One of the most striking effects of the second world war was the supplanting of the Battleship by the Aircraft Carrier as the most important Naval vessel. By 1945 the era of the big gun Dreadnought Battleships was long gone.
Nowhere saw more Aircraft Carrier battles than the Pacific. Former US Navy Commander Mark Stille takes a look at one of the earliest battles in the South Pacific, the 1942 battle of The Coral Sea. The US Navy’s carrier succesfully thwarted a Japanese attempt to invade New Guinea. It was pivotal in that it represented the first reverse for the Japanese since Pearl Harbour, and set the US on the long road of ‘island-hopping’. It was not perhaps as decisive a battle as Midway, fought less than a month later. But the lessons learnt by the Americans and the losses suffered by the Japanese at the Coral Sea had a profound effect on the outcome of Midway.
Mark Stille takes a very detailed look at the opposing plans, from the Japanese intent to invade New Guinea and the tactics that the US Navy deployed to frustrate them. We are given very informative biographies of the senior Naval Commanders in question, and also a glimpse into the respective Naval ethos of each country. As a former Naval Officer, Stille is well placed to write about Naval tactics and strategy. And of course, this book contains Osprey’s trademark maps and illustrations. One thing that really impresses me is the ‘3D’ maps, showing the height of waves of aircraft as the attacked.
This is a rather narrow account, however, as it focusses almost exclusively on one specific battle. Although it has clearly been written for the American market, there are very broad contexts to the Battle of the Coral Sea. The Royal Navy had been using its Carriers to great effect in the Mediterranean and in the sinking of the Bismarck. Furthermore, it could be argued that the point at which Aircraft Carriers truly gained the ascendancy was the sinking of HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse when sent to Singapore without adequate air cover. Yet this episode only receives the briefest of mention. Stille does focus almost exclusively on the US Navy, and what is an interesting and thorough account does miss out on some comparative and contextual depth in this respect.