Six months after Pearl Harbor, the seemingly invincible Imperial Japanese Navy prepared a decisive blow against the United States. After sweeping through Asia and the South Pacific, Japan’s military targeted the tiny atoll of Midway, an ideal launching pad for the invasion of Hawaii and beyond.
But the US Navy would be waiting for them. Thanks to cutting-edge code-breaking technology, tactical daring, and a significant stroke of luck, the Americans under Adm. Chester W. Nimitz dealt Japan’s navy its first major defeat in the war. Three years of hard fighting remained, but it was at Midway that the tide turned.
This “stirring, even suspenseful narrative” is the first book to tell the story of the epic battle from both the American and Japanese sides (Newsday). Miracle at Midway reveals how America won its first and greatest victory of the Pacific war—and how easily it could have been a loss.
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About the Author
Donald M. Goldstein (1931–2017) was a retired United States Air Force officer; professor emeritus of public and international affairs at the University of Pittsburgh, where he taught for thirty-five years; a winner of two Peabody Awards; and author of many books. He also taught at the Air Force Academy, the Air War College, the Air Command and Staff College, the University of Tampa, and Troy State University. He was considered the leading authority on the Pearl Harbor attack.
Katherine V. Dillon (1916–2005) was a chief warrant officer, United States Air Force (retired), and longtime collaborator with Gordon W. Prange and Donald M. Goldstein on their work. She served during World War II and the Korean War.
Gordon W. Prange (1910–1980) was a professor of history at the University of Maryland and a World War II veteran. He served as the chief historian on General Douglas MacArthur’s staff during the postwar military occupation of Japan. His 1963 Reader’s Digest article “Tora! Tora! Tora!” was later expanded into the acclaimed book At Dawn We Slept. After Prange’s death, his colleagues Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon completed several of his manuscripts, including At Dawn We Slept. Other works that Goldstein and Dillon finished include Miracle at Midway; Pearl Harbor: The Verdict of History; December 7, 1941: The Day the Japanese Attacked Pearl Harbor; and Target Tokyo: The Story of the Sorge Spy Ring.
Donald M. Goldstein is a retired United States Air Force officer, professor emeritus of public and international affairs at the University of Pittsburgh, where he taught for thirty-five years, a winner of two Peabody Awards, and author of many books. He has also taught at the Air Force Academy, the Air War College, the Air Command and Staff College, the University of Tampa, and Troy State University. He is considered the leading authority on the Pearl Harbor attack. He lives in the Villages, Florida.
Katherine V. Dillon (1916–2005) was a chief warrant officer, United States Air Force (retired), and longtime collaborator with Gordon W. Prange and Donald M. Goldstein on their work. She served during World War II and the Korean War.
Read an Excerpt
Miracle at Midway
By Gordon W. Prange, Donald M. Goldstein, Katherine V. Dillon
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1982 Prange Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved.
"A Breath of Fresh Air"
The success-crowned Japanese carrier task force under Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo slashed toward Japan through heavy seas. Their attack upon the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor and the installations of the Hawaiian Air Force on December 7, 1941, had succeeded beyond all expectations, certainly beyond the expectation of Nagumo himself. He had entertained the liveliest doubts of the operation, and shared the estimate of the planners that he would probably lose one-third of his task force. Instead, he was bringing back to Japan every one of his ships with not so much as a chip in its paint due to enemy action. Seldom can any voyage homeward have been so solidly satisfying, broken only by the detachment of his Second Carrier Division, under Rear Admiral Tamon Yamaguchi, to support the Japanese strike on Wake Island, where the U.S. Marines were giving the invaders some unexpected difficulties.
Early on December 23, the task force sailed through Bungo Channel and soon saw the mountains of Shikoku lift over the horizon. Welcoming aircraft from shore-based units hovered overhead like mechanical amoretti in a rococo allegory of victory, and ships of the coastal defense force patrolled proudly on both sides of the returning conquerors. The next morning, Nagumo and some of his officers visited the battleship Nagato, flagship of the Combined Fleet, to pay their respects to Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, Commander in Chief of the Combined Fleet. Chief of the Naval General Staff Admiral Osami Nagano turned up in person to congratulate the victors.
Diminishing all else to insignificance, Nagumo and his two air commanders, Commander Mitsuo Fuchida and Lieutenant Commander Shigekazu Shimazaki, visited the Imperial Palace by command of Emperor Hirohito himself, so that they might brief him personally on this operation which had shed so much gold dust upon the Imperial banners.
