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Remember D-Day (the 6th of June), but Don't Forget the Battle of Midway

The popular films Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers keep the D-Day invasion on the annual calendar.  Politicians mark the anniversary and old films of the event are quite familiar to us.  No doubt, the Normandy invasion was the turning point in the war in Europe.

Although often relegated to obscurity by events in the European Theater, let us not forget that the Battle of Midway was fought on June 4-7, 1942, sixty-seven years ago.  While Richard Frank (in his book Guadalcanal) has convinced me that the land, air, and sea battles on and around the island of Guadalcanal (running from August-November 1942) mark the real turning point in the War of the Pacific, nevertheless, at the very least the Battle of Midway ended the Japanese threat to Hawaii and the Western United States.

And while D-Day was long-planned and inevitable, the Battle of Midway was very much a moment by moment affair.  If SBD pilot Wade McClusky had given up his search for the Japanese fleet when he should have, and failed to see that Japanese destroyer headed back toward the four Japanese carriers (Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu), well then, the outcome could have been much different and all American tactical advantage lost. The actions of any one man (Eisenhower excepted), could not have changed the events of June 6.  But at Midway, that was not the case.  One sharped-eyed and determined Navy pilot did.

BTW--I can't wait for the Pacific Theater version of Band of Brothers (Click here: The Pacific (miniseries) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia).  Marine Corp legends "Chesty" Puller and John Basilone will be featured along with the operations of the First Marine Division.

Reader Comments (11)

Amen!! The Pacific theater doesn't get the remembrances that it deserves, but yet we were really close to loosing the war many times.

I haven't heard about that mini-series, but that will be great!
June 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMark VPol
While I don't mean to be persnickety, but actualy Stalingrad was the turning point of the War in Europe. 4 out of every 5 Germans killed in WW2 were at the hands of the Soviets. As much as I honor the sacrifice of the American military in WW2, it pails compared to the sacrifice of the Soviets in the Great Patriotic War.

Now on the other hand Midway was the turning point of the Pacific
June 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDavid
The greatest naval battle in US History WW2 Phillipines Spring of 1945 US Enterprise....Everyone there thought they were gonners....One Destroyer challenged an entire fleet of Japanese Navy while protected abandoned port. Good point about Midway.
June 5, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterrobert kellly

I do mean to be persnickety, and I specifically spoke of the European Theater, which refers to that area of battle directly under control of American commanders. That, of course, excludes the Eastern Front.

The horrors of the Patriotic War exceed anything the world has known--granted.

But with the D-Day anniversary coming, simply I offered this post to remind us to commemorate American victories and veterans . . .

OK, I'll stop being persnickety now.
June 5, 2009 | Registered CommenterKim Riddlebarger
In one section of his book "The Price of Admiralty", John Keegan does a fine job in relating the pivotal nature of the Battle of Midway. Here's an excerpt:

"Still ninety-three aircraft -- Vals and Kates -- were ready to depart. The time for the decisive strike against the American carriers, whose location was now known within close limits, had been fixed for 1030. The Japanese air groups were intact, greatly outnumbered the American groups even before they had suffered their recent losses and must certainly succeed in devastating Hornet, Enterprise and Yorktown, at latest by noon. 'At 1020', as Fuchida described the scene, 'Admiral Nagumo gave the order to launch when ready. On Akagi's flight deck all planes were in position with engines warming up. The big ship began turning into the wind. Within five minutes all her planes must be launched.

"Those five minutes were to constitute one of the few truly crucial 'moments of decision' which can be isolated in the whole course of warfare. At 1025 Nagumo stood poised on the brink of perhaps the greatest naval victory ever promised an admiral, certain to be spectacular in itself and destined to alter the balance of power between the Western and the Asian world for decades to come. At 1030 he confronted not victory but disaster. This change of fortune was the result of two accidents. The first was the course chosen, quite by chance, an hour earlier, by Yorktown's torpedo-bombers, which gave them sight of the Japanese carriers and so called their combat air patrol down to sea level. The second was the random intervention of an American submarine Nautilus, whose straying into the First Air Fleet's path caused a destroyer, Araski, to be detached from the carriers to drop depth charges. Araski's depth charges missed; but the white ribbon of its wake, as it worked up speed to rejoin Nagumo's covering screen, caught the eye of the leader of Enterprise's dive-bomber group of 0955 and sowed a seed of suspicion.

"Enterprise's Bombing 6 squadron had, like others, lost its way when Nagumo altered course. Now its leader, Lieutuenant-Commander Wade McClusky, detected, even from 14,000 feet, that Araski was in a hurry and guessed that she was steaming to rejoin the Japanese main body. ..." (pp. 204).

Wonderful reminder Kim. Thanks for the post.
June 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDoug
Hi, Kim.

Interesting exchange.

There were several critical turning points of the war in Europe:

Battle of Britain, Battle of El Alamein, Battle of Stalingrad, Battle of Kursk, D-Day, Battle of the Bulge

Hope you don't mind me sharing a brief outline that I prepared a few years ago.

