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323: Midway (2019) with Jon Parshall

Roland Emmerich’s 2019 movie simply called “Midway” shows a lot more than the Battle of Midway. We’ll be joined today by one of the historical consultants on the movie who is also the co-author of Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway.

Jon's Historical Grade: C+

What’s your historical grade for the movie?

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Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.

Dan LeFebvre  04:43

Before we dig into some of the details of the movie and how it portrays things, I know it’s been a little bit since you’ve seen midway, but from an overall perspective. If you were to give it a letter grade for its historical accuracy, what would you give it


Jon Parshall  05:00

Oh, you know, C, C+, something like that and understand, I’m a tough grader. And understand too, that I’ve also worked on a lot of TV shows, and in a historical context, and whenever you get called in, as an historian, to work on one of these things you have to understand from the get go, that your role is damage control, right? There’s always going to be stuff in here, it’s gonna, it’s gonna set your teeth on edge. And your job is to really, as much as possible, try to prevent as much of that as possible. And the other thing to be to be quite honest, okay, so they dragged me in late as a historical consultant on this movie. And right off the bat, the first thing I offered was like, I’d love to, you know, fact check your script. And they were like, oh, no, no, we we’ve got that covered. And which, from my standpoint, is kind of bizarre, you know, you just hired the guy that wrote the book on Midway, that’s come out in the last, you know, 20 years. And you don’t want me to look at your script. Okay, dude, what, whatever. But that’s, that’s kind of what went down. So I didn’t have any idea what I was going to see until I literally walked into the theater and saw it on the screen. So let’s just say that with, you know, from a hardcore historian perspective, if you were to take a shot, every time there was an inaccuracy, you know, you’d have been in the ER, within like, half an hour on this movie. They were just, and some of my really hardcore friends were just like, aren’t you? Yeah. And I was like, let’s, let’s just chill here and understand the constraints of the visual medium, and the fact that we have to tell the story from a very compressed standpoint. So I’ll give you the lowdown at the very end as to why I actually do think that this movie did move the ball ahead on the historiography on this battle. And so that was a it was a good thing from that standpoint. But there were a lot of little nitpicky details that for me, it was like, you know, that’s wrong. So there you go.


Dan LeFebvre  07:09

Well, I have to ask that I mean, if they if they brought you in as as a consultant, but they didn’t let you see the script. Why did they what what did you do? What did you do here?


Jon Parshall  07:20

Right. Right. So they really brought me in because my expertise is on the Japanese side of the battle. And so they had me, you know, running down really obscure stuff like we need line drawings of the admirals launchers. Can you tell us what color the interior bulkheads were on the battleship? Nagato and that kind of stuff and like, okay, yeah, I can do that for you dudes. But again, I really am more of a big picture guy to start with. So whatever. Anyway, that’s what I did.


Dan LeFebvre  07:54

So it’s not like they already had the script in place. And it was like, Okay, we want these little minutiae of details and Okay, ding ding. Yep, I got it. Okay. Yeah. Well, if we go back to the movie, even though the movie is called midway, it actually starts with this surprise attack on Pearl Harbor December 7 1941. And the movie suggests that there’s an intelligence officer named Edwin Layton, who knew about the attack before was going to happen even tried to Warden some officials, but they all ignored him. When according to the movie, this then turns out to be a big reason why people end up leaving his intelligence about the Battle of Midway later on. So it’s movie to correct to suggest Leightons intelligence about the attack at Pearl Harbor was ignored. And that was a big reason why the intelligence about the Battle of Midway was believed Leia. Now


Jon Parshall  08:37

I think that’s a bit of a conflation. Okay, so let’s just set the stage. Layton was an officer on Admiral Kimmel stat was the commander at Pearl Harbor, who ends up getting scapegoat into disgraced and drummed out and then he’s going to late and will be rolled forward to be an Intel officer on Nimitz’s staff when Nimitz comes in and takes over after the war. Layton wrote a very important book. And he rightly laid a lot of responsibility for what happened to Admiral Kimmel and the fleet at the feet of people back in DC, particularly a guy named Richmond Kelly Turner, who is one of the main Planning Officers back in DC. And his main accusation is Look, you guys had broken Japan’s diplomatic codes called purple. And you were reading a lot of traffic there. You could have done a better job of telling Kimmel and his army counterpart, a guy and in general short, war is coming and you guys need to button down your commands. We don’t know. There was no specific intelligence, I would argue that pointed directly at Pearl Harbor. There you have to understand that before the war, there’s a ton of Intel running around and there’s a lot of There’s a lot of what I would call false positives, and, and not even false positives. The truth is that right before Pearl Harbor, the Japanese are moving ships all over the place. Because they’re not just doing Pearl Harbor, they’re gonna be attacking and landing troops down in Malaya to go down after Singapore. They’re very shortly going to be landing troops on the Philippines and going after that archipelago. So the Japanese initial offensive is incredibly complex and widespread and has troop transports and naval vessels running all over the western Pacific. Meanwhile, the Japanese carrier forces gone dark, you know, we’re not getting any signals from them. So you’ve got this negative intelligence there. What is what is going dark knee? So ex post facto after the war, could you go back and pick out the three or four little, you know, bread crumbs that said Pearl Harbor? Yeah. But in a pre war environment where you don’t have a lot of people in Intel at this point, and you’re not reading very much of the message traffic at all. How do you pick out those bread crumbs that that is the smoking gun that says Pearl Harbor is the place we’re gonna get attacked. So what’s Yeah, the movie is is definitely playing fast and loose there. I am very much in the non conspiracy camp that says we did not know that no one really knew that Pearl Harbor was going to be the place that the hammer was gonna fall. But But Layton is correct in saying, Yeah, but we weren’t getting enough promptings from DC at a local level, just to say, button down because we think there is a war coming in


Dan LeFebvre  11:43

talking about Laden’s intelligence. And in the movie, we see there’s Layton, of course, but behind Layton is a man named Joseph Rochefort, who, in turn, we see have a room full of former musicians from the band on the USS California that he’s turned into the Intelligence Team breaking down ciphers. How much of that is true?


Jon Parshall  12:01

Some of some of that is true. I mean, Roche Ford very much is true. Roche Ford is this eccentric guy, a brilliant Japanese language specialist, and has a really good ear for putting together these Intel puzzles. And so Layton and Roche forte had been Japanese language students together, they have known each other for a fairly long time. And so you can think of Layton as the interface to the admirals, whereas Rochefort is running this dungeon, you know, down in Pearl Harbor that is actually doing the codebreaking. Yes, there there were some bandsman. Down there, there was it was a really misfit sort of outfit. So there’s another guy who is not even in the movie, kidney, Mac showers, who is a journalism major. He’s just recently graduated from college, he comes out to Pearl Harbor right after the attack. And he’s immediately put into a replacement depot because they don’t know what to do with a journalism major. Right. And the repple dapple officer one day gets a request from this outfit called hypo, which is Roche foods codebreakers and, and he goes to Mac and he’s like, they’re telling me they need a they need a warm body down there. I can’t spare anybody, but I can spare you. And so he, you know, shoves this, this kid Mack down into the basement, Max showers is going to go on to retire a rear admiral in naval intelligence. So he turns out to have a knack for it, you know, and goes on to have a sterling career. But yeah, at this point in time, that codebreaking unit is extremely understaffed. And Rochford is grabbing people, you know, from wherever he can, and trying to slot them into positions where they can do some good.


Dan LeFebvre  13:58

Was there any, when you saying that, and then mixing that with what you’re talking about earlier, where they like the carriers disappeared? Was that ever a consideration of just because there was a lack of personnel in intelligence that maybe we’re not getting everything. And maybe that’s the reason why some of this is missing is just on our side,


Jon Parshall  14:18

that some of it, it’s really more to do with just the nature of code breaking. We ex post facto have this mental image that if I were broken a code, that means I’m reading all of the messages write and add a true I mean, even though we had broken the Japanese operational code J and 25, B before midway, we’re only reading like maybe 10% of the code groups and that thing. Okay, so the other things that we’re doing are things called Traffic Analysis, which is keeping tabs on all the just the volume of radio signals that are going on between the individual chips which we can identify in some cases. So let’s say that I know that this call sign is associated with Battleship harana, which is a battleship that often operates with their carrier group. And all of a sudden, I noticed that Hiren is generating a lot more message traffic than she normally does. That’s interesting, you know. So that might be an indication that the carrier group is going to be up to some new operation and not huh. And I broke this one code group and this one message that seems to indicate that there might be an operation aimed at the Central Pacific, I want to so you’re putting together all of this, this enormous puzzle with all of these moving pieces, and trying to draw associations between individual chips and code group this and, you know, it’s it’s really, really complex.


