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Search tags: Naval-History
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review 2018-07-18 18:44
Good, if somewhat dated, overview of America's war in the Pacific and Asia
Eagle Against The Sun: The American War With Japan - Ronald H. Spector

In the 1960s Macmillan began publishing a series entitled "The Macmillan Wars of the United States." Written by some of the nation's leading military historians, its volumes offered surveys of the various conflicts America had fought over the centuries, the strategies employed, and the services which fought them. Ultimately fourteen volumes were published over two decades, with many of them still serving as excellent accounts of their respective subjects.

 

As the last book published in the series, Ronald Spector's contribution to it serves as a sort of capstone to its incomplete efforts. In it he provides an account of the battles and campaigns waged by the United States against Japan in the Second World War, from the prewar planning and the assumptions held in the approach to war to the deployment of the atomic bombs that ended it. In between the covers all of the major naval battles and island-hopping campaigns in the Pacific, as well as America's military efforts in the China-Burma-India theater. He rounds out his coverage with chapters discussing both the social composition of the forces America deployed and the complex intelligence operations against the Japanese, ones that extended beyond the now-famous codebreaking efforts that proved so valuable.

 

Though dated in a few respects, overall Spector's book serves as a solid single-volume survey of the war waged by the United States against Japan. By covering the efforts against the Japanese in mainland Asia, he incorporates an important aspect of the war too often overlooked or glossed over in histories of America's military effort against the Japanese, one that often influenced developments elsewhere in the theater. Anyone seeking an introduction to America's war with Japan would be hard pressed to find a better book, which stands as a great example of what Macmillan set out to accomplish when they first embarked upon the series.

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url 2018-07-09 16:16
Podcast #110 is up!
Bayly’s War: The Battle for the Western Approaches in the First World War - Steve R. Dunn

My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it, I interview Steve R. Dunn about his account of the Royal Navy's battle against the U-boats off the coast of Ireland during the First World War (which I reviewed here). Enjoy!

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url 2018-07-06 15:31
Podcast #109 is up!
World War II at Sea: A Global History - Craig L. Symonds

My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it I interview Craig L. Symonds about his sweeping naval history of the Second World War. Enjoy!

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review 2018-06-17 00:27
One command's struggles against the U-boats
Bayly’s War: The Battle for the Western Approaches in the First World War - Steve R. Dunn

Over the past few years Steve Dunn has carved out a niche for himself writing books about various aspects of the First World War at sea that have often be overshadowed by its more dramatic personage and battles. His latest book is an account of the Western Approaches (the waters off of the south of Ireland) centered around the effective, no-nonsense figure of Admiral Lewis Bayly. When he assumed position of Senior Officer of the Coast of Ireland station in 1915, he took over a command that was struggling in the war against the U-boats. Like the rest of the Royal Navy its officers and men were working out how to respond to the deployment of this new weapon of war, a task made more difficult by the shortage of appropriate ships and the competing demands made on the available resources by the demands of war. As a result, sailors went to sea aboard inadequate vessels and pursued ineffective tactics such as trawling the Irish Sea in the (usually vain) hope that they might entangle German submersibles or force them to exhaust their batteries.

 

Upon taking command in Queenstown Bayly brought a renewed determination to the station. Focusing on the war, he set the tone for his men by curbing the social activities and customs that had endured from the prewar era. With the aid of new ships and more men he carried out his orders vigorously, protecting merchant shipping and hunted down U-boats by any means possible. In this his command received a boost in the summer of 1917 with the arrival of the first warships of the United States Navy. This proved Bayly’s finest hour as commander of the station, as he established harmonious relations with American officers as they worked to protect the vessels transporting the doughboys to the front. The esteem in which they held him was reflected after the war with their efforts to support and honor Bayly in his retirement.

 

Dunn’s book provides readers with a succinct and effective description of the war off of the Irish coast. Though he concentrates on Bayly, he does not do so to the detriment of his coverage of the many men who fought and sacrificed in their battles with the U-boats. While this comes at the cost of a degree of repetitiveness in his accounts of U-boat attacks and the efforts to sink them, it is a minor issue with what is otherwise a worthy study of a part of the war covered only in passing in larger accounts of the naval history of the First World War.

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text 2018-04-06 22:08
Corrects misconceptions about the war in the Mediterranean
Struggle for the Middle Sea: The Great Navies at War in the Mediterranean Theater, 1940 - 1945 - Vincent P. O'Hara

Though overshadowed by the larger battles in the Atlantic and the Pacific, the conflict in the Mediterranean, as Vincent O’Hara states in the beginning of this book, was “World War II’s longest air-land-sea campaign,” one that involved five of the world’s six largest navies.  His book, an account of the clash between the surface forces, offers a balanced examination of the conflict that corrects many of the misconceptions which clutter our understanding of the conflict there.  What emerges is a very different take on the war in the Mediterranean, one that provides far better insight into how the war developed and changed as a result.

 

Foremost among the myths that O’Hara pursues is that of Italian incompetence, which he dispels convincingly by noting their success in achieving their primary strategic objectives throughout most of the war, as well as the tenacious challenge they posed to the British.  Though the Germans are traditionally seen as the Axis power which did the bulk of the heavy lifting in the region, O’Hara disputes this as well, noting that the Kriegsmarine’s combat performance there was in fact inferior to that of the much-disparaged Regia Marina.  Nor are the British and French spared from O’Hara’s revisionary analysis, as he makes a strong case for the French fleet’s ongoing effort to preserve their nation’s sovereignty while arguing that the British only triumphed in the Mediterranean as a result of the infusion of American forces into the region in the fall of 1942.

 

O’Hara’s points are presented in a convincing and forthright manner, one that aids the book in challenging traditional attitudes about the war there.  Yet it suffers from two significant flaws.  The first is O’Hara’s focus on the surface actions, a curious decision which marginalizes vital components of the sea war.  Even the famous air raid on the Italian naval base on Taranto, one of the turning points of naval history, is addressed in a mere two sentences that offer little consideration of the broader impact of the raid.  O’Hara’s almost exclusive reliance upon secondary and published sources is the other major limitation of his work, as his trodding of ground well covered by others limits the real novelty of his argument.  Such deficiencies limit the impact of what is otherwise a provocative reexamination of the war in the Mediterranean, one that every student of naval conflict in the Second World War can read for enjoyment as well as enlightenment.

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