This was one of my least favorite books about the Pacific war. It wasn’t because of the subject, which was always interesting, or the writing, which was always good, or the data contained, which was exhaustive. It was because I could not figure out what the book was about. It began by relating accounts of seemingly every sortie flown by a dive bomber in the Pacific beginning months before Pearl Harbor, then had unexplained gaps for things like, say, the battle of Midway, and then picked up again with the Guadalcanal campaign. Again, the account is interesting, but it’s like listening to the broadcast of a game – it is a narrative, but not a story.
Only at the end of the book, frustrated, was I able to go back and ascertain what the book had been about. It is the story of the dive bomber pilots on the Enterprise during the Guadalcanal campaign who operated off of Guadalcanal after their carrier was damaged, and played an important role in fending off the Japanese assault during the critical phases of the battle. The reason you wouldn’t know this is that the book starts with pilots flying from the Lexington and the Yorktown months earlier engaged in unrelated activity. After Coral Sea they are amalgamated into a new squadron and sent out on Enterprise. There is no introduction telling you this. There is a preface, but it doesn’t tell you this, and instead starts you with a pilot operating from Enterprise, not Guadalcanal.
So what you get is a narrative about pilots that is untethered to any particular story, objective, or goal. It was very frustrating reading because the accounts jumped from ship to ship with no reason given for why, and was always only a small part of the story him him I knew was there. If I had known at the outset that this was the story of pilots who would later play a key role in a major battle, I would have had the necessary framework for the book. Yes, I assumed it had something to do that because of the title, but I assumed the content of the book would reflect the title, and it simply didn’t until late in the narrative. So what would otherwise have been an informative and interesting read ended up being an exercise in frustration, searching for nuts of information about a subject I am usually interested in.
It’s hard to write a book about American aircraft carriers in the Pacific in 1942 that I don’t like. But this book did it.