Dan LeFebvre  15:51

that paints a great picture of why in the moment, I mean, or I guess, in retrospect, it’s easier to say, oh, yeah, okay, you could these are the pieces that said it was Pearl Harbor, but in the moment, that doesn’t necessarily mean, right. For sure. You know, in the act on Yeah,


Jon Parshall  16:06

that’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. Well, one thing I do want to point about that a Pearl Harbor sequence there is that the Star Wars Canyon sequence where Luke is flying down the canyon, you know, to drop his his bomb and the thermal duct or whatever, that that one sequences in form so many war movies since that time, because one of the things you’ll see is when you open up this midway movie, you know, you’ve got this scene of Pearl Harbor, our ships are being bombed and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, and you’ve got, you’ve got a zero fighter that like flies down, you know, between the masts of two of these battleships, it’s just like, it takes you right back to 1977. You know, and in actuality, okay, so there’s one of the things that isn’t a story and you’re like, Okay, I just took another shot there because there’s no way in hell that is zero who’s flying between the mass of the battleship that’s nonsense. But anyway, you see that kind of thing? That’s


Dan LeFebvre  17:08

something that’s multiple shots there.


Jon Parshall  17:11

Yeah, for sure, for sure. It’s all good.


Dan LeFebvre  17:15

Oh, if we go back to the movie after the attack at Pearl Harbor, we see Admiral Nimitz sending Halsey and the carrier USS Enterprise to Marshall Islands. This is February 1 1942. And when they get there, there’s our pilots attacking Japanese airfield, and then they realize there’s a second airfield on the island that didn’t know about ahead of time. So then the movie shows Dick best one of the pilots go off to attack the other airfield with a dive bomber, very cinematic move, where we see best managing you get a bomb off just away and then he flies away from the ball of fire from the bomb. And then the movie shows back to the carrier enterprise. We see another very cinematic scene. The Japanese bombers are attacking the American ships, and Nick Jonas’s character, Bruno Gatto hops on one of the machine gun, the seat of the plane on the on the deck and he shoots down a bomber that’s about to ram the carrier. How much of that actually happened? Okay.


Jon Parshall  18:05

Let’s actually start with the last one first, Bruno, Bruno GEICO did that. Okay, yeah. So the enterprise was under attack by a group of Japanese Betty bombers, and one of them got pretty close to the enterprise and and guide out jumped in the backseat of an SPD and grabbed one of the twin 30s and yank it around and was doing his thing. You know, I don’t think that he actually shot that bobber down the bomber that already been damaged beforehand and was actually knew that and was making sort of an early version of a kamikaze run on enterprise. But you know, Geico, and the other gutters are all blazing away at this thing. And it you know, it comes right over the flight deck skims and hits a couple of the aircraft on the deck before it goes over the side and lands in the water and goes kaboom. So, yeah, I mean, gyda was crazy, brave. And he he, you know, rightly deserve the honor that he that he gets later on. In fact, he gets called up to the to the bridge on on enterprise by Halsey. And right after that Halsey is like, you know, who are you son? And you know, I’m you know, Geico Oberman, you know, third class and he’s like, Well, you’re, you’re now in armor is made first class, you know, good job. So that’s all that’s all legit. As far as the martial raids, let me put that in a bigger context for you. Right after Pearl Harbor. Everything goes to hell in a handbasket for the allies right? I mean, there’s lots of stuff going on out in the western Pacific Malaya is falling apart. Hong Kong gets captured the Philippines are being dismembered it’s just this is a really, really dark time. And for the US Navy with the majority of our battleships now sitting on the bottom at Pearl Harbor. We don’t have what we You think is a striking force that can actually bring the war to the Japanese Navy, all we got is, you know, we got some carriers. So A and we know that Japan’s carrier force, they have just demonstrated to us at Pearl Harbor that this is an exceptionally lethal capable force that outnumbers ours. So we can’t afford to get into a pitch battle with these guys right now. And so what we’re doing is we are sending our carriers down to do raids around the perimeter of the Japanese Empire. And so the Marshall Islands, which is a huge archipelago, it’s you know, well over 1000 miles from India and contains a number of Japanese bases. And so what we’re doing is we’re, we’re poking the bear. And we’re also getting some training reps in for our carrier groups and bringing them up to speed. So yeah, we’re down here and doing one of these raids. I am not deep enough in the weeds to tell you whether or not that second airfield that was a surprise is I think there’s a little conflation going on with the dive bomber attack the best we’ll be doing later on against the actual Japanese carrier force and we can talk about that story when we get there. They’re playing extremely fast and loose with Dick best. Okay, the the very first time we meet Dick best in this movie. He’s like, I’m gonna try it dead stick landing on this carry. Yeah, I’m gonna go with right which is just otter baloney. You know, that’s another thing that you shot.


Dan LeFebvre  21:37

Never know when you’re going to need it.


Jon Parshall  21:40

Never know what your backseat or who didn’t volunteer for this crap? Yeah, bring it around, you know? So they portray him is this sort of gum chew and cowboy you Joisey guy you know, Dick best was like the antithesis of that. Dick best was this consummate, buttoned down by the book, naval professional. So. And that was one of the things that just from a character standpoint, I’m just like, what, what are you doing here, guys, but. And I wrote to the guy who actually did do the script checking on this movie. He’s a friend of mine. And I was like, What was up with that? And my friend was like, I tried to bring that to the attention. And the director is like, I have to make Dick best into this kind of a character if it’s gonna play on the screen. And so I’ve got to have him doing this kind of stuff. It’s just like, okay,


Dan LeFebvre  22:38

damn, is he trying to damage control you tried.


Jon Parshall  22:42

Tried didn’t happen. So if we go back


Dan LeFebvre  22:45

to the movie, The next key plot point that happens is the Doolittle Raid, April 18 1942. And the way that the movie explains this, it’s being led by Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle, hence the name. With army bombers taking off from the carrier Hornet. Their plan is to bomb Tokyo and then land in China, but they end up having to take take off a little bit sooner than expected. So we see them bombing Tokyo, but then they’re forced to jump out of the planes without knowing where they’re at. And that was, as I was watching the movie to prepare for our check. couldn’t help but notice that it seems like no one knows anything about the Doolittle Raid before it happens. For example, Halsey Halsey is talking to another sailor, he calls Mr. Browning and explains the purpose of the raid, as if he doesn’t know what’s going on, or Digbeth talking about him on enterprise talking to other pilots. And then someone walks in and says, You’ve got to see this and they go outside and they see the RB 20 fives on Hornet like they had no idea that they were even there. So it’s a bit of a two part question. Do you think the movie did a good job depicting the Doolittle rain on screen? And then is it true that the men on the ships had no idea before seeing the bombers on Hornets deck? Yeah,


