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The Battle of Midway - Myths, Legends and Greatness (with Jon Parshall)

May 30, 2021
Hello everyone and welcome to another video. This week we will interview another special guest. This week we'll be talking to half of the team of authors behind the wonderful book Shattered Sword, if you haven't read it. Because? No, you should order a copy right now. An image will appear on the screen if you can recognize it. If not, I'll put some links to the various distributors in the US, UK, etc. in the description below. To put an end to this inevitable suspense, this is uh John biased and we're going to discuss a little more about the details of Midway because I'm sure many of you have heard the


told and retold in countless ways, um, maybe with some varying levels of accuracy depending on the format of the medium, um, but there are some things that are perhaps less talked about when it comes to the middle of the road and that's what we're going to try to cover today, so as we introduce John Partial, thank you very much.
the battle of midway   myths legends and greatness with jon parshall
Thank you so much for joining me, glad to be here, so we're going to follow the same kind of format that we normally use with these videos, so we have a list of questions that will broadly guide what we're talking about. I make no promises about it. random tangents or detours, it's the inevitable way of things, um, but I guess we'll start, so if okay, yeah, okay, then let's start with the first question, um, since obviously the middle of the road is not the first major aircraft carrier


. The US Navy is involved in World War II, the first obviously was the Coral Sea, so given the overall outcome of the Battle of Coral Sea, I think it's fair to say it's a strategic victory. , they managed to get the Japanese to turn back. but it is a tactical defeat because they lose Lexington and Yorktown are badly damaged.
the battle of midway   myths legends and greatness with jon parshall

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the battle of midway myths legends and greatness with jon parshall...

The Japanese don't turn out that bad at all. What is the mood of the US Navy at the halfway point? You know, I think it's a little difficult to characterize the mood of an entire institution as large as the US Navy at that time, I think you have to put it in the context of some of the other events that have already been happening at about the same time, I mean, just the day before the coral sea was fought, of course, the corregidor finally gives up and you know, the last remnants of the Philippines are sinking into darkness and I think it's worth the It's sad to say that the general mood, in mid-1942, is incredibly dark, that this has been a terrible run for the Allies, not just the Americans, but also the British and the Dutch.
the battle of midway   myths legends and greatness with jon parshall
You know, everything has collapsed in the Pacific at this point, the Allied strategic position has just been destroyed. The British have suffered, you know, calamitous defeats in Malaya and finally the surrender of Singapore and, frankly, the campaign in Burma is also going just as badly, so it's easy for us to sit here at 75 years old, remove and sort. to look back and say, well, I know how the story ends, so it couldn't have been that bad, but I'm here to tell you, if you look at some of the eyewitness memories from that year, you know, from anyone, Lord Alan Brook. eisenhower even nimitz at this point there are quite a few forebodings about how the trajectory of this war is going so well that we managed to prevent a japanese advance against the port moresby coral sea, where does that leave the navy?
the battle of midway   myths legends and greatness with jon parshall
I think that, generally speaking, the Navy still believes in its capabilities as a fighting force and I particularly think that the airmen aboard our various aircraft carriers believe with some reason that they are a fairly elite force and that in reality they have not necessarily been tested. with all their force against the Japanese. So I think on the one hand you have some trepidation about this next mid-course battle and you know they're rushing into it now, but at the same time I think if you talked to guys like Richard Best or Wade McCluskey or some of the other squadron leaders on these ships would give them plenty of reassurance that we know what we're doing and if we can get a good target in our sights we can move forward.
Okay, so yeah, kind of yeah, I guess on the front line there's probably the desire to fight, you know that in a lot of ways, but at the higher levels, that's what doing ninja doesn't go as well as we thought. Yeah, it's not going well at all, I think you're right that they are certainly at the squadron level, the airman level, uh, there are a lot of people in the ranks who are absolutely eager to get revenge on the Japanese, um and yet, at At the same time, at that same level, there's certainly talk in torpedo squadrons, for example, that we know we're flying a relatively obsolete airframe here and I don't know what my personal chances of survival in this next skirmish are necessarily. so good, which unfortunately turned out to be the case, yeah, so let's talk about those air groups in a little more detail when it comes time for battle, so with the American air groups with uh hornet yorktown and let's take them on It took quite a while to get your strike groups off the ground, compared to the Japanese, so was there any specific reason for this, an operational reason, and if so, did you identify a good way around it?
Yeah, the real problem, uh, that's What's happening here is a minor problem for Yorktown. The Yorktown pack actually shoots pretty cleanly and the reason is that they don't have to break their place; In other words, they make a deck charge attack and place a squadron of dive bombers. a squadron of torpedo planes and some fighters, an escort, so they can put that whole package in one place on the flight deck. The problem with Hornet and Yorktown or Enterprise, excuse me, is that they're basically trying to do the whole meal. deal, you know I'm launching all my planes and that unfortunately means that I have to send a part of them and then bring the rest of the hangar decks to detect them and send them too and that turns out to be a really problematic matter and therefore, you're absolutely right, in the case of both carriers, it takes almost an hour to get their air groups in the air and that leads to, you know, all kinds of problems in terms of attack coordination, so, um, in middle of that, realizing that you know some of these planes are burning precious gas while they wait for their buddies to come to them, you know, they send these squadrons.
