Sea of Thunder – Audio CD Review

Sea of Thunder

By Evan Thomas

Book on CD

Reviewed by Paul McMahon

As I listened to the book, I thought that it would be easier to follow with a map. I looked at the hard copy book and could find only one map and that illustrated a small part of one battle. You might take a look at a map before listening.

You might look at this book as a management book as you read about the commanders doing what they wanted and ignoring commands from above. Then you can also look at the impact of the Japanese culture of suicide that prevented its military from learning from its mistakes since the commander making the mistake either went down with his ship or killed himself. You could also look at a Japanese staff that encouraged being lied to about the failure of its strategies.

The Americans did learn from their mistakes because they survived and frequently were tolerated. There was plenty of lying about the success of American pilots, but the commanders quickly learned to discount pilot reports and have a more effective evaluation of what was going on.

The author was able to interview many of the Japanese commanders or their families and also had access to American and Japanese archives.

The book starts with Pearl Harbor and traces the war across the Pacific, sea battle by sea battle. The various amphibious landings are discussed where they had an impact on the fleets. It covers the continuing destruction of the IJN (Imperial Japanese Navy) and the continuing growth of the American Navy as more and more carriers were delivered from American shipyards. A key factor was cutting the Japanese off from oil and raw materials.

A key theme is the transition from the Battleship Navies of World War I to the Carrier Based Navy of Work War II. Especially significant was the Japanese spending so much material on building the two largest battleships in the world which had almost no impact on the outcome of the war.

The book concentrates on the Battle of Leyte Gulf which spelled the end of the Japanese Navy and drove what was left back to Japan. It also brought on the Kamikazes.

Communications proved to be critical. The American Navy cleared all messages through a center on Eulitha (I heard it, I cannot spell it). The idea was to give priority messages special handling the result was that all messages became priority and frequently took hours to get through the system resulting in many errors and problems. It is hard today in our world of instant secure communications to imagine a process of a commander dictating or writing a critical message to a code clerk who would encrypt it and give it to a radioman to transmit it to the center where it would be typed. The code clerk on the island would decode the header to identify the destination and route it to the proper radioman who would send it to the addressed ship. There a radioman would type it, assuming there were no atmospheric effects that garbled the transmission requiring a request for retransmission and finally turning it over to a code clerk who unencrypted it and give it to his commander. The result was a process that took hours at its best and days at its worst.

Back to the management book — The book illustrates that communications is critical and having an honest and open communication between all levels is critical.

A well written and well read discussion of the Pacific War.


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