THE ROUNDTABLE FORUM
Official newsletter of the Battle of Midway Roundtable
17 April 2009
Issue Number: 2009-16
Our 12th Year
~ AROUND THE TABLE ~
MEMBERS’ TOPICS IN THIS ISSUE:
1. Consequences of the BOM
2. What Kido Butai Should Have Done
3. Defending the Atoll
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1. CONSEQUENCES OF THE BOM
16 March 2009
From: Scott Kair
The consequences of the BOM range from what was immediately obvious to the more subtle, discerned within a few years (and perhaps not widely circulated), and what was occluded or unnoticed for decades. Sometimes what was immediately known initiated a chain of events that led to more subtle consequences, and some of those consequences have remained hidden until someone trips over them, or infers them from other discoveries.
A classic example of the latter is the theory advanced by Mr. Morgenthau, the federal attorney in New York, who hypothesized that turning back the Japanese at Midway allowed the reallocation of tank production from deployment on the west coast to shipment to the British in North Africa. Those tanks, he theorized, enabled the British to halt Rommel’s advance into Egypt and thence to the relatively undefended territories of Palestine, Trans-Jordan, and the oil fields of the Middle East.
Other consequences seem obvious once supporting information and documents are discovered, often by accident. Once such instance is that the BOM seems to have led directly to the cancellation of the USS Montana class of battleships, with the financial and shipyard resources being reallocated to building Essex class aircraft carriers.
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10 April 2009
From: Barrett Tillman
author, Clash of the Carriers, et al
Regarding Jon Parshall's comments on Fuchida:
”The bottom line is that Fuchida was very good at figuring out what sort of stories his American audiences wanted to hear, and he was cheerful to pass those along.”
That is a factor that probably cannot be overemphasized. The cultural aspects in deciphering Japanese testimony arises again and again. It's been confirmed by a colleague of mine, an American living & working in Japan, who has interviewed many WW2 veterans. I asked him about statements in the postwar Strategic Bombing Survey, and he said that in order to gain a full knowledge of the statement, you need to know who asked the question and in what context.
11 April 2009
From: Yohan Lupander
author, Midway 1942; Vandpunkten i Stilla havet (Turning Point in the Pacific)
The U.S. side had a priceless advantage in Midway as a base for long-range reconnaissance flights with PBYs that could take off in darkness to arrive in the search areas soon after sunrise. In the early morning of June 4th, the PBYs had already put the finishing touch to the decisive U.S. intelligence victory, with great benefits for the morning battles.
This begs the question: What could Nagumo have done to improve his situational awareness? That his reconnaissance flights during the early morning of June 4th were too few and launched too late has been well documented in Shattered Sword. Japanese doctrine apparently frowned upon using strike aircraft for reconnaissance if other assets were available, primarily cruiser and battleship float planes. Both Tone and Chikuma carried enough planes (two Daves, three Jakes each) for a more intense reconnaissance effort than actually took place (which would still have benefited from augmentation by carrier planes). However, the most critical factor was to find the enemy as early as possible, which meant that the Japanese reconnaissance aircraft should, if possible, have been launched well before dawn. Would this have been at all possible, given doctrine and the state of training of the pilots?
If TF16/17 had been discovered by a Japanese reconnaissance flight (and correctly reported) no later than about 0600, Nagumo would have been able to launch his anti-shipping strike force before the famous Tomonaga message had had time to cause the commencement of re-arming. An earlier discovery would of course have been even more valuable. The respective strike forces may then well have passed each other on their ways to their targets and would then have found carriers more or less empty of aircraft, prepared to be attacked. You take it from there.
Ed note: the IJN search plan at the BOM deserves much criticism, like Yohan’s above, but we do it with the benefit of hindsight. Actually, the Japanese came to Midway with no expectation of a sea battle on the first day, and they planned their air search accordingly. The sea battle was supposed to have occurred after Midway was occupied, and would have primarily involved Yamamoto’s BBs and CAs making short work of Hornet and Enterprise as they dashed out of Pearl Harbor to defend the atoll. (They believed that they’d taken care of Yorktown in the Coral Sea.) If Nagumo had actually thought that Hornet and Enterprise were already in the Midway area, one might assume that many of his decisions, especially his search plan, would have been dramatically different.
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3. DEFENDING THE ATOLL
3 April 2009
From: Dan Hamilton
I enjoyed the recent newsletter, especially "what Kido Butai should have done." If I might express a humble amateur observation on CDR William A. Eldard's 4th point [see issue 14] that "Midway would not have fallen without a fight...Considering Midway's ample defenses and the lack of a Japanese amphibious doctrine, securing the island itself was no sure thing." According to Mr. Mrazek's A Dawn Like Thunder: "In most places, the island's water table was only three feet beneath the surface of the sand. There was no way to dig deep bunkers. After the Japanese battleships finished shelling the island with fourteen-inch guns, there wouldn't be a lot of men left." (p. 76).
