The many errors of Mitsuo Fuchida’s Midway

In the last 30 years, Japanese have made an effort to re-write history in a more favorable Japanese light.
So I would believe Fuchida’s book, which I read a few years ago, before the revised history.

I don’t know anything about how or if Japanese historians have revised views of the war but it is irrelevant in the case of the book Shattered Sword as it was written by American authors Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully and uses Japanese primary sources. By contrast older American sources have relied heavily upon Fuchida which would be considered a secondary source.

Shattered Sword also is far more critical of Japanese doctrine and of the ships themselves then is Fucida, for example the book claims that the Japanese had very poor damage control as compared to the U.S. Navy and in general the main thrust of the book seems to be that the IJN had deep inherent flaws that became evident when that Navy switched from offensive early in the war to a retreat.

I think you would really enjoy Shattered Sword.

The planes were on the hanger deck, just below the flight deck when they were struck. This created an enclosed space which amplified the force of the blasts. On the Japanese carriers there was also inadequate separation to confine damage and the various systems, the fueling system, firefighting systems were easily damaged, allowing fires to spread to undamaged parts of the ships.

Lots of such details in the book. Japanese success early in the war was against poorly prepared defenses. Once the carriers had to defend themselves, inherent flaws, ship design, doctrine, manifested themselves.

there is no doubt that the Japanese had a very poor sense of having a strong defense be it carriers without any protection against bomb hits to the Zero with no armor to keep the plane and pilot in the air when hit by machinegun fire to having no escort vessels to protect its vital merchant ships. Once they came across an enemy who was determined to hit them hard they were going to suffer severe consequences which they did at Midway. If the Japanese hadn’t suffered the crushing defeat they did there and then and in fact crushed the USN in June 1942, they would have suffered later when all the new fast carriers arrived in the Pacific.

What I enjoy is to look at how different outcomes might have changed the course of the War. Without US carriers available, Guadalcanal would have gone to the Japanese because I really do not believe the USN would have put up the defense there that we did unless we had carriers and of course the Japanese would have had their carriers to sink any US ships who would have been there to support the Marines. So without winning in the Solomons, the US has to wait till it is strong enough which is not until late 1943 to challenge the IJN again. The big question there is that the US would not have picked up the experience it did in the Guadalcanal campaign so any fighting in late 1943 might well have been much bloodier for the USN and it might not been until 1944 that the Nippon tide was begun to be rolled back. The whole course of the Pacific War might have been much different than it was since without the Marianas in our hands, the B29s had no base to hit the home islands from.

Eventually by mid 1944 the US would have been able to bring its might fully to bear against the Japanese Navy and they would have started to crumble likely very quickly but I also see the US having taken a few hard punches as well before we began to steadily land blows to our enemy. In the end it is US industrial production that dooms Japan…no doubt at all about that!

I could not personally see my “peanuts” at Midway; I was born two years after,

Relevant for the outcome of the Pacific war was, that Yamamoto’s bet against the American public, after Pearl Harbor, did not work. The population was not terrorized and ready for “peace talks”.

Admiral Nimitz immediately launched some strikes against Pacific islands and, for the Japanese very significant, the Doolittle bombing of their homeland. Now the Japanese were worried.

Hence, more from the original Pearl Harbor bet at Midway; with the loss of four carriers.
The Japanese could never replace the well-instructed pilots they lost.

Indeed, sea battles in the large Pacific, with the then available information, needed always a lot of luck.
However, without Nimitz’ aggressive reaction to Pearl Harbor, Yamamoto would have been the winner after Pearl (for the necessary year or two, to gain a favorable armistice), with the lost carriers and pilots still active.

Indeed, Yamamoto was the first to deploy carriers in a useful way.
However, the same Yamamoto forgot this at Midway. His battle-ships, his ‘main fleet’, 300 miles behind, could not help the beleaguered carriers. In addition, he was still in Nelson’s time, where the chief had to lead the fleet in person.
All following war movements had still the battleships at the inland sea, preserved for the final main battle. The miserable end of the two super-battleships, Musashi and Yamato in the Philippine and the Okinawa battles confirmed his error.

At Pearl, strategically involuntary, the Japanese destroyed nearly all of the Ameican battleships in the Pacific, and forced therefore the Americans to use only the remaining carriers. When the battleships were salvaged and returned to the war zone, they were very useful, not as combatants, but to shell the landing zones.

