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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
First, the recommendation: If you read naval history books, or a WWII history buff, this is a must-read book. Hornfischer has captured the full scope of the Navy's action at Guadalcanal, within the larger picture of the whole campaign. It's a big story.

WWII buffs know Guadalcanal as the pivotal campaign where the Allies fought Japan from an offensive posture to a defensive one. Less well understood is that the US Navy made the first effective use of electronically directed fire at Guadalcanal. This created an immediate advantage for the Allies, and helped win the campaign, but stubbornness and lack of understanding of the new technology prevented it from being used to the fullest extent. Until Guadalcanal, navies still steamed in lines, attempting to "cross the T". After Guadalcanal, they started to understand how radar changed everything. This is just one of the many sub-plots that Hornfischer successfully weaves into his big picture.

The Guadalcanal campaign lasted six months. It's all here: every battle and every ship. It even feels like every shell is also here, as Hornfischer describes the damage caused by each ship's battery of 5 inch through 16 inch guns. You really get a sense of the pressure the Navy was under as each ship was sunk (including carriers, battleships, cruisers and 25 destroyers!) or retired from battle due to damage. In the end, after tremendous losses on both sides, the Japanese quit the struggle. Their ship and aircraft losses had been similar to those of the Allies, but theirs were irreplaceable, while the Allies were just starting to ramp up production of ships, aircraft, soldiers, sailors & aircrews.

Highly recommended.
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VINE VOICEon December 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book covers the U.S. Navy and Marines action in Guadalcanal in densely-packed detail all the way from the decision to go there through the pyschological aftermath.

There is a skill to writing an interesting history book, beyond a simple transcription of events, and Hornfischer exhibits that skill masterfully. He foreshadows the outcome of each event by talking about the leadership, their experience, their strategy, their attitudes toward technical innovations, and the morale they inspired (or lack thereof) in their crew. He vividly portrays the confusion in the heat of battle, the all-too-prevalent danger of friendly fire, the tradeoffs between risk and caution, and the importance of good intelligence. He points out where strong leadership succeeded and where more trust in subordinates could have produced a superior result.

The book does use a fair bit of naval jargon without definition, so if like me you have never served on a naval vessel, you will want to familiarize yourself with parts of a ship, types of ships, basic nautical terms, and navy rates before reading this book. Some quick searches on wikipedia and navy.mil sufficed for me. More complex topics like the relative merits of different styles of engagement or which mistakes are rookie mistakes are discussed in sufficient detail for a layman as they come up.

In summary, an excellent book by an author to watch. His previous books are already on my wish list.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The WWII history of Guadalcanal is justifiably focused on the long battle waged ashore by the United States Marine Corps in order to secure an airfield base of operations in the Solomon Islands. In "Neptune's Inferno", James Hornfischer captures the challenges, drama and deadly violence that came in a series of violent engagements between allied (and principally, the US Navy) and Japanese naval forces from August through November, 1942.

Hornfischer masterfully balances issues of strategy (as he examines both political influences and senior military decisions in Washington, Pearl Harbor and in theater), tactics (especially training doctrine, communications issues and the introduction of radar technology) and the infinite supply of personal tales of triumph and tragedy that come in any combat situation.

While the Battle of Midway in June of 1942 ushered in the era of standoff confrontation between carrier-based aviation units, the naval engagements at Guadalcanal were centered on the proficiency of gun crews. Many of the episodes described in this book take places with opposing ships in close visual range. The results are violent and dramatic, and should cure any reader of the notion that naval warfare is somehow less risky than combat ashore.

There are many narrative gems in this book which illuminate the struggles at any level of responsibility. Setting the stage for the post Pearl Harbor responses in the Pacific, Hornfischer writes in the book's opening pages: "Captains were fortunate to find help for their troubles. They were given command of a multitude and saddled with fault for their failings. The bargain they made for their privileged place was the right to be last off the ship if the worst came to pass. Burdens grew heavier the higher one ascended in rank...The burdens of sailors weighed mostly on the muscles. The weight of leadership was subtler and heavier. It could test the conscience."
This insight into the challenges of leadership and command sustains its credibility throughout a well-researched and meticulously documented history.

While any history of naval action in the Pacific will address famous names (many individually addressed many times over in other books), Hornfischer does not overlook the rank and file in recounting moments of hope and horror that follow the impact of ordnance on a warship. He writes "...all of them, American and Japanese, striving and desperate and frightened and riled and tender and human, in fateful collision..."

