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
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<