by Gordon W. with Donald M. Goldstein & Katherine V. Dillon Prange ‧ RELEASE DATE: Oct. 25, 1982
Six months after Pearl Harbor, an underdog American naval force turned the tide of the Pacific War at Midway--in a contest as humiliating to the Japanese as the Pearl Harbor attack was to the US. From this unusual perspective, at once analytical and compassionate, the late Gordon Prange wrote a natural successor to At Dawn We Slept (which, once again, his associates have completed). The authors seek not only the causes of the shattering Japanese defeat (many of which, as they note, emerged in official post-mortems); but also the reasons for--in Walter Lord's phrase--America's ""incredible victory."" These come to light--as a bit of luck, the outcome of an argument, a bold or prudent decision--in the course of a narrative largely based on the testimony of the principals (many of whom Prange interviewed in the '60s). On the Japanese side, there was overconfidence--so, not the careful preparation that went into Pearl Harbor. Yamamoto, the commander-in-chief, had two, incompatible aims--1) to seize Midway; 2) to lure out and destroy the US Pacific Fleet--and the wrong order of priority. To protect the Midway invasion, he planned a diversionarY attack on the Aleutians; to mount the invasion, he split his forces. As some of his officers foresaw during tabletop maneuvers, he lost the advantage of his overwhelming power. And no one planned for the possibility that the American fleet would sortie before Midway was seized. When American carriers were sighted, Nagumo, commander of the First Air Fleet, was in a quandary: his pilots were returning, out of fuel, from bombing Midway; most of his bombers were not fitted with torpedoes. Should he let his pilots land--and lose time? Or send up what he could--and lose lives? His four carriers, moreover, were massed: if American bombers found one, they could strike them all. . . . The Americans, famously, knew Japanese plans from signal intelligence. But Nimitz had the good sense to believe that intelligence; to name Spruance, a calm sort, in the ailing Halsey's place; to send lots of air power, and no ""dead wood"" battleships, to Midway; to insist on ""the principle of calculated risk."" His commanders, Spruance and Fletcher, followed through. Otherwise: American flight crews were untrained; American materiel (planes, guns, torpedoes) was a disaster, Wave after wave of land-based bombers from Midway, and torpedo bombers from the carrier fleet, went down in flames without a single hit on Nagumo's carriers--until, with no more bravery or determination, ""the dive bombers accomplished in three minutes what the preceding attack waves had failed to in three hours."" The reasons? One pilot's enterprise, and lucky timing. Among the myriad consequences are the decisions of individual Japanese commanders to commit suicide, or not. Combining dimension, acuity, and depth: a splendid and exciting accomplishment.
Pub Date: Oct. 25, 1982
Page Count: -
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1982
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