BOOK REVIEW: ‘A GLORIOUS PAGE IN OUR HISTORY: The Battle of Midway, 4-6 June 1942’

A Glorious Page in Our History: The Battle of Midway, 4-6 June 1942; by Robert J. Cressman; Pictorial Histories Publishing Co; 1st edition (June 1990); ISBN-13: 978-0929521404

‘A Glorious Page in Our History’, by Robert Cressman, is a skillfully crafted and carefully researched analysis of the Battle of Midway. Yet, had it not been for the nagging of a friend, I would never even have cracked open this book’s cover. In retrospect, I suspect that Cressman’s ‘breathless’ and vaguely ‘triumphalist’ title may have initially turned me off his book, or it could have been something else; whatever the reason, I did not give Cressman’s historical narrative any real consideration until a friend, years after the book had first seen print, finally badgered me into actually looking at the text of ‘A Glorious Page’. And almost from the moment that I turned the first page, I was delighted that I had. Cressman’s work is modern military history writing at its best: even-handed, carefully reasoned, and meticulous in its research. And 'A Glorious Page' is made even better because it deals with an exciting and crucially important event.

Admiral Raymond Spraunce

The Battle of Midway has fascinated me for a very long time. For anyone with even a passing interest in the events of World War II, I don’t see how it could be otherwise. First, it was a naval action in which a few hundred intrepid airmen, in the face of desperate odds, still managed to achieve one of the most lop-sided and decisive victories of the whole Pacific War. Second, Midway was a battle of high drama; an engagement in which audacity, courage, sacrifice, and just plain good luck all came together at precisely the right time to produce an extraordinary engagement that, even today, still occupies a unique place in the US Naval history.

Of course, given the decisive impact of the Battle of Midway on the War in the Pacific, it is hardly surprising that a number of excellent books have been written over the years covering the key events and personalities of the battle. Thus, for the reader who is interested in exploring this subject, there is no shortage of well-written titles from which to choose. M. Fuchida and M. Okumiya’s ‘Midway, the Battle that Doomed Japan: the Japanese Navy’s Story’ (1955) presents a generally balanced analysis of the engagement as seen by the Japanese; W. Lord’s ‘Incredible Victory’ (1967) and A. Barker’s ‘Midway: the Turning Point’ (1971) do excellent jobs of covering the battle from the American perspective. Nonetheless, Cressman’s account is, in my opinion, the most accurate and meticulously detailed of any of the many fine books that I have read thus far on this topic.

Admiral Chiuchi Nagumo

‘A Glorious Page’ brings the Battle of Midway to life for the reader by following the operations of the various participating American and Japanese land-based and carrier air groups on an almost minute by minute basis. But the battle was neither fought nor won by the pilots and aircrews alone. Thus, the extraordianry stories and the often heroic labors of the ordinary seamen who manned the carriers' flight decks during the height of the battle are also carefully chronicled. And the crucial role of the senior military leadership is not neglected either; in fact, the author examines, in great detail, the decisions and actions of the American Admirals, Nimitz (back in Pearl Harbor), and Spraunce and Fletcher (both with the American fleet in the battle area), as well as those of the Japanese commander, Admiral Nagumo, as the battle unfolded. Moreover, in addition to providing a detailed and carefully-researched narrative of the actual events of the three-day naval engagement, the author also takes some time to debunk the several popular myths that have grown up in the aftermath of the battle.

The Battle of Midway, of course, was fought for a reason. Unfortunately, the Island's real significance is often obscured by the dramatic events associated with its name. This is not the case in 'A Glorious Page'. Instead, to help the reader understand why Admiral Yamamoto selected Midway as an operational objective for the Imperial Japanese Navy, and why the American Pacific Command felt compelled to defend a pair of tiny islands that together consisted only of a few square miles of sand in the Central Pacific, Cressman examines both the history of America’s connection to the atoll, and Midway’s strategic significance to the larger Pacific War.

Admiral Frank F. Fletcher

At two hundred and twenty-six pages, ‘A Glorious Page’ is not a particularly long book; in fact, it is easily readable in one or two days. Moreover, the author writes in a clear, smooth-flowing, and very graceful voice. And Cressman uses that voice to do a wonderful job of weaving the personal stories of the individual combatants together with the important strategic events that were unfolding largely outside of these individuals’ narrow views of the battle. However, while the meticulous detail with which the author builds his narrative will be a real pleasure for someone interested in military history, it may well be a little off-putting to the reader who either has little interest in the Battle of Midway or in military history, more generally. ‘A Glorious Page’ is a great piece of historical writing, but it is probably just not a good choice for the casual reader looking for a book to take to the bathroom or the beach. It should also be noted that Cressman's work is further strengthened by valuable contributions from a number of other Midway experts, including: Steve Ewing, Barrett Tillman, Mark Horan, Clark Reynolds, and Stan Cohen. In addition, the author, as might be expected, includes six maps of the battle area, as well as an abundance of photos of many of the men, aircraft, and vessels that figure so prominently in his narrative.

Finally, I cannot state categorically that Robert J. Cressman’s ‘A Glorious Page in Our History: The Battle of Midway, 4-6 June 1942’ is the best single volume currently available on the Battle of Midway; I haven’t, after all, read every book ever published on the subject. I can confidently say, however, that for anyone who wants to seriously delve into the factual details of the battle, Cressman’s work is definitely where they should start. This book may not be the perfect choice for the casual reader, but for the military history buff, I give it my strongest recommendation; when it comes to the Battle of Midway, ‘A Glorious Page’ is, so far as I am concerned, a must read.


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