Matt's Reviews > Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway

Shattered Sword by Jonathan Parshall
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Shattered Sword is a fine naval history book. It is a well researched book that has a multitude of facts on every page. This is a book that will be an often quoted source for many years about the Battle of Midway. The authors claim to change the way the battle will be viewed, in that the book focuses on the Kido Butai or the Japanese carrier fleet this claim can be accepted as true. The author meticulously researched the minutiae of where the Japanese aircraft were during the battle and who piloted those aircraft. Their research is admirable but possibly misplaced. The book is 436 of text with nine different appendices and often the book does bog down with which pilot was doing what at what point with instances of which sailor was doing what at the battle. This was interesting but the authors went into minutiae in details that would be better served with a few well placed examples that would best support their well thought out conclusions.

The authors did have some well thought out conclusions which do seem to put long held beliefs about the battle into context or refute them. For example its been long held that VT-8 from the USS Hornet pulled down the Japanese CAP (Combat Air Patrol) but the authors refute that fact very well. They argue that Admiral Yamamoto had forced the Midway plan without fully allowing for the US Navy’s intentions and capabilities which is true however this conclusion does ignore that Yamamoto was operating with the belief that the US had only two aircraft carriers because the belief was that the Lexington and Yorktown were sunk in the Battle of the Coral Sea and the only available carriers to the US was the Enterprise and Hornet. The authors did not take that into account in their conclusion however, their conclusion that Yamamoto’s plan was needlessly intricate and that he should have never split his forces or wait for the Japanese Carrier Division 5 was spot on.

The authors took great pains to explain how the Japanese used their carriers and the development of Japanese carrier doctrine which makes the Japanese decision’s in the battle more accessible, for example fueling and arming the aircraft in the hanger decks. This leads to the great myth they disabused that the Japanese carriers were about to launch an attack on the US carriers. Through their meticulous and excellent research they show good evidence that the Kido Butai was not ready to launch an attack but at least forty minutes from the launch. The book is worth the price just for this conclusion.

The book did have its distractions that were needless and hopefully “rookie” mistakes. The first major distraction was the tone of the book where it felt as if the authors felt superior in their information and certain arrogance came through the writing. A good example is they often said the professional historians focus on the gun directors rather than the guns because the guns are of an interest to amateurs. This made me go to the back of the book and read the authors biographies and found out that both authors are It professionals which made their other attempts resemble that of putting their book into a piece of academic research rather than a “popular” history. It is true that many histories do ignore the fire control equipment but that is usually because the equipment of that time seems as advanced to people as using an abacus. It is true fire control was critical but the machines were crank driven and until radar, the veritable fuse and the stable element were married together by the US Navy around mid 1943 most fire control was by guess and by God and since the focus of the book was June 1942 in Japanese aircraft carriers it has to be concluded that the Japanese fire control might be critical only to IT professionals.

The tone of the book was often trying to achieve a superiority over the readers and seemed as if the authors were unsure they would be taken seriously, they should have trusted their research more. The research was fantastic but the tone made me question if they were translating the Japanese primary sources or if they were relying on translations. The difference is if they were translating they would be creating their own conclusions but with a translation they would be reading the primary source through the lenses and bias of the translator. Without that information available I gave them the benefit of the doubt that they were translating the primary sources rather than relying on translations. The unneeded tone and dealing in minutiae became a distraction to a fine and excellent book. I look forward to reading Anthony Tully’s (one of the authors) new book on the Battle of Surigao Strait to see if his second effort improves on a terrific first start.
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