Midway Sentinal

Spring 2008


Part 1

In their recent book Shattered Sword, coauthors Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully include a chapter entitled "Myth and Mythmakers", in which they question a number of historical facts and conclusions of Japanese military historians Mitsuo Fuchida and Masatake Okumiya, authors of Midway: The Battle That Doomed Japan, a well-respected book on the Battle of Midway written in 1955. The conclusions of Parshall and Tully have far-reaching implications for the current understanding of the history of the Battle of Midway, and therefore deserve a critical review.

As President of the International Midway Memorial Foundation (IMMF), I, Jim D'Angelo, intend to provide a critical review of the chapter in a three part series beginning with this issue of the "Midway Sentinel." The assertions of Parshall and Tully will be reviewed in the chronological order in which they occurred in the battle. I will proceed by quoting the questioned historical fact first, followed by Parshall and Tully's response, as they do in their book. These statements will be followed by a series of historical quotes and finally a discussion and conclusion. All radio communications described in this review will be dated in Tokyo time.

Assertion # 1: "During the transit to Midway, Admiral Yamamoto withheld important intelligence from Admiral Nagumo that might have changed the course of the battle. As a result, Nagumo was in the dark concerning the nature of the threat facing him at Midway." Parshall and Tully's response: "Not true."

In order to understand this issue, it is important that one appreciate the sequence of events involved in the flow of traffic of radio intelligence from one area of the Pacific to another. Radio intelligence from lower units operating in the Pacific were to transmit the information up the chain of command so that ultimately, the messages were received by the First Communications Unit in Tokyo (FCU).[1] The FCU would then re-broadcast the information to the various fleet commands, which were heading toward Midway. One must also be informed of why it may have been possible that Nagumo did not receive any of the radio intelligence sent to him from Tokyo. The answer lies in the construction of the ships of the "Kido Butai" (Japanese task force) that had small bridge structures and mainmasts.[2] This construction left few high places on the ships to place the aerial in a location that would provide optimum radio reception.

It is appropriate at this point to document what Admiral Yamamoto and Admiral Nagumo did and did not know.

The following is a list of radio reports that were sent from Tokyo's FCU to command fleets and were documented by Fuchida and, independently, by Admiral Matoma Ugaki in his diary, except for Message Number 7 which is quoted from Gordon Prange, author of Miracle at Midway. The format is a record of the date of the radio transmission followed by quotes, by Fuchida, Ugaki and Prange, which document what radio messages were actually transmitted at this time.

Message Number 1. May 30, 1942:

Fuchida: "Yamato's radio crew, which was keeping a close watch on enemy communications traffic, intercepted a long urgent message sent by an enemy submarine from a position directly ahead of Japanese Transport Group."[3]

Ugaki: "According to radio interception, an enemy sub supposed to be either ahead or in the vicinity of our Transport Force dispatched a long, urgent message to Midway."[4]

Message Number 2. May 31:

Fuchida: "Meanwhile, Yamamoto's radio intelligence unit observed further signs of enemy activity, especially of aircraft and submarines, in both the Hawaii and Aleutians vicinity."[5]

Ugaki: "A radio interception indicates that enemy planes and subs in the Aleutian Islands, Hawaiian Islands and the mid-Pacific are engaged in brisk activities. Exchanges of urgent messages are at a very unusual rate."[6]

Message Number 3. May 31:

The following intelligence quotes are regarding Operation K, a plan designed to determine whether the American carriers were in Pearl Harbor. A Japanese seaplane would fly from Wotje to French Frigate Shoals, in the mid Hawaiian Island chain, refuel by submarine and fly to Pearl Harbor for aerial reconnaissance.

