Book Reviews: The Imperial Japanese Navy in the Pacific War & The United States Navy in World War II by Mark Stille

Topic & Content

Published in 2013 (Imperial Japanese Navy) and 2021 (United States Navy), these books are edited compilations of previously individually published Osprey titles. They both follow the same basic organization which is as follows:

  • Strategy, doctrine, and tactics
  • Operations
  • Aircraft Carriers
  • Battleships
  • Heavy Cruisers
  • Light Cruisers
  • Destroyers
  • Submarines
  • Conclusion and Analysis

One thing to note about Osprey is that they publish an assortment of very thin paperback titles related to all manner of military history topics. Most of these books aren’t more than 100 pages in length. In the case of these two books, what they’ve done is taken the previous titles on aircraft carriers, battleships, cruisers, destroyers, and submarines and put them into their respective books for each navy. However, it’s important to note that there are some edits and omissions if you examine these books and the books they’ve been compiled from, which I’ll discuss later in this review.

Thesis

There isn’t really a defined thesis for either of these books since they cover the individual ship classes with some light discussion on the strategic outcomes of the Pacific War. However, the closest thing that approximates a thesis could be that Imperial Japanese Navy began the war with a number of excellent and very specialized ships and a highly-trained navy in terms of tactics and doctrine, but as time went on, the IJN ultimately failed to adapt and grasp the changing nature of modern naval warfare which caused it to fall behind the technology and production curve and lose the war of attrition. In contrast, the U.S. Navy was able to utilize the massive industrial might of America to continuously build and refine technically excellent ships. Combined with its adaptations and technology, the U.S. Navy was able to achieve naval supremacy and become the world’s largest naval power.

Author’s Background

Mark Stille is a retired U.S. Navy Commander with more than 30 years in the intelligence community. Additionally, he did tours as a faculty member at the Naval War College and is a frequent contributing author to Osprey. Anyone with a passing interest in WWII Pacific War history will inevitably encounter Stille’s books given that he almost exclusively writes on that subject.

Critical Observations

Positives

Both books are easy to read and accessible to the layperson. The greatest benefit of both of these books is that they gather the information in a single volume so the reader doesn’t have to hunt around for a bunch of different references. Furthermore, they’re useful as quick references and as starting points for research. The books go through each class of ships and provide some context to their design characteristics, armament, service modifications, and wartime service. One thing to note is that these books only cover the major combatant classes of ships. They don’t cover auxiliary/support vessels, merchants, or the smaller escort ships and boats.

The Imperial Japanese Navy in the Pacific War

I’ve had the Imperial Japanese Navy book in my personal library for some time now and thought I’d reread it for this review. I can say that it’s definitely the superior volume of the two. The book is detailed and contains a lot of good information on the basic service highlights of these ships.

The United States Navy in World War II

While there are a great many reference works regarding the many classes of warships of the U.S. Navy, they are often expensive and require some digging to find ones that aren’t just a collection of technical characteristics. The benefit of this book is that it collates the information into a single place. It’s essentially a cheaper and less-detailed version of Norman Friedman’s design series.

Negatives

The Imperial Japanese Navy in the Pacific War

Surprisingly, I don’t have many critiques of this volume. This isn’t to say that this book is perfect but the criticisms that I do have could easily be applied to both books. It’s important to understand what these books are and what to expect from them. In general, it should be noted that these books are secondary sources (in some ways, even tertiary sources) and are meant as an easily accessible reference. They don’t contain a lot of technical details, so don’t expect anything along the lines of something by Garzke and Dulin. The history is there in the books, but Stille’s writing is somewhat generic and he tends to paint in broad strokes, so to speak. The popular history nature of these books also means that they contain no footnotes or end notes, and only a bibliography. This can make tracking down specific facts from individual sources a bit challenging. At best, these books are starting points for further research. You’ll find many interesting facts throughout, but you’ll need to consult other dedicated sources to get a more detailed picture of the events.

The United States Navy in World War II

There’s a noticeable difference in the thickness of the two books.

In contrast to the Imperial Japanese Navy volume, I have the most issues with this volume. One of the major drawbacks is that the United States Navy volume is substantially shorter than the Imperial Japanese Navy volume (304 pages vs. 392 pages) when in reality, it should probably be significantly longer. What’s missing from the U.S. Navy book are the operational histories of individual ships. In some ways, this is understandable because the number of warships produced by the Two Ocean Navy Act and subsequent shipbuilding programs far surpassed any naval construction program of any other country during the war. Thus, had Stille dedicated space to discussing the operational histories of every U.S. ship of every type and class in the book, it would’ve been absolutely massive. (For those looking for more detailed operational histories on individual ships, the alternative would be to read the individual volumes that comprised this compilation.) What would’ve been better is if Stille limited the focus of the U.S. Navy book to solely their operations in the Pacific Theater. He occasionally mentions some of their operations in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, but it’s very negligible.

Another drawback of the U.S. Navy book is that the chapters on light cruisers, destroyers, and submarines are pitifully short at 24, 30, and 20 pages, respectively. This is very unfortunate since many of the destroyers and submarines had amazing careers that far outshine any contribution of the other vessels (such as battleships). The book also doesn’t cover destroyer escorts.

My final criticism of the U.S. Navy volume is that many of the ship classes don’t seem terribly interesting when compared to the volume on the Japanese Navy. This isn’t really the fault of the author because this was simply the nature of ship design and the building programs of the U.S. Navy at the time. Many of the classes were simply evolutions of previous classes of ships. In contrast, the Japanese had a number of very unique and specialized ships, some of which had questionable utility during the war.

Evaluation (Does the content support the thesis?)

In the end, the Imperial Japanese Navy in the Pacific War is definitely the stronger of the two works since it contains far more information on the operational histories of the vessels. By providing this information, the reader can glean more context for why the Japanese Navy failed in some areas when compared to the U.S. Navy. The volume on the U.S. Navy functions as more of a design history and seems a bit lacking in content when it comes to discussing the service histories of these vessels. As a result, the book can feel a lot drier to read, but the evolution of ship designs is readily apparent. Comparatively, the Japanese Navy initially focused on quality over quantity, and it reads more like a desperate and tragic failure punctuated by a series of whacky ideas.

What these books do best is serve as a quick reference for the major combatant vessels of each navy. They’re great places to start doing research and are written by an author who has extensively published other books on the topic. While these are edited compilations of previous Osprey titles, they’re convenient in capturing the bulk of their derived texts in a single package.

Rating:

Imperial Japanese Navy 3.5 out of 5

United States Navy 3 out of 5

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s