Veteran military historian Tillman (Whirlwind: The Air War Against Japan, 1942–45, 2010, etc.) comprehensively delineates the history of the legendary USS Enterprise (“the Big E”).
“Enterprise was America’s ship,” writes the author, “and there will never be another like her.” Through his focus on the famous ship and her crews, he also provides a history of the naval aspects of World War II. As much as possible, Tillman identifies every aviator downed by enemy action, accident or friendly fire, and he offers illuminating details about their lives. The Big E took part in all the major engagements in the Pacific War, and though enemy action forced her from the battlefield three times, she was rebuilt and refitted to come back stronger each time. Her keel was laid down in Norfolk, Va., in 1933, as part of Roosevelt’s WPA jobs program, and she entered into service in 1938. She was designed for the transition from bi-plane to metal-made monoplane aircraft, and by the end of the war was being made obsolete by new carriers preparing the way for jets. She was eventually assimilated into combined task forces of multiple aircraft carriers capable of launching hundreds of planes against their Japanese targets. A platform for innovation, her aviators helped pioneer nighttime operations for defensive patrols and offensive deployments, and she provided a test bed for application of radar technology to both day- and nighttime aviation. Though the cost in human lives was enormous, “Enterprise was about leadership. Amoebalike, she spawned cell after new cell of leaders at every level, men who absorbed the lessons of their mentors and passed those values to the next generation like naval DNA.”
A commendable history of a significant ship that also commemorates the economic might unleashed to supply the fighters in WWII.