Jon Parshall  23:51

I mean, this, this operation was kept under very, very tight security. Because it’s kind of a it’s a one time deal. That the problem with a carrier raid using conventional carrier aircraft, you know, these single engine planes that we typically use is you got to get really close to the Japanese home islands to do that, like within 200 miles or something like that, which is scary clothes. So the notion with using these B 25 bombers is they got a much longer range than a single engine fighter or bomber and we can launch these puppies from, you know, 650 700 miles off the Japanese coast. They can go in and do their thing, then they’ll bingo over to China landed airfields over there and everything should be cool. me giving our very, very valuable aircraft carriers of which we only have three or four in the Pacific at this time, the opportunity to then get the heck out of dodge right before before the retaliation comes in. What ends up happening is yeah, they get close to Japan and they run into a couple of Japanese pickup boats, fishing boats that they equipped with a radio just for this purpose, you know, to make sure that the Americans can’t bring in a carrier raid. So pick up votes say Yeah, and you know, we know that they say yeah, which means that it’s time to launch like right now even though we are further away from Japan than we want it to be. So, we do that we launch those B 20. fives and we get the heck out of dodge. The actual what I want to see travel to Japan. Yeah, enterprise had been in and around Pearl Harbor. Hornet had come directly from the West Coast enterprise leaves Pearl Harbor, Ron de vous is with Hornet in the North Pacific, and then they go on their merry way towards Japan. So yeah, a lot of those guys who are on enterprise would have been like Dak. He had hope wire there. What are we doing here? Why are they you? I’ve never seen an army bomber on an aircraft carrier, or you never will again. So yeah, that would have been an eye opener. Halsey absolutely knew what was going on. Miles Browning, who’s the guy he’s talking to absolutely would have known what was going on. But the rank and file on the carriers in many cases be like Absolutely. dumbfounded. Okay,


Dan LeFebvre  26:15

that makes that makes a lot more sense than connecting together. Because when I saw that in the movie, I was like, okay, these chips had been right next to each other for all this time, and they didn’t happen to look over and notice that that Right? Right.


Jon Parshall  26:28

Right. Right, right. Yeah, that’s exactly what’s going on.


Dan LeFebvre  26:33

Okay, okay. Well, the in the movie, the Doolittle Raid doesn’t really seem to do a lot of damage itself. But we do see some brief scenes of Doolittle himself parachuting into China. And then when the Japanese attack, he asks what they’re targeting, because he’s like, there’s no military installations nearby. And the response that he gets is the Chinese people are the target. Is it true that the Chinese civilians were targeted by the Japanese military, like the movie implies horrifically,


Jon Parshall  26:56

okay. So yeah, the Japanese are furious about this raid. And and we can talk about the effects of that just in a second here. But yeah, to your point. They go in ex post facto into the Chinese hinterland where they think that these aviators have come down, they capture some of the American aviators. They kill something on the order of a quarter million Chinese civilians in retaliation for this. Okay. Yeah, it’s horrific. Wow. Yeah. So this war that’s been going on in China since 1937, is incredibly brutal. And most Americans don’t understand the magnitude of the death toll. The Chinese are going to lose between 15 and 22 million people killed in this war, as opposed to the 400,000 that the Americans lose between all theaters European and Pacific. So yeah, that you can make an argument Chinese lose more civilians in that one retaliation operation than we probably lost in the entire Pacific War.


Dan LeFebvre  28:06

Did the American public know about that retaliation at the time?


Jon Parshall  28:12

We didn’t know the the full magnitude of it, we were more focused on the fact that, you know, some of those stupid little aviators who were captured by the Japanese were then summarily executed back in Tokyo, and that, you know, really set us off. And so, yeah, I mean, the American viewpoint is very American centric throughout this war, and China was acknowledged as an ally. But the the true magnitude of the death toll there was not super, even if it was known that at a sort of a superficial level, it’s hard to really internalize what that means a quarter of a million people killed because of one raid. It’s kind of nutty. While


Dan LeFebvre  28:53

you’re talking about the effects of the raid, and you know, even though there wasn’t a lot of damage, the impression that I got was it was very, it was a great morale boost for Americans. But if they had known about that retaliation, maybe it wouldn’t have been had the same effect.


Jon Parshall  29:05

I think that yes, it was a huge shot in the arm for us because again, you know, the war has been a dumpster fire up to this point. And, you know, there had been no good news coming out in the papers for months and months and months. By the time you get to April, MacArthur’s command actually has just fallen in Batan. Now Corega door is besieged and Manila harbor that’s going to fall in early May. Korea Agador is besieged Malaya has gone down in the dark Burma is going down in the dark. All of Java, Sumatra and all that stuff has been captured by the Japanese. It’s just been a route. And there’s lots of stuff going bad in Europe for us too. Anyway. So this is a huge shot in the arm for the Americans to it least be able to say this war in novice suckers. You know, you know, this has never been they’ll be over until we say it’s over. And we have got the power to still punch you in the eye and get back. So that was a big deal. From the Japanese standpoint, you’re right, the material effects of this raid are minimal. You know, what can you do with 16 medium bombers, you know, they sprinkled some bombs and desultory fashion over various cities, and they go on the way. But it was a huge black eye for the Japanese military leadership, who were just absolutely mortified that the Americans could even do such a raid and the fact that, you know, some of these bombers were within spitting distance of the Imperial Palace and Tokyo, the Emperor might have been in danger. You know, that is just mortifying. There’s a common misperception, the Doolittle Raid, led to Midway. And that’s not true. Yamamoto had already fought and one the bureaucratic battle to do the Midway operation early in April, then do a little happens two weeks after that. But what happens there is up until this point, the Japanese army is like, we don’t want anything to do with this midway operation. You guys, if you want to capture that island, y’all are going to have to supply your own troops to do it. When Doolittle goes down, suddenly, the Army does a complete 180. And they’re like, yeah, maybe what you’re saying about the fact that we’re not going to be safe until these American carriers are put in their graves has some legitimacy to it. So here’s a regiment of troops that you now can bring along on your midway operation to take that island. And more importantly, we are now going to start amphibious training for two of our divisions. Because eventually we know that your goal is to actually take midway but then move down the line to the lion islands and go and capture a wahoo. And so here are the divisions that are going to do that operation. That’s really what Midway is intended to do as being a stepping stone to go grab a lot


Dan LeFebvre  32:00

of that makes a lot more sense as to why he’s even show that in movie about midway to begin with, because, yeah, I was thinking it was something that was I was under the perception that the raid had more to do with writing


Jon Parshall  32:14

and wait. So yeah, and this is the problem with movies, as a visual medium. And a storytelling is you just you have to compress all this stuff into this. And and if you introduce too many characters, of course, you just confuse the audience. And who’s this guy again? So yeah, there’s a lot going on behind behind the scenes that they just can’t get into because it would just confuse the hell out of everybody. For


Dan LeFebvre  32:39

sure, for sure. Makes sense. Speaking of the movie, there’s another elements before we actually get to the Battle of Midway is about halfway through the movie when we see the US fleet in the Coral Sea, South Pacific, May 8 1942. Well, we don’t see any fighting here. There’s just an American carrier that’s on fire, surrounded by some other ships, presumably rescuing the sailors on the burning ship. And Halsey says something along lines about how they got there. 24 hours too late. We find out through some dialogue that there were only two American carriers left in the Pacific. But the movie doesn’t really give a lot of context around what happened here we see the battle seems to have already happened. So can you fill in some historical details about what the movie is portraying here in the Coral Sea,


Jon Parshall  33:18

right. So at this point, we got four carriers and you can think of them as operating in two pairs. Halsey has got the northern pair that’s enterprise and hornet which are doing the Doolittle Raid. The southern pair that’s down in Coral Sea near Australia, is the Yorktown and the Lexington under a guy named Frank Jack Fletcher. Fletcher doesn’t even appear in the movie. And this again is a case of I can’t introduce too many characters into my movie. Halsey was never at the Battle of Coral Sea. Okay, he never saw any of that stuff. Take


Dan LeFebvre  33:53

another shot here.


