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With The Last Stand Of The Tin Can Sailors And Ship Of Ghosts, James D Hornfischer Created Essential And Enduring Narratives About America S World War II Navy, Works Of Unique Immediacy Distinguished By Rich Portraits Of Ordinary Men In Extremis And Exclusive New Information Now He Does The Same For The Deadliest, Most Pivotal Naval Campaign Of The Pacific War Guadalcanal Neptune S Inferno Is At Once The Most Epic And The Most Intimate Account Ever Written Of The Contest For Control Of The Seaways Of The Solomon Islands, America S First Concerted Offensive Against The Imperial Japanese Juggernaut And The True Turning Point Of The Pacific Conflict This Grim, Protracted Campaign Has Long Been Heralded As A Marine Victory Now, With His Powerful Portrait Of The Navy S Sacrifice Three Sailors Died At Sea For Every Man Lost Ashore Hornfischer Tells For The First Time The Full Story Of The Men Who Fought In Destroyers, Cruisers, And Battleships In The Narrow, Deadly Waters Of Ironbottom Sound Here, In Brilliant Cinematic Detail, Are The Seven Major Naval Actions That Began In August Of , A Time When The War Seemed Unwinnable And America Fought On A Shoestring, With The Outcome Always In Doubt But At Guadalcanal The US Proved It Had The Implacable Will To Match The Imperial War Machine Blow For Violent Blow Working From New Interviews With Survivors, Unpublished Eyewitness Accounts, And Newly Available Documents, Hornfischer Paints A Vivid Picture Of The Officers And Enlisted Men Who Took On The Japanese In America S Hour Of Need Vice Admiral William Bull Halsey, Who Took Command Of The Faltering South Pacific Area From His Aloof, Overwhelmed Predecessor And Became A National Hero The Brilliant Rear Admiral Norman Scott, Who Died Even As He Showed His Command How To Fight And Win Rear Admiral Daniel Callaghan, The Folksy And Genteel Uncle Dan, Lost In The Strobe Lit Chaos Of His Burning Flagship Rear Admiral Willis Lee, Who Took Vengeance Two Nights Later In A Legendary Showdown With The Japanese Battleship Kirishima The Five Sullivan Brothers, All Killed In The Shocking Destruction Of The Juneau And Many Others, All Vividly Brought To LifeThe First Major Work On This Essential Subject In Almost Two Decades, Neptune S Inferno Does What All Great Battle Narratives Do It Cuts Through The Smoke And Fog To Tell The Gripping Human Stories Behind The Momentous Events And Critical Decisions That Altered The Course Of History And Shaped So Many Lives This Is A Thrilling Achievement From A Master Historian At The Very Top Of His Game


10 thoughts on “Neptune's Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal

  1. says:

    From the destroyer Patterson ahead came a blinker signal, WARNING WARNING STRANGE SHIPS ENTERING HARBOR Out in the storm lit sound, the forms of unidentified ships were dimly visible, approaching nearly head on The Patterson s battery barked, lofting star shells, aiming to backlight the bogeys The Chicago followed suit, but her phosphorous candles failed to light Critical minutes passed in the dark The Bagley swung left, drew on the enemy, and fired four torpedoes from her starboard battery Seeing targets against the glow of his star shells, Commander Frank R Walker ordered the Patterson s helm left and shouted an order to launch torpedoes Then Captain Howard D Bode of the Chicago heard a report of torpedoes in the water, inbound on several bearings James D Hornfischer, Neptune s Inferno The U.S Navy at Guadalcanal The naval battles around the island of Guadalcanal the largest island in the Solomons, located in the southwest Pacific were old timey, throwback engagements Naval warfare in World War II was dominated by two distinctly different weapons the submarine and the aircraft carrier The consequence of these vessels was that the war at sea often involved opposing forces that never came into direct contact At Midway, for instance, America s planes attacked Japanese ships, while Japanese planes attacked American ships There was never an instant when an American ship went toe to toe with a Japanese ship At Guadalcanal, it was different Here, the navies of Japan and American mixed it up in the Coral Sea in seven devastating battles that harkened back to the days of Nelson or the Armada Here, opposing ships faced off with such ferocity that the waters around the Solomon Islands became known as Ironbottom Sound It is fitting that a book about throwback battles should be written by something of a throwback author James Hornfischer s Neptune s Inferno has an old fashioned feel to it It could have been released back in 1943, along with MGM s Bataan, as a way to inspire patriotism and sell war bonds It lacks the balance, clarity of analysis, and sharpness of judgment that mark today s best World War II books, such as the volumes by Max Hastings Instead, Hornfischer relies on the tools of the novelist Neptune s Inferno is at its best during the battles, which are immediate, visceral, and exhausting Neptune s Inferno is first and foremost a battle narrative It covers all seven encounters around Guadalcanal, which took place between August and November 1942 the Battle of Savo Island the Battle of the Eastern Solomons the Battle of Cape Esperance the Battle of Santa Cruz the First and Second Naval Battles of Guadalcanal and the Battle of Tassafaronga.Hornfischer has twin aims in covering all these engagements in such slavish detail First, he believes and probably rightfully so that the Marines have gotten the lion s share of the credit for winning the Battle of Guadalcanal In books The Thin Red Line, Guadalcanal Diary and movies The Thin Red Line, Guadalcanal Diary , it is the riflemen who are portrayed as doing all the heavy lifting Neptune s Inferno certainly helps balance the scales a bit Hornfischer s second aim, his thesis, is that the naval clashes in the Solomons marked the rising of a fighting fleet To that end, he endlessly repeats the circumstances of 1942, when the United States was split between a war on two hemispheres, and when the Pacific War was fought on something of a shoestring, ad hoc basis I m not entirely sure Hornfischer proves this point Certainly, the Navy eventually completed their objective of strangling Guadalcanal, of keeping the Japanese navy from reinforcing its ground troops Still, from my tabulations, the Japanese won the majority of the individual engagements, while in terms of tonnage lost, the matter was a draw with a slight advantage to the Japanese Neptune s Inferno is an American story There is scant almost zero attention paid to the Japanese side As to overall strategy, this is drawn in broad strokes, with very little insight into the decisions made by the top admirals Further, in a book that is so reliant on personal recollections and a you are there point of view, Hornfischer s attempt at character sketches are woefully inadequate Never once did I get the sense that I understood Admiral Ghormley or Admiral Nimitz at any but the most surface level These omissions are made glaring by the inconsistent writing I m not sure who to blame Hornfischer or his editor In any event, the book is often as choppy as the South Pacific for purposes of that simile, I hope the South Pacific is choppy Often, the narrative doesn t seem to cohere sentences are strangers, one to the other, while paragraphs contain information that is only distantly related The uneven flow of the storytelling is most glaring in segues between the macro detailing overall strategy and the micro describing the battles sections.The highlights, as befits a book of this type, is the blood and thunder, the moments when two ships square off in the dead of night, the blackness lit by muzzle flashes and star shells There are many times when Hornfischer loses himself in overblown prose In the northern cruiser force on its night of doom , but I was far likely to be swept along than to stop and ponder his Homeric word choice The Wasp absorbed two torpedoes , producing a series of blasts fed by aviation fuel and stored bombs In minutes the carrier was a pyre, her pall visible for miles The torpedoes that missed boiled onward, toward the Hornet task force six miles away The dying Wasp drew in her escorts in a feverish rescue effort It was the way of the South Seas that episodes like this were well attended by sharks As the escorting vessels moved in with cargo nets thrown over the gunwales, the sailors were horrified Sharks were everywhere, wrote Fred Richardson, a sailor from the destroyer Farenholt A shark would catch a man by an arm or a foot and pull him under, cutting off his screams The poor devil would pop up again, and again, like a cork on a fishing line Each time his scream would be weaker than before Sometimes the shark would grab a poor man in the middle and shake him like a dog shaking a rat Then the shark would back off, dragging the dying man s entrails behind him The water would turn milky with blood As good as certain set pieces are and the First and Second Naval Battles of Guadalcanal are magnificent , they often suffer from a needless lack of clarity Hornfischer never takes the time to explain the weaponry or the technology especially American radar that played such a large role in the battle Moreover, he omits any description of the ships, their layouts, and the purpose and function of various shipboard positions Men are running all over the place, from the bridge to the boilers, but without some overview, or at least a rough schematic, it doesn t mean much How a World War II era cruiser actually fought remains a mystery For instance, Hornfischer continually wrote about men in the fire control director without ever explaining how each ship s fire control system worked How were the guns aimed Who controlled the targeting Etc., etc This might be common knowledge among rivet heads and graduate level amateur naval historians, but I for one have let my subscription to Jane s Fighting Ships lapse As this is a work of popular history, I feel like this is something that Hornfischer needed to cover, rather than assume foreknowledge I do give credit to Hornfischer for supplying helpful maps for each battle that chart the approximate movements of the engaged ships A little effort such as this would have made this a far better book With that said, even confused readers see me can t help but be swept up in the gut churning turmoil The details of these seven oceanic bouts are the book s highpoints It is also a reminder that these events took place, long after they have slid into the shadows of recognizable historical landmarks And certainly, this is one of Hornfischer s purposes He is, in his own way, like the controversial Stephen Ambrose before him, a monument maker his tools are not granite and chisel, but a word processor and thesaurus.Though he is unabashed in his admiration of the American fighting men, Hornfischer doesn t flinch from the brutal truth of war that the stories are told by the survivors, and that however heroic were the dead, the dead would rather have lived A brief benediction is provided by sailor Robert Graff, whom Hornfischer accompanies on a return trip to Guadalcanal War is unlike life, he said It s a denial of everything you learn life is And that s why when you get finished with it, you see that it offers no lessons that can t be better learned in civilian life You are exposed to horrors you would sooner forget A disconnect needs to be made to get yourself cleaned.Unlike some paeans to the Greatest Generation, Hornfischer does not airbrush the facts He dwells on the psychological wounds of the war, including those of Captain Bode, a one time rising star who lost his ship, the Chicago After being posted to Panama, he took the time to pen a letter to his wife before entering a restroom with a.38 caliber revolver This is a story of glory, yes and the price of glory.