It was all heady stuff, and contributed in no small measure to a smug self-confidence in their invincibility, which Nagumo, his subordinate commanders and their staffs took into their next operations, and for which they would bitterly chastise themselves in the not too distant future.
In contrast, the Americans had received a salutary but exceedingly unpalatable dose of enforced humility. Average Americans might squabble over internal politics and over foreign policy, but they had shared a belief and pride in the United States' power, solidly based on its vast natural resources, humming technology, hard-working people, and its military potential. World War I was only a quarter-century in the rear; memories of the mighty AEF were still green. John Q. Public was especially proud of his Navy, believing that the U.S. and British fleets combined formed an unbeatable combination Japan would never challenge, let alone defeat.
Now, suddenly, that rock of faith had dissolved. "The great shock of this attack upon the United States is not so much that Japan has struck at us ...," wrote the Birmingham (Alabama) News, "but that she should have struck so suddenly and so recklessly at a point like our great naval base at Pearl Harbor ..." The attack might have been, in the words of the Los Angeles Times, "the act of a mad dog," but a mad dog's bite can kill, and the mad dog must be destroyed.
A small newspaper in Meridian, Mississippi, uninhibited by any sense of self-important, big-city dignity, fairly foamed at the mouth: "At last Nippon bares its yellow fangs ... Let America raze Tokyo and other Jap 'tinder' towns ... Blast the 'flowery Kingdom' into nothingness! Blow the pagan Jap and his treacherous 'Son of Heaven' to hell!"
Nothing would have pleased the American public more than to do just that. The question was, how to do it. With what? Thus it came about that the immediate post-Pearl Harbor period was unique in the American experience. A brief echo of it sounded in the 1980 hostage crisis with Iran. But in volume and intensity, that incident cannot truly compare with those few months following Pearl Harbor, when most of the nation's able-bodied young men were pawns in a game wherein the enemy seemingly ruled the board. To the explosion of outrage over Pearl Harbor were soon added furious frustration and impatient shame at the apparent impotence of the U.S. armed forces.
It was not the psychology of despair; nowhere in the press, documents, or memories of the day appears the slightest apprehension that the Axis might triumph in the end. Nevertheless, any jaunty prewar conviction which might have existed that when, as and if the Americans entered the conflict, they would clean up in a hurry, perished with a death rattle of reality. Alan Barth, charged with reporting on public opinion to his superiors in the Treasury Department, summed up the situation neatly:
Press reaction to the Pacific fighting has described a parabola. From a wringing of hands immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor, sentiment rose sharply to an expectation of easy victory over the Japanese. It was not until the middle of the past week that the newspapers began to realize that further serious reverses were almost certainly in store for the British and American Far Eastern forces. Now, suddenly, the downswing has set in.
Every active front showed the same grim colors of red and black. Britain seemed to have outlasted the threat of direct invasion, but still lived under the shadow of an almost equally deadly menace. In American waters, German U-boats operated virtually at will, sinking an appalling tonnage of the Allied shipping sustaining Britain's island economy. Prime Minister Winston Churchill later admitted that had Hitler concentrated more effort in the Atlantic, he could have prolonged the war indefinitely and seriously upset all Allied war plans. Of much less moment, but highly irritating and humiliating to the United States, Japanese submarines were operating in the waters between Hawaii and the West Coast.
Contrary to many expectations, the Soviet Union had survived the winter. But Germany still held it locked in mortal combat. If the Russians folded—and Stalin had already shifted his diplomatic capital from Moscow to Kuibyshev—the Germans might push the Russian fighting forces beyond the Urals, out of European Russia, then return against England, or move south to advance through the Middle East and link up with Japan, for Field Marshal Erwin Rommel still dominated the North African scene. By midspring the Japanese had captured Singapore, conquered the Netherlands East Indies and Burma,and who knew what designs they had on India, exceedingly restive under British rule? Above all, Australia feared invasion.
In these first months of war, Pearl Harbor was almost neurotically attack conscious. What else could be expected, while there in Battleship Row lay the hideously grim reminders of what the Japanese could do if they got through in a surprise thrust? Since December 7, the U.S. commanders in Hawaii had looked for the Japanese to return. Surely Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, for whom the American admirals entertained high professional respect, would repent the Japanese sins of omission and send Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo's carriers back to blast the docks, the repair shops and, above all, the tank farm! In effect, this would starve the U.S. Navy out of the central Pacific and back to the West Coast. Then what would prevent the Japanese from invading the Hawaiian Islands and establishing their own advance base there?
