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US Fast Battleships 1936–47: The North Carolina and South Dakota classes (New Vanguard) Paperback – November 23, 2010
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About the Author
Lawrence Burr has had a lifelong passion for naval history. He was recently the British specialist on a Channel 4 documentary about the battle of Jutland. He has also been part of a team who has conducted underwater explorations of the Battlecruiser wrecks and has visited a number of the key battleships detailed in this volume. He lives in the USA.
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This title gives a decent summary of both the design characteristics and war experience of these vital two classes of WWII battleships. Several useful diagrams help the reader to understand how they worked. The turret diagram and accompanying text on pp. 28-29 are especially useful. Illustrations are plentiful, and the captions are well-employed to provide additional information.
I have been studying battleships all my life, yet this title managed to introduce new tidbits for me. For example, during the typhoon that hit the US Pacific fleet, USS North Carolina generally rolled 10 degrees, with a maximum roll of 43 degrees, in conditions that sank three destroyers and damaged much of the fleet. There is a nice summary of the battleship duel between the Japanese Kirishima and the US battleships Washington and South Dakota. The text here clarifies a few things I had not known, such as the high proportion of hits that Washington achieved with radar-directed armament. Yet Washington almost fired on South Dakota in the confusion, which helps account for why the U.S. avoided putting fast battleships into night actions later in the war.
The most important contribution these battleships made to the Pacific war was unexpected. With heavy AA armament, good protection, and the ability to direct fighter aircraft, these battlewagons made excellent escorts for the all-important carriers. The author points out that no carrier that was accompanied by battleship escort was lost to air attack, and this is not just a coincidence. US battleships could put out a lethal dose of AA fire, and accounted for many Japanese aircraft. The author provides fascinating background on the tactics of AA defense.
There is a striking error on p. 30, where an image that is clearly a Cleveland-class light cruiser is identified as USS North Carolina. But most of the illustrations are first-class.
The author appears to lean heavily on the Battleship North Carolina Memorial in Wilmington, NC, including the excellent title Battleship North Carolina by Captain Ben Blee USN. Anyone interested in these ships should visit this outstanding museum.
Overall, this title is a good value for the money and almost warrants five stars; the error mentioned above and a slight lack of depth on the vessels' design were the main deficiencies. Nonetheless, it promises new information and a good read for almost anybody with an interest in these historic vessels.
My only criticisms are minor. He mislabels a USN CL as the North Carolina (pg. 30), he wastes some of the limited space he has by using the same pic of the North Carolina at anchor as a museum twice (pgs. 1 & 44) and although the text makes it clear he has read Robert Lundgren's fine web articles on the Kirishima's destruction by the Washington, he does not give any credit to Lundgren in the short bibliography.
The book does seem to concentrate on the North Carolina class. However, there is information in here that I had never read before. Of particular interest was the description of the night surface action wherein the USS Washington and the South Dakota took on the Kirishima. It has been widely cited that the Washington scored 9 hits with her 16 inch battery. This book cites a post war interview with some survivors of the Kirishima that state the Washington scored close to 20 hits with her 16 inch guns. The author also points out that the relative closing speed of the two ships was 54 knots...meaning that the Washington's main battery turrets had to train 20 degree per minute to stay on target. If the 20 hits are accepted, then Washington scored 20 hits out of 75 main battery rounds fired...an accuracy of @27%...impressive performance by the crew.
I recommend this book and found it to be very enjoyable!