Book Review: World War II US Fast Carrier Task Force Tactics 1943-45 by Brian Lane Herder

Topic & Content

Published in 2020, this book is a short examination of U.S. Navy aircraft carrier task force development, tactics, operations, and organization during the latter part of World War II in the Pacific. The book is organized as follows:

  • Introduction
  • Composition
    • Fast Carriers
    • Escorts
    • Auxiliaries
  • Organization
    • Command
  • Air Group Equipment & Organization
    • Fighters
    • Scout/Dive Bombers
    • Torpedo Bombers
    • Floatplanes
    • Groups
    • Squadrons
    • Shipboard & shore-based personnel
    • Aviators
  • Operations & Tactics
    • Doctrine: Prewar development, 1922-1941 – wartime development, 1942-1943
    • From practice to perfection, 1943-44
    • Strategy and logistics
    • Flight operations: personnel and procedures – night operations
    • Task Force Tactics: Formations and communications
    • Radar
    • Fighter direction tactics
    • Task Group defense: aerial defense – anti-aircraft guns – tactics against kamikazes, 1944-1945
    • Carrier damage control
  • Surface Combat
  • Air Combat
    • Scouting
    • Strikes
    • Fighter tactics
    • Strafing and rocket attacks
    • Bombing – torpedo attacks
    • Night attacks and interception
    • Air-sea rescue – lifeguard submarines
    • Case study: Operation “Jamboree,” February 16-17, 1945
  • Conclusion

Thesis

The book’s main point is that the U.S. Navy’s Fast Carrier Task Force was a powerful combined-arms weapons system that was the result of the confluence of weapons, technologies, doctrine, and industrial power that came together at the right time and grew as a result of lessons learned during wartime combat experience.

Author’s Background

According to the biographical blurb, Brian Lane Herder has a Bachelor of Arts in history from the University of Kansas and a Masters of Library Science from Emporia State University. He works as a legislative librarian for the Kansas state government and his research interests include World War II military and naval history.

Critical Observations

Positives

This book covers a very niche topic (that of aircraft carrier tactics). It’s essentially what I expected the book Titans of the Seas to be (but wasn’t) and examines in far greater detail what How Carriers Fought also covered (but did so very poorly). It methodically breaks down what exactly the fast carrier task force was, how it operated, and what tactics the carrier-based fighters and bombers used. It’s not a narrative of the role of aircraft carriers in the Pacific War because there are already plenty of those books around, but rather it’s a detailed examination of how the WWII U.S. Navy aircraft carrier task force developed and how it operated.

The best thing about this book is that it gets into the nitty-gritty of the carrier task force and naval aircraft tactics. Say you want to know the specifics of how dive bombers and torpedo bombers would approach and attack a target? How many fighters would be flying escort duty for a strike? How were strafing and rocket attacks conducted? What role did night fighters play and what tactics did they employ? How did the composition of carrier air groups change over time? What formations did a carrier task force cruise in? How were planes spotted for launch and recovered? What was the cycle time of aircraft elevators? How did carriers approach a target, launch, and recover a strike? How was Combat Air Patrol (CAP) conducted? How did the escorting ships contribute to fleet air defense? You’ll find all of those answers, and more, in this book.

Suffice it to say that anyone interested in naval tactics, as they pertain to WWII aircraft carriers and naval aircraft, will likely find this book useful. Naturally, not every dive bombing or torpedo bombing run went off exactly like what is shown in the book. These illustrations are likely based off of doctrinal manuals, but doctrine is very important in warfare because it’s the bedrock for how militaries fight. Had the aviators used the exact same tactics over and over, it would’ve made them extremely predictable. Still, it’s good to see details on how the U.S. Navy trained aviators to carry out these attacks.

Being an Osprey book, it’s very well illustrated with both photos and color drawings. The diagrams and illustrations are colorful, clear, and have detailed captions which make them easy to understand. The photos and illustrations provide the reader with a good visual of the topic under discussion.

Negatives

Most of my criticisms of this book can be applied to Osprey titles in general, in that they relate largely to the length and the popular tone of their books.

Regarding the short length of the book, I strongly suspect that Osprey has page limits that contributing authors have to adhere to which is why so many of the books they publish are in the format of short paperbacks. Still, I wish there were more details on the development of the carrier task force. Perhaps a good prequel book could cover U.S. Navy carrier tactics prior to 1943 in the early-war years. In fact, what would’ve made this book even better is if Herder included more case studies on historical carrier operations that utilized these tactics and/or the operations that show the genesis of such tactics.

My second issue is that the popular tone of the writing in the Osprey books means that they aren’t the best for doing in-depth academic research. That being said, while there are no in-text citations, Herder at least frequently gives references to the sources in the text itself. For example, he’ll write, “according to the doctrine manual _____, bombers were to make their attacks runs at _____.” This does provide the reader with a place to start looking should they want to follow up on Herder’s writing, so it’s a bit more detailed than some of the other Osprey titles I’ve read in terms of in-text references. Still, the lack of detailed citations can be annoying for those looking to do in-depth research, but that’s what you get with popular history books like those from Osprey.

Evaluation (Does the content support the thesis?)

Overall, this book covers a niche topic that other aforementioned titles have failed to explicate. It breaks down the organization of a U.S. Navy WWII carrier task force and describes how it would be used doctrinally and tactically in the latter half of the war. There are no personal stories, grand strategies, or politics in this book. Just tactics and operations. While short and not as detailed as other academic studies, this book is a great starting place for understanding how carrier task forces were used.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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