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142 of 156 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fine work, but with some jarring problems
My strongest recommendation up front: buy this book, read it. There are information and insights here that you will not be able to get from any other English-language source on the Battle. This book is in my collection, and I expect to be referring to it often in the future. The author has done a great job of research, drawing on many unused American and Japanese...
Published on April 30, 2009 by Alan D. Zimm

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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good research, uneven analysis, weak writing
After reading the excellent "Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway", I was anxious to get my hands on this book. While it was a decent attempt to look at the Battle of Surigao Strait from the Japanese perspective, I was somewhat disappointed by this solo attempt by Anthony Tully. In general, Battle of Surigao Strait (Twentieth-Century Battles) doesn't...
Published on March 14, 2010 by Trader Mort


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142 of 156 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fine work, but with some jarring problems, April 30, 2009
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My strongest recommendation up front: buy this book, read it. There are information and insights here that you will not be able to get from any other English-language source on the Battle. This book is in my collection, and I expect to be referring to it often in the future. The author has done a great job of research, drawing on many unused American and Japanese sources, and has corrected many errors in the "standard" historical works and records. You will get information on the Japanese planning and conduct of the battle that you will not get anywhere else.

My most important caveat - and the reason why I can only score the book a "4" - is that there are significant interpretive and stylistic problems in Mr. Tully's text. Care must be taken when reading this book, as I will delve into later.

First, the good stuff: Mr. Tully has made a significant contribution to the history of the battle, and has contributed to a better understanding of the objectives of the Japanese forces in this battle. He has drawn from a number of Japanese language sources that have previously been unavailable in the West, along with a number of Japanese survivor's accounts. My only complaint here is that I wish he would have quoted more extensively from these sources rather than given us the Tully-interpretation on what they contain, because, as I will go in to later, there are places where Mr. Tully's interpretations are subject to question.

There are a number of "mysteries" about the battle, such as how the Japanese battleships were actually lost. Mr. Tully pulls together the available evidence - much of it new to Western readers - and does a workmanlike job in addressing the questions. In all the important areas of interpretation, Mr. Tully's analysis is spot on, and the reader will be well rewarded by the time spent in this book.

The only thing that stops this book from being the "definitive" work on Surigao Strait is that it primarily concentrates on the Japanese side of the story - I would estimate that 85% of the pages are written from the Japanese viewpoint. This is not a criticism, as there is certainly need for a good English-language history of the battle from the Japanese viewpoint, filled admirably here. It is just notification that readers will still need Wilmott and Vega and the venerable Morrison to fill in parts of the story from the Allied side.

Oh, this book could - should! - have been a "5" - but there are problems.

One of the problems is stylistic, one regards historical interpretations, and the other regards the underlying depth of knowledge. Readers must be forewarned that there are errors in the book (few as they are), and that this relative lack of errors gives the book a lot of deserved credibility - but this credibility in turn gives some of Mr. Tully's speculative turns too much credence. Then the author soils his credibility when he descends into the realm of purple prose (PP) and exclamation points (EPs) in order to inject some "excitement" into the story.

Let's start with the PP and EPs. But first, remember I am overall giving this book a high recommendation. Buy it! But, here's the warnings.

Mr. Tully likes to enliven the story. I think he does a disservice by cheapening his material. He and I have corresponded on this point (he is, by the way, a consummate gentleman and excellent scholar, and a fine and courteous person). I think he overdoes it. Here's a sampling; you be the judge:

* ""All hands, take up your battle station! Prepare for night battle!" The men trooped as one below to their stations and their destiny."
* "Yet his escape gives the clue: it is unlikely he would have survived that magazine's detonation!"
* "The torpedoes had either gone under the keel or failed to explode!"
* "Ushio's TBS radio was out of order!"
* "With this notice in mind, onward with the battle!"
* "Its speed fell even more rapidly, down to just five knots! Yamashiro was slowing to a crawl - a sitting duck!"
* "It had been really close!"
* "... shells were directed at only one target, hapless Yamashiro!"
* "... strong enough data for a firing set-up! The ranges were now lining up consistently, and at last they were ready to go!"
* "In fact, the action would only last eighteen minutes!"
* "Disaster was in the making!"
* "But wait -- !! Sharp-eyed navigator Kondo on Nachi suddenly noticed ... "
* "The stout Mogami had scarcely been scratched!"
* "... this remark speaks volumes!"
* "It is hard to avoid the impression that he hoped they would become targets in his stead for any pursuing enemy!"

