Thursday, June 04, 2009

Battle of Midway

And some of the things involved in the victory. In part,
  1. Have your major surface combatants destroyed or seriously damaged and unavailable for use.
  2. Make sure the enemy has 4 aircraft carriers and some big battleships headed for you.
  3. Make sure you are outnumbered in aircraft carriers by 4 to 3.
  4. Have 1 of your 3 aircraft carriers severely damaged and limp into port unable to support flight operations.
  5. Have only a vague idea where the enemy fleet might be.
  6. Arrange to have your most aggressive, experienced aviator admiral come down with some sort of skin infection that puts him in a hospital bed, unavailable for duty.
  7. Replace him with a non-aviator admiral just in time for what you know has to be a battle largely fought by carrier aircraft. See #1.

Go look at the rest. When you consider everything that could(and some that did) go wrong, it's friggin' amazing.


markm said...

OTOH, to lose a major naval battle:

1) Broadcast your plans in a radio code that hasn't been changed in six months. You wouldn't think Americans had the patience to crack codes, would you?

2) Make a complicated plan that involves sending 1/3 of your full-sized carriers and all your light carriers out on diversionary landings to the furthest flanks of your war. Hope to get the two big ones back just in time for the main battle.

3) When those carriers get their decks dinged and lose most of their air wings in one of those diversions, you don't have to hurry and try to get them back into action for the coming big battle. After all, your aviators reported really pounding the two American carriers, so there's no way either one of them is going to make it into battle in a few weeks. That will give you a four to two advantage in carriers - and that ought to outweigh the air base on the island.

4) Appoint a commanding admiral that gets nervous and keeps changing plans. That is:

5. Original plan: `1/2 your carrier planes pound the island with small bombs while the other 1/2 stay on the carrier, fueled and armed with torpedos or the biggest single bomb they can carry for attacking the American carriers when they show up.

6. When the American fleet takes its time showing itself, while you are discovering that islands don't sink and it's really hard to completely knock out an airbase that has scattered its planes and support gear across a mile of scrub brush, under camoflauge, change plans and have the reserve planes re-armed for land attacks.
(From comparing Japanese and American records, it appears that the Army pilots on Midway had no idea of how to hit ships underway and did very little damage - but somehow the Army Air Corps kept the bombers coming even though the Japanes had total fighter superiority and were bombing the airstrip as fast as they could go back and get more bombs.

7. Be in too much of a hurry to put away the torpedos and bombs removed from the planes.

8. Now you've spotted the American carriers, quickly drop the 100 pound bombs on the hangar deck and start bolting the torpedos and 800 pounders back on.

9. Let your gunners and fighter cover concentrate so much on the doomed torpedo squadrons coming in on the deck at < 100 mph that no one is watching the sky.

10. Have three carriers lined up side by side for the convenience of the divebombers.

The divebomber commanders initially assigned half of the airplanes to each of the outside carriers. As the effects of bombs crashing into hangar decks containing fully fueled airplanes and two sets of bombs became apparent, the bomber pilots to the rear of both streams of diving airplanes spontaneously decided to divert to the third carrier, setting it, too, ablaze with aviation gas and bombs cooking off.

A Japanese strike force did get into the air and located the Yorktown. They didn't sink it, but they sure knocked it out of the battle and left it a sitting duck for a submarine. That left the Americans with a 2-1 advantage. Perhaps more important, the Japanese didn't know the location or number of the other American carriers, (they were nowhere near the Yorktown), while Midway air control already had a pretty good idea where to look for the last Japanese carrier.

In summary, like most battles both sides fouled up almost everything. But somehow the American foul-ups didn't stop them from doing the job.

And yes, a rash American admiral could have turned victory into defeat by running his carriers into battleships at oh-dark-hundred. Radar sets weren't even available for more than a handful of ships yet, let alone carrier planes. So the planes were useless in night actions, while the Japanese Navy was acknowledged the world's best at spotting gun targets in the dark. Perhaps we were lucky that Halsey was sidelined this time, as much as we were lucky to have him in command at other moments...

Firehand said...

Amazing what happens, and what can turn a battle. I remember reading that with all their preparation, when the Germans invaded Poland they had all kinds of idiot-level problems; units not getting the right kind of ammo for instance. As the man said, if ANYBODY should have been perfectly prepared, it should have been them.