Blog 06/06/2021 - Battle of Midway


The Imperial Japanese Navy’s (IJN) attacked U.S. military installations on the Hawaiian island of Oahu on December 7th, 1941 to inflict the worst defeat of the U.S. Navy in its history with a revolutionary & formidable instrument of sea power the Kido Butai - Carrier Battle Group with the largest concentration of carrier-based aircraft ever seen. After the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo on April 18th 1942 is conducted by the USS Hornet, Admiral Yamamoto realizes that the IJN must destroy the USN Aircraft Carriers so he sent the Kido Butai - Carrier Battle Group with four of the six carriers (Akagi, Kaga, Sōryū, Hiryū) that had struck Pearl Harbor (minus Shokaku & Zuikaku damaged during the Battle of the Coral Sea) on June 4th-6th to finish the job. Hollywood has produced several dramatic depictions on film & television of Pearl Harbor, the Raid on Tokyo & Midway. The following is a brief list of movies and television series about or set around the attack on Pearl Harbor, Tokyo & Midway Island.

1) MIDWAY (2019)

The historically accurate retelling of the Battle of Midway, presents the story of the leaders & the sailors who fought it. Perhaps the biggest fault with Director Roland Emmerich's film is he tries to cram too much in but for those with some historical background it is fabulous. With so many characters introduced you really need to know something of what is going on to thoroughly enjoy this masterpiece.

The whole storyline involving the raid led by LTC Jimmy Doolittle (an excellent Aaron Eckhart) & the Raiders feels rushed & realistically it is interesting enough to have Emmerlich do a remake of "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo!" Likewise, Emmerlich gives us just two quick shots of one of the Top 5 Directors of all-time John Ford, a US Navy Reserve Commander & head of the photographic unit for the Office of Strategic Services on Midway just as the IJN attacks. He is wounded during the air-attack shooting his Academy Award winning documentary & the maybe already wounded by a Japanese Bomb his yelling "keep filming" seems Hollywoodish but is completely possible.

Again, Emmerlich is so good he should do a WWII submarine movie because the USS Nautilus portion is excellent & suspenseful with LCDR Brockman (James Carpinello, very good) with the conn of the USS Nautilus hunting the IJN carriers.

"Midway" is still a very watchable movie for non-WWII history buffs. The screenplay allows the audience to get close to characters like Dick Best & Wade McClusky played by Ed Skrein & Luke Evans are amazing, they have real chemistry to their love-hate Commanding Officer-Executive Officer relationship & you hope by film's end that both men get more roles where they are the leading men. Woody Harrelson & Dennis Quaid are both at their brilliant bests having to reach the high bar set in the first version by Henry Fonda & Robert Mitchum. LCDR Ed Layton (Patrick Wilson) often steals scenes as the Intelligence Officers who believes he failed at preventing Pearl Harbor but is given a chance of redemption. Again, his character with the basement full of code breakers deserves a film of their own. What we see during "Midway" is the fact that some under-rated stars really do get a chance to shine.

Emmerlich’s knack for suspense is evident as he goes "balls to the wall" (aviation term - in WWII planes engine throttle controls are topped with a ball-shaped grip & to get maximum power you push it all the way forward, to the front of the cockpit, or firewall) during the actual battle sequences. Here he recreates that same feeling that we got from watching films like Top Gun & Red Tails as the focuses on the amazing dog-fights & death-defying dive bombing that many of the pilots found themselves involved in. This is very much a film where it is the action sequences in the finale that really pushes it to the epic level film. Midway is better suited for the serious movie lover who will enjoy a movie that is more about historically correct unlike Pearl Harbor which is just a romance film surrounded by inaccurate history. Certainly, worth seeing for its captivating dog-fight & bombing scenes alone.

2) TORA! TORA! TORA! (1970)

The attack on Pearl Harbor is vividly recreated in this lavish, expensive extravaganza, a joint US-Japanese production told from both sides’ points of view, “Tora! Tora! Tora!” is meticulous in its historical detail & big, loud & eye-popping for its time as it culminates in a truly memorable depiction of December 7th. 

The film was deliberately cast with actors who were not true box-office stars, including many Japanese amateurs, in order to place the emphasis on the story rather than the actors. It earned a richly deserved Oscar for Best Special Effects. Between this blockbuster & “Patton,” 1970 turned out to be a banner year for war movies, which is ironic considering Hollywood’s anti-war stance from Vietnam.


Maybe a bit long at 138 minutes as the character building, training & romances of the first half could have been shortened but the second half still holds up. Spencer Tracy is more a cameo as Doolittle as Van Johnson is the star Raider Capt Ted Lawson, USAAF (author of the book.) The film is known for its accurate depiction of the raid by using actual wartime footage of the B-25 bombers.

