To be clear, the current Midway movie is at least the third film– counting John Ford’s WWII-era propaganda short and the verbose 1976 Henry Fonda flick– to be centered around the pivotal battle of the Pacific War.
What I liked:
Great effort overall.
Lots of little known stories were highlighted such as efforts of Station Hypo and the vastly unsung work of CDR Joseph J. Rochefort and his busy swarm of ex-musicians from the stricken battleships USS California and West Virginia.
Also, as 15 submarines were present at Midway, and the straggling Japanese destroyer Arashi— detailed to sink USS Nautilus without luck– led the U.S. planes to the unexpecting Japanese carrier task force, it was nice to see SS-168 detailed a bit. This included filming scenes in the torpedo room and control tower aboard the ex-USS Bowfin (SS-287), which was a nice period touch.
The Marines and Midway-based air groups are given a few minutes of camera time. Many forget they were part of the battle as well. More on the Marines of Midway, here.
As there are exactly zero functional TBD Devastator torpedo bombers that made it out of WWII, it was amazing to see them digitally recreated and flying in squadron order, Ride of the Valkyries-style, to their doom.
Likewise, in many scenes, the Chicago Piano, the quad 1.1-inch AAA gun mounted across the U.S. fleet in the early part of WWII, was shown in action although most examples are at the bottom of the Pacific at this point.
Unlike the 1976 film, which tried to tell the story of the battle through the eyes of a fictional third party staff officer, much like Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s August 1914, the new version is told through a focus on Dick Best, the legendary leader of Enterprise’s VB-6; and LCDR Edwin T. Layton, Nimitz’s intel boss.
In another departure from the 1976 film, rather than fill the ranks of the IJN with Hawaiian nisei actors and a token Toshiro Mifune (whose lines were dubbed in English!), the current production used a number of high-profile Japanese actors including Etsushi Toyokawa and Tadanobu Asano (you will recognize him from all of the Thor movies as well as 47 Ronin).
What I didn’t like
A lot of this is nitpicky from a nerd who built SBD, F4F and TBD models as a kid in the 1980s while dog-eared copies of Infamy and At Dawn We Slept sat on the desk, so take it with a grain of salt.
While the movie spends the first 45~ minutes or so delving into the six months of the Pacific War from Pearl Harbor to Midway, this seems like too much of a setup, one that could have been condensed to spend more time on the actual battle itself. For instance, of the aforementioned amount, a good 10-15 mins are spent on the Doolittle Raid (with Aaron Eckhart lending his magnificent chin to portray Doolittle himself). While those “30 Seconds over Tokyo” were important to the war effort, they had little to do with Midway.
While the story of SBD gunner AMM1c Bruno Gaido is told– and deservedly so– his execution at sea was botched in the film. Gaido and his pilot, Ensign Frank O’Flaherty, were picked up by the destroyer Makigumo and tortured for over a week then tied to weighted gas cans and thrown overboard on/about 15 June. The movie implies they were killed soon after rescue during the battle and that O’Flaherty may have given actionable intelligence that was used to sink Yorktown. This is shameful.
Speaking of Yorktown, there were three U.S. flattops at Midway but Yorktown is only glimpsed a couple times and Hornet barely even gets a mention, leaving the otherwise uninformed viewer to think Enterprise pulled off the whole thing on her own. Sure, the seagoing action is largely from Dick Best’s point of view, but still…
As for the Japanese fleet, the bushido code of RADM Tamon Yamaguchi– a Princeton alumnus who clashed with Nagumo and was the commander of the Japanese Carrier Striking Force’s Carrier Division Two– is retold and he is shown going down with his stricken flagship, IJN Hiryu, on the predawn of 5 June. However, the movie has him only meeting this fate accompanied by Hiryu’s commander when in fact he had 20-30 men of his staff all resolutely remain behind to ride her to “enjoy the moon together.”
Even with the above complaints lodged, the movie is still a much better effort than I hoped for. Of course, it is very CGI/greenscreen heavy, but this is the nature of the cinema these days.
All-in-all, it could be used as an educational tool in high school history classes, in my humble opinion.
For those interested in delving more into Midway, check out Shattered Sword.
The Lost 52 Project, which aims to find all of the U.S. Navy’s WWII submarines still on Eternal Patrol, this week announced they have discovered the final resting place of USS Grayback (SS-208) near Okinawa.