They set off and I forget the exact number of different aircraft formations that were flying around, but they were probably on the order of six or seven, you know, in squadron-sized packs looking for the Japanese fleet, um and then you have the breakup from the Hornet Air Group where Torpedo Squadron Commander John Waldron decides that you know the course they are taking is not the course they should be taking and in fact splits up his squadron and goes after the Japanese separately. , so Yorktown was the most experienced of the three flight decks there, so I think it's pretty clear that their operations were a little more skilled than the Enterprise and the Hornets, but to some extent I think some of those problems had even already been resolved by the time you got to the afternoon attacks, you heard that, well, there were, of course, fewer American planes left at that point in the battle, but we were also a little less ambitious and just put cover as cover .
Load attacks into those covers and put them in the air. You don't see much of that kind of behavior in some of the later carrier battles like Eastern Solomon's and Santa Cruz. Those attack packs seem to increase a lot. cleaner than what you did in the middle of the morning and while this isn't the first carrier battle we've fought in the middle of the morning, it's still only the second and I think that's another thing that's hard for people to understand. their heads around that right now the kind of playbook that people are using for aircraft carrier operations is very thin, you know, this really is kind of the wild west of naval weapons systems here right now and it's a book that is literally being written as we go about how we conduct these types of battles, so I guess I'm not too surprised that both carriers had as much trouble as they did just getting their strike packages, yeah yeah , I mean, I was.
I was looking back through some of the stories of some of the fleet issues they were doing in the '30s and the massive preponderance of things like putting up smoke screens to cover destroyer attacks in a surface action and things like that. , as you say, it is like that. No, they're not fighting the war that they thought they were going to fight in the '30s, yeah, and I'm so sorry, I was just going to say that I think the one thing that's also overlooked by people, there's been a lot of kinds of uh What do I mean? expose


's de facto analysis and even some criticism from spruance and fletcher of the two commanders there who you know didn't follow nimitz's battle plan as precisely as they should have and should have.
They had their aircraft carriers right here and they launched right now and they would have been able to meet the Nagumo scupper without any loss. I think people don't realize that at this point in the development of not only the aircraft carrier as a weapons platform but also just the nature of communications in this war, the nature of reconnaissance in this war right now, that simply carrying fleets from aircraft carriers to roughly the same place in the ocean so they could even fight was working out pretty well, you know, and particularly when it comes to reconnaissance issues and that sort of thing, you know, now we have the benefit.
I guess a lot of us probably couldn't go to the grocery store and back without Siri whispering in our ears and telling us where to go and these guys weren't having any of that. You know, I'm taking off from a flight deck. My navigation systems are the compass on the dashboard of my airplane. I have a paper map the size of my thigh. I have a pencil, I have a ruler, maybe a protractor or something. That's how I'm sailing and I'm in the middle of the Pacific, you know, so it was very difficult for planes to get there from one point. a to point b and then return to point a again after they have done their business and in the same way, pilots who are doing reconnaissance missions only have a vague idea of ​​where they really are, so if you look at the sighting report That scout Tony's number four, you know, he sends back to Nagumo saying that I have sighted an American aircraft carrier, it's about 70 miles away, you know, so the whole picture should be one of confusion, in many cases the communications are obsolete and the machinery is very old.
The type of battle is still very irregular, particularly on the American side when it comes to conducting these deck operations, yes, when I mean in regards to reconnaissance, I remember one of the previous incidents where Goomba was involved with the raid on the Indian Ocean, um. and I was looking at a map of Midway and I realized that when you have Somerville and their carriers and Nagumo and their carriers and if you overlaid where the British carriers were during that operation on a map of Midway, you would have had the British concerns. passing almost not quite, but almost halfway between where the American and Japanese aircraft carriers were that day, but in that case, other than an albacore that was shot down pretty quickly because it was an albacore, um um, neither side I had an idea where they were.
The fact that this mid-course compromise is happening is such that they even have a vague idea of ​​where they are, so they've already overcome a pretty big hurdle and that actually I think speaks to another issue that is difficult for the reader. modern in many cases to understand, I mean, we broke the Japanese codes well, that's why we know that the Japanese carrier force is going to appear, we think at this date in approximately this position and we have this kind of modern presupposition that if I know that the enemy is coming, I win the battle, you know, I have this information in my hands.
I should be able to win. It was very, very difficult to translate strategic-level intelligence about enemy intentions into battlefield-level effectiveness at the tactical level. and I find intriguing parallels between that and the performance of the eighth army in the western desert during the year 1942. You know, guys like awk achenlec and montgomery in many cases had very good information coming from ultra about what Rommel was going to be. but if you don't have the doctrinal and tactical means to translate that intelligence into meaningful results on the battlefield, you still can't win, yeah, so I know we mentioned it briefly, but with the Hornets air group, obviously, the real big attack. that hits the japanese is made up of yorktown and company planes that show up around the same time, but the hornet air group doesn't really appear much in that action because they just go off on their own little mission, um, that's how it was.
