Book Review 12: Battle of Midway SHattered Swords

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Potomac Books, Dulles, Virginia, 2005 $35.00

This incredible book shatters all previous notions on how the Battle of Midway was fought. It also shatters all the standards for military reference works. Shattered Sword will come to be regarded as a benchmark in modern history, for it brings to bear all the tools of modern communication technology in a way that has never been done before.
Shattered Sword utterly refutes the conclusions of most of the previous accounts of the battle, especially those of the long revered Midway, the Battle that Doomed Japan by Fuchida Mitsuo and Masatake Okumiya. Fuchida’s book was for years accepted as reliable because he was a top surviving leader, but authors Parshall and Tully prove that he often lied as apart of a larger agenda to refurbish the good name of the Japanese navy.
The more you thought you knew about the Battle of Midway, the more you will enjoy the avalanche of new knowledge that authors rain down upon you in 613 fascinating pages of text, diagrams, photos and appendixes. The two men clearly relish demolishing the accepted myths of the past. Perhaps most importantly, they reevaluate reputations with a fair if sometimes savage candor.
In terms of reputation, it should be noted at once that instead of Admirals Yamamoto, Kondo and Nagumo, it turns out that it was Admirals Curley, Moe and Shep who were in charge of the Japanese forces. From the Japanese point of view, the saddest thing about the battle is the incredible contrast in the diligence and skill of the lower ranking Japanese sailors and airmen with that of their famous leaders.
Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku has been celebrated both in Japan and the United States as the military genius who was the architect of all of Japan’s early victories, despite being fully aware of America’s inevitable victory. Shattered Sword reveals him as a bumbling incompetent whose flawed strategy for Midway reflected the fatal flaws of the Japanese military system. Yamamoto was at the forefront of a naval society that worked actively to invert everything it had learned and practiced since the Battle of Tsushima, and thus created a wartime scenario in which defeat was the only option.
The authors never reproach the physical courage of the top Japanese leaders, but they effectively indict their moral courage, which failed at almost every level from Yamamoto down to that of individual carrier commanders. Contrasted against this is the incredible moral and physical courage of the sailors and airmen who fought so hard to carry out their inherently flawed orders.
The endless detail found in the book would be exhausting if it were not illuminated by the authors’ writing, which deftly skips from colloquial to lyric to match the demands of the subject. In the minute-by-minute account, Parshall and Tully find ways to go to the heart of the Japanese difficulties, which included flawed planning, improper training, inadequate fire suppression methods and fatal instances where a commander’s sense of his personal honor overrode the dictates of the battle.
The authors focus on the Japanese, but buttress their arguments with a similar clinical analysis of American actions, from accounting for each of the bombs dropped on the four hapless carriers to vivid assessments of the execution of the battle by U.S. commanders.
This book is a page turner, but its importance and its wealth of detail will demand an immediate re-reading. Before you start, try this: write down the things you know about the Battle of Midway, and then check the mistakes off as you find out what really happened. If you get by without six checks, you are already a true expert!

4 Responses to Book Review 12: Battle of Midway SHattered Swords

  1. EXCELLENT idea, Walt. Shattered Sword definitely will be an eye-opener if readers approach with a list of what they “know” about the battle.

    • Thanks, Barrett, I’ll have to slip Whirlwind in there!
      All the best


      I rarely do anything on Facebook but was faced with an idle hour this morning after receiving 3 (three!) separate notices about old friends dying. I needed to do something mindless to get over the depressed feelings.

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