Blog #5.5: Drawn Map

P.S. My scanner was a real pain in the rear to get up and running.

Anyway, by request, I’m posting the hand-drawn map up here on the blog. As I stated in class, the subject of the map is the Battle of Midway on June 4, 1942. A mere six months after the destruction of the battleship line of the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, three American and four Japanese aircraft carriers met in a climactic battle over a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The battle has since been called the turning point of the Pacific War, reversing the balance of power in the Pacific and paving the way for America’s victory over Japan three years later.

Midway Map 2

The battle was a crucial one, to be sure, but as I also stated in class one of the problems with mapping out naval battles in general is that with two very specific exceptions (submarines and aircraft) the battle is fought in two dimensions, making it a little boring for the mapmaker. What’s more, the sheer number of crucial decisions that can turn the tides of a battle–armament, ordinance, timing, luck, and so on, do not translate too well to maps.

One of the toughest knots I had with the map however was deciding what and what not to include. This battle is one where literally every single decision, from course changes to fuel to chance sightings, played a critical role. It is a great temptation to include every single minute decision that played a part, but to do so would make a very cluttered (and equally confusing) map. On the other hand, though, it is very hard to put out a map when one knows the map comes nowhere near to telling the whole story.

In the end I decided to err on the side of telling a simplistic story over making an awful map. I displayed the movements of the various American and Japanese fleets, with notations displaying significant events. I also posted the time at various points along the fleet’s path, in the hope of conveying some sense of movement as the fleets maneuvered.

On a recommendation, I also decided to note the various airstrikes by the Americans and Japanese, providing some more information as well as some much-needed variation of color.

This map, however, does not do the battle due justice in my opinion. In fact, I find it hard to believe that only a single map could do the battle justice–a second map, one showing the beginning, the other the end of the battle, would have more room to flesh out the details, and the smaller scale of two separate maps would also blend well with more minute information.

Another option, though much better suited for a documentary than an atlas, is a map or series of maps that zoom in close to get the details, but that constantly shifts perspective in order to get the whole story. One documentary that I saw that did this very well is the BBC series 20th Century Battlefields, one episode of which focuses on the Battle of Midway. (As an aside, the show is very well done and some kind souls have uploaded them onto Youtube as well.)

One thing that did strike me as I was doing this map was all the seemingly random changes in course the various fleets made over the course of the day. It reinforced for me  how much of a cat-and-mouse kind of fight naval battles are, where the two sides are constantly seeking to dart in and strike while trying to prevent the enemy from doing the same to them.

(Edit: For reasons unknown the picture came out much smaller than I had intended. I’m scanning it again and making it bigger.)

(Edit 2: It should be fixed now. Yay. Let me know if it’s still not working.)

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