Midway (1976)

 

 

 

Director:     Jack Smight.

Starring:     Charlton Heston (Captain Matthew Garth), Edward Albert (Ens. Thomas Garth), Henry Fonda (Adm. Chester W. Nimitz), Robert Wagner (Lt. Cmdr. Ernest L. Blake), Robert Webber (Rear Adm. Frank J. 'Jack' Fletcher),  James Coburn (Capt. Vinton Maddox), Robert Mitchum (Vice Adm. William F. 'Bull' Halsey Jr.),  Cliff Robertson (Cmdr. Carl Jessop),  Glenn Ford (Rear Admiral Raymond A. Spruance), Hal Holbrook (Cmdr. Joseph Rochefort), Toshirô Mifune (Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto), James Shigeta (Vice Adm. Chuichi Nagumo),  Christina Kokubo (Miss Haruko Sakura).

The turning point in the war in the Pacific.  The Japanese code had been broken and the Americans knew the Japanese were coming to attack the island of Midway.  One of the subplots is about Captain Matt Garth whose son is causing him problems because of his romance with a Japanese-American girl.

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.

The Battle of Midway was the turning point of the war in the Pacific. 

April 18, 1942.  The Doolittle Raid.  A messenger tells Admiral Yamamoto that Tokyo has been bombed along with Watanabe, Yokohama, Kawasaki and Yokosuko.  Yamamoto is shocked.  The raiders flew B-25 bombers off a carrier.  They stayed at tree level so they weren't even seen before they were over the city.  

Pearl Harbor.  The Doolittle Raid has a good effect on American morale.  Captain Matthew Garth talks with intelligence officer Joe Rochefort who has all the latest intercepts.  A battle is coming in the Coral Sea, but Joe adds there is something new coming with a target designated AF, but they don't know what AF is. 

Matt Garth is surprised to run into his son, Navy pilot Tom.  It's been three years since they have seen each other.  Tom hugs his father who receives it with very stiff body language.  Matt is divorced and there is some strain between father and son.  Tom tells his father that he has fallen in love with a Japanese girl and wants to marry her.  But she's been arrested in Honolulu.  Matt wonders why she was arrested.  Tom says that they had information on her parents and they picked her up along with them.  She now refuses to see Tom and is to be sent back to the mainland.  Her name is Haruko Sakura.  Matt is irritated but will help if he can. 

Hiroshima Bay.   Battleship Yamamoto, the flagship of Admiral Yamamoto, fleet commander of the Imperial Japanese Navy.  Admiral Naguomo will carry out the plan of attack on Midway Island.  The Japanese have a fleet of 200 ships and 100,000 men to make an amphibious landing on Midway. 

Pearl Harbor.  The US Navy got hurt at the Battle of the Coral Sea.  They lost the carrier Lexington.  Otherwise they broke even.  The carrier Saratoga is laid up and the Yorktown is heavily damaged.  Only the Hornet and the Enterprise are left for action.  Joe tells the staff that he thinks Midway is AF.  He wants to confirm it by sending a fake message from Midway saying that their fresh water condenser has broken down. 

Midway Island: communications station.  Midway sent the message out about the condenser.  The Japanese intercept station at Kuajalein Atoll pick up the message.  They then transmit messages referring to a condenser at AF.  Bingo: the attack will come at Midway.  The Japanese plan a diversion in the Aleutians. 

Hiroshima Bay.  The success of the Japanese operation (called Operation K) depends on the American fleet still being at Pearl Harbor and not at Midway. 

Pearl Harbor.  Matt discovers that there is a problem with the electric arming circuits for the SPDs.  Washington is concerned that if Nimitz is wrong about Midway then the West Coast will be open to a Japanese attack. 

Hiroshima Bay.  Carrier Akagi, Nagumo's flagship.  Admiral Nagumo is worried because his two best air commanders are out of action. 

