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Book: "Black Shoe Carrier Admiral"

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  • Book: "Black Shoe Carrier Admiral"

    This book is definitely worth a read. I rated it five stars instead of the 3.5 at Amazon.

    It's about Admiral Frank Fletcher, and the nine crucial months he commanded the few carriers the US Navy had. He did the best with what he had, winning every carrier battle he fought (he fought three: Coral Sea, Midway, and Eastern Solomons) and every one of his carrier battles were strategically critical.

    [There were only two other carrier battles in WW2. Sante Cruz, where Kinkaid lost, and shaved the number of carriers the USN had to only the damaged Enterprise; and the Philippine Sea in 1944, where, interestingly, despite being a major victory, Spruance would also face much of the same criticisms as Fletcher had after Midway and Eastern Solomons.]

    Yet, Fletcher was shunted unceremoniously aside soon after Eastern Solomons, and relegated to the back waters of the war. He also became a heavily criticised figure in the US Navy.

    The contradiction between Fletcher's achievements (his strategically crucial victories) was examined and explained in this book.

    This book made a strong case that Fletcher was unfairly maligned by others in the US Navy. Fletcher not only had to win battles, but more importantly, given the situation, he had to preserve American carrier assets ABOVE ALL. He had to do this against Japanese superiority in the number of flight decks. This he clearly did, and the most heavy losses in American carriers in battle took place after he left.

    At the same time, while being tactically cautious, Fletcher fought battles that resulted in heavy defeats for the Japanese navies, particularly at Midway. No other carrier admirals achieved such results with so few assets. It would be unfair to compare the achievements of TF38/58 in 1944/5, when the Americans possessed almost a hundred flight decks and more than a thousand planes, with Fletcher's comparatively small fleet in 1942 with no more than 300 planes.

    To add to what the book discussed, if we had Halsey in command in 1942 instead of Fletcher, the Americans might well have lost their remaining carriers in reckless fights, and it would be Halsey that would be in the dog house instead of Fletcher.

    I also found it interesting how Fletcher's story mirrored that of another air war hero, Dowding. Both were unceremoniously shunted aside after strategically crucial victories, by ungrateful bosses and through office politics.

    Here's the summary:

    An abundance of new evidence demanded this reevaluation of Frank Jack Fletcher, the "black shoe" admiral who won his battles at sea but lost the war of public opinion. A surface warrior -- in contrast to a "brown shoe" naval aviator -- Fletcher led the carrier forces that won against all odds at Coral Sea, Midway, and the Eastern Solomons. These and other early carrier victories decided the Pacific War not only because they inflicted crippling losses but also because they denied Japan key strategic positions in the region.

    Despite these successes, by 1950 Fletcher had become one of the most controversial figures in U.S. naval history and was portrayed as a timid bungler who failed to relieve Wake Island in December 1941 and who deliberately abandoned the Marines at Guadalcanal.

    In this book, author John Lundstrom recalls that Fletcher once remarked, "after an action is over, people talk a lot about how the decisions were deliberately reached, but actually there’s always a hell of a lot of groping around," and notes that the goal of his study is to probe and explain the "groping around." Drawing on new material, Lundstrom offers a fresh look at Fletcher’s decisions and actions. The first major reassessment in more than fifty years of the once-maligned naval officer, it provides a careful analysis of the effect of radio intelligence on decision-making in the carrier battles during the first nine months of the war in the Pacific. This new assessment is based on thousands of documents and massive dispatch files and personal papers that no historian has previously used.

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