8.1.06

WAS THERE A MAN DISMAYED? The Live Journal 50 Book Challenge remains an active community this year. As the community organizer offers the fifty as a goal, rather than a competition, this year's efforts may or may not attain fifty by year's end. But Review No. 1 is ready, and with a Border's in the Boston airport and airport delays (in the time it takes to load a 737, a Hiawatha can get from either Chicago or Milwaukee to the State Line) a Review No. 2 is close to hand.

For the first review, H.P. Willmott's The Battle of Leyte Gulf: The Last Fleet Action. I suppose a dust jacket that refers to the work as a "careful interrogation"and an opening sentence that asserts "One is tempted to suggest that there are only two problems in the study of naval history: naval historians and naval officers" ought offer sufficient warning that academic posturing (demonstrating some other historian or some other school of thought to be inadequate) rather than analysis of the record is the author's objective. And, indeed, Mr Willmott's perspective is one of emphasizing social organization and ideas, rather than Thomas Carlyle's notion of influential individuals, as the prime mover of historical events. (He asserts, although it is beyond the scope of his book to demonstrate, that the pre-Pearl Harbor Japanese Navy exhausted itself exhausting the pre-Pearl Harbor U.S. Navy, with the new U.S. Navy launched after Pearl Harbor overwhelming what remained of that Japanese Navy, with the outcome of Leyte Gulf essentially irrelevant to the outcome of the Pacific War. Put simply, the U.S. Navy would have been able to make good any losses the Japanese might have inflicted. Had the Japanese not suffered the losses they did, their fleets would have been stranded for lack of fuel.)

The analysis of the battle itself offers little that is new, Mr Willmott's investigation of Japanese sources notwithstanding. My review of Thomas Cutler's The Battle of Leyte Gulf complained that a fictional character, rather than a Navy veteran, summarized the attitude in Task Force 38 to Admiral Halsey's handling of the fast battleships. But Mr Willmott's evaluation of the behavior of Japanese Admiral Kurita Takeo, the one striking force commander with the chance of achieving a local victory, might as well have been given by Robert Mitchum. More precisely, the naval officer, Victor Henry, played by Robert Mitchum in the television version of War and Remembrance translates and comments on a book by a fictional German general as a way of putting the fictional events in some context. The general comments on Admiral Kurita's errors in commencing to attack, then breaking off, with the opportunity to destroy some light carrier formations and menace the U.S. beachhead on Luzon. Robert Mitchum's character comments,
It took Kurita over three hours to round up his force. Air attacks slowed the process, and the buzzing planes and bursting bombs must have been driving him cuckoo. By the time he was ready to head into the gulf, it was getting on to one o'clock. His surprise was blown. He surmised -- quite correctly -- that wherever Halsey was, he was coming on fast. Ozawa was silent, and the southern force had evidently never made it into the gulf. To Kurita, the gulf had become a death trap, a hornet's nest of land-based and carrier planes, where his whole force would be sunk in the remaining daylight hours without laying a glove on MacArthur.
Mr Willmott uses more words to reach effectively the same conclusion. He does note that the combined air power of the escort carrier air wings equated to the strength of two fleet carriers, and, with U.S. bases established ashore, the planes were able to conduct shuttle bombing runs from the more distant escort carriers to the land bases and back. He also suggests that, even had the ships of the line destroyed the escort carrier forces and taken positions off the landing beaches, they would be isolated, short on fuel, and ultimately overwhelmed by the U.S. Navy units closing from points east. Unlike Admiral Halsey's theoretical fear of shuttle bombing by carrier planes staging to Japanese bases on Formosa or elsewhere on the Philippine Islands, Admiral Ozawa confronted the reality of shuttle bombing without an air umbrella.

No comments: