ruralavalon wrote:Neptune's Inferno:the U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal, by James A Hornfischer. In August - November 1942, 6 major naval gunnery battles usually at night, each side lost 24 major combat vessels, 1600 U.S. Marine and Army killed, over 5,000 U.S. sailors killed.
I read that one.
In the modern era, since Tsushima and Jutland, there has surely never been a more titanic naval struggle. Maybe the Malta Convoys...
The sheer drama of it. The USN, storied of tradition but inexperienced in modern warfare and green manpower, against the honed machine which was the Imperial Japanese Navy-- a superbly trained and equipped machine for destruction (revelation from Norman Friedman, Battleship Firepower-- the Allies did not clearly understand the 40,000+ yard range of the often-decisive Type 92 'Long Lance' oxygen-powered torpedo until 1944! The Japanese were killing Allied ships and the Allies did not understand what was happening, often misreported them as mines).
The Japanese had trained and prepared for this cruiser to cruiser, destroyer to destroyer battle for over 20 years, as the prelude to the final dreadnaught smash, where they knew they would be outnumbered but planned to use torpedoes and submarines and light forces to even the odds. This 'decisive battle' shaped all their tactics, strategy and training.
And in the islands around Guadacanal, they put what they knew into practice. The USN had superior technology (radar!) and the air advantage due to Guadacanal airfield's proximity but it took a long time for those advantages to be properly brought to bear.
This was in many ways, the Pacific War's Stalingrad. When 2 mighty powers, one on the rise, the other in fatal decline, came to meet and fight for ground which neither would yield nor give quarter. Here, and with the Australians on the Kodai trail in New Guinea. The sheer desperation.
It was also probably the last significant set of surface combatant actions in history (ex the Philipines which were much more one-sided).
To be one of my ancestors, standing at that plotting table, or on the bridge, straining to see into the darkness, straining to anticipate what the Japanese would do, to make the right decisions. The lives of thousands of sailors at risk. The defeat of the Allied cause to be in your hands... God, the burden. My grandfather was on 3 ships in one night at Gallipoli-- 2 sunk. In the morning he and the padre walked along the deck, the padre said the last rites and the corpses were tipped one by one into the wine dark sea.
At the Burial of their Dead at Sea
The Office in the Common-Prayer-Book may be used: only instead of these words [We therefore commit his body to the ground, earth to earth, &c.] say,
We therefore commit his body to the deep, to be turned into corruption, looking for the resurrection of the body, (when the Sea shall give up her dead,) and the life of the world to come, through our Lord Jesus Christ; who at his coming shall change our vile body, that it may be like his glorious body, according to the mighty working, whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself.
You catch it in the first seconds of 'Master and Commander: the Far Side of the World'
the young midshipman straining to see into the mist, where the enemy privateer approaches. Not knowing whether to order the beat of drums to action. In 'The Cruel Sea
' hovering over the ASDIC (sonar) looking at the reflected pulses, looking for the U Boat below. In 'Das Boot
' sitting on the bottom whilst the Allied ships ping you from above and drop their patterns of charges.
Another relation stood at the radar plotting screen in the narrow waters of San Carlos Bay, as the Argentine Skyhawks came screaming in, brave pilots carrying death beneath their bellies... and the Exocets flew towards the Task Force.
John Prados 'Islands of Destiny'
gives a more strategic view, well nuanced by the author's research into what American codebreakers knew and when.
I have a family connection to Savo Island-- it was not the British Empire's finest day (there's also a book out about the battle of the Java Sea, where every significant allied combatant was sunk I think).
Eric Beregund has written 2 thematic histories 'Fire in the Pacific'
and 'Fire in the Sky'
about, respectively, the ground war in the South Pacific, and the air war. They have limited chronology, but they are excellent military histories of the times. One hopes, some day, he will write a naval companion.