The Unknown Battle of Midway


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The Destruction of the American Torpedo Squadrons

Alvin Kernan

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What really happened at the famous Battle of Midway? A survivor sets the record straight.

"The clearest and most persuasive story of the Battle of Midway I have ever read or heard.”—Donald Kagan, Yale University

The Battle of Midway is considered the greatest U.S. naval victory, but behind the luster is the devastation of the American torpedo squadrons. Of the 51 planes sent to attack Japanese carriers only 7 returned, and of the 127 aircrew only 29 survived. Not a single torpedo hit its target.

A story of avoidable mistakes and flawed planning, The Unknown Battle of Midway reveals the enormous failures that led to the destruction of four torpedo squadrons but were omitted from official naval reports: the planes that ran out of gas, the torpedoes that didn’t work, the pilots who had never dropped torpedoes, and the breakdown of the attack plan. Alvin Kernan, who was present at the battle, has written a troubling but persuasive analysis of these and other little-publicized aspects of this great battle. The standard navy tactics for carrier warfare are revealed in tragic contrast to the actual conduct of the battle and the after-action reports of the ships and squadrons involved.

Alvin Kernan (1923–2018) was Avalon University Professor of Humanities, Emeritus, Princeton University. He served in the U.S. Navy, 1941–45. Among his previous books are The Fruited Plain: Fables for a Postmodern Democracy and In Plato’s Cave, both published by Yale University Press.

The Unknown Battle of Midway is the clearest and most persuasive story of the Battle of Midway I have ever read or heard. It asks the right questions directly and answers them clearly, simply, and convincingly, basing its conclusions on keen analysis based on the primary sources and much new evidence rarely if ever used by other accounts. Kernan brings the events to life as only a participant with high literary talents can.”—Donald Kagan, Yale University

"An incisive and laconic writer, Kernan knows his facts and presents them with deep feeling. A WWII must-read."—Booklist

"...brilliant..." - Kevin Myers, Irish Times

“This is the first volume in the Yale Library of Military History, and series editors Donald Kagan and Frederick Kagan have chosen a worthy title to launch the series. In their Foreword, the editors note that their intention is to ‘make available to the general public readable and accurate scholarly accounts’ of war. The Unknown Battle of Midway is that and more.”—Tom Miller,

"Professor Kernan served as an eighteen year old ordnance technician aboard the USS Enterprise during the battle, and the book reads almost as though your grandfather is telling you what he did in the war.  And in tracing the story beyond the Second World War to how the Navy and the participants reacted, he makes it an emotionally powerful story, not merely one of war but of its lasting effects."---Times Literary Supplement

"A memoir and more. . . . Mr. Kernan brings this maritime battle superbly to life. . . . And he narrates the air assault in gripping detail. Mr. Kernan makes it clear how it came to pass that U.S. admirals sent a large group of brave but poorly equipped and under-trained men to fight with outmoded tactics. . . . A compact and elegant book."—Robert Messenger, Wall Street Journal

“I read The Unknown Battle of Midway in one sitting. It is a momentous piece of work, reeking of the authenticity of carrier warfare as experienced by the flight crews.”—Sir John Keegan

Chosen as an "Outstanding" title in the 2005 Association of American University Presses (AAUP) University Press Books for Public and Secondary School Libraries

Selected for Association of American University Presses (AAUP) Books for Public and Secondary School Libraries, 2006

Featured as one of the “Best of the Best from the University Presses: Books you should know about” by the American Library Association
ISBN: 9780300122640
Publication Date: May 28, 2007
208 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
22 b/w illus.
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