Whether you like this sort of thing is mostly a matter of taste, except in those places where the exclamation points falsely give an impression of surprise or suddenness. In my view, it is overdone. And, in the process of thus making the text more "readable," the author strays too far: he goes from history to speculation. Consider the following lines from the text:

** "Abukuma's hardy crew was unbowed: they set to work on emergency repairs with gusto."
** "Nishimura's gratitude and pride at this comeback must have been as great as the Allies' chagrin."
** "Nishimura likely nodded with satisfaction, and with growing resolve and perhaps confidence, ordered course set for the final run-in to Leyte Gulf."
** "Nishimura probably brightened at hearing this, ..."
** "The officers on the bridge of flagship Yamashiro must have heard Shigure's confusing hails to "Fuso" with startled relief, jumping to the obvious but erroneous conclusion: The Fuso!"
** "... reform with renewed hope."
** "... the officers could feel the gunners' frustration like a physical presence, and shared it."

There are many, many, MANY more in this vein, 99% of which are unfootnoted and thus do not have a primary source to establish it as fact. Tully continually speculates on what the Japanese were feeling
and constantly tellings us what their emotions "must have been." There must have been tension meters installed on both flag bridges and most ship control stations, as Mr. Tully continually asserts when the tension was going up or down. (In my experience, sailors can be relaxed and joking at places where others would assume that the "tension was unbearable," which is why I protest most of Mr. Tully's forays into interpretive psychology.) Most of such sorties into the speculative appear to have no documentation - in other words, Tully made them up, generally inserting what he felt they felt, rather than what the historical record (slim at it is) says the characters felt. Now, if Tully was a psychologist who had spent some time in the Japanese Navy (preferably in command of a ship), then I would read these opinions with some interest. However, to my knowledge he does not have those qualifications. I have 20 years in the US Navy, and 14 years of sea duty, and many of Tully's flights of imagination I feel are flat wrong and do not reflect actual "sailor behavior," or at least describe situations where there are a number of other plausible alternative explanations. When Tully describes Nishimura as likely "nodding with satisfaction," and giving orders with "confidence," he is turning this work from fact to fiction.

My last complaint is that there are a number of errors in the book, errors that could have been caught during the editorial process.

Tully has steam turbine ships often "revving their engines," which is silly. He talks about Japanese "proximity alarms" clanging on bridges and inside gun turrets, without explaining what they are (likely a mis-translation of the gun firing warning alarm). He claims that 1,000 yards was the "optimum" range to fire a torpedo, without citing a source to back up this (erroneous) claim. Some of his time and distance calculations are wrong, for instance, when he mentions that a group of ships 40,000 meters (~20 nm) behind the other could catch up in 20 minutes.

There are terminology errors: in one, he persistantly names the Japanese voice radio system the "TBS." TBS was the American system - calling the Japanese system the TBS would be like calling the Japanese radar the SC or SK or SG. He refers to a possible Japanese torpedo attack as "fire for effect" - "fire for effect" is a ground artillery term for firing after the spotting rounds have landed and the location of the fire corrected to land on the target. Not only is it incorrect to use at sea, especially for torpedo fire, it also is wrong in the context of the situation, because what Mr. Tully is apparently trying to convey is launching the torpedoes at indistinct targets that have not been accurately tracked, something the exact opposite from "fire for effect." In one place, when referring to US torpedo fire, he confuses "range to target" at the time of firing with track range to intercept when he states that the range to the target was near the limit of the torpedo range at intermediate speed setting.

There are some questionable errors of interpretation. Many times he attributes motives for certain actions - for example, for some formation changes - that any Naval officer would know are wrong. At another point, he cites an eye-witness as stating that torpedoes hit a ship or went under the keel, but then in the next paragraph relies on "calculations" to say this was not so. Balancing an eyewitness against calculations that are likely to be inexact as to time of launch, and considering that torpedoes had speed and course variabilities, I would have counseled to believe the eyewitness. In another place, Tully interpretes the Japanese course as an attempt to "slip around the far eastern end of the veritable tornado of gunfire" (PP), where this would make no sense to this naval officer - the Japanese were more likely opening up their firing arcs for their amidships guns.

