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Sea of Thunder: Four Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign 1941-1945by Evan Thomas
Synopses & Reviews
Evan Thomas takes us inside the naval war of 1941-1945 in the South Pacific in a way that blends the best of military and cultural history and riveting narrative drama. He follows four men throughout: Admiral William ("Bull") Halsey, the macho, gallant, racist American fleet commander; Admiral Takeo Kurita, the Japanese battleship commander charged with making what was, in essence, a suicidal fleet attack against the American invasion of the Philippines; Admiral Matome Ugaki, a self-styled samurai who was the commander of all kamikazes and himself the last kamikaze of the war; and Commander Ernest Evans, a Cherokee Indian and Annapolis graduate who led his destroyer on the last great charge in the last great naval battle in history.
Sea of Thunder climaxes with the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the biggest naval battle ever fought, over four bloody and harrowing days in October 1944. We see Halsey make an epic blunder just as he reaches for true glory; we see the Japanese navy literally sailing in circles, torn between the desire to die heroically and the exhausted, unacceptable realization that death is futile; we sail with Commander Evans and the men of the USS Johnston into the jaws of the Japanese fleet and exult and suffer with them as they torpedo a cruiser, bluff and confuse the enemy — and then, their ship sunk, endure fifty horrific hours in shark-infested water.
Thomas, a journalist and historian, traveled to Japan, where he interviewed veterans of the Imperial Japanese Navy who survived the Battle of Leyte Gulf and friends and family of the two Japanese admirals. From new documents and interviews, he was able to piece together and answer mysteries about the Battle of Leyte Gulf that have puzzled historians for decades. He writes with a knowing feel for the clash of cultures.
Sea of Thunder is a taut, fast-paced, suspenseful narrative of the last great naval war, an important contribution to the history of the Second World War.
"Thomas, Newsweek's assistant managing editor, turns his considerable narrative and research talents to Leyte Gulf, history's largest and most complex naval battle. He addresses the subject from the perspectives of four officers: William Halsey, who commanded the U.S. 3rd Fleet; Adm. Takeo Kurita, his Japanese counterpart; Adm. Matome Ugaki, Kurita's senior subordinate and a 'true believer' in Japan's destiny; and Cdr. Ernest Evans, captain of a lowly destroyer, the U.S.S. Johnston. The Americans believed the Japanese incapable of great military feats, while the Japanese believed the Americans were incapable of paying the price of war. Both were tragically wrong. Halsey steamed north in pursuit of a what turned out to be a decoy, while Kurita's main force was positioned to destroy the American landing force in the Philippines. Evans repeatedly took the Johnston into harm's way against what seemed overwhelming odds. His heroism, matched by a dozen other captains and crews, convinced Kurita to break off the action. With Halsey's battleships and carriers just over the horizon, Kurita refused to sacrifice his men at the end of a war already lost. Ugaki bitterly denounced the lack of 'fighting spirit and promptitude' that kept him from an honorable death. Evans fought and died like a true samurai. As Thomas skillfully reminds us, war is above all the province of irony." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"The aim of every commander in war is to understand the mind and intentions of his opponent. Never is that more vital than in naval warfare, when whole fleets can maneuver precisely in accordance with the direction of a single leader. But understanding the enemy poses formidable problems — and, lacking it, even the greatest forces may falter. 'Sea of Thunder,' by Evan Thomas, an assistant... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) managing editor of Newsweek, provides one of the most insightful analyses yet written of personalities and military cultures at war. The book tells the story of the Japanese and American commanders whose fates converged in history's last great naval engagement, the Battle of Leyte Gulf in October 1944. It is also a story of competing traditions and the extraordinary influence of personality, organizations and culture on warfare — despite the advanced technologies wielded in World War II. Drawing on archives, official debriefings, eyewitness commentary, letters, diaries and interviews, Thomas takes us into the minds of these opposing leaders. Adm. William 'Bull' Halsey, the blustery U.S. fleet commander, was a household name in America; the other three main characters are less well known: Cmdr. Ernest Evans, an American destroyer captain and Medal of Honor winner; and two top Japanese admirals, Matome Ugaki and Takeo Kurita. We learn about their upbringing, schooling, military experience and the maritime and naval campaigns leading up to the 1944 showdown. And we see each side's persistent misunderstanding and underestimation of the other. Thomas draws the battle scenes with exquisite precision, taking us onto the bridge with the admirals or into the waves with sailors abandoning ship. He portrays incredible heroism, boredom, fatigue and fear — across both fleets. This is an exciting read, especially for landlubbers who have never experienced the discipline, loneliness or anxieties of war at sea. But Thomas' excellent writing also offers sobering insights to anyone today who believes that technology can relieve warfare of its human component. Even though bound by some degree of common technology, training and education, the admirals here drew on different cultures and perspectives to confound conventional predictions. For the real story of the Pacific war is neither the formidable 18-inch guns of the Japanese battleship Yamato nor the remarkable code-breaking that sometimes allowed American commanders to read Japanese orders. No, Thomas skillfully explores the judgments that drove the application of the technology: Halsey's heartbreaking pursuit of a Japanese decoy fleet, Evans' inexplicably courageous stand against far stronger Japanese battleships, Ugaki's fanatical determination to strike with kamikazes, Kurita's cagey disregard of his superior's intent to sacrifice his fleet. So read 'Sea of Thunder' for entertainment — but also for its powerful implications as we struggle in Iraq to use advanced technologies to win a war within a foreign culture. As Thomas proves, courage is hardly limited to a single culture or nation; nor is rationality. But what is seen as rational can differ among cultures. Those who would direct military strategy and policy should be well warned — and should have Thomas' book, well-worn, at their bedsides. Wesley K. Clark, a retired Army general, was the supreme allied commander in Europe during the war in Kosovo. He is the author of 'Waging Modern War.'" Reviewed by Wesley K. Clark, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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Drawing on oral histories, diaries, correspondence, postwar testimony from both American and Japanese participants, and interviews with survivors, Thomas provides this riveting account of the Battle of Leyte Gulf in 1944, the culminating battle of the war in the Pacific. Photos. Maps.
About the Author
Evan Thomas is assistant managing editor of Newsweek. He has won a National Magazine Award and taught writing at Harvard and Princeton. He has written seven books, including New York Times bestselling John Paul Jones.
Table of Contents
PROLOGUE: Culture, Character, and the Loneliness of Command
CHAPTER ONE: Doubting Supermen
CHAPTER TWO: Damn the Torpedoes
CHAPTER THREE: Long John Silver and Confucius
CHAPTER FOUR: Pop Goes the Weasel
CHAPTER FIVE: The Department of Dirty Tricks
CHAPTER SIX: The Shattered Gem
CHAPTER SEVEN: Big Blue Fleet
CHAPTER EIGHT: Sho-Go
CHAPTER NINE: A Fatal Misunderstanding
CHAPTER TEN: Ships in the Night
CHAPTER ELEVEN: Surprise at Dawn
CHAPTER TWELVE: They Were Expendable
CHAPTER THIRTEEN: The World Wonders
CHAPTER FOURTEEN: The Mysterious Telegram
CHAPTER FIFTEEN: The Last Kamikaze
EPILOGUE: Why They Fought
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