Wade McClusky and the Battle of Midway
Hardcover, 384 pages, 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
From the Osprey Website:
During the Battle of Midway in June 1942, US Navy dive bomber pilot Wade McClusky proved himself to be one of the greatest pilots and combat leaders in American history, but his story has never been told - until now.
It was Wade McClusky who remained calm when the Japanese fleet was not where it was expected to be. It was he who made the counterintuitive choice to then search to the north instead of to the south. It was also McClusky who took the calculated risk of continuing to search even though his bombers were low on fuel and may not have enough to make it back to the Enterprise. His ability to remain calm under enormous pressure played a huge role in the US Navy winning this decisive victory that turned the tide of war in the Pacific.
This book is the story of exactly the right man being in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. Wade McClusky was that man and this is his story.
When I first heard that Osprey was releasing this book, I felt a twinge of remorse I couldn’t review it for AMPS since its not an armor book- but I had plans of putting it on my wish list to purchase later. Lucky for me, Osprey sent it along in the next shipment of samples anyway, so I have decided to give it a review as a way of thanks for the sample. The Battle of Midway has always fascinated me- especially since it featured the SBD dive bomber, which has always been my favorite aircraft from WWII. I’ve devoured every book I could find on the subject and Wade McClusky has always been among the most interesting pilots for me personally knowing how much the success of the battle was credited to him. Some authors and historians have not given him the credit due to him and have instead questioned his actions and decisions, despite the amazing results. Mr. Rigby has strived to set the record straight in this book.
There is a brief opening chapter that offers a synopsis of the decision to keep flying to search for the Japanese fleet when good sense would signal a turn back to the home carrier with low fuel. The author sets the record straight that it was not just pure luck that led to the sinking of three of the four carriers on the morning of June 4th not far from Midway Island, but a conscious decision on the part of McClusky to lead his flight north where he felt the Japanese were steaming slower than was expected. This turned out to be true, and so dive bombers from two carriers- Enterprise and Yorktown, found themselves over the Kaga and Akagi with no aerial opposition around to stop them from setting up their dive runs over carriers laden with aircraft and aviation fuel on the decks below.
From there, the book delves into McClusky’s background growing up in Buffalo, NY through to his training to be a naval aviator. There is a thorough rundown of his pre-war naval career flying early dive bombers and fighters in Fighting Six-- and participating as a member of the Nine High Hats flying team. The author sets up well the fact that even though he was relatively new to the SBD bomber on June 4th, he had already established himself as a skilled dive bomber pilot long before. Critics focused on his switch from fighters directly to dive bombers when he was promoted to command Enterprise’s entire air group in March of 1942- mistakenly assuming he was new to the concept of dive bombing.
The book does a great job of introducing us to Wade McClusky the man, and not just the pilot. His family and rise to commander of Air Group Six. At this point, there is quite a bit of discussion of build up to the battle and the decision to fly north and find the fleet. This section spends a good amount of time debating the confusion surrounding who dived on which carrier- and how many dived on each carrier. It seems to go off the rails a bit here-- I felt I got the point right away, but this is one of the longest chapters and seems to go on and on about the issue of whether McClusky dove on the correct carrier or interfered with Dick Best, commander of Bombing Squadron Six. There is thorough extrapolation of approach vectors, supposed numbers of bombers, and where they supposedly dove. It gets a bit difficult to muddle through and I’m not sure we come to a clear and concise conclusion to the matter.
The controversy continues following him back to the carrier after the mission- with whether he followed procedure for landing back on the carrier. To his credit though, they had flown beyond their supposed range, bombed successfully, and when they returned to Point Luck where the carriers were supposed to be, they weren’t there. When they did find the carriers, and landed on the deck, they had a mere two gallons of fuel in the tanks. All of this with bullet and shrapnel wounds to his shoulder to boot. We continue with an overview of the afternoon attack- but McClusky sat that one our due to his injuries.
The book continues with a chapter about McClusky and Admiral Spruance’s chief-of-staff Miles R. Browning. Apparently Browning’s plans for the afternoon attack called for the dive bombers heading out farther away and with larger bomb loads than they had in the morning attacks. Considering how critical the fuel situation was, this seemed like poor planning and McClusky told Spruance the same. Spruance sided with McClusky and disaster was averted.
The remainder of the book deals with McClusky and historians and then goes into brief detail of his eventual transfer back to the States to train pilots, as well as his eventual command of the USS Corregidor, a Casablanca Class escort carrier. Sadly, his career seemed to see a lot of bouncing around and no real dramatic action following his success at Midway. The postwar section spends more time describing his son’s career and Wade’s eventual promotion to rear admiral as he retired. What was later to be known as the real turning point in the PTO was just a matter of course to the higher-ups as the war drew to a close.
Mr. Rigby’s book is an excellent resource for those wanting to get a better picture of the man who truly turned the tables in the Pacific War. It was mentioned a few times in the book that June 4th dawned with the Americans badly losing in the Pacific, but as the day drew to a close- it was the Japanese turning tail and trying to hold off disaster. They managed to fight ferociously for another three years-- but never with the same tenacity after losing the cream of their naval aviators. While some parts get a bit bogged down in the details, finishing the book gives you a better picture of the man and the pilot in Wade McClusky.
My sincere thanks to Osprey Publishing for the review copy of the book.