Book Review: Pacific Carrier War by Mark Stille

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Topic & Content

Published in 2021, this book covers the five major carrier battles of the Pacific War (Coral Sea, Midway, Santa Cruz, Eastern Solomons, and Philippine Sea). Like certain other hardcover Osprey titles, this book is an edited compilation of previously published paperback Osprey titles on these battles. The book is organized as follows:

  • Ch. 1: Ships, Aircraft, and Men
  • Ch. 2: The First Six Months
  • Ch. 3: Clash of Carriers in the Coral Sea
  • Ch. 4: Ambush at Midway
  • Ch. 5: The Battle of the Eastern Solomons
  • Ch. 6: Showdown at Santa Cruz
  • Ch. 7: Preparing for the Ultimate Carrier Battle
  • Ch. 8: The Battle of the Philippine Sea
  • Ch. 9: Conclusion and Analysis

The book begins with a discussion of the carriers, aircraft, and prominent admirals of the respective sides. The next chapter covers a six-month timeframe from the opening of the Pacific War (Pearl Harbor, Wake Is., Doolittle Raid, etc.) to just before the battle of the Coral Sea. The next six chapters cover the five major carrier battles of the Pacific War from the Coral Sea to the Philippine Sea. The book ends with an analysis of the performance of the U.S. and Imperial Japanese Navies.

Thesis

The overall thesis of the book could be summarized as the Imperial Japanese Navy began the war with a significant advantage in carrier doctrine with the operation of the six carriers together as the Kido Butai and the First Air Fleet. However, the five major carrier battles of the Pacific War gradually attritted the Japanese Navy of its carriers and skilled aircrew. In contrast, the U.S. Navy began the war operating their carriers with less cohesion, but the unprecedented application of production, training, doctrinal development, and logistics allowed them to form their carriers into potent task forces that won the naval war in the Pacific.

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

As with other Osprey titles and their republished compilations, the biggest positive of this book is that it brings all of the information together into a single volume, even though it’s a bit redundant if you already own the volumes that compose it. Still, this makes the information highly accessible.

Each battle is examined from an operational perspective. The initial plans and intelligence picture are discussed, followed by the orders of battle for the respective sides, the overall sequence of events during combat, and finally, the conclusion and aftermath of the battle, including the forces lost. This standard format for the chapters allows the reader to gain a good view of the significance of each battle and keep a larger picture in their head.

Negatives

As with other Osprey compilations, this is really just a repackaging of previously published titles and it doesn’t really add anything substantially new to the narrative, although be aware that it is edited from the volumes that it comes from, so it may not be quite as detailed as the originals. Additionally, as with many of the other Osprey titles (and books by Mark Stille) I’ve reviewed, this book is geared toward the popular history market, so it’s not the most detailed in terms of its historiography and, aside from containing a bibliography, has no footnotes or endnotes. Simply put, it’s very derivative of far more detailed works out there.

Given that this book examines these battles from an operational perspective, don’t expect any personal accounts. There are occasional mentions of some high-ranking admirals, commanders, or notable individuals, but on the whole, it keeps the focus on the larger picture.

Finally, since this book only covers the five major carrier vs. carrier battles of the war, it leaves out other engagements that involved carriers. For example, the Battle of Leyte Gulf has only a few pages dedicated to it. The reasoning for this seems to be that even though it involved IJN carriers under Admiral Ozawa that was acting as a decoy, he had such a minuscule air group at his disposal that his contribution to the battle is essentially written off. Hence, it wasn’t a true carrier vs. carrier battle.

Evaluation (Does the content support the thesis?)

Like many of the other Osprey titles by Mark Stille, Pacific Carrier War covers all the bases that anyone looking for a popular history title would want. It’s well-illustrated, colorful, has decent maps, and contains enough detail to satisfy your curiosity. That said, this book doesn’t add anything new to the historical narrative and is really just a rebinding of previously published Osprey titles. Overall, I still find this book useful as a quick reference because all of the information is contained in a single volume. It’s detailed enough to give the layperson a good overview of the action and an understanding of the importance of these battles.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 (Good. Borrow from a library.)

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
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