by James W. Grace
Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1999. PP. 233.
illus, notes, biblio, index. $36.95. ISBN:1-55750-327-3
In the early morning hours of November 13, 1942, two naval forces fought one of the fiercest engagements of World War II. It was an epic battl pitting American cruisers against Japanese cruisers and battleships. For the Americans, five men – including the task force commander, Rear Admiral Dan Callaghan – were awarded the Medal of Honor (Callaghan and two others received it posthumously), and fifty received the Navy Cross (twenty-six posthumously).
For all the heroism of that battle, it took a retired schoolteacher to give it the treatment it warranted. James W. Grace started this project because “while cruisers were never intended to fight battleships, that had actually happened at Guadalcanal, and the U.S. cruisers had won. It is that which first attracted my attention. Too many of the efforts to describe the battle, particularly that of Richard Frank in his otherwise superb book on the Guadalcanal campaign, seemed to act as if Callaghan had lost the battle.” [emphasis in the origina]
The book goes to perhaps the best source to sort out the confusing twenty-eight minute melee – the men who fought on both sides of the battle that raged during the early morning hours of Friday, November 13, 1942. In this sense, Grace has created the naval historian’s equivalent to Black Hawk Down. There is some discussion of Callaghan’s actions, but without the harsh criticism that attaches to it in most accounts. Indeed, from the author’s foreword, the essential fact of that action is revealed: Against incredible odds, Callaghan’s force won the battle. If there is one criticism of Grace’s book, it is that Grace does not go far enough in trying to dispel the negative image that Callaghan has received.
Overall, this book deserves a place on any bookshelf for students of the Pacific Theater of World War II, or for those who wish to look over the beginnings of today’s joint warfare doctrine. It also is a start in properly assessing Callaghan’s performance in one of the most confusing and controversial battles in the Pacific Theater.