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The Admirals: Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy, and King--The Five-Star Admirals Who Won the War at Sea Hardcover – May, 2012
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How history's only five-star admirals triumphed in World War II and made the United States the world's dominant sea power. Only four men in American history have been promoted to the five-star rank of Admiral of the Fleet: William Leahy, Ernest King, Chester Nimitz, and William Halsey. These four men were the best and the brightest the navy produced, and together they led the U.S. navy to victory in World War II, establishing the United States as the world's greatest fleet.
In THE ADMIRALS, award-winning historian Walter R. Borneman tells their story in full detail for the first time. Drawing upon journals, ship logs, and other primary sources, he brings an incredible historical moment to life, showing us how the four admirals revolutionized naval warfare forever with submarines and aircraft carriers, and how these men-who were both friends and rivals-worked together to ensure that the Axis fleets lay destroyed on the ocean floor at the end of World War II.
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Borneman has given a gripping account of the four top Admirals that waged war on behalf of the United States in the Pacific theater of war during World War II. In the first few chapters he describes the background of each individual, from their grandparents up to their time at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. He then describes their first assignments through the positions they held and the Ships they served on as they rose in rank over their long service to our country.
The beginning of WWII comes next, beginning in 1939, laying out the different positions each held prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. These chapters, in which each of the Admiral's positions are laid out and discussed, I found particularly interesting. To describe this periodI will cover William Leahy's time only. He was retired and FDR sent him to Puerto Rico as Governor. After France falls to Germany Roosevelt asks him to serve as the US Ambassador to Vichy France (after Pearl Harbor he is called back to act as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff).
Next of course, comes Dec. 7, 1941, Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. From this point on the individual positions and duties of each officer is covered with care and interest. You even get a good picture of other leaders in Washington DC and in the Pacific. For example chapter 16 is titled 'Fighting the Japanese - and MacArthur' where you get a fairly clear picture of the personality of MacArthur and how the others found ways of working with him as they fought their way across the Pacific.
Even significant events are discussed with arguments from various sides, such as the decision to shoot down Japanese Admiral Yamamoto's airplane. Military intelligence uncovered he was making a moral boosting tour of the Pacific bases, along with his itinerary with accurate timing (Yamamoto was know for his punctuality). A number of P-38s was dispatched to intercept him and shoot him down. The questions about whether or not it was right to target a specific person to be killed (assignation?), as opposed to the killing of numbers of unnamed soldiers on the Battle Field. All opinions are covered in the 4 pages devoted to this event.
As can be expected the end of the war is also covered. I won't cover this even in a few words. Its more interesting to read it the first time for one's self, at least for myself, so I leave it for readers to learn where and how each Admiral ended the war, and what came after.
When we think of the navy's role in the Pacific, we immediately think of Nimitz and Halsey, and they are covered in this work, but we are also enlightened to the roles of Ernest J. King and William D. Leahy, whose exposure to the eye of the public was not as prominent as the first two, but were indeed, on a higher level and worthy of even more accolades for their accomplishments.
All four were born in the 19th century, and were graduates of Annapolis around the turn of the twentieth century. They were coming into the navy at the time of America's emergence as a world power and the navy itself being transformed as a result of the efforts of Theodore Roosevelt and the realization of global spheres of influence that now included the Pacific and the recognition of the emergence of Japan.
It is somewhat ironic that the photograph on the dust jacket of the book is one of battleships in formation. Many would not likely believe that the battleship would quickly become almost obsolete with the development of the carrier. These men of this volume were born into the age of the battleship. Indeed, it was the days of the early 20th century that saw an arms race between Britain and Germany in the technology developments of battleships (dreadnoughts)that embraced both weaponry and sheer size, once described as castles of steel. Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea For many years, the might and power to deliver massive charges defined the purpose of any navy.
But prior to their important roles as naval leaders during the war, these men all experienced an important evolution in naval warfare that most importantly included the development of the submarine and the aircraft carrier.
Nimitz was heavily involved in submarines, Halsey in destroyers, especially for torpedoes, and King in carriers. Leahy, the oldest, clung to the battleship.
On Dec. 7, 1941 America was attacked by Japanese carrier based planes at Pearl Harbor. The navy was not only defeated, but also humiliated at such severe losses with so little retribution, but author Borneman so correctly points out that when Chester Nimitz arrived in Hawaii to take over on Christmas Day 1941, he immediately began to gather informatiion and draw conclusions that the Japanese had won a tactical vicotory but wasted a sttategic one.
The greatest miss by the Japanese were the oil tanks. There were 4.5 million barrels of fuel oil left for the use of the navy. The carriers were not at Pearl and were untouched. The submarine base was largely untouched, and the dry docks and maintenance facilities were still operational. Even some of the ships that were sunk would be raised for later action.
As mentioned earlier, Halsey and Nimitz were more in the spotlight, but for me, the most interesting of the four admirals portrayed here is Ernest J. King. While the navy at that time was a fickle place, and sometimes unpredictable, King, through brilliant maneuvering in his career eventually went to the top of the top. I suppose that every nation in a time of war needs a real son of a bitch at a high level of command, and America had King.
He was arrogant, brilliant, demanding, tempermental, and nearly impossible to work with or for, but he was the man needed at the time for this nation.
As for Leahy, he became almost an appendage to Franklin Roosevelt. His story for me, was not as interesting but he was vital for FDR, especially as Roosevelt aged and needed someone to depend on.
Finally, let me say a few words about the greatest gas bag with stars that America ever created, and that would be Douglas MacArthur. Borneman points out, as does history, that MacArthur had about seven or eight hours notice after the attack on Pearl and allowed his planes to be caught on the ground and destroyed by the Japanese. We know the story of his flight from Corregidor to Australia, and FDR bestowing the Medal of Honor on this second rate general and first rate con man, but I am happy to say that Admiral King saw this publicity hound for what he was. I think that one of the finest things that Harry Truman did was firing him.
You will enjoy the book, and it will present to you a better background of the naval leaders who won the war in the Pacific and destroyed the tyranny of Japan.