Mr. Tully also demonstrates a bias towards the Japanese in his account. He repeatedly praises the Japanese gunfire as accurate with comments like "markedly good," "shooting well," "their shooting was good," and similar terms. But in the end, the Japanese scored only 6 hits by Yamashiro's secondary battery (one on their own ship) and none with their main batteries, a rather poor performance. He ignores the US Navy's assessment that the Japanese shooting was erratic. He praises Admiral Nishimura's navigation, refering to the fact that he was a navigation specialist, when it would be highly unlikely that an Admiral was doing his own chart work. Japanese crewmember actions are invariably described in Herculean terms, mostly without footnotes.

There are other problems with facts, calculations, terminology, and interpretations - but this review is getting a touch long.

The bottom line is that Mr. Tully's fine work cries out for a naval officer to have read it and corrected some of the more jarring errors prior to publication. Why the editor did not do this is beyond understanding. As a result, a bunch of piddling errors and PP and EPs marr an otherwise excellent contribution to the history of the war in the Pacific.

After having killed a bunch of electrons fussing about problems, I advise you to put all that aside. Be forewarned of these *minor* problems, but do not allow them to deter you from acquiring and reading this overall fine work. Highly recommended.
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Order, Counterorder, Disorder, April 22, 2009
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This review is from: Battle of Surigao Strait (Twentieth-Century Battles) (Hardcover)
This is an excellent addition to the 20th Century Battles series, which addresses a number of relatively obscure battles. While Surigao Strait isn't particularly obscure, being part of the huge Leyte Gulf battle, it most often is referred to only as "the last battle between battleships".

Mr. Tully does an excellent job of rescuing the battle from that historical ghetto. He has tapped not only previously overlooked original Japanese records of the battle, but also the memories of Japanese survivors. These sources have been added to the US records to provide a balanced view of not only the Surigao Strait battle but also the strategic and operational situations that led to the battle.

The Japanese naval command sent Yamashiro and Fuso, their two oldest and slowest battleships on what was essentially a one-way mission to attack portions of the US landing force in the Phillipines, supposedly in coordination with other Japanese forces. In a nice bit of historical irony these two antiques were met by six old, slow US battleships, five of them Pearl Harbor survivors.

The Japanese forces were plagued by an overly intricate plan, constantly changing orders, and communications problems. The Americans had their own confusions from split commands and communications. Through all the confusion, Admirals Nishimura and Oldendorf kept focused on their respective missions, leading to the battle in Surigao Strait.

The narrative of the actual battle in Surigao Strait is very well done, and clarifies a very confused night battle in restricted waters. Mr. Tully disputes several received "truths" about the battle and provides good documentation and/or reasoning for his opinions. We now have a very complete record of what all the ships were doing at each stage of the battle, which ended with one Japanese destroyer as the sole survivor of Nishimura's force.

I would liked to have seen large-scale purpose-made charts illustrating each stage of the battle. The reproductions of Japanese charts don't quite do the trick.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Work from the Japanese Side, October 10, 2009
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Author Tully has produced an excellent work on the Battle of Surigao Strait, primarily from the Japanese side, and made a definite contribution to English literature on the Pacific War. Prior to reading Tully's book, I had thought of Nishimura as some sort of naval Kamikase following orders to no purpose. Clearly, that thought was in error. Although Nishimura's mission was a long shot to succeed, so were many Civil War battles fought by Robert E. Lee (Chancellorsville comes immediately to mind.) And at this stage in the war, Japan was reduced to taking long shots. Nishimura took his shot and died in the attempt, but can hardly be criticized for his seamanship, decisions or valor. Shima, on the other hand, does come in for substantial criticism. He could have (but didn't) closed the gap between their task forces to produce more of a concentrated attack. Of course, that probably would not have affected the outcome except to bring about more losses on the Japanese side.

In general I agree with the review written by Alan Zimm with respect to the book's style and defects, but did not find them so egregious as to lower my rating. There are many books available covering the battle from the American side, and Tully's coverage was certainly adequate to give the reader the necessary American coverage. The primary defect, and it was glaring, was the lack of good maps (probably two) on a large scale to cover the Philippine Islands to show the both Nishimura's and Shima's approaches and Shima's withdrawal. I was forced to use a world atlas as a supplement to follow the movements. There are many textual references to islands and ports that cannot be found on the author's maps, and in some cases it was difficult to obtain a concept of the distances involved. For that reason I lowered my rating to 4-1/2 stars, but left the 5 star rating in the heading.

