Saturday, January 12th, 2013
1:29 pm - The Heyday of the IJN  
The Midway Campaign — Jack Greene

If a book can be awkward, this book about the first six months of the war in the Pacific is awkward. Start with the title. There really was no Midway campaign as such. The book covers the entire Pacific war from Pearl Harbor up to the Battle of Midway, the period of Japanese expansion, including many operations (most of them, actually) that had nothing to do with Midway. Midway wasn't specifically chosen as a target by the Japanese until near the end of that period, after the Battle of the Coral Sea. The title was apparently chosen when the rights to an earlier book, published as War at Sea, were purchased by the publisher of a series of books known as The Great Campaigns. They "revised and expanded" the original book to make it fit with the other books in the series, which were mostly about campaigns of the Civil War. Needing a name for their "campaign," they chose the battle that marked the end of Japanese expansion. There's only about thirty pages on the battle and the events leading up to it, plus another six pages in the appendix listing the orders of battle.

There are also some silly errors* and odd grammatical constructions that seem to me to indicate that the book wasn't especially well edited. And then there is the content. For the most part, I thought it was a pretty good summary of the early events of the war, along with some decent analysis, and considered all sides in the conflict. Most of my previous exposure has been pretty much solely about the American part of the conflict (S.E. Morison, mostly), and I didn't know a lot about Japan's moves into Southeast Asia, the East Indies, and the Indian Ocean.

* The Arizona and Oklahoma, the two battleships that were not able to be repaired after Pearl Harbor, were NOT sister ships. They didn't even have the same number of guns.

Then I got to the Coral Sea, and found this little nugget, seemingly from out of nowhere, in the description of the situations facing the two sides after the battle (emphasis and brackets are mine):

The [Japanese] Carrier Strike Force had only 39 planes immediately available, most of which were Zeros [as opposed to attack aircraft]. Admiral Takagi, who was not one to press home a success as shown at the Battle of the Java Sea, agreed with his orders from [Admiral] Inoue to retire to Truk. It should be noted that Japanese officers tended to be physically overweight as a rule and out of shape. This physical state may have affected their work, as several times during the war many higher Japanese officers tended not to perform their duties with vigor.

Contrast this with the paragraph immediately ahead of it in the book, looking the situation from the American Admiral Fletcher's point of view:

The problem for [US] Task Force 17 was twofold at this point. First, the Yorktown, with some orphaned planes from the Lexington, many of which were damaged, had only seven torpedoes in the magazine for the Devastators and had only 31 planes total by the afternoon of 8 May capable of forming a strike. Secondly, Fletcher had intelligence that the Kaga [which would have added a third carrier against Fletcher's one] was in the enemy's lineup, a report seemingly confirmed when a land based scout reported another fleet carrier present. Finally, [Admiral] Nimitz ordered a retirement to conserve his fleet carrier strength, thinking the attack on Port Moresby had been turned back. As Nimitz said later, "Inflicting damage on the enemy is no compensation for being sunk yourself."

So, the Japanese lost the war because their officers were fat and therefore lazy? Really? Takagi should have stayed to finish off Yorktown despite having few bombers to do it with**, a damaged carrier of his own, and orders from his superior to return to base? Meanwhile, Fletcher is essentially facing the same situation, but since he's skinny he gets a pass when he follows Nimitz's orders to return home***. I was ready to fling the book. Not to mention the fact that I count three things amongst TF 17's two-fold problem. But then no one expects the Spanish Inquisition...

** One of the things about the early carrier battles that is truly stunning is the attrition rates on both sides for both planes and, more importantly, trained pilots. One of the reasons the US prevailed was that we had a much better system for training and replacing pilots than Japan did. Zuikaku, Takagi's undamaged carrier, was unavailable for the Battle of Midway because it had to train up replacements. Yorktown had trained replacements waiting for it when it returned to Hawaii.

*** Fletcher would eventually be shunted aside from carrier command after the Battle of the Eastern Solomons for being similarly conservative in the view of some.

Anyway, I found the book to be a useful summary of the early war, as well as an appendix containing extensive orders of battles for the many operations discussed, although now I have to wonder about the analysis provided for those events. It's a shame, because the analysis up until the cited bit seemed pretty even-handed until I hit the Coral Sea.

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