By John Mills
The Battle of Midway has gripped the imagination of the American public for decades since it occured in June 1942. There have been dozens, if not hundreds, of books written on the so-called ‘turning point’ of the war. Authors Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully work to dispel a lot of commonly-held beliefs about the battle in “Shattered Sword.” They do this by telling, for the first time by western authors, the Japanese side of the story, previously only told in Mitsuo Fuchida’s book “Midway: The Battle that Doomed Japan, the Japanese Navy’s Story.” Parshall and Tully go to great pains to deconstruct the most egregious errors propagated by this book.
In a first for western authors, Parshall and Tully gained access to thousands of pages of reports, flight logs, and post-battle analyses in their original Japanese form. Translating these primary source documents gave a very different picture of the Japanese side of the battle than had been repeated in books parroting Fuchida’s book since its writing. By also reviewing American archival sources, the authors put together probably the most accurate overall book on the battle yet written.
The book does an excellent job busting some of the most persistent myths of the battle and also attempts to explain where the myths may have come from. For instance, one of the longest enduring myths of the battle was that the Japanese carriers were on the verge of launching a strike against their U.S. counterparts, the flight decks full as U.S. dive bombers struck home. This is pure fiction according to the Japanese records, which state that all the Japanese planes on board their ships were below decks being re-armed. This is just one standout example of the kind of work Parshall and Tully do in the book to peel back the veil on the battle.
One of the most interesting things, especially for someone interested in the finer details of WWII, is the differences in ship design and tactical theory between the Imperial Japanese Navy and U.S. Navy. By elaborating upon these differences in great detail, for instance seemingly little things such as having to warm up engines on the flight deck versus hangar, Parshall and Tully put together a compelling picture of how a thousand little deficiencies sank four Japanese aircraft carriers in one day. Despite the depth and level of detail, it should not be assumed that “Shattered Sword” is a dry or difficult read. On the contrary, it’s written such that everything has context and purpose. None of the information presented is given just because it’s supposed to be there; it’s all written for a reason.
The great success of “Shattered Sword” is presenting, in an accessible fashion, as close as possible to the true narrative of one of the most important battles of WWII. It is far enough removed from the actual events so as to be almost entirely free of bias, and close enough to still be able to access the records necessary to put together a proper picture of what happened, and for that, Parshall and Tully should be appropriately congratulated.