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Black Shoe Carrier Admiral: Frank Jack Fletcher at Coral Sea, Midway, and Guadalcanal, by John Lundstrom

Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2006. Pp. xxii, 638. . Illus., maps, append, notes, biblio., index. $39.95. ISBN:1-59114-475-2.

Ask a Marine who Frank Jack Fletcher is and you will probably get a long string of profane epithets. Ask a student of Samuel Eliot Morison, and you will probably get a contemptuous look. But ask John Lundstrom and you will have it explained that Admiral Fletcher was one of the few commanders who held the line during the early days of the Pacific War.

John Lundstrom’s new book, Black Shoe Carrier Admiral, is not a biography of Admiral Fletcher. It could best be described as an operational history of Fletcher’s command from December 1941 through September 1942. It is also a spirited defense of an admiral who has been much maligned by historians of the Second World War in the Pacific.

Lundstrom takes to task such noted historians as Samuel Eliot Morison, Fletcher Pratt, and Robert Heinl, for their omissions and distortions of the facts in recounting the attempted relief of Wake Island, the battles of Coral Sea and Midway, and the invasion of Guadalcanal and its immediate aftermath.

Lundstrom has researched this period extensively for his former works and this one. He uses as sources the surviving staff logs of Fletcher’s commands, as well as ships’ logs and operational histories of commands in the Central and South Pacific. He has also uncovered new sources, including the diary of Brigadier General Melvin Maas (a Marine Corps Reserve aviator and serving Republican Congressman from Minnesota), that provide much additional insight to communications, staff debate and even Admiral Fletcher’s thoughts and mindset during the invasion of Guadalcanal.

The task facing Lundstrom is a difficult one. Today, everyone “knows” the victor of Midway was Admiral Spruance, yet he was under Fletcher’s command. Equally, any Marine will tell you Admiral Fletcher “cut and ran,” leaving the Marines to their fate at Guadalcanal and was the cause of their ordeal in the following weeks, as well as the Battle of Savo Island and all the difficulties Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner faced in resupplying the “Canal.” If historians Morison and Heinl are to be believed, Fletcher’s concerns over fighter strength and the fuel state of his vessels was largely imaginary. Yet Lundstrom lays the groundwork for understanding Admiral Fletcher’s actions, by describing the pre-invasion planning conference (where he warned all he could not remain on station more than two days), providing reports of the fuel status of vessels in the carrier task forces, detailing the vague and misleading intelligence summaries the admiral was receiving, and demonstrating that Turner’s attempts to keep Admirals Fletcher and Ghormley informed left much to be desired.

Finally, Lundstrom goes into great detail of the Navy politics of the time, describing how they led to Fletcher being beached and eventually exiled to command of the 13th Naval District in the autumn of 1942. Lundstrom spares no one, including Admirals Nimitz and King, for the part they played here, as well as later, maligning Fletcher in official and unofficial histories after World War II.

John Lundstrom’s Black Shoe Carrier Admiral, like his earlier works The First Team<

Reviewer: Chuck Wohlrab   

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