Pearl Harbor.  Matt Garth visits Haruko Sakura and her family.  She explains to him that the F.B.I. information amounts to nothing and Matt believes her.  But there is a problem.  Her parents have forbidden her to marry outside her race.  She wants Matt to tell his son that she can't see him anymore, but Matt insists that she be the one to tell Tom.  Admiral Nimitz visits Vice Admiral Halsey who is in the hospital with a skin disease.  Halsey recommends Ray Spruance as his replacement.  Admiral Nimitz is concerned because Spruance is a commander of cruisers not carriers.  But Halsey insists Spruance can handle it.  Jack Fletcher and the carrier Yorktown arrive at Pearl Harbor.  The work crews immediately start repairing the ship.  The ship will be sent out in 72 hours.  The plan is for the American carriers to lie northeast of Midway to wait for the Japanese fleet.

Battleship Yamamoto, 300 miles behind Admiral Nagumo's carrier strike force.  Along with the Akagi are the carriers Soryu and Kaga.   

Pearl Harbor.  Tom talks to Haruko.  She says that they have no future and that she does not love him anymore.  He doesn't believe her.  He tells her: "It will be o.k."  Tom is to be shipped out to fly a plane at Midway.  He winds up on the Yorktown along with his father.  Matt goes to bat for his son by asking the highest intelligence officer to see that the order for Sakura is cancelled.  The officer doesn't like it, but he does it. 

May 30, 1942.  On the Yorktown Tom is still angry with his father blaming him for his problems with Haruko.

Midway.  They begin sending out scout planes to find the Japanese fleet.  No sightings. 

Pacific Ocean.  The three Japanese carriers have to follow behind a huge front of bad weather.

Midway.  The three American carriers are in position off Midway.  The Aleutian Islands have been invaded by the Japanese.  The Americans announce that it is go time.   PDY scout planes head out.  The pilot and co-pilot of Strawberry 9 spot the Japanese.  They radio Midway and the Japanese also pick up the signal.  The Japanese now know that they have been discovered. 

Pacific Ocean.  Admiral Nagumo gets back his main air operations chief who has recovered from an illness.  The Japanese scout plane search starts, northeast of Midway (where the American ship are located).  The decision is made to send the second-string Japanese pilots for the first attack on Midway.  If they don't knock out the airport then the experienced pilots will be sent in a second attack. 

June 4, 4:30 a.m. on the Akagi.  The weather is good.  Unfortunately for the Japanese, one scout plane, number four, has been delayed for a half hour.  Commence launching.  Strawberry five finds the enemy carriers.  They duck the Japanese fighter planes by flying into the cloud cover.  Strawberry twelve spots hundreds of Japanese planes headed for Midway. 

Midway.  The planes on Midway are "relics".  They send up their SPDs under Major Floyd B. "Red" Parks to intercept the Japanese planes.  But the Japanese planes blew right through Parks's planes.  The Japanese bomb Midway, but they do not knock out the airport.  The Japanese lost only 7 planes compared to 40 for the Americans.  The second wave of planes are armed with torpedoes.  But then the order is given to take the torpedoes off and replace them with contact bombs to hit Midway again. 

The American carriers are 135 miles away.  They know they have two certain targets and so they launch their around 57 planes each from the Enterprise and the Hornet

The delayed scout plane number four now reports in: ten enemy ships.  So the decision is made to halt the change to contact bombs.  After another delay, they decide to take off the contact bombs and replace them with torpedoes to attack the American carrier(s).  Tom Garth goes up in his plane to attack. All the first wave airplanes of the Japanese are now back on deck. 

Torpedo Squadron 8 from the Hornet.   They are attacked by Japanese fighters.  Ensign George Gay survives his plane crash and ends up having a ring side seat of the action from the ocean water.  The Japanese suffer no loses while all 15 American crews have been lost (with the exception of Gay). 

