An admiring reappraisal of the belligerent fleet commander who carried the day for the American Navy during World War II.
Descended from a line of peripatetic buccaneers and sea captains, William F. Halsey (1882–1959) proved an indifferent student at the Naval Academy, but was “full of life and ready for action.” His early career benefited from Theodore Roosevelt’s plans to expand the Navy, and Halsey learned important lessons as a commander of destroyers after World War I. However, his love of aviation prompted his move to the aircraft carrier. By the spring of 1940, well liked by his men, truculent and with the appearance of a bulldog, he was put in charge of all Pacific aircraft carriers and their air groups. To his consternation, but ultimate good luck, he was out on maneuvers near Wake Island on Dec. 7, 1941, when he was apprised of the attack on the rest of the fleet at Pearl Harbor. Witnessing that scene of devastation and humiliation fueled his anger and determination for the duration of the war, sometimes to cringingly incendiary language (“Kill Japs, kill Japs, kill more Japs!”) Halsey proved to be the answer to a swift, bold offensive, and with the elevation of Chester W. Nimitz as Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, Halsey was sent to protect the crucial Midway-Johnston Island-Hawaii triangle from Japanese attack. His series of raids played well on the home front, and the press dubbed him “Bull” and “Knock-’em Down Halsey.” Subsequent decisive victories at Midway, Coral Sea and Guadalcanal stopped the Japanese advance. Military historian Wukovits (American Commando: Evans Carlson, His WWII Marine Raiders, and America’s First Special Forces Mission, 2009, etc.) deals evenly with Halsey’s precipitous, potentially disastrous decisions in October 1944 at Leyte Gulf, and later recklessness during two typhoons. However, the author makes a good case that Halsey was the much-needed warrior for America’s darkest hour.
A workmanlike, solid biography of a significant American military leader.