Absent air cover and any ability to dig in from prolonged and determined shelling, wouldn't Midway have been a pushover no matter how gallantly our Marines would have fought? Wasn't it the Japanese ability to burrow deeply that made our island hoping so deadly for us?
Ed. note: this topic is one that has previously seen a lot of print on the Roundtable, and you can find it discussed in depth in Appendix 5 of Shattered Sword and Chapter 5 of No Right to Win. But it’s a fair question for newer members and anyone who doesn’t have those references. Here’s a suggestion for those members: take a look at the Order of Battle lists in almost any book on the BOM (or click here), spend a little time noting the assigned missions of the various Japanese fleet elements, and let us know your thoughts on the defenders’ chances for repulsing an amphibious invasion of the atoll.
~ NOW HEAR THIS! ~
NEWS & INFO IN THIS ISSUE:
- Return to Midway
- Link of the Week
- Editor’s Notes
- Anniversary and Reunion Announcements
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RETURN TO MIDWAY
I apologize to Robert Ballard for co-opting the title of his fine book and TV documentary for this article, because it’s not about a book nor a documentary. Instead, this concerns the Roundtable’s most reviewed full-scale motion picture, Midway (1976), which is still shown quite frequently on cable and satellite channels, particularly AMC. From the Roundtable’s earliest days, our members have repeatedly criticized the film for its many mismatched ships and aircraft, its factual omissions and distortions, its mischaracterization of key personnel, and especially for its sappy fictional sub-plot concerning a VF-3 pilot and his Nisei girlfriend. Since all of that is pretty much an old story on the Roundtable, there didn’t seem to be much reason for giving this venerable movie another look.
But last year I upgraded to a decent home-theater/HDTV installation, with the result that I now find myself watching a lot of stuff that I’d otherwise ignore. When Midway showed up on the AMC schedule yet again last week, I thought, why not? I knew the special effects were good, despite the mismatches, so at least I’d get to experience the film in a way that I hadn’t since seeing it in the theater 33 years ago.
But as those B-25s cranked up during the opening credits (in awesome surround-sound), I had a quick thought—rather than grit my teeth for the next three hours because of all the errors I knew were coming, why not make a diligent effort to note those things that the movie actually got right? There must be something.
Indeed, there was. It was an interesting exercise: deliberately ignore all those much-discussed annoyances—like unarmed Vindicators masquerading as TBDs, or Hal Holbrook butchering the character of Joseph Rochefort—and instead maintain sharp focus on anything that might actually merit the producers a BZ or two. With that mindset, I was surprised to find that Midway actually had a lot to like. Here are some examples:
1. Yamamoto’s aide declares that because of the Doolittle raid, “there will be no more footdragging by the General Staff. Now they’ll have to approve your Midway operation.” A minor but important historical point.
2. Rochefort, in pressing his opinion that “AF” stood for Midway, pointed out that “last March a Japanese scout plane radio’d a report to its headquarters concerning conditions around ‘AF.’ We checked its position against all nearby land masses, and the only thing it could have been was Midway.” This key detail is usually missing from the history books, but here the time frame and circumstances are accurately described as to when Station Cast on Corregidor gave the Navy’s intel community its first solid indicator of the meaning of AF. I saw that as a very positive element in a production that is otherwise rife with negatives.
3. Yamamoto, in counting the likely U.S. carriers that might sortie from Pearl Harbor, tells Nagumo that “you will have a two-to-one numerical superiority in carriers.” Another fine point of detail that the producers got right without explaining anything to the audience—the Japanese thought that the Yorktown had been critically disabled at Coral Sea, leaving no more than two operational American carriers in the Pacific. Hence, Yamamato figured that his four carriers against not more then two of the enemy’s was more than enough—a 2:1 advantage.
4. In arguing the possibility that Rochefort’s radio intercepts might be an elaborate Japanese ruse, Washington hatchet-man Captain Maddox (James Coburn) cites the extensive radio deception transmissions sent by Japanese shore stations in advance of the Pearl Harbor attack—another minor but important historical point that the movie producers not only got right, but did better than any number of Pearl Harbor revisionists.
5. As bad as Holbrook was in portraying Rochefort, the choice of Glenn Ford as Spruance was excellent. Ford in 1976 displayed a remarkable physical resemblance to Spruance in 1942, and he’d apparently studied his character well, convincingly portraying the admiral’s cautious confidence.
