Goodreads: Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway

Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway
Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway by Jonathan Parshall

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For 50 years, the story of Midway has been mistold in the English speaking world. The account of the Japanese plans and actions in the battle were based on a single source, which in the intervening years has been somewhat discredited in Japan. But this account remained, until this book, the definitive story of the Battle of Midway.

That’s the selling point, that’s why you should read this book. But maybe the idea of reading hundreds of pages describing a single naval battle in the less-popular theater of a 70 year old war seems quaint, like reading a book about Trafalgar. I know my wife can’t imagine anything less interesting. The fact of the matter is that this book, and the dozens like it, are simply fascinating. The Japanese Navy spent the whole war trying to arrange a decisive battle, to win a single crushing victory and bring the U.S. to the bargaining table. That’s the story of Leyte Gulf, certainly, but it was their plan here, three years earlier, at Midway, and at every battle in between. Their battle plans were always convoluted and obscure, relying on timing and surprise and racial superiority and the will of the gods. They were comical, and sometimes, as happened when Bull Halsey went chasing after empty aircraft carriers at Leyte, they came within a hair’s breadth of succeeding. It makes for a fundamentally interesting read.

And this was Midway. The Japanese were very near the height of their power, and the U.S. Navy very near its low point, and (spoilers, I guess) through better intelligence and a whole lot of luck, Spruance and the U.S. Navy sent four Japanese carriers, their first two divisions, to the bottom of the Pacific ocean. It was a huge disaster for the Japanese, and one they were in no position to recover from. So of course the Japanese account of the battle is wonderfully compelling.

That’s the focus of this book: the Japanese view of events. We never visit the deck of an American flat top, or follow torpedo bombers on their search for the Imperial fleet. We’re with Akagi when the waves of aircraft from Midway arrive, and we’re with Hiryu when she sinks. We see the frustration of every plan and we feel the shame of the final retreat.

And it’s a good read. It’s narrative where it needs to, it’s technical where it needs to be. It addresses deficits in our historical understanding of the battle.

One note. though: give the Kindle version a miss. The accented characters don’t come through well, and there are a couple of places where it seems an entire line has been dropped. That’s not a Kindle limitation, it looks like the result of a bad file preparation. There are charts and maps, too, so get a paper copy.

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