I’ve been reading history for 40 years, and in that time, I’ve read dozens, if not hundreds, of battle narratives. Of them all, this is the best–Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway, by Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully.
June 4, 1942 is the best and most important day in the history of the United States Navy. Conversely, for the Imperial Japanese Navy, it’s the worst. In the space of that one single day–actually, within about five critical minutes–they lost the offensive core of the best, most powerful, hardest-hitting fleet the world had ever seen.
How that happened–from the Japanese perspective–is the story of Shattered Sword.
Using Japanese sources that haven’t colored previous English-language histories, Parshall and Tully reconstruct the battle from the star chambers, bridges, flight decks, cockpits, and engine rooms of the Imperial Japanese Navy, debunking many myths that have crept into the common American version of the the battle.
Parshall and Tully pick up the threads at the beginning of planning for the Midway operation, and guided by their extraordinary research, it’s fascinating to watch the disaster unfold from the vantage of the Japanese fleet, until on the fateful morning, constant, albeit piecemeal, American attacks harry the Japanese carrier task force. The early American efforts score not a single hit, but forced to deal with them one-by-one, the Japanese lose the ability to dictate the tempo of events. They could only react, and they were back on their heels when, at 1022, the first American dive bombers tipped over to deliver the crushing blows. By 1026–a mere 4 minutes later–when Lt. George Best planted a 1,000 pound bomb directly amidships on the Akagi, pride of the Imperial Japanese Navy, three Japanese aircraft carriers were doomed. Later that afternoon, a fourth met its end.
Parshall and Tully describe flaws in the Japanese strategic and operational concepts, the egregious methodology of their wargaming and contingency planning, how their military philosophies caused potentially lethal flaws to be engineered into their aircraft carrier design, and a host of other operational and tactical shortcomings that culminated in their aircraft carrier battle group being on the receiving end of the single most decisive airstrike in naval history.
Shattered Sword is exceptionally convincing history, and it’s absolutely fascinating. I couldn’t recommend it more strongly.