Jon Parshall  33:54

Another shot. Right. Halsey was moving south he was trying to get down to Coral Sea because Admiral Nimitz his boss back in, in Pearl is like there’s going to be a carrier battle being fought down here. I want you to get down there as rapidly as possible. But they they missed that battle. Okay, so there’s, there’s a Japanese invasion force that wants to capture a town on the southern coast of New Guinea called Port Moresby. And I’m not even gonna go into the details as to why the hell they wanted it. It was stupid that they wanted it, they want it. So they’re sending an invasion fleet down there and they send a pair of aircraft carriers, which had been at Pearl Harbor, but now they’re down in the South Pacific shokaku and Zooey Kakou and we end up having a carrier battle. It’s the very first carrier battle in history and nobody knows what they’re doing. So there’s a lot of you know, blind man’s bluff and just kind of groping around in the dark for each other and and terrible sighting reports. Understand, you know, this this This whole thing is happening. Like, how many years after the Wright Brothers first flight? It isn’t, it isn’t a lot. So navigating over open water at this point in time, I mean, nowadays, right? You and I can’t go to the grocery store without theory whispering in our ear and telling us where they held to go right. Back in those days flying a plane off of an aircraft carrier, you got a crappy little paper map that’s big enough, you can strap it to your to your leg. I’ve got a compass, I’ve got a pencil. You know, I’ve got my instrument dashboard. stuff. That’s how I’m navigating. So in a lot of cases, I don’t even know where the hell I am. Let alone if I see some ships out there to one. Do I know where I am? Can I estimate where they are? What’s their course? What’s their speed? What are they? You know, I get it. All I see is these weights. Maybe I get closer and it looks it’s a big blob? Yeah, it looks like that’s an aircraft carrier when it might actually be a tanker or something. So there’s, you know, there’s a lot of miscues on both sides as they’re trying to do this thing. Anyway. The second morning of the battle, both forces know that there have their opposite numbers out there, both sides fight each other, both sides put up strikes, we put a hurtin on the Japanese shokaku Take some bomb hits and damn near Singson has this good angle back to Japan, Zooey kakou, her sister gets her air group shot to pieces. So meanwhile, Lexington takes a couple of torpedoes a couple of bombs. She looks like she’s doing okay for a while. But then there are these big fires that break out at her and she burns to the waterline. So that’s what you’re seeing here in the movie is survivors being taken off of Lexington? York, okay. Your town, meanwhile, as you’ll note, takes a bomb through her flight deck, and also takes a bunch of near misses to kind of pop the seams in her fuel tanks and stuff. And so, yes, she’s kind of hurt as a result of this battle as well, from a tactical standpoint, that Americans lose this battle and that we lose a great big aircraft carrier, the Lexington and we only sink a small one. There’s this other little carrier called showhome that gets sunk in the battle. But from an operational and strategic standpoint, it’s a victory for us and that it forestalls this Japanese invasion and actually for the first time in the war actually turns around the Japanese invasion force we sort of you know, that was a big deal. But that’s now the situation on the eve of the Battle of Midway, that I’ve still got Hornet and enterprise in undamaged condition. Lexington has gone your town is damaged. There’s another carrier out on the West Coast Saratoga which is also damaged and out of the picture. So now Nimitz is in the middle of May, gets the first intimations from Roche Ford and the codebreakers that, oh, looks like there’s another operation shaping up in the Central Pacific, somewhere close to home. And now Nimitz has got a scramble, pull what assets he can back to Pearl Harbor in time, throw together a battle plan. And that’s going to end up being the Battle of Midway.


Dan LeFebvre  38:19

Okay, so now that I know more about the history, the movie makes a lot more sense as to why they don’t show what’s going on because it that part of it doesn’t seem as relevant to Midway as much as who are the players and the different ships that we have. And that was affected then by that battle, so that I understand that filmmakers decision on that it just when I was watching, I was like, This doesn’t make sense. What’s going. Yeah,


Jon Parshall  38:40

it’s really hard. You can think of this midway movie, in a sense, as this is the story of USS Enterprise in the Battle of Midway, because Yorktown barely even features your towns commander, Admiral. Fletcher, he doesn’t even feature and yet he is the commander at Midway. Spruance is going to be his subordinate. We’re going to talk about that a little bit. But again, for the purposes of their storytelling, they’re just they’re cutting away the extraneous stuff and you’re left basically with the the the cast that’s on the carrier enterprise and what they’re doing on this in this movie, or during this battle, that becomes essentially the proxy for the entire battle.


Dan LeFebvre  39:27

Well, if we are to believe the movies version of events, it seems like everyone seems to know that the Japanese are planning an attack and we earlier we talked about Layton and the intelligence port for Pearl Harbor and that aspect of it, but that’s starting to come into play now. For the Battle of Midway. They seem that there’s they know that there’s an attack coming at a major target, but they don’t know where it is. And there’s this codename of a f that seems to be floating around Layton and rochfort think that it’s midway but Washington DC He does not. And then a little later we find that Layton tells Nimitz this is all in the movie that they intercepted Japanese message saying the water plant on AF is broken. It seems that midway accidentally sent out an unencrypted transmission of their water plant being broken down. Of course it wasn’t broken it wasn’t an accident right you know they were sending a message was not an accident unencrypted. But is that really how the US Navy figured out that Midway was the target?


Jon Parshall  40:26

Yes and no. It 80% of that is correct. So there’s a there’s a fight going on now between Roche Ford and his crew at hypo, which is the codebreaking station and Pearl and their bosses back in Washington DC at a place called op 20 G op 20 G is run by a couple of sort of nefarious characters in they’re going to be the bad guys in this drama later in the war. They’re gonna get Rushford fired and all all of all the notoriety like the we hate the Redman brothers. But anyway, so there’s this there’s this feud going on. And Washington is saying AF is not midway, AF is up in the Aleutian Islands or AF is down close to Australia, but we don’t buy that it’s midway. Meanwhile, Rochefort and Layton and all of their guys is like y’all, y’all are smoking crack. We absolutely know that AF is midway and they had laid out all the reasons to both Leighton the Nimitz and Nimitz was convinced as well. So finally, what they ended up doing is yes, they there’s a secure underwater cable that runs up to Midway. And so they send a message up to Midway that they know the Japanese can’t intercept. And they tell midway, I want you to broadcast in clear that your water purification plant has broken down. And that’s what midway does. And then yeah, like within a day, lo and behold, they intercepted Japanese message that says, AF is short of water send a water tanker along with the invasion force when when we do our thing. So really, what AF, what that little sequence does is allows hypo to go back to Washington and say, See, we told you to settle that debate. The other big debate that’s going on that they don’t talk about at all the movie is the status of the carrier, Zooey Kaku, which had been you know, her air group had been shot up in Coral Sea, she gets back to Japan. The Japanese if they had wanted to probably couldn’t put together some sort of a composite air group on her, you know, some of the shokaku survivors and her survivors and whatever, got enough aeroplanes that could have been credible, and they could have brought her along to Midway as well, which would have meant that they the Japanese would have brought five carriers to the party. That’s what op 20 G back in DC thinks is going to happen. Meanwhile, hypo is like now we think they’re only bringing four. So there’s a an ongoing debate between these two that lasts up until May 30 or so right on the eve of the battle, and when they finally get that figured out. So so that then plays into how is Nimitz going to craft his battle plan? I think this is another one of the question Do you want us to get into it’s just


Dan LeFebvre  43:19

there’s a scene in a movie where we see that that happening. Nimitz is explaining the American Battle Plan for midway. According to the way the movie shows it Halsey is in the hospital shingles. So Admiral Spruance is given command of his task force. There’s a plan to set up a trap carrier is going to be on northeast of Midway. There’s a line of subs and we can see the movie shows like one of those big maps that you always see in the movies where they’re moving pieces around. We can see visually there’s four subs in the map in front of Nimitz and he says that they’ve crammed every single plane that they can spare into the runway at Midway. And I was surprisingly there’s another we didn’t really talk too much about this part of the movie, but we see Yorktown having this huge hole blown in the deck. Nimitz goes there as it’s being repaired. Like we need to have it fixed in 72 hours I think you said and it ends up being fixed in time to join the fight. And we’ll talk about the movie The battle itself in a moment but how well do you think the movie did setting up that battle?


