Mark’s Humble Review of “Midway”, the Film

I have been looking forward to the movie “Midway” for some time. I’ve read criticisms of the film, however my opinion was that judgment should be withheld until I watched it for myself.

First, I was not disappointed. While there are subjects I believe may have been done better, I have absolutely no complaints. I could tell the producers of the film attempted to remain true to the history of the events. There were some details left out, some details were a little inaccurate; however with such a complex story I would not expect them to get everything right.

First for my opinion of a couple of the most often repeated criticisms. “I liked the original better.” The 1976 movie Midway was not the “original” any more than there is an original movie about D-Day or Gettysburg. The original Midway was a battle in June of 1942, and that is the only standard to which any movie on the subject should be held. I liked the 1976 movie also, the cast was spectacular. But the Henry Fondas and Hal Holbrooks are gone.

Henry Fonda will always be my closest image of Nimitz, short of the man himself. However I believe Woody Harrelson did a commendable job of portraying Admiral Nimitz. He lent a sense of humor and chain smoking which they probably would not allow Fonda to portray in ’76. I had problems with some of the details, but that is probably more on the writers. I won’t go into it simply because the movie is just released and I don’t want to add any spoilers.

“The CGI is like a video game.” Okay. Perhaps. But what is the alternative? Even those of us who liked Midway ’76 were frustrated with stock footage of carriers and aircraft that did not exist in 1942 because that is what the producers in ’76 had to work with. Nobody could or would actually build a Yorktown class carrier or numerous Dauntless, Devastator, Zero or Kate aircraft. We are truly blessed to live in a time when Hollywood can recreate with special effects mostly accurate depictions of the ships and aircraft involved. It was the closest I will ever come to seeing The Big E in action, short of the small amount of actual combat footage available.

As much as I enjoyed it, I have to wonder if by spending so much time depicting Pearl Harbor, the Doolittle Raid and the Marshall Island Raid, if the producers shorted themselves too much in the time necessary to develop the characters of anyone other than Dick Best. Namely Nimitz, Halsey and Spruance.

I was very happy to see they decided to portray Bruno Guido’s story so prominently. Again, there were some details which were inaccurate or not detailed enough, but I don’t want to add in spoilers.

I have some questions which I would have to do research on. Did McClusky and Best really have such a contentious relationship? Were the combat sequences just a little overdone? Or incredibly overdone? Were Japanese bombers and fighters really flying parallel and between the occupants of Battleship Row repeatedly ala Star Wars? I never had the impression they were.

Overall I believe the producers put a good effort into making the movie historically accurate, and I’m very happy that a new generation will be exposed to the incredible story of the Midway Battle.

The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot

Today in History, June 19, 1944:

Reversal of Fortunes, exhibited by “The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot”, or the First Battle of the Philippine Sea.

US Marines, supported by their parent service, the US Navy, are invading Saipan and other islands in the Marianas Islands, which is such a threat to Japan that the Imperial Japanese Navy finally comes out to fight a definitive battle.

When the war began the Japanese had the most advanced aircraft available, while the US Navy lagged sorely behind. The Japanese Zero, for example, was much faster and more maneuverable than the American Wildcat fighter. But by 1944 the American industrial complex had engaged fully. As late as 1943 the USS Enterprise stood alone in the Pacific against numerous IJN Carriers.

But by June of 1944 the Americans put to sea 15 Aircraft Carriers in 4 Task Groups equipped with modern aircraft that far out matched Japan’s aircraft, which had not been updated since the war began. In addition, Japan’s air service had lost nearly all of it’s experienced pilots, while the Americans had thousands of combat hardened, well-trained pilots and crews.

When the IJN sent it’s carriers and their crews against TF 58, they were massacred. In two days the Japanese lost over 400 aircraft and their crews, 3 aircraft carriers they could not spare, and the Americans lost 29 aircraft (some of the crews were rescued) and no ships. So many Japanese aircraft fell from the skies that a Lexington pilot referred to it as an old time turkey shoot, and the name stuck.

The air crews of the task force had been launched late in the day on the 20th to attack the Japanese fleet. When they returned, it was well after dark and they began landing their planes in the sea, unable to see the carriers well enough for landings aboard.

