Review of ‘Neptune’s Inferno – The US Navy at Guadalcanal’

I finished this book by James D. Hornfischer on the naval campaign between the USN and Japanese fleets around the island of Guadalcanal.  It had been a while since I had read much about this fight, so a lot of the information was new to me.

The US went into Guadalcanal on a shoestring, in order to beat the Japanese to the punch. While we had scored a victory at Midway with the carriers, the surface fleets of cruisers, battleships, and destroyers were either at the bottom of Pearl Harbor or had no combat experience. Similarly, most if not all of the commanders were new to the business and were trying to pick it up on the fly.

Many of them would not live through the training period.  In a few months several fleet engagements were fought, and pretty much all of them the USN lost heavily, while punishing the Japanese severely in some and not so severely in others.  But just by engaging the Japanese fleets they interfered with the intended mission to deliver troops and supplies to the island or to destroy the Marine airfield.  So with time, the balance tilted in the Navy’s favor and the Japanese pulled out of the island.

Between the descriptions of the battles are descriptions of the aftermath, so the human cost is apparent, even down to the suicide of a captain who mistakenly steered his cruiser away from the battle at Savo Island and missed being sunk with much of the rest of the fleet there.

All in all this is the best Naval book I’ve read since Walter Lord’s “Incredible Victory”.  I believe he’s written a book on Leyte Gulf, and I look forward to reading that in the future.

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