One of the most signal facts disclosed in this work was the earlier planned use of Yamashiro and Fuso on a suicide mission against the Marianas during the Saipan invasion. It was called off following the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot (Battle of the Philippine Sea), but this clearly showed Combined Fleet's attitude to their semi-obsolete battleships.

I appreciated the author's work on the aftermath, presenting the fate of the Japanese warships that survived the battle. The reader would also be well-advised to read the informative appendixes. The notes and references are also comprehensive.

But above all, this is a very scholarly work, researched in great depth, and certainly the definitive work on the battle. Many of the author's sources are being used here for the first time, and his refusal to present opinion as fact is highly commendable. The Fuso's fate is a classic case in point. The author present a enormous amount of evidence, some of which is contradictory, in a very scholarly fashion for the reader to decide the (essentially unimportant) cause, time and place of the Fuso's sinking. If for no other reason, Author Tully wins me over on this point alone. I am so tired of journalists presenting history with their personal spin, regardless of facts, through careful cherry-picking and intrepretations without notes or references that sometimes I could go postal. There is none of that here. This is a scholarly work.

In short, I highly recommend this book to all readers interested in the Pacific War of World War II. Overlooking the somewhat minor points of criticism by Zimm and the lack of two maps, this is how history should be presented.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great contribution, but needs an editor., September 6, 2009
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Finally, a complete review of this part of the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Like "Shattered Sword", it is somewhat revisionist, but convincing. It rehabilitates Nishimura's reputation, and is respectful of the Japanese side. Like "Shattered Sword" it emphasizes the battle from the Japanese point of view, but not exclusively. It would get 5 stars but for some flaws.

It really needs an editor/proofreader. There are a number of typos, and also a lot of clumsy syntax that distracts from the narrative. But worst of all are the maps.
1. The map of the Philippines is general, and has very few labels. Yet the author continuously refers to ship positions in relation to certain islands. One has no idea where those islands are. I had to go online and print out my own map of the PI.
2. The map of the approaches is tiny, and is only one of the plates in the picture section of the book. It should have been full page. Worse, the longitude is wrong. The map correctly has 120E passing thru (unlabeled) Coron Island. Then the longitude numbers decrease rather than increase as one goes Eastward. Thus it shows 115E passing thru Samar, rather than 125E.
3. The more detailed map of the battle has the longitude correct, but inexplicably leaves out the initial, and very successful, torpedo attack by Coward's tin can's.

That said, this is a most valuable addition to the literature on Leyte Gulf, and has found a permanent place on my bookshelf.
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good research, uneven analysis, weak writing, March 14, 2010
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After reading the excellent "Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway", I was anxious to get my hands on this book. While it was a decent attempt to look at the Battle of Surigao Strait from the Japanese perspective, I was somewhat disappointed by this solo attempt by Anthony Tully. In general, Battle of Surigao Strait (Twentieth-Century Battles) doesn't come close to the breadth and depth of "Shattered Sword", but it also has inherent problems in a number of areas. In a nutshell, Tully attempts to find a nugget of new knowledge about the battle, but struggles with a limitation of historic documentation on the Japanese side. Since Surigao Strait isn't exactly a greenfield area of research, Tully falls into a path he took with "Shattered Sword" - stridently advocating his position, while poo-pooing conclusions by previous authors.

The author makes a decent attempt to unearth new information by combing overlooked Japanese accounts. But since very few senior officers survived the battle, and most of the ships involved in the major fighting were sunk, Tully has to really stretch some of the information he extracts from these accounts. Worse still, he presents previously visited arguments as something new. For example, he says "contrary to past impressions, Nishimura and Third Section were assigned to a diversionary and virtually kamikaze role from the start." But he states later that the Naval War College came up with this same scenario back in the 1950s.

To shore up his argument that he uncovered some new revelation, he cites firsthand accounts from Lieutenant Commander Nishino and Lieutenant Serino, both of whom believed in the kamikaze nature of the attack. I had to question whether two junior naval officers would be privy, beyond scuttlebutt, as to what Admiral Kurita's actual intentions were. Regardless, Tully uses these two firsthand accounts to trump previous authors and to reinforce the originality of his own argument: "...the participants were more aware of this than subsequent historians on both sides." In the end, the factual information he unearths makes for a convincing, but nonetheless circumstantial case for many of his arguments.

