In the last hours of the Battle of Midway, Isoroku Yamamoto ordered a foolish and ultimately unworkable attempt to challenge the American carriers with all the air power remaining to him: the small air groups of the light carrier Zuiho and training carrier Hosho, plus the floatplanes of the seaplane carriers, battleships and cruisers. That attack never took place, but had the battle seen even a slightly more equal distribution of damage between the Japanese and the Americans, the commander of Japan’s Combined Fleet surely would have pressed on with whatever force remained to him.
That’s the premise of Midway: Aftermath, a Campaign Study adding an extra chapter with a dozen more scenarios to Midway Deluxe Edition. I’d originally sketched these out to include in the game, but we hit our page-count limit with the existing scenario set (Midway Deluxe Edition has eleven operational and 25 battle scenarios; the Pearl Harbor scenarios with their special Pearl Harbor display take up a great deal of space).
The First Air Fleet’s disastrous defeat in the Battle of Midway is sometimes portrayed as the elimination of Japanese carrier air power, but that’s not exactly true. Thanks to poor preparation and planning, the two best Japanese carriers did not participate in the operation. Another “light” carrier capable of operating a reasonably large air group was dispatched on a rather pointless operation against the Aleutian Islands, while her sister ship neared completion. These latter two ships would be designated as fleet carriers after the losses at Midway, though they were nowhere near as capable as the ships lost there.
And then there’s the Japanese carrier Hiryu; in the last hours of the battle, Rear Admiral Tamon Yamaguchi chose to immolate himself and his flagship rather than strike the Americans from beyond his enemies’ effective range. Hiryu moved closer to the Americans, rather than keeping her distance. The Americans pounced on Yamaguchi’s error, planting four bombs on the unlucky carrier and starting the fires that sank her.
On the American side, the carrier Saratoga arrived at Pearl Harbor as the battle ended, with Wasp showing up (along with the fast battleship North Carolina) not long after. That would more than balance the loss of Yorktown; the American fleet command immediately dispatched Saratoga to the battle zone. There she would replenish the air groups of Enterprise and Hornet, and await a renewed Japanese offensive that never came.
Midway Deluxe Edition has a chapter of alternative scenarios for the historical Midway scenarios; that’s not what we’re doing here. Instead, the operational situation places the Japanese in the role of the dog that caught the car: they have taken Midway, secured after hard fighting. Now that they have it, what next?
Saratoga prepares for battle. May 1942.
Well, they’re going to have to supply the garrison, the aircraft and the submarines that they’ll want to base there. Putting submarines and airplanes at Midway was the whole point of capturing the place, after all. The Americans at Pearl Harbor are actually a respectable distance away – Midway truly is in the middle of nowhere – so forces stationed at Midway aren’t going to do much by themselves to interfere with American control of the Hawaiian Islands. But the Americans are absolutely going to do their best to interfere with Japanese control of Midway, and with their attempts to keep the garrison fed and fueled.
The Americans no doubt would have accelerated construction of the airstrip at French Frigate Shoals (historically, the project began in July 1942). Tiny Tern Island could only accommodate a very small air group (about 20 planes) without much in the way of maintenance facilities but it would give the Americans a valuable forward position. The Japanese could leave it there, or try to capture it. And after that, the next step would be to act against the Hawaiian Islands – to interfere with American communications, at the very least, or perhaps to mount a shoestring invasion.
For the Americans, the immediate question would be the utility of taking Midway back from the Japanese. While the atoll provided a valuable base for aerial reconnaissance and had been noted as a useful potential base for submarines (the actual submarine base, along with an anchorage for a half-dozen each of cruisers and destroyers, would not begin construction until the spring of 1943), it probably presented more of a liability than an asset to the Japanese. As the Americans had been drawn out into battle for the island, so might the Japanese be forced to fight for it at unfavorable odds.
In our dozen scenarios, the Japanese are the onesconfronting these operational dilemmas; the strategic question of whether the Hawaiian theater is even worth contesting at all has been made for the Japanese player in Tokyo (it’s a sunk cost fallacy at this point – once the Japanese have lost three carriers and a couple hundred planes taking the place, they’re going to hold Midway and conduct more operations from it). Midway is no better a forward operating base than any of the other bits of coral and sand that dot the Midway Deluxe Edition operational map – if the Japanese are going to mount a major operation, almost all of the fleet’s going to have to come from Japan at the end of an enormously long logistical tether.
The Americans are somewhat better off; Midway is “only” a thousand miles from Pearl Harbor, compared to 2,500 miles from Tokyo. At this point in the war, they have four carriers against five Japanese carriers, but the American flattops carry bigger air groups and are much more capable ships than the two Japanese converted liners. On the other hand, the unsinkable aircraft carrier of Midway Island is in Japanese hands, a positive (an airbase that won’t slip beneath the waves) and a negative (they’re kind of tethered to its defense, beyond the need to even get their airplanes there and bring them gas). The balance of forces is very close, so that either side can take an offensive posture.
Midway: Aftermath is a fitting extension for the base game, based on the situation that both sides considered rather likely to result (though the Japanese had no idea what they would do next, no matter what the outcome). Midway Island in Japanese possession is a literal game-changer, posing some difficult challenges for both players that aren’t seen in the existing scenarios.
You can order Midway: Aftermath right here.
Please allow an extra three weeks for delivery.
You can order Midway Deluxe Edition right here.
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and NASA Journalist in Space finalist, he has published a great many books, games and articles on historical subjects; people are saying that some of them are actually good.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children, and new puppy. He misses his lizard-hunting Iron Dog, Leopold.
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