|Recommendations by Notable Maritime New Yorkers:
"It is the best maritime book I have read in years, and I read many"
Lee Gruzen, New York Ship Lore & Model Club and SeaportSpeaks
Reviews by Norman N. Brown:
CARRIER BATTLES: Command Decision in Harm’s Way
by Douglas V. Smith
Author Douglas V. Smith has an extensive background as a career naval officer and scholar. He holds a Ph.D. in military history and was at one time, just two decades ago, Head of War Planning for the U.S. Naval forces based in Europe.
It is on his knowledge of war planning that he has mostly drawn upon to write “Carrier Battles”, an examination of the five major battles of the Pacific War that involved that type of ship.
These battles, in chronological order, are now recorded in history under the names of Coral Sea, Midway, Eastern Solomons, Santa Cruz and Philippine Sea.
The point Smith makes early on in his book is that war with Japan in the Pacific Ocean had long been a hypothesis contemplated by the U.S. Naval War college, but on premises that had been and remained unproven.
It is now common knowledge that the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor marked the end of the era of belief in the supremacy of battleships in naval warfare. What perhaps has not been realized with equal clarity is that entire generations of American naval officers had been brought up professionally in the conviction that war with Japan would be fought in a certain way –which it was not.
The cadre of naval officers about to attain flag rank and those who had already become admirals by December 1941 had to discard many of the tenets and credos they had lived by until then, and adapt and change in a hurry, or face irreversible defeat.
There was no way around the fact that the palpable circumstances of geography and of politics would dictate that this war would hinge on the performance of aircraft carriers. Carrier combat doctrine itself was largely unproven, and had developed over the ‘tween’-war decades of the twentieth century by trial and error, by the technological solidity of the American aircraft industry and the exceptional quality of a generation of men who had chosen naval aviation as their careers.
Author Smith submits the men whose fate it was to command American naval forces in a brand new type of warfare, mostly unprepared and unrehearsed, to a severe examination, in the light of the ways they chose to fight, or were compelled to, using their available aircraft carriers, planes and men.
Smith has opted to grade the performance of the commanders in the five major aircraft carrier clashes as a college professor would do, with A’s, A pluses, B’s, B minuses, etc., on the strength of their understanding of the tactical and strategic problems posed to them, their speed and decisiveness in acting and reacting to the realities of combat.
It is quite interesting to become aware of these novel evaluations of figures of naval brass who have become part of the pantheon of American naval heroes. Knowledgeable readers may agree or not with Smith’s grades, but they are evidently given with fairness on the basis on which they are judged.
In reaching these evaluations, Smith provides an adequately detailed chronicle of the five major naval actions involving aircraft carriers. His descriptive style is direct and succinct, and even readers who are familiar with the actions involved will not tire from going over them once again.
“Carrier Battles” provides much matter for thought and interesting conclusions. Also, extensive notes and indexes which definitively assert that this book is a naval history heavyweight, easy to read and to learn from.
BLUE & GRAY NAVIES: The Civil War Afloat
by Spencer C. Tucker
Seasoned historian and prolific writer Spencer C. Tucker, author of 25 books, gives the reader in “Blue & Gray Navies” a general view of the American Civil War insofar as ships were employed during its duration for diverse belligerent purposes.
Although this books runs to 426 pages –including glossary, bibliography and notes– and affords remarkably extensive and varied coverage of the navies of the Union and the Confederacy, it is by no means a ponderous, complex work. It is direct and agile in its language, facts which contribute to make an interesting subject even more so.
Sensibly beginning at the beginning, Tucker describes the situation of the United States Navy at the time of the breakup of the Union and the immediate changes brought about by the secession.
It was only natural that the brand new Confederate Navy would be very similar to that from which it had sprung in its organization, personnel and ordnance. Tucker takes adequate note of the difference in their respective strategies, which were dictated mostly by the disparate industrial capacities of both navies and the financial resources available to each for new construction and resupply.
From the beginning, the Union decided that it was of paramount importance to prevent the free access of shipping to the many Confederate ports on the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico coasts. Therefore blockade duties loomed of primordial importance.
The Confederacy, lacking the industrial base indispensable to keep itself supplied with weapons and ammunition –which it had to buy abroad– concentrated on thwarting the enemy blockade and disrupting the Union’s maritime commerce, in the hope of precipitating unacceptable freight and insurance rates.
The degrees of success and failure of the campaigns of the adversaries are clearly explained.
Tucker devotes much text to the fighting on the western borders of the Confederacy, on the waters of the major rivers that permitted commerce between the major cities and markets of the seceded states.
The importance of these theaters of operations in river settings is brought to the readers’ attention perhaps as never before, and explains how predominance afloat contributed significantly to the fall of major Confederate centers to the Union’s land forces and to the eventual victory of the Union.
Author Tucker does not fail either to point out the singular nature of the Civil War in that it was the first to be fought in an increasingly modern, industrialized era: it saw the decisive appearance of telegraphy, railroads, naval steam propulsion and ironclad construction of ships. To say nothing of submarine vessels and what are now known as mines, but were at the time called underwater torpedoes.
“Blue & Gray Navies” obviously does not neglect to mention the famous shoot-outs between the USS Monitor and the Confederate ship Virginia (ex-Merrimac), and between the USS Kearsarge and the Alabama. However, these well-known episodes are only two of the many instances of combat that are chronicled in this very readable history, highly recommended.