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Neptune's Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal Paperback – Illustrated, March 6, 2012
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“Vivid and engaging . . . extremely readable, comprehensive and thoroughly researched.”—Ronald Spector, The Wall Street Journal
“Superlative storytelling . . . the masterwork on the long-neglected topic of World War II’s surface ship combat.”—Richard B. Frank, HistoryNet
“The author’s two previous World War II books . . . thrust him into the major leagues of American military history writers. Neptune’s Inferno is solid proof he deserves to be there.”—The Dallas Morning News
“The star of this year’s reading list is James D. Hornfischer, a military historian whose flair for narrative is rivaled only by his ability to organize the sweep of battle and assess strategy and tactics in layman’s terms.”—Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Outstanding . . . The author’s narrative gifts and excellent choice of detail give an almost Homeric quality to the men who met on the sea in steel titans.”—Booklist (starred review)
“Brilliant . . . a compelling narrative of naval combat . . . simply superb.”—The Washington Times
About the Author
- Publisher : Bantam; Illustrated edition (March 6, 2012)
- Language: : English
- Paperback : 544 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0553385127
- ISBN-13 : 978-0553385120
- Item Weight : 1.3 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #57,118 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
"A timely novel highlighting the worth and delicate nature of Nature itself." -Delia Owens Learn more
Top reviews from the United States
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• The chronology of the Guadalcanal campaign is made very clear. The sea battles are described in detail, sometimes gruesomely so but that’s one of the points of the book. War at sea has no foxholes.
• The command structure, doctrines and idiosyncrasies of both sides are examined. Guadalcanal may have been to the Navy what Kasserine Pass was to the Army – clearing out dead wood.
• More importantly, the psychology of officers and men is explored with empathy. How young, inexperienced boys become men within minutes of horror is a fascinating study.
I rated this book at four stars because some of the language was "over the top" in stressing the author's views, and because I did not find anything really new, not surprising perhaps given the number of books already published on this subject. However, I would certainly recommend this book for readers not familiar with the Guadalcanal Campaign, and a five star rating would be justified for that reader segment community.
What those Marines accomplished during those months of starvation, dieseas, IJN nightly bombardments, lousy rations and several die-hard attempts by the Japanese to retake the airfield, is nothing short of astounding.
But in the process, we have completely overlooked the Navys contribution in the battle. After that disastrous battle of the battle at Savo Island the Navy pulled back, along with most of the Marines supplies of ammo, food, medicine and toiletpaper.
But that was not the Navy's final act in the Guadalcanal campaign. During those grueling months from august to november 1942, the Navy was embroiled in no less than five heavy night-time gun battles with the Japanese navy.
In the early 30's, the Navy department decided to suspend all night-time drills in order to save money, while the Japanese Navy on the other hand, put a lot of money and resources in perfecting their night-fighting techniques.
The first time the Navy learned how skilled the Japanese truly were at night-fighting was on the night of august 8-9, 1942, during that fateful battle of Savo Island.
But gradually, the Navy adapted and managed to drive the Japanese Navy back.
However, there's one thing you should note, for every Marine that died on the Island, 5 sailors died in the Ironbottom Sound.
This is the part of the Guadalcanal campaign that has for the most part been overlooked. Those sailors that died in the Ironbottom Sound deserves to have their story told.
That to me is the main reason to read this book.
The overall story of Guadalcanal is very tough to tell in one book, and (perhaps because I'm new to it) I got lost a few times (back on track with the help of the web). I think more pictures would help, with timetables: like, "this is the layout of the ships at 01:30, this the layout at 02:00" and so on.
Along those lines, I'm not sure the book has a thematic coherence. What I mean is, besides the blow-by-blow, what is the overarching theme? That to me is a compelling reason to buy a book. One thing that really got my attention here was the inability of some officers to come to grips with the possibilities of radar. What was that about? For those in the know, this is an issue that has its start at Pearl Harbor (some radar techs did see the blips on the screen and did phone them in but were ignored).
But really, the awfulness of dying in war might really be theme that the author overlooked. While not organized as such, the raw material is in the book, and, again, makes it worth reading by any politician or for that matter citizen.
Deeply detailed, maybe too deeply, it is noot an eassy read without the things mentioned above. Reading is interesting, but plodding. Perhaps this just isn't suit for a kindle and needs to be read in print. I want to like it more than I do.
Top reviews from other countries
It is intriguing to learn that Guadalcanal and its airstrip had not played a really significant role in Japanese strategic thinking, but because the Americans thought that it did they determined to stage a great 'showdown' and defeat the US Navy whilst recapturing it. In 1942 the US Pacific Fleet was not yet the overwhelming force it would become by 1944.
The book illustrates very vividly how determined the American were to hold on to Guadalcanal, even though initial use of their carrier force was timid: Admiral Fletcher had seen the carnage wrought at Midway and the US Navy only had four big carriers in the Pacific. Two of these were soon disabled anyway, but their aircraft stayed on to continue the fight- leading a Marine General to comment that 'what saved Guadalcanal was the loss of so many carriers'. Due to American loss of carriers and Japanese loss of aircrew at the Battle of Santa Cruz we see how attention was refocused on traditional surface ships and especially on the smaller cruisers and destroyers.
Each navy strove to supply and sustain its effort on Guadalcanal and, following the disaster at Savo Island, the USN had to learn the art of nocturnal warfare: it began to do at the the cruiser Battle of Cape Esperance. More important still, In the 'First Battle of Guadalcanal' Admiral Callaghan led his cruiser squadron in a theoretically suicidal attack on battleships. As the author indicates, this battle finally convinced the Japanese that when it came to heroic resolve under fire the Americans would match them blow for blow. Moreover there was a technological gulf, as Admiral Lee demonstrated by using radar control for his big guns in the subsequent battleship action. The description of all these battles is very graphic and detailed.
Early in the narrative the author 'jumps about' somewhat and tends to reprise earlier events if they help to explain later ones: this can be a little confusing, but once you 'get into' the book- which takes about 60 pages, up to the gripping account of Savo Island- it becomes hard to put down. At its best this account has the gripping style of a good novel: it's certainly not a dry history. There are some maps and diagrams but a few more of these would have been helpful.
For enthusiasts of war at sea the aptly titled 'Neptunes inferno' is a 'must read' and has to be the best account available detailing the naval side of Guadalcanal. There are nearly 450 action packed pages here plus no less than 50 pages of sources and bibliography. At less than £20 in 'hardback' form this book is fine value for money.
in command via the heat of combat, this campaign allowed the Americans to emerge bloody but unbowed. This book is very well written and although full of factual accounts is as readable as the best of journalistic endeavours, highly recommended by this British reader.
It was certainly a brutal conflict and one cannot help but be appalled by incidents such as US sailors shooting at Japanese sailors in the water. Or ignoring the flying of a white flag by a Japanese warship! I have no doubt that the niceties were dispensed with by all sides in conflicts. Certainly puts an end to the hero/villain dichotomy often presented.
It really is an excellent history, well reseached and written, and a real page turner