  2. says:

    I had just finished the Last Stand of the Tin Can Soldiers I considered it one of the best books I have ever read A fellow GoodReads friend suggested I check out Neptune s Inferno by the same author I received the book on a Friday, started reading it on a Saturday and, in spite of a busy schedule, I finished it by the next Friday The conclusion is that Hornfischer has done it again As my friend JP say s the guy really pitches strikes when it comes to Pacific naval warfare James D Hornfischer has the ability to describe naval engagements like Bruce Catton or Stephen W Sears describe Civil War battles I had previously read Richard Frank s The Definitive Account of the Landmark Battle for Guadalcanal several years ago This was a great overview of the land and sea campaign I remembered being in awe of the sea battles The focus of Hornfischer s book is the naval side of the story The Marine Corp likes to spin their own story of Guadalcanal and tell how they were abandoned by the United States Navy There is than a grain of truth to this However, the key to victory at Guadalcanal was to control the seas around Guadalcanal In the end, three sailors would give their lives for every infantryman that was killed on the island This was a team effort and the victory was forged in blood.The Guadalcanal campaign included 7 naval battles between August 9th and November 30th Only two of the battles included carriers Five of those battles pitted surface ship vs surface ship These were desperate slugfests between two desperate foes involving capital ships as big as battleships firing massive guns at ranges that were sometimes inside of 1,000 yards Imagine that Ships that were designed to fire salvos at ranges exceeding 17,000 yards were as close as 450 yards The USN had not experienced victory in a battle involving surface ships in the first 10 months of the war The first battle on August 9th called the battle of Savo Island would be no different The US lost over 1,000 sailors The combined allied forces were routed This was kept secret from the public The situation was desperate Something had to be done There were several factors that led to these early defeats Upon reading the book, I was left with the impression that the greatest factor was the USN s old breed of flag admirals and captains that did not understand the tactical advantage presented by SC radar The IJN relied on optics The USN had radar Theoretically, we could fire a shot before the IJN could ever see that we were in the area Also, the USN did not have to walk shots in The fire controlled by radar meant the first shots fired would likely meet their targets I found the events very frustrating After the first loss, Admiral Norman Scott is given charge of a task force and the USN wins a great victory The reader is left thinking that the USN has finally figured out how to fight night battles with surface ships and has a leader that the men believe in Prior to the next battle, the USN will combine Norman Scott s task force with Callaghan s taskforce Callaghan was untested in battle, did not understand the advantage of the SC radar Scott was coming off a decisive victory and helped rewrite the navy s doctrine of night fighting However, Callaghan was promoted to Admiral 15 day prior to Scott so Callaghan was put in charge of the combined force for November 13th The USN prevails in spite of this and both Scott and Callaghan are killed during the November 13th engagement Next, the US sends in two Battleships with a force under the command of Admiral Lee to counter the Japanese battleships Admiral Lee understands radar as well as anyone in the Navy and he wins a decisive victory You think the USN has finally learned their lesson Shortly after Admiral Lee s victory another USN force is sent in with a skipper that once again does not understand radar As a result, several US cruisers are sunk and that battle was lost but it was too little too late for Japan They were pulling out After Guadalcanal, the IJN lost their confidence I had read in other publications that the IJN ran short of pilots At the end of this book an IJN naval officer commented that radar directed anti aircraft fire was the greatest contribution to the shortage of Japanese pilots Also, the IJN did not believe that the decadent Americans would be willing to slug it out with the IJN in far away lands fighting for unknown territory that belonged to some European colonial empire The Guadalcanal campaign also helped to destroy this stereotype of Americans for Japan Americans were willing to fight Guadalcanal was a major turning point of the war for the USN surface navy like Midway was a turning point for the carrier fleet If you are like me you will love this book James D Hornfischer has the ability to describe naval engagements like Bruce Catton or Stephen W Sears describe Civil War battles Let us hope that he keeps writing I am a fan of this guy Ship of Ghosts is on order.