With the threat from enemy submarines and aircraft during the war, blackout conditions were the rule. Admiral Marc Mitscher wasn’t going to lose his boys and their planes, however. With his order the fleet lit up, and the planes began landing on fumes.

“That Guy” Who Always Seems to be There…and Its Not Always the Glorious Jobs that Render Success…


Today in History, May 28, 1917:

300 miles south of Greenland, a few sailors aboard a US Navy “oiler”, the USS Maumee AO-2, made history with an act which would greatly affect history.

The logistics of keeping fleets supplied at sea was nothing new, but it did have extreme restrictions.  The Navy had tackled the problem in order to display its reach with the around the world tour of the Great White Fleet in 1907-1909, but that had been a task of loading enough coal on board to keep the ships moving.

The Maumee, when commissioned in 1914, was the Navy’s first diesel powered surface ship.  When the United States joined the fight in WWI, she was sent to a point off Greenland to do something which had never been done before…refuel ships while underway at sea.  Her first customers were six Destroyers on their way to England.  They performed the task successfully, and continued refueling ship that weren’t “log-legged” enough to make the trip.

I’ve written before about someone who always seemed to be mentioned when reading Army history about others during the 19th Century…General Nelson A. Miles.  Often he was the guy “cleaning up” an issue or who “also” played an important part.

Well, here is “that guy” for the US Navy in the 20th Century.  He became more famous, of course, but not for everything he should have.

When the Maumee was commissioned, a young Lieutenant was named her Executive Officer because he was an expert in her diesel engine technology.  He was still the Exec when she performed her ground breaking refueling tasks.  Chester Nimitz played an integral part.  Because of his expertise with diesel engines, Nimitz would also play a key part in the development of the Navy’s submarine fleet.

In 1938 the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral William Leahy, ordered the commander of TF 7 to develop procedures for refueling larger ships, such as battleships, cruisers and carriers while underway at sea.  That, of course, was now Rear Admiral Nimitz.

When the US joined in WWII after the attack on Pearl Harbor, they called Nimitz from a job in DC to command the Pacific Fleet.  Now he was in charge of taking the war to Japan.  A job that required a lot of logistics, including vast advancements in refueling huge fleets at sea.  The underway processes would be key in famous battles such as the Coral Sea, Midway, the Doolittle Raid and many others.  One of the first at-sea casualties in the fleet would be an oiler during the Coral Sea battle.

In 1944 another huge leap was made.  Admiral Raymond Spruance was tasked with performing raids on Japan to minimize air attack threats during the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.  (His boss was Nimitz.)  He had a problem which had to be solved.  The Navy had underway refueling down to an art.  However his fleet of Aircraft Carriers would “shoot” through their on-board supply of munitions (bombs, torpedoes, bullets) in about three days.  After the three days, they would have to make a 12 day trip to Ulithi Atoll and back for resupply.  This would keep them on station and in the war only six days out of a month.

As Leahy had, Spruance ordered his staff to develop processes to resupply ammunition, food stocks, etc. while underway.  Which they did.  It was a dangerous undertaking, moving bombs across decks of moving ships and across winches between ships, but they did it.  Now, after spending their ammo, the fleet would sail overnight to meet the supply ships, refuel, re-arm and re-supply while underway from different supply ships while underway, and be back in the fight within two days.

After the war, inventive officers asked to design ships which could replenish ships underway using a “one-stop shop” method…where one supply ship would resupply fuel, ammo and other needed supplies in one pass.  The Navy’s new CNO approved heartily…of course…Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz.

The Navy has made huge advancements since, and in recent years has improved their resupply capabilities even more.  They have the massive Gerald Ford carriers to plan for.

The US military’s ability to reach out and touch someone anywhere in the world, would not be possible without the innovations which allow them to resupply on the move…anywhere.

We almost didn’t have “Chester” to help make all of these advancements for the Navy.  In 1907, young Ensign Nimitz ran his Destroyer, the USS Decatur, aground and was found guilty of hazarding his ship during the subsequent court martial.  As we have seen during recent events, this normally would mean a swift end to one’s Naval career.  Thank God the Navy brass saw fit to give Nimitz another chance.