Four Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign.
One might be forgiven for thinking that everything that can be said about World War II, has already been said. That is probably right; but it is not what is said, but how it is said. In Sea of Thunder, Evan Thomas brings a balanced appraisal of the leading personalities involved in the Battle of Leyte Gulf at the close of World War II – warts and all.
Readers of military history fall into two camps. One consists of those who thirst for knowledge and comparison of differing opinion. The other likes a patriotic ‘fix’, while enjoying summaries of past victories. Thomas’s book will satisfy the former and antagonize the latter. This review will attempt to hover between the two extremes.
This is a story about an American admiral and a Commander, and two Japanese admirals. However, the book starts and ends with Admiral William F. Halsey Jr., USN. The culmination of the work is Halsey’s lapse of judgment at Leyte Gulf, and the suicide mission of Cdr Evans resulting in his death together with much of his crew. The final score was one American and one Japanese left standing.
Thomas is a leading journalist, and his book betrays that occupation. Seen from both sides of the ‘41to’45 conflict (1939 to 1945 for everyone else), the story grips the reader from start to finish. Unfortunately, in his desire to be ‘balanced’ – a prerequisite of today’s journalism, his prose lacks passion.
There is little indication of the success of the Marine landings, only a reminder of their failures. The Kamikaze assaults seem a minor inconvenience, and not the serious threat they really were.The set-piece sea battles somehow got lost in the writing. Maybe I was not paying attention, but it seemed to me that the Japanese could not decide what to do. Halsey went off chasing personal glory -exactly as the Japanese thought he would. His incompetence did not stop there. He was found guilty of dereliction of duty during not one, but two typhoons causing death and destruction on a massive scale. Fortunately, the top brass were old chums, so Halsey went on to promotion as a five star fleet admiral. If a blundering drunk can reach the dizzy heights of five star rank, there is hope for the rest of us.
While all this was going on, the defenders of Leyte Gulf did their job, and the Marines did theirs with conspicuous gallantry.
Evan Thomas’s book is very well researched, and a compelling read. It is available from Amazon for a ridiculously small price, and will be enjoyed by everyone who has in interest in World War II, particularly that part of it played out in the Pacific Ocean.