Sunday, June 3, 2012

Battle of Midway Really a Turning Point?

by Bill Doughty
Capt. Tameichi Hara, author of “Japanese Destoyer Captain,” says a series of mistakes by senior leaders in the Imperial Japanese Navy -- including ignorance or misuse of intelligence reports -- brought about catastrophic failures after the Battle of Midway (the first week of June, 1942), and especially as the war moved across the Pacific to Truk and Guadalcanal.
Hara writes with great candor about Admirals Nagumo, Yamamoto, Nagano, Ijuin, and others in his book, subtitled, “Pearl Harbor, Guadalcanal, Midway -- The Great Naval Battles as Seen Through Japanese Eyes.”
“The Midway Battle is termed the point at which the tide of the Pacific War turned in favor of the United States.  Nagumo suffered a crushing defeat at Midway, to be sure, but that did not mean the entire collapse of the Navy.  Yamamoto’s Combined Fleet was intact, and Japan still had at least four carriers to match those of the U.S. Navy.
What really spelled the downfall of the Imperial Navy, in my estimation, was the series of strategic and tactical blunders by Yamamoto after Midway...”
Published by the U.S. Naval Institute Press, the book is a classic and no-holds-barred memoir by the so-called unsinkable Captain.  It is a reprint, originally published in Japan in 1961, of his account of events, battles and life at sea from the early 1900s till after the war.
The book includes a first-person account of the sinking of John F. Kennedy’s PT-109, although there was no awareness at the time of that event’s signficance.
Not as comprehensive or technical as another Japanese perspective on the Battle of Midway, “Shattered Sword,” by Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully, “Japanese Destroyer Captain” nevertheless offers in-depth and invaluable context to plans, battles and consequences of war.
Loyal to his mentor and friend Adm. Chuichi Nagumo, who led the attack on Pearl Harbor but who was defeated at Midway, Hara also writes poignantly about Nagumo’s bushido-like suicide in the face of surrender at the Battle of Saipan, July 6, 1944.  
According to Hara, Yamamoto deserves the blame for key Japanese naval defeats.  Hara calls some of the strategies and plans by Imperial Japan’s military “stupid blunders.”  Writing about mistakes at Guadalcanal, Hara says, “the real blame must rest with Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto who held his Combined Fleet in home waters.”
Pearl Harbor’s Combat Intelligence Unit Station Hypo’s then-Ensign, now retired Rear Adm. Donald “Mac” Showers, said the biggest mistake by Imperial Japan, was that “senior officers, including Admiral Nagumo, in many cases ignored intelligence.  They thought they could outwit us.”
Yamamoto's death. (USAF painting.)
Operational intelligence literally proved to be the death of Yamamoto.  U.S. military intelligence -- codebreakers, analysts and linguists -- pinpointed  his location, and his plane was shot down April 18, 1943.
As to whether the Battle of Midway was a turning point in the war -- and in world history, as Showers contends, the reader can imagine “what if.”
What if Imperial Japan had succeeded in winning a toehold at Midway, a foot wedged in the door to a corridor to Oahu?  The Combined Fleet had failed to deliver a knockout punch six months earlier, but their sights were still set on the islands.  Hawaii could have been the next to fall, to serve as Imperial Japan’s own “gateway” -- eastward to California.
The United States Navy indeed turned the tide at Midway.
“There would not have been a victory at Guadalcanal without victory at Midway. The Battle of Midway was the turning point,” Showers said at Pearl Harbor this past weekend (see the following Navy Reads post for his in-depth perspective.)
A sacred tea ceremony aboard USS Arizona Memorial for peace July 19, 2011.
(U.S. Navy photo by MC2(SW) Mark Logico)
Perhaps the most important legacy of the Battle of Midway and the outcome of World War II is that today, more than seventy years after the start of the war, the United States now has a strong ally and friend in former enemy Japan, cooperating together, committed to freedom and peace.

1 comment:

Michael C/CWO3-USN_RET/7441 said...

I look forward to reading this book, but I feel that the politics and many of the limitations affecting decisions made can be viewed in other books. I especially recommend, 'At Dawn We Slept' for insight into many attitudes and relationships between the Admirals in the Japanese Imperial Navy. To provide overall context and include more details of that 1941-1942 timeframe I recommend add, 'Pacific Crucible', 'Neptunis Inferno', 'Nimitz', and 'The Pacific War, 1941-1945'. After going through these books, I believe they present a very good insight into many of the personalities, and decisions made during those battles. Once you have read these you get a real understanding of the significance of announcing that the author was in the Nagumo camp. It reminds me of the moment in, 'Guns of August' when the Kaiser wanted to cancel the invasion of France and concentrate all actions directly against the Russians. He of course was told by his Generals that all the plans have been laid out, time tables set, supplies in place that there was no stopping the invasion. The attack at Midway had been scheduled and planned in a time table that included the invasion of Port Moresby, and the impact of the Doolittle cannot be under stated. The Japanese were as locked into their time tables and plans as the Germans had been in WWI. The United States did what they could when they could; the Army and the Brits pressuring for all Europe first. Admiral King needed offensive actions and pushed the Doolittle Raid, and pressed for action that led directly to the Coral Sea actions. If they didn't happen Marshall and Churchill would have stolen all supplies and manpower for Europe. Very interesting set of events indeed.