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The Story of the Hornet's Short and Checkered Life,
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This review is from: The Ship that Held the Line: The USS Hornet and the First Year of the Pacific War (Bluejacket Books) (Paperback)
I have to admit that I'm a sucker for this type of history, the story of a warship told through the eyes of the sailors who served on it.
The USS Hornet had a special place in WWII, being one of the precious few American carriers that had to mix it up with the more numerous, more experienced, and more disciplined Japanese carriers in the first year of the war or so. (Before the buildup of Essex class carriers could arrive on scene.) Although there were apparently multiple times when only one fully operational American carrier was in the war zones, and while the Hornet was "it" it didn't necessarily do anything the others didn't do, so the title might be a bit of an exaggeration.
Nonetheless this is an informative and enjoyable book, and the Hornet definitely did its fair share to turn the tide of the war. The reader is taken along with the Doolittle raid where the Hornet bravely dashed in close to the Japanese homeland to launch the B-25's stowed on deck, and made a mad scramble back to home. You certainly get an appreciation of the tension that must have filled the carrier, along with the pride and jubilation of being the first to really strike back at the Japanese after Pearl Harbor.
The Hornet's next big fleet action was Midway, where, unfortunately the performance of the air wing was a dud. The author clearly spent a large amount of time researching the men and tactics of the Hornet air wing and relays the fruits of his research to you before getting to the battle. There's a long and interesting chapter about Midway but alas the author doesn't seem to conclude as to why much of the Hornet air group never even found the Japanese. Perhaps this is just one of those instances in war where chance can lay waste to even the best laid plans of mice and men.
After Midway the Hornet is actively involved in the Solomons campaign. What is most interesting here is the intenstiy and ferocity of the fighting, with the Americans both on the attack in a strategic sense and often hanging on by a thread at the same time. Also fascinating was the organizational difficulty of combined land and sea operations under different commanders. This purely bureaucratic wrangling unfortunately leaves the U.S. carriers marshaling in a specific zone of sea due to the nature of which command had responsibility over which region, and the Japanese were able to exploit this fact by pouring in their submarines. This leads to the horrific destruction of the USS Wasp which the men of the Hornet see firsthand.
The Hornet fights in the battle of the Eastern Solomons and then finally, meeting her fate, at the battle of the Santa Cruz Islands. The writing of the battles is gripping, and a heavy counterweight to much of the fun and frivolity of leave in Hawaii and Espiritu Santo. Throughout, the author gives fair coverage to the entire spectrum of the crew's experiences as the ship evolved during the war into a real fighting machine.
The death of the ship is written in a particularly poignant and heartfelt manner. You really get to bond with the ship and her experiences throughout her short life and honestly feel the loss as she slips forever beneath the waves, devoid of all human life.
Definitely recommended for WWII history, Navy, or Carrier buffs.