The Coral Sea 1942 Book Review

The Coral Sea 1942: The first carrier battle

Osprey Campaign Series Book 214

By Marke Stille, Illustrated by John White

Softcover in dustjacket,  96 pages, profusely illustrated, index

Published by Osprey Publishing, November 2009

Language: English

ISBN-13: 978-1-84603-440-4

Dimensions: 7.4 x 0.2 x 9.5 inches

The Imperial Japanese Navy planned Operation Mo to seize Port Moresby on the southern coast of New Guinea for the purpose of isolating Australia and threating Allied air bases there.  This would help secure the southern frontier of their Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere and protect their bases at Rabaul.  Supporting the Japanese invasion fleet were the large aircraft carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku and the light carrier Shoho.  American and British signals intercepts warned Admiral Nimitz of the impending operation, and he decided to contest the invasion by sending all four of his available aircraft carriers, although Enterprise and Hornet did not arrive in time to participate in the battle.

The battle was the first naval engagement fought entirely by aircraft.  Although the opposing fleets were often in close proximity they never sighted each other.  The Americans lost the aircraft carrier Lexington, with Yorktown damaged, while the Japanese lost the light carrier Shoho, with Shokaku damaged.  With Zuikaku’s air group depleted the Japanese determined the landings at Port Moresby could not be supported and cancelled the invasion.

Both sides claimed victory.  On the Allied side, the threat to Australia was abated and the Japanese juggernaut was turned back for the first time in the war.  On the other hand, the Japanese thought they had sunk two American carriers.  Their own fleet carriers could be repaired and their air groups replenished, and the IJN would enjoy a two to one superiority in aircraft carriers in the meantime.  In reality, damage to the Yorktown was (quite heroically) repaired in time for her to participate in the Battle of Midway, while neither Zuikaku nor Shokaku were present.

Author Mark Stille has done an excellent job of documenting the events leading up to the Battle of the Coral Sea as well as the play-by-play of the battle itself.  Naval battles are complex affairs, but the graphics-intense format of the Osprey Campaign series shines in making a clear presentation of the ship and aircraft maneuvers.  The length of this work is just enough to present this engagement well.  This is one of the better volumes of this series and well worth picking up.

Voices of the Pacific Audiobook Review

Voices of the Pacific: Untold Stories from the Marine Heroes of World War II

Author: Adam Makos

Narrator: Tom Weiner

Publisher: Blackstone Publishing, April 2013

Audio Length: 10.75 hours

ISBN: 9781624609848

While I generally favor traditional printed books (preferably in hardback), I do occasionally listen to an audiobook.  The advantage of this format is the book can be enjoyed while engaged in other activities, such as modeling or driving.  In this case I was able to download the audio file from my local library, then link my phone to the car speakers and listen while driving to the MMCL IPMS show in Louisville last month.  It beats listening to the radio and makes the drive informative and enjoyable during what would otherwise be wasted time.

This book lends itself well to the audiobook format, being the personal recollections of fifteen Marines who fought in the Pacific War.  The men all share their stories in short narratives, and often relate different perspectives of the same battles.  The campaigns covered are Guadalcanal, Cape Gloucester, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and finally Okinawa.  Each of these operations was unique, with its own set of conditions and environments.  One thing they had in common was the effect on the Regiments and individual Marines.  By the end of each campaign the units had suffered tremendous casualties, and the surviving Marines were in rough shape – exhausted, underfed, diseased, and with their uniforms in tatters.  Assaults which were planned for three days often lasted for thirty days or more.

I recognized two of the Marines as authors of their own books – Sterling Mace and Chuck Tatum.  Many others relate anecdotes of other names well known to students of the Pacific War – authors Robert Lecke and Eugene Sledge, along with Marines famous for their combat exploits such as John Basilone and Lewis “Chesty” Puller.

Overall this is a fine book which offers insights of the war from the perspective of the individual Marines who fought it.  The last two chapters were also interesting, they described the Marines’ discharges from the service and their assimilation back into society.  They were also asked what advice they would give to young people today, and to society in general.  While this podium is continuously mis-used by celebrities, media figures, politicians, and athletes, the Marine veterans have paid for their citizenship in a very real way and earned the opportunity to voice their opinion.  Listening to this audiobook is time well spent, I can recommend it without hesitation.