Grayback, a Tambor-class fleet boat, commissioned on 30 June 1941 and was on her 10th War Patrol in the Pacific when she went missing in February 1944. Earning two Navy Unit Commendations and eight battlestars, she chalked up 63,835 tons in Japanese shipping to include over a dozen marus and the destroyer Numakaze.
Grayback (Cdr. John Anderson Moore) was lost with 80 men.
So far, The Lost 52 Project has accounted for five missing boats since 2010, including USS Grunion (SS-216) off Kiska, USS S-28 (SS-133) off Hawaii, USS S-26 (SS-131) off Panama, and USS R-12 (SS-89) off Key West.
In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words
To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…
One of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s mighty quartet of Myoko-class heavy cruisers, Nachi was a 13,000-ton brawler built at the Kure Naval Arsenal and commissioned in 1928. Carrying five dual twin turrets each with 8″/50cal 3rd Year Type naval guns, her class was the most heavily-armed cruisers in the world when they were constructed.
Nachi fought in the Java Sea (sharing in the sinking the Dutch cruiser HNLMS Java along with Graf Spee veteran HMS Exeter) and at the Komandorski Islands (where she, in turn, took a beating from the USS Salt Lake City) before she ended up as part of VADM Kiyohide Shima’s terribly utilized cruiser-destroyer force during the Battle of Surigao Strait in October 1944.
Shima, who was later described by one author as “the buffoon of the tragedy” ordered his cruisers to attack two islands he thought were American ships then raised the signal to turn and beat feet after they found the wreckage of the battleship Fuso, a move that left Nachi, the 5th Fleet flagship, damaged in a crackup with the heavy cruiser Mogami, the latter of which had to be left behind for the U.S. Navy to finish off.
Nachi pulled in to Manila Bay, which was still something of a Japanese stronghold on the front line of the Pacific War, for emergency repairs.
Discovered there two weeks after the battle by the Americans, while Shima was ashore at a meeting, Nachi was plastered by carrier SBDs and TBMs flying from USS Lexington and Essex.
In all, she absorbed at least 20 bombs and five torpedos, breaking apart into three large pieces and sinking in about 100-feet of water under the view of Corregidor. The day was 5 November 1944, 75 years ago today.
Although close to shore and with several Japanese destroyers and gunboats at hand, Nachi went down with 80 percent of her crew including her skipper, Capt. Kanooka Enpei.
Also headed to the bottom with the ship were 74 officers of the IJN’s Fifth Fleet’s staff and a treasure trove of intel documents and records, the latter of which was promptly salvaged by the U.S. Navy when they moved into Manila Bay and put to good use. The library brought to the surface by hardhat divers was called “the most completely authentic exposition of current Japanese naval doctrine then in Allied hands, detailed information being included relative to the composition, and command structure of the entire Japanese fleet.”
Even though it was late in the war, Nachi was the first of her class to be lost in action. Within six months, two of her remaining sisters, Ashigara and Haguro, were sunk while Myoko was holed up in crippled condition at Singapore, where the British under Mountbatten would capture her in September.
Commissioned 12 December 1940, the British U-class submarine HMS Urge (N 17) served in World War II throughout 1941, seeing extensive action in the Med. Over the course of 20 patrols, she proved a one-submarine wrecking crew to the Italian Navy, sinking the Giussano-class light cruiser Giovanni delle Bande Nere as well as extensively damaging the cruiser Bolzano and battleship Vittorio Veneto.
On 27 April 1942, the 16-month-old Urge left Malta en route to Alexandria but failed to arrive on schedule and was reported overdue on 7 May. Her crew, commanded by LCDR Edward Philip Tomkinson, DSO and Bar, RN, was never heard from again.
Her shield, which had been landed prior to shipping out, is currently on display at The Register Office in Bridgend, Wales. The town, which contributed around £300,000 to the war, had adopted HMS Urge as part of national “Warship Week” in 1941.
HM Submarine Urge was discovered in a search conducted by staff from the University of Malta just off Malta’s Grand Harbour, where she apparently was destroyed on the surface by a mine. In addition to her 32 crewmembers, she had been carrying 11 other naval personnel and a journalist.