14 Feb 20

With its forerunner, the Battle of the Coral Sea, the aircraft carrier battles of the Pacific between the USN and the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1942 made a profound impact upon naval warfare. Undoubtedly Midway established the trend of maritime operations that is equally relevant today.

This is an informative publication of 164 pages and gives a very useful quick summary of what was a complex battle fought over thousands of square miles of ocean. A useful introduction, The Build up to the Battle, is a very good scene setter and gives the busy reader all the background that he or she needs. The ensuing nine chapters are written in the form of a battle narrative with dates and timings of the action. This makes the book very easy to follow and the reader can pick the book up and put it down again without losing the thread.

It is the wealth of photographs that are packed into the book which make it really stand out. There are the usual familiar illustrations of burning aircraft carriers marking the destruction of the Japanese Navy which no doubt that the reader will have seen many times in other publications. However, the author has brought together pictures of the individual junior officers and men that flew the aircraft and participated in the battle.

We are all familiar with pictures of the likes of Admirals Nimitz, Fletcher and Nagumo but to see the faces of junior personnel who actually flew the aircraft looking out from the pages is very moving. It is certainly a salutary reminder of the true cost of war. Portraits of individuals like Ensigns Osmus and O’Flaherty, who were murdered shortly after capture, are especially evocative. Similarly there are also pictures of some of the Japanese combatants, namely Lieutenants Tomonaga and Kobayashi. In my view it is the abundance of photographs that make this book what it is, otherwise it would only be a narrative of events, albeit clearly laid out, of the actions that took place over that memorable few days.

The book also gave an insight into the lesser known ships involved in the battle – namely the submarine USS Nautilus, which attacked the Kaga together with the minesweeper/ support ship USS Vireo that made a brave and determined attempt to salvage USS Yorktown. Above all the book highlights the vital role of intelligence gathering and assessment followed by its professional employment. The IJN had no idea where the US carrier force was operating, believing they had a clear run for the invasion of Midway Island. An illustration of the many dynamics that make up maritime operations.

At the end of the book there are some thought provoking photographs of the pitifully few Japanese survivors that were taken prisoner after the battle ended. Certainly a salutary reminder, if one was needed, of the fanaticism and sheer professional toughness of the Japanese forces at the time – qualities that were to cause the Allies so much anguish and problems in the future campaigns of the Pacific and South East Asia.

A useful publication, especially for the Staff College student giving a presentation on this momentous event and the lessons learnt from it.