Shattered Sword, the Battle of Midway

Discussion in 'Non-fiction' started by davparlr, Apr 17, 2011.

  1. davparlr

    davparlr Well-Known Member

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    Shattered Sword by Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully

    I just got through reading Shattered Sword and I found it very educational. It was very interesting to read about Midway from data provided by the Japanese memories and reports. Here are a few comments I have about the information the book provide.

    The book tried to debunk several prevalent opinions about the battle. Three of these I would like to discuss.

    One was the concept that the US forces were battling overwhelming odds. The book was effective in showing that at the point of battle, the US forces were at least equal and quantitatively advantageous.

    Japanese forces, 1st Carrier Striking Force

    4 Carriers, Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, and Hiryu
    72 Fighters
    70 Dive-bombers
    81 Torpedo-bombers
    2 Recon
    225 Total assets plus 2 spares

    2 battleships

    2 cruisers
    4 maybe 5 recon planes each

    12 destroyers

    15 subs

    American forces

    3 Carriers, Yorktown, Enterprise, and Hornet
    79 Fighters (F4F-3s)
    105 Dive-Bombers (SBD-3s)
    41 Torpedo planes (TPD-1s)
    225 Total assets

    8 Cruisers

    15 destroyers

    12 subs

    Midway Naval Air Station

    26 Fighters, 22 F2A-3s, 4 F4F-3s
    30 (crewed) Dive bombers, 11 SB2U-3 (Vindicator), 16 SBD-2 (Dauntless)
    10 Torpedo planes, 6 TBFs, 4 B-26s
    15 Heavy bombers, B-17Es
    16 Recon (PBY-5As)

    97 Total assets

    Total American assets available 322

    As can be seen, the American airborne forces around Midway were superior in quantity, the Japanese only an advantage in torpedo bombers, but certainly arguably not in quality. However it apparently cannot be stated that the Americans were facing overwhelming odds, just as the authors argue. While the overall Japanese fleet was indeed much more powerful than the American fleet, it had been dispersed far too much to participate in the main battle. When the battle was over, without air cover, the Japanese had nowhere to go but home.


    Now some personal quality assessments of opposing forces, base on my reading of the book.

    General attitude. The Japanese were arrogant and bigoted when assessing the American forces facing them, just as the Americans were with assessing the Japanese before Pearl Harbor. This allowed them to dismiss problems when war gaming, dismissing the question what would they do if the Americans were already at Midway by stating, basically, they would handle it. In addition, American forces were highly energized in meeting the threat, while the Japanese was taking it in stride after months of impressive successes. In today’s language, the Americans were more hungry for victory.

    Commanders. You need to read the book. To me, the American commanders were aggressive and pounced when the prey was sighted. The Japanese did not believe they could be the prey and failed to adequately prepare.

    Flight organization. The Japanese were expert at the combined attack, which the authors partially blame for they’re failure at Midway. The Americans were not ready for prime time in that their attacks were haphazardly organized and poorly coordinated. Apparently, only the Yorktown, maybe from Coral Sea experience, was able to coordinate its aircraft for attack. The poor Hornet could have stayed home and the outcome would have been the same except Ensign Gay would not be the only survivor of VT-8. It did finally help sink the cruiser Mikuma. The helter-skelter attack of the Americans worked but at a high cost. Sadly, F4Fs were orbiting above, awaiting a call to attack, when Hornet VT-8 and Enterprise VT-6 were being pummeled. Unfortunately, it seems the radios did not work well and the F4Fs never heard VT-8.

    Carriers and carrier ops. The American carriers were clearly superior to their Japanese counter parts. The three American carriers carried the same aircraft complement as the four Japanese carriers. In addition, the American carriers were better designed, and the crews better trained, for damage control. The poor design of the Japanese carriers and the standard Japanese practice of hanger deck fueling and arming were fatal.



    Pilots. In my opinion, at the time of Midway, the Japanese were the best Navy pilots in the world. They were well trained, motivated, confident, and experienced. The U.S. Navy pilots on the carriers were well experienced flyers and some had seen combat at the Coral Sea and elseware. They also were well trained, motivated, and confident. They did not have the experience of the Japanese flyers. They would learn fast.

    Aircraft.
    Fighters
    Zero type 21. The Zero was most likely the best Naval fighter at the time of Midway. It was as fast as the F4F-3, had better fire power (although they only had about 7 seconds of 20mm and then they had pea shooters), and certainly could out maneuver and out climb it. It was vulnerable because of lack of armor and self-sealing tanks, however, the F4F-3 was only just in process of adding these. I do not know if all the F4F-3s used at Midway had this update. The Zero also had great range.

    F2A-3. The Brewster Buffalo has been highly maligned for its performance in the Pacific. It must be noted here that, unlike the first F4F-3s, the F2A-3 apparently had armor and self-sealing tanks (Dean). Comparing the F2A-3 to the equally equipped F4F-3A and F4F-4, it is difficult to objectively identify any significant airborne performance advantages to the F4F. The F4F-4 had six .50s instead of the four .50s on the F2A-3. The F2A-3 was faster than both the F4F-3A and the F4F-4, with similar climb and ceiling. The F2A-3 did have weak landing gear that made it marginal for carrier operations. I do not know the experience level of the various forces that used it against the highly competent Japanese; this includes the Dutch, British, and Marines. This would have affected the overall performance of the plane. At Midway, 15 F2A-3s were shot down out of 22 launched (estimate varies a bit) or 68 percent, a large loss. Enemy losses are unknown. F4F-3s flown by the Marines also suffered disastrous losses to the Japanese with two of the four shot down.

