Sunday, May 24, 2009

Memorial Day Tribute

Readers Note: The following post concerns a great naval battle.

But it's meant as a grateful tribute to all our serving forces, veterans living and dead, and the families of the world's greatest human rights group: America's military.


In June 1942, Japanese and American forces fought an epic battle at Midway, an island in the mid-Pacific just large enough for an airfield and a small harbor, where submarines could rearm and refuel.

Midway was one of World War II’s most decisive battles. America's victory at Midway halted the Japanese naval and air offensive in the Pacific.

Begun on June 4, the battle lasted three days. The decisive action took place the first day, so June 4 is observed as the battle’s anniversary. Today is the 64th anniversary of the Battle of Midway.

I don't know of a finer tribute to the skill, valor and sacrifice of the men who won the battle for us than Walter Lord's Foreword to
Incredible Victory, his remarkable account of Midway. Lord's foreword follows, after which you'll find links to three Battle of Midway sites.

"By any ordinary standard, they were hopelessly outclassed.

They had no battleships, the enemy eleven. They had eight cruisers, the enemy twenty-three. They had three carriers (one of them crippled); the enemy had eight. Their shore defenses included guns from the turn of the century.

They knew little of war.

None of the Navy pilots on one of their carriers had ever been in combat. Nor had any of the Army fliers. Of the Marines, 17 of 21 new pilots were just out of flight school – some with less than four hours’ flying time since then. Their enemy was brilliant, experienced and all-conquering.

They were tired, dead tired. The patrol plane crews, for instance, had been flying 15 hours a day, servicing their own planes, getting perhaps three hours’ sleep at night.

They had equipment problems. Some of their dive bombers couldn't dive - the fabric came off the wings. Their torpedoes were slow and unreliable; the torpedo planes even worse. Yet they were up against the finest fighting plane in the world.

They took crushing losses - 15 out of 15 in one torpedo squadron ....21 out of 27 in a group of fighters ...many, many more.

They had no right to win. Yet they did, and in doing so they changed the course of a war.

More than that, they added a new name – Midway – to that small list that inspires men by shining example. Like Marathon, the Armada, the Marne, a few others, Midway showed that every once in a while 'what must be' need not be at all.

Even against the greatest of odds, there is something in the human spirit – a magic blend of skill, faith and valor – that can lift men from certain defeat to incredible victory."
You may want to visit these Midway websites:

Battle of Midway - Department of the Navy-Naval Historical Center staff prepared this excellent print and photo narrative.

The Battle of Midway, 1942 - A brief outline of the battle and the eyewitness account of Japanese pilot, Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, who was lead pilot at Pearl Harbor. - This is an extraordinary site. With narrative, photos, and video, it explains how the Navy, National Geographic, and undersea explorer Robert Ballard, who led the scientific team which located RMS Titanic, searched for and finally found on the Pacific's bottom the carrier, USS Yorktown, which was sunk by torpedo fire on June 6 after suffering severe damage earlier in the battle


Anonymous said...

No, they had no right to win.

The Japanese sent planes to search for the American fleet in a 360 degree radius; but one plane was late in getting off--that was the one that would have found the American fleet.

The American dive bombers arrived over the Japanese carriers at precisely a unique moment, when the Japanese fighter cover was gone, and the decks of the Japanese carriers were full of planes, gasoline and bombs and torpedoes being loaded and unloaded. One hit on those decks was enough.

Otherwise, the puny American assault would have failed. Instead, the puny American strike (not much more than the rock thrown at Goliath) sank the Japanese carriers.

No computer simulation would ever assume such a bundling together of coincidences. That would be considered a "prayer effect", and of course, as moderns we must dismiss such effects from any serious discussions of real history...