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by Eric Hammel
Pacifica Press  2000
Soft cover
512 pages
Index, Force List
Photos, Maps
ISBN: 0-935553-35-5
Price: $27.50
Language: English

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Guadalcanal Decision at Sea
Naval Battle of Guadalcanal November 13-15, 1942

Guadalcanal: Decision at Sea is a full-blown examination in vivid detail of the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, November 13-15, 1942, a crucial step toward America’s victory over the Japanese during World War II. The three-day air and naval action incorporated America’s most decisive surface battle of the war and the only naval battle of Pacific in which American battleships directly confronted and mortally wounded an enemy battleships.

Guadalcanal Decision at Sea Second book in his Guadalcanal series, first three chapter quickly summarize the previous book: the setting for the decisive naval battle of Guadalcanal with the US Marine's landing in August, subsequent Japanese countermoves.

US Navy vs. Imperial Japanese Navy
  Interesting revelations are included in the books first chapter, "The Fleets" Menacing the colonial desires of European and American, the Japanese Navy becomes an important part of their nationalist doctrine, Japan becomes engaged in China and Korea. The crippling Naval treaties of Five Powers Naval armament treaty of 1922 humiliated its prestigious navy, and put it behind British and Americans in the number of warships. They focused on building the highest quality, most modern ships in the world.

  Although they failed to implement or see the potential of radar, Japan pioneered night operations and tactics, and developed the best night optics in the world. Nearly flashless gun power and long lasting star shells made night operations invisible. Of course their greatest achievement was the development of the world's best torpedo of the era, the 21" Long Lance torpedo. Japanese deadly night fighters who hoped to engage enemies, and deliver crippling blows before the enemy even knew where they were. IJN was battle aware and a fighting navy breed that way.

The US Navy on the other hand had not fought a major action since 1898, and previously had been humiliatingly defeated by the Japanese in every surface engagement. Midway was a victory of Navy aviators, an branch of the service where most all of the creative young minds of the navy had drifted. Also, the Japanese refused to accept Midway as a defeat, and US commanders did not know that this battle was a turning point. For them, there was a lot of fighting left to do, and the outcome of the war could still easily be swung in the other direction if the Japanese were able to inflict enough damage before the US industrial might and new recruit base could be brought to bear.

Those in the ranks of the surface ships where generally careerist who had spent their years in the red tape of the navy during the inter war period. They did have the new tool of Radar and Ship to ship voice communication, but the potential of these technologies was not seen by the older generation of captains who were skeptical of putting their trust in the younger radar technicians and thus shifting the command center of the ship from the bridge, to the radar room. US wanted to avoid night actions at all cost, and its crews lacked a critical battle awareness that would take time, weeks of additional drilling and blood to develop.

WWI vintage destroyers and aging equipment was another problem. The US Navy had major flaws with some key weapons systems. They had a horrible torpedo that its poor design was not noticed until the war because few had been live test fired in peacetime - they were too expensive. The Navy's 1.1 AA gun was prone to failure causing ammunition to explode in the heated barrel, and newer Swiss designed 20mm cannons were in short supply.

They also had the benefit of intelligence which let them spy into the most secret channels of the IJN's communications. They knew the Japanese were on the verge of launching a major offensive to retake Guadalcanal and defeat the Marines. Also, they hoped to draw as many US Navy ships into deceive combat, preferably at night an arena in their favor.

Decisive Naval Action
Both sides wanted to resupply their troops on Guadalcanal, and engage the other in decisive combat. The Americans did so before the Japanese arrived, in time to pull their transports away. Japanese air attacks preempted the Naval action. Japan hoped to land supplies at the western tip of the island and then proceed to a shore bombardment of Henderson field.

Hammel has brilliantly blended the detailed historical records with personal accounts of many of the officers and enlisted men involved, creating an engrossing narrative of the strategy and struggle as seen by both sides. He has also included major new insights into crucial details of the battles, including a riveting account of the American forces’ failure to effectively use their radar advantage.

Originally published in 1988 as the concluding volume in Eric Hammel’s series of three independent books focusing on the Guadalcanal campaign and exploring all the elements that made it a turning point of the war in the Pacific, Guadalcanal: Decision at Sea lives up to the high standards and expectations that have marked this author’s many historical books and articles.

Read about tense moments and split second decisions so incredible it is hard to believe happened! Accounts of individual heroism, fanatical captains, shocking horrors, and luck: both good and bad. This is the story of Navy Battleships clashing at close quarters in melee that will hopefully never be matched again.

For anyone interested in Navy history from first time readers, to Guadalcanal "buffs", this book will provide new gems of information presented in fast paced narrative style that is hard to put down.

Review by  Justin Taylan  

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Last Updated
November 25, 2022

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