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Battle of Midway: Tactical Brilliance or Plain Luck?

PoS

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Midway#Attacks_on_the_Japanese_fleet

So the question is, was the pivotal battle of Midway won by American military and tactical superiority or was it a matter of luck? Even though the US Navy had broken the Japanese codes and knew the attack was going to be on Midway, they still needed to find the enemy carriers and destroy them. The Jap commanders had been trying to rearm their strike planes when the American attack commenced and so their decks were filled with vulnerable aircraft, bombs and fuel. What say you?
 

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Midway#Attacks_on_the_Japanese_fleet

So the question is, was the pivotal battle of Midway won by American military and tactical superiority or was it a matter of luck? Even though the US Navy had broken the Japanese codes and knew the attack was going to be on Midway, they still needed to find the enemy carriers and destroy them. The Jap commanders had been trying to rearm their strike planes when the American attack commenced and so their decks were filled with vulnerable aircraft, bombs and fuel. What say you?

Just like any other battle, a mix.
 

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I've read that the extremely aggressive, extreme range attack from the U.S. carriers led to the attacking planes arriving piecemeal, with torpedo bombers arriving first and unescorted.

They were massacred, but this compelled the Japanese defensive fighters to lose altitude, which gave the following waves the advantage.

Additionally, the Japanese plan was overly complex and relied on several faulty assumptions about what the Americans knew, in large part thanks to our excellent code breakers.

So it was a mix. In hindsight the aggressive attack was the right move, but on the day it could just as easily been a disaster.
 

Redress

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Midway#Attacks_on_the_Japanese_fleet

So the question is, was the pivotal battle of Midway won by American military and tactical superiority or was it a matter of luck? Even though the US Navy had broken the Japanese codes and knew the attack was going to be on Midway, they still needed to find the enemy carriers and destroy them. The Jap commanders had been trying to rearm their strike planes when the American attack commenced and so their decks were filled with vulnerable aircraft, bombs and fuel. What say you?

Neither. Midway was a case of piss poor strategy and tactics by the Japanese force leadership. From splitting the force in three parts, to focusing on the island before disposing of the carrier based threat, Yamamoto screwed things up royally. It is even questionable he could have taken, let alone held the island if he had won at sea.

Note: read Shattered Sword for the definitive account of the battle and what went wrong. https://www.amazon.com/Shattered-Sw...id=1467134251&sr=1-1&keywords=shattered+sword . Simple amazing book.

Edit to note: special credit should go to John Thach, who used his new tactic to engage and draw off the Japanese CAP: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thach_Weave
 
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From what I have read, it was a lot of both.
I have read that the Japanese played several rounds of war games, that showed them loosing,
but went for it anyway.
 

Redress

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From what I have read, it was a lot of both.
I have read that the Japanese played several rounds of war games, that showed them loosing,
but went for it anyway.

That is a true story.
 

longview

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That is a true story.
I have seen it in several places, and I think the story also showed up in a book called
the thousand mile war about the Aleutian campaign.
Thousand-Mile War
(I am not sure if it is considered a work of fiction, but was well researched)
 

Redress

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I have seen it in several places, and I think the story also showed up in a book called
the thousand mile war about the Aleutian campaign.
Thousand-Mile War
(I am not sure if it is considered a work of fiction, but was well researched)

From what I remember(books are packed and in storage till Thursday so can't check), when the first war games went poorly, they changed the rules to make them go better, limiting where the US force could be and where they could attack from.
 

longview

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I vaguely remember they brought it up in the movie tora tora tora, but I could be wrong.
 

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Neither. Midway was a case of piss poor strategy and tactics by the Japanese force leadership. From splitting the force in three parts, to focusing on the island before disposing of the carrier based threat, Yamamoto screwed things up royally. It is even questionable he could have taken, let alone held the island if he had won at sea.

Note: read Shattered Sword for the definitive account of the battle and what went wrong. https://www.amazon.com/Shattered-Sw...id=1467134251&sr=1-1&keywords=shattered+sword . Simple amazing book.