  3. says:

    You ll find yourself next to the captain on the bridge, while all around you the grenades are falling With great attention to detail, the author informs us about the battles between Americans and Japanese naval forces during the Battle of Guadalcanal The author knows how to keep a good balance between personal experiences and the larger military strategic context He shows how the Americans, although in the beginning inexperienced with the night battles, increasingly learned from their mistakes and ultimately defeated the Japanese through their perseverance A perfect report on the battle of Guadalcanal, which would become the Japanese Stalingrad and the beginning of the end.


  4. says:

    Phenomenal book about one of the biggest Navy battles in the Pacific.


  5. says:

    A while back while I was at the local branch library with my two kids, I decided to take a look through my to read list on Goodreads and see if they had any of the books on hand I struck out on most of them but finally I came to Hornfischer s book and lo and behold they had it I checked it out despite the fact that I currently was reading two other books I ve read a lot about the war in the Pacific over the years and consider myself to be pretty knowledgeable on the subject What intrigued me about this book was that it was strictly about the U.S Navy s experiences in the Guadalcanal campaign Before this most of my reading had been about the Marines and Army on the island itself or the exploits of the Cactus Air Force The naval battles are mentioned in most books, but seemingly never in great detail and the Navy s battles are seldom given the weight they deserve in the winning of the campaign Hornfischer s book corrects this and then some It turns out that the U.S Navy s ordeal in the Solomons was crucial to the victory since without them the Marines may well have died on the vine and experienced another Bataan Overall I enjoyed this book a great deal As mentioned in other reviews, Hornfischer s battle narratives are excellent Actually, harrowing is closer to the mark He manages to bring alive the confusion and horror of these surface engagements that makes one really feel for those poor sailors as they were slaughtered wholesale with nowhere to run or hide The entire campaign was done on a shoestring and the Navy was nowhere near prepared for the fury of the Japanese response to the invasion We learn how unprepared the Navy was for night surface actions in their tactics, procedures and leadership The new search and targeting radars were poorly understood and few ship s captains were willing to trust the new apparatus and the ones that were most proficient in its use were often not in the requisite positions of authority within the task force Even the Navy s victories were generally pyhrric in nature with the Imperial Navy often giving better than they got Ultimately the Navy learned from these costly battles They learned the proper battle tactics and how to use their radars Finally they just ground the Japanese down in a battle of attrition all the while getting better and stronger while the strength of the Imperial fleet slowly wasted away I was all set to give this book five stars until I got approximately three quarters of the way through Prior to this point all of the battle narratives are outstanding However, when he writes about the Battle of Tassafaronga, he lost me a little bit He handles this battle in a perfunctory way He tells us the names of the ships and the captains and how the task force was handily defeated by the torpedo dealing Japanese destroyers, but that s about all There is no real battle narrative like there is for the other battles The reason for this change mystified me Maybe it was just me This perceived deficiency kind of set the tone for the last part of the book where we learn about the far reaching fallout from the battles in the Solomons It almost seems like he lost the handle at this point and the book just kind of peters out It s a shame, really, since the majority of the book was so good Even with the flaws that arise at the end of the book, I am glad that I read it and would recommend it to anyone who wants to learn about the naval portion of the Guadalcanal campaign Overall it is a solid effort and I will probably read of Hornfischer s books.