The production crew worked closely with Captain Ted Lawson and other raiders to make the film as realistic as possible. Filming was conducted at Hurlburt, Peel & Eglin Field (Eglin was the actual base where the Doolittle Raiders trained) & operational USAAF B-25Cs/Ds bombers were used (closely resembling the B-25B Mitchells of 1942.) Although an aircraft carrier was not available, due to wartime needs (USS Hornet itself had been sunk in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands on October 27, 1942 only six months after launching the raid), a mix of realistic studio sets & newsreel footage recreated the USS Hornet scenes.


Frank Sinatra, Donna Reed & Director Fred Zinnemen all collected Oscars from this Best Picture winner that delves into life on a Hawaiian Army base (Schofield Barracks although the scene where star Montgomery Clift is killed at a golf course on the coast is nowhere near the barracks) during the final days of peace before WWII.

The film is probably best remembered for the iconic scene of Burt Lancaster & Deborah Kerr rolling about on the beach as they are engulfed by waves.

The MPAA banned photos of the famous Lancaster-Kerr passionate beach kiss for being too erotic. Mario Puzo's novel "The Godfather" furthered the urban myth regarding the casting of Frank Sinatra in the part of PVT Maggio was that a NY Mafia family made Columbia Pictures an offer they couldn't refuse.

However, the real reason for Sinatra's casting was pressure from his then-wife Ava Gardner. This movie popularized the Aloha shirt 


The miniseries “From Here to Eternity” delivers just what you would expect from a TV version of a big-screen epic; lower-wattage stars & cheaper production values. However, the TV version remains truer to the steamy James Jones novel & features Natalie Woods in perhaps one of her career's finest performances. Several of the cast members such as Don Johnson & Kim Basinger would go on to have healthy careers.

Her take on the beach kiss with William Devane show what the censors have let go after 26 years.

5) MIDWAY (1976)

A dramatization of the battle that was widely heralded as a turning point of the Pacific Theatre of World War II using a fictitious composite character for Charlton Heston as aide to ADM Nimitz (doing the LCDR Layton part but he is far too old to fly into combat) as well as stars Henry Fonda, James Coburn & Glenn Ford. Closing preview kicker line: "So real you can almost feel it!" However, the Japanese air raid sequences are from "Tora! Tora! Tora!"

Scenes of Lieutenant Colonel James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle's Tokyo raid at the beginning are from "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo." Several of the aerial combat scenes seem to be taken from "The Battle of Britain" (1969). In some shots, the distinctive silhouettes of Spitfires are visible & it includes scenes with a Messerschmitt Bf-109 plummeting into the sea & an exploding Ju-87 Stuka & a He-111 bomber. So those that say the CGI in the 2019 is too much don't have a great argument when you see this film that suffered from no longer having the planes that fought the battle available. 


Director John Ford & cinematographer Joseph H. August were both wounded by enemy fire while filming the battle as seen in Midway 2019. It is real as the few places where the film jumps its sprockets and goes out of frame were caused by the concussion of exploding bombs jarring the camera. Ford wisely left those scenes in to demonstrate the intensity of the IJN carrier aircraft attack on the atoll. battle. The Japanese attack on Midway in June 1942, filmed as it happened.

7) IN HARM’S WAY (1965)

Otto Preminger’s sprawling, multi-layered soap opera of Navy life at Pearl Harbor when the bombs drop features John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, a cast full of familiar faces & lots of supposed 1940s women with groovy 1960s hairdos.

Wayne performance is relaxed, warm, charismatic – you’d never guess he was suffering from lung cancer at the time & was just two months away from having his entire left lung removed. It seems every WWII Hawaii film needs a beach scene, as Time magazine said "In his latest film, "In Harm's Way," precedent-busting Producer-Director Otto Preminger escalates his war against movie-censorship with a much more contemporary variation on the classic "From Here To Eternity" cinematic beach scene.

German-born beauty Barbara Bouchet as Kirk Douglas's much younger wild wife attends an Officer's Club Dance on Saturday Night 6 Dec & may have actually invented the pole dance on a poolside torch. She leaves with USAAC pilot Hugh O'Brien for a midnight swim (the nude swim is cut from the US film release as well as the very unadorned embrace & kiss.) They wake on the beach on Sunday as the IJN planes fly over heading for Pearl Harbor. It is 1965 Hollywood & all infidelity is still severely punished so rushing back the white convertible crashes over a cliff in a fiery explosion.

This film has some of the best use of models for the epic surface & subsurface engagements.

