by Thomas B. Buell ‧ RELEASE DATE: April 1, 1980
A massively detailed, redeemingly personal biography of the feisty officer whose early championing of the fleet air arm brought decisive victories in the Philippine Sea and Leyte Gulf battles of 1944. The son of a Scots-born mechanic, Ernest J. King had no naval tradition behind him, yet he rose to command the mightiest fleet ever assembled under one flag. With good reason, naval historian Buell discovered. As an Annapolis plebe, King managed to wangle a berth aboard the San Francisco and saw action in the Spanish American War; in 1925, he won a DSM for his role in raising the S-51 from the bottom of the Atlantic. But this submarine officer was also one of the visionaries who foresaw the day when aircraft would dominate naval warfare. At age 50 and already a full captain, King flew decrepit biplanes at Pensacola to win his wings and his first carrier command--the mighty Lexington. And with his triple-threat specialization--undersea, surface, and aircraft--King had, Buell notes, a breadth of experience that few navy men could match. After Pearl Harbor, who was better qualified to revitalize the navy and restore public confidence? King's service as commander-in-chief, U.S. Fleet, occupies most of the book. In the Atlantic, he had to contend with U-boats that were sinking more tonnage than we could produce; in the Pacific, the Japanese had taken Guam, Wake, and the Philippines. Outnumbered as he was, King insisted that his carriers stay at sea, hitting the Japanese wherever possible. (When one flattop requested permission to provision at Pearl after two months' combat duty, King bellowed: ""Carry on as long as you have hardtack, beans and corn willy."") As a member of the Joint Chiefs, King repeatedly clashed with the British over questions of strategy--yet, ironically, he received an honorary doctorate from Oxford in 1946. ""A few years earlier,"" writes Buell, ""King had considered Britain one of America's greatest potential enemies, and we may assume that he could have fought the British as ruthlessly as he had Japan and Germany."" A much more revealing book than King's ghost-written 1952 memoirs, and certain to be both consulted and read.
Pub Date: April 1, 1980
Page Count: -
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1980
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