Modern Naval Battles: WWII at Sea Review
By Karen Bowes
I picked this up after seeing Thomas do a book signing (which was mostly his discussion of the battle and some Q/A). It was interesting to hear about a battle that was so deadly, so historically significant (the last "traditional" sea battle of significant size), and yet so overlooked. The battle itself takes up less than a fifth of the book and doesn't unfold until well past the midpoint. It's also easily the least interesting part of the book. Battle buffs and others expecting a blow by blow will be disappointed, as will less intense WWII buffs. What Thomas actually gives us is a short history of the US and Japanese naval fleets in the Pacific and brief biographical sketches of their commanders and some of the rank and file sailors. Thomas sometimes snarky observations liven up the early parts of the book and show an incisive, funny side that was missing in the last book of his that I'd read (the RFK bio; the book also flows better than the RFK book which seemed choppy). Thomas gives us personal sides of Admiral Halsey and his Japanese counterparts, with somewhat broad portraits of Admirals Nimitz and King, as well as General MacArthur. I'm surprised that he didn't mention that Nimitz and MacArthur were momma's boys--both lived in my former apartment building in the 1920s (a few years apart) with their mothers and MacArthur probably hoped that the malarial jungles of the South Pacific would keep his mother away (she followed him, anyway). We get some review of tactics and examples of the limits of cultural knowledge and within-military communication systems that caused problems for both sides and contributed to the battle at Leyte taking place.