The Battle of Midway
July 29, 2010 9:56 AM   Subscribe

On the morning of June 4th, 1942, US Navy Reserve Commander John Ford awoke to the sounds of a Japanese air raid.

Ford, with 100 pictures under his belt, was already the stuff of Hollywood legend, having completed three masterpieces--Stagecoach, The Grapes of Wrath, and How Green Was My Valley--and three other well-regarded films between the years of 1939 and 1941. He climbed to the top of a powerhouse with a 16mm camera in hand, and filmed the ensuing battle, continuing to film even after being wounded by shrapnel. Ford assembled that footage, film shot by other photographers in his unit, and narration by Donald Crisp, Jane Darwell, and Henry Fonda into the 18-minute documentary/propaganda film The Battle of Midway.
posted by TrialByMedia (11 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Always makes you wonder. The Americans were reading the Japanese Navy Codes and used that knowledge to sink 3 irreplaceable fleet carriers at Midway. So did they send the big director out there thinking they'd get film of a critical battle?
posted by Ironmouth at 10:20 AM on July 29, 2010

Ironmouth, they sank four irreplaceable carriers: Hiryu, Soryu, Kaga, and Akagi.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:27 AM on July 29, 2010

My guess is most of the admirals would have taken the carriers and the sailors over the film given the choice.
posted by GuyZero at 10:27 AM on July 29, 2010

Oh, wait, my reading comprehension failed again. Nevermind.
posted by GuyZero at 10:27 AM on July 29, 2010

Ironmouth: "So did they send the big director out there thinking they'd get film of a critical battle?"

The next morning - that night we got back and evidently something was about to pop, great preparations were made. I was called into Captain Semard's office, they were making up plans, and he said "Well, now Ford, you are pretty senior here, and how about you getting up top of the power house, the power station, where the phones are?" He said, "Do you mind?" I said "No, it's a good place to take pictures."

He said, "Well, forget the pictures as much as you can, but I want a good accurate account of the bombing," he said, "We expect to be attacked tomorrow."
posted by brokkr at 11:02 AM on July 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

3 irreplaceable fleet carriers at Midway


Hiryu and Soryu were sunk outright. Akagi and Kaga were so severely damaged, the Japanese scuttled them.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:43 AM on July 29, 2010

I forgot to mention that the Major Roosevelt that appears near the end of the film was FDR's son.
posted by TrialByMedia at 12:51 PM on July 29, 2010

Midway was the single greatest lucky break in like ever. It's one of those moments history could have pivoted on, a few small changes and everything is much different. it's fascinating
posted by The Whelk at 4:14 PM on July 29, 2010

Damn, this film is taking forever to load, but I can't wait to see it. The work of the WWII photographers is some of the most incredible documentation of its time. I remember one story told by a famous photog (can't remember who, but a really famous one you'd recognize) that worked filming for the Navy. He described how someone was on the deck of an aircraft carrier, filming planes landing after a mission. One plane was damaged and had a 500lb bomb that was hung up and didn't detach. When the plane hit the hook and stopped, the bomb went sliding down the deck, fully armed, straight for the photographer, and exploded, killing him. His camera was recovered, heavily damaged, but the film was fine. They developed it and it showed everyone on deck diving for cover as the photographer kept the bomb centered and racked focus to follow it.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:28 PM on July 29, 2010

Nice post.

It's eerie to see the first wave of American torpedo bombers taking off. All of them were shot down in the initial attack on the Japanese (it was the dive bombers who did most of the destruction) and only one pilot survived.
posted by bardic at 11:28 PM on July 29, 2010

bardic, Ford also made Torpedo Squadron 8 as a memorial to them.
posted by TrialByMedia at 4:25 AM on July 30, 2010

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