His analysis of various facts and events was somewhat uneven. The bulk of Tully's analysis was to straighten out the chronological events of the battle. He makes good use of both Japanese and American sources to work out the sequence of events, but the effectiveness of this was diminished by the lack of maps that corresponded to the timeline. There were so many different units and groups involved, it became very difficult to track which units were where on this time line. This was complicated by the fact that the Japanese fleet began to disperse due to battle damage inflicted on ships, as well as to the weaving they did to skirt American forces.

Tully also provides surprisingly little in-depth analysis into the various factors that attributed to the outcome of the battle. For example, while Surigao Strait is typically presented as being the last action between battleships, he only briefly mentions that the fatal damage inflicted on the Japanese fleet was by destroyer-launched torpedoes. The main caliber guns of the American battleships played only a supporting role.

Tully also fails to examine the mythos that Oldendorf's crossing of the Japanese 'T' was greatly overstated (he only briefly acknowledges this at the end of the book). Indeed, it appeared that Nishimura's turn parallel to the American battle line may have put his force in a more vulnerable position, as it actually made his fleet more visible to radar-directed gunfire.

Further, Tully takes only a cursory look at the efficacy of the American's radar-controlled gunnery, which could have given Oldendorf's battleships the credit for inflicting the decisive kill against Nishimura. He briefly states that that two of the three battleships using the older MK3 radar were unable to battleships were unable to target on the Japanese fleet, but doesn't examine this in any detail. A study by Joseph Czarnecki looked at how the order of the battle line and the geometry of the American ships vis-à-vis the Japanese allowed Maryland to target the Yamashiro, but not for Pennsylvania or Mississippi (except when Nishimura finally turned broadside, allowing the MK3 radar to get a definite fix). Rather, the author just focuses on the sequence of events, rather than the factors that affected the events themselves.

The weakest part of the book is the writing style. As other reviewers have stated, Tully's excessive use of exclamation points chips away at the seriousness of this work. The author also embellishes the narrative with unnecessary verbs and adverbs. "Shima became more pensive", or "Nishimura watched with satisfaction"

There are also sentences that were just plain confusing: "Nishino had not pulled away as far from the western shore and found his ship stalked by no less than six PT boats. Actually there were five PTs, far off on its starboard hand, but that made little difference." So was it five or six? The author also had a tendency to use informal words , such as "till" instead of "until" and "guesstimate". And it really got irritating when the author kept using "Weevee" instead of "West Virginia".

Bottom line, I didn't greatly enjoy the book as it was written, but Tully does still make a generally convincing argument for most of his points. I did find the stridency of his arguments over the work of others to be a bit much (similar to Shattered Sword), but I don't dispute his conclusions. I would give this book 3 1/2 stars. It was very good to see a greater focus on the Japanese side, which I think is the most valuable contribution Tully makes.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best I've read., February 21, 2011
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While not an avid reader of naval battles until recently, this book is outstanding. It is well researched using original materials and new sources. It takes into account the Japanese outlook and mindset to correct assumptions made by previous Western historians. It is well written generally, but a little hard to follow as a "novice" unfamiliar with Japanese designations. The only fault I can find is the narratives depicting thoughts and conversations seeming more "historical fiction" like than factual. Perhaps I missed something though. This aside even it is probably the most insightful and informative book on any part of WWII I have ever read and I have to highly recommend it, both to readers and to would-be writers as a template of how to really research your work.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Improvement, January 30, 2010
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I bought the book based on the author and reviews on [...]. We all know the story line about a couple of old Japanese battleships manned by fatalists steam into a pretty pointless fight they could not win. That is wrong. The author explains the IJN's problems with communications and deployment with this improvised attack, and the course of the battle. In doing so he describes and explains American misunderstandings about what happened. This book is by far the best description of the Battle of Surigao Strait, and is very good on operational and historical issues. Lastly it is the last dreadnought slugfest and the only battle in the Pacific with multiple battleships on both sides.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Last Battle Between Capital Ships, June 15, 2010
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In this new book, Battle of Surigao Strait, author Anthony P. Tully mines some hitherto little known Japanese sources to create a more even-handed account of the Battle of Surigao Strait (October 1944). As the Introduction says, this battle, the last surface gunnery encounter between capital ships that is ever likely to occur, has been overshadowed by the more famous battle off Samar and other operations in the Leyte Gulf theatre. In Samuel Eliot Morison's account, which I had already read, and apparently in most English-language sources, it is suggested that the smaller Japanese force that tried to force Surigao Strait fell into a trap set for them by the USN. They were overwhelmed by superior firepower, and that was that. The Japanese commander, Vice-Adm. Nishimura, was brave, but not too bright.