It's literally just a which one of the squadron commanders leaves, I don't actually think the guys on the ship were right, I'm just going whichever direction I go, yes there are elements of that, this is the infamous flight to Nowhere where Hornet launches his air group and there has been much discussion about whether that group lost Nagumo to the north by flying a course that was basically due west or if the Hornets group flew too far to the southwest and lost him to the south. I am firmly convinced that it flew north of Nagumo and followed a straight course of basically 265 or 270 degrees.
I think what's going on there and this has never been documented. but when I talk to guys like john lundstrom and also um uh craig simons, who has also written a good book on


, the feeling that we all have is that mitcher, who is the commander of hornet, who is an old line aviator and recently They punched his ticket for rear admiral. He knows that he is going to be an admiral after this battle. I don't think he'd particularly like working for a guy like Fletcher, who isn't an aviator by profession, and pre-battle information estimates that he would.
Going back to these guys, the Japanese are going to operate in two work groups, they are kind of a mirror image, you know the Americans are going to operate in two work groups, so they feel that the Japanese are going to be doing the same thing, none of the sighting reports they have received so far have seen more than two aircraft carriers out there and that is why we assume that mitcher is saying that there has to be another task force out there and if there is one it is probably following the one we have seen and therefore So that would put it north of what we've seen and that's where I'm going to go, so he tells his air group commander, Stan Hope, what I want you to take. your air group and go out and look for this other second mythical task force and that is the result or the reason for this, you know, a huge mistake that is never admitted in post-battle reports and there is a lot of mystery around that .
Also, I think part of what's going on there is that hornet doesn't really want to admit how bad things have gone and bring up the idea that you know you look at John Waldron's actions during the battle where he takes vt8 and goes southwest looking for the Japanese alone, I mean, he has a fight on the air on the radio with his superior officer and he's insubordinate and he leaves and it's okay, he's right, you know, he finds the Japanese, it's the only hornet group that does it , but in the process they kill him in his entire command.
Do you really want to mention that in the post-battle report? Know? Do you really want to raise this ugly issue that this entire squad emulated as a result of an insubordinate act? in the context of the larger air group not doing anything significant, you know, I think there's a lot of things like let's just not talk about this, you know, and I hope this problem goes away, but you'll notice after the battle, Spruance and Nimitz. Expressly say that if you have questions and details between the companies report and the Hornets report, believe the companies report that says that Spruance believes that Mitcher prepared that report, yes, so what I think is happening there is fair enough , yeah, I guess it's yeah, I guess like you.
Let's say there are so many different reasons to do that and everything from wanting it to not look like various animals are just doing their own thing to, as you say, the one squad that gets wiped out is probably much better for morale to say yes. , they came in, they fought with it with their comrades from the other aircraft carriers and they lost their lives doing it instead of being killed because they didn't listen to the orders, right, yeah, well, and that feeds. On a broader topic about vt-8 in general, I mean, throughout the historiography of this battle, there has always been this myth that the sacrifice was tragic, but you know that it dragged the zeros down to the water level and that, In a way, it paved the way. for the dive bombers you know they do their thing the problem with that is that vt8 was completely destroyed around 0 9 35 in the morning and the dive bombers won't show up until 10 20 you know but basically 50 minutes .
I have news for you later, you know your average zero can go from sea level to 15,000 feet in about seven minutes, you know? That means the sacrifice of the vt-8 isn't dragging the zeros down to deck level, really what? What vta does is take 20 minutes off the clock, if you will, they set Nagumo back and prevent Nagumo from doing any sort of detection operations during that window of opportunity, so they take some time off the clock, um, that's a Pretty tragic way to have to take it. Time off that clock, yeah, yeah, and also I guess that brings us to our next question, talking about the Japanese seeing their planes on the deck, so for decades we've had this thing that we now know is a myth, but the story, um, is much older. books and even in some movies of these crowded flight decks of Japanese aircraft carriers and that is, from what I understand, based largely on a single account by a Japanese navy man who happened to be there and apparently the rest of Japanese historians do not.
I believe in the slightest, um, are any of the US Navy pilots actually conducting these attacks when they are doing their after action reports? Do they really come back with any observations about whether or not these flight decks had many airplanes on them? one way or another, um and if so, how was his testimony in favor of a loan account from the other side ignored? I know if you're the pilot of an American dive bomber diving from 15 to 17,000 feet on this roller coaster to the decks below, you're being shot at all this time, so there's criticism on your windshield that's not very fun. and the other thing is too and I don't want to denigrate our flying brothers, but the accounts of aviators in general are often taken with a large grain of salt as to what the pilots thought they saw or thought they shot down or what?
