The Battle of Midway was the most decisive naval battle in history.
The Japanese knew they had to destroy America’s aircraft carriers.
So they decided to lure them into a battle.
The Americans knew it was a trap because they’d cracked the code.
But here’s the interesting bit.
What actually decided the battle was the way the Japanese rigidly adhered to their strategy.
While the Americans changed tactics according to circumstance.
Each side knew they were facing an opposing force of aircraft carriers.
So the ships would never see each other.
Just the planes.
And attacks with planes happen a lot faster than attacks with ships.
Ships – strategy.
Planes – tactics.
The Japanese admiral held all his planes back aboard the carriers to be properly loaded for a co-ordinated attack.
He wasn’t in a hurry, he wanted to do it right.
The American admiral threw everything at the Japanese as soon as they were ready.
In whatever order they were ready.
He thought getting in first and catching the other side off-guard was more important.
Japanese Strategy – do it properly.
US Tactics – do it fast, do it first.
Consequently the American planes attacked in a disorganised fashion and losses were high.
The US attacked with low-level torpedo bombers.
These came in at wave height.
The Japanese had a fighter umbrella protecting their fleet at high level.
The fighters came down to wave height and destroyed every single US plane.
Not one torpedo hit.
Strategy 1 - Tactics 0.
But then something unexpected happened that the Japanese strategy hadn’t allowed for.
American high-level dive-bombers arrived over the fleet.
And all the Japanese fighters were now down low unable to get back up in time.
Free to pick their targets, the US dive-bombers dropped their bombs straight onto on the Japanese carriers.
The carriers that were very carefully carrying out the strategy of refuelling and re-arming for a conventional attack.
Their decks were fuel of planes, and fuel, and ammunition.
In the next few minutes the American dive-bombers sank three massive Japanese aircraft carriers.
By the end of the Battle of Midway they’d sunk four.
Four aircraft carriers.
That battle broke the back of Japanese naval power in the Pacific.
They could never recover from that.
And they never did.
Of course the Japanese strategy seemed to make perfect sense.
Wait, take your time and make a properly co-ordinated attack.
But that made sense in the era of battleships that moved at slow speed.
It didn’t allow for the fact that the most powerful ship was no longer a battleship.
In fact the most powerful ship wasn’t even a ship.
It was a plane.
And planes move at least ten times faster than ships.
So you need something faster than strategy.
You need tactics.
That’s what’s wrong with strategy.
It’s rigid and immobile.
Strategy is a belief that things have to go according to plan, just because the plan makes sense.
Strategy is superstition.
Have you ever tried to question a brief?
Ever looked at something that you’ve thought doesn’t make sense?
And you ask why you’re doing it.
And people look at you as if you’re stupid.
And they give the answer that’s supposed to stop all debate: “Because that’s the strategy.”
As if it came down from The Mount on two stone tablets.
Personally, I agree with what Mike Tyson said.
“Everybody’s got a strategy until they get hit.”