One of the greatest naval victories in American history took place 80 years ago in June, when American and Japanese forces clashed in the historic Battle of Midway. In the decades since, so much ink has been expended on this most enduring topic that one wonders: what else could there be to learn about the battle of June 4-7, 1942? The answer would be: a lot.
As Jonathan Parshall points out in our Midway retrospective, our understanding of what happened at Midway has constantly evolved. Parshall, co-author of Broken swordthe definitive modern version of the battle, offers a comprehensive operational overview as well as an in-depth examination of the literature on Midway over the years and how our understanding of the momentous clash continues to grow.
Before Midway, another decisive battle in the Pacific War took place 80 years ago, the Battle of the Coral Sea from May 4 to 8, 1942. The first naval combat in history in which opposing ships did not were never seen or fired directly at each other, the action centered on the carrier was considered a tactical victory for Japan, but as John Prados notes, “the Americans had repulsed the Japanese attempt to capture Port Moresby and the American commanders had gained invaluable experience in the tempo and logic of carrier operations Prados here also credits the crucial role of American code breakers in preparing for battle, a role well recognized with Midway but unfairly less with its predecessor.
The reversal of fortune in the Pacific was good news for people back home in June 1942 – where the other theater of the American war in the two oceans had moved uncomfortably closer to the Atlantic coast, thanks to the offensive of the German U-boats which had been raging since January. Just at the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay, swimmers witnessed a shocking series of ship explosions in plain sight. Yes, the culprit was a German U-boat, but no, the payload this time was not torpedoes, but mines, laid right in the heart of mid-Atlantic shipping lanes. Ed Offley’s gripping account underscores that the war was not a distant conflict for those on the East Coast. Midway was 1,500 nautical miles from the west coast, but on the east coast an Adolf Hitler submarine Kriegsmarine was only hundreds of yards offshore, sailing in the channel between Cape Henry and Cape Charles.
It was through these same capes that President Theodore Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet passed as it left Hampton Roads and embarked on its show of force tour around the world in 1907. The beautiful new warships formed a impressive display. But behind the scenes, some naval officers feared the Grand White Fleet was a “Great White Elephant.” The articulator of these concerns was Henry Reuterdahl, the Swedish-American painter/analyst whose artwork and writings pointed to potentially fatal flaws in American ship design. Andrew K. Blackley offers a gripping profile of the Navy’s astonishing “reform artist” here.
Also in this issue, we present a naval historical thriller and a compelling new solution to a century-old mystery. It has long been thought that German saboteurs blew up the Mare Island naval munitions depot in 1917, but as NCIS intelligence analyst Stephen C. Ruder unravels the skein of evidence, he offers a surprisingly new solution. different (and quite compelling) for the case.
Finally, frequent Procedure contributor Sam Tangredi makes his naval history feature debut with a journey to the Middle Ages to explore a fascinating and largely overlooked subject: the role of maritime operations in the Great Crusades. Captain Tangredi chronicles the siege of Damietta, Egypt in 1218-1919 and “one of the first specialized amphibious assault ships in history”. So it has always been, from medieval to modern: you need the right ship for the job at hand. And if that ship doesn’t exist yet, you’d better invent it!