Battle of Savo Island Paperback – 1 May 2002
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Top Customer Reviews
mistakes will be made, fighting new battles by the old rules!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Plusses: Clear, lucid style. Prominent featuring of eyewitness accounts. Strikes balanced level of detail, rendering the work readable and valuable to readers of varying familiarity with naval terminology. And perhaps biggest plus of all; if you want to read something specifically about Savo, well, this is pretty much all there is (to my knowledge).
Minuses: "Ship by Ship" narrative style sometimes leads to repeating relatively minor anecdotes, without apparent need. After a superb introduction, detailing Japanese operations up to the first salvo, the author almost completely ignores the Japanese perspective during the battle itself. Newcomb obviously had access to Japanese participants in order to write the opening chapters; why did he not include their accounts of what happened during the battle?
Overall, well worth reading.
Newcomb repeatedly emphasizes the shortcoming of a fractured chain of command, and divided forces (so too, did the investigating admiral after the fact). I would wholly agree that these were deep shortcomings in the Allied force. I suspect, however, that these specific factors may not have been decisive. ALL ELSE BEING EQUAL, if all 6 cruisers had been together in one group, under positive command of one flag officer, I personally believe that the outcome would have been similar. Horrifically poor long-range reconnaissance, poor communications, superior Japanese night tactics and weapon (an outstanding torpedo), and an early-war complacent atmosphere were more pertinent to the case at hand. The biggest SINGLE factor, I believe, was the complete breakdown of reconnaissance.
These guys simply had no situational awareness. The most ably led, superbly trained force will still get bushwacked if they simply don't know what their environment is.
Why were the Japanese so successful and why were the Allies caught so completely by surprise? There are several factors. First, the Japanese cruisers carried torpedo tubes while the Allied cruisers did not. The Japanese used their torpedoes with deadly accuracy, while the Allies had to rely on guns alone. Second, the ultimate failure of the command structure of the Allied forces played a large part in the defeat. The Japanese force was spotted on its approach at least four times. Each time, the sughting was inaccurately described, or the message never reached those in charge of the ships. Also, the overall commander of the Allied forces, Admiral Crutchley, failed to notify the commanders of the other ships that he was removing his flagship, the HMAS Australia, from the group. This left no one in overall command. The cruiser captains were forced to fend for themselves. These factors, plus an overwhelming desire by the Japanese to succeed, led to the disaster at Savo Island. Had the Japanese continued the fight and attacked the American transports which were unloading off of Guadalcanal, the disaster would have been much worse for the Allies.
Author Richard F. Newcomb does a very good job describing this great loss for the Allies. He describes the intrepid Japanese Admiral Mikawa, who decided to attack the Americans, as well as all of the sightings of his force by the Allies. Perhaps his best work in this book is how he describes the action on each Allied cruiser, devoting a separate chapter to the Astoria, Vincennes, Quincy, and Canberra. A good follow-up to the battle is also provided at the end of the book.
I recommend this book. It does a good job of describing one of the darkest days of the United States Navy and the lessons which were learned from the defeat. These lessons led ultimaely to the defeat of Japan.
The Battle of Savo Island started as a Japanese Navy attempt to counter the landing at Guadalcanal and Tulagi. Sending in a force of cruisers and destroyers under Admiral Gunichi Mikawa aimed at the fleet off the beaches supporting the landing of the US 1st Marine Division, the Japanese were confronted by an Allied motley force of cruisers and DD's under Australian Admiral V.A.C. Crutchley. Like in the Murphy's Law, everything that could go wrong went wrong. No one was in command; the American skippers just didn't know what was going on until too late. Taken pants down by the Japanese, the multinacional force was smashed ship by ship, under cannon fire and the dreaded Long-Lance torpedoes, losing 4 cruisers and suffering heavy damage on a cruiser and two DD's.
In a harrowing account, Richard Newcomb gives an almost minute-by-minute description of the night engagement that almost turned back the American forces from the Solomons. Savo Island, thru its mistakes and blunders, taught the US Navy a lesson, learned the hard way, but learned for good.
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