6. The script accurately set up the circumstances facing Fletcher at the start of the battle by a verbatim reading of Admiral Nimitz’s “calculated risk” letter that accompanied CINCPAC Op Plan 29-42.
7. SBD pilot Sam Adams of VS-5 is properly identified by name and squadron as having found the Hiryu on the afternoon of June 4th. I thought this to be another example of a fine point of historical detail that the producers could easily have ignored or fictionalized.
8. And finally, while this isn’t exactly an example of accuracy in the script, it’s still worthy of positive mention: whenever you see a radioman tapping out a message with his telegraph key in movies like this, the producers usually insert some sort of nondescript dot-dash noise in the background to simulate what is supposedly being sent. In the scene where a frustrated Nagumo is demanding to know what ship types the Tone 4 scout has spotted, he orders an Akagi radioman to send such an inquiry. We then hear in the background, in easily readable Morse: “IDENTIFY SHIPS” —in plain language English! But why not? All of the Japanese dialogue in the film was also in English. I initially found this brief passage amusing, but upon reflection, they’d actually handled that particular scenario far better than most other Hollywood productions.
When it was over, I found that I’d enjoyed watching Midway again, a bet that I’d never have taken beforehand. Knowing the film’s failings in advance and deciding to ignore them enabled me to focus on the positives, with the result that I found a lot of them, like the above, that I never knew were there. (But I have to admit that I fast-forwarded through all of that Nisei girlfriend nonsense.) —RR
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LINK OF THE WEEK
Here’s a web page that many of you will probably want to mark as a Favorite or Bookmark in your browser. Back in the Roundtable’s earliest days (in the last century, in fact), Chris Hawkinson put together a web site that is still one of the best references you can find for certain information about the battle. This site and its linked pages are among those that I refer to the most, for they include the names of every pilot and radioman/gunner assigned to every squadron aboard the three U.S. carriers at Midway. Similar data is included for aircraft based on the atoll.
As you can imagine, it’s a primary resource whenever I’m asked to identify someone’s uncle, grandfather, etc. who is said to have been an aircrew veteran of the BOM. (Conversely, it was also a major aid in dealing with the regrettable topic found in chapter 15 of No Right to Win.) The pages also include most of the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics numbers (or Army Air Forces serial numbers) for U.S. aircraft present at the BOM.
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~ If you’ve ever wanted to know exactly which actor was playing which character in Midway (1976), click here for the full cast list.
~ For some reason, the International Midway Memorial Foundation web site is now shown as expired. I’m unaware of the organization’s status, and for that reason I’ve removed their scheduled BOM seminar in Washington, DC from the list below. If anyone has information on the IMMF or its June 4th seminar, please pass the word.
~ I’ve also removed the BOM listing for the Pacific War Museum (Nimitz museum) at Fredericksburg, TX, which has apparently canceled the commemoration they previously announced for June 5th. No BOM events appear on their current schedule.
~ On a somewhat personal note, I will be participating in the Coral Sea/BOM seminar and air show at Chino, CA (east of Los Angeles), on June 6th. It would be great to meet any Roundtable members who might also attend. Find me at the seminar, scheduled for 10:00 AM. (The hosts there are still seeking additional vets, historians, authors, etc. for the panel.) —RR
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2009 BOM ANNIVERSARY AND UNIT REUNION ANNOUNCEMENTS
The organizers for the BOM commemorations at Pearl Harbor, Houston, and Chino are seeking BOM veterans, historians, authors, etc. who might be willing to serve as panelists or otherwise as participants. Additionally, BOM vets are especially welcome as honored guests at any of the commemoration events. Contact the editor for info on any event listed below.
1. 26 May, Phoenix, AZ, BOM commemoration by NRA & NOUS
3. 3 June, Arlington, VA: formal banquet, Army-Navy Country Club
4. 4 June, Washington D.C.: USN commemoration at the Navy Memorial
5. 4 June, Houston, TX: BOM commemoration by NOUS
6. 4-7 June, New Orleans, LA: USS Yorktown (CV-5) reunion
8. 6 June, San Diego, CA: BOM commemoration aboard USS MIdway.
9. 6 June, San Francisco, CA: formal banquet, Marines Memorial Club
10. 6 June, Jacksonville, FL: BOM commemoration & banquet hosted by Navy League
11. 10-12 September, Branson, MO: VF-42 reunion
If you have any information on these or similar events, please pass the word.
For a glossary of abbreviations, acronyms, and terms used in The Roundtable Forum, click here or go to our home page and click "The Roundtable Glossary" link.
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