Fuchida: "This made it apparent that the enemy was already using the Shoals as a seaplane base, and there was no alternative to complete abandonment of Operation K. These disappointing developments were promptly communicated to Admiral Yamamoto in Yamato."[7]

Ugaki: "Our reconnaissance of the enemy was insufficient. An advance attempt to reconnoiter the Hawaii district by Type Two flying boats couldn't be carried out, as two enemy vessels were in French Frigate Shoals."[8]

Message Number 4. June 1:

Fuchida: "Radio intelligence disclosed a marked intensification of communications traffic out of Hawaii, and 72 out of 180 intercepted messages were 'urgent', indicating an unusually tense situation."[9]

Ugaki: "Out of over 180 radio exchanges observed in the Hawaii district, as many as seventy-two were tagged 'urgent'."[10]

Message Number 5. June 1:

Fuchida: "A chance encounter 500 miles north-northeast of Wotje between a Japanese patrol plane from that island and an American flying boat, which exchanged brief machine bursts, also showed that the enemy had extended his Midway-based air patrols out to a radius of 700 miles."[11]

Ugaki: "Moreover, another flying boat from Wotje Island sighted an enemy flying boat at a point five hundred miles north-by-northeast from the island and attacked it."[12]

Message Number 6. June 2:

Fuchida: "The report stated .....that the enemy appeared to be flying intensive air patrols to the southwest, probably to a distance of 600 miles; that a strict alert appeared to be in force, with numerous aircraft on defensive patrol day and night; and that many construction cranes were visible on the island, suggesting that installations were being expanded.[13]

Ugaki: This report is not in Admiral Ugaki's diary.

Message 7: June 2:

Prange: "For example, about this time the Naval General Staff radioed Yamato that in the eastern Midway area some U.S. carrier force 'could possibly' be moving or perhaps be preparing for an ambush. The radio [message] also bore the First Air Fleet as an addressee."[14]

This quote is taken from Captain Kuroshima aboard the Yamato. Fuchida and Ugaki do not comment on this message, nor do Parshall and Tully.

Message Number 8. June 3:

Fuchida: "Within an hour after the split-up of the Main Force, Admiral Yamamoto received a sudden message from Admiral Tanaka's flagship Jintsu, which was in direct escort of the Midway transport convoy, reporting that the convoy had been discovered at 0900 by an enemy search plane over 600 miles west of the target island."[15]

Ugaki: "On the other hand, a report came in that an enemy plane sighted the invasion force accompanying twelve transports at a point six hundred miles from Midway at 0600, and the No. 16 minesweeper Division was fighting."[16]

Note: The authors quoted above all confirm that Admiral Yamamoto did receive the above radio messages. In a review of their books, there is no evidence that Admiral Nagumo received any of the above eight radio messages.

DISCUSSION: Co-authors Parshall and Tully conclude that Admiral Nagumo did receive some of the radio messages listed above. They report the following three messages:(1) "Increased presence of enemy submarines whose goal was apparently reconnoitering the Japanese forces."[17] (2) "Increased patrolling by American aircraft operating out of Midway starting around 29 May."[18] (6) "According to Naval General Staff service message radio intelligence of 31 May, for the last several days there has been a tendency for the number of enemy vessels participating in the Pacific Base Communications System and the General Ships Communication System centered at Honolulu to increase."[19] These messages appear to fit best with messages 1,2, and 6 above.

Now, Parshall and Tully do agree that the Kido Butai might well have suffered a communications breakdown."[20] However, on the basis of the Akagi air group report, they conclude that Nagumo did receive these three messages.[21a] The one caveat in their conclusion is a statement cited by the authors: "that the report is specific that the information in hand had been derived from other units, not the Kido Butai."[21b] This appears to me to mean that the documentation for Nagumo's reception of these messages was not derived from ships within the Japanese Striking Force, but from elsewhere, and therefore fail to provide the necessary proof that the messages were actually received by the First Striking Force's wireless receivers. Certainly, the wartime records revealed that Admiral Nagumo's estimation of the enemy situation just prior to launching the Midway attack on 4 June (Midway date) gave no hint that he had received any of the messages listed above;[22] nor does Admiral Ugaki's diary, Fading Victory.

CONCLUSION: First: The documentary evidence supports that all of the above radio intelligence was available to Admiral Yamamoto on the Yamato, including the information that a U.S. Task Force could be waiting to ambush the "Kido Butai" northeast of Midway. Yet no orders came from Yamamoto to alert Nagumo that he should consider reappraising the original operational plan for Midway, as circumstances dictated.

