Shattered Sword Book Review

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Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway

By Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully

Hardcover in dustjacket, 640 pages, appendices, notes, and index

Published by Potomac Books, November 2005

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1574889230

ISBN-13: 978-1574889239

Dimensions: 7.4 x 1.8 x 10.0 inches

The Battle of Midway is regarded by many historians as the turning point of the war in the Pacific.   Many articles and books have been written about the battle.  Most of them are wrong.

Shattered Sword examines primary source material to tell the story of the Battle of Midway from the Japanese perspective.  Furthermore, the analysis does not just start with the battle, but examines the Japanese plans from a strategic perspective and shows the effect of the Imperial Navy’s doctrine on the conduct of the battle.  The internal competition with the Imperial Army had a much larger role in Japanese naval operations than is generally realized, and this had huge implications in both the campaign planning and distribution of forces.

The authors also take a deep dive into the design and equipment of the four Japanese aircraft carriers at Midway and how these factors affected the operation and employment of the air groups.  By determining what was possible for the ships and crews to do, they have ruled out several persistent myths about what the Japanese did do and have set the record straight.  Doctrine also plays a huge role in the decisions which are made in any engagement, as navies fight as they train.  An Admiral decides what to do when, doctrine determines how those orders are to be executed.  Here again the authors have been able to show why the Japanese fought as they did.

The surviving records have provided several details which are not present in other works on the subject.  The authors have been able to pin down the times of launch for individual aircraft as well as the names of aircrew.  From this they have been able to determine the number of Zeros over the Japanese fleet at any given time during the morning of 04JUN42.  This also conclusively dispels the myth that the Japanese were launching their own strikes against the American carriers when the Dauntless’ dives began.  There are also a few surprising facts revealed in these records, such as the ineffectiveness of the Japanese anti-aircraft fire, which only accounted for two American aircraft.

I am confident that this book will be the definitive history of the Battle of Midway from the Japanese perspective for the foreseeable future, at least in the English language.  There is room for the story to be told from the American viewpoint with the same scholarly rigor and level of detail, but that history is more readily available to the reader even if it is not compiled in one volume.  This is not a quick read, but well worth the time for anyone wanting to understand the Battle of Midway.  Recommended without reservation.

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12 thoughts on “Shattered Sword Book Review

  1. This is such an important treatment of the battle. I think it has impacted everything in English since. It absolutely provided the first really exhaustive look at the Japanese side of things. Kudos for featuring this book!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This book has been on my list for quite some time, and I look forward to getting it. As a potential bookend, I highly recommend Lundstrom’s “With the First Team” which covers all USN carrrier ops from Dec. 7th through Midway. It covers Midway very well IMHO from the USN viewpoint, but because the book covers ops from Dec. 7th through Midway, it’s able to place everything in context.

    Liked by 1 person

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