What do you have? So if you actually take a look at the accounts of American aviators, it's a real mixed bag, some of them say yes, I saw planes on the flight deck, but in many cases you don't know if that's what they think. did they see right after the action itself or is it a memory of some time in the 1970s, when, you know, the Fujita book that came out in 1955 said that our flight decks were full. Memory is a really malleable thing and you know if you start reading other accounts from the other side that tells you this it's like oh yeah that's what I saw you know on the other hand you get accounts from guys like Richard Best who said I saw very few planes on the flight deck as I went down um and so and and that I think fits precisely with what we think was in the Japanese flight tax Tony and I never said there were no planes on the Japanese flight decks, there certainly were, but they were all fighters and they were combat air patrol fighters, so I would expect that in the course of that dive bomber attack as a pilot, yes, I would have seen three planes, maybe six planes, something like that on those decks of flight, but there were not a large number of attack aircraft, bombers, on the flight deck, and so you know, we resorted to a mathematical exercise and the conclusion is that if you are going to take a group of planes to the flight deck , warm up those puppies and get the pilots there, you know yadda yadda yadda.
The mechanics of that take a minimum, you know, 35 minutes, maybe 40, 45 is probably more appropriate and during that time the entire flight deck is closed and I have to be warming up my engines, etc., etc. I have direct deck logs for macagi, for example, where Akagi lands three planes that we know of at 10 10 and is bombed at 10 27, so I have 17 minutes, you know, to hypothetically have put her entire strike force on deck, mathematics just doesn't. work and I really think that's the kind of critical point in our argument, not right, this guy saw this, but that guy saw that kind of account, we're really saying, show me how your math works, show me how you can. get a strike force there and ready to go in 15 minutes, you can't, so that's the basis, yeah, it makes a lot of sense to me, to be completely honest, I mean, apart from anything else, that's it what the sarcastic little engineer inside me said more or less Says well, if the entire strike group and all of their weapons and fuel were on the flight deck and the bombs fell on the hangar deck, what exactly were they cooking down there? because everything was up there, but yes?
You know, these ships were 1920s era warships and one of the things that my friend Chuck Haberline, who used to work in the historic navy center, pointed out was that we really don't fully understand how vulnerable these things were to fire because the Japanese and Americans at the time did not understand how vulnerable warships were to impact damage, for example the fact that many of the water pipes for fire suppression systems were cast iron, you know ? The detonation of a bomb somewhere nearby would shatter those pipes like glass, so even if there had been no attack aircraft in the hangars, the simple fact that the fuel system was operational would probably have meant at least for some of these aircraft carriers that, um, you know were their goose, were literally cooked, uh, regardless of where those aircraft were located, yeah, yeah, so, um, yeah, speaking of aircraft carriers, that pretty unfortunate ending, obviously, on the American side, you have Yorktown, obviously it's coming from overseas.
Pearl Harbor with patch repairs is not able to reach her full speed, but when the Japanese attack Yorktown she remains as with her sister ship Hornet later, it still takes a big hammer blow to really subdue her in multiple stages. at what stage along the line of the various assaults he undertakes is he hit by yorktown practically irrevocably doomed or something like that when the plane, when all the planes are gone and all is said and done, had he not been subsequently followed by The submarines could have been saved at that time. I am absolutely convinced that she would have made it home if it had not been for the torpedoes from I-168 that killed her a couple of days after the battle. one class were fabulous boats, very resistant to damage and, yes, she was listing badly, but the flood had been largely contained and the fact that they were sending a fleet tug to get her out I don't think she was in any way. imminent danger of sinking, but Tanabe's submarine kills her and you know, as soon as those torpedoes hit, then yeah, game over, yeah, yeah, I gotta say it, obviously, Hornet is the other Yorktown that goes down and recently , when I've been searching. in the Gradle Canal campaign, so everyone gives up because they think she's doomed and then they send in the destroyers and the destroyers hit her with more torpedoes and some shells and horns.
No, I'm sinking. on my own schedule thank you very much and you have to go because the Japanese are literally on the horizon and then the Japanese find it and it's like why is this thing still here? Yes, and finally they are the ones who finish it, but yes, them. she could absorb an enormous amount of damage um yeah, I look, I look at Hornet, you know the final demise of her, of course, she would have been completely ruined, even if she hadn't been sunk, she had been completely burned, like frankly, some of the Japanese. The haulers also look at Kaga, oh my god you know even if they could have towed her home at that point she wouldn't have been worth anything but razor blades but yeah the bottom line is you gotta put water in these hulls. or they are not attacked alone, they will not in most cases, yes, so obviously the Japanese, as they do in many of these battles, have separate surface forces, other than the aircraft carriers that do not serve in a direct escort. role once it was all said and done with the airstrikes of the day were those Japanese surface forces a credible threat to the remaining American carriers, I don't think so, you know, the bottom line is that as long as the American carrier commanders are successful By staying at a distance, what can the Japanese surface forces do to them?
I think it can be argued that you know Yamamoto could have decided to take the main body halfway and bomb it. I think there is something, you know, given the amount of damage that a typical battleship can absorb before finally being sunk, and given the damage that had been done to the air groups of the American aircraft carriers, one could argue that that surface force could have survived in that place. that air envelope for a certain amount of time, but realistically speaking, you know what you're really going to achieve. Well, I'm going, I'm halfway there. I don't really have any kind of formal gunfire support doctrine to get my troops on the ground if there's anything that late.