This new book shows that this view of the operation is simplistic. The book starts with the Japanese staff planning for the operation, and while this seemed odd to an American reading it, I began to realize why as the action unfolded. The battle in Surigao Strait happened when and where it did because the Japanese planned it that way -- C not because of anything that happened on the American side. The Japanese plan to disrupt a US invasion of the Philippines, "Sho-Go 1", was necessary strategically because our occupation of these islands would create a barrier in the sea lines of communication between Japan and their sources of oil and rubber in the Southeast Asian islands they had conquered at the beginning of the war. This would separate the IJN's fuel sources from its repair yards and ammunition sources, eliminating it as a fighting force however many ships were still intact, and naturally, could not be tolerated by C in C Combined Fleets.

The author shows how Combined Fleets worked out a plan that took advantage of the rather limited resources they still had at this stage of the war. By bringing in Japanese sources that were unavailable to Morison, such as the memoirs of survivors (published in Japanese between 1945 and 1980) and official records, he shows that the Second Striking Force was conceived as a diversion to Kurita's main assault on Leyte (the one that was turned back in the more celebrated Battle off Samar). He also makes it evident that the Second Striking Force's instructions, which have been known to historians for a long time, need to be seen in the proper light. V-Adm. Nishimura, CO of the force, was essentially being ordered to sacrifice his force to make the USN concentrate on Surigao rather than San Bernardino Strait where the main attack was coming. In Japanese culture you don't have to spell this out in the text of the orders -- the Admiral understood all too well what was being asked of him, a fact that becomes evident as the author leads us through his actions and radio reports to C in C Combined Fleets. Instead, the impression one gets in this first part of the book is that for a rapidly collapsing empire, Japan still boasted a staff corps that predicted the time frame and targets of the US landings in the Philippines quite accurately, as well as planning their counter-stroke with impressive skill. This is far from concentrating forces only at the intended battle site so they could be defeated piecemeal, a criticism leveled at the Japanese by Morison. It is still questionable if Combined Fleets might have been too clever. They had a plan for two diversions within a single operation, and perhaps that was just getting too complex in a theater where they had already lost air superiority.

The author also lets us get to know some of the Japanese commanders, and his portraits ring profoundly true. The force Admiral Nishimura is given includes two frumpy old battleships left over from the previous war, Fuso and Yamashiro. To stiffen this force -- the old ladies had been serving as training ships in home waters for several years -- Combined Fleets gave him the new cruiser Mogami, whose Captain Toma thought he was being thrown away on this operation and viewed the old battleships with thinly veiled contempt. This contempt was unfortunately fed by two friendly fire incidents in which Mogami was fired upon by its own side. Nishimura, an expert on torpedo warfare, was convinced his force could get through the narrow strait (ten miles wide) even if it was defended by torpedo boats. He hadn't expressed an opinion as to whether the same held true against destroyers. Nishimura comes across as a man worthy of our respect. He took on a mission he knew was probably suicidal but carried it out to the letter. He remained at his post till the flagship sank under him, ordering the crew to abandon ship but making no attempt to save himself. That the Japanese survivors, after they got together in POW camps and postwar, talked it over among themselves and decided the whole debacle was his fault is a monstrous injustice that the author has done his best to undo.