Second: Independent of the above eight messages, there are two messages that Nagumo did receive that should have caused him to pause and consider the possibility that a U.S. task force might be present on his flank. The first message was the 0555 report to the "Kido Butai" from Tone's Number 4 Scout plane on 4 June (Midway time): that "15 enemy planes [possibly Yorktown's scout planes] were heading toward you."[23] Reportedly, five minutes later, Admiral Yamaguchi confirmed a sighting, but when the sighting was not confirmed by Japanese aircraft, the message was dismissed.[24]

It appears that Nagumo should have considered that even, though Tone's number 4 Aichi E13A seaplane was launched 30 minutes late, it had a cruising speed of about 138 miles per hour, and with a departing time of 0500, the search plane should have been at least 100 miles out from the "Kido Butai" at 0555. This analysis makes it unlikely that the planes seen by Nagumo's force were those sighted by the Tone search plane. This observation of the distance that the seaplane was from "Kido Butai" is further supported by the number 4 Tone's search plane's earlier report back to Nagumo at 0520, that he sighted two surfaced submarines about 80 miles from his take-off point. These observations alone should have caused sufficient alarm to alter the complacency aboard Akagi, but it had no effect.

In summary, it is reasonable to conclude that it was not the lack of radio intelligence from the Yamato, but the inflexibility of Japanese thought, their lack of adaptability to changing circumstances, and their inclination to wishful thinking that led both Yamamoto and Nagumo to contribute to the Japanese defeat at Midway.

Assertion #2: "The Aleutians Operation was an elaborate feint designed to lure the American fleet out of Pearl Harbor." Parshall and Tully's response: "Not true. The simultaneous launch of operations in the Aleutians was designed to capitalize on the Americans being busy elsewhere, so that objectives in the Aleutians could be seized without hindrance. Operation AL was an invasion in its own right strategically timed and not merely a diversion."[25] The authors claim that "Western accounts of the battle have generally characterized Operational [sic] AL as being an elaborate diversion in support of Operation MI."[26] "According to this interpretation, AL was designed to lure the U.S. fleet out of Pearl Harbor such that it could be intercepted and engaged north of Hawaii as it moved to relieve the Aleutians."[27]

The review of this issue will be derived from the books of Fuchida, Ugaki, Prange, and the following books: Rear Admiral Edwin T. Layton's And I Was There, Walter Lord's: Incredible Victory, and Samuel Elliot Morison's Coral Sea, Midway and Submarine Actions.

It is interesting to note that even in Fuchida's book: Midway: The Battle That Doomed Japan, he does not say that the sole purpose of the Aleutian Operation was an elaborate feint to lure out the American fleet from Pearl Harbor. Instead, he noted the following:

Fuchida: "In view of this comfortable margin of superiority, Combined Fleet decided that the objectives of the Midway operation could safely be expanded to include the simultaneous capture of key points in the western Aleutians. ....However, Combined Fleet strategists calculated that their temporary seizure, in addition to permitting destruction of enemy installations there, would serve to protect the northern flank of the main Japanese trust toward Midway and act as a diversion which might throw the enemy forces off balance."[28]

Ugaki does not comment on this issue.

Prange: "The Naval General Staff asked for, and the Combined Fleet agreed to, a variation of the plan. Yamamoto's original idea called for massing full strength against Midway. The Naval General Staff wanted to add a strike against the Aleutians too. This would be not only a diversionary operation...but it would be a Navy contribution to the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.[1] The Tokyo planners realized that the foul weather prevalent in the Aleutians would make them difficult to use as effective bases, but the area would be the anchor of a protective arc passing very near Midway and expanding to the Torres Strait between New Guinea and Australia. Besides, Japanese control of the Aleutians would preclude the Americans' running a bombing shuttle from Dutch Harbor to Vladivostok, in the event Russia came into the war against Japan."[29]

Layton: "But the capture of the Aleutians was deemed essential to prevent their being used as bases for long-range air strikes against Tokyo."[30]