The Americans learned from that kind of bombardment of heavily fortified Japanese islands that it takesa lot of weapons power to do something credible in days and days to days to do it, so I don't think the Japanese did it. have they been able to do anything significant off the island, I'm really very skeptical that they would have been able to get an amphibious force even ashore let alone take the place, and even if they take it, they can't keep it available, IMO. It's just that Yamamoto realized several of those things at least on some level and it's kind of interesting when you look at what's happening aboard the battleship Yamato which is behind Nagumo's aircraft carriers by several hundred miles, there are these kinds of scenes pitiful in the middle of the night after the battle is lost, when the staff officers are grasping at any number of straws to try to figure out if there is any way we can pull this back from the brink of defeat and it really takes them until they know two or three in the morning before they finally realize that this just isn't happening and finally it's Yamamoto who becomes kind of the voice of reason with these younger officers and it's basically like they get out of this guys, the battle is lost, you know better Don't go fighting a fortress with a warship like this, it's just not going to work, yeah, yeah, and I mean, obviously, I think we've talked about several of the most common


or the most common. oh, but they could have done it halfway, um, but that's what you would say after looking at it in such detail, what's the biggest myth about halfway that you'd like to dispel.
Well, we've already discussed one of them, which is the whole myth around flight decks and that was something that we didn't go into in the process of writing the book, uh, to dispel, uh, we never wrote this book to, ya You know, getting fuchita, that was never the intention. This whole exercise was really about just writing a book about the Japanese side of the battle, and it wasn't until we were two or three years into the writing process that we started to realize that we knew this flight. The deck thing just doesn't seem to hold together when you start looking at the air group records, so that was a big myth to get rid of all this reframing of what was happening on the flight decks.
I feel like the other that is. Also really pernicious is this whole notion of the overwhelming odds that Americans had to fight to win this particular battle. When I teach my course on this battle at the naval war school, I have a slide that shows all the warships on the Japanese side of the list versus the American warships, you know they are facing them and when you first start , all this sliding comes out with all the various formations that are running in the Pacific in some way, whether it's in the Aleutians or whatever. You know the Americans are absolutely outnumbered, but when you start to zoom out, you know the Aleutian battle force and the Aleutian invasion force and the main body and the oilers and you know this that and the other when you get to the forces. who are at the tip of the spear on June 4, 1942, you know, Nagumo's ships against Fletcher and Spruance's ships, you know, the Japanese are actually a little outnumbered, I forget exactly between 21 and 24 warships, yes, they have four aircraft carriers, we only have three aircraft carriers, but we also have, you know, the Midway Island that cannot be sunk, they have 248 transport aircraft, we have 360 ​​aircraft, whether land or aircraft carriers , and one of the things that I think makes this battle so back and forth during the Morning, it's really a very close issue, so I think we need to put an end to this notion that the Americans triumphed against overwhelming odds.
We were able to take him out because we had enough strength at the point of contact with the Japanese. They could have outnumbered us significantly if they had brought in, you know, a composite air group aboard the Zuikaku or maybe put some of the other smaller carriers like the Ryujo or some of the other smaller light carriers into the mix, but they didn't, so yeah. So um turning everything around a little bit, from the biggest myth to what do you think is your favorite moment or your favorite part of the action in the entire battle for me, the pinnacle of it is during the dive bomber attack when Richard Best, who is the commander of Bombardment Squadron Six, realizes that due to a miscommunication or something went wrong, both companies' squadrons are attacking Kaga and that means Akagi will get away with it.
His dive was ruined by some of the other planes from Scout Squadron 6 hitting Kaga, so he and two of his wingmen, you know, come off their dives at the best last-minute spots, Akagi, and They decide that you know you can. Don't let this ship get away, with her small command, you know, she has three planes right and the doctrine says that we are going to attack an enemy aircraft carrier. I want a full squadron of 15 to 18 planes to chase this thing. I have three um, but he can, you know, attack that ship successfully. Three planes go down.
Three bombs fall. One of them hits Akagi and it's pretty clear it's the better bomb. All I've heard from people who actually knew Richard. better and I missed meeting him by a very narrow margin, he was a consummate professional, a very, very good experienced pilot, and to me that is just emblematic, here is a guy who not only has the situational awareness to understand the big picture . of what it means to let this carrier get away, but then I can follow it with consummate aerial skill and tactical skill and actually get that puppy away, which to me is the key element in the battle, you know, that really seals the deal.
Until now. like making sure that the Japanese carrier force is going to be destroyed right now, yeah, yeah, it's oh yeah, like you say, uh, I should be looking, obviously, looking more through the ship aspect of things, like ground do, do you see that? With multiple admirals, it's like you get a good admiral who's good at tactical command but has all the strategic awareness of a wet noodle, um, and you get some who can, can do five-dimensional chess with him with the enemy fleet. and they can take them exactly where they want, but when it comes to the actual battle, their attitudes are like shooting them, maybe, um, and only the great admirals were able to anticipate what the enemy was going to do and then take the action directly towards them um and that's a consistency throughout history and I guess the best thing is Richard is the m and the equivalent of having both strategic and tactical ability absolutely yes, I would agree with that um so obviously um unfortunately obviously, yorktown is lost, although it takes a hell of a lot to sacrifice it, especially compared to what happened to lexington in the coral sea, so how far exactly have the navy's damage control and damage control procedures come since the coral sea?
