The importance of the Battle of Midway to the outcome of war in the Pacific theatre

The Battle of Midway remains one of the pivotal events of World War II, precipitating the beginning of the end of Japanese ascendancy in the Asia Pacific region. The military confrontation between the United States of America and the Japanese Empire escalated in the early months of 1942, as strategic territories located in and around the Pacific Ocean saw unprecedented levels of attritional warfare. The following passages will analyze the unfolding of events during the Battle of Midway from various authors’ viewpoints and place this battle in the wider context of the Second World War and the then emergent new world order.

To begin with, let us consider the book written by Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully titled Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway. The most remarkable aspect of this book is the fact that the authors try to present the political and military developments from the point of view of the Japanese. American and British documentations of the Battle of Midway can at times be biased in favor of the Allied forces. So, this change in perspective offered by Parshall and Tully comes across as refreshing and different. This is not to say that their account of the story lacks objectivity and balance. We learn that Admiral Yamamoto’s planned to keep Japanese forces in the Midway and western Aleutian Islands as a way of gaining advantage over the Naval Fleet of the United States . In contrast with the commonly available literature on the Japanese plan, Parshall and Tully explicate in detail its technological, doctrinal and historical aspects spanning the early decades of the twentieth century. The authors also allude to the contrasting motives and modus operandi of the Japanese and American air strategies. The following passage from the book illustrates the range of references and attention to detail exhibited by the authors:

“The Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, and Hiryu, the four aircraft carriers of “Kido Butai,” the First Mobile Striking Force formed the offensive core of Japan’s fleet. Commanded by Admiral Nagumo, “Kido Butai” planned to attack Midway and then destroy any elements of the U.S. Pacific Fleet that tried to intervene. The Pacific Fleet commander, Admiral Nimitz, surprised the Japanese as a result of the earlier breaking of Japanese naval codes. By dusk of June 4 all four Japanese aircraft carriers had been sunk or abandoned” .

The account of the Battle of Midway, provided by the distinguished historian David M. Kennedy, presents a slightly different picture. The author explains how magnitude of damage incurred by the American Pacific Fleet during the Pearl Harbor bombings failed to alter the ultimate result on the Japanese front. In the period between the First and Second World Wars, the nature of artillery and their strategic importance had changed significantly. While Naval Fleets were a crucial part of imperial warfare in the preceding decades and centuries, it would be the flying bomber aircrafts that would assume the role of military spearhead. David Kennedy cites this as the reason why the sweeping devastation at Pearl Harbor did not diminish American strategic advantage over the Japanese. Interestingly, none of the American airplane carrier ships were docked at Pearl Harbor on December 7 1941, which is to prove a decisive stroke of good fortune for the Allies. As the author explains, “the Yorktown had been detached in April for duty in the Atlantic. The Saratoga was stateside for repairs. The Enterprise and the Lexington were at sea near Wake and Midway Islands respectively. Fuchida’s raiders had also failed to damage Pearl Harbor’s repair shops” .

More important however, the strikes did not damage the large fuel-oil tank farm. Any dent to this source of fuel, which had been transported all the way from the North American continent, would almost inevitably have compelled the American Navy to retreat back to its bases on the West Coast. Such an eventuality would have dealt a massive blow to American plans of countering Japanese aggression in the Pacific and may have had an effect on the war that was raging in the Eurasian landmass. Hence, while admittedly presenting the story from the Allied powers’ point of view, David Kennedy gives cogent factual examples and incisive logic in support of his arguments.

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