My first reaction to this book was not to read it because I felt it would be too disjointed to tell the life stories of four men who became five star admirals, but having recently completed Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942 my interest was up for it, and the result was not disappointing.
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.