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A DAWN LIKE THUNDER by Robert J. Mrazek


The True Story of Torpedo Squadron Eight

by Robert J. Mrazek

Pub Date: Dec. 8th, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-316-02139-5
Publisher: Little, Brown

Satisfying though excessively popularized history of the bomber group that, legend has it, won the Battle of Midway.

In the History Channel version, during the darkest days of World War II American carrier planes took off on June 4, 1942, to attack the immense Japanese fleet approaching Midway Island. Orders called for a simultaneous strike, but the planes separated, and Torpedo Squadron Eight sighted the enemy first. Attacking at sea level and unprotected by American fighters, the slow bombers were easy meat for defending Japanese Zeros, which shot down every plane. No torpedo struck home, yet these men did not die in vain. While the Zeros were preoccupied, American dive-bombers arrived overhead and attacked unopposed, sinking the Japanese carriers and winning the battle. Novelist and former congressman Mrazek (The Deadly Embrace, 2006, etc.) provides 200 pages of gripping details that do not tarnish the squadron’s heroism but reveal spectacular incompetence among higher commanders. Two months after Midway, the survivors fought around Guadalcanal, a second critical battle in which outnumbered Americans inflicted a crushing defeat on the Japanese. While their role was less crucial, the squadron’s bombers inflicted considerable damage, becoming the most decorated naval air unit in history but also the one suffering the highest combat losses. Similar books concentrate on fighters and traditional bombers, so this account of torpedo planes offers an original perspective. Serious history buffs will be irritated by the docudrama style, which features invented dialogue and purports to reveal characters’ thoughts and feelings, often up to the moment they die. Yet events undoubtedly happened more or less as Mrazek describes, and his massive original research has produced a richly detailed story that never flags.

Despite the lowbrow historiography, an admirable addition to the histories of air battles that turned the tide against the Japanese.