The decisive factor in the battle in Pacific was not due to any intimidating military posturing or shrewd strategic maneuver from either side. In contrast, it was the technological superiority of American cryptanalysts in deciphering the Japanese communications that would prove the difference between the two sides. To elaborate, even as the Japanese Imperial Navy, under the leadership of Yamamoto and Nagumo was readying a fleet of two hundred ships around the Midway Islands, the American radio signal decoders were able to successfully deconstruct the copious volumes of Japanese transcripts that were pouring in. This gave the American leadership an advanced notice of the Japanese plan of attack, which it perused in devising suitable counter measures. This undertaking of critical importance came to be known as project “Magic” and its success would hand the United States of America victory in the Battle of Midway. Not only does author Arthur Winn demonstrate technical knowledge, but also makes references to particular individuals involved in the project “Magic” . By way of portraying their expertise and eccentricities, and by placing their endeavor in the context of the war, the author adds a human touch to the somber enterprise of documenting history. These qualities are manifest in the following passage from the text:
“Working without sleep amid spine-cracking tension in a windowless basement room at Pearl Harbor, Commander Joseph J. Rochefort, the chief of the Combat Intelligence Unit colloquially known as “Station Hypo,” pored over the maddeningly fragmentary intercepts piled atop his makeshift worktable of planks and sawhorses. Rochefort had adapted to this mole like existence by working in slippers and a red smoking jacket. In the spit-and-polish Navy, he and his equally unkempt colleagues were regarded as eccentric. But their knowledge of the Japanese language, in a Navy that had only about forty competent Japanese-speakers, was indispensable, as was their mastery of the arcana of cryptanalysis-the sorcerer’s art of deciphering the enemy’s most carefully guarded communications codes” .
With the American team breaking into the Japanese coded messages, this was to prove decisive in the end, as the Japanese navy confronted its worst nightmare. Nagumo’s frequent changes to the plan, as well as his lack of conviction to act expeditiously at crucial moments have contributed to the downfall of the Japanese. Once the codes are broken into, the Japanese position was weakened. According to author Stephen Gorman,
“American aircrafts flew desperate sorties from airfields on Midway and from three aircraft carriers, the Yorktown, Enterprise, and Hornet. Uncertain if they even had enough fuel to return to base, American fliers nonetheless crippled the Japanese fleet, sending four carriers, a heavy cruiser, 253 planes, and 3,500 pilots and sailors to the bottom. The Battle of Midway was Japan’s last offensive, marking the turning point of the war in the Pacific” .
In conclusion, it can be stated that the authors discussed in this essay have shown different styles of scholarship, giving prominence to various aspects of the Battle of Midway. Any student of World War II history, especially those studying the theatre of war in the Pacific, will have to peruse these resources in order to gain a well-rounded understanding of the event. With wide ranging bibliographic references, relevant appendices and footnotes, these authors have adhered to high standards of academic writing. These works further goes on to show how much can still be learned about the Second World War even after 60 years of research and scholarship on the subject.
Gorman, Stephen. 1998. Reawakening Midway. World and I, September, 130+.
Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully. Dulles, Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway, Va.: Potomac Books, 2005. Pp. 613.
Kennedy, David M. 1999. Victory at Sea. The Atlantic Monthly, March, 51.
Winn, Arthur C. 2001. Codebreaking in World War II. Parameters 31, no. 4: 149+.
Weinberg, Gerhard L. World in the Balance: Behind the Scenes of World War II. London: Trustees Brandeis University, 1981.
Spector, Ronald H. Eagle Against The Sun: The American War With Japan. New York: Vintage Books, 1985.