September 9, 2012

Midway: the turning point of the Pacific War

Filed under: Books, History, Japan, Military, Pacific, USA, WW2 — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:33

An interesting sketch of the importance of the 1942 Battle of Midway in the Spectator from Richard Freeman:

For many of us the Battle of Midway is just one more Hollywood spectacular in, to paraphrase Neville Chamberlain, a far-away sea of which we know little. But having recently taken a closer look at the battle I am struck both by what was at stake and what the consequences of the American victory were for the Allies at the time and geopolitics since then.

[. . .]

Because the Americans were the victors at Midway, it is easy to forget how near they came to losing the battle. On the day of the main action they attacked the Japanese carriers from dawn until 10.20 am without inflicting any serious damage. Then, between 10.20 am and 10.25 am, the American planes caught three of the Japanese carriers without adequate fighter protection. All three were completely disabled in just five minutes in what has been called ‘the miracle of Midway’.

[. . .]

Now suppose — and it almost happened — that the Japanese carriers, with their vastly superior fighter planes, had caught the American carriers off guard. The loss of those carriers and the destruction of the Midway airbase would have compelled America to give a much higher priority to the Pacific. A direct consequence of that would have been a slower build-up of American power in, first North Africa, and then Europe.

Shortly after the North African landings, there was the other great turning point of the war: Germany’s surrender at Stalingrad. From then on one of the great questions of the war was where the Russians would meet the Allies. Had America suffered a massive defeat at Midway, the Allies advance in Europe would have been slower. (As it was, D-day strained the Allies to the limit. Even a small reduction in ships, tanks, planes or men would have forced its delay.) In these circumstances it is not inconceivable that the Soviet Union would have taken the whole of Germany

I just finished reading one of the few accounts of the battle from the Japanese perspective, Midway: The Battle That Doomed Japan by Mitsuo Fuchida and Masatake Okumiya. Because I couldn’t remember Fuchida’s co-author’s name, I Google searched on the title of the book, only to find the top item after Fuchida’s Wikipedia entry was this:

The Western accounts of the Japanese side of the battle have heretofore been built around three primary sources: The after-action log of Admiral Nagumo (“The Nagumo Report”); the interviews with Japanese naval officers conducted after the war by the United States Strategic Bombing Survey (“USSBS”); and Mitsuo Fuchida’s book, Midway: The Battle That Doomed Japan, which was published in the United States in 1955. These three sources, augmented by fragmentary survivor accounts, have formed the backbone of the Japanese account for all Western histories up to this point.

Unfortunately, one of these sources — Fuchida’s Midway — is irretrievably flawed. Fuchida’s misstatements, which have lain undetected in the West until very recently, have had manifold negative effects on the veracity of the standard English-language battle accounts. His were not minor errors of omission that can be brushed off or explained away — they were fundamental and willful distortions of the truth that must be corrected. Intriguingly, Fuchida’s account was overturned and discredited in Japan more than twenty-five years ago. Yet in the West, he has remained as important as the day his book was first published.

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