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Book Review, NRJ 69.2

June 30, 2024 10:42 AM | JAMES HATCH (Administrator)

The United States Navy in World War II: From Pearl Harbor to Okinawa

By Mark E. Stille

  • Mark Stille has written a useful summary of America's naval war with a focus on the warships involved. The emphasis is overwhelmingly on America's war against Japan rather than the two-ocean war that was in fact fought by the United States Navy, aligning with the common perception in the United States that Japan was the main enemy notwithstanding the acceptance of the Germany-first strategy agreed to with its allies. That war was overwhelmingly a naval war from the perspective of the Americans (Japan's war in China does not come into play with this maritime account) and, as Stille's narrative makes clear, was won by America's vast economic and material resources for which Japan had no answer.

    Stille's book is organized into nine chapters plus an introduction. The first addresses American naval strategy and tactics during World War II, the second examines United States Navy operations, and the last is an assessment as to the effectiveness of the United States Navy throughout the conflict. The bulk of the book in the remaining six chapters explores the individual ship types that made up the United States Navy: battleships, carriers, cruisers (heavy and light), destroyers, and submarines. As is common with Osprey Publishing in general, the illustrations, diagrams, and photographs are lavishly provided and to a very high quality.

    The introduction sets the scene for the United States in terms of noting the armed neutrality period just ahead of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that drew the country into the maelstrom of World War II. The tit-for-tat period in the Atlantic where German U-boats and United States Navy destroyers engaged in an undeclared war is useful to recall, as it largely explains Hitler's inexplicable act of folly in declaring war on the United States after Pearl Harbor, thereby simplifying the American President Roosevelt's geopolitical difficulty with entering the European war. The introduction also touches on the interwar treaties and naval limitation agreements that constrained navalism and promoted disarmament. These restrictions had a material effect on United States Navy preparations for war as it did for the Royal Navy and the other belligerents. The passage of the Two-Ocean Navy Act in July 1941 was a key milestone in unleashing America's latent material superiority, with the ships authorized under that act providing the instruments of victory over Japan and, to a lesser extent, Germany.

    The two chapters on United States Navy strategies and tactics and on naval operations are useful guides as to America's conduct of the war against Japan. Stille notes the early mindset of United States Navy senior leadership that, unsurprisingly, was not always up to the strain of modem war and often lacked the imagination and insight necessary to conduct successful operations against Japan. War, however, is a stem teacher and very quickly the peacetime cobwebs and preconceptions were shaken off and the United States Navy got down to business. Admiral Yamamoto's declaration prior to the breakout of the war that he would have it all his way for six months but after that was unlikely proved all too true. After Midway in June 1942, Japan was consistently on its back foot and was increasingly on the defensive and reactive to American initiatives. This is not to underestimate the difficulties the USN faced after Midway, which Stille summarizes well.Indeed, at one point later in 1942, the United States Navy was down to one operational carrier, USS Enterprise. Thereafter, however, the material potential of the United States was evident and, notwithstanding the bitter battles that followed, by early 1943 the outcome was not in doubt.

    Stille's summary of the campaigns and battles is well done with the only caveat being the limited discussion on the other ocean of the two ocean war. There is barely a mention of the Royal Navy side of that conflict, let alone any mention of any Royal Canadian Navy's role in the Atlantic. The conclusion to the book with its assessment as to the United States Navy’s role and effectiveness is by and large fair. Nevertheless, assigning the overall outcome of the war to the United States Navy is perhaps too much. While the destruction of Japan was essentially an American affair with limited and unnecessary (and unwelcome) assistance from Britain, the defeat of Germany was at the hands of the Red Army with no more than useful assistance from the Western allies, the most important component of which was supplies. These, to be sure, were largely supplied by sea, but the greater role in that regard was via the Royal Navy.

    The chapters on the warship types are to the normal very high standard of the Osprey Publishing series. The reliance on earlier Osprey booklets on these vessel classes is noted in the publishing details at the front of the book and, if one has a complete collection of these, one likely does not need this compilation. That noted, it is an extremely useful compendium to have at hand in one place. Production standards are high, with numerous ship diagrams and contemporary photographs, accompanied by tables of basic performance data as well as dates of construction and final disposition. One is struck by the sheer scale of the United States Navy as represented in these tables and the achievement of the American shipbuilding industry during the war. Major warships, as well as vast numbers of destroyers, untold quantities of landing craft, assault vessels, and auxiliary ships were churned out at an astonishing pace. All were essential for the conduct of the war by the Western Allies in both theatres—Europe and Pacific. The quality of most of the designs and construction standards were second to none.

    Stille has delivered a fine book that is a good introduction to America' maritime war as well as a top-notch discussion on warship types that fought that war. It is not an academic work per se, lacking the apparatus of notes and providing but a slender bibliography, albeit one that can certainly be explored for additional detail. It is also light on providing context with allies such as Great Britain and Commonwealth forces such as Canada, and skims over the European Theater in general. Notwithstanding these caveats, I unhesitatingly recommend it.

  • Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2021
  • 7-3/4” x 10”, hardcover, 304 pages
  • Images, maps, tables, bibliography, index. $35.99
  • ISBN: 9781472848048

Reviewed by: Mark Casey, St. Louis, Missouri 

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