June 04, 2015

Today in History: Battle of Midway (1942) and the Brusilov Offensive (1916)

John RobsonResident Historian

June 4 was the beginning of the pivotal Battle of Midway in which an outnumbered, outgunned American naval task force improvised its way to a gritty and decisive victory over the Japanese Imperial Navy from which the latter never really recovered.

But it’s also the anniversary of a much more sombre event in 20th-century military history, the great Russian Brusilov offensive of 1916.

Coming just seven months after Pearl Harbor, Midway is the sort of dramatic victory that makes free people proud of their tradition of liberty and the improbably victories that have sustained it.

But the Brusilov Offensive, a desperate effort to relieve pressure on the French at Verdun, is a sad reminder of how much of the world’s population has no such heritage to cherish.

The greatest Russian achievement of the war, it predictably ended in disaster.

The ground taken was soon lost at enormous cost, the innovative tactics that brought initial success were abandoned, the strategic situation became worse and the weak and repressive regime for whom it was fought collapsed within a year into anarchy then dreadful tyranny.

The brave Russians who fought there had no cause worthy of their devotion.

Nor did their Austro-Hungarian opponents nor, I would say, those fighting for Kaiser Wilhelm II.

The same is true in much of the world today.

We in the West are indeed fortunate to have been born free or wise to have chosen freedom.

Let us cherish it both by celebrating our own last and sympathizing with those who have no such past to celebrate.

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commented 2015-06-04 17:59:40 -0400
Like the German army with their tank strategy, the Imperial Japanese Navy with their aircraft carrier strategy had moved well ahead of their opponents. Where they went completely wrong was trying to accomplish several unimportant parts of their attack plan, such as the reduction and occupation of Midway, and making the Aleutians feint, before meeting the opposing American carrier force in battle. If they had stuck to the basic concept of a good feint towards Midway bringing on an out and out carrier to carrier air operations slug fest they would have won.
commented 2015-06-04 14:56:19 -0400
I disagree that England’s victory over the Spanish Armada was a case of victory of free people over tyranny. The English crown did not rule free people. The Spanish crown was not necessarily tyrannical.

Elizabeth Tudor butchered thousands of English, Welsh, and Irish Catholics. She executed her own cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, because of Catholic sympathies for her. In fact, the only reason she defeated the Armada was because of the wit and courage for her admiral, a Catholic. I guess she didn’t mind a Catholic around, so long as he suited her purposes. In spite of this, her Catholic sister Mary is the one called, “Bloody,” while she’s called, “Good Queen Bess.”

On the Spanish side, I won’t begin to claim that there was separation of church and state in Madrid (neither is there in London to this day), but the expulsions of non-Catholics occurred long before the first ship set sail for England’s shores. Such could not be said of England at the time. Free people indeed!

I’m sorry, Professor, but, on this point, you’re wrong.
commented 2015-06-04 14:19:15 -0400
“Now I win the battle of Waterloo.” – Gotta love that!
Nice one, John.
commented 2015-06-04 14:06:30 -0400
Another great essay from John Robson.