Beyond Band of Brothers Book Review

Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters

By Major Dick Winters with Colonel Cole. C. Kingseed

Hardcover in dustjacket, 292 pages, photographs, and index

Published by Penguin, 2006

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0-425-20813-3

Dimensions:  6.1 x 9.1 x 1.2 inches

Dick Winters was an officer of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment which was part of the 101th Airborne Division, the “Screaming Eagles”.  On the night of 06 June 1944 he was the leader of 1st Platoon of East Company.  The C-47 carrying the Company’s command element was shot down by German flak over Normandy.  All aboard were killed, leaving Winters as acting commander of Easy Company.  On the first day Winters led an assault on a battery of four German howitzers which were shelling American troops on Utah Beach.  Even though outnumbered four to one, the American assault was successful.  Winters was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for the action, the U.S. Army’s second highest award.

The second combat jump for the 506th PIR was into Holland in September as a part of Operation Market Garden.  By now Winters had been promoted to Captain and was officially in command of Easy Company.  Again Winters led an assault against a superior enemy force, using a Platoon to route what was later discovered to be two Germany Companies.

The 101st Airborne was rushed to stem the German assault in the Ardennes during the Battle of the Bulge.  The paratroopers were rushed into the line in Belgium by truck, with no time to draw proper cold weather gear or extra ammunition.  Constant attrition resulted in Winters being assigned first to the Executive Officer position of 2nd Battalion then as it’s Commander.

Beyond Band of Brothers is an autobiographical account of Winter’s service in the Army, from his enlistment before the war, through training and combat, and his eventual discharge from service.  His story will be familiar to most as he was featured prominently in Steven Ambrose’s book Band of Brothers and the HBO miniseries of the same name.  The story is worth telling in Winter’s own words and gives several insights from his perspective.  I was surprised to see Winters give considerable credit to Captain Sobel’s contributions to the 506th PIR and Easy Company in particular during training, despite the obvious conflict between the two men.  Highly recommended as a companion work to Band of Brothers and a very interesting read in its own right.

Band of Brothers Book Review

Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest

By Stephen E. Ambrose

Hardcover in dustjacket, 331 pages, index

Published by Simon & Schuster, June 2001

Language: English

ISBN-10: ‎ 0743216385

ISBN-13: ‎ 978-0743216388

Dimensions: ‎ 6.3 x 1.0 x 9.3 inches

To state the obvious, this is the book which inspired the Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg HBO mini-series of the same name.  More broadly, it also inspired several other veterans to come forward and record their experiences in the Second World War, including others who served in the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. The success of Band of Brothers led Hanks and Spielberg to produce the companion series “The Pacific” for HBO, which drew on the memoirs of three U.S. Marines.

The book follows the Company E of the 506th PIR from its inception, through training and deployment to England, and eventual combat.  The Regiment dropped behind the invasion beaches at Normandy as part of the 101st Airborne Division.  After rebuilding it made its second combat drop in Holland as part of Operation Market Garden.  While recuperating from that campaign it was unexpectedly rushed by truck into Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge to counter the German offensive in the Ardennes.  At the end of the war the Regiment was occupying Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps.

The book follows well with the miniseries, both in tone and detail.  There are some differences in anecdotes related in each, but these fall into the “what to leave in, what to leave out” dynamics of the different formats and are not contradictory in any way.  Ambrose is a thorough researcher and an excellent writer blessed with a compelling story, this book will not disappoint the avid military history fan nor someone with a casual interest.  Recommended without reservation, whether one has seen the miniseries or not.

Sherman’s March to the Sea 1864 Book Review

Sherman’s March to the Sea 1864: Atlanta to Savannah

By David Smith, Illustrated by Richard Hook

Series: Osprey Campaign Series Number 179

Softcover, 96 pages, profusely illustrated, index

Published by Osprey, February 2007

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1-84603-035-8

ISBN-13: 978-1-84603-035-2

Dimensions: 7.2 x 0.2 x 9.9 inches

Sherman’s March to the Sea is one of better-known campaigns of the American Civil War.  It has been described as an example of “scorched earth” or “total war”, but it did not see the intentional destruction of the civilian population or their personal property as a goal.  In fact, Sherman’s orders specifically protected the general population and prohibited destruction of houses and other property unless his army was itself opposed or impeded.

