A comprehensive examination of naval warfare’s rapid and decisive transformations.
Spector (After Tet, 1992), a Marine veteran of Vietnam, demonstrates both academic fervor and hard-won passion. He begins with an intimate account of Tsushima, the climactic 1905 encounter between Japanese and Russian fleets that promoted the “all-dreadnought” navy and spawned an arms race among European powers to construct these enormous, heavily armored battleships. Yet, paradoxically, large-scale encounters between dreadnought fleets were rare in WWI, as German forces pursued “unrestricted” submarine warfare. Early conflicts in WWII contradicted previous theories, as when British defenders in Crete suffered heavy ship losses from Nazi dive-bombing tactics. The Pacific battles of 1942 confirmed the primacy of carriers over battleships: At Midway and Santa Cruz, American and Japanese fortunes shifted frequently, at horrific cost, demonstrating that “it was not technical but human problems that were most critical.” Simultaneously, the Battle of the Atlantic confirmed that U-boat warfare could be countered by aggressive convoy actions, which gave Nazi submariners the war’s highest casualty rates. While much of Spector’s commentary concerns intricate strategic matters, he wisely relies on dramatic eyewitness accounts, as when an Enterprise crewmember recalls a “dive bomber coming right at our guns. He released his bomb and it had my name on it flashing like a neon light.” Chapters such as “My Grave Shall Be the Sea” explore bizarre naval traditions, epitomized by such harsh oddities as the Japanese Kamikaze corps (for whose shabbily treated teenagers landing lessons were deemed unnecessary). Later chapters primarily address the American navy’s difficulty in adapting to Cold War scenarios, as in the maligned river-warfare campaigns of Vietnam.
An exciting, elegantly rendered overview, simultaneously narrating the grandiose theories and the smaller human dramas of men who fought under absurdly difficult conditions.