The series Battle 360 focuses on the wartime career of the USS Enterprise, CV-6. I believe the series will run to ten episodes taking her from Pearl Harbor to the end of the war. As per many History Channel series, it relies heavily on interviews of veterans and a combination of actual footage and computer generated graphics to portray the events of a given episode. The first episode covers Pearl Harbor and the second the Battle of Midway. Future episodes will include the Battles of Eastern Solomons and Santa Cruz. To date I have only seen the first two, as I am downloading them from iTunes.
I first heard about the series in a weekly newsletter from the Battle of Midway Roundtable. Some of the veteran members of the BOMRT are featured, particularly Norman “Dusty” Kleiss, a former SBD pilot and member of Scouting 6 during the first part of the war. They provide a running commentary of events during the episodes and provide a human side to the battles. This is one of the highpoints of the series, particularly when so many veterans have already left us and are doing so in large numbers each day. This presence is the better aspects of the series.
Unfortunately, the downside is that the series is like many from History Channel. As usual, the series strives to create a lot of drama in the storytelling, but does a poor job presenting the facts of the story. While their general overview of the battles to date is good, poor fact checking, old myths and generally bad history creeps into the show. First, it is clear that the script writer either has no military background or knows little of the subject he or she is writing about. Terms are frequently misused and facts are not checked. For example, on one hand they talk about the Japanese carrier Kaga having a battery of five twin 8” guns and sixteen 120mm Antiaircraft batteries. In truth, the Kaga had ten single 8” mounts and eight twin 120mm AA mounts. Often ships specifications are given for the wrong period. A mention of a US heavy cruiser gives her armament as built in 1928 and not her armament in that period of WWII. We also see outright mistakes, claiming that the Yorktown was attacked by two squadrons of Val Dive Bombers, when only the Hiryu’s squadron was still operational. Yes, these are small things, but it is sloppy history. One should expect and demand better of a “History” Channel.
More importantly, they do not address many of the more recent findings and theories that have been developed in recent years. Over the last five years or so, much new research on the Japanese side in the Battle of Midway has been conducted. It has uncovered, at least to Western audiences, that many long held beliefs of the Battle of Midway were, in fact, myths perpetrated in some early accounts of the battle by the likes of Samuel Elliot Morison, Mitsuo Fuchida and Gordon Prange’s research assistants. Fuchida, for example, maintained that the Japanese were about to launch their strike against the US carriers when our dive bombers arrived. In recent times books like Shattered Sword by Parshall and Tully have demonstrated via Japanese eyewitness accounts, photos and deduction that nothing was further from the truth. In watching the Midway episode it is clear that most of the research came from Prange’s Miracle at Midway or Lord’s Incredible Victory that include Fuchida’s many claims as gospel, even though they have long been understood as fiction on his part in Japan.
Finally, there are the visual images. First, whenever film footage is used, one would think someone would check for accuracy. In the first episode, when discussing the February 1942 raids, we see Dauntlesses in a variety of livery, including footage of a CAF late model Dauntless sporting a 1945 color scheme. We also see the tired old footage of Helldivers, Avengers and Hellcats from later in the war. The computer graphics are little better at times, with the Enterprise still sporting her pre-war deck markings in one scene, a large Six on her bow in another and a bare deck, all in the same battle. There also seem to be silly items around, like a scene when she is under attack, yet has a torpedo sitting on a cart in the middle of the flight deck all by itself. It seemed like the artist (clearly with no military background) was bored and thought he would “spruce up” the image. In other cases we see the images like that of the First Wave attack on Pearl Harbor being used to show the first attack on Yorktown. One wave was 183 aircraft, while the other was 24. Nice image, but silly.
The bottom line is that it is another typical History Channel production. Long on developing drama but willing to run roughshod with facts. The strongest part of a series like this is the oral history portion, with the actual veterans having their say. So few are left and we need to preserve them for posterity. Hopefully the series will improve with time. I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt. After a few more episodes I’ll decide whether the $18 I spent with iTunes was worth it.