* Ten Reasons for the Importance of D-Day* (on the 65th anniversary: June 6, 2009):

Kenneth Richard Samples

1. A second allied front would take the pressure off the Soviet army (fighting on the eastern front for nearly five years, but made much of its gains toward Germany following D-Day).

2. A second allied front would divide the German armed forces, thus leading ultimately to Germany’s defeat.

3. D-Day was the “climactic battle” of World War II because if Germany could stop the Anglo-American invasion, then maybe the Wehrmacht (German army) could have been able to stabilize the eastern front before the Soviets advanced too close to Germany (Field Marshal Erich von Manstein believed he could stop the Soviets indefinitely).

4. If Germany was going to stop the Anglo-American forces it would have to take place on the Normandy beaches, before the allies established a foothold on the French coast (this was Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's view).

5. If Germany would have been successful in turning back the Normandy invasion and holding back the Soviet advance, the war in Europe may have ended in a stalemate.

6. The failure of the Normandy invasion may have given Germany time to regroup militarily, and possibly to develop its secret weapons (atomic bomb, intercontinental ballistic missiles). It would have also given the Nazis more time to carry out its war against the Jews (Holocaust).

7. Without a clear victory against Germany by the allies, the war in the Pacific against the Japanese may have been seriously jeopardized.

8. If Germany remained in the war, America wouldn’t have been able to focus its full attention upon the Japanese forces. The allied plan of victory was to defeat Germany first, then to focus on Japan.

9. The unconditional surrender of the axis powers rested on the success of the Normandy invasion.

10. The security and future success of Western democracy was on the line of June 6, 1944. The goal of the D-Day invasion was to stop the tyranny and oppression of Nazi Germany, and thus to stop the axis powers in their evil attempt to rule the world.

Finally, D-Day was critically important in the Cold War. NATO was the outgrowth of the Anglo-American success at D-Day.
June 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKenneth Samples
Great post!!

Dr. Riddlebarger, have you had a chance yet to read Shattered Sword by Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully? GREAT book, with some insights to Midway that havn't been been made widely in the West yet. The authors talk about how the differences in American and Japanese carrier design had a HUGE impact on the way the fleets fought; how Western historians have relied far too heavily on Fuchida's testimony; how the timeline we have come to memorize isn't quite accurate, because while the ship's logs of the sunken Japanese carriers were lost, the logs of the air groups from those carriers were NOT lost, and they have been largely overlooked by Western historians; and all sorts of other great stuff. I had an e-mail discussion with Parshall, and his agent for Shattered Sword was James D. Hornfischer, the author of Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors.
June 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGrinningDwarf
Well said! It's unfortunate, however, that the efforts of the US Army in New Guinea rarely attract much attention. The conditions were just as difficult as Guadacanal, but the campaign was far more protracted and the commitment just as heroic.
June 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterWarwick McNamara
For those of you interested in Mitsuo Fuchida's view of the Battle of Midway you should read - "Midway: The Battle That Doomed Japan, the Japanese Navy's Story By Mitsuo Fuchida and Masatake Okumiya"

He "providentially" escaped death on the sinking Akagi, already suffering from an appendectomy that confined him to sick bay. He was also in Hiroshima the day before the Americans dropped the first Atomic bomb and subsequently survived a "follow-up" inspection the day after the bomb went off without suffering any apparent effects from the radiation.

God's Samurai : Lead Pilot at Pearl Harbor by Dillon, Prange , Goldstein is another good read bout Mitsuo Fuchida's early life in Japan and conversion to Christianity. Excellent book on understanding Fuchida.

My neighbor Danny invited me to a Youth for Christ rally at First Baptist Church in Spokane, Washington and as a pre-teen I heard Mitsuo Fuchida confess his faith in Christ. A moment I will never forget, even though I had not yet trusted in Christ. It was either in the late 50's or early 60's as I remember.

I am a witness to one participant in this heroic sea battle and I'll never forget it.
June 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJ. Eric
"For those of you interested in Mitsuo Fuchida's view of the Battle of Midway you should read - "Midway: The Battle That Doomed Japan, the Japanese Navy's Story By Mitsuo Fuchida and Masatake Okumiya""

According to Parshall and Tully in Shattered Sword, Western historians have been relying far too heavily on Fuchida's accounts, which differ significantly from Genda's accounts, and the logs of the Kido Butai's air groups. In fact, in the 70s, Japanese historians would ask American historians "You guys are STILL using Fuchida?!"

Fuchida has a wonderful testimony, but it certainly appears that his memoirs were written with one eye toward the audience...namely, the American victors.
June 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGrinningDwarf
I visited USS Intrepid over weekend...They have a Concord there too plus a Sub and many airplanes including Israeli one that We borrowed and used as aggressive fight training ...attackers i think...New York New York ...psst you get in free if you have Bank of America acct.
June 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterrobert kellly

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