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Midway: The Incredible Victory Paperback – September, 2000
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Walter Lord was one of the greatest narrative historians and this is another of his fine books. It tells the story of the Battle of Midway from the viewpoint of the participants, both Japanese and Americans. It tells the story of ordinary sailors, airmen, admirals, politicians and code breakers, creating an exciting story out of the mosaic of these individual stories. The book tells the tragic story of the crews of American torpedo planes, flying in inferior planes with defective torpedoes in an unsuccessful attempt to sink Japanese Aircraft Carriers; unsuccessful in itself but ultimately very important because they allowed the dive-bombers that followed them to sink the carriers. They accomplished this because they forced the Japanese fighter planes to come down to a low altitude to attack them, so that they could not shoot down the dive-bombers and because the evasive action that the Japanese fleet took to avoid their torpedoes reduced the effectiveness of their antiaircraft fire. Lord brings the actions of Lt. Commander Wade McClusky and Ensign George Gay to the forefront, highlighting the sacrifice and heroism of US Navy Airmen. He also tells the story of sailors of sinking ships, code breakers working to the limits of sanity (and sometimes beyond), and admirals who had to make life and death decisions in split seconds. He tells the story from the from both the American and Japanese perspective and why the Battle of Midway was a turning point in WWII.
In addition to being a fine narrative history the book also gives an analysis of the overall action in great detail, complete with details of the sailing of individual ships and the reasons behind the decisions of the admirals involved. This has long been a seminal history of the battle, which has been followed by many others, few of which have the impact of Lord's story telling. I highly recommend this book to all those interested in the history of WWII and for those who just like great narrative history that places you within the action.
The odds against the Americans in the Battle of Midway were enormous and the stakes were extremely high. Having suffered nothing but victories, the Japanese had cause to be highly confident and the outlook for the Americans was bleak. And the early results of the first battle-contacts were overwhelmingly favorable to the Japanese. And yet, somehow the Americans rallied to pull this fight out of the fire and not only save Midway but deal the Imperial fleet a blow from which they never recovered.
A true David and Goliath story, Incredible Victory pays tribute to the indomitable human spirit and the fickle twists of fate and luck. I rarely read books more than once. Only a tiny handful have impressed and captivated me enough to do that. This book, however, I have read four times and I'm sure to read it again someday!
John E. Nevola
Author of The Last Jump - A Novel of World War II
Although Lord and Prange's team cover the same battle and Miracle at Midway attempts to put the Midway battle in a context for contemporary readers to grasp (the anger and resolution of the American public and media are characterized as taking place in a "period [which] was unique in the American experience. A brief echo of it sounded in the 1980 hostage crisis with Iran. But in volume and intensity, that incident cannot truly compare with those few months following Pearl Harbor...." The 1982 book is impressively well researched and equally well written, but in some ways, Lord's narrative style is somehow more appealing.
Lord takes the reader back in time and into both the American and Japanese participants' many vantage points. In a natural, easy-to-digest narrative, Lord (whose best known work is A Night to Remember, about the sinking of RMS Titanic) describes the complex sequence of events of the Battle of Midway.
Because Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto's plan was complicated -- full of diversionary raids, multiple approaches by various fleets, and all based on the assumption of American "complicity," Lord wisely avoids bogging down the reader with military jargon or technical analysis. Instead, he uses an almost novelistic style, telling the story from the perspective of the participants.
"Petty Officer Heijiro Omi didn't have a word to say in excuse," Lord writes at the beginning of Chapter One. "As the Admiral's chief steward, he was responsible for the food at this party -- and that included the tai, a carefully selected sea bream cooked whole. It had been a happy inspiration, for tai broiled in salt meant good luck in Japan. But this time the chef had broiled it in bean paste -- miso, to be exact -- and as every superstitious Japanese knew, that extra touch meant crowning good luck with bad."
A seemingly trivial start, one might say, but up to June of 1942 the Japanese had had nothing but good luck. In six months Japan had overrun Allied territories from Hong Kong, Malaya, Burma, Singapore, the Netherlands East Indies, the Philippines, New Guinea, and on to the Solomon Islands. Even the April Doolitle Raid on Japan and the strategic loss of the Battle of the Coral Sea seemed to the Japanese to be a few minor setbacks. Yamamoto's grand scheme, to capture the tiny atoll of Midway and lure the remnants of the United States Pacific Fleet to a final battle, was, in the minds of the Japanese, a sure recipe for victory.
The Americans, Lord writes in the foreword, "were hopelessly outclassed." Outnumbered in almost every category of warship and depending on obsolete equipment, the defenders of Midway were seemingly doomed. Yet, with the help of naval code breakers, the quiet yet determined leadership of Admirals Chester W. Nimitz and Raymond A. Spruance (who had replaced the war weary and temporarily sidelined William F. Halsey as a task force commander), and the raw courage of Midway's motley crew of sea- and land-based defenders, the Americans won the Battle of Midway and stopped Japan's advances in the Pacific.
Lord points out that the biggest reason Midway was such a disaster was the Japanese overconfident mindset. The plan, impressive on maps (with all the arrows depicting Japanese fleets converging on one spot from various directions), was far too complex for its own good. Too many ships were scattered on different missions, violating the military principle of concentration of force. Worse, everything depended on the Americans reacting exactly the way the Japanese expected them to. The plan did not allow for any unplanned contingencies, and even though the Japanese gave the U.S. Navy a bloody nose with the sinking of USS Yorktown and a destroyer (in addition to shooting down many American aircraft), Nimitz and Spruance won an incredible victory over a formidable foe.