awful luckiest’ Battle of Midway

USS Yorktown struggles in vain to survive during the Battle of Midway. U.S Navy file photo

Review by Bill Doughty

How did the United States Navy achieve victory at Midway and turn the tide in the Pacific so early in World War II? An anthology from the Naval Institute Press shows the answer: Sailor ingenuity, science and skill blended with Adm. Chester W. Nimitz’s wisdom and determination — along with some luck.

Other factors contributed, including miscalculations and overconfidence of Imperial Japan, whose military leaders were set on taking out “Hawaii’s sentry,” Midway Atoll.

But fortune favored many of the U.S. carrier aviators who fatally damaged three enemy carriers, writes John B. Lundstrom in historian Thomas C. Hone’s “The Battle of Midway: The Naval Institute Guide to the U.S. Navy’s Greatest Victory.”

Imperial Japan would lose four carriers that had attacked Pearl Harbor and they lost more than 100 aviators.

Lundstrom notes, “The actual sequence of events was stranger than anyone could have imagined; as (Rear Adm. Murr) Arnold wrote in 1965, it was ‘the most god-awful luckiest’ coordinated attack.”

In “The Battle of Midway” editor Hone brings together a gifted roster of writers and leaders including Craig L. Symonds, E.B. Potter, James Schlesinger, Adm. Raymond A. Spruance, Rear Adm. Edwin T. Layton, Elliot Carlson, Mitsuo Fuchida, Masatake Okumiya, Lundstrom and Mark R. Peattie, among others.

Throughout this book of mostly essays written over a span of seven decades, Hone adds context and analysis. In his introduction to Chapter 9, “Prelude to Midway,” he explains Imperial Japan’s motive for the attack.

There are several implied and outright pleas by historians to ensure Midway is understood and commemorated. In recent years the Battle of Midway has been part of a curriculum for Sailors and has been honored at every Navy command.

The source materials, oral histories, chronologies and analysis in “The Battle of Midway” make this book a compelling overview of the heroic battle while leaving some mysteries, fog-ofwar questions, and the impact of luck as still part of the story and lessons of Midway.

(An expanded version of this review is published at navyreads.blogspot.com. Navy Reads is an unofficial blog in support of the Navy Professional Reading Program, critical thinking and books.)

“The Midway operation had two central objectives. The first and more limited one was the seizure of Midway as an advance air base to facilitate early detection of enemy carrier forces operating toward the homeland from Hawaii, with the attack on the Aleutians as a diversion … The second, much broader objective was to draw out what was left of the United States Pacific Fleet so that it could be engaged and destroyed in decisive battle. Were these objectives achieved, the invasion of Hawaii itself would become possible, if not easy.”

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