I’ve spent a great deal of time throughout my life reading about WWII in general. I was born a few years after the end of the war and grew up in a society in which virtually everyone’s father took part in one way or another. My father was a 1943 West Point grad who was a company commander with the 101st Airborne when the Germans shot him up very badly at the Battle of the Bulge, crippling him physically for life, but not mentally as he later got a MS Degree in Chemical Engineering.
But for some reason, I’ve always been most fascinated with the Pacific war, and especially with Midway. I’ve lost count of the number of books I’ve read on the battle and can specifically recommend Shattered Sword, a history taken from the Japanese viewpoint.
Midway, the battle turned on the purest of luck and very easily could have gone the other way had 3 or 4 isolated throws of the dice gone otherwise. The US would have eventually won the war anyway but it would have been a longer and harder version of the already desperate and bloody struggle that it was.
Below, a photo of interest, it is the last actual aircraft still in existence to have taken part in the battle. This SBD Dauntless was based on Midway Island and wasn’t one of the 3 squadrons of SBDs from Enterprise (I think) that luckily found the Japanese fleet as all their fighter defenses were down at wave top height finishing off a squadron of torpedo bombers. The next 5 minutes proved decisive as those SBDs sank 3 of the 4 Japanese carriers.
The plane in the photo made it’s attack earlier but none of the Midway Island aircraft made any hits. After the battle, this plane was flown to the point of decrepitude and sent back to the US for use in training new pilots. Some US Navy Ensign pilot candidate managed to put this aircraft in the drink while trying to land on a training carrier in one of the great lakes where it remained until salvaged 50 years later. The wreck was taken to NAS Pensacola where it was restored and is currently on display at the US Naval Air Museum.
This 2019 film attempts to provide an accurate modern version of the story of the pivotal WW II naval battle at Midway. The only actors whose names I recognized were Woody Harrelson as Admiral Nimitz, Dennis Quaid as Admiral Halsey and Mandy Moore as Ann Best, the wife of the hero of the movie Dick Best. Since this is an historical drama, I won’t add a spoiler warning but if you actually don’t know what happened at Midway then go to the last paragraph for my recommendation.
The movie begins with a scene in pre-war Japan where Edwin Layton is an American naval attaché and intelligence officer. His Japanese counterpart Isoroku Yamamoto warns him that Japan will eventually attack America as part of its plan to dominate East Asia.
In December 1941 we meet Lieutenant Dick Best a naval aviator on the aircraft carrier, USS Enterprise. He is a hotshot dive bomber and he is being sent on leave to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. But when his plane nears Pearl Harbor, he comes under attack from the Japanese aircraft that have just destroyed the US naval fleet. Best’s plane is shot down but he escapes alive.
This devastating attack leaves Japan with an enormous advantage over the American fleet. Specifically, the Japanese have six aircraft carriers to America’s two. The War Department assigns Admiral Nimitz to do whatever is necessary to prosecute the war against the Japanese until replacement aircraft carriers can be built. The plan they fix on is to surprise the Japanese at Midway and destroy as many of their aircraft carriers as possible.
Layton is put in charge of the effort to decode Japanese messages and use them to locate the Japanese fleet and lay the trap. On the day of the battle the Enterprise sends out its planes along with bombers from Midway but they have trouble locating the fleet. And they lose a number of planes to the Japanese aircraft. But eventually they find the fleet and attack. Most of the American flyers are shot down but the Japanese fleet is only damaged but not destroyed. Best and his squadron return to the Enterprise and head out again for a last desperate attempt to finish off the carriers. And they succeed. Best sinks two of the carriers himself. By the end of the day all four of the Japanese carriers have been sunk and Admiral Yamamoto orders the rest of his fleet to retreat. The defeat gives the Americans the time they need to rebuild their fleet.
The makers of this movie made an effort to make it historically accurate. The names of the protagonists are real. Obviously, some license was taken for dramatic purposes but the story has not been made politically correct or overly propagandistic. I enjoyed watching it. The acting was decent, the special effects are very good and it maintains a pro-American viewpoint throughout. One touch I especially liked was the quote by Admiral Yamamoto after hearing Roosevelt’s speech after Pearl Harbor, “”I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” I recommend this movie to patriotic Americans. Everybody else can fend for himself.