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on 10 April 2008
Accounts of this battle, both published and unpublished, are extremely numerous and this author has considered them all - and their many contradictions - in an attempt to present a truly accurate description of the events. He has also interviewed many of the survivors, especially in Japan, for which great credit is due.

In short, it's the book I have been waiting for and it's best to get the niggles out of the way first, such as abundant mis-spelling and, at times, a chaotic presentation. Also annoying is the fact that many pages are dominated by the sub-notes: some perfunctory, others a story in their own right! I found much of the presentation annoying and the fact is that there is much detail that it's sometimes hard to follow the plot.

But then, this IS a very detailed account with a comprehensive analysis of every stage of the battle, not least the many, many mistakes made by both sides - and at so many different levels in their command chains. As the author gradually picks his way though all this it becomes rather sobering, as do the several inglorious claims to fame. It's also good to see some of the technology put in the frame, even the reality of radio communications between ship and plane. Shocking inadequacies are revealed on both sides.

And there's the rub for Peter Smith is a British author and this enables him to referee, as it were, perspectives from both combatants' sides, and in places, make telling comparisons with Royal Navy experience. At several points the text really lights up!

Without wishing to spoil the plot, although it's well known of course, put very simply, 3 American carriers ambushed 4 Japanese ones, and the result left just two carriers still afloat, both American. What isn't immediately obvious is that EVERY carrier which was attacked was sunk.

One of the Appendices carries particular clout, "Midway and the Media". Quite a wide net is cast, not least the grossly inaccurate Hollywood film "Battle of Midway" by which most people know the battle. Smith's book holes this film below the waterline and his derision for re-writing of history is palpable. It's good to see a measured account that tries to set the record straight. If you can bear with the glitches mentioned above, the demolition of so many myths and a measured presentation of what most probably actually happened is a joy to read.
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on 2 February 2012
I have read at least eight books dealing with the Battle of Midway in 1942, starting with Walter Lord's splendid and riveting Incredible Victory: The Battle of Midway (Classics of War), and in my opinion, Peter Smith's treatment of the most important battle of the Pacific War is the worst for a number of reasons. The format is appalling. Smith is no master storyteller of the calibre of Walter Lord and many of his pages are cluttered with extensive footnote text and tables that impede easy reading. The development of Smith's Midway story is constantly interrupted by digressions involving extensive treatment of critical views of aspects of the battle, such as those of Lt Cdr Edwin T. Layton and Lt Cdr John S. (Jimmy) Thatch, and references to the military experience of participants, such as Cdr Stanhope C. Ring. Trying to follow the story of Midway in Peter Smith's book is akin to negotiating a difficult obstacle course.

My suspicion that this book was not going to be a good history of the Battle of Midway was aroused when I read in the Author's Note (at page xviii) that he, being English, would take "a neutral and unbiased look at the battle". My suspicions were confirmed when the author went on to say that his book would "correct (a) sixty-year-old travesty of justice" that has denied "the pivotal role of pre-battle intelligence (COMINT) and the crucial and decisive role of the dive-bombers in determining the outcome of the battle..". There is only one appropriate description for this claim by Peter Smith. It is totally without any sound historical foundation. These absurd claims suggest that the author is bent on constructing controversial straw men so that he can win kudos (and perhaps book sales!) by demolishing them. It is true that the US Army Air Corps initially and incorrectly claimed credit for the Midway victory on the ground that its high altitude B-17 heavy bombers had destroyed the Japanese carriers. This claim was quickly shown to be false. The crucial roles in American victory at Midway played by US Navy communication intelligence (COMINT) and the carrier-launched US Navy dive-bombers have been widely recognised since at least 1967 when Walter Lord published his magisterial account "Midway: The Incredible Victory". Lord interviewed 385 participants or persons involved in the Battle of Midway, and wove their stories into a vivid and gripping account of the great battle that has never been equalled or shown to be wrong in any aspect that would have significantly altered the outcome of the battle.

To show that author Smith has produced straw men to demolish and perhaps justify his book sales, it is necessary to outline some vital aspects of the Battle of Midway. The Imperial Japanese Navy planners believed that their Midway offensive would take the United States completely by surprise, and that Japan would retain the initiative throughout the complex offensive. The assumption that the Japanese attack would take the Americans by surprise led to Japan's powerful First Carrier Striking Force (the Kido Butai ) being assigned two major missions at America's Midway Atoll. The first was to neutralise the defences of the two small Midway islands by aerial bombardment on 4 June 1942. When the first mission had been completed, the second, and more vital mission, was to lie in wait off Midway for the expected arrival of aircraft carriers of the United States Pacific Fleet on or soon after 6 June, and destroy the American fleet. The Japanese planners appear to have failed to appreciate that both missions could be seriously compromised if unforeseen circumstances forced them to be undertaken simultaneously, and that is exactly what happened, because the Americans had broken the Japanese naval code JN-25 and knew where to ambush the Japanese carrier force while it was heavily preoccupied in attacking the Midway islands.