This book does justice as a follow-up to his most recent previous naval history Ship of Ghosts: The Story of the USS Houston, FDR's Legendary Lost Cruiser, and the Epic Saga of her Survivors. For those inclined to remember the sacrifices of "the greatest generation", this book is an excellent tribute to an under-examined part of the Guadalcanal story.
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VINE VOICEon December 3, 2010
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
James Hornfischer's "Neptune's Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal" is an enthralling study of the naval battles near Guadalcanal in the latter half of 1942. Although the U.S. Navy had won a stunning victory over the Imperial Japanese Navy at Midway earlier in the year, Guadalcanal found both contenders quite evenly matched, and this time the fighting more often revolved around torpedoes and guns rather than aircraft. In a series of encounters, usually fought at night in the restricted waters off Savo Island, the two navies clashed again and again in supremely violent and chaotic battles at close quarters. Eventually, and at high cost, the U.S. Navy prevailed in preventing the Japanese from sufficiently reinforcing Guadalcanal to tip the balance of power there.

Hornfischer's book examines in detail seven successive engagements from the Battle of Savo Island in August, 1942, to Tassafaronga at the end of November. In the nighttime battles in particular, events were chaotic, but he plots as clear a course as is perhaps possible. With radar still in its relative infancy, surprise was the norm, and in the darkness friend and foe were often almost impossible to distinguish. Battleships designed to engage the enemy at ranges of 20,000 yards or more instead found themselves hurling enormous shells at darting targets at close range, although more usually the combatants were thin-skinned cruisers and destroyers.

The author never loses sight of the human element, from the commanding admirals down to ordinary seamen, and "Neptune's Inferno" is illuminated by numerous firsthand accounts to create a narrative celebrating heroism and competence in the most trying circumstances imaginable.
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VINE VOICEon December 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
In spite of the US Navy's success at Midway, James Hornfisher says that "combat readiness simply wasn't the order of the day" (pg 87) - and it showed painfully at Guadalcanal. Over the course of about four months in late 1942 the Navy engaged in several sea battles with ships from the Japanese fleet (IJN). This was different from Midway, where planes fought each other hundreds of miles from their carriers. At Guadalcanal the fighting was mostly battleships, cruisers, and destroyers and a lot of them went to the bottom of Ironbottom Sound. And, in spite of the fact that US commanders were frequently caught unawares and generally failed to take advantage of radar, losses and casualties were about the same for both sides, but the US held on to the island and began to push back the Japanese. It was a costly experience for the navy to learn how to fight in a new age.

Neptune's Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal focuses more on the naval side of the battle than the conflicts on the island, and Hornfisher makes each battle come alive. He doesn't write for the novice history reader, but those who are already used to reading such books will love the excitement. There were a lot of people, places, ships, and even planes involved, and it can seem a bit overwhelming at times. I find I enjoy it more when I don't worry so much about trying to remember every name and detail and keep everything straight, but maybe that'll come with increased familiarity, too.

But Hornfisher has a way with words, and his writing pulls you in to the story making it hard to put down. What I like most is how insightful his books are. He includes the accounts of admirals and regular sailors in his narrative, and sets it against the greater backdrop of events and pulls out the important lessons. He points out that major navies during WWII were "between the age of fighting sail and the age of nuclear propulsion when fuel was consumable and therefore a critical limit on their reach" (pg 37) and how this factored into objectives and events. His first book, The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy's Finest Hour is one of my all-time favorites, and if this one lacks anything in comparison it's the more inspirational ending of the other. Nonetheless, highly recommended reading for those interested in WWII history.
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on December 20, 2011
I needed no introduction to "Neptune's Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal". Just like his other books, James D. Hornfischer goes into detail - sometimes excruciating detail - when describing the events surrounding our first tenuous foothold in Guadalcanal. You can almost smell the jungle, the sea spray, feel the ship's batteries concussion and feel the aching misery of both the sailors and groundpounders involved as the U.S. and Japanese navies fought each other.

Where this books shines, in my opinion, is not in its rich detail but in the minds of the major players during that time of the war. We get a glimpse into Admiral Nimitz's head. We listen to the hopes and fears of Bull Halsey, the confident minds of the leadership of the Imperial Japanese Navy, and the crushing fatigue that combat placed on them all. We learn that no one can know all there is to know about sea combat. We learn how steep the learning curve was for the Americans as we shook off old methods and invented new ones on the fly. We see both the failure and triumph of leadership up close. We hear that leaders on both sides were not so sure of the outcome of this stage of World War II.