While civilians were not the direct target, destroying the economy of Georgia and removing the state’s ability to contribute to the war effort was the goal.  Sherman was operating deep in enemy territory, and instructed his armies to supply themselves by foraging.  Food, cattle, horses, and mules were to be appropriated where found.  Any government buildings or infrastructure necessary to the Confederate war effort was to be destroyed, including railroads and cotton gins.

The March began with the burning of Atlanta on November 15th, and ended with the surrender of Savanna on December 20th.  Sherman divided his armies into two columns which left a wide path of destruction in their wakes.  Confederate resistance was weak and sporadic, the only meaningful opposition being offered by Wheeler’s cavalry which was too badly outnumbered to do much more than conduct harassing attacks.

In the end, Sherman’s March was successful – the economic devastation of Georgia ended the state’s contribution to the Confederate war effort – in fact the effects would be felt for decades.  I was surprised to read of the political wrangling behind the scenes.  Lincoln faced re-election in November 1864, his Democratic opponent George McClellan was running on a platform of negotiating a peace with the South.  With the conduct of the war being the hot political issue, it was not until after the fall of Atlanta that Lincoln felt politically secure.  Sherman also made a political maneuver, offering Georgia’s Governor Joseph Brown to spare his state’s destruction if he would withdraw Georgia from the rebellion.  It is interesting to ponder the ramifications of a McClellan presidency with negotiated end to the war, as well as the cessation of Georgia from the Confederacy in 1864. This is a well-balanced volume in Osprey’s Campaign series, just enough to give a decent overview while brief enough to digest in an evening.  Recommended.

American Warrior Book Review

American Warrior: The True Story of a Legendary Ranger

By Gary O’Neal with David Fisher

Hardcover in dustjacket, 291 pages, photographs

Published by Thomas Dunne Books May 2013

Language: English

ISBN-10: ‎ 1-250-00432-2

ISBN-13: ‎ 978-1-250-00432-1

Dimensions: ‎6.4 x 1.1 x 9.3 inches

Gary O’Neal did not have a happy childhood.  He was estranged from his father and never knew his mother, being raised in the homes of various family members.  He never fit in.  When he was fifteen he stole a cousin’s birth certificate and enlisted in the Army.  It was 1967, he was sent to Vietnam with the 173rd Airborne.  When his cousin’s draft number came up the MP’s came and O’Neal’s first stint in the Army ended, his service record annulled.  He did manage to re-enlist, and through a few fortuitous events managed to get himself assigned to the Long Range Recon Patrols (LRRPs) operating in small groups behind enemy lines.

That was just the beginning, the rest of his story reads like a Hollywood action movie.  Even though he never knew his mother, he embraced her Lakoda Sioux heritage.  He learned to fly helicopters in Vietnam, unofficially.  He was a founding member of the Army’s Golden Knights parachute team, and the obscure Blue Light counter-terrorism unit which was formed while Delta Force was still working up.  He was in and out of the Army several times, working as a bouncer in a bar, movie stunt coordinator, and training troops in Nicaragua.  He managed to accumulate black belts in several martial arts and developed his own style of close combat working with Mike Echanis of Soldier of Fortune fame.

CWO Gary O’Neal was inducted into the U.S. Ranger Hall of Fame.  He is a larger-than-life figure who led a remarkable life.  Some have questioned the voracity of some of the incidents he relates in this book, and many of the stories are difficult if not impossible to verify.  Others claim there is even more to the story than is being told here.  There was controversy concerning details of the representation of events in Nicaragua which resulted in an apology from co-author David Fisher to the family of Mike Echanis.  An interesting book which reads like an adventure novel.

