Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sea of Thunder: Four Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign 1941-1945

I didn’t jump into the book as an expert in Naval or World War II history. The book was recommended to me as a well-told and captivating story. I found it to be just that.

The Battle of Leyete Gulf is noted as the “largest and most complex naval battle” in history. The Battle, however, is overshadowed by our collective recollection of Midway as being the pivotal battle of the Pacific War. The author, Evan Thomas, takes an interesting literary track by telling us the story of Leyete Gulf by actually telling us the story of four prominent Naval figures: Two American and Two Japanese.

To me, the Battle itself was the author’s means to tell us the story of the four human beings. The Americans were Admiral William Halsey and Commander Ernest Evans. I don’t think you could read enough about Evans’ fighting of the Destroyer Johnston. It seems the quintessential American story of the clear underdog fighting with gallantry and tenacity. Every man on the Johnston was a hero and author brings that out.

In my opinion, Admiral Halsey’s northward chase of the Japanese feint is also the quintessential story, but a leadership story. I don’t know enough about Naval tactics to criticize Halsey’s decision. However, we did when the battle and war. What was more compelling was how Admiral Chester Nimitz responded to Halsey’s actions. Halsey the man and Naval warrior was going to do what he was going to do. He was given command and increasingly important commands because he was what the public and the Navy needed. Nimitz’s leadership afterwards was to recognize Halsey was Halsey. He defended Halsey, especially to Admiral King. The moral, it seems, is when you hire someone to act a certain way and they act that way, don’t be surprised.

The author also follows two Japanese figures: Admiral Takeo Kurita and Admiral Matome Ugaki. For me, while the Battle gave us insight into the two Americans (mostly, however Halsey), the Japanese Admirals give us insight into World War II Japan. I think this was tougher for the author to pull off. Clearly, the author, Thomas, understands American culture and can look backward into history and provide us with interpretation. I think he was a little less suited to use the Japanese Commanders in the same way. Now, this may be me. After all, I, the reader, identified with the two Americans, but less so with the Japanese.

That being said, we do get a view into the development of not only the World War II Japanese Navy but the militaristic government, also. Moreover, the reader is exposed to the development of the suicide attacks as well as a closer look into culpability of the Japanese high command and the Emperor, himself.

It is a good read filled with interesting characters, stories and facts.