    F4F-3. As noted before, the F4F-3 Wildcat was equal in speed but not a maneuverable to the Zero, but was sturdier. While inferior to the Zero, in hands of very capable Navy and Marine pilots, was able to perform quite well.

    Torpedo Bombers
    B5N2. With a range of 1000 miles and a top speed of 235 mph, the B5N2, while underpowered, was a capable and deadly torpedo bomber.

    TBD-1. The TBD Devastator was an obsolete aircraft with half the range and 30 mph slower than the B5N2. With a target run approach speed of around 115 mph (according to the book), it was suicide to fly these planes into battle unescorted and not much better if escorted.

    TBF. The TBF Avenger was clearly superior to the first two torpedo bombers, with good range and high speed. It should be noted that the TBF was not much more successful than the TBD although they did deliver torpedoes. It also must be noted that the Marine pilots who flew the TBFs were not experienced and the Japanese noted they did not perform their attacks well (according to the book).

    B-26. While mostly unknown for their role at Midway, the Marauder was probably the best torpedo bomber in the battle. There were only four available and, while losing 2 on the attack, 50% survival rate was considerably better than the other unescorted American torpedo bombers (the TBFs, attacking at the same time, lost five out of six). In addition, there are claims that three of the bombers dropped torpedoes, none hit/exploded. The book states “Both types (TBF, B-26) were big and robust, and the B-26 was blazing fast as well”, and, “… the Japanese found the B-26s speedy and difficult to bring down. Not only that, but the sleek American bombers had a decent defensive armament as well.” The B-26 shot down one Zero. One B-26 actually flew down the deck of the Akagi strafing the ship, killing two sailors. One of the ones that was shot down barely missed hitting the island on the Akagi, before it spun into the water. It is apparent that the B-26s made deep penetration into the Japanese fleet.

    Torpedoes. The Japanese torpedoes were superb and deadly. The American torpedoes were junk. It is hard to say if the torpedo planes missed the targets or that the torpedoes didn’t work. The Japanese did not seem to say that some torpedoes struck and did not explode. Of course, they may have just thought it was a miss.

    Dive Bomber
    D3A1-C. The Japanese dive bomber was a fixed gear, basically obsolete, dive bomber that proved adequate and effective in destroying the enemy.

    SBD-2. The SBD-2 Dauntless was an excellent design that proved stable and effective in several roles and was able, with a good pilot, to go to nose-to-nose with enemy fighters when cleaned up.

    SB2U-3. The SB2U Vindicator was an obsolete but capable dive bomber used by the Marines at Midway and were ineffective in the battle.
     
  2. davparlr

    davparlr Well-Known Member

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    Opinion number two the book tried to debunk and that I would like to discuss is that “the sacrifice of USS Hornet’s Torpedo Squadron Eight was not in vain”. The authors argue convincingly that, counter to popular beliefs, Torpedo Squadron Eight sacrificial attack could not have caused the Japanese fighters to a lower level where they could not protect the Japanese carriers from the approaching dive bomber squadrons. According to the book timeline, Torpedo Eight attacked around 0915 and the attack was over, the last plane shot down, at 0935. The dive bombers started their attack at around 1020, about 45 minutes later, so the combat air patrol (CAP) Zeros could easily have assembled and climb to intercept the oncoming bombers. Enterprise Torpedo Squadron Six arrived at about 0940 and their attack ended about 1010. At that time Yorktown Torpedo Squadron Three arrived and it was during this attack that the dive bombers arrive. So it was VT-6 and VT-3 attacks that kept the CAP at low altitude, not Hornet’s VT-8.

    Where I disagree with the authors is their implication that VT-8’s sacrifice was in vain. I do not believe any of the attacks on the Japanese were in neither vain nor ineffective. Here is the time line of attacks against the Japanese carrier force on June 4th.

    0705-0725 TBFs and B-26s from Midway attack
    30 minute pause
    0755-0835 SBDs and B-17s from Midway attack
    40 minute pause
    0915-0935 Hornet TBDs attack
    5 minute pause
    0940-1010 Enterprise TBDs attack
    01010-1040 Yorktown TBDs attack
    1020-1035 Enterprise SBDs and Yorktown SBDs attack

    Three carriers afire and out of action

    As I looked at this and realize that for every attack the carriers have to maneuver violently disrupting landings, launches, rearming, refueling, spotting and then they have to realign themselves with the wind, all I could think about was that old saying “It is hard to remember that your job is to drain the swamp when you are up to you’re a*s in alligators”. It seems to me that the Japanese had very little time to think much less act. In my opinion, all of those attacks contributed to the victory at Midway.

    The last debunk I will address here was that the majority of the Japanese aircrews were lost at Midway. The authors convincingly make the argument that about 25% of the Japanese aircrews were lost at Midway and that the real loss of aircrews occurred during the Solomon campaign.


    Fascinating book, I will have more posts.
     
  3. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    Fantastic book. Once I started reading it, I never put it down!
     
  4. Wildcat

    Wildcat Well-Known Member

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    Sounds like a great book, I'll be sure to look out for it. Agree about the American torpedos being junk, our Beauforts crews were about to get an education as well...
     
  5. tomo pauk

    tomo pauk Creator of Interesting Threads

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    Thanks for sharing, David. One has always something to learn :)
     
  6. Wayne Little

    Wayne Little Well-Known Member

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    Ditto on that, excellent reading...!
     
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