For several decades after the Battle of Midway, the successive attacks from Midway Atoll and the three carrier-launched US Navy torpedo squadrons on the Japanese carrier force were regarded by those who failed to understand the dynamics of battle as heroic but wasted sacrifices. In 2004, the Pacific War Historical Society argued in its online Battle of Midway chapters that the five successive attacks launched from Midway Atoll and the three US Navy carrier-launched torpedo attacks on the Japanese carriers had made crucial contributions to the ultimate victory primarily secured by the US Navy dive-bombers from carriers USS Yorktown (CV-5) and USS Enterprise (CV-6). In the comments that follow all times mentioned are Midway Time on 4 June 1942.

On Midway Atoll there had been a rag-tag collection of obsolete Vindicator dive-bombers flown by US Marine pilots without significant combat experience, four B-26 Marauder bombers jury-rigged with torpedoes and flown by inexperienced Army pilots who had never attacked a ship with torpedoes, six US Navy TBF torpedo bombers flown by inexperienced pilots, sixteen SBD-2 Dauntless dive-bombers flown by inexperienced US Marine pilots, and fifteen B-17 heavy bombers with virtually no experience in attacking enemy warships. Their five successive attacks on the Japanese carrier force between 0705 and 0830 were totally uncoordinated and they lacked any protection by fighter escorts. Except in the case of the high altitude B-17s, their mission was virtually suicidal and even the Japanese must have been astonished by their bravery in pressing home their attacks on the four Japanese carriers defended by crack Zero pilots. The only damage that these five successive attacks from Midway Atoll inflicted on the Japanese carriers occurred when Lieutenant Jim Muri's B-26 Marauder strafed the flight deck of Vice Admiral Nagumo's flagship carrier Akagi, but these attacks threw the Japanese carrier force off balance. They broke up the tight battle formation of the four carriers and forced them to scatter, convinced Nagumo that a second attack on Midway was necessary, required complex switching of torpedoes for fragmentation bombs, and delayed recovery of the Midway attack aircraft, many of which were running low on fuel and forced to circle the Japanese carrier fleet while awaiting the cessation of air attacks from Midway Atoll.

At 0820, a scout plane from the cruiser Tone electrified the Japanese with news that it had sighted an American carrier task force approaching Midway from the north-east. By about 0830, the last attack launched from Midway Atoll had ended and Nagumo was finally able to begin recovery of his Midway attack group. Recovery of the Midway attack aircraft had been completed by 0917, and Nagumo was able to order a 70-degree change in course to the north-east to meet the threat from the approaching American carrier task force. Only one minute elapsed before the Japanese preparations for launching an attack on the American carrier force were halted by the arrival of Lt Cdr John C. Waldron's torpedo squadron (VT-8) from USS Hornet (CV-8) which scattered the four Japanese carriers and their Zero combat air patrols again. The Japanese carriers were then attacked successively by the torpedo squadrons from Enterprise (VT-6) and Yorktown (VT-3). The three US Navy carrier-launched torpedo attacks between 0918 and 1022 combined to throw the Japanese carrier force seriously off balance again. It forced Nagumo to add all of his reserve Zeros to the combat air patrol, tied up all of his carrier decks in launching and recovering Zeros, drew all of the Zeros down close to sea level to fend off the low flying American torpedo bombers, scattered the Zero combat air patrols widely across the sea, and cleared the way at high altitude for devastatingly successful attacks by the dive-bombers from Enterprise and Yorktown on the carriers Akagi, Kaga, and Soryu. Walter Lord noted the concern of Zero pilot Raita Ogawa that the quick succession of US Navy carrier-launched torpedo bomber attacks on the Japanese carriers had drawn the Zeros from all four carriers down close to sea level and "there was nobody left to patrol up high" (pp.159-160). Lord also noted that the Commander Enterprise Air Group, Lt Cdr Wade McClusky, leading the Enterprise dive-bomber squadrons, actually observed the scattering Japanese carriers being attacked by Yorktown's VT-3 as he prepared to dive on Akagi and Kaga at 1022, and McClusky observed with some surprise the absence of defending Zero fighters at high altitude as he began his dive (p.163).

