Robert D. Ballard and Rick Archbold - Return to Midway: The Quest to Find the Yorktown and the Other Lost Ships from the Pivotal Battle of the Pacific War

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Bob Ballard, like Admiral Nimitz, takes a gamble: Return to Midway

May 18, 2006
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Informative text, easy to read, great photos

Cons:Maybe some more pictures of the Yorktown (Though what's provided is excellent)

The Bottom Line: Why don't you just read the review? Oh, too lazy, eh? Well, so am I...


Midway Island, geographically, is nothing quite significant. Only about a mile or so wide, the island has become taken over by gooney birds, and lies out between nowhere and nowhere. People whom are able to visit the island, though, see other things as well. Various anti-aircraft guns, runways, bombed out buildings and pill boxes stand, encrusted and damaged but still recognizable, on the island. They are reminders of Midway’s contribution to world history. On a few important days in June 1942, this island stood at the center of World War II’s most significant battle in the Pacific. On those days, an outnumbered American carrier force- relying on tactics, surprise and intelligence gathering- beat a much larger Japanese carrier group in a decisive battle. It put the American forces on the offense for the first time in the Pacific, and the Japanese were never able to fully recover from their losses in ships, planes and pilots.

Apart from the island itself, there are other reminders that things occurred here in 1942. In the deep waters off of Midway lie the wrecks of the warships lost in this battle. The American carrier Yorktown and destroyer Hammann and the Japanese carriers Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu and Soryu and crusier Mikuma all lie off Midway Island. The chaos of battle and the depth of the oceans make their exact locations uncertain, and searching for them would certainly be a challenge. However, there happens to be someone whom is more then up for the challenge.

In May 1998, Dr. Robert Ballard- the same man whom had found and photographed the wrecks of the liner Titanic and the battleship Bismarck came to this area, hoping to find and photograph the remains of the ships lost. With a U.S Navy crew and research ship, a filmmaking crew from National Geographic, a team of historians and Naval experts and, most significantly, four survivors from the battle (Two each from the American and Japanese side), Ballard hoped to reveal and tell the story of what happened at Midway. Known for taking big gambles, Ballard seemed to be outdoing himself with this one. The search area was vast and deep, with the records of where the Japanese ships sunk being practically nonexistent. Ballard was searching with a sonar system designed to map out ocean topography- rather then ship wreck hunt- which mean extreme skill and luck would be needed to position it to possibly find possible wreck locations (Along with the assumption that the wreck was whole). The ATV (Advanced tethered vehicle) which would, hopefully, photograph wrecks was also plagued with various technical problems throughout the expedition. Ballard has been in tight spots before (He found the Titanic only four days before that expedition was to return to port), but is he over his head here?

Ballard follows the same format that worked with his previous best-selling titles, such as The Discovery of the Titanic and The Discovery of the Bismarck. That is, he mixes up the chronology of the book. His book starts off with an introduction of the start of his expedition, and then goes to a chapter on the build-up to Midway. The drama intensifies in his search for the wrecks with mounting technical problems and failure to find the Japanese wrecks, while he also takes us back to the gambles made by the American and Japanese sides that both did and did not pay off. Of course, while there are similarities, the differences are also very obvious. Ballard is risking a lot on his expedition, but mostly in the areas of time, money, research, credibility and pride. The American and Japanese Navies were risking lives and the tools of war in the hopes of scoring a decisive victory. One of the greatest sections of the book dealt with the survivors coming to terms and making peace with their war time experiences. The Japanese survivors do a little ceremonial service with flower petals, while one of the Americans- a former crewmember from the Yorktown- carries with him the helmet that he wore in that battle. He says that he will not put it back on until the wreck is found. Needless to say, he gets the chance to fulfill his promise…

Like his previous books, Ballard packs this one full of illustrations. There is plenty of pictorial coverage of the battle itself, and of the personalities and weapons involved (Including the four survivors). Then there’s photographic coverage of the expedition as well, of the personalities and of the technology involved in that.

The main event of the book, of course, are the images shown of the U.S.S Yorktown 18,000 feet below the Pacific. Ballard well organizes the sections of the wreck as well, such as ‘The Bow’, ‘The Guns’, ‘The Bridge’, ‘The Stern’ and so on. A bit more coverage of the wreck would have been nice, say akin to what Ballard provided in his books on the Titanic and the Bismarck. However, I cannot argue with the quality of the photos that are provided. They are of fantastic quality (Indeed, Ballard claims that this is so far the best preserved wreck he has seen). The photographs are also quite haunting as well, such as AA guns still trained outward, the ship’s number on the hull and the name still engraved on the back, a faint glimpse of the hanger deck mural showing the ship’s voyages, and my personal favorite, the ship’s bell still affixed to the pilot house. Overall, Yorktown is in outstanding condition: A time capsule of one of the pivotal battles of World War II.

Stephen Ambrose’s comment about this being ‘The greatest book on the greatest battle ever fought’ is certainly tall words (Considering the amount of press that has been put into analyzing Midway, not to mention the many other great battles that have been fought. Still, Return to Midway does provide an interesting and exciting recap, as well as adding in a modern tale, to this great naval event.


Recommend this product? Yes


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