As for the Japanese sources, I have my doubts.
The Midway disaster was top secret in Japan, all source papers from the fleet and from ex-post investigations where kept together.
Near the end of the war, a large part of all secret documents was self-destroyed. I do not know where the later Japanese (and American) authors found their sources…

Can we hear some love for US submarine force? We did to Japan what Germany tried to do to the UK, at a cost of 52 submarines and about one crewmember in five.

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My respect is for all branches and all ranks of the US Armed Forces in WWII; and indeed, for the merchant mariners too.

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The book is fully references with in-text citations of course.

The book was was written in 2005 - here is a paper written in 2001

Set and Drift: Doctrine Matters Why the Japanese Lost at Midway

This source, for example, is also used in the book:

Japan’s official war history series, Boeicho Boeikenshujo Senshibu (originally Boeicho Boeikenshujo Senshishitsu, and often referred to in its abbreviated form Senshi sosho [war history]), was published by Asagumo Shimbunsha. The Midway volume,vMidoweikaisen [Battle of Midway], published in 1971

I can’t judge that for myself but evidently historians that have reviewed the papers and books have found it acceptable.

I should like, if I may, to introduce a note of caution in this thread.

The topic of Japanese sources is, as the academics would say, both problematic and fraught. There have been many interests seeking to shape the narrative, beginning with the (to put it mildly) controversial Gen. Charles Willoughby and extending down through various intelligence, foreign service, and Japanese corporate lobbying efforts through the years.

The game was, and to a lesser extent is, one of maintaining Japan as a bastion against communism and China in the Far East, and influencing American and Western public opinion toward that aim.

One area of control toward this aim was access to Japanese archives, through forgery, outright restriction and control of translations. Many scholars, including those who speak Japanese were unable to read the written language, especially handwritten documents, and were wholly dependent on “acceptable” translators for the English-language versions of documents. Bergamini was the rare scholar in the 1970s who could read written Japanese, as a consequence of having been interned in the Philippines as a youth during the war. That is one reason that earlier scholars, and promoters of the “Hirohito was just an innocent bystander” line went after him hammer and tongs when his book came out. (Their fingerprints can still be found on his Wikipedia entry.)

Things have changed since the 1970s, Hirohito is dead, more Westerners are able to read written Japanese, and Japanese aggression, Unit 731, the treatment of POWs, and the Rape of Nanking are all in the dim past to most people. Except the Chinese.



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And Koreans.

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Yes, of course.


Shattered Sword is making claims which overturns some of Fuchida so it seems like some care was used with regards to sources.

For example the claim made by Fuchida was that the deck of the Hiryu was filled with planes just five minutes away from launching an attack.

Parshall and Tully claim that more recent Japanese sources say that only a few Zeros were on deck.

But they also claim that, based on the layout of the Japanese carriers, it would have been physical impossible to have gotten the attack planes onto the flight deck that quickly.

They also use as a source the report of LT CDR RIchard Best, the American squadron leader who stated that he only saw a few Zeros on the flight deck through his bomb sight while his squadron was bombing the Hiryu and the Akagi.

Here is Best’s narrative:

"I was at full throttle nose down so that when I approached the push over point, I was going too fast to open my dive flaps; horsed up on the stick, I was at 14,000 feet before I slowed down sufficiently to open my flaps. With all of the violent maneuvering, we were not detected and there was no AA fire of any other sign of awareness. We came in at a 70-degree dive angle released at 2,000 feet and were cocked back at a steep climb angle to observe the bombing results. The first bomb hit forward of the bridge and tore up the deck. The second bomb hit the lead fighter on the fan tail of a group of six or seven Zeroes, which were in the process of launching (the first Zero ran through my bomb sight as I put my eye to the telescope at 3,500 feet ). The third bomb hit among the Zeroes and probably was the bomb that jammed the rudder and had the Akagi mindlessly circling as long as she stayed afloat.

Of course none of this will ever be 100% conclusive but it doesn’t seem like just a matter of uncritical acceptance of either older or newer Japanese sources.

I didn’t intend to call out one particular narrative or another, just to give a heads-up on the general situation, particularly as it pertained to Hirohito’s role in starting the war.



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