Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Battle of Midway

The last few days I have been reading the Battle of Midway by Craig L. Symonds.  A very readable general history of the early days of the war and of course the battle itself.  The book starts right after Pearl Harbor when Nimitz is assigned to CINCPACFLT, covers the battle of the Coral Sea, the Doolittle raid, and then fairly exhaustively covers the planning and execution of the actual battle.

Prior to reading this book, I did not know much about Midway, other than that crypto intercepted some of the plans from the Japanese, and that the torpedo bombers were wiped out, which allowed the dive bombers to do their thing.  I saw some reference somewhere to how D-day was celebrated, but Midway was not, even though Midway was much more critical to the overall war effort, and that prompted me to read this book.

As this book is fairly new, it covers the most current research and understanding of the battle, which at least in a few cases is counter to the "received" history that many understand.  The author spends extra effort to explain what the crypto folks did and did not have on the Japanese fleet's movements leading up to the invasion of Midway, and extra effort explaining what happened during the "flight to nowhere" when the USS Hornet's attack element flew away from the known contacts until they had to turn back for loss of fuel.  In the first case the crypto folks had the date, target, and rough composition of the Japanese forces deduced, but not composition of task forces, or actual locations. In the second case the flight probably suffered from a combination effect of looking for a "second carrier group" (however, all four were operating together), and poor navigational technique.

This book was quite enjoyable, and given that it is clearly a "general history" rather than a scholarly work, quite readable as well. I can now say that I know quite a bit more about the battle and what lead up to it, and since that was the goal of the endeavor, it should be judged as a success. The book also made me more interested in gaming this period, and I spent some time looking at the (glorious, and at $20 per CV costly) GHQ 1/2400 ships.

Wargaming the Battle of Midway specifically would be difficult, since the battle hinges on the surprise of having three carriers where none are expected, timing of search patterns, and of course beyond visual range combat, none of which are easy to incorporate in a game, particularly without umpires (or computers). For that reason, it seems that a board game would probably do it best; however a search of boardgamegeek did not yield a clear "winner", so that avenue remains to be explored.

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