I've been looking right after Guadalcanal Eastern Solomon Santa Cruz. One thing I've noticed, especially when looking at companies' post action reports, is that the action report is one or two pages long and then there's almost a little book here's it all. the things that could have been done better and here's how to solve it was the same kind of jump from the coral sea to the middle of the road. I think the most important innovation has to do with fuel systems, but let me talk about that broader topic because I think you are absolutely correct when you talk about the amount of space that Americans dedicate.
Here are all the things we should have done better. I think one of the most interesting aspects of this whole period during the war is that on the one hand, you have the Japanese who have succeeded everywhere they have gone and yet they don't seem to have learned much about the weapons system that they have created and, on the other hand, there are the Americans who are in the middle. of this horrible six-month stretch in the early stages of the Pacific where we're getting our asses kicked, it's horrible and the Americans are frantically adapting to this new threat environment that they find themselves in and I think one of the things that best What the U.S.
Navy is doing throughout this whole war is just learning, learning how to learn, and in fact, you know, a companion to a friend's book, Trent Hohn, has published a new book called Learning War, which talks mainly about surface combat and the solomon islands and again, the same theme of how do you take a learning organization like the navy and promote a culture that makes it okay to say you know we did this wrong for so long and this wrong, um and the bottom line is that now, if you fast forward to the last period of the war and take a look at what the US Navy knows compared to, frankly, any other navy in the world.
Certainly in regards to damage control, there is simply no comparison, it was one of the things I found most fun during my research. I was looking at the navy's technical report after the war. They sent teams to Japan to interview naval officers and you know we wanted to learn everything there was to know about the Japanese navy. Your weapons, your sonar, your torpedoes, especially your torpedoes when you take damage. control is this thin little pamphlet and there's a disparaging comment in the first part saying that you know damage control as the US Navy understood it didn't exist in the Imperial Japanese Navy anyway, going back to your original question, what did we learn next?
Coral Sea, I think the most important event that happened there was the fuel officer at Yorktown, a guy named Oscar Meyer, of all things, if you had known that during this battle we saw Lexington burn to the waterline like result of a fuel fire on his hangar deck and he looks at this hell and it's like I don't want this to happen to my ship and he comes up with a brilliant idea, you know what would happen if we put co2 and inert gas in the lines of fuel from our fueling system. system, takes it to the damage control officer in Yorktown and says, "I have this idea, what do you think?" and the dco sounds good to me, let's try it and when we get halfway there, a month later, this is now, you know. standard operating procedure at least in Yorktown if that innovation hadn't happened in that time frame, I'm pretty sure that when she was dive-bombed, she probably would have suffered catastrophic damage right then and there and been out of the fight.
Almost immediately, if that had happened, it would have meant that the next attack by Japanese torpedo planes, instead of going after the already damaged Yorktown, could have gone after their Enterprise or Hornet if they had been able to find them. The fact that his city was able to absorb that level of punishment and not suffer a catastrophic fire already speaks to a very high level of competence and damage control and it was only going to get better from there, yes, and of course by not going up to hell also meant that, even though she was sunk, many more Yorktown sailors had to return home at the end of the campaign, sure, yeah, look at some of the holocausts in um, you know, my goodness, Kaga loses, you know, 700 guys, Soryu loses 700 guys.
You know, it's absolutely horrible and yes, time does get a lot easier, so, well, the last question we've listed is regarding Admiral Fletcher, so of course, in theory he was never supposed to be there, like it was supposed to be. be admiral halsey in charge um except they ran him aground yeah well it was actually spruance who wasn't supposed to be there because spruance actually takes halsey's place but you're right that the classic lineup would have been halsey and the general command. Fletcher running, uh, Yorktown flight deck, um, but yeah, it doesn't happen in the end, yeah, so do you think Admiral Fletcher, being sort of a stand-in for Halsey, is the best man for the job on this one? battle?, um, and if so, why else is he the one doing it?
Do you think that on the list of US admirals it would have been better to put him in his space? Yes, it's a really interesting question and there is still quite a bit of debate about it. I mean, Nimitz said he was glad Halsey was. He was there because he feared that Halsey had been too aggressive and might have ended up running into some evil late-night encounter with the Japanese surface forces, um as a result of her desire to be, you know, closer to the Japanese aircraft carriers. After the battle had been won, while a cautious guy likes bruises he's like no, no, no, I'm going to keep these people at a distance.
I feel like Fletcher, um, was a great choice overall, I feel like Fletcher's reputation as a carrier. The commander was clearly tainted during the war, frankly, as a result of his actions off Guadalcanal later, when he supposedly pulled out his carriers too early and we can get into that I haveLots of pretty sarcastic things to say about Richmond Kelly. Turner in that sense, but I feel like if you look at Fletcher's overall record, you have to say you know the guy fought in three carrier battles during his tenure, won all three, if you look at the ratio of forces exchanged, he lost two carriers, but he sank six on the Japanese side of the list and the battles that he fought were in absolutely crucial portions of the war, you know, when things were really low and things were really dark, you know, having won those victories the way he He did it, I think it's an absolutely splendid example, and although he was something of an odd duck and he wasn't an aviator, I think he did it very credibly, so I don't see any reason to remove him from command whatsoever. of a mid-course counterfactual, okay, yeah, I mean, I have to admit that was my conclusion too.
