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Book Review, NRJ 60.3

August 15, 2015 12:00 PM | David Eddy

Sunk in Kula Gulf: The Final Voyage of the USS Helena and the Incredible Story of Her Survivors in World War II

John J. Domagalski

John J. Domagalski is on something of a roll, bringing out a new book on American naval history during World War II in the Pacific every couple of years. He brings a very interesting perspective to these works, since they are primarily based on extensive interviews with surviving veterans of the conflict—he has met with almost fifty of these men to record their stories.

Sunk in Kula Gulf shares many characteristics with his previous book, Lost at Guadalcanal. The framework is provided by careful and wide usage of well-established secondary sources selected from the many books published on the United States Navy’s war in the Pacific over the past half century. Into this he incorporates the personal recollections of the veterans and extensive details drawn from extant official combat reports in the archives. The net result is a very rich story that has an immediacy and a human connection that more academic analyses will omit.

Domagalski is not the first author to tap into the power of enriching stark official reports with personal narratives—John Lundstrom comes to mind as another practitioner. Nevertheless, Domagalski is extremely successful in skillfully blending the unadorned factual details of the cruiser Helena’s fight at Kula Gulf in July 1943 with the fascinating and utterly absorbing perspectives of the sailors who fought the ship. This is really history with a human face.

It helps greatly that Domagalski is a very good writer who is able to bring his reader along with him as he tells his story. His prose is simultaneously lucid and compelling. This style of history may not appeal to professional academics but Sunk in Kula Gulf include important material that might otherwise be lost, presents a powerful story, and tells it very well indeed.

  •  Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2012
  • 6-1/4” x 9-1/4”, hardcover, xvi + 237 pages
  • Photographs, maps, notes, bibliography, index. $32.95
  • ISBN: 9781597978392

Reviewed by James Johnson, San Diego, California

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