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The Unknown Battle of Midway

The Unknown Battle of Midway: The Destruction of the American Torpedo Squadrons

Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    The Unknown Battle of Midway
    Book Description:

    The Battle of Midway is considered the greatest U.S. naval victory, but behind the luster is the devastation of the American torpedo squadrons. Of the 51 planes sent to attack Japanese carriers only 7 returned, and of the 127 aircrew only 29 survived. Not a single torpedo hit its target.A story of avoidable mistakes and flawed planning,The Unknown Battle of Midwayreveals the enormous failures that led to the destruction of four torpedo squadrons but were omitted from official naval reports: the planes that ran out of gas, the torpedoes that didn't work, the pilots who had never dropped torpedoes, and the breakdown of the attack plan. Alvin Kernan, who was present at the battle, has written a troubling but persuasive analysis of these and other little-publicized aspects of this great battle. The standard navy tactics for carrier warfare are revealed in tragic contrast to the actual conduct of the battle and the after-action reports of the ships and squadrons involved.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12831-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Donald Kagan and Frederick Kagan

    War has been a subject of intense interest from the beginning of literature around the world. Whether it be in the earliest literary work in the Western tradition, Homer’sIliad,or the Rigvedic hymns of ancient India, people have always been fascinated by this dangerous and challenging phenomenon. Few can fail to be stirred by such questions as: How and why do wars come about? How and why do they end? Why did the winners win and the losers lose? How do leaders make life-and-death decisions? Why do combatants follow orders that put their lives at risk? How do individuals...

    (pp. xiii-xx)
  5. ONE The Destruction of the American Battle Line at Pearl Harbor
    (pp. 1-7)

    On the morning of December 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy made a surprise attack on the American Pacific Fleet tied up in Pearl Harbor at Ford Island, the pearl at the center of the deep inlet. Tied alone to a dock at the naval yard, just behind a dry dock containing the battleshipPennsylvania,was the minesweeperOglala.This was where the Japanese expected the aircraft carrierEnterpriseto be on the morning of December 7 and where four torpedoes were put into the haplessOglalain its stead. But theEnterpriseand the two other American carriers then...

  6. TWO Trading Armor for Speed: The New Battle Line
    (pp. 8-24)

    There is something in a naval engagement which radically distinguishes it from one on the land. The ocean, at times, has what is called its sea and its trough of the sea; but it has neither rivers, woods, banks, towns, nor mountains. In mild weather, it is one hammered plain. Stratagems,—like those of disciplined armies, ambuscades—like those of Indians, are impossible. All is clear, open, fluent. The very element which sustains the combatants, yields at the stroke of a feather. One wind and one tide operate upon all who here engage. This simplicity renders a battle between two...

  7. THREE Obsolete ‘‘Devastators’’ and Obsolescent ‘‘Wildcats’’
    (pp. 25-38)

    The American navy talked at the outbreak of the war as if its aircraft were the best in the world, but this confidence, insofar as it was real and not just bluster, was possible only because so little was known about the Japanese planes we would soon be fighting. The Japanese had been demonstrating the quality of their aircraft in China for a number of years, but just how little we knew is there in the surprise of a naval pilot training as a carrier pilot in San Diego when he heard that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. If...

  8. FOUR Duds: The Great American Torpedo Scandal
    (pp. 39-53)

    Navies were very high on torpedo planes as ship killers at the time of the Midway battle. At Taranto on November 11, 1940, the British, flying an obsolescent, very slow biplane, the Fairey Swordfish, known as ‘‘the stringbag,’’ went into a harbor in the south of Italy at night and crippled the Italian fleet, flying straight and level towithin 700 feet of the targets. They repeated their success at the sinking in the open Atlantic of the German super battleshipBismarckin May 1941, when, flying in unbelievably bad weather, they put a torpedo into it that locked its steering...

  9. FIVE Indians and ‘‘Ringknockers’’: Personnel of the Midway Torpedo Squadrons
    (pp. 54-75)

    During the course of the war carrier squadrons were whittled down mainly to pilots and aircrew. Maintenance and repair personnel became a permanent part of a naval air station or a carrier. But the Midway squadrons still had all the needed service people attached. Mechanics, ordnance men, instrument technicians, radiomen, parachute riggers, metalsmiths, master-atarms, you name it, a squadron had at least one. At any given time there were up to several hundred men in a squadron, and when the squadron moved it was a big deal, something like a gypsy caravan with huge amounts of equipment, boxes of tools,...

  10. SIX Attack: ‘‘My God, This Is Just Like Watching a Movie’’
    (pp. 76-106)

    The Japanese decision to attack Midway and occupy the island was firm by the end of April 1942, and orders were cut to the various units involved early in May. The Japanese spy system no longer functioned in Hawaii, so there was no information that the American carriers and their escorting cruisers and destroyers had left Pearl at about the same time that the Japanese fleets were sallying. Their intelligence told them, quite wrongly, that the remaining American carriers were still in the Coral Sea guarding the route to Australia and that theYorktown,like theLexington,was either sunk...

  11. SEVEN ‘‘The Best-Laid Schemes o’ Mice an’ Men Gang Aft Agley’’: Command Failures
    (pp. 107-122)

    The poet Robert Burns put it well, and after a famous victory in which his planes were scattered all over the Pacific skies, Admiral Spruance, with equal rue, agreed: ‘‘In reading the account of what happened on 4 June, I am more than ever impressed with the part that good or bad fortune sometimes plays in tactical engagements. . . . [Fuchida and Okumiya inMidway, the Battle That Doomed Japan] give us credit, where no credit is due, for being able to choose the exact time for our attack on the Japanese carriers when they were at the greatest...

  12. EIGHT ‘‘Sorry about That’’: Survival
    (pp. 123-144)

    By June 5 the Japanese were on their way back to Japan, Midway Island was still in American hands, and one of the world’s great naval battles was over. The ocean was dotted with bright yellow Mae Wests and life rafts of the survivors. These would know their fate early along; others would wait a lifetime.

    Ensign Wesley F. Osmus of Torpedo Squadron Three was one of the first survivors to be picked up, but by the wrong people. Osmus had survived the attack, though his radioman did not, and had flown southwest some distance before he crashed at about...

    (pp. 145-148)
    (pp. 149-150)
    (pp. 151-154)
    (pp. 155-158)
  17. NOTES
    (pp. 159-168)
    (pp. 169-176)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 177-181)