Rear Admiral Claude C. Bloch, commandant of the Fourteenth Naval District, made frantic if belated efforts to improvise antitorpedo nets for drydocks and ships at anchor:
We tore down fences, tore down the fence between Hickam Field and Pearl Harbor Navy Yard, took the extruded material that was used for the fence and welded it, lapwelded it to other sections in order to get a sufficient baffle that we could hang in the water at the ends of docks and around ships. And in so doing, of course, we had no knowledge whether that kind of net would be any good at all, but it was the best we had. We also took all of the target rafts we had and hung sections of fence below them and put them in front of the dock caissons and some of the important repair docks.
Morale was low at all levels of the armed forces on Oahu. "Everyone was very apprehensive," recalled Colonel William C. "Cush" Farnum, in charge of supply and engineering at Hickam Field. "The Navy people above all were apprehensive. They were like a defeated football team—really down and out."
The presence on Oahu of, first, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox and second, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Owen J. Roberts and his commission appointed to investigate the disaster, did nothing to boost morale. Along with the threat of another Japanese attack, the possibility of professional ruin hung over every man associated in any way with the defense of Pearl Harbor and the ships at moorings there.
On December 16, 1941, the Navy relieved Admiral Husband E. Kimmel as Commander in Chief, U.S. Fleet (CinCUS), and as Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet (CinCPAC), temporarily turning the command over to Vice Admiral William S. Pye. During the latter's brief tenure occurred the event which, of all others, seemed to epitomize the ineffectiveness and frustration of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. This was the capture by the Japanese of Wake Island, a saga too long to deal with in detail here.
In brief, had Kimmel remained in command, Wake's story might have been different. The offensive-minded Kimmel hoped to close with the Japanese. He had an excellent plan for the relief of Wake, and dispatched ships for that purpose, but a series of delays held them up. After Pye relieved Kimmel, Washington sent him a message that Wake was "considered a liability ...," which, according to the eminent naval historian Rear Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison, gave Pye authority to evacuate Wake at his discretion instead of reinforcing its defenders. While Pye hesitated, on December 20 the Japanese commenced landing.
However, task forces centering around the carriers Saratoga, under Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher, and Lexington, under Vice Admiral Wilson Brown, were hastening toward the scene and could have engaged the enemy, even if too late to save Wake. Moreover, Task Force Eight, with Vice Admiral William F. Halsey flying his flag from the carrier Enterprise, was steaming near Midway and Pye could have ordered him to assist. Halsey's cruiser commander, Rear Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, for one, would have welcomed a definite assignment. His orders were "to operate in the northern area." These vague directions disgusted the clear-minded Spruance. "Operate, operate!" he said, disdainfully in retrospect. "I wish you could tell me what it meant. We had no specific orders. We were out there as bait for the Japanese subs."
But, like so many others, Pye feared for Hawaii's safety and called off the Wake operation. He reached this decision without benefit of pressure from Washington. "While believing in the principle of the offensive and suffering with those at Wake," he explained, "I could not but decide that the general situation overbalanced the special tactical situation, and that under the conditions the risk of even one task force to damage the enemy at Wake was unjustifiable ..."
Pye would have had a hard time selling that line of reasoning to Saratoga's personnel, some of whom actually wept in their fury and disappointment.
The top brass in Washington were also much disgruntled. Captain Frank E. Beatty, Knox's aide, who had been in the secretary's office when the recall message arrived, went to ask Chief of Naval Operations Harold R. Stark if he would so notify the President. The admiral jibbed at the melancholy assignment. "No, Frank, I wouldn't have the heart, please ask Secretary Knox to do it." When Knox returned from his distasteful errand to the White House, "he said that the President considered this recall a worse blow than Pearl Harbor."
This may seem like an over-reaction, but psychologically it was sound. Morison wrote later, "God knows, America needed a victory before Christmas, 1941." The need was more basic than that; the nation wanted a show of fight. The American people would forgive—even honor—one who lost after putting up a good scrap. "Alamo" conjures up fires which "San Jacinto" does not; Robert E. Lee is more beloved than Ulysses S. Grant. On December 22, 1941, the unofficial log of Enterprise's Fighter Squadron Six (VF-6) summed up the national frustration in two devastating sentences: "Everyone seems to feel that it's the war between the two yellow races. Wake was attacked this morning and probably surrendered with the SARATOGA but 200 miles away and us steaming around in circles east of the 180th." (Capitals in original.)