Lord: "Then, since the Naval General Staff was worried about possible bombings from the Aleutians, he [Yamamoto] also added an Aleutian attack to the plan."[31]

Morison: "These islands were wanted to repair that rip in the 'ribbon defense' through which Halsey had dashed in April to bomb Tokyo. They would serve as key points in a new outer perimeter, Kiska-Midway-Wake-Marshalls-Gilberts-Guadalcanal-Port Moresby."[32]


There are three points of interest here. First, it is well documented that the Japan's sole reasoning for invading Midway was to lure out the American fleet. Certainly, the Japanese did not feel any feint in the Aleutians would have a high success of drawing out the American fleet. Second, Dutch Harbor is over 2000 miles from Honolulu and the Midway attack was scheduled 24 hours later. Traveling north by northwest, the American fleet would only have sailed about a third of the way to the Aleutian Islands, before it would have changed its course to the west toward Midway. Third, the United States considered the invasion of the Aleutians significant enough to send Task Force Eight consisting of two heavy and three light cruisers with four destroyers to the Aleutian area. These expendable ships represented about a third of the major ships present at the Battle of Midway, and to that extend the invasion of the Aleutians was a successful feint.

Conclusion: These well-respected books on the Battle of Midway support the position that the predominant reason for the Japanese attacks on the Aleutian Islands was to prevent these bases from being used by the Americans to launch air attacks against Japan and for the bases to become part of the Japanese defense perimeter and not to lure the American fleet out of Pearl Harbor. It is my opinion that there is no evidence from the historical accounts of the Aleutian Operation provided above that a myth had been created by their accounts.

Assertion #3: "'Had the Japanese implemented a two-phase search plan on the morning of 4 June, they would have succeeded in locating the American fleet in time to win the battle.' Perhaps, but in 1942 the Japanese (and Americans) had yet to incorporate the notion of a two-phase search into their doctrine. Such a search plan was never an option, and it was disingenuous for Fuchida Mitsuo to imply that it was."[33a]

The review of this issue will be derived from the books of Fuchida, Ugaki and Prange's quote by Rear Admiral Ryunosuke Kusaka, Chief of Staff of the First Air Fleet.

Fuchida: "Had he employed earlier, two phase search, the unsuspected enemy task force would probably have been discovered soon enough to permit Nagumo to strike the first blow instead of taking it."[33b]

Ugaki: "Searches on the flanks of our force were made with seaplanes of the Eight Heavy Cruiser Division and bombers equipped with additional fuel tanks, but their departures were arranged to be almost simultaneous with that of the attack force so that they would not miss the area near the force because of the darkness before dawn. It was on its return leg that it discovered an enemy task force belated." (Lesson: As many search planes as possible should be dispatched as soon as possible. The area near our force should have be covered with other planes after dawn.)"[34]

Prange: "Kusaka planned the air search pattern now being readied for take-off, and in later days blamed himself harshly for failing to substitute a double reconnaissance. 'I neglected scouting,' he admitted, 'trying to save for planes for offense.'"[35]

Discussion: Parshall and Tully conclude that a two-phase search plan was never an option because "It would not be until May 1943 that Combined Fleet would formally incorporate two-phase searches into its doctrine, largely as the result of lessons learned at Midway and in the Solomon Islands."[36] They go on to say, "In fact, at this stage in the conflict, a two-phase search was totally unknown, and single searches were the only kind of search plans there were."[37]

Before I respond, a few points are worth noting here. First, it is not well-appreciated that the two planes from the Akagi and Kaga covering #1 and #2 (south-southeast direction) segments of the search arc were Type 97 carrier attack planes. The Nakajima B5N2 torpedo bomber had a cruising speed of 161 miles per hour and a range of 528 miles.[38] These planes left their carriers exactly on time at 0430. It is also interesting that these planes were allocated to the least likely sector of the arc which would find the American fleet.

Second, Nagumo had available two new reconnaissance planes aboard the Soryu, the Yokosuka D4Y1 modified dive-bomber.[39] The plane had a cruising speed of 265 miles an hour and a range of 850 miles.

