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  • Midway Inquest: Why the Japanese Lost the Battle of Midway
  • Anthony Tully
Midway Inquest: Why the Japanese Lost the Battle of Midway. By Dallas Woodbury Isom . Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-253-34904-0. Maps. Photographs. Tables. Appendixes. Notes. Selected bibliography. Index. Pp. xiii, 408. $29.95.

This latest book examining the events and riddles of the Battle of Midway is best understood and judged as rather attempting to answer "Why the Japanese could not launch their strike against the U.S.carriers in time." It is arguable that overall the Japanese lost because the operational plan itself was fatally flawed and pre-disposed to produce precisely the fatal dilemma and unsatisfactory choices for Nagumo's carrier fleet that eventuated. However, Dallas Woodbury Isom's book concentrates on a more specific cause in attempting to pin down precisely why Admiral Nagumo could not launch his mass strike against the sighted U.S.fleet in time, and (this is important) the actual time he gave the fateful order to re-arm to do so, and how long that process required. Despite the limitations of this focus, it is precisely why Isom's book is an interesting read. Throughout, the narrative is crisp, clear, and readable, with useful sub-headings within the chapters that help frame Isom's presentations.

A retired Professor of Law, Isom uses his experience in cases to shape his perspective. By his own declaration "As Admiral Nagumo and the crew of Tone 4 have been charged with serious malfeasance, or at least with gross negligence, I have also taken on the role of a lawyer conducting an inquest into a 'crime'", hence the title. To a reader interested in mysteries and detective work, this is a compelling approach. Indeed, understanding this aspect is the key to evaluating Midway Inquest. [End Page 602]

His essential argument is this: the failure of Nagumo's carrier fleet to launch its integrated mass strike against the U.S. carrier forces in time was due to the time at which Nagumo's re-armament order was given. The timing in turn was predicated on when Nagumo received the Tone's sighting report. In one of his more controversial arguments, Isom strongly presses the tenuous case that Nagumo actually learned about this sighting and thus gave the order later than conventionally assumed. That is to say, some time after 0805 rather than by the 0745-0747 generally accepted time range indicated by signal logs.

In his research and in making the arguments to lay out his "case" Isom had recourse over the years to contemporary and original Japanese sources, including interviews with over two dozen veterans, among them, most importantly, the compiler of the Nagumo force report. The details and testimony about the logistics and timing involved are invaluable, and alone can justify purchase.

However, the same advocate's approach to his 'client' – Nagumo and Tone 4 crew – that proves a stimulating and focused viewpoint at times also jeopardizes Isom's impartiality as a historian. Indeed, like an advocate defending his client, Isom too quickly and almost contemptuously dismisses opposing arguments and shows surprising indifference to or unfamiliarity with long established works and facts. Like many advocates, he sometimes mischaracterizes or oversimplifies dissenting viewpoints to the point of inaccuracy to set up straw men. In doing so he strays into strong overstatement and stretching of the probabilities to support the conclusion that he wishes the listener to draw. Sometimes by discounting evidence of his own (e.g. – that Soryu signaled the re-arm order at 0750). In doing so, he overreaches his case, and almost undermines it by obscuring his main point.

This mischaracterization or flawed use of other sources constantly intrudes and shakes confidence. It is unfortunate that the testimony of the same Japanese veterans he interviewed on their recollections regarding the bombings and loss of their ships was not sought or included. Such could have immeasurably added to the work's value; especially when the same aspect is so carelessly handled (or perhaps poorly worded) as to threaten its credibility.

On pages 231-234, Isom estimates the total number of Japanese carrier pilots lost with painstaking and...


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pp. 602-604
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2010
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