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Format: HardcoverVine 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: HardcoverVine 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: HardcoverVine 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: HardcoverVine 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: HardcoverVine 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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Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Most histories of the 1942 Guadalcanal campaign have focused on the heroic stand ashore of the US First Marine Division, battling the jungle, limited supplies, and the Japanese Imperial Army. In "Neptune's Inferno", experienced naval historian James Hornfischer takes a different approach, focusing on the role of the US Navy in the context of the larger South Pacific campaign to secure American lines of communication to Australia and New Zealand.

Hornfischer successfully mixes theater campaign level analysis with a meticulous reconstruction of the seven major sea battles of the Guadalcanal campaign, from the disasterous Battle of Savo Island in August 1942 to the final Battle of Tassafaronga in late November 1942. Along the way, he details the struggle of the US Navy, from the deck level to the command bridge, to adapt to battle with insufficient resources and training. Hornfischer includes many insights into the unforgiving internal politics of the US Navy.

It is telling of the importance of the naval campaign at Guadalcanal that more sailors died at sea than marines ashore. It is also revealing of the narrow victory that US tonnage losses at sea were greater than those of the Japanese. Hornfischer's narrative suggests that many of the naval battles were at best tactical draws, whose combined effect was however to save the beachhead ashore.

"Nepture's Inferno" is an informative and readable account, and very highly recommended to students of the Second World War and especially of the role of the US Navy in the Pacific.
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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 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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VINE VOICEon January 17, 2011
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
"Neptune's Inferno", James Hornfischer, is the story of the US Navy in action around Guadalcanal from the original amphibious assault in August, 1942, through the decisive surface naval action in November, 1942. During these surface battles, more sailors gave their lives on the waters surrounding Guadalcanal, than Marines did on the island - and this is their story.

In August 1942, America was still reeling from the surprise attacks at Pearl Harbor. Australia, our last major ally in the Pacific, was being slowly constricted by the Japanese Empire, and was endangered of being completely isolated. If the Solomon Islands fell, their last lifeline would be severed. America needed act quickly if Australia was going to stay in the war. Guadalcanal became the place where America would attempt to hold the line against the Japanese.

In addition to the battle narrative, Hornfischer provides readers with a quick lesson on the leaders, doctrine, and technology of the opposing fleets. Supporting the text, there are a few charts to illustrate the flow of battle, and a few pages of black and white photos of the leaders and major combatants.
Hornfischer's book begins with the amphibious assault in August, and the Navy's controversial decision to remove the surface fleet nearly a day before the Marines expected.

Hornfischer does an excellent job describing the Battle of Savo Island a few days after the original amphibious assault. During this first clash of the surface fleets, American naval forces were soundly thrashed while inflicting little damage on their adversaries. Following this battle, the Navy realized they needed new leaders in charge of the operations. Hornfischer explains to the readers the rationale for the shuffle of these leaders.

As Hornfischer retells the stories for each of the major surface actions between August and November, readers are struck by the rapidity of American learning. Combat is a Darwinian process, where the successful survivors continue, and where the leaders who fail are culled from the herd. After their initial thrashing, the American's quickly learned and made the best of their situation.

Along with this book, I read Eric Hammel's "Guadalcanal: Decision at Sea, the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, November 13-15, 1942". Hammel's book focuses only on the naval action of November 13-15, whereas "Neptune's Inferno" covers all the major surface actions between August and November. Both books draw from many of the same references, and both authors provide a very enjoyable read.

I highly recommend Hornfischer's latest book. I look forward to reading many more of his works.
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