Book Review: Pacific Thunder: The US Navy's Central Pacific Campaign, August 1943–October 1944


by Thomas McKelvey Cleaver

Oxford: Osprey / New York: Osprey Bloomsbury, 2017. Pp. 296. Maps, biblio., index. $35.00. ISBN: 147282184X

The Triumph of the Fast Carrier Task Force

The author of Frozen Chosen, Fabled Fifteen, and other notable works, in Pacific Thunder Tom Cleaver gives us a wide ranging look at the U.S. Navy’s “triphibious” campaign in the Central Pacific, from the start of operations against the Mandates in mid-1943 until the final decisive clash with the Japanese Imperial Navy in the Philippines in October of 1944.

Cleaver opens with the fleet’s strategic victory in Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, in October of ’42, which ended Japanese effort to make further advances in the Pacific. He then the takes us back to the origins of naval aviation doctrine, prewar preparations by both sides, the opening months of the Pacific war, compares the leaders, and looks at how America’s industrial might began to effect operations from early 1943, with the advent of the Essex Class carriers. Cleaver then takes us through fifteen months of hard campaigning, as the Third and Fifth Fleets sweep across the Central Pacific, clearing the seas of the Japanese fleet. We see the fleet securing critical lodgments in the Gilberts, the Marshalls, and the Carolines, and then on to the Philippines for the final clash in the several actions known collectively as the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Cleaver ends with a look at the fleet’s work in the final months of the war, when it faced, paradoxically, one of its greatest challenges, the kamikaze, until the surrender in Tokyo Bay.

Cleaver’s style offers an integrated account of events. So we get a look at the political and strategic concerns that shaped operations, and the admirals, generals, and politicians who led the war, but also from those in cockpits and the gun tubs, with often moving accounts of men in desperate fights or suffering horrendous injury. Cleaver mixes into his treatment looks at the respective military, doctrinal, technological, and industrial systems, albeit generally leaning more to the American than the Japanese side. Of particular interest is his coverage of matters often overlooked in accounts of the war, such as the U.S. Navy’s “Lifeguard” program, that assigned submarines to rescues downed aviators, which saved hundreds of men from certain death, or the policy of rotating veteran pilots home, which may have deprived them from racking up “kills” in numbers equal to those of many German or Japanese aces, but permitted them to impart their experience to new trainees, who tended to live longer than their Axis counterparts.

Pacific Thunder is an outstanding read for anyone with an interest in the Navy, aviation, or the Pacific War.


Note: Pacific Thunder is also available as an ePub, 978-1-4728-2185-0, and an ePDF, 978-1-4728-2186-7.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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