It’s Your Ship Book Review

It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy

By Captain D. Michael Abrashoff

Hardcover in dustjacket, 212 pages

Published by Warner Business Books, May 2002

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0-446-52911-7

Dimensions:  6.5 x 1.01 x 9.5 inches

The USS Benfold (DDG-65) is an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer.  The Burke-class are the most common ship type in the U.S. Navy, with 68 in commission and more building.  They are high-tech state of the art warships with crews of 310.  In June 1997 Commander Michael Abrashoff became her Captain.  Her previous CO was not respected by the crew and morale was low, affecting the ship’s performance.  This is a vicious cycle which can spiral to the point where the ship is unable to excel, or even complete basic requirements successfully.

Commander Abrashoff decided to turn the Benfold around, starting with the basics.  He listened to his sailors, and acted upon their suggestions to improve the operations of the ship.  This improved both morale and efficiency, which in turn led to gains in performance.  An example near to my heart is a sailor questioned why so much time was being spent on corrosion control, specifically chipping and painting boltheads which were a constant source of rust.  The sailor suggested replacing the rusty bolts with stainless steel.  Abrashoff not only acted on the suggestion by replacing Benfold’s bolts, but passed it up the chain of command so other ships could benefit.  The program was extended to replace or coat other rust-prone fittings.  The crew’s time saved by this and other programs was invested in training, and soon Benfold’s crew had the highest rates of Enlisted Surface Warfare qualification in the fleet.  This increased morale, made the crew more knowledgeable and professional, and improved retention.

This book is a management “how to” manual aimed at the cooperate business world, but is also the story of a Captain running his ship based upon first principles.  “Because we’ve always done it this way” is not a good answer when your goal is to do better.  There are many valuable insights here, made all the more interesting because it is set within the story of a ship and her crew.  An enjoyable read, and valuable for leaders in all professions.

A Sailor’s Odyssey Book Review

A Sailor’s Odyssey: At Peace and at War 1935-1945

By Alvin P. Chester

Hardcover in dustjacket, 288 pages, photographs

Published by Odysseus Books, January 1991

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0-9631239-0-4

Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.0 x 9.0 inches

Prior to World War Two the way things moved between the continents was by ship.  Crossing the Atlantic between the United States and Europe were several competing shipping lines offering regular service to various ports of call.  The majority of ships carried both cargo and passengers, who often counted diplomats and celebrities among their ranks.  Dining with the Captain was a mark of social status, and the Captain and his officers were held in some esteem by society.

Al Chester entered this world as a cadet in the New York State Merchant Marine Academy in 1933.  Upon graduation in 1935, he began serving on a variety of merchant vessels as a nineteen-year-old Officer Cadet.  He was able to advance by taking on more responsible positions with different ships, often serving alongside former classmates from the NYSMMA. By 1938 it was becoming apparent that war was coming and that the United States would eventually become involved.  When the war came to Europe, Chester’s Naval Reserve commission was made active and he was assigned to the oiler USS Kanawha (AO-1) as her gunnery officer, and as officer in charge of the U.S. Navy Armed Guard aboard the merchant transport S.S. Matsonia as the war came to the U.S. and the Pacific.

With German U-boats ravaging shipping in the Atlantic the U.S. built hundreds of small, expedient escorts, Chester was given command of the USS SC-981, and later advanced to command the USS Cofer (DE-208), a Destroyer Escort.  After some convoy work in the Atlantic, Coffer was converted to an Assault Transport, which gave her the capability to carry landing craft for amphibious assaults at the expense of her torpedo tubes, among other modifications.  As APD-62 she participated in the invasion of the Philippines and faced Japanese Kamikaze attack at Ormoc Bay.

A Sailor’s Odyssey is a very personal story, Chester details the day-to-day life and incidents from a decade at sea.  I found the descriptions of life in the Merchant Marine to be particularly fascinating as there is not much written about that.  His wartime progression and commands were not unique but his previous experience in the commercial shipping trade certainly left him better prepared than most of his contemporaries and even many of his superiors.  He does not gloss over anything he experienced or observed, calling out the good and the bad in equal measure.  This includes his own physical decline when the unceasing demands of command and constant strain impacted his health.  I can highly recommend this book, both for its descriptions of Navy life and insights into the Merchant Marine at the end of an era.

