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Book Review, NRJ 64.2

May 15, 2019 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

The U.S. Navy against the Axis: Surface Combat 1941-1945

Vincent P. O’Hara

In The U.S. Navy Against the Axis: Surface Combat, 1941-1945, Vincent O’Harapresents an excellent analysis of the United States Navy’s surface engagements during World War II. He argues that some historians have been too quick to give full credit for the American naval victory in the Pacific to the advent of naval air power and submarine warfare. O’Hara does not deny that those aspects of the naval war were crucial components of the American success, but he vehemently argues that the surface fleet also played a vital role in securing victory. He argues further that it was the Solomons Campaign’s many surface engagements that decided the outcome of the war in the Pacific, allowing the American surface fleet to develop the confidence and tactical understanding necessary to win the war.

O’Hara provides a brief introduction to the major themes and considerations of surface combat in World War II. For those unfamiliar with the field, this material enables adequate comprehension of the author’s arguments. The bulk of the book is organized into twelve chronological chapters, each comprised primarily of individual battle narratives that chronicle every major American surface engagement of the war. This format allows O’Hara to demonstrate the evolution of surface battle doctrine and technique over the course of the war. The history is based primarily in operational reports and logs, allowing detailed accounts of even minor engagements. When possible, he resolves or addresses contradictions between American and Japanese accounts, often bringing a sense of clarity to the uncertainty faced by participants.

O’Hara presents readers with undeniable evidence that the air and submarine power of the Japanese and American navies did not render the surface fleet obsolete. In fact, he demonstrates that it was surface vessels that often played decisive roles in key battles, accomplishing objectives that air power could not handle alone. O’Hara does not merely ignore the contributions of carriers and submarines. Rather, he demonstrates that carriers needed fire support from battleships, cruisers, and destroyers on several occasions and shows that it was in times of collaboration between surface vessels and carriers that some of the most impressive victories were accomplished.

O’Hara has included numerous engagement maps and tables showing battle and ship statistic, as well as a useful section of photographs from the period. These resources offer a means to mentally follow the battle narratives, which are often filled with complex tactical maneuvers. O’Hara has documented his research in extensive notes, leaving academic readers with a valuable bibliographic resource for further study. The book also includes a concise but adequate index that makes it a useful resource for both researchers and readers searching for mention of a particular topic.

The U.S. Navy Against the Axis: Surface Combat, 1941-1945 is a thoroughly researched work that fills a crucial gap in the understanding of the naval victory in World War II. Its organization is both logical and methodical, weaving an overarching narrative between the magnified explorations of specific engagements. O’Hara’s narrative brings character and definition to the cold facts of naval engagements. This volume stands out as a defining work on American surface warfare in World War II.

  • Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2017
  • 6” x 9”, softcover, xvi + 364 pages
  • Photographs, maps, tables, appendix, notes, bibliography, index. $24.95
  • ISBN: 9781682471852

Reviewed by Noah S. Shuler, East Carolina University

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