It would be difficult to imagine a less propitious moment to take over command of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. "I'm the new Commander in Chief." Thus baldly did Rear Admiral Chester W. Nimitz break the news to his wife, Catherine. He was in such obvious distress that she reminded him, "You've wanted this all your life."
"But sweetheart," protested the admiral, "all the ships are at the bottom." Under the circumstances, this was an understandable bit of exaggeration.
The difficult, technical and ultimately amazingly successful task of raising ships from the bottom of Pearl Harbor Nimitz must leave to others. But there was something he could and must salvage—the careers and psyches of the staff officers at Pearl Harbor. Having just left duty as chief, Bureau of Navigation, which at that time handled personnel matters, Nimitz knew well that both Kimmel's staff and Pye's interim one contained able, well-trained and dedicated professional seamen. He blamed neither them nor Kimmel for the disaster at Pearl Harbor, believing that, granted the same conditions, "The same thing could have happened to anybody." Arbitrary replacement of these staffs would be not only an injustice but such a blow to each man's self-confidence that it could mean serious psychological injury to a valuable public servant. "Now all of these staffs," explained Nimitz in retrospect, "were in a state of shellshock, and my biggest problem at the moment was morale. These officers had to be salvaged."
Nimitz assumed command, with the rank of admiral, at 1000 on December 31, 1941, aboard the submarine Grayling—an appropriate setting in view of his long background as a submariner. That same day, he called together the staffs of Kimmel, Pye, and Rear Admiral Milo F. Draemel, the commander of destroyers, whom Nimitz selected as his chief of staff. He assured them of his faith and confidence in their abilities and his intention of keeping them on. He wanted the right officer in the right job, not just a body in a slot. If some officers did not work out in their posts, he would not hesitate to make needed adjustments. However, in that event, he would do whatever he could to assist displaced officers to find jobs suitable to their abilities.
There can be no doubt that by this action Nimitz raised spirits "several hundred per cent," to quote Morison. Commanders at sea also experienced that uplift of the heart. "It was like being in a stuffy room and having someone open a window and let in a breath of fresh air," said Spruance. But Nimitz did not delude himself that the job was done. He stated later that it was about six months before morale at Pearl Harbor returned to normal.
That went for Nimitz himself, who impressed the fleet aviation officer, Commander Arthur C. Davis, as being "scared and cautious" before the Midway crisis. And indeed, results which the U.S. Pacific Fleet produced early in 1942 were so unimpressive that Nimitz wrote to his wife, "I will be lucky to last six months. The public may demand action and results faster than I can produce."
Excerpted from Miracle at Midway by Gordon W. Prange, Donald M. Goldstein, Katherine V. Dillon. Copyright © 1982 Prange Enterprises, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
- Cover Page
- Key Personnel
- 1. “A Breath of Fresh Air”
- 2. “We Should Occupy Midway”
- 3. “A Shiver over Japan”
- 4. “One Touch of an Armored Sleeve”
- 5. “The Expected and Constant Threat”
- 6. “Required to Aim at Two Hares”
- 7. “There Was No Rest”
- 8. “Can You Hold Midway?”
- 9. “An Admiral’s Admiral”
- 10. “The Moment of Fulfillment”
- 11. “The Principle of Calculated Risk”
- 12. “On a Major Mission”
- 13. “Constant Vigilance Has to Be Maintained”
- 14. “Not the Least Doubt About a Victory”
- 15. “The Clock Was Running Ever Faster”
- 16. “In High Spirits and Full of Confidence”
- 17. “Take Off for Attack!”
- 18. “Extra Luck Riding with Us”
- 19. “Even the Midst of the Pacific Is Small”
- 20. “This Was to Be the Day of Days”
- 21. “Hawks at Angels Twelve”
- 22. “There Is Need for a Second Attack”
- 23. “A Complete Failure”
- 24. “There They Are!”
- 25. “The Japanese Were Not As Yet Checked”
- 26. “What the Hell Is Headquarters Doing?”
- 27. “At Last They Have Come”
- 28. “They Were Almost Wiped Out”
- 29. “A Burning Hell”
- 30. “A Calamity Like This”
- 31. “We, with Hiryu Alone”
- 32. “Determined to Sink an Enemy Ship”
- 33. “Don’t Let Another Day Like This Come to Us Again!”
