The Silver Waterfall: A Book Everyone Interested in World War II Should Read
Many of us, in America, at least, have heard of the Battle of Midway. That glorious naval battle, which took place and was likely won because naval intelligence cracked the Japanese naval codes, was a momentous event that turned the tide of the war in the Pacific.
In a confusing, bloody afternoon, a few outdated dive bombers from three inexperienced aircraft carriers sent three Japanese carriers to the bottom, with a fourth being sunk later on. With those carriers gone, along with their experienced pilots and difficult to replace planes, the Japanese lost their edge and were gradually pushed back across the Pacific, culminating in their final defeat in August of 1945. The Silver Waterfall by Kevin Miller tells the tale of that battle from both the American and Japanese perspectives.
The novel format of The Silver Waterfall helps it tell the story of the battle in a better way than most books about the conflict in the Pacific. For one, Miller researched the topic thoroughly and describes the battle more or less exactly as it happened (with some guesses about the intricacies of the combat that took place, of course), so the reader is left feeling informed about the battle itself.
But, perhaps just as importantly, framing it as the perspective of the men who fought the battle gives it a life that dry studies of battles and campaigns do not. The Two-Ocean War is a terrific book about World War II generally, as is Inferno. But those books, however informative and well-written they might be, are from a high-level perspective. As strategic overviews of the war, they can’t possibly impart to the reader what a battle was like for the men on the ground other than in the most general of terms.
For example, a fact repeated in any good telling of the tale of what happened at Midway is that the US torpedo bombers were outdated and ineffective in their attack on the Japanese fleet, an attack that drew Japanese attention from American dive bombers and was likely the major factor that helped the US win the battle. But what non-fiction books largely can’t relate is what that experience must have been like for the pilots and gunners of the torpedo bombers that were massacred by Japanese Zeros.
Unlike The Silver Waterfall, a reader doesn’t read a chapter or page on Midway thinking about what it would have been like to be a farm boy from Ohio being ripped to shreds by Japanese cannon-fire near some speck of sand in the Pacific and just now helpless those fliers must have felt.
Nor can they relate the emotions of being a sailor seeing your vessel sink below the waves after an air attack, the intense emotions of diving at a near-vertical angle into puffs of anti-aircraft fire and dropping a bomb that sets a massive vessel entirely ablaze, or the immense pressure of a commander deciding where he thinks the enemy is before sending dozens of young men off to what would likely be their deaths. The Silver Waterfall, however, does. And it does so spectacularly.
The Battle of Midway was one of America’s greatest moments. Despite our intelligence advantage, we were outgunned and outmanned. The Japanese had four carriers to our three. Their fliers were highly experienced; many of ours hadn’t even practiced dropping a real bomb. Yet we won. Our pilots braved the odds and made horrific sacrifices so that their country would be victorious, winning a monumental battle in the process and giving their nation a much-needed win.
The Silver Waterfall shows all of that. Through the eyes of a handful of characters, he shows the intensity of combat, the low odds the Americans had and the disdain the Japanese had for them, the pressures placed on the various commanders involved, and how a few chance events changed the tide of war. It’s an excellent book about some of the finest men in the Greatest Generation. If you’re interested in World War II, military history, or America’s greatest moments, I highly recommend you read it and learn how “the silver waterfall” of American dive bombers changed the course of history.