Jon Parshall  44:16

That’s that’s fairly that’s fairly legit. Yeah, there’s there’s a lot of uncertainty on Nimitz as part about the status of Yorktown particularly because, you know, he knows that the Japanese could potentially bring five aircraft carriers to this fight. He has already determined even before Yorktown makes it back to Pearl Harbor on May 27. The battle is going to be bought on June 4. So we’re talking really tight timetables here. He’s determined that even if your town can’t be repaired, I’m still gonna fight this battle with two carriers. Which, you know, when you look at that, that’s pretty pretty ballsy. Um, and some of this is driven by a doctor. And I actually just wrote a big article on this in the last couple of years for the Naval War College review. And because that battle plan has never really been properly understood, and this is one of those things that sort of tweaked my interest to that Nimitz was willing to fight that battle, even at odds of two carriers versus five, which is just heart stopping. I mean, what are you thinking like, man, but part of what’s going on there is that Nimitz actually would have kept his carriers further away from Midway. And he would have let those submarines and the air group on Midway do their thing first. Okay. And we’ll assess have those assets been sufficiently lethal enough to sync one or two of the Japanese carriers? Then and only then would I give the word to my carriers northeast of Midway? Okay, looks like the odds are a little more even. Why don’t you come on down? Because they’re well out of scouting range from the Japanese. That’s not historically what ends up happening. What ends up happening is Yorktown comes back to Pearl Harbor on the 27th. The Americans have had no problems patching up the flight deck. That’s not the big issue. The issue is that I’m leaking oil, and I’ve got internal damage in the ship. But by the time Fletcher, who’s the actual admiral in charge of this operation, you know, who gets lost to history, everybody thinks Jibril screw ups won the Battle of Midway. It’s like he was Fletcher’s subordinate. Anyway, Fletcher gets back to Pearl. He’s like, I think we can probably patch her up in time, but they do, you know, they Swarmer they put 1500 workers on board this ship for 72 hours and just work like crazy to just, you know, patch her up getters sufficiently SCI worthy that she’s not leaking oil anymore, and we can at least get up to 27 knots or something like that. And then they turn around and they get her out on the 30th of May, and she hustles up to Midway on the second of June, so now we’re two days before the battle. She shows up on station, Hornet and enterprise are already there. And at that point in time, Nimitz then is like, Okay, I now have three carriers on station. And we’ve also finally settled the debate where we know Zooey Kaku is not coming to the party. So I know the Japanese are bringing four carriers. Now, I’m feeling a little a little more safe, and I’m willing to dial up the risk of meet her a little bit. And so he sends a radio message to Fletcher that night, and he suggests to Fletcher, that it might be advantageous if you moved your forces 175 miles to the west, ie closer to Midway and closer to where we think the Japanese are going to show up. Because now I’m willing to fight this battle all on a single day. Whereas you know, before I was going to wait the first day, let the Midway air group do their thing. Anyway, he’s compressing this time frame. Let your being nobody’s fool understands that suggestions from four star admirals are to be taken relatively seriously. Very expeditiously, moves his horses over there that night. And that’s what leads to the battle that we see unfolding on unfortunately.


Dan LeFebvre  48:27

And suggestion I like it. Yeah. There is a fun bit of dialogue in the movie I want to ask you about Layton when he he’s asked about the reliability of his intelligence about the coming attack by Admiral spirits asked him that in the room and Layton doesn’t want to give too many details, which makes sense because he’s kind of predicting things and no one can really predict the future. But when spirits presses for details, Layton says the Japanese will attack on the morning of June 4 from the northwest and bearing of 325 degrees there’ll be sited 175 miles from Midway at Oh 700 local time. And then after the attack happens in the movie, we’ll talk about the attack here. But after that happens, Nimitz says well, Layton, you are only five minutes five miles and five degrees off. Which lanes like you know, I’ll try to do better in the future. Right. Was the movie right about those details, though?


Jon Parshall  49:16

Yeah, that’s essentially right on the money. And yeah, you can quibble a little bit about the five miles five degrees, but it’s, it’s very, very close. Again, given the you know, the difficulties of maneuvering these forces and, and predicting where people are going to be we’re playing blind man’s bluff, right. And so, back and 42 Just getting to carrier forces within proximity to each other that they could actually have a battle was sort of like a minor miracle. Yeah, Leightons prediction was very, very good.


Dan LeFebvre  49:51

Well, yeah, that seems like definitely seems like something that a little bit of luck, maybe I mean, that a lot, a lot. A lot, a lot of work for sure. I don’t Want to minimize that by any means, but just from what you’re saying about intelligence and just the sheer amount of data? Yeah, gotta be an element of luck to it. Yeah, yeah,


Jon Parshall  50:09

there was some luck there. But yeah, he made a good guess. And it turned out to be pretty much right on the money. Nice.


Dan LeFebvre  50:15

What we have talked about the lead up so far, and it’s finally time for the Battle of Midway itself in the movie and the way the movie explains the battle is it uses some text on the screen to explain different things. So I thought I would highlight those kind of give an overview of the movies depiction of the battle. First, of course, it mentions all this happening June 4 1942. At 6:40am we can see planes in the air from the Japanese Carrier air group doing a bombing run on Midway. They blow up the airfield and runway at 7:10am we see Midway Island air group attacking Japanese ships. The movie doesn’t really show them doing a good job and one of the Japanese officers says something about how their glide bombing calls the American pilots amateurs. 7:45am we see submarine USS Nautilus at 250 miles northwest of Midways and encounters Japanese fleet tries to find the carrier’s 9:38am More American planes this time from Lindsay’s torpedo squadron six attack the Japanese ships, but again, they don’t seem to do much damage. The time changes then to 9:55am Hornet torpedo squadron eights we see Dick best and Wade McCluskey is dive bombers, each making hits on different Japanese carriers, leaving them burning at 4:30pm Battleship Yamamoto some 600 miles west of Midway, the movie says, Japanese get a message from Admiral Admiral Newmar I believe it was to let them know that the fires are raging on Kaga saw you and Akagi. At 4:56pm, the US Combined Air Group goes back out to try to attack the last Japanese carrier. And again stick best to drops the bomb in the middle of the deck for that ship, before just barely making it back to his own carrier. And his training from earlier seem to come into play there. Did that. And then finally, Admiral Spruance gives the order to withdraw for the Knights. He says they’ve won a great victory without knowing what the Japanese will do next. He doesn’t want to blow it. So I know that’s a lot. That’s the outline from the text screens in the movie. Is that a good essence of the Battle of Midway? Yeah,


Jon Parshall  52:19

you’ve just given the Cliff Notes version. And yeah, most of that is straight up legit. They’ve obviously left. We’re conflating again, the experience of enterprise with all of the other ships that were there. So yeah, what where do I want to start? These two sort of simultaneous attacks that happened in the early morning midway getting clobbered? And the Americans going after the Japanese carrier force. Of course, there had to be spotting reports before that, that would give the Americans the indication that lo and behold, there are Japanese ships here that we ought to go after. But yes, there is a group of planes that flies out from Midway. And attacks at Oh 700. And they get just absolutely chopped to pieces because the Japanese zero pilot pilots really know their business, you know, and the zero was a great fighter. And yeah, they just, I knew one of the guys one of the few survivors from that particular sore T and he was a 17 year old kid when he went out and he was a changed human being when he comes back. You know, he had a baseball cap that had a hole in the ice. He let me put my finger through it. That was where the machine gun bullet from a Japanese zero came in, increased his head, knocked him cold. He comes to he’s lying in a pool of blood from the gutter above him who’s been killed. And you know, their plane has been shot to pieces, the pilot up front and his TBF avenger is like, I don’t know how I’m going to keep this bird in the air. And finally, when they’re down almost sea level, he finally realizes that you my hydraulics are gone. But my trim tabs are still working. And if I use those that gives us an extra lift that we can, you know, make our way back to Midway and land and you know, this swiss cheese looking airplane anyway. There’s another series of attacks that actually elicits that comment from pneumos men that yeah, these planes are using glide bombing attacks. If you’re a dive bomber pilot, the real pros come in literally vertical, you know, a 7585 90 degrees down on to a ship. If you’re not such a good dive bomber pilot, you come in at 35 degrees and you try to you know, do one of these things where you sort of pull up and lock your bomb and hopefully the bomb lands on the target never worked for crap. That’s what ended up happening at around 830 in the morning or eight o’clock in the morning. That’s so they’re again conflating two separate American attacks, but that’s the gist of it. Our aviators on the way can’t do beams, they just get shot the pieces and they don’t do anything to the Japanese. As far as the torpedo plane tacks are concerned, yes, VT six is the torpedo Squadron on enterprise. It was actually VT eight that came in first it gets annihilated. That said, Oh 917 in the morning 15 planes in 15, planes shot down and only one guy left live in the water. I mean, it’s it’s brutal. And no hits against the Japanese BT six comes in about 20 minutes later, not quite annihilated. I mean, that’s about the best you can say. I think they bring three of their planes home. i It’s, it’s, it’s bad, really, really bad. But what’s happening during this entire time, is that Admiral Gumo, the commander of the Japanese carrier fleet is now aware that there are American carriers out here, he finally got a sighting report. And he wants to put in a counter attack against us. But because his flight decks are constantly sending up zero fighters to protect his fleet, and bring those fighters back down when they’re running low on ammunition, so he’s cycling combat air patrol fighters this entire time, which means that he doesn’t have the necessary 40 minute window, to put up his own strike force on his flight deck, get their engines warmed up and get them ready to rock and roll and go off and hit us. He’s leaking time, is what it comes down to. And so then, as you say, 955 10 o’clock, something like that. Lo and behold, two different groups of dive bombers from two different carriers, your town and enterprise. You know, our brave boys Dick best and the gang from enterprise are coming in from the southwest, your towns group is coming in from the south east. They both they don’t even know each other is there, they end up citing the Japanese carriers at roughly the same time. And they’re approaching from two different vectors. And understand that this is in the days before radar. We got radar, the Japanese don’t. There’s broken cloud cover. So it’s difficult to detect planes coming in at high altitude. And so the Japanese air patrol arrangement just break down catastrophically at this point, a lot of those planes are dealing with torpedo attacks that are happening elsewhere around the perimeter of the fleet. These die bombers are coming in, nobody even sees them. And at 1022, both of these groups of aircraft start doing their thing. And that’s what we end up seeing


