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Neptune's Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal
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on April 30, 2015
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
The greatest argument yet for "Early advancement, early retirement". Or "Old and in the way".
It's the age old phenomena of conservativism being is own worst enemy. And the worst enemy of the poor guys down the ladder who pay the price while serving under hidebound flag officers who are stubbornly still fighting the last war.

Bad leadership aside, Hornfischer has produced a masterpiece of research that reads like an action novel; a true talent. If you'd ever wondered, like the grunts on Guadalcanal, where the hell the Navy had disappeared to, here is your answer. The ratio was something like; for every grunt who died on Guadalcanal five sailors died at sea. Hornfischer does honor to the shocking horror of combat at sea where admirals die side by side with the black shoes of the ranks.

This work is such a complete and magnificent depiction of early WII surface naval warfare that I simply could not help but commence re-reading it as soon as I had finished. And I shall continue to do so, on occasion, for a long time to come.

This book should become the classic of naval warfare in the Pacific. It is truly a blow by blow account of where the mighty have fallen.
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on April 26, 2015
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Fantastic book. However. very detailed. Worth reading if you are interested in an in depth study of the history of World War II in the Pacific
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on April 25, 2015
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An especially vivid history that brought to life a part of the Guadalcanal story with which I was unfamiliar. I bought several copies for Christmas presents in hardcover, and evidently ended up giving away my personal copy. Had to have it so I can read it again when I think I am having a bad day and need perspective.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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I had just finished the Last Stand of the Tin Can Soldiers. I considered it one of the best books I have ever read. A fellow GoodReads friend suggested I check out Neptune’s Inferno by the same author. I received the book on a Friday, started reading it on a Saturday and, in spite of a busy schedule, I finished it by the next Friday. The conclusion is that Hornfischer has done it again. As my friend JP say’s “the guy really pitches strikes when it comes to Pacific naval warfare.” James D. Hornfischer has the ability to describe naval engagements like Bruce Catton or Stephen W. Sears describe Civil War battles.

I had previously read Richard Frank’s The Definitive Account of the Landmark Battle for Guadalcanal several years ago. This was a great overview of the land and sea campaign. I remembered being in awe of the sea battles. The focus of Hornfischer’s book is the naval side of the story. The Marine Corp likes to spin their own story of Guadalcanal and tell how they were abandoned by the United States Navy. There is more than a grain of truth to this. However, the key to victory at Guadalcanal was to control the seas around Guadalcanal. In the end, three sailors would give their life for every infantryman that was killed on the island. This was a team effort and the victory was forged in blood.

The Guadalcanal campaign included 7 naval battles between August 9th and November 30th. Only two of the battles included carriers. Five of those battles pitted surface ship vs surface ship. These were desperate slugfests between two desperate foes involving capital ships as big as battleships firing massive guns at ranges that were sometimes inside of 1,000 yards! Imagine that! Ships that were designed to fire salvos at ranges exceeding 17,000 yards were as close as 450 yards!!!!!!

The USN had not experienced victory in a battle involving surface ships in the first 10 months of the war. The first battle on August 9th called the battle of Savo Island would be no different. The US lost over 1,000 sailors. The combined allied forces were routed. This was kept secret from the public. The situation was desperate. Something had to be done.

There were several factors that led to these early defeats. Upon reading the book, I was left with the impression that the greatest factor was the USN’s old breed of flag admirals and captains that did not understand the tactical advantage presented by SC radar. The IJN relied on optics. The USN had radar. Theoretically, we could fire a shot before the IJN could ever see that we were in the area. Also, the USN did not have to walk shots in. The fire controlled by radar meant the first shots fired would likely meet their targets.

I found the events very frustrating. After the first loss, Admiral Norman Scott is given charge of a task force and the USN wins a great victory. The reader is left thinking that the USN has finally figured out how to fight night battles with surface ships and has a leader that the men believe in. Prior to the next battle, the USN will combine Norman Scott’s task force with Callaghan’s taskforce. Callaghan was untested in battle, did not understand the advantage of the SC radar. Scott was coming off a decisive victory and helped rewrite the navy’s doctrine of night fighting. However, Callaghan was promoted to Admiral 15 day prior to Scott so Callaghan was put in charge of the combined force for November 13th. The USN prevails in spite of this and both Scott and Callaghan are killed during the November 13th engagement. Next, the US sends in two Battleships with a force under the command of Admiral Lee to counter the Japanese battleships. Admiral Lee understands radar as well as anyone in the Navy and he wins a decisive victory. You think the USN has finally learned their lesson. Shortly after Admiral Lee’s victory another USN force is sent in with a skipper that once again does not understand radar. As a result, several US cruisers are sunk and that battle was lost but it was too little too late for Japan. They were pulling out.

After Guadalcanal, the IJN lost their confidence. I had read in other publications that the IJN ran short of pilots. At the end of this book an IJN naval officer commented that radar directed anti-aircraft fire was the greatest contribution to the shortage of Japanese pilots. Also, the IJN did not believe that the decadent Americans would be willing to slug it out with the IJN in far-away lands fighting for unknown territory that belonged to some European colonial empire. The Guadalcanal campaign also helped to destroy this stereotype of Americans for Japan. Americans were willing to fight!

Guadalcanal was a major turning point of the war for the USN surface navy like Midway was a turning point for the carrier fleet.

If you are like me you will love this book. James D. Hornfischer has the ability to describe naval engagements like Bruce Catton or Stephen W. Sears describe Civil War battles. Let us hope that he keeps writing. I am a fan of this guy! Ship of Ghosts is on order.
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on April 8, 2015
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Very well written. I've always followed what the Guadalcanal experience was like for the Marines, but this is the first time I've read the whole story about what the Navy faced. Any fan of history would enjoy this book.
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on April 7, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition
Those of us who served in noncombatant positions in the military can only stand in awe at the bravery under fire of those who fought. We will forever wonder how we would have acted in the same situation, and quietly thank God that we never had to find out. The debt that the rest of us owe to them we should remember for generations.
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on March 30, 2015
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Great read for war history buffs, I like Hornfisher because he explains the big picture behind what and why the events occurred and the probable impact of the outcome of the action.
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on March 29, 2015
Format: Audio CDVerified Purchase
The definitive story on the Navy a Guadalcanal.
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on March 23, 2015
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Great insight as to the events of this sea conflict . MY step brother was a survivor of the Northampton sinking.
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on March 17, 2015
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
This book is a must-read for any student of the Battle of Guadalcanal. Hornfischer has the benefit of a longer remove in crafting his work, and the result is a deeper insight into the actual events in this epic struggle between two navies appearing to have similar capabilities but in practice suffering their own unique failures and limitations. In terms of ships and men lost the battles culminated in a draw but for the essential fact that the Japanese withdrew and the Americans maintained their hold on Henderson Field. Hornfischer highlights both the command failures and heroic feats of the U.S. Navy in achieving this goal.

The only weakness in this narrative is too little detailed perspective from the Japanese side of the battle. Certainly some of this lack stems from inadequate remaining records. While some aspects of the battle as seen from the Japanese side have become legend, many others are shrouded in a continuing mystery. Recent scholarship has filled in some of the blanks, such as the actual damage that sunk the Kirishima, as Hornfischer duly notes. Withal Neptune's Inferno is a well-written and thoroughly enjoyable work. Recommended.
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