CENTROPOLIS Entertainment’s “Midway” (2019 film) revisits the 03-07 June 1942 duel between the imperialist Nipponese navy and the United States military, which was a win for the good guys. “Due to American COMINT capabilities, astute intelligence analysis, judicious aircraft carrier tactics, and more than a little luck, the US Navy had inflicted a smashing defeat on the Imperial Japanese Navy. Although the performance of the three American carrier air groups would later be considered uneven, their pilots and crews had won the day through courage, determination, and heroic sacrifice. Against the loss of one US carrier, the Japanese lost four—all of which had participated in the Pearl Harbor attack.
More importantly, the Japanese lost over 100 trained pilots, who could not be replaced. In a larger strategic sense, the Japanese offensive in the Pacific was derailed and their plans to advance on New Caledonia, Fiji, and Samoa postponed.”
The American triumph had many parents and one crucial was communications. “The Battle of Midway has become a classic example of the successful operation of the communications intelligence process. From interception through processing and analysis, through translation to timely reporting, the entire process worked the way it was designed to work.
The United States Naval victory in the Battle of Midway was a direct reflection of a truly incredible performance of the entire Naval Comint organization.”
The Americans scored well, which was reflected in the Japanese action reports: “The Soryu was attacked by 13 dive bombers from 0725. Three hits were scored on her at 0725, 0726, and 0728. By 0730, the fires quickly spread and caused induced explosions from the bomb-storage room, torpedo-storage room, AA and machine-gun-ammunition rooms as well as from gasoline tanks. Fires enveloped the entire ship in no time. By 0740 both engines had stopped. At 0743, attempts were made to steer her, but with the entire ship in flames, she was helpless. ‘Abandon ship’ was ordered at 0745.”
“While most of the officers and men, including the Executive officer, had congregated on deck, having been forced to leave their posts due to the flames, a terrific explosion occurred. The explosion sent them flying into the water.”
“As soon as the fires broke out aboard ship, the captain, Ryusaku Yanagimoto, appeared on the signal tower to the starboard of the bridge. He took command from this post and pleaded that his men seek shelter and safety. He would allow no man to approach him. Flames surrounded him but he refused to give up his post. He was shouting ‘Banzai’ over and over again when heroic death overtook him.”
“Fires died down somewhat by about 1600, and the air officer who was the acting commander, organized fire fighters with the intention of reboarding the ship. However, the ship sank at 1613 and there was a great underwater explosion at 1620.” [http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/Japan/IJN/rep/Midway/Nagumo/]
The American victory was a carrier battle, but the Silent Service was also a responsible contributor to the over-all effort. “Without firing a torpedo the (USS) Tambor had, unwittingly, heavily damaged two of the enemy’s heavy cruisers.” [Schultz, Robert, and James Shell. “Strange fortune: an American sub at the Battle of Midway finds that luck can be a powerful weapon.” World War II magazine, May-June 2010, p. 58; https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A222405781/GPS?u=phup&sid=GPS&xid=2c3ca436]
The Japanese defeat has been providing lessons for the US postwar defense establishment.
“Historically, the Battle of Midway has great relevance because it was more than a battle decisively won over a powerful enemy. In less time than we take today to enjoy a long weekend, the momentum of a war was permanently and totally shifted. All the factors of battle – preparation, engagement, decision-making, valor and good fortune – were confined in one brief passage of time to change the course of history.” [“The Battle of Midway: A legacy for the next greatest generation.” Vital Speeches of the Day, 01 July 2002, p. 571; [https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A89648442/GPS?u=phup&sid=GPS&xid=78fb4c7b]
“A counter-deception business process based on ACH-CD can be applied to military counter-deception…evidence available to the Japanese Navy prior to the Battle of Midway, if analyzed using ACH-CD, might have aided detection of the American deception that allowed the U.S. Pacific Fleet carriers to surprise and ambush the Japanese carriers threatening Midway Island.” [Frank J. Stech and Christopher Elsaesser, The MITRE Corporation, “Midway Revisited: Detecting Deception by Analysis of Competing Hypothesis,” 72nd MORS Symposium, Working Group 8, 22-24 June 2004]
The lessons are writ large. “Although our joint doctrine suggests that major operations are a key part of our operational art in the design of campaigns, our professional literature does not discuss the role and nature of major operations. The role of major operations may be traced back to the concept of the decisive battle which eventually became integrated into campaign planning and the development of operational art in the 20th century. The Battle of Midway demonstrates that major operations are characterized by large scope, a high level of command and planning, relatively short duration, and most importantly, operational or strategic purpose. Major offensive operations may be used to extend operational reach, attack the enemy center of gravity, or achieve command of the air, sea, or littoral areas. Major defensive operations may be used to force the enemy to reach an early culmination point or meet a strategic threat within a theater of operations. In any case major operations result in decisive changes in the theater of operation. In order to achieve such results the operational commander must sequence, prioritize, and support major operations with theater functional systems such as operational fires, intelligence and reconnaissance. In order to ensure our success in future campaigns, our professional literature needs more focus on the doctrine necessary to plan and fight major operations.” [U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Michael R. Matheny. MIDWAY: A CASE STUDY IN THE ROLE OF MAJOR OPERATIONS IN A MARITIME STRATEGY. Naval War College , November 1995 ]
Our sharing of the Midway assessments are precipitated not just by Hollywood but by World War II historian and 2019 Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipino awardee Dr. Ricardo T. Jose who will lecture on “Increasing Historical Awareness: Public History and World War II in the Philippines.”
We join Dr. Jose in advancing Applied History.