Bombing Squadron 3 (Yorktown).  They start to arm their bombs and the compromised arming switches drop their bombs prematurely.  The flight leader tells the other pilots to stay off the arming switches.  Fighting Squadron 3 (Yorktown).  Torpedo Squadron 3 (Yorktown). 

There are four Japanese carriers in the area.  The American planes attack but not one torpedo even comes close to the carriers.  Their fighter cover, however, has almost been completely lost.  Bomber Squadron 3 (Yorktown) under Maxwell F. Leslie attacks.  Both the carriers Kaga and Soryu are destroyed.  The Akagi has also been hit.  From the decks of the carrier Hiryu under commander Yamaguchi, the crew is absolutely shocked to see three of their carriers burning. 

Planes off the Hiryu spot returning American planes and follow them to the Yorktown

Tom Garth gets very badly burned, but he is just able to land his plane back on the Yorktown.  The medics tell Matt that his son is alive. 

"Bandits approaching!"  The Japanese planes hit the Yorktown, knock out the boilers and set the ship on fire.  The crew, however, gets the fire under control and the ship remains operational.  Back at Pearl Harbor, Admiral Nimitz learns of the three carriers afire, but he says: "I want that fourth carrier."

June 6, 1942.  Planes from the Hiryu attack again. Matt Garth goes up as pilots are becoming scarce.   A Japanese plane flies right into the ship's command center.  Then the Japanese flight leader also flies his plane into the ship.  Meanwhile, the American planes hit the Hiryu knocking it out.  Landing on deck, Matt's plane explodes, killing him.  The US Navy picks up Ensign Gay. 

Back home, a worried Hakuro sees the burnt Tom Garth being carried off the ship and being put into an ambulance. 

 

A good naval drama with many details of the actual battle at Midway Island.  They used a lot of footage from the actual battle.  I enjoyed following the action.  The love story was o.k.  I did not object to it, as some viewers have done, and it did call attention to the injustice that the United States did to the Japanese-Americans when they interned them in war camps. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

 


Historical Background:

Imperial Japanese Navy

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto (on the Yamamoto)

Rear Admiral Tamon Yamaguchi, Carrier Division 2 (Hiryu and Soryu)

Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo

 

United States Navy

Admiral Chester Nimitz

Vice Admiral William Halsey, two-carrier task force: Enterprise and Hornet.  (Halsey was stricken with skin disease and was replaced by Rear Admiral Raymond A. Spruance.)

Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher, task force from the South West Pacific Area, including the Yorktown.

 

Just one month following the Battle of the Coral Sea.

1942, June 5 (at dawn)  --  Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo launched his initial air attack; Japanese aircraft heavily damaged the U.S. base on Midway.  The American aircraft response did little damage to the Japanese navy.

Meanwhile, the scout plane that was supposed to search the sector where the American ships were was delayed 30 minutes due to catapult problems.

Nagumo decided to switch his torpedoes to land contact bombs.  Midway in this process, the delayed scouting plane pilot reported that he had discovered the American naval force in the area.  And now the first wave attack planes were returning.  Nagumo now decided to receive the returning planes, and then have all outgoing planes be armed with torpedoes.  At a critical point in the timing of the battle, the Japanese were extremely vulnerable. 

Rear Admiral Spruance launched a pre-emptive attack from his carriers Enterprise and Hornet against the Japanese carriers. His aircraft were outdated and most were shot down by the Japanese.

Commander Wade McClusky was able to place his SBD Dauntless dive-bombers from Enterprise directly overhead the Japanese just as the Japanese aircraft for the second strike were about to take off.  The result was that the carriers Akagi, Kaga and Soryu were ablaze from stem to stern and later sunk.

Meanwhile, the Japanese carrier Hiryu got off a flight of aircraft that were able to severely damage the Yorktown. In turn, aircraft from Enterprise set Hiryu ablaze.

The loss of four fleet carriers and their associated experienced pilots stopped the expansion of the Japanese Empire and placed them on the defensive.

 

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