The Eagle’s Claw

Bob’s Pick: The Eagle’s Claw by Jeff Shaara

What hasn’t been said about the Battle of Midway? It is one of the most studied and analyzed battles of WWII. It was the key battle of the war in the Pacific that halted the advance of the Japanese Empire, protected Hawaii and America’s west coast, and reinvigorated an American public and military demoralized by Pearl Harbor. Just like the battles of Waterloo and Gettysburg before it, it presented a defining moment in world history!

Jeff Shaara’s unique approach to describing the Battle of Midway is to place the reader in an observer’s seat right next to the main participants. Similar to an aide to Admiral Nimitz (CINPAC), the commander in chief of U.S. naval forces in the Pacific, we overhear imagined conversations he would have had with his staff including LCDR’s Layton and Rochefort. LCDR Layton was his Intelligence Officer and LCDR Rochefort was his chief code breaker. Intelligence on Japanese plans was the key to winning this battle if not the whole war.

What I found most interesting in being in this seat was the internal politics it took to convince Washington as well as the other services, the Army and Marine Corps, that Layton and Rochefort were correct in their interpretation and assessment of Japanese plans. The Japanese code was broken to some degree but the translation was considered to be only 10% reliable. Washington had a similar code breaking operation as Hawaii and many times their interpretation of the same information from the Japanese code was different.

Through some misinformation disseminated about a broken water pump, Layton and Rochefort were finally able to prove their analysis was correct and that the next Japanese target would be Midway during the first week of June, 1942. Edwin T.Layton went on to write his own book about the code breaking operation under the title, “And I Was There”.

We are also given glimpses of what it must have been like being in Japanese Admiral in Chief, Yamamoto’s quarters. He did not want the war, but given the job, he would pursue it to the best of his ability. He planned the Battle of Midway months in advance, almost as soon as he found out that the American aircraft carriers were not at Pearl Harbor. Because Colonel Doolittle’s carrier supported air raid on Japan so alarmed the Japanese public and military, Admiral Yamamoto’s main purpose in attacking the small island of Midway became not so much a plan to occupy that small base but to lure out and destroy the American carrier fleet!

There are also listed in Mr. Shaara’s book a lot of tidbits of information concerning the planning, the execution and the outcome of the battle. Besides the fact that the Americans broke the Japanese code and fought very valiantly, there were also a lot of intrigues and mistakes made on the Japanese side that contributed to their defeat. Even though Admiral Nagumo was ultimately the Japanese “fall guy”, some of the blame should also be shared by his commander, Admiral Yamamoto.

On the American side, everyone came to the table. The high command, the various pilots, the carrier and shipboard personnel, submariners and the Marines and Army personnel on Midway all acted bravely and made significant contributions towards an American victory! They were all well prepared and instead of being surprised, they totally surprised the Japanese!

In this blog, I could definitely go into more detail than what I already have, but it wouldn’t be a blog anymore, it would be a novella. Mr. Shaara’s book provided me more insight into the behind the scenes planning and operations that were all part of the Battle of Midway than I previously knew and for that I am grateful. Mr. Shaara has also written a book about Pearl Harbor entitled, “To Wake the Giant”.