I can't remember how long ago, a few months ago, someone asked me: who would I be? Who do I think that? Was it yes? I was talking about Admiral Cunningham versus Admiral Fletcher um and sort of who was the better commander. I think so, I think it was something like yes, if you had taken Fletcher at the halfway point and put him in charge of the Mediterranean. fleet and vice versa and the comment I made was that looking at Fletcher and how he commanded versus some of his contemporaries and colleagues in the US Navy and I don't know what you agree with on this, but it struck me that Fletcher He is incredibly calculating. just look this is the way to inflict absolute maximum damage to the enemy this is the way to preserve my forces as best as I can keeping in mind the first objective and that's what I'm going to do he no he doesn't see as he says there is nimitz was worried corridors it could be he could not go yes, we have won, let's go after them um but still he won't go, he won't go oh no, the enemy flees, it's just absolutely in the line of my duty is to destroy the enemy, my next duty is to preserve my ships, in the end, yes, and it's interesting that you should mention that because Nimitz issues extremely clear instructions to the two commanders of his carriers that you should not risk your forces unless in a position to inflict disproportionate damage to the enemy.
The underlying subtext I think is absolutely clear in that regard: you know that if you are put in a position where your carriers are in danger and you won't be able to do anything. Get out of there in a meaningful way, let the marines you know deal with a potential invasion, that's what they're there for, but it's not worth risking those carriers unless you can do something meaningful, I think also if you look at their performance midway through. on the way and how he treats his subordinates um you know, spruance is very much in control of the second half of that battle and fletcher was perfectly capable if he wanted to, he's flying his flag now on a cruiser after the yorktown has been left out of combat, he could easily sailed over to the other task force and raised his flag aboard the hornet and said, I'm in charge again and you know, let's move on, but he realizes that Spruance is running this battle perfectly competently. and that's why he doesn't want to bother that.
Apple Cart and simply lets Spruins continue doing his thing, which to me indicates a tremendous level of emotional maturity and the ability to delegate to trusted subordinates. You know, just get out of the way and let them do their thing, yeah, I think. he was, I think he was a knight, I think he was also a very competent warrior, yes, from what you described there, it basically goes again, it's like my job is to kill the enemy if my subordinates are killing the enemy. Brilliant. them, I've traded them well, yeah, we're winning, we're winning, you know, that's the important thing, so yeah, um, I mean, if you don't mind, we've got a little bit of time, I guess. maybe then if we can take a little detour to guadalcanal which is obviously the next stage of the US carrier campaign, I'm very interested to hear what you mention, well you saw it hinted at with your reflections on Fletcher . and Turner and that whole situation, yeah, you know, I look at Turner and he was a tremendously capable individual, he was also just a horrible human being and, you know, kind of a barely functional alcoholic at the end, certainly later in the war. , Turner ends up being nice. to stab Fletcher in the back Fletcher knew there was going to be a Japanese reaction to the invasion of Guadalcanal.
He is absolutely convinced of that and he knows that he can only keep his carriers off Guadalcanal for a certain period of time before having to withdraw. He will return and refuel them because he is absolutely convinced that there will be a follow-up battle with aircraft carriers on this island. He's absolutely right, so he ends up staying two days after the initial invasion and then, you know, late at night. he turns around and starts heading back to his refueling point, well what he doesn't know is that that same night during the battle of sabo island, you know, the allied cruiser force in iron bottom sound gets absolutely crushed and now you know the invasion forces are still busy unloading supplies and are behind schedule, not that Turner has told anyone that we are now completely exposed to Japanese attack.
Turner basically propagates this myth that you know Meater just turned around and ran out of there and over the centuries, this has been It's a perennial thing with the US Marine Corps that they abandoned us on Guadalcanal and that guy Fletcher left us here, you know? And it's hard even now to find anyone in the US Marine Corps who says anything good about the Navy in general. but certainly you know, uh Fletcher, in this context, what I'm pointing out is that I'm working on a battle, a book about 1942. None of this would have been a problem if Turner's cruiser force hadn't gone and been destroyed.
No one would have cared about the water in the first place, but really what I think is going on here is that Turner is desperately looking for scapegoats. In fact, a marine admiral shortly after the battle says you know in no time, uh Turner. He was blaming everyone else except Mother Teresa for the defeat, you know, so he's desperately looking for scapegoats to deflect criticism from himself when the bottom line is that he was in command of the surface forces off Guadalcanal, had personally examined all the defense arrangements and you know the position of those various squadrons and you know, after the battle, another admiral that you know came out and said that you have to admit that, although we knew that there was a force that could appear here and we had organized our forces to repel them that in the event that we were destroyed, in turn, I was never able to get that same level of intellectual honesty to be maintained, so I just don't have much respect for Richmond Kelly Turner, is what it boils down to and I I think there are people who would say yes, but his contributions to the war made him indispensable and we had to have him and I think that's silly when you start getting into a war of this size.
