Sunday, April 22, 2012

Battle of Midway: NHHC's Top Ten

(When we asked Rear Adm. (ret.) Jay DeLoach for his recommendations of the top ten books about the Battle of Midway, he immediately suggested the Craig Symonds’s book about the decisive turning point in the War in the Pacific 70 years ago. DeLoach, former Director of Naval History and Heritage Command, and his team at NHHC provided this top ten, which includes Elliot Carlson’s “Joe Rochefort’s War,” soon to be reviewed here on Navy Reads. -- Bill Doughty.)  
“Joe Rochefort’s War: The Odyssey of the Codebreaker Who Outwitted Yamamoto at Midway.”
Carlson, Elliot.
Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2011.
“‘A Glorious Page in Our History’: The Battle of Midway, 4-6 June 1942.”
Cressman, Robert J., et al.
Missoula, MT: Pictorial Histories Pub. Co., 1990.
“Incredible Victory.”
Lord, Walter. 
New York: Harper & Row, 1967.
“The First Team: Pacific Naval Air Combat From Pearl Harbor to Midway.”
Lundstrom, John B.
Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1984.
“Black Shoe Carrier Admiral: Frank Jack Fletcher at Coral Sea, Midway and Guadalcanal.”
Lundstrom, John B.
Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2006.
“A Dawn Like Thunder: The True Story of Torpedo Squadron Eight.”
Mrazek, Robert J.
New York: Little, Brown, and Co., 2008.
“Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway.”
Parshall, Jonathan, and Anthony Tully.
Washington: Potomac Books, 2005.
“Midway: Turning Point of the Pacific.”
Smith, William W.
New York: Crowell, 1966. [Written by the commander of the escort force responsible for protecting Yorktown].
“The Battle of Midway.”
Symonds, Craig L. 
Oxford University Press, 2011.
“Climax at Midway.”
Tuleja, Thaddeus V.
New York: Norton, 1960.
(For a full bibliography, readers can visit the Naval History and Heritage Command website at  Special thanks to Robert J. Cressman, NHHC historian, for assistance in compiling this top ten.)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

From Battle of the Coral Sea to Victory at Midway

(Craig Symonds, author of “The Battle of Midway” was one of five authors recommended by distinguished historian Eric Foner in his post to Navy Reads last February.  Foner called Symonds’s “Lincoln and this Admirals” “the first full study of Lincoln’s relationship to the war at sea and it reveals him mastering the nuances of naval warfare...”  Dr. Symonds, professor emeritus of history at the U.S. Naval Academy, brings his own nuanced insights and context to a full study of the Battle of Midway.  In this blog post we’ll look briefly at a key event leading up to Midway but in another corner of the Pacific Ocean almost exactly 70 years ago.)
by Bill Doughty
Craig Symonds devotes an entire chapter of his great work The Battle of Midway to the Battle of the Coral Sea, one of the key sea battles of World War II, occurring in early May, one month before Midway.
“The Coral Sea is one of the world’s most beautiful bodies of water,” writes Symonds.  “Named for the coral reefs that guard Australia’s northeast coast, it is bordered by Australia on the south, New Guinea on the west, the Solomon Islands on the north, and the New Hebrides on the east.”  That area was key to Imperial Japan’s attempt to control the sea lanes for commerce and logistics.
By April 1942 Imperial Japan controlled a wide area of the Pacific.
On May 1, 1942, Adm. Halsey’s Task Force 16 left Pearl Harbor, while the Yorktown and Lexington carrier task forces joined to become Task Force 17 southeast of Guadalcanal.  On that same day the Imperial Japanese aircraft carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku and their escorts got underway from Truk and headed toward the Coral Sea.
“Also on that busy May 1st, eighteen hundred miles further north, a group of senior officers met on board the Combined Fleet flagship Yamato, anchored in Hashirajima Harbor near Hiroshima, to participate in a war game for the attack on Midway.”
Symonds shows how logistics-related issues -- particularly access to fuel oil -- were among the biggest challenges for the American fleet, who didn’t have the same proximity to island footholds and captured foreign ports as their enemy. 
The author dissects the battle of May 7 and the death of USS Lexington on May 8.  He analyzes the strategy, tactics and mixed result: despite the significant losses to the Americans, the United States Navy had stopped the Imperial Japanese Navy’s advance toward Port Moresby.
“Over time, the assessment of historians has been that the Battle of the Coral Sea was a tactical victory for the Japanese but a strategic victory for the Americans.”
Navy pilots gained experience.  Japanese aircraft were destroyed.  The United States gained a better advantage in the Pacific, where carrier-based aviation surpassed battleship-firepower in strategic importance.
The Battle of the Coral Sea also proved the value of radio intelligence, particularly as interpreted in the Pacific.  Symonds shows how Lt. Cmdr. Joseph Rochefort demonstrated his superior codebreaking abilities and analysis to Adm. Nimitz, first by predicting  an invasion of Rabaul in January and then revealing the Japanese fleet’s plans in the Coral Sea in May.
Credibility created confidence.
The credibility earned by Pearl Harbor’s Station Hypo, the team of codebreakers under Rochefort, would lead directly to success in the Battle of Midway June 4-7, 1942.  
(The well-written and well-researched “Battle of Midway,” published in 2011 by Oxford University Press, was also recommended to Navy Reads by the Naval History and Heritage Command as one of the top ten books published about the Battle of Midway.)