Edit to note: special credit should go to John Thach, who used his new tactic to engage and draw off the Japanese CAP: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thach_Weave

Well, Jap incompetence aside, luck did play a major part in it too. Admiral Halsey was replaced at the last minute when he went down with some sort of sickness by Spruance, and it was Spruance who decided to launch his planes from long range and in a piecemeal fashion. A lot of the strike planes from Enterprise got lost and if it wasn't for McClusky's squadron chancing upon a Japanese destroyer which led them to the enemy carriers, the outcome could easily have been different.
 

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Midway#Attacks_on_the_Japanese_fleet

So the question is, was the pivotal battle of Midway won by American military and tactical superiority or was it a matter of luck? Even though the US Navy had broken the Japanese codes and knew the attack was going to be on Midway, they still needed to find the enemy carriers and destroy them. The Jap commanders had been trying to rearm their strike planes when the American attack commenced and so their decks were filled with vulnerable aircraft, bombs and fuel. What say you?

Some of both. Which is something that you can say about just about any military victory.

On a related subject - I got the pleasure of meeting one of the codebreakers that helped figure out where the attack was going to be. He was in an assisted living facility where my grandmother was and was a great guy. He loved it when I'd show up to see my grandmother, because he knew that I'd always stick around and chat with him over cookies or lunch/dinner. He was also part of the team that figured out Yamamoto's flight plan (he had a much bigger role in that than Midway). Very interesting person to talk to...
 

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Midway#Attacks_on_the_Japanese_fleet

So the question is, was the pivotal battle of Midway won by American military and tactical superiority or was it a matter of luck? Even though the US Navy had broken the Japanese codes and knew the attack was going to be on Midway, they still needed to find the enemy carriers and destroy them. The Jap commanders had been trying to rearm their strike planes when the American attack commenced and so their decks were filled with vulnerable aircraft, bombs and fuel. What say you?

Like others have said, it's a mix. The Navy commanders, however, were shrewd and competent enough to exploit their advantages, which wouldn't have been the case if they were incompetent, so the edge goes to the U.S. commanders on the scene, with luck playing the lesser role.

the Japanese couldn't afford the losses, so any attrition they suffered cost them more than such losses would cost the U.S., in any case, as the replacement costs were much higher for them. That's why Roosevelt concentrated on Europe; a draw in the Pacific was a win for the U.S., and could have been mopped up later. It just happened that U.S. forces in the Pacific made a lot of good decisions that ended the war early in the Pacific, particularly Halsey's strategy of bypassing some islands and focusing on important ones.
 
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Luck plays a part in any battle.
 

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Midway#Attacks_on_the_Japanese_fleet

So the question is, was the pivotal battle of Midway won by American military and tactical superiority or was it a matter of luck? Even though the US Navy had broken the Japanese codes and knew the attack was going to be on Midway, they still needed to find the enemy carriers and destroy them. The Jap commanders had been trying to rearm their strike planes when the American attack commenced and so their decks were filled with vulnerable aircraft, bombs and fuel. What say you?

Both....

Little known fact. One of the patrol planes (IIRC from the Suzuya) had mechanical difficulties and launched late. This is the one that reported US ships nearby. But, its report prompted rearming of the Japanese aircraft which in turn helped doom 3 of the 4 major carriers.
 

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Well, Jap incompetence aside, luck did play a major part in it too. Admiral Halsey was replaced at the last minute when he went down with some sort of sickness by Spruance, and it was Spruance who decided to launch his planes from long range and in a piecemeal fashion. A lot of the strike planes from Enterprise got lost and if it wasn't for McClusky's squadron chancing upon a Japanese destroyer which led them to the enemy carriers, the outcome could easily have been different.

McClusky's squadron carried on even though at low fuel.... Had he turned back a few minutes earlier the outcome would not be the same.
 

apdst

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And 'luck' can be defined as where and when opportunity meets preparedness.

Luck can be defined a thousand-and-one-ways on the battlefield.
 

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There are a ton of if's and a lot of mistakes by the Japanese.

