GUADALCANAL: Decision at Sea by Eric Hammel

GUADALCANAL: Decision at Sea

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KIRKUS REVIEW

This final volume in Hammel's trilogy provides a splendid record of the hard-fought battles that raged around Guadalcanal during the early stages of the Allies' WW II campaign against Japan. Here, Hammel focuses on a pair of decisive naval engagements between surface vessels, in which the US fleet, despite heavy losses, gained the upper hand over its Imperial foe. As in his 1987 entries, Hammel draws on the recollections of surviving veterans from both the American and Japanese sides, plus archival sources, to provide a vivid log of two pivotal encounters. The first was a furious clash by night (on November 13, 1942) in which a US cruiser/destroyer squadron took a beating but forced the enemy to withdraw. In a return bout less than two days later, American forces sunk another battleship and destroyed most of the transports attempting to reinforce the Japanese garrison on Guadalcanal. While the Imperial Navy lost fewer ships (albeit many more men) than the US Navy, it didn't accomplish any of the missions that had been assigned, e.g., interdicting US supply lines and halting air attacks on Japanese craft. Even more important, Hammel points out, the Japanese became obviously reluctant to risk irreplaceable capital ships and crews in the wake of the Pyrrhic victory. Hammel's painstaking reconstruction affords not only a wealth of strategic and tactical detail but also a full measure of critical judgments. In addition to delivering kaleidescopic but invariably intelligible accounts of key actions, he takes exception to conclusions reached in official records, e,g., disputing some long-held assumptions as to which American vessel ran down sailors who had abandoned a sinking sister ship. Nor is Hammel complimentary about the general caliber of those in command; in particular, he inveighs against widespread failures to make effective use of onboard radar systems. As before, the author makes a fine job of incorporating vignettes that confirm the tragicomic realities of mortal combat without scanting the big-picture perspectives required to shed light on why the eastern Solomons represented a prize worth almost any price for the Japanese as well as US. Praiseworthy on a stand-alone basis and as a conclusion to Hammel's three-part series. The text includes maps and photographs (not seen).

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1988
ISBN: 1890988197
Publisher: Crown