- 34. “There Is No Hope”
- 35. “I Will Apologize to the Emperor”
- 36. “Why Should I Not Sleep Soundly?”
- 37. “I Trembled with Great Sorrow”
- 38. “A Sober and Sickening Sight”
- 39. “Midway to Our Objective”
- 40. Analysis—Japan: “A Mass of Chaos”
- 41. Analysis—United States: Brilliance “Shot with Luck”
- 42. The Meaning of Midway—Forty Years Later
- Order of Battle
- Selected Bibliography
- Image Gallery
- About the Authors
- Copyright Page
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Prange's best book, of course, was "At Dawn We Slept," the best analysis of Pearl Harbor ever written, but "Miracle at Midway" isn't half bad. Prange didn't go into the excruciating detail he did with "At Dawn We Slept" (he couldn't have; he was too busy researching "At Dawn We Slept"!), but "Miracle at Midway" is still a good, thorough analysis of what did and didn't happen at Midway, a battle a lot of people don't know enough about. If you're even a little bit curious about it, read this book.
Lots of incredible research went into writing this book. It is replete with personal stories of courage and tragedy, while offering a grand overarching view of Midway's impact on the entire war. I especially enjoyed learning about what happened to the key figures long after the battle was over. On the negative side, this book was clearly written by committee as the tone of the narrative changes dramatically between chapters. Some of the supposed translations are also jolting -- I doubt whether any Japanese naval officer ever said, "Gosh" in the midst of the battle. The comparisons to Shakespearian tragedies and Greek mythology seemed out of place and detracted from the flow of the narrative. Overall, a good recap of the battle, making it clear how random events can have a huge impact on the final outcome.
Although this book is not as groundbreaking as At Dawn We Slept, the authors' history of Pearl Harbor, it is a first rate battle study. Both commanders and enlisted men are given their due and the heroism, excitement, suffering, and horrors of war are not ignored or glossed over. Individuals on both sides emerge as humans with feelings and failings and we feel sympathy for them as they fail, are wounded, or die. The final analysis of the campaign and battle is very interesting and shows how close the margin of victory and defeat was for both the United States and Japan. If you found this book interesting, you might want to read Operation Tokyo, the writers' account of the Sorge spy ring. By all means read At Dawn We Slept.
This book was wonderful! It is full of information from both sides of the conflict. I can usually read a book this size in two days. It took me TWO WEEKS because there was so much good material here. Gordon Prange is a better than average author for World War II. Anyone interested in the inner workings as well as actual dynamics of this war should know this is a must read!
This book was written after Gordan Prange had passed away, by Goldstein and Dillon, who co-authored At Dawn We Slept, THE absolutely definitive work on the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. The research was done by Prange for the Midway book, which is probably the most carefully documented account of a WWII battle that I have ever read. The book will tell you everything that you need to know about the battle of Midway. If it isn't in this book, it's not worth knowing. A truly outstanding piece of historical research, and a very good read.
An amazing account of the turning point of World War II in the Pacific. If anyone is looking for some valuable insight into what turned the tides to the Americans in the Pacific after the Day of Infamy they should read this book. In no other book have I ever found such a lucid and objective discussion of the events in June 1942 at Midway then I did in this book.
This is the second time that I have read the book. I read Prange's book about the Pearl Harbor attack so I had to read there Midway book again. In one way it is a wonder that we even won the war. But Prange shows that when we have our backs against the wall there are heros that step up. It is a highly recommended read.
THE REALIZATION THAT THE BATTLE WAS VERY "IFFY" AT EVERY TURN. SPRUANCE SHOWED GREAT INSIGHT INTO HIS ORDERS AND THE "WANTED OUTCOME" OF THE BATTLE. THIS COUPLED WITH WHAT THE ENEMY COULD HAVE DONE IF WE HAD LOST MAKES THIS VERY EXCITING READING. WITH JUST A SINGLE SMALL CHANGE THE LOOK OF THE WORLD TODAY COULD BE VERY DIFFERENT.
A very detailed account put into an easily readable narrative. Prange is in my opinion the the most reliable source of balanced and accurate accounts of the early Pacific conflicts in WWII.
In His own image God created man, but man is so fragile. This is a powerful book that shows how fragile man is and what man will do to attempt to overcome his enemies. This book covers the Battle of Midway from both the American and Japaese perspective in a wonderful way. You truly feel part of and understand each personality involved in the planning, execution and mistakes of the battle.
Reading WW II books is my hobby. This book is one of the better ones.