These planes were not utilized in the initial search mission, even when Tone's number 3 and 4 search planes were delayed 12 and 30 minutes in their departures.[40] The speed of these planes could have more than made up for the loss of time incurred by Tone's float planes.

In response to Parshall and Tully, I would first point out that Fuchida's statement did not categorically state that the American force would be found nor the battle won. He wrote, as quoted above, that the American force probably would be found soon enough and that Nagumo could strike the first blow rather than take it.

Second, although a two-phase search plan was not part of Japanese naval doctrine at the time, an adaptation of the plan certainly could have been implemented on the morning of 4 June 1942. At the very least, Nagumo had two worthy search planes, Yokosuka D4Y1s, aboard the Soryu that he failed to utilize on the first search mission. In addition to Fuchida, Rear Admiral Kusake also gives testimony to the fact that the concept of a two-phase search system existed at the time when he berated himself "for failing to substitute a double reconnaissance."[41]

Conclusion: It appears to me once again that the ultimate failure of the Japanese search plan was their inability to be flexible, and adapt to changing circumstances. Even after the Battle of Midway revealed the critical weaknesses in a single search plan, Japan failed to incorporate a two-phase search system into their naval doctrine until almost a year after their devastating defeats off Guadalcanal in August and October of 1942.


[1] Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully, Shattered Sword (Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books 2005), p. 101
[2] Ibid., p. 100
[17] Ibid., p. 101.
[18] Ibid., p. 101
[19] Ibid., p. 101.
[20] Ibid. p. 101.
[21a] Ibid., p. 101.
[21b] Ibid., p. 101.
[25] Ibid., p. 431
[26] Ibid., p. 43.
[27] Ibid., p. 43.
[33a] Ibid., p. 432.
[36] Ibid., p. 108
[37] Ibid., p. 108.
[38] Ibid., p. 480.
[40] Ibid., p. 483.
[3] Fuchida, Mitsuo and Okumiya, Masatake, Midway: The Battle That Doomed Japan (New York: Ballantine Books, 1955), p. 110.
[5] Ibid., p. 110.
[7] Ibid., p. 111.
[9] Ibid., p. 112.
[11] Ibid., p. 112.
[13] Ibid., p. 113.
[15] Ibid., p. 123.
[22] Ibid., p. 129.
[28] Ibid., p. 78.
[33b] Ibid., p. 203.
[39] Ibid., p. 134.
[4] Ugaki, Matome, Admiral, Fading Victory ((Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburg Press, 1991), p. 131.
[6] Ibid., p. 131.
[8] Ibid., p. 139.
[10] Ibid., p. 135.
[12] Ibid., p. 135.
[16] Ibid., p. 137
[34] Ibid., p. 160.
[14] Prange, Walter et al., Miracle at Midway (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1982), p. 146.
[23] Ibid., p. 216.
[24] Ibid., p. 216.
[29] Ibid., p. 23.
[35] Ibid., p. 181.
[41] Ibid., p.181.
[30] Layton, Edwin, Rear Admiral, And I Was There (New York: William Morrow, 1985), p. 385
[31] Lord, Walter, Incredible Victory, (New York: Harper and Row, 1967), p. 67.
[32] Samuel Eliot Morison, Coral Sea, Midway and Submarine Actions (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1988), p. 75.


[1] A concept created and promulgated by the government and military of the Empire of Japan which represented the desire to create a self-sufficient "bloc" of Asian nations led by Japan and free of Western powers.


Parts II and III of the critical review of Parshall and Tully's chapter entitled "Myth and Mythmakers" will follow in the next two issues of the Midway Sentinel. Now that this issue of the newsletter is completed, I will devote time to a very special dinner party which will honor Vice Admiral William D. Houser, USN (Ret.), who has done so much to promote the Battle of Midway and to inculcate this historic battle into the U.S. Navy culture. The plan is to hold the dinner in the Washington, D.C. area in early to mid June. I will publish the next issue of the newsletter before June to offer the details. Chris and I hope to see you soon.

Written By:

James M. Dangelo

Chairman and Founder, IMMF

Written By:

M. Christine Sims

Vice President and Chairman, IMMF

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