The five successive attacks launched from Midway followed by three successive torpedo attacks launched from the three American carriers combined to throw Japan's First Carrier Striking Force off balance, and keep it off balance from 0705 to 1022. The three successive US Navy carrier-launched torpedo attacks between 0918 and 1022 denied Vice Admiral Nagumo the fifty minute window of opportunity needed to lift his bombers from their hangars to the flight decks, spot them, arm the level bombers, and then launch his attack squadrons at the American carriers, and crucially for American victory, rendered the Japanese carriers highly vulnerable to high altitude dive-bomber attack. The crucial and decisive role played by the US Navy carrier-launched dive-bombers in achieving victory at Midway has not been denied for 60 years as Smith claims, and this fact drives a massive hole in his justification for writing his book.

Anyone interested in a readily accessible introduction to the Battle of Midway from both strategic and tactical perspectives can find it at the online Midway chapters of the Pacific War Historical Society.

Returning to the format of this book, Peter Smith has assembled a mountain of material relating to the Battle of Midway, and those who participated in it or were connected materially with it, and has disgorged the inadequately digested contents in the 358 pages of this book. At times, when ploughing through Smith's text, I felt that I would find a farm supply catalogue more interesting. There are numerous indications that Smith has not read the referenced material carefully before publication or checked his text for errors. A large number of these errors have been picked up by other reviewers, but I was surprised to find on page 3 that Japan's infamous "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere" had been misnamed by Smith the "Great (sic) East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere". At page 8, Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle is incorrectly promoted by Smith to Lieutenant General at the time he led the famous Doolittle Raid on Japan on 18 April 1942. At page 9, Smith incorrectly refers to American carrier strikes on 24 May 1942 against a Japanese invasion fleet off Tulagi in the Solomon Islands. There were no American carriers in this part of the South Pacific on 24 May 1942. They had all been recalled to Hawaii by CINCPAC Admiral Nimitz. And so the mistakes roll on throughout this book! There are so many typographical errors in this book that I am doubting whether it was proof-read before publication. To take just three of many examples, is there such a thing as a "Distinguish (sic) Service Medal" (at p.68)? Is there such a thing as a "classic pincher (sic) attack (at p. 97)? I have always thought it was a "pincer attack". Smith says that naval aircraft "inflict damage up (sic) on" a target (p.108). I finally stopped noting the many typographical errors lest it take me a week to read this book.

Smith is dismissive of the torpedo attack by Midway-launched American B-26 Marauders on the Japanese carriers at 0712. He ignores the fact that First Lieutenant Jim Muri flew his B-26 the length of Akagi's flight deck and that Muri's strafing of Vice Admiral Nagumo's flagship caused damage to one AA gun and crew injuries. Smith denies that any damage was caused by the B-26 Marauders to Japanese carriers and ridicules any suggestion that the strafing of his flagship could have had any influence on Nagumo's decision at 0715 to order a second attack on Midway Atoll (pp. 83-84). Smith does not understand Japanese military character in 1942. The strafing damage to his flagship must have been a humiliating experience for Nagumo, and it is absurd for Smith to suggest that it could have played no role in Nagumo's decision, three minutes after the strafing, to order an immediate second attack on Midway. The timing of the B-26 strafing and associated damage and crew injuries, and the timing of the order for a second strike at Midway, are confirmed by Nagumo in his Midway action report which Smith appears not to have read, or read carefully. The Pacific War Historical Society provides a more accurate and detailed account of the B-26 attack on Akagi than Smith in its chapter "The Charge of the B-26 Midway Marauders".

I found a blatant lack of care in reading and quoting cited material at page 297 where Smith repeatedly demonstrates his failure to have read carefully or understood the chapter "Assessing the place of Midway in World War II" on the website of the Pacific War Historical Society. Smith describes me as a "military archivist", whatever that may be. In fact, I graduated in Far Eastern history with a focus on Japanese history, and have specialised in Pacific War history for the last 22 years. Smith incorrectly claims that I did not mention Japanese invasion and occupation of the Big Island (also known as "Hawaii") as a necessary precondition to any Japanese planning for an effective blockade of the Hawaiian islands. Smith also makes the ludicrous and totally false suggestion that this chapter envisaged a Japanese blockade of Oahu staged from Japan itself rather than from the nearby captured Big Island (Hawaii). This chapter was written and placed online in 2004 and has never been altered. Smith needs to read that chapter again and ponder whether he should make an effort not to misrepresent the work of another author.

One could go on, but I feel that enough flaws have been covered to justify my unwillingness to recommend this book. Unfortunately, Walter Lord's superb story Incredible Victory: The Battle of Midway (Classics of War) may no longer be readily available except in public libraries or at high cost. Fortunately, Professor Gordon W. Prange's very readable account of the great battle Miracle at Midway(1982) is still readily available from Amazon. For those interested in greater tactical analysis and detail of the battle, I recommend from the American side John B. Lundstrom's The First Team: Pacific Naval Air Combat from Pearl Harbor to Midway, and from the Japanese side, Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway By Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully.
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