Book Review: Titans of the Seas by James & William Belote

Topic & Content

Published in 1975, this book is an examination of aircraft carrier development and the major carrier operations and carrier battles of the Pacific War. The book is organized as follows:

  • 1. Pearl Harbor
  • 2. Sticks, Wires, and Former Battle Cruisers
  • 3. American, Japanese, and British Naval Air Power
  • 4. Sledgehammer at Rabaul
  • 5. Riposte in the Marshalls
  • 6. Darwin, Marcus, New Guinea
  • 7. Ceylon and Tokyo
  • 8. The Coral Sea
  • 9. Midway: The Battle Joined
  • 10. Midway: Climax and Pursuit
  • 11. The Eastern Solomons
  • 12. Santa Cruz
  • 13. “Then There Was One”
  • 14. Finale at Guadalcanal
  • 15. New Georgia and Points North
  • 16. The New Fast Carriers
  • 17. “Makee Learn”
  • 18. Rabaul Interlude
  • 19. Tarawa and Makin
  • 20. The Marshalls and Truk
  • 21. The Carolines and Hollandia
  • 22. Operation A Go
  • 23. Operation Forager
  • 24. Mitscher, Spruance, Ozawa
  • 25. The Marianas Turkey Shoot
  • 26. Battle in the Philippine Sea
  • 27. Attack at Sundown
  • 28. Landing by Night
  • Epilogue
  • Sources
  • Appendixes

Thesis

This book covers the development of the aircraft carrier as an instrument of naval warfare in the U.S. Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy from WWI to the end of WWII.

Author’s Background

Both (late) authors had backgrounds in history and academia. James Belote was a professor of history at Principia College in Elsah, Illinois. His brother, William, taught naval history at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

Critical Observations

Positives

The best thing about this book is that it’s a very good overview of the major carrier battles, and some of the American and Japanese carrier raids, of the Pacific War. Bear in mind that this book is focused on carrier operations, so surface engagements, amphibious assaults, etc. are largely excluded. There’s enough detail for the reader to make sense of the action and a handful of decent maps allowing for a sense of the geography of the battles and where the forces are in relation to each other.

The authors make good use of personal narratives from aviators in this book which adds some color to the battles, as well. There are also some decent evaluations of the tactical decisions made by commanders during the battles which helps put things into perspective by providing the reader with a clearer idea of the import of these engagements. A good number of primary sources were used, and overall, the text is very quick-to-read and unpretentious. However, be careful of the occasional misleading claim by the likes of Mitsuo Fuchida. (Although, remember that this book was published in the 1970s, so the reader would do well to follow-up by checking with more recent scholarship.)

Negatives

My biggest disappointment with this book is that I thought it would be a more detailed comparison between the doctrinal developments of carrier warfare of the U.S. and Japanese navies. As in, how were the American and Japanese carriers different, what were the differences in their air operations, and how were the carrier task forces organized differently between the two navies. I think an examination of how the Japanese Kido Butai operated early in the war versus how American fast carrier task forces operated later on in the war would be a very interesting read. Instead, it’s mostly a straightforward narrative of carrier warfare in the Pacific up to the battle of the Philippine Sea (AKA the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot). There’s little discussion on how carrier warfare, carrier task forces, and naval doctrine explicitly changed over the war apart from the occasional comment on how the U.S. built more carriers and trained more aviators.

There’s also a lack of detailed annotations and citations in the text which makes it difficult to pinpoint where specific pieces of information came from. The bibliography is decent, but there’s no footnotes or endnotes in the book.

Evaluation (Does the content support the thesis?)

At its core, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this book and the information does support the thesis. However, I was simply expecting something a bit different and with more discussion about the operational and doctrinal differences between the U.S. and Japanese aircraft carriers. That doesn’t stop me from recommending this book because it’s a very straightforward and easily digestible narrative of carrier warfare in the Pacific. In that respect, it’s good for readers looking for a general overview of that part of the war. However, given the date of publication, I would always advise readers to seek out additional and more current sources, should they be using this book for research.

Rating: 4 out of 5

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