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The Unsinkable Fleet: The Politics of U.S. Navy Expansion in World War II Hardcover – October 11, 1996
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programs were the most interesting parts of the book, I felt.
The book doesn't discuss it, but the contrast with the enemy Japanese and German Naval construction programs couldn't be more stark. The US Navy debated over 1000 destoyer escorts versus 500; the Japanese debated over a couple of tankers versus a couple of medium aircraft carriers -- they couldn't have both.
The author starts with a sadly too brief discussion of the pre-war naval expansion acts that created the vast ship-building program. He then goes through the impact Pearl Harbor had on planning, then provides a brief but fascinating discussion of efforts to gear up the nation's naval shipbuilding apparatus, and then spends much of the book discussing the Navy's (read Admiral King's) battles with the Army to maintain its program. This is where he gets into heavy detail about bureaucratic battles over resource allocation, manpower distribution etc. Lot of focus on intra- and inter-service planning at the highest levels, regarding resource distribution.
So, for what it covers, it does it well. Adds to a generally not well-covered aspect of the history of the war. But, just my own wish, I would liked to have seen more coverage of the actual ships and the specific programs and decision-making regarding why/why not to build/cancel etc. particular ships and classes. Decidedly NOT a criticism, just a wish (hard to find this is condensed form anywhere).
It gives a sense of the difficulty of planning at the macro-level. How DOES one determine the right level of forces (the number and mix of warships, auxiliary ships, bases, and training and repair facilities, for example) for the Navy, and similar questions relative to the Army, Army Air Force, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps? How DOES one determine the manpower, industrial, and materiel capacity of the nation, intrinsic as well as import? How DOES one determine how to mobilize that capacity in a coherent way to optimize output? How DOES one then pull all of this together (diverse needs, capacity, and mobilization requirements), marry it up with coalition-based strategic war plans, and determine the right mix and schedule of force structure and production priorities to fight the largest war in history? What an awesome task!
Davidson shows that there was no small amount of confusion and groping in the dark as the services grappled with this, and that the process was heavily punctuated with inter-service rivalry, which was probably a necessary ingredient even at the Joint Staff level. The service chiefs did, after all, represent their services. He also shows how the nation's resources, while vast, were not unlimited; moreover, that we were tasking them to their limits. Even as late as 1943 we hadn't figured it out; that is, the JCS hadn't come to agreement. Competition between the services was the name of the game (a deliberate policy of General George C. Marshall). Competition also existed between the military and non-military sectors for manpower (for example, uniformed versus industrial manpower) and materiel (for example, the Navy versus the Merchant Marine). Congress had authorized higher military manpower levels than the nation could deliver (at least in some agencies' view), but it wouldn't substitute its judgment for that of the service chiefs.
I had not realized just how large our Navy was during the war. While they did trim their planned ship construction a bit, they always had the upper hand in the battle for resources. Their argument centered on the idea that the biggest, best equipped Army in the world was of little use if it couldn't deploy overseas. In fact, the Army itself realized it was limited in size, among other reasons, by the overseas deployment capacity of the Navy. For example, there were no new Army divisions activated after 1943, and Army recruitment in 1944 and 1945 was aimed at sustaining the force, not increasing it. On the other hand, the Navy, while it curtailed its shipbuilding some, still had a robust construction program through the end of the war and even into 1946. Another reason proffered by the Navy: rather than build to the minimum necessary to win the war, which could lead to longer duration and higher casualties and cost (a criticism advanced by some against the 90-division Army), the Navy focused on "rapid prosecution", which would lead to more and stronger offensives and thus to fewer casualties and less cost. These were the conclusions also of the Joint Strategic Survey Committee and the Joint Staff Planning Committee. Of course, because those committees had no staffs of their own, they had to rely on the service staffs for technical support.
There is a tremendous amount of detail in this book (albeit it could use a few organization charts to enable the reader to better follow the story). Much of our victory in World War II is attributable to our battles in foreign lands and seas. As Davidson shows, however, much of our victory is also attributable to the battles waged in the Pentagon and Congress. This is a most informative book and a "must read" for any student of World War II or of the US military in general.