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Coral Sea, Midway and Submarine Actions: May 1942-August 1942 (History of United States Naval Operations in World War Ii, Volume 4) (v. 4) Hardcover – March 1, 2001
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Then a Harvard history professor, Morison sought to write the history of the US Navy in World War II at the time, on the theory that the sooner he got the stories from participants and the actual logs and information, the fresher it would be, less distorted and conflated by memory. His background of having written a superb biography of Christopher Columbus gave him an excellent background on nautical affairs.
Morison was commissioned a commander in the Navy, and witnessed the invasion of French North Africa, and the Solomons campaign. He met with many American participants right after their battles, and got their stories.
The Coral Sea and Midway volume is as excellent as all the other volumes -- powerfully written, well-researched, stunning evocative of a time, place, and war. It conveys the intense drama of these two decisive naval battles, which shaped the war in the Pacific.
Anyone who wants to learn how to research and write narrative history about war at sea in any era should read Samuel Eliot Morison and study his art and craft.
The Japanese forces did manage to take over Tulagi, but then were turned back at the Battle of the Coral Sea. There were two very important effects of this battle. First, this was the first time in history in which a naval battle was not decided by the firing of ship's guns. As a matter of fact, the battle was fought with neither side's ships ever seeing the other. Instead, this was the first naval battle that was completely decided by the air forces that were brought to bear via aircraft carriers. The second important effect was that even though the Japanese had won the tactical battle, their reaction to its conclusion was a strategic victory for the U.S. as the Japanese pulled back their invasion forces and this represented the furthest they ever got during the war. This turning point was not recognized at the time, but this was the apex of the war from the Japanese perspective.
The other major naval battle took place only a few weeks later and was similar in that it was a naval battle fought purely by carrier forces. This time the tactical and strategic battle was won by the U.S. Navy. The battle was the Battle of Midway and during it, the Japanese lost all four of their large carriers while the U.S. lost one. After this battle, there was no doubt that the Japanese stopped their advances and instead started changing their approach to the strategic defensive.
The book describes both battles in much detail including the decisions reached by the various commanders and their effects on the outcome. While not every ship is mentioned by name during the various maneuvers, the various task force movements are plotted out in the included maps and there are descriptions of what was taking place throughout the text. The writing style is superb and conveys both the emotions and importance of the battle to the readers. I will only cite one example here from the description of the Battle of Midway, as it conveys the tenor of the book accurately and would never be accepted in such scholarly works published today: "Clever maneuvering by the Japanese forced the TBDs to circle widely in order to make a beam attack on carrier Kaga, over which the "Zekes" were as thick as flies around a garbage can. Down they flew to attack the lumbering Devastators. Ten of the 14 ... were shot down; and the few that launched torpedoes, never made a hit."
There has been much scholarly research on the Battle of Midway and the circumstances within it that allowed the U.S. to score such a victory and this book sets the stage for all the additional detail that has come out since. However, that is not to take away from this book's writing since it was the earliest book that came out about the battle within the context of the overall naval war. It is still a book that I would recommend to anyone who wishes more than a cursory introduction to that conflict.
In addition to the two main battles, this book also brings us up to speed on another aspect of the Naval war in the Pacific - which was the U.S. Submarine actions during this time period. Already the U.S. was taking the war to the Japanese homeland and there is a fair chunk of this book that describes the successes of the early submarine campaign against Japanese shipping.
The final section of the book describes the beginnings of the Guadalcanal campaign by pointing out how it started in an almost accidental fashion: The Japanese started construction of an airfield (what became Henderson Field), and the U.S. decided to stop them from doing so and also, by taking over the airfield, use it eventually to start hitting back against other Japanese bases - namely Rabaul. The final chapters in this book describe the mission and the initial landings by the Marines on Guadalcanal and Tulagi. The ferocity of the fighting on Tulagi and the close-by islands is a harbinger of things to come.
So, this book concludes, having covered the battles in the Pacific from May to August 1942. A timeline that encompassed the turnaround of the momentum in that war. Of course, no one knew at the time that this was the turning point. Given the exciting events, and the way the author describes them all and puts everything into context, this is a five star book!