Japanese Aircrew Loss at the Battle of Midway
Thank you for producing such a fine publication; I look forward to each issue. I need to take issue, however, concerning a statement that appears in Barrett Tillman’s article “The Seeds of Victory Are Sown” (August 2017). He states, “the Imperial Japanese Navy suffered a crushing defeat at Midway, losing... four precious carriers and most of their aircrews.” The problem with this statement is that the Japanese did not lose most of their aircrews at the Battle of Midway. Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully, in their excellent book Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of
Midway, document that the Kaga suffered 21 aircrew deaths, Soryu lost 10, and the
Akagi 7. Only the Hiryu’s air group suffered casualties in excess of 50 percent, losing 72. This is a total of 110—compared to a Japanese loss of aircrew at the battle of Santa Cruz of 145, where the Japanese did not lose any of their four carriers that participated in the battle.
The myth of Midway is that the Japanese carriers’ flight decks were covered with armed and fueled aircraft ready to launch to destroy the U.S. carriers when the U.S. SBDs hit. The resulting image is that a majority of the flight crews were killed in explosions from dropping bombs while sitting in their fully fueled and armed aircraft. The reality is that the strike aircraft were actually in the hangar decks being
rearmed, and only a few CAP Zeros were on the flight decks when the SBDs from the
Enterprise and Yorktown hit. This is why so many Japanese flight crews survived the battle: They were not in their aircraft.
Note that the big loss in irreplaceable personnel was maintenance crews at the Battle of Midway.
One of the reasons that we have the belief that the Japanese decks were covered with strike aircraft ready to take off and annihilate the American fleet comes from Mitsuo Fuchida’s commentary about the battle. Japanese historians have commented that this misinformation may be a result of his desire to uphold the Bushido code. It makes a more heroic image that the killing blow from the SBDs hit an instant before the Japanese were to unleash the blow that would have led to their victory. It just doesn’t sound as good that you got wiped out when you were down in the hangar deck getting your aircraft rearmed. That almost gets to the level that you got wiped out answering the call of nature, and no true warrior would ever admit that.
Thanks for considering this. If there is information that counters my statement above, please let me know. Dennis N. Whitmer, Golden, Colorado
Thank you for your attention to detail. Since I proofread Parshall and Tully’s excellent book, I know better. We’re checking to see how that creeped in.—Barrett T.