The Universal film Midway staring Henry Fonda has served the U. S. Navy well for the past 33 years. A new film about the Battle of Midway relating the role of our Navy's dive bombers in the victory at Midway might serve the Navy well for the next 33 years.
The dramatic visuals of dive bombers in action would be sensational in 3D or IMAX and new perspectives on the Battle offer interesting story lines as suggested below.
In April of 1942 General Sir Claude Auchinleck, the commander of British forces in the Middle East, conferred with his staff in Cairo. The Germans, under General Erwin Rommel, were assembling forces to attack Tobruk prior to moving east to invade Egypt and to seize Suez along with the Middle East oilfields. By June the British would be driven back to their last line of defense at El Alamein. The British forces desperately needed the Lend Lease aid of 300 desert equipped Sherman tanks and 100 self propelled anti-tank guns promised Churchill by President Roosevelt in February. Nazi gas killing vans would follow Rommel’s troops prepared to exterminate the half million Jews who were defenseless in Palestine.1
The Japanese had already advanced south and west through the South Pacific and Indian Oceans. Japanese aircraft had sunk the British warships Prince of Wales and the Repulse in the China Sea. The combined American, British and Dutch and Australian Asiatic Fleets were destroyed off Malaysia and Indonesia. The Japanese had driven the Allied navies from the Indian Ocean, sinking the aircraft carrier Hermes and its escorts. Admiral Nagumo’s carrier task force (Hiryu, Soryu, Shokaku, and Zuikaku) raided as far west as Ceylon and Madagascar. Japanese armies had taken Rangoon and threatened India. The Vichy French on the island of Madagascar and the Nationalist movements in India and Egypt were preparing a welcome for the Japanese and the Germans.
“Were the enemy to capture Ceylon they could imperil the sea communications not only to Australia and India but also to the Middle East, where Rommel was forcing the 8th Army back towards the Egyptian frontier. With Malta under incessant attack and a new German offensive likely in Russia this was a desperate time, and after the war Churchill was to call the prospect of a Japanese assault on Ceylon the most dangerous moment of the war”.2
The future looked bleak that April spring for General Auchinleck and the British forces in Egypt threatened by Rommel from the west and Nagumo from the east, just as the future looked bleak for Admiral Nimitz as he surveyed the remains of the U.S. Navy’s battle fleet sunk in the mud of Pearl Harbor.
“It can be argued that the only sensible policy for the Japanese in the spring and summer of 1942 was to have stood on the defensive in Asia and the Pacific….and to have staked everything on a major strategic offensive in the Indian Ocean.” 3
Since the Tri Partite Pact of 1939 German and Japanese officers had discussed linking up in the Middle East.
Admiral Raeder, the German Naval C-in-C in a report to Hitler dated February 13, 1942, wrote:
Japan plans to protect this front in the Indian Ocean by capturing the key position of Ceylon and she also plans to gain control of the sea in that area by means of superior naval forces. 15 Japanese submarines are at the moment operating in the Bay of Bengal, in the waters off Ceylon and in the straits on both sides of Sumatra and Java.
Once Japanese battleships, aircraft carriers, and submarines and the Japanese Air Force are based on Ceylon, Britain will be forced to resort to heavily escorted convoys if she desires to maintain communications with India and the Near East.4
Also in early February 1942 Hitler said:
“Rangoon, Singapore, and most likely, also Port Darwin will be in Japanese hands within a few weeks. Japan plans to protect this front in the Indian Ocean by capturing the key position of Ceylon.” Furthermore he observed that the Japanese “have recognized the great strategic importance of Madagascar for naval warfare; according to reports submitted they are planning to establish bases on Madagascar in addition to Ceylon in order to cripple sea transportation in the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea. From there they could likewise successfully attack shipping around the Cape” 5
In the middle of February 1942 Lieutenant Rost of the German Naval War Staff concluded, from a longer situational analysis:
“The current weakened position of England in the Middle East gives us the great historical opportunity to achieve a position with a few divisions in a reasonable amount of time, that in cooperation with Japan will lead to the collapse of the entire British key positions at the three continent junction point and holds war deciding consequences.” “If Germany and Japan join hands at the Indian Ocean, The final victory should not be far off.”6
At an April 14th , 1942 midnight meeting of the Defense Committee Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff spoke:
“Brooke reminded the committee of the immediate problem in the Indian Ocean. For if Japan’s advance along the southern shores of Asia was not halted, it would cut off three quarters of a million fighting men in the Middle East, leave India with it vast reserves of manpower at her mercy, and bring about the dreaded junction of the Axis partners and the exchange of raw materials they both needed. Turkey would be surrounded, the Russian oil supplies in the Caucasus would be threatened from both north and south and those of Persia and Iraq be lost to Britain and the West. Completely isolated Russia would then be forced to surrender, and any cross-Channel assault on Germany – freed from the British blockade and a war on two fronts – would become impossible.”7
However, far to the north in the Central Pacific, on April 18th a United States Navy task force centered on the carriers Hornet and Enterprise launched Major Doolittle’s Army B-25s to bomb Tokyo and Nagoya.
Aboard the Enterprise was a 42 year old naval aviator, Lt.Cmdr. Wade McClusky, an Annapolis graduate (1926) who had devoted his life to the U.S. Navy during the hardship years of the 1930’s when military officers donned civilian dress to appear in public.
Never in their wildest imaginings could Churchill, General Auchinleck, Admirals Nimitz, Admiral Nagumo, and the German officers have conjured up the chain of events that caused the quixotic raid of Major Doolittle and the courage of Lt. Cmdr. McClusky to alter the course of history at the Battle of Midway.
(To be continued.
I have spent the last twenty years searching for the truth about the Battle of Midway as told in my original blog (click here).
1. Newsweek Magazine, R.M. Morgenthau, June 14, 2007
2. The Most Dangerous Moment by Michael Tomlinson, Prolog
3. Empires in the Balance, by H.P. Willmott, Page 437
4. The Most Dangerous Moment by Michael Tomlinson, Page 55
5. Reluctant Allies by Hans-Joachim Krug, Yoichi Hirama et al. Page 75
6. Reluctant Allies by Hans-Joachim Krug, Yoichi Hirama et al. Page 181
7. The Turn of the Tide by Arthur Bryant. Pages 286-7