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Posted on Apr 28, 2008 in Stuff We Like

Author POV – Miracle at Midway?

Gerald D. Swick

Peter C. SmithWas the American victory at Midway really a "miracle?" A new book raises many questions.

The Americans, in truth, had more aircraft than the Japanese!

Peter Charles Horstead Smith is the author of 70 books, mainly aeronautical, military and naval history. His latest, from Casemate Publishers, is Midway Dauntless Victory. He describes this new work exploring the June 1942 naval engagement near Midway Island as "highly detailed, fully annotated and quite deliberately contains veterans’ eyewitness viewpoints that sometimes contradict each other in order that the reader can consider every viewpoint."


"The best books about the Royal Navy were written by Americans, Alfred Thayer Mahan and Arthur Jacob Marder" he observes. "I like to think I am returning the compliment with this book."

Smith asks, did the Battle of Midway really represent an “Incredible Victory,” or a “Miracle,” as some historians would have it? Was it a battle won despite all the odds, or was it not so one-sided as has previously been made out? Furthermore, did the United States Army Air Corps (USAAF) undeservedly grab a lion’s share of the credit for victory?

He points out that the Japanese had better aircraft, in the main, that could outrange and outmaneuver their opponents and also had more combat-experienced aircrews. The American airborne torpedoes were a disgrace and their submarines, with one notable exception, failed to meaningfully contribute.

But Japanese reconnaissance, both air and submarine, totally failed and some bad command decisions were made that left the Japanese horribly exposed. They dealt easily with all the land-based air attacks, and virtually annihilated the American torpedo-bombers assaults, which were gallantly pressed home to virtual extinction, but the Douglas SBD Dauntless dive-bombers won through and did the job, not once, but twice.

The Japanese had a lot of ships at sea, but only a handful were engaged in the actual combat. The outcome of the battle was decided between four Japanese aircraft carriers on one side and three American aircraft carriers and the “unsinkable” Midway airstrip on the other. The Americans, in truth, had more aircraft than the Japanese!

The U.S. Admirals—Chester Nimitz, Frank Jack Fletcher and Raymond Spruance—also had the inestimable advantage of superb intelligence and knowledge of Japanese intentions and movements (although not as much as is sometimes claimed); plus they had radar for local early warning of incoming attacks, while the Japanese relied only on the “Mark One Eyeball.”

The author poses two questions for ACG readers. First, was the Battle of Midway a "miracle" against all odds, or does it represent the most likely outcome of better intelligence—including radar—on one side and bad command decisions on the other? Second, does the USAAF get more credit for its role in the victory than it deserves, at the expense of naval Dauntless leaders like LCDR C. Wade McClusky, Lt. Commander Maxwell F. Leslie, and Lt. Richard Best?

Post a comment with your answers to these questions (free site registration required) on our Midway Dauntless Victory forum. After two weeks, we’ll post the author’s own POV on the answers.

For more information, see Midway Dauntless Victory by Peter Charles Horstead Smith.