Discover more from Walking in the Light
The Fleet at Flood Tide
America at Total War in the Pacific, 1944-1945
James Hornfischer is a joy to read and this book scores a solid 5.0. It just doesn't get any better. I listened to the Audible.com version and found it outstanding in every manner.
As always, the author delivers the goods in this history of the last two years of the Pacific war. It is complete, offers previously unread insights regarding interpersonal relationships between the principal commanders, and provides a telling look into the decision to use a terrible new weapon against an already all but defeated enemy.
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We are first introduced to Paul Tibbets, the command pilot of the Enola Gay which delivered the deadliest package. In doing that, Hornfischer signals what we already know as the ending. Unlike other volumes, he uses Tibbets as a talisman, weaving his story throughout. If you are reading this kind of history, you almost certainly know Tibbets' claim in infamy, but you may not know his backstory or his degree of influence in the campaign beyond that fateful flight. Both are substantial.
This work also covers the major island battles of the time, with particular detailed attention to Saipan. Here, we learn of the horrific effect of mass indoctrination of lies to an unsuspecting people, leading to the unnecessary mass suicide deaths of thousands of IJA troops and local civilians. We also encounter a heroic and humble nurse whose own failed attempt at suicide preserves her for an awakening to truth. Her story also weaves through the book, portraying unusual strength, character, love, sacrifice, and service.
There were many ego battles among U.S. commanders, and this gets attention as well. Raymond Spruance was without doubt the most intellectual and reserved of them, both reasons for Admiral Nimitz having elevated him. Then there are the Smith's. Holland "Howlin' Mad" Smith was Commander, Fleet Marine Force. His biggest contention, likely with good reason, was with Ralph Smith, the general in charge of U.S. Army forces during the Saipan campaign.
One thing that stood out to me is the amount of information about the war's end game from the Japanese perspective. We learn about the machinations among the inner circle, Truman's tempered strategy, and the final straw that tipped Japan toward surrender.
Other books describe in some detail the final scenes as the U.S. concludes the great contest in Tokyo Harbor. This work does that also but excels in painting a different Douglas MacArthur than we normally see. His firm but respectful approach to governing and the humanity of his stewardship over a defeated people broke the conqueror's mold, helping in great measure the reboot of Japan as an equal among peaceful nations. He had an ego to be sure, but was also capable of extraordinary wisdom and grace.
Highly recommended. Well researched and written, full of new insights and understanding of the principals and the time they lived.
Author: James D. Hornfischer
Rating: 5.0 / 5.0
Page Count: 640
Run Time: 23 hrs, 15 min
Keywords: WWII, History, Pacific, Japan, Naval