- Origins of the campaign
- Opposing commanders
- Opposing fleets
- Opposing plans
- The battle of Midway
- The aftermath
- Further reading
Mark Stille has written a masterful work in this latest of Osprey’s offerings on the famous battle of Midway. The original book, now available in paperback, was written by Mark Healy. Published in 1994, the original was titled the same as Stille’s work. However, it cannot match this latest version in the areas of concise analysis and excellent illustrations.
In “Origins of the Campaign,” the opening chapter of the book, Stille tells us that few other naval battles have spawned as many myths as has the battle of Midway. He contends that Midway was not the most decisive battle of the war and that it was not the incredible victory against overwhelming odds that most believe. However, the author does not dispute the strategic importance of the battle or the talent and courage of the opposing navies. This well researched history of the conflict, supported by the professional illustrations of Howard Gerrard, should rank as one of the definitive chronicles of the Midway story.
Stille begins his analysis with the Japanese defeat at the battle of the Coral Sea (May 7 and 8, 1942.) The Coral Sea defeat marked the first major defeat suffered by the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) and it set the stage for the IJN defeat at Midway. Even though the author begins the book telling the reader that Midway was not the most decisive naval battle of the war, he ends the first chapter by writing that, “…the scene was set for the single most dramatic and important battle of the Pacific War.” This seeming contradiction is more a matter of semantics than conflicting fact.
The book’s second chapter is a detailed chronology of the battle starting at the May 7th battle of the Coral Sea and ending on June 7th when the USS Yorktown sunk. The chronology is broken down by day and hour of each event. The original 1994 book included a chronology at the end of the book, but the most recent placement of it at the beginning provides the reader with a guide to understanding the bulk of the book yet to be read.
In his third chapter, “Opposing Commanders,” the author introduces the major players from the IJN and from the US Navy. The Japanese were led by Admiral Yamamoto and Admiral Nagumo Chuichi, but Stille goes further by including the commanders of the carrier groups, the carrier captains, the naval aviation commanders, the invasion force commander, the close support commander, and the transport group commander. From the US Navy, the author introduces Admiral Chester Nimitz, Commander Pacific Fleet whom he gives the most credit for the US victory. Of course, Admirals Frank Jack Fletcher (commander TF-17,) William Halsey, and Raymond Spruance (Commander TF-16) were all extremely significant commanders. He also includes the carrier captains (Yorktown, Enterprise, and Hornet), and the commander of the Midway garrison.
“Opposing Fleets” is the next chapter, beginning with the IJN. Stille tells the reader that it was the IJN’s newfound ability to mass carrier air power that seemed to insure victory to its admirals. The combined force of all the Japanese carriers into a single formation was known as the 1st Air Fleet. The operational component of this fleet was The Kido Beta (Striking Force.) This striking force was composed of three carrier divisions, each with two carriers.
In an organized and easily readable style, the author writes of the famous ships, Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, and Hiryu. He points out that the Zuikaku was badly mauled at the Coral Sea, losing a significant portion of her aircraft. Stille criticizes the IJN’s failure to bring Zuikaku to Midway, even with only 56 flyable aircraft. He compares this overconfident strategic decision with the American’s heroic effort to bring the damaged Yorktown back on the line. Further In this chapter, the author thoroughly discusses the pros and cons regarding the IJN air groups, their carrier defense, and their carrier aircraft.
The other opposing force was, of course, the United States. During June, 1942, the Americans had seven carriers, but Ranger and Wasp were in the Atlantic. This left the Lexington class carriers Lexington and Saratoga, and theYorktown class carriers: Yorktown, Hornet, and Enterprise. Although Admiral Halsey had the five carriers on a fleet exercise during the Pearl Harbor raid, the Saratoga was severely damaged by a Japanese submarine on January 11, 1942 outside Pearl. Lexington was hit by torpedoes twice during the Coral Sea battle and sunk a while later on May 8, 1942. The 20,000 ton Yorktown took a bomb, but was able to return to dry dock for repairs.
The author writes that the US Naval forces’ major weakness was the difficulty experienced in conducting coordinated attacks of dive-bomber and torpedo squadrons. The limited range of the US aircraft also proved to be a limiting factor. The Dauntless dive-bomber had a range of only 275 miles with a 500 pound bomb onboard. We have all seen this problem well dramatized in the classic movie “Midway.”
The last section of “Opposing Forces” is a detailed Order of Battle for the IJN Midway Force and the Aleutians Force. This is followed with the order of battle of Task Force-17 (Rear Admiral Jack Fletcher) and Task Force-16 (Rear Admiral Spruance.)
The next chapter is “Opposing Plans” starting with Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku’s strategic disagreement with Admiral Nagano Osami (head of Naval General Staff.) The author explains how the conflicts within the Japanese planning group and the operational group made early planning difficult. The major problem was rooted in the dismal intelligence assessments that were provided to Admiral Yamato. These flawed studies completely misjudged the US Navy’s fleet air wings capacity and skill.
The next 50 pages tell the story of the Midway battle specifically the carrier battle on June 4. The author writes about the reconnaissance missions of the opposing forces, with the US Naval efforts coming out as the superior effort. It is evident by the narrative that the overriding reason for the IJN defeat was poor air defense efforts. This failing had much more to do with the IJN defeat than did Nagumo’s indecision in launching a second strike.
In addition to the numerous period photographs of ships and planes, the Midway battle section is well blessed with illustrations by the talented Howard Gerrard. These include a “Central Pacific battle map,” a “flight attack map,” a “Pursuit Phase” map, and a “Duel of the Carriers” map. The book contains 3-D illustrations of the “Final Attack of US planes on three Japanese carriers,” the “Japanese Response,” and the “Attack on the Hiryu.” Howard Gerrard has painted several excellent artist renderings of battle scenes.
In the concluding chapter, “The Aftermath,” Stille writes that the US fleet delivered a stunning blow to the IJN. He tells us that the loss of four IJN carriers blunted their ability to project force like they had done so well in the war’s opening moves. To support his opening argument, Stille writes that Midway was not the most decisive factor in determining the future of the war, nor was it the largest carrier battle. That honor belongs to the battle in the Marianas Islands.
This writer is not comfortable with the seemingly conflicting conclusions. What really matters is that the US Navy delivered not only the first major IJN defeat, but it delivered a crippling blow that was difficult for the Japanese to overcome.
Midway 1942 is a seminal work on one of WWII’s greatest naval battles. He highly recommends it to anyone who desires to study the battle of Midway in minute detail.
Our thanks to Osprey Publishing, Ltd. for supplying the book for review.