THE UNITED STATES NAVY IN WORLD WAR II: FROM PEARL HARBOR TO OKINAWA

Reviewed by: GREG KENNEDY

The usual tendency for a book such as this is to pump as many combat pictures and new photos not seen previously in other compilations onto the pages and dispense with any superfluous text. After a promising start to the book, which offers a quick but useful strategic orientation of the ship-building influences of the inter-war naval disarmament conferences, the rest of the following pages unfortunately revert to type. Some of this preference is of course a result of the publisher’s marketing pressures and guidance. Some is the obvious expertise of the author in question here, who has produced many such works on the United States Navy at different points in history. However, some of the predictability of the book is a lack of a deeper appreciation of the true nature of naval power: sustainment and support to create combat power.

The book is broken down into the expected chapters organised around ship types: aircraft carriers, battleships, heavy cruisers, light cruisers, destroyers and submarines. All are well written and stocked with interesting photographs and tables showing where they were built, number in class, speed, firepower, protection, aircraft carried, range of weapons, etc. The chapters trace the evolution of the various ship types through from the 1930s to the end of the war, with comments on overall performance and suitability for tasks being provided in an ‘analysis’ section at the end of each chapter. Useful insights into design decisions, lessons learned from combat being incorporated, and some of the building elements regarding shipyards or new technologies are provided throughout the chapters. The overall effect is a good introductory look at the operational history of each class.

The book, however, is misleading in its title. One could be forgiven for thinking that the examination would be of USN actions globally, even though the Pacific bias is hinted at in the sub-title. The book is entirely focused on the USN in the Pacific and no references of note are made to actions, lessons or modifications made due to any operational experiences in the European Theatre of War. This is a somewhat disappointing structural decision to make as the USN performance in the European theatre meant that various types had various performance challenges and levels of effectiveness. One thinks of convoy duty for destroyers and a more capable opponent making ASW emphasis for that type a larger priority than the Anti-Air capabilities required by Pacific based destroyers. Jeep carriers in Hunter Killer units, bombardment against continental beaches and opponents as opposed to Island Hopping, etc. all would have given a bit more depth and rigour to the overall USN experience being portrayed here.

More important, however, is the lack of any engagement with a few critical categories when one wants to understand US naval power in the Second World War: logistics, supply and amphibious operations. No where is there any mention, even in passing or as a top ten hits list approach, to acknowledge the critical role played by tenders, oilers, LSTs and the fleet of other combat support vessels which accompanied the Task Force and allowed it to move, sustain, gain initiative, maintain tempo, etc., all critical operational characteristics, or, allowed operational manoeuvres and flexibility by enabling amphibious operations to occur. Even more surprising is the lack of inclusion of a category of ancillary combat vessels, such as the PT Boat brought to fame by President John F. Kennedy. Present in all major actions in both theatres, from Guadalcanal, the Straits of Messina, to the Battle of Leyte Gulf, at least some tip of the hat to the lesser vessels would have given a completeness to the survey and made it stand out from the rest of the works occupying this space.

In sum, as a general introductory survey to the topic of USN main combat vessels operating in the Pacific Theatre during World War II, it is a good a place to start as any for the beginner. More knowledgeable students of the conflict and service would probably find better value elsewhere for the £35.00.