1) the diversion against the Aleutians was silly. America was never going to leave the central Pacific unguarded to protect Alaska. And the two carriers used in the Dutch Harbor attack (the Junyo and the Ryujo) could have been invaluable (with over 80 planes total) at Midway.
They should have pooled all their forces to draw the Americans into a battle when they struck Midway.

2) Nagumo was an idiot with air power. Why they gave him command of the naval air force is beyond me. He was indecisive and WAAAAY too conservative. He should have launched another air raid against Pearl Harbor six months earlier (to blow up the fuel tanks and destroy the repair facilities - you have to take chances when fighting a superior enemy) and he spent WAY too much energy trying to neutralize Midway during the battle. One strike was enough to protect his flank when he took on the U.S. fleet. He should have ignored Midway after the initial strike and concentrated on the U.S. navy. Had he done that, he probably would not have had his carrier decks crowded with loaded planes when the Dauntlesses dove down on him...dooming the ships.
He might still have lost, but he would have had a much better chance - especially if he had the Junyo and Ryujo also.

3) It was unfortunate for the Japanese that the Tone could not launch the final scout plane and thus could not give Nagumo complete information on the American fleet whereabouts.

Japan could have won the battle. But it hardly mattered in the end as they had no chance whatsoever of beating America. Either conventionally or non-conventionally (once America had deployed their atomic bombs). America just had too much of everything.
From the moment the Japanese dropped that first bomb at Pearl Harbor, they were doomed.

Interesting question though.
 
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Mark F

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Had Japan taken Midway and defeated the Americans the only offensive force the USN had in the Pacific would have been gone and Hawaii left extremely vulnerable. At the time of Midway the U.S. didn't have enough of anything and a defeated carrier task force means the Japanese can pretty much do what they want.

As for the rest of it,... hindsight is always 20/20
 

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Had Japan taken Midway and defeated the Americans the only offensive force the USN had in the Pacific would have been gone and Hawaii left extremely vulnerable. At the time of Midway the U.S. didn't have enough of anything and a defeated carrier task force means the Japanese can pretty much do what they want.

As for the rest of it,... hindsight is always 20/20

the Japanese were already spread so thin they couldn't exploit Pearl; we had plenty of time, and a massive industrial base. They tired to encircle Australia, but there is nothing strategically they could have gained by that, even with an invasion. They couldn't even exploit the oil fields they acquired effectively; an American sub sank their ship loaded with oil field experts, killing almost the entire 800 workers on it, which in turn was 80% of the 1,000 skilled experts they had at the time.
 
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jet57

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Neither. Midway was a case of piss poor strategy and tactics by the Japanese force leadership. From splitting the force in three parts, to focusing on the island before disposing of the carrier based threat, Yamamoto screwed things up royally. It is even questionable he could have taken, let alone held the island if he had won at sea.

Note: read Shattered Sword for the definitive account of the battle and what went wrong. https://www.amazon.com/Shattered-Sw...id=1467134251&sr=1-1&keywords=shattered+sword . Simple amazing book.

Edit to note: special credit should go to John Thach, who used his new tactic to engage and draw off the Japanese CAP: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thach_Weave

Excellent source note. Thanks for posting it.
 

PoS

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Some of both. Which is something that you can say about just about any military victory.

On a related subject - I got the pleasure of meeting one of the codebreakers that helped figure out where the attack was going to be. He was in an assisted living facility where my grandmother was and was a great guy. He loved it when I'd show up to see my grandmother, because he knew that I'd always stick around and chat with him over cookies or lunch/dinner. He was also part of the team that figured out Yamamoto's flight plan (he had a much bigger role in that than Midway). Very interesting person to talk to...

Nice anecdote. I love listening to old folks telling war stories. When I visited my gramps I would sit for hours with him at the dinner table, listening to his stories about escaping the Japanese and fighting with Philippine guerillas during that war.

I guess I should've worded the OP differently, the rephrased OP question ought to be: which was a bigger factor in the US victory, tactical brilliance or luck?
 
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