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on October 12, 2009
The Battle of the Komandorski Islands is a forgotten battle in a forgotten theater of World War II, the Aleutian Islands, but to students of naval history it has a unique place - the last and longest traditional daylight gunnery duel ever to take place between ships of war without interference from either air power or submarines.
It was a battle in which luck played a decisive role. The small American task force, anticipating easy pickings from a routine Japanese merchant ship interception, suddenly found itself facing the bulk of Japan's Northern Fleet. Outgunned and outmanned, the American commander, Rear Admiral Charles H. McMorris, could have done the prudent thing and retired, and in doing so possibly prolonged the Aleutian campaign by months. He boldly decided to pit his one aged heavy cruiser, even older light cruiser and four destroyers against a Japanese fleet that totaled two heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and four destroyers. At the end of a 4-hour running gunnery duel, the Japanese retired, low on ammunition but unaware that the Americans were even lower. Luck doesn't come in much bigger slices than that.
Lorelli does an excellent job of capturing the American personalities involved in this important battle and the drama of the life-and-death decisions as the heavy cruiser USS Salt Lake City chased salvo after salvo of enemy shells and at one point was dead in the water from a near-mortal hit. Indeed, his book is the only one solely dedicated to this battle.
The book is well illustrated with diagrams of the action at key points, photographs of the ships and some of the major participants, and detailed appendices. It gives a far more detailed account of this small but historically important battle than the usually brief mentions it has received in other accounts, and is recommended for all who are interested in the obscure Aleutian Campaign.
on April 13, 2013
The Battle of the Komandorski Islands is overlooked in most histories of the naval war in the Pacific. When it garners any attention, it is usually as one of the last pure surface ship gunnery duels in naval history with neither aircraft nor submarines supporting either side. The battle resulted from an encounter by a small U.S. force of two cruisers and four destroyers with an Imperial Japanese force of four cruisers and four destroyers in the frigid waters between Alaska and the USSR on 26 March 1943. The Japanese were attempting to resupply their outposts in the Aleutians. The engagement resulted in serious damage to both task forces with the Americans taking the worst of it. Pure luck, however, resulted in the Japanese commander deciding to withdraw for fear of U.S. air attack. The battle ended Japanese attempts to resupply their land forces in the Aleutians.
Mr. Lorelli tells the story well using an effective combination of personal recollections and official documentation. The maps, photos, and appendices provide valuable augmentation to the narrative. Any reader with an interest in World War II naval operations will find Lorelli's "The Battle of the Komandorski Islands" a worthwhile book.