Thursday, August 11, 2011

Neptune's Inferno - Worth A Read

I've just finished "Neptune's Inferno", by James Hornfischer. It is a narrative of the naval battles off Guadalcanal in 1942, during World War II. 7 major battles and almost nightly skirmishes between US and Japanese ships from August through November resulted in thousands of lives and dozens of ships lost on both sides.

US forces lost 2 aircraft carriers, 5 heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers, and 9 destroyers sunk during these battles. 2 battleships, 2 carriers, 8 heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers, and 9 destroyers were damaged, many of them so badly that they were out of action for repair for over a year.

Japanese losses were 2 battleships, 2 heavy cruisers, 3 carriers, and 7 destroyers. 5 heavy cruisers, 1 light cruiser, and 7 destroyers were damaged.

Almost all of the surface combat was at night. It was violent, savage, and it took just minutes for majestic ships to be reduced to burning hulks. The early days of radar, combined with poor intelligence, and in many cases inept leadership caused horrendous losses. US cruisers, in particular, were decimated - beautiful, heavily armed ships like San Francisco, Minneapolis, Portland, Chicago, Astoria, New Orleans, Pensacola were simply ground up like hamburger by Japanese torpedoes and American stupidity.

The narrative of the afterbattle washdown, where surviving crew members used fire hoses to clean blood and body parts off the decks of their ships is chilling.

Hornfischer (a great name for a naval author!) has written two other great books on WWII naval engagements:

Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors - a narrative of US destroyers during the Battle of Samar in October of 1944. A tale of incredible sacrifice, in what many consider the US Navy's finest hour.

Ship of Ghosts - the story of the USS Houston, a US heavy cruiser fighting in the Far East in the early days of WWII.

If you have an interest in the subject matter, I highly recommend these books. They are very well researched and written.

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