  6. says:

    As the title suggests, Neptune s Inferno The U.S Navy at Guadalcanal is a detailed account of the naval actions during the early pacific portion of WWII I found most of this book to be a knowledgeable and interesting account of the naval actions, which was what I was looking for While attempting to guard against Monday morning quarterbacking this 70 year old event, James Hornfischer tells a story of brave sailors whose lives were cut short for a variety of unnecessary reasons This was the dawn of naval radar, but the technology was there before the Admirals knew what to do with it Many of the battles seem like a slugfest in the dark than the execution of battle plans This non fiction book gives the reader a fair assessment for the mechanics of how Japan and the US used each type of warship and the strengths and weaknesses of each vessel It also shows the ineptness of the leadership and how naval traditions of the 40 s prevented the best men from being in control when it was needed I would have given Neptune s Inferno an extra star, but the extensive details from of the stories of 30 sailors who either died, nearly died or saw terrible things was presented as a long and disjointed discussion that left the reader jumping from one bulkhead to another among the ships of the conflict This could have been a good nearly first person account of battle but it did not work I would recommend Neptune s Inferno to anyone interested in the lesser known navel battles of WWII I give this a good read.


  7. says:

    Overall this is an Excellent book It covers the Naval portion of the Battle to take Guadalcanal away from the Japanese The book covers just enough of the Ground force action to give a framework, but little else in that regard This isn t a criticism of the book, this book is focused on the Naval actions and it is nice to have a little framework but not required in an absolute sense In regards to the focus of the book, the author takes a much wider scope than many of the books on the subject that are available He takes in the Command aspect of this sector of the War and the change in overall command and the reasoning behind it It also takes into account the most crucial of the Carrier actions, while still focusing on the main actions of the surface ships The book seems to concentrate on the battle where US Cruisers charged Japanese Battleships It covers the first battle of the surface forces in a fair amount of detail, but this one it covers in great detail The US Battleship engagement is also covered fairly well, but the battle where the US lost a number of cruisers to Japanese Destroyers is treated somewhat as an after thought While the coverage of the battles ranges from almost none at all, to very detailed, the real strength of this book is covering the things that happened afterwards, the changes in training styles, the inquiry into the losses of so many ships and men, and the effects in had on the survivors An incredible book and one that should be on every reading list of Naval enthusiasts of WWII.


  8. says:

    Author Hornfischer has a way of blending the history ofstrategy and tactics with personal stories and analysis thatmake Neptune an engaging read I found myself reading slowly as not to miss anything and also, put off gettingto the end A great job is done with the descriptions of the chaosthat ensues during naval night fighting and the terrorof commanders as they wonder if they are firing on theirown ships The carnage afterward is almost too much tobear as you hear of surviving shipmates cleaning upbody parts that are strewn all over The Guadalcanal year of the war in the Pacific is fascinating.As mentioned in the prologue, it was probably the only timewhere Japan and the USA were in a contest of equals Eachside had an edge in different areas, for example, expertise innight fighting for the Japanese, over come by the new gizmo, radar by the Americans As the title tells ya, the US Navy at , so the focus is onthe sea Naturally, what s going on with the Marines ashore iscovered in context with the events, but if you re looking fora lot of details on banzai charges they aren t here If there is a lacking it s that the story of each shipcan t be told so thoroughly, for example the sinking ofthe Astoria is well covered, but the Wasp, not much,but yes, if they were, then the book would be 3000 pageslong.