Dan LeFebvre  57:43

the impression that I got you talking about the kind of bleeding time that the impression I got from the movie was that some of the the losses that the Americans had in the beginning. Were basically the reason why the Japanese had to keep their planes up in the air against them was Is there any truth to that?


Jon Parshall  58:05

Okay, so this is one of the most long standing myths about the Battle of Midway, is that okay, the sacrifice of those torpedo planes was horrific. But it played this big role in that. Supposedly it pulled the Japanese zeros down to sea level. And that leaves the skies clear for the American dive bombers to come in at eye level. That’s kind of nonsense, because if you look at the performance characteristics of a Japanese zero, this is a plane that can climb from sea level up to 15,000 feet in like seven minutes flat. Okay, and so really is a zippy little plane. And so, torpedo squadron eight, which attacked it, oh 917 was completely destroyed by about Oh 930 Oh 935. In other words, 50 minutes before this dive bomber attack happens. Same thing with VT six V T six comes in at around 10 or excuse me, 940 and is destroyed by 10. So the Japanese had plenty of time to get those zeros back up in the air at at the altitudes that they would want to have been operating at to intercept dive bombers. It’s the final attack by Yorktown will also have a squadron of torpedo planes in them. That’s the T three. I know we’re going into the weeds here. But what happens is VT three approaches from the southwest at medium altitude and they are detected by the Japanese. And basically all of the zeros kind of get sucked into the South East threat vector they can see these torpedo planes and that’s an obvious threat. I haven’t seen the die bombers yet. And so it’s not a case of vertical not being in the right place vertically, it’s that they had been laterally distorted and pulled away from the fleet. thereby leaving the other axes of attack open to the Americans. So that’s, that’s what’s going on there. Okay.


Dan LeFebvre  1:00:08

Okay, which makes a lot of sense knowing that the Japanese don’t have radar to I mean, this is you see the enemy visually and okay, we’re going to that makes sense. Well,


Jon Parshall  1:00:18

and unfortunately one of the things that the movie sort of portrays and again, this is back in the sort of the Star Wars canon. You know, there’s a lot of planes coming in, like Digg best at relatively low level, which is now dive bombers do and you see them like literally popping up over Japanese warships on their way to the end like this entire fleet of there are only 20 Japanese warships here. And they are incredibly spread out that because we don’t have radar, what they’ve done is they’ve taken a lot of the destroyers, and they pushed them way out to the visual horizon almost. And so if that destroyer sees something coming in, it’ll start firing its guns. And then the people, you know, back in the core of the fleet, the carrier’s like, oh, Baba over there is shooting its guns, maybe we ought to send some zeros over in that neck of the woods, that’s their air defense arrangements is pretty pathetic. But in the course of coming into an attack on this fleet, man, you’d have been lucky if you’d have found one Japanese ship to pop over, you know, let alone ship after ship after ship. They make it out to be this enormous formation of dozens of ships. You know, it’s really that that a that big, the other thing of course, do die bombers, they like to dive and so they don’t want to come in at, you know, sea level, we want to be coming in at 15,000 feet, we’re going to do a gradual descent to build up some airspeed. And then when we get over our target, boom, now we go down at 90 degrees that we pay alone. So that’s what we should have seen. But


Dan LeFebvre  1:01:55

at the very end of the movie, there are some texts that explains what happens to the real people. And we don’t go through through all of that. But that reminds me of actually something, some text at the very beginning of the movie I want to ask you about here at the end. And the quote at the beginning of the movie is, according here is this is a true account of the events that led to the most important naval battle in American history, one single day that turned the tide of the war in the Pacific. Now, since the movie ends after the battle itself, the victory for the Americans, it’s it doesn’t really talk about the overall context of how it turns the tide. So can you give us a summary of how the Battle of Midway turned the tide of the war in the Pacific? Right.


Jon Parshall  1:02:31

And so this is a weird thing for a guy who wrote a book on the Battle of Midway to say, but I don’t believe in turning points in in a war this large. Okay, I believe in inflection points that will nudge a war on to a slightly new course. But there’s a lot of stuff going on in the course of this war. I absolutely do think that the Battle of Midway is the most important naval battle history in US history. It’s certainly the most important naval battle in World War Two. But it’s not because of what it does right then and there. It’s what it does bigger picture. So let me let me explain. Again, the war is a dumpster fire. And by the time though we get to the middle of 1942, the productive spigots back in the US are starting to turn on and we’ve got this enormous shipbuilding program that we know is going to bear fruit, you know, starting in mid 1943. The problem for us right now is that we’re not in daily contact with the Japanese. And so the war had been episodic for us, the Philippines, there had been some ground combat there. But that’s all done now corrected or has finally fallen, that whole garrison has gone into captivity. We’ve done some carrier raids around the perimeter, we fought a couple of carrier battles now. But if you’re thinking big picture, if I’m the United States, I know that long term, I have got it all over the Japanese I have twice the population. I am completely self sufficient in oil, Cold Steel, anything you care to name. I have a massive industrial advantage on the Japanese. But the only way this war is going to end is for me to somehow crush their military forces get my own military forces within proximity to the Home Islands. I got to capture some island bastions out there someplace where I’m either going to bomb the Japanese into ruin, or fiscally invade them. So there’s an attritional process that has to start here. I think in terms of a sausage grinder, that every day somewhere in the Pacific I need to be rolling out of bed every morning knowing it’s going to be a great day because today I am going to be killing Japanese soldiers shooting down their aircraft. Hopefully getting in the naval battle every so often and just starting this attritional process to destroy their military so that I can advance in the Pacific and do the things that I need to do. I ain’t got that now, Midway gives us that because what ends up happening as a result of Midway so the Japanese lose four aircraft carriers all four that went to that party Akagi Kaga sorry, you went here, you gone the four best aircraft carriers they add. And we only lose the Yorktown. So now by hook or by crook, what’s happened is we have dragged ourselves back up to parity with the Japanese in terms of carrier power, which doesn’t sound all that thrilling, but in the dark days of 1942, that’s a hell of a great accomplishment. And this allows Nimitz’s boss, Admiral King, who runs the US Navy back in Washington to start thinking about, where do I want to counter attack, I want to take the initiative away from these guys. And what that ends up creating within the next two months is a campaign down at this here to four unknown island called Guadalcanal. And we’re going to be invading Guadalcanal in early August, that’s going to kick off a six month campaign. And during the course of that campaign, we’re going to kill 30 to 40,000 Japanese soldiers on that island, we’re going to probably shoot down six or 700 of their aircraft, there’s going to be six major naval battles in the course of that contest that are going to sink two dozen Japanese warships, two dozen of ours to that’s the sausage grinder, that we need to you know, to start this process and our victory at Midway gives us the ability to speed up that timetable. If we had lost at Midway. I don’t think we’re gonna lose the war. But we ain’t gonna get no sausage grinder set up, you know, on August 7 1942. at Guadalcanal, right. So Midway is sort of the, it’s the gift that keeps on giving. It allows us to change the parameters of the wars sufficiently that we can now create the kind of war that we need is the bigger, heavier, you know, opponent in this thing, to start getting it to the Japanese and getting getting the attritional process going.


