Book Review: The Second Pearl Harbor: The West Loch Disaster, May 21, 1944


by Gene Salecker

Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2014. Pp. xviii, 278. Illus., maps., diagr., chron., notes, index. $34.95. ISBN: 0806144769

A Forgotten Tragedy of World War II

This is a frequently gripping account of one of the most devastating yet least reported accidents to American forces in the Second World War, the explosion of several ammunition-laden LSTs in Pearl Harbor that killed over 150 servicemen and wounded nearly 400 more. 

Salecker, the author of several books on the Pacific War and other events, opens with several short chapters to set the stage for the West Loch disaster, covering preparations of the invasion of the Marianas and a look at the LST. He then focuses tightly on May 20-22, 1944, getting into particular detail, notably so for the 21st: 15 of his 24 chapters deal with that one date, often literally on a minute-by-minute basis. Salecker cuts back and forth among several ships or land installations, to recount the experiences of quite a number of sailors, marines, and coastguardsmen as the disaster unfolded.  He follows these with a discussion of the salvage operations, including the heroic death of Navy diver Owen Hammerberg, the last man awarded a Medal of Honor for non-combat heroism, and the court of inquiry, which led to some important changes in ammunition handling procedures. . Salecker concludes with a discussion of the imposition of censorship, a wartime necessity, which, although lifted many years ago, remains the principal reason the incident is still barely known, despite the passage of 70 years. 

A gripping tale, The Second Pearl Harbor will prove rewarding for anyone interested in the Pacific War or military history in general.

Note: The Second Pearl Harbor is also available in several e-book editions

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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