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Just Solutions - USS Barb and ‘Thunder Below’

by Bill Doughty
Thunder Below! is a first-hand report of submarine warfare by Medal of Honor recipient Adm. Eugene B. Fluckey (1913-2007).  As commanding officer of USS Barb (SS-220), Fluckey led some of the most daring missions of the War in the Pacific in WWII -- the attack of the Namkwan Harbor anchorage of the Imperial Japanese fleet and the assault of Kaihyo To (island), among others.
Thunder Below! is Fluckey’s account of USS Barb’s undersea (and above ground) warfare mostly from April 1944 when Fluckey became CO to August 1945 when the Japanese surrendered aboard the battleship USS Missouri (BB-63).  
The narrative, written chronologically like a journal, tracks the action between Pearl Harbor and Midway Atoll north to the Sea of Okhotsk, Sakhalin and the Kuriles and south to the Marshalls, Saipan, Guam and into the South China Sea and East China Sea near Formosa (Taiwan).

USS Barb was the only submarine to fire rockets in wartime, writes Fluckey.  An attack by a saboteur party against an enemy at harbor and inland echoed techniques used by the Navy in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and Civil War.

In WWII USS Barb sunk more than 29 enemy ships, nearly 150,000 tons.  But Fluckey’s proudest achievement, he says, is that not one of his Sailors was killed or wounded.  The submarine crew’s average age was 23, according to Fluckey, who was 30 in 1944.
While Thunder Below! is filled with at-the-moment action and you-are-there realism, Navy readers/leaders will also enjoy the occasional bits of philosophy Fluckey shares:
“Fear is a natural characteristic of all living creatures, necessary for self-preservation.  To win, however, fear must be controlled, enabling expertise to determine when to fight and when to run away -- to be able to fight another day.”
“The Barb was never in competition with anybody but herself.  We were determined on each patrol to do better than the last one.  And we should have, since we had more experience as tactics, weapons, targets, and the war moved on.”
In Lessons Learned from the war, he said:
“We did not know our enemy -- his history or his language -- as well as he knew ours...”
“The Japanese are disciplined, brave, professional warriors.  As U.S. allies, they must be permitted to be an asset.”
Fluckey’s theory of leadership is “reciprocal trust”:  “Simply put, ‘I believe in you.’”  He said, “(USS Barb) enriched our lives and gave us our philosophy.  We don’t have problems, just solutions.”

USS Barb in 1945.