Dan LeFebvre  1:07:10

It sounds like it’s similar to what you’re talking about with the intelligence like okay, looking at it. Now we’re looking at the past now we can see that these are the points that picked out for all right, but it sounds like that’s almost the same case with with Midwest like, Okay, now we can look back and say this allowed us to be more offensive, more go on the offensive, you know, this was the point. If we had lost it midway then maybe it would have been a different point. But because we’re looking at it from our perspective, now we can see that that’s when the tide turned. It’s


Jon Parshall  1:07:40

interesting, too, because at the time, if you go back and read the newspaper headlines, The New York Times right around June 7, June 8, after this battle is just concluded, yes, they recognize that it’s an important victory. But there are a lot of people that are saying, you know, the Japanese are going to be back, and they’re gonna come back and even stronger numbers this next time. So nobody at at, at this point in June 42 recognizes this, for what we’re going to call it 80 years later, seminal battle game changer, you know, they, it’s just not obvious. Because again, the war is going so badly and so many other areas. There’s even editorial, three weeks after the battle, this comes out in the New York Times as well and understand that normally, the New York Times is very friendly to FDR. But they make the point in this editorial that the war is so big and so complex, and not going very well, that FDR is not capable of running this war as supreme commander, and he should turn his job over to another appointed military man maybe like Arthur is. So that gives you a bellwether is just what the the mood in the country is, at this point, the stock market is in the pits. There are a lot of people that are looking around even after this victory in mid June and going, I don’t know how this thing is going to turn out. It’s a scary time.


Dan LeFebvre  1:09:10

Throughout the movie, there were a lot of things that made me question what might have been Are you open to maybe doing some what if scenarios, bring it on? Okay. The first one, you might have already kind of started to answer that one there. But the biggest What if is we’re talking about the tide of the war and how everything changed. What if the Americans had not won the Battle of Midway midway? How do you think that would have affected the overall war?


Jon Parshall  1:09:34

Yeah, and we have to sort of couch our terms. You know, what, what does not win look like? I don’t think that there’s any scenario where we lose all three of our carriers. I think that both Fletcher and Spruance were cautious enough that they would have seen that if things are going pear shaped they would have headed for the exits and probably brought out at least one of our carriers that That’s a guess, you know, who knows. But again, going back, big picture. And likewise, I don’t see that there’s any way that the Japanese don’t lose some of their carriers in return. So I think the sort of the worst carrots case scenario that you come away with this battle is the Japanese lose, too, we lose to maybe they successfully invaded the island, although I really don’t think they could have, we could nerd out on that if need be. But the bottom line is, again, big picture, the US has an economy that is five times larger than Japan’s at the start of the war, it’s going to be eight times larger by the time we get to the end of this war. So I don’t see within the limited context of the Pacific, as long as the American political will to stay in this war is there, we’re going to beat the Japanese, I just don’t know when. And you can fast forward though, to all sorts of nightmare scenarios were okay, if we’re not as fast getting to where we got by the middle of 1945, the Russians might have invaded the northern part of jet of Japan, and we could have come out of that war with a communist occupation zone and an allied occupied, you could have had north and south Japan, just like you have North and South Korea, you know, so there’s all sorts of the further you get away from the battle, these ripples of cause and effect, get more and more nebulous, you know, and I don’t have a big enough crystal ball. All I will say, again, is that Midway is incredibly important in allowing us to start that attritional process a lot earlier than we would have otherwise. It


Dan LeFebvre  1:11:42

makes me wonder if the Japanese would have used that to their advantage, knowing that there’s this, you know, a war of attrition, essentially. And they’re like, Okay, we just got to, we don’t need to necessarily wait out the bite of the American military, but we need to wait out the American public and their will to keep this war going. Now,


Jon Parshall  1:12:06

there’s, there’s a credible line of argument that instead of precipitating an operation in the Central Pacific, in the middle of 1942, the Japanese hadn’t grabbed all the stuff that they went to war for in the first place, which really is the oil down in Sumatra and Java, the tin, the rubber, the manganese, all of the stuff that they needed to become economically self sufficient was not in the Central Pacific, it’s all out on the south, adding done that by into March. Call it, you know, start digging in, start preparing to defend. replenish your carrier groups, you know, bring new carriers online and just let the Americans come at you and try to bleed it when they when they hit your outer fences. The problem from the Japanese standpoint is, man, if you’re playing football, the last thing you ever want to do is like okay, here’s your football. Please come at us at the time and place of your choosing. You never want to give away the momentum, right? I’ve got the momentum. So I want to keep hitting the American someplace and hopefully get their morale to cave in. A problem for the Japanese though is heading attacked at Pearl Harbor the way they did attack. Everyone in America is just a curious and absolutely disinclined to negotiate with them. You really don’t see war fatigue starting to happen on the American side until later in 1945. Then there’s it’s really kind of dicey that we you know, by the time you win the war in Europe in May of 45. There are a lot of people are just like, can we just get this thing over with please. And there’s there’s a real sense of unease between the our the US Army and the US Navy. At that point, the Navy does not want to see a lot of casualties at the end of this thing. US Army on the other hand is like the longer this puppy goes, the more and more tired of it people are going to be. We need to bring this thing to a close. So that’s fast forwarding anyway. There Yeah,


Dan LeFebvre  1:14:09

yep. The next one, if that I have about midway has to do with Yorktown, actually, and there’s a line of dialogue I want to point out from the movie was between Dick best and Clarence Dickinson mentioned when your time catches up to the rest of the fleet, says I can’t believe that she made it out of drydock in time, then Clarence says something along the lines of every battle needs a miracle. Right? So what if your time was not repaired in time for the Battle of Midway? Was it a miracle like the movie seems to suggest?


Jon Parshall  1:14:36

No, I don’t think so. And as I say, you know, Nimitz was willing to fight that that battle at odds of two versus four. So, from a doctrinal standpoint, here, we’re going to take into the weeds here, but the doctrine of the time said your average dive bomber will get one hit out of six. So If I have a squadron of die bombers of 18 aircraft, if they attack an enemy carrier, I should get three hits out of that. And three hits against an enemy carrier that’s either going to, you know, disable it or sync it. So then understand that each one of our aircraft carriers carries two squadrons of dive bombers, not to mention the torpedo planes, which we think are kind of junky but we don’t really know until the battle, just how jokey they really are. But you can understand that Nimitz to say I got two carriers that means I got four die bomber squadrons, which means if I can attack first and that’s the key, that’s the nub of the matter. If I can get my attacks in first there’s no reason to think that if I can deliver a coordinated attack with those two carriers, I can’t sink all four aircraft carriers of the Japanese at one go. That’s why he’s willing to offer battle. So yeah, one of the one of the things Tony and I were trying to push back on with our book at a larger picture is that the the two most famous and best selling books on this battle remain incredible victory. And by Walter Lord and Gordon prangs Miracle at Midway, and the very titles suggest that very thing It took an act of God for us to win this battle. But what Tony and I are saying is if you look at the tip of the spear, you see that the Gumo comes into this fight with four aircraft carriers 20 warships, we come into this fight with three aircraft carriers, 20 Odd warships and the island of Midway, which can’t be sunk. Okay. And way more scouting assets in the form of float planes and that sort of thing and Fabius planes like PVY Catalinas down at at Midway. Because again, if the key of the matter is I want to attack effectively, first, that puts a big value on who’s gonna get the scouting reports in burst. If you win the scouting battle, that means hopefully you get your aircraft up burst before the Japanese do. And that is, in essence, what happened during the battle. And actually, that puts me in mind. One of the things I did want to talk about with this movie that I was pleased about, if you look at the the actual dive bomber attack itself, the Japanese story had always been that at the time of that die bomber attack at 1022. In the morning, we were this close baby, we had our planes lined up on the flight deck and they were ready to go. And then we’re just minutes away from launching this lights out counter attack against the Americans. And then oh my god, your die bombers came down and snatched it all away from us. That was a myth that was put up by a guy named Gitzo who citta he was the flight leader at Pearl Harbor, interestingly, and he wrote a book right after the war called Midway, the battle would doom Japan and II. He lied about what happened on the flight decks. And a lot of what Tony in my book talks about is why it was it for these reasons of I’m constantly cycling all these combat air patrol fighters up all morning long, I never had that opportunity to put those strike birds up on my flight deck. So at the time of the actual die bomber attack, there will no strike planes on those Japanese carrier decks. And that’s what you see in the movie to that when you’re, you know, going down on the Japanese carriers, yeah, there’s a few zeros here and there, but there aren’t any torpedo planes or die bombers or that kind of stuff. And so from my standpoint, you know, trying to move the ball forward and, and, you know, stick a pin in that myth. The movie did that for me and I was super happy about that.


