History

A look under the surface of the Battle of Midway

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The Battle of Midway in June 1942 is undoubtedly one of World War II’s most famous naval engagements, yet a pivotal aspect of it is often overlooked: submarine warfare. Thus argues author Mark W. Allen in his book, “Midway Submerged: American and Japanese Submarine Operations at the Battle of Midway, May–June 1942.”

Allen shares a wealth of information that will likely give readers generally familiar with the battle a different perspective on its key events. He paints a clear picture of the state of submarine warfare and doctrine in both the U.S. and Japan before the Battle of Midway to provide context for the ensuing clash.

In doing so, Allen dishes out plenty of criticism for both sides, advancing the theories that the U.S. Navy prioritized stealth and caution over daring maneuvers and that Japanese naval doctrine was fundamentally deficient. In particular, he contends that the Imperial Japanese Navy performed poorly at antisubmarine warfare and was hobbled by an elitist attitude that saw submarines as “auxiliaries to the battle fleet.” The consequence was that Japanese submarines oriented toward engaging the enemy and paid less attention to protecting their own merchant shipping.

The U.S., by contrast, developed sophisticated means of protecting merchant ships from attacks; however, the author also argues that many U.S. Navy submarine commanders were unprepared for the “psychological and physical burdens” of wartime duty. These struggles caused them to withdraw to a position on the bridge or in the conning tower rather than mix with their crews. With this information in mind, Allen examines the factors that led to the battle’s outcome.

The book is geared less toward average readers and more toward those who have a foundation of preexisting knowledge of not only the battle’s events but also its historiography. Naval history enthusiasts and military historians who enjoy taking deeper dives into the backgrounds of well-known battles, particularly concerning tactics and leadership, will appreciate this read. The book is enriched with well-captioned photos, diagrams, and very detailed appendices, which makes it an excellent reference work. It provides a more well-rounded view of Midway, which has been lacking. Recommended.

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