The account is very readable and keeps you on the edge of your seat as the forces meet and all hell breaks loose. The Japanese push aside the US PT boats guarding the entrance, then advance up the strait. In this battle weather played an amazingly strong role. It was one of those humid, misty, still nights with rain squalls passing across the area that those of us who have lived in the tropics know so well, and in that environment, the fact that the US had effective radar while the Japanese relied more on their powerful night binoculars and lookouts put the latter at a profound disadvantage as the US destroyers formed up for a torpedo attack. The Japanese fired back with their much superior torpedoes, as well as their guns. They achieved little. When they closed to gun range the US force of cruisers and older battleships -- many of them Pearl Harbor survivors -- got the chance to open up with their big guns. Most of the Japanese force was annihilated, only Mogami, another cruiser, and a destroyer managing to turn around and retreat (the former at 14 knots, with 3 of her 4 engine rooms flooded and abandoned and the one remaining engine running in a space that was so hot it could no longer be manned). Ironically, US Adm. Oldendorf had concentrated his entire force at the exit to Surigao Strait to achieve this overwhelming advantage in force, which was exactly what Japan's planners intended. Had Kurita's First Striking force, its flagship Yamato the biggest battleship ever built, not turned back after its encounter with the destroyers and "Jeep carriers" of Taffy 3 off Samar, the Japanese planners would have gotten what they wanted -- Kurita could have transited San Bernardino strait into Leyte Gulf unopposed, with some possibility he could have attacked the transports providing logistics to Macarthur's landing force before Oldendorf could maneuver to intercept. (In addition, Oldendorf's battleships had expended most of their armor-piercing ammunition at Surigao Strait, so had there been a Battle of Leyte Gulf it might have ended badly for the Allies.) This result was "helped" by US Admiral Halsey's falling for the bait of the Japanese Northern Force of aircraft carriers under Adm. Ozawa and pulling all of his forces away from San Bernardino Strait to chase them, including the more modern US battleships that Oldendorf thought were left to guard the strait. In short, the Leyte Gulf warfare, like most warfare, was marked by humans doing what they do -- displaying bravery, foolhardiness, or cowardice, and making decisions poorly or well using the inadequate data they had available to them.

So, a classic story of war at sea is told in this book. That is not to say it's without problems. A few minor irritations persist through the text, what I like to call an ¡°informality¡± not consistent with the great events being chronicled. It almost seems that the author¡¯s notes or rough draft were typeset and became the final text. "Through¡± is spelled ¡°thru¡± most of the time ¨C acceptable for road signs but not proper English on either side of the Atlantic. More jarring is the author¡¯s familiar use of nicknames current at the time: Adm. Oldendorf is ¡°Oley" every now and then. I'm sure he was really called that by his crews (if not to his face by his staff); American tradition certainly includes nicknames for people whose real names have more than 2 syllables. However, that doesn¡¯t make it appropriate in a history book. Even worse is the author's use of USN abbreviations for Japanese units. The sentence "The four DD¡¯s formed up for a torpedo attack¡± is too self-consciously jargon for me, even if they were USN destroyers. When they are IJN destroyers it really doesn¡¯t work at all, and it's even worse when they are called ¡°DesRon 2"! It might be that the IJN had a "Destroyer Squadron 2", but using the USN abbreviation just makes the text confusing. Erring on the other side, the author also fails to explain what ¡°Sho-Go¡± means in Japanese, leaving us uncertain if it is a code name, a descriptive name, or an acronym (remember, the Japanese don't use the same alphabet as we do; perhaps "sho¡± is one character and ¡°go¡± is another).

This is a very worthwhile book in spite of its minor flaws. It is likely to remain unchallenged as the definitive account of the battle until there is a forensic investigation of the wreckage on the bottom of Surigao Strait.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brings a complicated story to life..., January 24, 2010
By 
Alexander (Hobbytown, USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Battle of Surigao Strait (Twentieth-Century Battles) (Hardcover)
Author Tully does a great job bringing the Battle of Surigao Strait to life. With a style that melds a documentary with a novel, no other naval-oriented book that I can think of places the reader so squarely on the deck of a warship in combat.

I very much appreciate the meticulous and vivid portrayal of the Japanese perspective; an effective way to present the story in a compelling and entertaining fashion.

The conclusions reached by the author are sound - he never ventures off the proverbial deep-end, and kept me engaged throughout.

I simply cannot recommend this book highly enough; an easy 5 Stars for this one!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Would rate this 3.5 stars, if possible., December 30, 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Battle of Surigao Strait (Twentieth-Century Battles) (Hardcover)
Just finished this book and found it very interesting and informative. While I do recommend this book, I have two caveats. Like other reviewers here, I found the writing style somewhat distracting. A more glaring issue for me, however, was the lack of a legitimate map of the AOO in the book. I found myself constantly referring back to the small map in the front of the book, only to be disappointed at how little information was on it. The map of the "main battle phase" in the back was only marginally better. With better maps, I would have given this a 4/4.5 despite the curious writing style.
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Battle of Surigao Strait (Twentieth-Century Battles)
Battle of Surigao Strait (Twentieth-Century Battles) by Anthony P. Tully (Hardcover - April 14, 2009)
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