Dan LeFebvre  1:18:51

Well, that leads right into what my final little what if scenario is notes with Admiral and Gumo talking about how African American bombers attack the Japanese ships, he orders the planes on the carriers to be re armed with torpedoes to bombs and said, you know, attack the land instead of the ships. And of course, that ended up being a problem. I’ve talked about kind of bleeding the time and the American passports ends up being nearby. What if Nagumo hadn’t rearmed his planes would that have affected the Japanese response to the American fleet?


Jon Parshall  1:19:17

There’s a lot of debate about that to both sides of the pond. We don’t know a lot about what was actually going on down in the hangars of the Japanese carriers and what the status of their army or rearming, were they even armed in the first place. I don’t know. I think that pneumos decision is understandable. And so for the sake of our audience here, what ends up happening is the morning strike against the island of Midway goes in at Oh 640 The Strike leader at Oh 700 than radios back to go to New Gumo and says this place had been put out of business we need He did it again. At the same time this is going on that initial strike of planes, American planes from Midway comes in. It’s ineffectual, but you know now Nagumo knows that he has been detected. And so he’s got half of his aircraft still sitting down in his hangars and he makes the decision. Okay, I want to rearm those and prepare them for a second attack against midway. A lot of people pillory him for that decision, they say exactly what you say, why don’t you just leave your torpedoes on your blades. But from his standpoint, he has not detected any American ships in the neighborhood. The Intel report that he comes into this battle tells him there’s not going to be a there’s not going to be enabled by this morning. We’re not expecting any American carriers to be there. So is he obligated now to fight this battle? perennially, with one hand tied behind his back, should I just keep that reserved strike always in my hangars arm for ships that may not ever be there. From an operational tempo standpoint, I want to be hitting the Americans as rapidly as possible. If I’m trying to put this airbase out of business so that I can invade this place tomorrow or the next day. It makes sense for me to hit them with as many available aircraft as I can. You know, ever since human beings have started sharpening sticks, we’ve understood that there’s no kill like overkill, you know, you always want to be coming in with way more assets than you need because that lowers your own casualties. And so, you Gumo ends up making what I think is very comprehensible decision given the information he had in hand, which is hit midway again as rapidly as possible. So he gives that order it Oh, 715 Okay, let’s rearm. And lo and behold, it’s only then 30 minutes later that one of those one of his scout planes come back and says hold the phone. There’s an American Horse here. And now they’re likely there. You know, we got to switch some of our aircraft back to torpedoes. Again, it’s a big kerfuffle. And then the American attacks started coming in constantly, and they never had the opportunity to get that bad strike off.


Dan LeFebvre  1:22:16

It sounds like just another example of what we talked about with the intelligence and then the Battle of Midway itself. It’s looking at it from our perspective right now. thing No, no, that that is the wrong decision to make. But in the moment, you don’t have all the same information that you have after everything is over. That’s


Jon Parshall  1:22:35

exactly right. Yeah, given the very skimpy data set that he has to operate on, standing in this fishbowl of a bridge on the economy, you know, being constantly attacked by American aircraft, you just got to make these decisions. He’s got to make them pretty, pretty quickly. You know, we don’t have the luxury of sitting back and our arms are well, obviously, you know, it’s not that kind of a thing. So yeah, we have some sympathy for the Gumo. I don’t think that he was a great leader. I don’t think that he understood the carrier as a weapon system, as well as some of his staff officers. But given the skimp Enos of the carrier playbook at this point, again, nobody really knows how these battles get bought. And given the information he had at hand at the time, that was kind of the best decision you could have made, I think.


Dan LeFebvre  1:23:24

Well, thank you again, so much for coming on to chat about midway. This is great. But for anyone listening to this, who wants to learn more about the true story, make sure to include a link to your book shattered sword untold story of Battle of Midway. But before I let you go, can you share with your favorite stories from the book that we just don’t see in the movie?


Jon Parshall  1:23:41

Yeah, so this is alluded to, you know, Spruance makes that comment late in the day. Your tattoo has been knocked out at this point. His boss, Frank, but Jack Fletcher is sort of keeping keeping track of of Yorktown and trying to salvage her. So Spruance, at the end of the day is really kind of running this battle. He has asked Fletcher for what his instructions are, and Fletcher very graciously has told him, You know, I will conform to your movements. In other words, you’re doing a great job, keep it up. So by about 6pm, at the end of the movie Spruance knows that we’ve knocked out four carriers, there may still be a fifth one out there, maybe. But his biggest concern is what happens if the Japanese decide tonight to send their surface forces further to the east what have become gunning for me, you know, and an aggressive Admiral would have positioned himself he would have closed with the enemy so that when when dawn comes tomorrow morning, I’m going to be closer to these retreating Japanese forces. I can just pound them all day long. What if they are coming and gunning for me tonight? You know, I don’t want to get into a surface by the Japanese. I’ve got a pair of battle ships in this force too. And they’ve got cruisers, and by this point in time, people are like, these guys seem pretty good at night combat. And so Spruance ends up making the decision. No, I’m, I’m going to hold these dudes at arm’s length. I’m going to I’m going to back off, and some of those officers are pedal like, Are you sure about that? And he’s like, Yeah, I’m sure because my boss, Admiral Nimitz has told me Do not do anything. Unless you think that you can do disproportionate damage to the enemy, we have to fight this battle on the principle of calculated risk, and Spruance very correctly, gages that there’s nothing I can do tonight, that is worth the risk of potentially losing this battle that we pretty much got in the bag. So 6pm or 8pm, some He gives us orders, they start pulling off to the east. And he goes and he goes to sleep. He hits the rack, which you want to talk about ice water in the veins, right. And but that was Raymond Spruance. I mean, he was just incredibly he was almost like a machine. You know, it’s just like trunk, trunk. Trunk trunk. This is the right answer, you know. And so yeah, he goes, and he gets the rack. And afterwards, you know, he’s asked, How could you actually go to sleep, you know, on the on the end of this battle, he was like, I had good officers, I knew that they would do what they needed to do, and that if worse, came to worse, they would wake me, but I needed to be sharp the following morning. And so you know, without a care in the world, he just goes to his sea cabinet and hits the rack. And he’s out like a like


Dan LeFebvre  1:26:39

a bat. That wouldn’t have been me. I was gonna say, I mean, you might know that that’s what you need. You need some rest, but that doesn’t. There’s many times you’re like, I know I need to sleep. I just can’t.


Jon Parshall  1:26:49

I can’t. Yeah, that was Raymond screwin. So yeah, that’s, that’s one of my favorite stories from sort of the aftermath of this battle.


Dan LeFebvre  1:26:55

Thank you again, so much for your time. 


Jon Parshall  1:26:58

Appreciate it, Iit’s been great fun.



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