The Ship That Would Not Die Book Review

The Ship That Would Not Die

By F. Julian Becton, RADM USN (Ret) with Joseph Morschauser III

Softcover, 279 pages, appendices, photographs, and index

Published by Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, April 1987

Language: English

ISBN-10‏: ‎ 0-93312-687-5

ISBN-13: ‎ 978-0-93312-687-9

Dimensions: ‎ 6.0 x 1.0 x 9.3 inches

The USS Laffey (DD-724) was an Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer built for the U.S. Navy during the Second World War.  At 2,200 tons, they were the largest and most heavily armed U.S. Navy destroyers to see combat during WWII, the Gearing-class was a derivative with a 14-foot hull extension amidships to increase range.  Laffey was commissioned on 08FEB44.

The author was Laffey’s Captain from her commissioning through the end of the war.  He was already an experienced officer, having seen combat aboard the USS Arron Ward (DD-483) in the Solomons, where he was with the original USS Laffey (DD-459) when she was sunk during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal.  He was assigned to the new Laffey as Prospective Commanding Officer during her construction and the training of her crew.

The Laffey had a busy war.  She first saw combat off Normandy during the invasion, and shelled German defenses at Cherbourg.  From there she sailed to the Pacific, joining Task Force 38 for the invasion of the Philippines.  She first encountered the Japanese Kamikaze there, and was with the USS Ward (DM-16) when she was sunk at Ormoc Bay.  She then escorted the carrier groups during strikes against the Japanese home islands and off Iwo Jima.

The Laffey is best remembered for her ordeal on the radar picket line screening the landings on Okinawa.  On 16APR45 she was attacked by a large formation of Kamikaze aircraft, an estimated twenty-two singling out Laffey.  Ultimately, she was hit by six Kamikaze and four bombs which caused extensive damage and fires, and also jammed her rudder.  With the assistance of salvage tugs she was able control her flooding and was towed from the area.  She returned to the States under her own power and was eventually repaired, but her war was over.  Laffey served until 1975, and is currently preserved as a museum ship in North Charleston, South Carolina.

The book is written in autobiographical style.  Becton describes the day-to-day operations of the ship and makes a special effort to mention as many of his crew by name as possible.  I was surprised to see a number of factual errors which somehow crept into the narrative – some ships’ armaments are improperly described, aircraft mis-identified in a caption, apparent confusion between a Landing Ship, Dock (LSD) and a floating drydock (AFDB), and a US Navy officer said to have survived the sinking of HMS Hood.  Minor issues in their own rights, but they call into question other details.  In spite of that, this is an interesting story and well worth reading.

Renault FT Book Review

French Light Tank Renault FT US Six Ton Tank M1917

By Witold J. Lawrynowicz

Series: Armor Photo Gallery # 15

Softcover, 72 pages, drawings, and photographs

Published by Model Centrum Progres, January 2006

Language: English

ISBN-10: ‎ 8360672008

ISBN-13: ‎ 978-8360672006

Dimensions:  8.0 x 11.2 x 0.2 inches

The Renault FT was a French light tank which saw initial service during the First World War.  It is notable for introducing what has since become the standard tank configuration – a rotating turret containing the main armament, engine to the rear of the hull, and driver in the front.  Over 3,000 were produced in France, with several other nations producing copies of the design.  Although obsolete by the standards of WWII, there were several hundred still in service during the Battle of France, and captured examples were retained in Wehrmacht service in secondary roles through the end of the war.

This book is number 15 in the Armor Photo Gallery series and is intended to be a visual reference for modelers.  Two-thirds of the pages are devoted to well-captioned full-color photographs of preserved vehicles presented in a walk-around style.  There are two tanks presented – a Renault FT in the Musée Royal de l’Armée et d’Histoire Militaire in Brussels and a U.S.-built M1917 which was at the West Point Museum.  The two vehicles exhibit a number of construction differences which the captions point out.

Also included are drawings in 1/48 and 1/35 scale, but nothing for 1/72 scale enthusiast.  There is a short history of the type and several pages of black-and-white photographs of the tanks in service. I purchased this book at a model show, and was not familiar with the series at the time.  These happy little discoveries are one of the best reasons to go to shows, you can always find something you didn’t know you needed!  It is a quality publication and judging by what is listed on Amazon, somewhat sought after.  Recommended.