"Neptune's Inferno" puts you firmly in the place and time almost seventy years ago. This e-book is fascinating and horrifying. At times the narrative is touched with unbelievable acts of courage, despair, and sometimes cowardice. James D. Hornfischer has written an account of the battle for Guadalcanal that we'll still be reading seventy years from now.
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on December 16, 2011
As a former Naval officer, I read this book with incredible fascination. In retrospect we all know that the US won the Pacific war, but reading about how the Admirals from Halsey to Nimitz had to make command decisions based on limited intelligence, resource constraints such as fuel oil and tankers, and indecision of the commanders at sea make this a tremendous read. As a submariner, I was always taught to trust your indications, and in this book it was obvious that when the commanders failed to take action on information such as radar targets, the consequences could be dire.
I highly recommend this book for anyone who is interested in World War II, leadership, or the Navy in general.
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on March 14, 2011
I served in the Marines in WWII. We were stationed on Guadalcanal for nearly eighteen months, made four amphibious landings from Guadal. We of course knew about the tremendous Naval actions that took place in the Slot and off Savo Island but the book, Neptune's Inferno, truly clarified many questions we had about the specifics and brutal details of those battles. I don't think my fellow Marines, who served there during those important times so very long ago, fully realized the extent of the casualties and horrors that Naval personnel suffered during those battles so very soon after the Pearl Harbor attack!

The author and his book have given me a well documented picture of the Navy's vital role in the actions that took place in Iron Bottom Bay. Added to my personal reflections about the Marine actions taking place on the beaches of "Guadal" I found the book a valuable addition to my personal library detailing this important period during America's struggle against the Japanese War Machine in the early days of WWII in the South Pacific Theater.

Respectfully,
Frank W. Comstock, former Captain, USMC, 015135
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on August 13, 2011
Between August 1942 and January 1943 the United States Navy and Imperial Japanese Navy fought seven major actions in the waters near Guadalcanal. Five of those actions were between surface forces and two were carrier v carrier fights. Each side was fighting to support its ground forces on that island at the southeast end of the Solomons chain east of New Guinea and on the flank of the route between Hawaii and Australia. A fact often overlooked in telling the story of that campaign is more American sailors (5000+) died during that campaign than American soldiers and marines (1592) on the island. James Hornfischer's "Neptune's Inferno" tells the story of the naval fighting around the island and goes a long way in setting the record straight on the navy's contribution to the victory. The fighting ashore as seen from both sides is covered in sufficient detail to give context to the sea fighting. The Japanese side of the sea fighting is given good coverage, but the emphasis is on the U. S. Navy, high command down to the ordinary sailor. Hornfischer, author of "Ship of Ghosts" and "Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors", brings his well earned reputation as a scholar of light force action to the task. The fact that the bookends of the campaign, Savo Island and Tassafaronga, were humiliating American defeats did not alter the outcome. In the end attrition was the real reason for the American victory. Both navies had trained for a war with the other, but the Japanese pre war training included a heavy dose of night fighting and torpedo warfare. They took the U.S. Navy to school, something Hornfischer notes. The lessons were not fully absorbed by the end of the campaign but the Japanese now realized that their pre war notion that the U. S. lacked the staying power to succeed in the kind of war they were going to wage.
A point of personal privilege is appropriate. From my teen age years in the early 1950s when I read Morison's "Struggle for Guadalcanal" I have been hooked on that campaign. Richard Frank's "Guadalcanal" fed that interest and now "Neptune's Inferno" has added to it.
It is hard to top Morison's summation of the Guadalcanal fight, "So reader, if this tale has seemed repetitious with shock and gore, exploding magazines, burning and sinking ships and plummeting planes-that is simply how it was." Morison, vol. 5 p. 315. Hornfischer's book fully captures that picture.
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on July 21, 2011
As a former Marine, I'm aware of the record of combat on Guadalcanal but hadn't really delved into the heavy naval action in the waters around the island. I picked up "Neptune's Inferno" to set myself straight in this regard. The battle of Midway two months prior is rightly considered the turning point of the Pacific theater. Guadalcanal was the first step in gaining the initiative over the Japanese forces that had swept across Asia and the Pacific. Hornfischer writes in a very accessible style and the book's perspective covers the gamut from overall strategy in Washington and Tokyo to sailors on the decks of flaming warships and survivors afloat in the waters of Ironbottom Sound, hoping for rescue. Descriptions from participants of the multiple large-scale engagements put the reader in the front row of some of WWII's biggest surface battles, fought largely at night. Battleships, cruisers, destroyers and aircraft carriers from both navies slug it out, absorbing and delivering heavy blows in several pitched battles, mostly with very narrow margins of victory. The exception being the battle of Savo Island, where the Japanese dealt a crushing blow to the US Navy, nearly settling the issue early on in the months-long campaign. This battle was crucial for both sides and the desperate fighting reflected the recognition by both nations that losing would probably put ultimate victory out of reach. This account is enhanced by collections of contemporary photographs that personalize the narrative. Highly recommended.
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