Neptune's Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal
Reviewer: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 22 Aug 2011
The campaign in the Guadalcanal region of the Solomon Islands was the first major American offensive in the Pacific War, and much like the campaign that was about to get underway in North Africa, the Americans were green, and many lessons were yet to be learned. Having read, and thoroughly enjoyed, James Hornfischer's The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, I had been looking forward to Neptune's Inferno since hearing word of it probably about a year ago. In short, I was not disappointed.
Hornfischer recounted this episode of the Pacific War from different angles, taking account of the strategy coming from Washington and Tokyo as well as the tactics executed by local commanders of both sides. Especially with the latter, he went into depth with naval gunnery, night actions, and radar. Although some might complain that there could have been more details, the author did a good job in balancing the book between a high level overview of the theater and a detailed analysis of the engagements. The rich cast of characters ranging from admirals to seamen also provided different perspectives on each battle, allowing the readers to understand each engagement on different levels. The sense of abandonment felt by the US Marines, for example, was contrasted well with the analysis of why the US Navy admirals decided to, for some time, abandon Guadalcanal along with the Americans on the ground.
I had reviewed this title in its audio book format. Robertson Dean did a fair job reading the book. Good pace and clear pronunciation, though I did not think his reading really stood out above other readers. He also had a few issues with his Japanese pronunciation (ship names Aoba and Hiei came to mind), but he pronounced Japanese words, even if heavily accented or incorrect, consistently, which was made up for it somewhat.
To be perfectly honest, The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, his first WW2 title, was still his best in my heart. Nevertheless, this fact would not lessen the value of Neptune's Inferno. While Samuel Eliot Morison's works remained to be my first choice when needing references on Guadalcanal, I enjoyed Neptune's Inferno and would still recommend it, especially to those in search of titles a bit less heavy than Morison's.
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Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Foreign Minister, Aug 1939