Book Review: Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway


by Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully

Washington: Potomac Books, 2005/2007. Pp. xxvi, 612. Illus., maps, diagr, figs., tables, append., notes, biblio., index. $35.00. ISBN:1574889249

Over a quarter of a century ago, Gordon Prange's Miracle at Midway(New York: 1982), suggested that the accepted narrative of the battle, shaped largely by Mitsuo Fuchida's Midway: The Battle That Doomed Japan(Annapolis: 1955) was flawed.  Shattered Sword carries this work forward, demonstrating that much of what Fuchida wrote was fabricated. The book draws upon evidence that had been long overlooked, such as damage and casualty reports, memoirs and commentary by Japanese officers, critical analyses of Japanese doctrine, policies, and tactics, and actual photographs taken by American airmen during the attacks, as well as a meticulous reconstruction of the events, often on a minute-by-minute basis.

The result is an account of the battle that gives credit not to "miracles" and "blunders" but to the inherent strengths and weaknesses of the culture, doctrine, technology, and training of the two fleets, and the influence of the decisions that shaped the events even before the operations began. 

So we learn that the Aleutians operation was by no means a "deception" intended to lure American ships away from Midway, but rather a parallel offensive, that unfolded simultaneously; in short, the Japanese were trying to capture two bases with one fleet, which thus had to be divided.  The Imperial Navy lacked an integrated air defense doctrine or anything akin to the CIC (combat information center), and many antiaircraft guns were poorly sited, so that the air defense of the fleet was less effective than it might have been.  Likewise, the famous "miracle" which found Japanese carrier decks full of aircraft just as American dive bombers arrived to blow them to pieces did not in fact occur -- as can be seen in by pictures taken from some of the dive bombers! -- though the Americans did get some lucky hits penetrating to hangar decks, which had much the same results.   Nor did the disaster kill a majority of the Imperial Navy's trained airmen; losses were heavy, but most of the fleet's airmen were rescued. 

There's much, much more, which makes Shattered Sword a necessary read for anyone interested in the Pacific War.      

Note: This work is also available in paper back, for $29.95; ISBN 978-1-57488-924-6

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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