October 14, 2009

Time Travelers

A lot of people are gaining amusement from a couple of physicists who speculate that time travelers are working to prevent the CERN accelerator from creating the Higgs Boson.

I think we all understand the inherent logical difficulties of time travel, and all the other problems that would be caused, and so on and so forth. And I am pretty sure that time travel is impossible.

But there is one story from history which has always haunted me. It's a modern example of "for want of a nail..." It was at the Battle of Midway. That is widely regarded as one of the three turning points of WWII, the others being the second Battle of Alamein and the Battle of Stalingrad. But Midway was different, because the Americans won so convincingly and because the balance of military power there so heavily favored the Japanese.

The Japanese didn't think that the Americans were wise to their plans, but just in case, Nagumo ordered scout planes sent out to take a look. Most of those scout planes were sea planes launched by cruisers and battleships, launched with catapaults, landing in the sea, and being recovered by cranes. Those were the ones Nagumo used in this search.

Tone, one of the Japanese cruisers, had problems with its catapault and thus Scout 4 was late being launched. And wouldn't you know it? Turns out that Yorktown was in the area where Scout 4 was supposed to search. Scout 4 found Yorktown just as the first strike was returning from Midway. The second strike was waiting to go, armed for ground attack. It could have been launched immediately, as armed, but in that case most of the planes from the first strike would have been lost, because they would have run out of fuel. Nagumo ordered that the second strike be rearmed for sea action while the first strike was being recoverd.

And while that was going on, three squadrons of SBD's found the Japanese force, and sank three of the Japanese CV's in just a few minutes. (I'm leaving out a hell of a lot here, and don't hassle me about it. OK?) A lot of the reason their attack was so effective is secondary explosions caused by all the ordinance the Japanese had out for the rearming process.

The report from Scout 4 was received by the Japanese at the perfect time for the Americans. If Scout 4 had launched when the other scouts had, it would have radioed back much earlier. The second strike could have been launched -- towards Yorktown -- before the first strike returned from Midway. When the SBD's arrived, the Japanese carriers would have been much less vulnerable; it's possible one or two of them might have survived the battle, and figured in later fighting in the Pacific.

And if the radio report hadn't arrived at all, likewise the second strike wouldn't have been rearmed.

The failure of the Tone's catapault is one of the most fortuitous breaks in the history of war, with consequences far out of proportion to its apparent importance. And it's always made me wonder if a single time traveler made a quick visit to Tone the night before the battle and did something to it.

I don't really believe it, but...

(I think I might have written about this before, maybe a long time ago. If so, I apologize for boring you.)

UPDATE: Wonderduck has some commentary.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in General Anime at 02:52 PM | Comments (4) | Add Comment
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1 Harry Turtledove made a career out of writing these little what if General Lee's Special Order 191wasn't discovered by Union scouts, thus making the Union's defense less effective.

Posted by: BigFire at October 14, 2009 03:18 PM (Kwn4z)

2 Stephen,

   You might enjoy this. Cracked.com has "6 Random Coincidences That Created The Modern World"  and they are along the same vein as your story about Midway. I like "The Sandwich that Started a World War".

  There's also "5 People You've Never Heard Of Who Saved the World", which is also amusing.

Funny stuff.

Posted by: Tman at October 14, 2009 03:48 PM (vlrYF)

3 That reminds me of Mirai Trunks. So I'm just thinking if there's any possibility for that, it must have been a guy where America lose, à la DBZ. 

Posted by: Jaked at October 14, 2009 07:50 PM (EjkUJ)

4 Oddly enough, recent scholarship refutes the thought that the late launch of Tone #4 cost the Japanese the Battle of Midway.  I just put up a post about that here.

Posted by: Wonderduck at October 14, 2009 08:40 PM (/O6qY)

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