Hornfischer (Ship of Ghosts: The Story of the USS Houston, FDR’s Legendary Lost Cruiser, and the Epic Saga of Her Survivors, 2006, etc.) chronicles the World War II Pacific campaign to capture and hold Guadalcanal from the Japanese.
The battles were remarkable, and the author is at his best when he lets the story unfold on its own. The campaign began in August 1942 when 16,000 Marines were dispatched to capture a landing field the Japanese were constructing that would enable aircraft to control a radius of 500 strategic miles of the South Pacific. Loss of the airfield would expose the Navy to Japanese air attacks throughout the region; its capture would enable the Allies to protect the routes and, moreover, attack the Japanese entrenched in New Guinea. The Marines routed the Japanese, but the Navy, attacked at night by Japanese cruisers, lost four ships and withdrew. Afterward, between August and December, in a series of brutal naval engagements, the Japanese navy landed soldiers on Guadalcanal to retake the field and destroyed American and Australian aircraft carriers, cruisers and destroyers. However, the U.S. Navy shocked the Japanese with its own night attacks and the use of SG radar to sink Japanese battleships and surface craft of all kind, ultimately leading to the loss of nearly 40 Japanese ships and the death of more than half of all Japanese aviators who had participated in the attacks on Pearl Harbor. With painstaking research and an intimate sense of tragedy, Hornfischer relates how failed communications, erroneous orders, loss of nerve and unwillingness to trust radar led many American ships directly into the sights of Japanese arms. The outcome was in doubt until the Japanese withdrew in February 1943. The horror of the flagship San Francisco shelling its own fleet not once, but twice, and the abandonment of the crew of the torpedoed Juneau to die in shark-infested waters are among the wrenching tales that need few adjectives to engage readers. Unfortunately, the author often stretches and provides too many descriptors, intruding on a story that is riveting in its own right.
Sure to please military and WWII buffs, but may leave others unsatisfied.