One of the things I always emphasize is that the theory of the great man of history begins to break down. Yes, we look at practitioners like Rommel and Monstein and people like that and say they were indispensable. This was not a people's war. it was systems warfare, okay, and at the end of the day, even if Richmond Kelly Turner wasn't commanding those amphibious forces, you know, there was someone else on the pipeline that the U.S. Navy could have chosen and what I could have done. that work at least with the same credibility and if there wasn't one, that speaks to a problem with our systems, I'm absolutely sure there was, so yeah, that's my take on the warning, I guess I could, I couldn't blame to a poor old man.
Admiral Crutchley because he just took him away from these cruisers for a conference, it was on crutches that he actually made the statement that I just cited that he has to be committed, you know, we flew out of the water, I mean, at least on crutches, but the The problem with Crutchley is that he cannot be the scapegoat because he is on loan and won the cross victory in the first world war. I can't chase that guy. You know he doesn't mind assigning blame, so from Turner's perspective. I know the only guy I can really go after is Fletcher for being a coward, you know, taking out his carriers, I guess too, since Crutchley had been a year or two before being a war captain, Spike, sailing in the fjord Norwegian. to blow up half the Norwegian landscape and some destroyers that couldn't exactly try and say yeah, this guy was afraid of action exactly yeah, that's absolutely true, that's absolutely true, so yeah, there's just a fascinating group of characters , obviously uh in all of these battles and you have some really interesting types of people uh uh running around Turner certainly one of the most interesting um you find that in any force, I mean, there will always be some harassable sea dogs running around, I want I mean, obviously The US Navy as a whole is run by Ernest King, who's not exactly a laugh-at-a-party guy, so, yeah, yeah, you get what you get, yeah, although I've always said I'm sorry if they gave you a time travel machine. and I could see the 10 like 10 to 15 minutes of any moment during World War II, the one I would probably want to take a very large bag of popcorn to would be Admiral King's office when they finally ended up marching. on the Buford people who had screwed up Mark 14.
That would have been an interesting interesting conversation, I suspect it's never been written down, awkward, yeah, sure, for me, you know, time travel halfway still lingers in the top of my list. Even now that I've written a book about this, there are still many things I wish I could see with my own eyes, we still don't have a good idea of ​​what was going on in the hangars of those aircraft carriers. That image in my mind is even more murky now, Tony Tully, my co-author has maintained an academic interest in the battle. I don't want to say I've moved on, but I do other things too.
Tony, really, you know, is still drilled. midway very seriously and has unearthed additional Japanese accounts that simply speak to the level of chaos that was going on on the hangar decks, but if you were to ask me now, do you know if you believe that those planes were actually armed and ready to attack? being lifted to the flight decks at the time of that attack, I would say: I don't know, you know, yeah, probably pretty close, but there's nothing definitive there and I think that's one of the interesting things about studying the battles. So you know, even when you get really deep into the weeds, we as historians are always dependent on the quality of the source material that we have available and we are constantly learning new things and that source material is changing and evolving. um, but I wrote a battle of this story or the story of this battle, but I'm sure you know that in 50 years someone else will substantially review our account because they will have learned new things and that's cool, you know, that's. the nature of the beast, we should welcome that, so in terms of obviously this video, um, if we finish by saying that you mentioned that you're writing a book about 1942, is there some kind of eta on that project?
It became what I call, you know, it's my treasure, yeah, um, and I've been working on it for 11 years. I've always been interested from a general point of view in how the Allies changed their respective train wrecks during 1942, which I think is the critical year of the war. I don't think World War II can be resolved one way or another until all the big dogs are in the fight and it really isn't until I know that in December of '41 the United States is now and, frankly, from the point of view Russian, I think it's an open question whether or not Russia is going to survive 1942 anyway, so I've been working on it and I hope to have it. done in another, I don't know, three years, something like that, I have ways of doing it pretty well, yeah, keep working, we'll keep an eye on it, I appreciate you letting everyone know when it comes out, okay, so let's let's Let's close this particular interview .
It has been a great pleasure talking to you. I must say that I really enjoyed it and I hope that at some point we can talk again about something related. But yes, for now. We'll end this video here and like I said, if you don't have a copy of Shattered Sword, well, you're watching a naval history channel, why don't you have a copy of Shattered Sword? Well, maybe Kobe will slow down the posting. but it's just that we've been here and we've been living like this for a year, not that you should have had one by now, huh, I'll even put my plug in here and say that I sell autographed copies, so if you're looking for that special gift for someone special, you know , I can make that happen, yeah, so men, mental note, mental thing, overseas shipping, my most expensive copy went to a guy in Moscow and it cost me a hundred and ten dollars just to ship it there.
Wow, you loved him so much, okay, God bless you, maybeWe could set up something for people on this side of the Atlantic because, yes, I have put together something like a transatlantic trade system that, but it works. works relatively well, but anyway, ending here, so let's stop recording, that's all for this video, thanks for watching. If you have a comment or suggestion for reviewing a boat, let us know in the comments below, don't forget to comment on anchoring. post for dry docking questions

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