8) DECEMBER 7th (1943)

Although another John Ford Academy Award Winning Documentary Short Subject, “December 7th” is a dramatization of the attack on Pearl Harbor that contains several scenes of pure fiction. It is a tribute to Ford’s abilities that many of the film’s reenactments have often been confused for actual footage & used in other documentaries. The War Department aggressively cut almost an hour from the original release because of concerns that the film exposed the military’s lack of preparedness for the attack.

Started within days of the attack, the original 82-minute film & asked too many embarrassing questions, such as why there was no long-range reconnaissance & no short-range air patrols. Further, Ford devoted film time to the culture of the 160,000 Japanese-Americans in Hawaii & their response to the attack. For these reasons Ford's full-length version was censored for decades and the 20-minute shorter version was released & is the Oscar winner. It has a fictitious religious service where the Navy Chaplain concludes the service with the statement, "Men, man your battle stations, and God bless you!"

9) PEARL (TV – 1978)

The ABC 3-part soap opera miniseries about events leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor. It starred a large cast, notably Dennis Weaver, Robert Wagner, Angie Dickinson, Brian Dennehy, Lesley Ann Warren, Richard Anderson, Marion Ross, Audra Lindley, Katherine Helmond & Adam Arkin.

It tells the interweaving stories of several characters going about their lives in Hawaii while blissfully ignorant to the approaching IJN fleet. If you enjoyed the combat sequences in “Tora! Tora! Tora!”, you can enjoy them again in this production as “Pearl” recycles many scenes from that 1970 film.


The plot of “The Final Countdown” seems as if it was conceived during a science fiction convention debating what would happen if a nuclear aircraft carrier with all her modern supersonic firepower was sent back in time and had the opportunity to intercept the First Air Fleet of the IJN's Kido Butai on the eve of Pearl Harbor?

Kirk Douglas & Martin Sheen star as the two men faced with the dilemma of choosing between leaving history alone or changing it forever. Produced with the cooperation of the US Navy, “The Final Countdown” offers great documentary footage of the USS Nimitz with plenty of exciting flight-deck take-off & landing action featuring F-14 Tomcats that would completely dominate in 1941.

11) THE WINDS OF WAR (TV – 1983)

This TV production of Herman Wouk’s WWII novel came at the peak of the epic big-budget miniseries era and covers the early years of the global conflict, culminating with America’s entry into the war following Pearl Harbor. Miscast as the lead USN Captain Victor “Pug” Henry, Robert Mitchum is simply too old.

The series received monster ratings & ensured part two “War and Remembrance” would follow in 1988, continuing the many intertwined stories through the Allied victory.

12) PEARL HARBOR (2001)

This romantic war drama film directed by Michael Bay stars a big cast of Ben Affleck, Kate Beckinsale, Josh Hartnett, Jennifer Garner, Cuba Gooding Jr., Jamie King, Tom Sizemore, Jon Voight & a horribly miscast Alec Baldwin as LTC Doolittle. The film presented a heavily fictionalized version of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, focusing on a love story set amid the lead up to the attack, its aftermath, and the Doolittle Raid.

Savaged by critics for its cliche-ridden & implausible screenplay while maligned by historians for its copious inaccuracies, Director Michael Bay’s big-budget film still earned $450 million worldwide at the box office. For all its flaws, the CGI attack scenes are spectacular.

Oddly enough, a slightly edited version of the film that removed the most overt US jingoistic scenes & placed more emphasis on the love triangle of Affleck-Beckinsale-Hartnett was a huge a hit in Japan. 

13) AIR FORCE (1943)

Unlucky 13, we reviewed this propaganda piece during the John Garfield WWII movie reviews. With campy dialogue, wooden acting, cardboard sets & bad special effects, “Air Force” is notable as an example of the flag-waving propaganda films that were cranked out by Hollywood in the early years of the war. The story follows the crew of a B-17 bomber who has the bad luck of being scheduled to land in Hawaii just as the attack begins. The plane survives and the crew later gets redemption when they help lead a totally fictitious attack from one of Dr. Evil’s secret Pacific islands on the Japanese fleet.


At the conclusion of the three-day battle, the IJN had lost four fleet carriers, the cruiser Mikuma, 275 aircraft were destroyed plus the irreplaceable veteran pilots & 4,800 Japanese sailors were lost. US losses included the fleet carrier USS Yorktown, the destroyer USS Hammann, 147 planes & 307 soldiers, sailors & Marines.

LT Charles R. Ware, USN delayed his own SBD's departure from the IJN fleet attack. His purpose was to rally to him the "rookie" Enterprise pilots who might need his experience and combat skills to lead them to safety. Despite heavy Zero attacks, Ware was able to collect and form up five SBDs into an ad hoc division. Keeping his SBDs close to sea level to guard their unprotected bellies from the attacking Zeros, Ware led his pilots on a south-east course away from the Japanese fleet.

