The Battle of Midway, plus 70: five great reads

Today marks the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Midway. On this date, the U.S. destroyed four carriers and cut the heart out of the Japanese Kido Butai. It would be two more years before the Japanese Navy was completely defeated, and another year after that before Japan would surrender, but Midway was the event that signaled the turning of the tide and the end of the period of perceived Japanese invincibility.

There are several books that deal with Midway that are well worth reading and which can fill you in on the details of the battle:

1. A Glorious Page in Our History, by Robert Cressman, Steve Ewing, Barrett Tillman, Mark Horan, Clark Reynolds and Stan Cohen

Assemble a team of aviation history all-stars and this is what you get: the authoritative overview of the battle, focusing on the American side. This book is comprehensive, down to rosters of every American unit participating in the battle (except VB-8 and VS-8, a minor omission) including crew names and aircraft numbers. Modelers seeking to build American Midway planes should find this invaluable, but it’s also an exciting narrative, with many personal stories and first-hand accounts – plus, plenty of good photographs of the battle.

2. Shattered Sword: the Untold Story of the Battle of Midway, by Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully

Any holes left by A Glorious Page are filled by this remarkable book, which explores the battle from the Japanese point of view and explodes myths about the decisions made by Admiral Nagumo. The image of bombs bursting on flight decks crowded with Japanese planes is familiar to us – but totally incorrect. Likewise, the delay in launching Tone’s No. 4 scout is viewed as the reason the Japanese failed to launch a strike against the American carriers before the Kaga, Akagi and Soryu were hit, but an analysis of the times of launches and reports shows otherwise. This book gives a detailed description of what happened aboard the Japanese carriers, from the locations of bomb hits to the agonizing deaths the carriers suffered. It also outlines Japanese carrier landing procedures, attack strategies and the personal stories of the Japanese participants in the battle.

3. The First Team: Pacific Naval Air Combat from Pearl Harbor to Midway, by John Lundstrom

The comprehensive book on early-war U.S. Naval fighter action, Lundstrom captures the small-town nature of the navy and how roughly 320 fighter pilots held off the Japanese Navy, culminating in the actions of Jimmy Thach’s section at Midway and the ferocious defense of the Yorktown by the American combat air patrol. Minutely detailed and intensively researched, the book also includes an exhaustive examination of the development of the Beam Defense Maneuver (or “Thach Weave”), which was employed for the first time in combat at Midway. The Midway section also includes rosters of the Japanese attackers, and there’s a very nice section covering Japanese combat tactics and formations.

4. No Higher Honor: The USS Yorktown at the Battle of Midway, by Jeff Nesmith

A very readable history of the ship, focusing largely on its final battle, casts a light on the humanity and the character of the crew of the Yorktown. Although it repeats some of the great Midway myths – probably from taking Mitsuo Fuchida’s deeply flawed Midway: the Battle that Doomed Japan at face value – the stories of the crew and their heroism under fire is well worth the read. The tale of the battle to save Yorktown is well told here; ultimately, it took three Japanese attacks to sink her.

5. Beyond Pearl Harbor: The Untold Stories of Japan’s Naval Aviators, by Ron Werneth

There are plenty of books about American aviators, but Ron Werneth’s tome is one of the few with long-form accounts of Japanese aviator’s careers in their own words. The book includes the stories of Zero ace Iyozo Fujita, D3A1 pilots Kiyoto Furuta and Zenji Abe, Akagi maintenance officer Hiroshi Suzuki, B5N2 pilot Taisuke Maruyama and mechanic Kaname Shimoyama, and A6M2 pilots Kaname Harada and Yoshio Shiga. There are many other accounts as well. It’s worth reading to compare the Japanese airmen’s accounts to those of American flyers’ because, other than the sides they were on, the accounts have haunting similarities. These lucky survivors of the war were few when Werneth, a fluent Japanese speaker, went to Japan to record their words, and there are far fewer now, making this book a priceless contribution to the history of the Pacific War.



  1. Thanks for the recommendations.

  2. […] The Battle of Midway, plus 70: five great reads ( […]

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