Explainers

Is ‘Midway’ Based on a True Story?

November 12, 2019
6 min read

War movies are always fascinating but most of them choose to portray events that still remain in the limelight since they changed the course of the world. However, there are several battles that have been instrumental in altering history but have somehow receded to the corners of our minds, because the arena of war was seeing something more interesting at that time. ‘Midway’ offers a close look at the Battle of Midway, which took place after the Pearl Harbor attack during World War II.

The Battle of Midway became one of the most decisive battles in the Pacific theater of war and was largely successful in diminishing the powers of the mighty Japanese navy. If the US had not won at the Battle of Midway, the Hawaiian islands, and perhaps even the West coast of America, could have been opened up to strategic attacks from Japanese forces. Luckily, the US Navy won, in what is touted as one of their best comebacks in history. One has to remember that the Pearl Harbor attack largely incapacitated the Navy, and yet it managed to win a defensive victory which dealt a crippling, if not a knockout blow to the Japanese forces, causing them to withdraw from their plans of aggressive expansion.

When the Battle of Midway took place, it received a lot of coverage and attention because it was a story of the US bouncing back on its feet and declaring that the great nation was back in the war. Despite the spectacle unfolding, more eyes were turned towards the Nazis in Europe at that time, eventually drawing attention away from the battle. However, Roland Emmerich, the director, decided that people deserve a historically accurate representation of the Battle of Midway. Thus his 2019 movie, ‘Midway’, attempts to deliver what the 1976 movie of the same name could not.

In case you were wondering about how accurate ‘Midway’ is, we have got you covered, as we bring you the true story behind the movie.

The True Story Behind Midway, Explained:

The Battle of Midway was fought between June 4 to June 7, 1942. The US victory is considered to mark the moment when they regained their dignity after the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941, which took place six months before. So you might be asking yourselves, why did the battle take place at Midway, and where is it?

Well, the Midway Islands are an unincorporated US territory that lies midway between Asia and North America. Naturally, you might appreciate the strategic advantage for the Japanese in mounting future attacks against the US, if they had managed to capture the island, making it one of their bases of operations. Located northwest of Honolulu, the islands are part of the Hawaiian archipelago. It was annexed by the US in 1867, but the Navy took over in 1903, ultimately ramping up the construction of an air and submarine base in 1940.

In early 1942, US cryptanalysts learned of a major attack being planned by the Japanese. They codenamed it as location AF. With a wily move of sending out false messages from their various bases, the US was able to determine that AF referred to the Midway base. Unlike Pearl Harbor, the US would not be caught with its pants down again. This time they were ready. Marine Corps fighters were prepared to take to the air, bombers were warmed up and ready to go, anti-aircraft fire blanketed the sky. It was a show of force from the US.

The critical blow met out to the Japanese included sinking four of their six aircraft carriers. The WWII museum reports that the Japanese lost 3,057 men, apart from a cruiser and hundreds of aircraft, in terms of warcraft. The US suffered losses too, though nowhere as much as the Japanese. They lost 362 men, a carrier, a destroyer, as well as 144 aircraft. In one masterstroke, Japan’s dominance in the Pacific was reversed.

Who Plays Who in Midway?

It is said that war is ultimately won by soldiers. Similarly ‘Midway’ shows portrayals of several real-life people who were crucial in securing the US victory. Lieutenant Commander Clarence Wade McClusky, played by Luke Evans, was eventually awarded the Navy Cross for leading the USS Enterprise’s Air Group 6. He was bleeding from five wounds but his dive bomber hit 55 times, destroying three crack Japanese carriers, namely, Akagi, Kaga, and Soryu.

Navy aviator Dick Best is played by Ed Skrein in the movie. His wife is played by Mandy Moore. Aged 32, Best was older than most men serving with him. He was married to his wife at that time, with a four-year-old daughter, as the movie shows. The pilot’s skills have been reported to have been phenomenal, with many saying that if dive-bombing was a sport, Best would have won a gold medal.

Bruno Gaido, played by Nick Jonas, was an Air Machinist Mate in one of the planes that dive-bombed Kaga, the Japanese carrier. Although Gaido was eventually killed post interrogation, after being picked up by Japanese carrier, Makigumo, he did his bit in the Battle of Midway.

While the soldiers did the heavy lifting, it was the commanders’ strategies that helped usher in the victory. Woody Harrelson plays Chester Nimitz, a cerebral man, and one of the top planners, whose strategies helped during the battle. Aaron Eckhart is seen as Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, known for bombing Tokyo two months prior, in the Doolittle raids.

Lastly, Lieutenant Commander Edwin T. Layton’s name must be mentioned. Played by Patrick Wilson, the man was a naval intelligence officer to Nimitz. He was instrumental in cracking the Japanese code along with his team, working out of the ‘Dungeon’. Their efforts alerted the US about the possibility of the attack on the Midway base. Moreover, the turf war between Layton and D.C.’s cryptologists has also been well shown.

However, at the end of the day, it was the coming together of great individuals, showing true grit in the face of fire, which ultimately resulted in the victory and started the second phase of the war for the USA. The war in the Pacific would end three years later after grinding island-hopping invasions, forcing the last of the Japanese to surrender to Allied forces aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, on September 2, 1945. The day is now known as the ‘V-J Day’. Watch ‘Midway’ to experience the sensational true story.

Read More: Best World War II Movies on Netflix

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