Ware was able to ward off repeated attacks by the IJN fighters by turning towards each Zero as it made a fast-firing pass from the rear & creating an arc formation that enabled all of their rear gunners to concentrate the fire of their twin .30-calibers on the Zeros. Due to Ware's skilled management of his division under sustained attack by the Zeros, the only significant damage suffered by the six planes was to the fuel tanks of Ensign Frank W. O'Flaherty's SBD.

The loss of fuel was a calamity for O'Flaherty & his radio-gunner Bruno Gaido (played by Nick Jonas who noted Harry Styles, British Pop Singer's debut as an infantryman in Dunkirk & starred in Midway two years later) because all of the SBDs involved in the attack on Akagi and Kaga had been a long time in the air and were already low on fuel. O'Flaherty's tanks ran dry & he was forced to ditch in the sea. O'Flaherty & Gaido were last seen by Ensign McCarthy inflating their life raft. Sadly, O'Flaherty & Gaido were spotted & fished from the sea by the crew of the IJN destroyer Makigumo. After being interrogated & when it became clear that the Japanese had suffered a disastrous defeat, O'Flaherty & Gaido were murdered by the vindictive Japanese. The two unfortunate USN airmen were bound with ropes, tied to weighted fuel cans & then thrown overboard to drown. The Makigumo hit a mine off Guadalcanal in 1943 & sank.

VT-3 came under sustained attack from defending Japanese Zero fighters. The TBD of Ensign Osmus was the last aircraft in the US formation & his aircraft was the first to be hit. When his fuel tank exploded in flames, Osmus bailed out. Dodson his radio-gunner was either dead or badly wounded & went down with the blazing aircraft. Ensign Osmus was plucked from the sea by the Japanese destroyer Arashi & his murder came to light after the Japanese surrender when the US Navy gained access to Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo's Midway after-action report. The circumstances of the young pilot's death while a POW on board Arashi was then investigated as a possible war crime. American investigators then questioned Arashi crew members who were still alive. This questioning confirmed that Ensign Osmus had been rescued from the sea & interrogated. Later that same day, the ship's Commanding Officer gave the order for Osmus to be executed. He was taken to the stern of the destroyer & struck in the back of the neck with a fire axe. He clung briefly to the chain railing before being pushed overboard into the sea. An attempt was made to find the captain of Arashi (Commander Watanabe Yasumasa) and try him for war crimes, but it was discovered that he had died later in WWII (he was Killed In Action as Commander Destroyer Division 1 aboard destroyer Numakaze on 18 December 1943.)

The Hawaii movies loved the beach!




Cliff Robertson – CDR Carl Jessop, USN

James Coburn – CAPT Vinton Maddox, USN

Robert Wagner – LCDR Ernest L. Blake, USN

Pat Morita – RADM Ryunosuke Kusaka, IJN

Dabney Coleman – Captain Murr Arnold, USN

Erik Estrada – Pilot 'Chili Bean' Ramos, USN

Clyde Kusatsu – CDR Watanabe, IJN

Tom Selleck – Aide to Capt Cyril Simard, USN

Charlton Heston – CAPT Matt Garth, USN


Henry Fonda – ADM Chester W. Nimitz, USN – Woody Harrelson   Fonda played ADM Nimitz twice, in this film & in In Harm's Way (1965).

Glenn Ford – RADM Raymond A. Spruance, USN – Jake Weber

Hal Holbrook – CDR Joseph Rochefort, USN – Brennan Brown

Toshirô Mifune – Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, IJN – Etsushi Toyokawa

Robert Mitchum – ADM W.F. "Bull" Halsey, USN – Dennis Quaid

John Fujioka – ADM Tamon Yamaguchi, IJN – Tadanobu Asano

James Shigeta – VADM Chuichi Nagumo, IJN – Jun Kunimura

Christopher George – LCDR C. Wade McClusky, USN – Luke Evans   To this day the Best Navy Attack Squadron is presented the Wade McClusky Award

Kevin Dobson – Ensign George Gay, USN – Brandon Sklenar    Ensign George Gay, was the sole survivor of Torpedo Squadron 8. 


LCDR William Brockman, USN – James Carpinello    Captain of the USS Nautilus & recipient of 3 Navy Crosses

LT Clarence Dickinson, USN  – Luke Kleintank           1st Pilot to receive three Navy Crosses

COL Jimmy Doolittle, USA – Aaron Eckhart

AMM1C Bruno Gaido, USN – Nick Jonas

LCDR Dick Best, USN – Ed Skrein                              Navy Cross Recipient & one of only two pilots to hit a IJN carrier in the same day!

Ann Best – Mandy Moore

CDR Edwin Layton – Patrick Wilson

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