  9. says:

    Inferno doesn t begin to describe it Guadalcanal represented the first major invasion by U.S forces in the 20th century and many hard lessons had to be learned The oft repeated charge that the Marines were abandoned there by the Navy is belied by the statistic that for every Marine who was killed on land, five sailors died at sea in the horrific battles there The puzzle of victory was learned on the fly and on the cheap Hornfischer brilliantly, succinctly and often horrifically as he describes the dreadful injuries suffered by the sailors sets the stage discussing the personal and political challenges and conflicts that affected and drove the allocation of resources the Army v the Navy McArthur v Nimitz and King in the Pacific Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin in the Atlantic, with George Marshall stuck in the middle The importance of Midway in boosting moral and altering the overall strategy cannot be overstated Here s an interesting little detail Admiral Kinkaid was a day late getting to the staging area because his charts showed the International Date Line in the wrong place Personally, the thing always confuses me, but his staff were careful not to let the higher brass learn of the error.Things got off to a bad start right from the beginning Admiral Fletcher, supported by Nimitz in charge of the carriers, and Admiral Turner supported by King , commanding the landing, hated each other At the planning meeting at Saratoga, Fletcher worried about the risk to his carriers and refused to provide air support for than 3 days Turner, knowing the supply ships had not been combat loaded so the most important supplies could be off loaded first knew that he could not afford to have the Marines abandoned after three days This became infamous as the Navy Bug Out Whether Fletcher was correct in arguing that the risk to the carriers was far strategically important is a debate that continues to this day Hornfischer explains the rationale from both perspectives without coming down on either side.The Japanese were already suffering from victors disease and tended to dismiss the landings as inconsequential and but a diversion aimed at slowing down the Japanese advance on Port Moresby The Japanese had their own army navy slugfest of distrust The Army, in fact, had not told the Navy that the U.S had broken their operational code There was no central intelligence gathering unit and army commanders had to rely as much on their instincts as hard intelligence that was virtually non existent.But the US Navy had a lot of hard lessons to learn The Battle of Savo Island otherwise known as the Battle of Five Sitting Ducks revealed that the three minutes it took to get everyone in place after calling for general quarters was way too long Especially as it meant having everyone run around changing places from where they had been Leaving float planes on the decks of cruisers during action meant having aviation fueled bombs on the rear deck And captains ignoring the warnings of some of those being supervised could be deadly, not to mention poor communications and reluctance to trust new radar Admiral Turner summed it up nicely The Navy was still obsessed with a strong feeling of technical and mental superiority over the enemy In spite of ample evidence as to enemy capabilities, most of our officers and men despised the enemy and felt themselves sure victors in all encounters under any circumstances The net result of all this was a fatal lethargy of mind which induced a confidence without readiness, and a routine acceptance of outworn peacetime standards of conduct I believe that this psychological factor, as a cause of our defeat, was even important than the element of surprise. There were lots of lessons to be learned and many heads to roll Communications was a big problem as frequencies differed between services and even between planes and ships One little tidbit was that southern boys, of which there were many, had to be kept off the radios since their heavy regional accents often made them incomprehensible to those on the other end of the wireless Another was the importance of communications and knowing the difference between friend and foe Many casualties occurred and ships sunk because the combatants couldn t tell the difference at night.Guadalcanal became the trial run for many of the islands that were to follow.


  10. says:

    When I was in sixth grade, my class and several others did a WWII unit, and I wrote a report on Guadalcanal But I honestly didn t remember many of the details before I picked up this book The book was well written, and full of quotable bits like Halsey s willingness to divide the Pacific Ocean with Japan We would take the top Japan would take the bottom The various sea battles were told in great detail, from a variety of perspectives It was a bit of a sad book, though, because Guadalcanal was a testing and learning ground for the U.S Navy, and learning those hard lessons cost a lot of sailors their lives I hadn t realized that sailors died than Marines at Guadalcanal It was a tricky situation The Marines held the airbase, so that the U.S could control the skies, or at least compete in the skies The Japanese kept landing troops on the island so they could take the airbase They did it at night, and the U.S Navy tried to prevent them from succeeding And both navies clashed frequently with heavy costs on both sides Ultimately, the U.S could fight on despite the losses longer than the Japanese could That s an oversimplification, but that s the general idea Overall, I enjoyed the read and I learned a lot It took me longer than expected to read it close to two months because a few projects popped up and a few library books had due dates, so I had to put it aside a few times Recommended, but I liked The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S Navy s Finest Hour than this one.