Top positive review
Reviewed in the United States on April 2, 2017
Pacific Crucible, the War at Sea 1941-1942 is the first volume of a three-book series by Ian W. Toll. This review covers Pacific Crucible and The Conquering Tide, the second volume in the series. I have not read the third volume, The Fleet at Flood Tide.
Ian W. Toll is a gifted writer. He manages to plug in interesting details, gluing the reader to the page. While most of these tidbits are not of immense importance, they are exactly what makes reading history fascinating. Mr. Toll moves a story along at speed, avoiding wording and phrasing leading to boredom. Pacific Crucible and The Conquering Tide are appealing as fact based books and as compelling stories.
Pacific Crucible begins at Pearl Harbor and explains Japanese decision making behind the raid. The author points out how the attack impacted the Japanese command structure, a detail often omitted in other histories. Ian Toll carefully points out that the main targets of Yamamoto’s attack were the American aircraft carriers, none of which were in port. He also describes the main Japanese offensive moves into Southeast Asia, which secured the oil and other military necessities for Japan. All this is done in a fast moving style that leaves the reader anticipating the next sentence.
The author is even handed in his evaluation of the leaders on both sides. Yamamoto’s attack plan was good, but far from perfect. The American military leaders General Short and Admiral Kimmel were unjustly charged with dereliction of duty in the defense of Pearl Harbor, even though they certainly made mistakes. Admiral King is evaluated well and his faults are disclosed along with his ability to lead the Navy in a tough time. All the leaders Mr. Toll discusses, Japanese and American, are approached with respect as well as an opened eyed realism.
The Conquering Tide tells the story of the Pacific War after Guadalcanal and details how the Japanese were defeated by American ingenuity, bravery, and industrial power. It is clear that the Japanese were hampered by pre-set conclusions concerning how the war would be fought and how the Americans would fail in the face of the spiritual superiority of their enemies. The Japanese leadership was stunned by the speed of the American advance across the Pacific, and the power of the Pacific Fleet by the end of 1943. Ian Toll tells us of the many false assumptions made by Japan and the helplessness felt by the population as their leaders became oppressive and outright stupid in their handling of the people during the war.
Like any author telling any story Ian Toll has his failings. All major battles are covered, most not in deep detail; however, some events, such as the first few voyages of the Wahoo, are reported in extreme detail. In other cases, Mr. Toll fails to adequately discuss items that were important to the Pacific theater of war. The horrible failure of Admiral King to adopt the convoy system at the outset of war, and its costs, are not well explained and lost to the reader. The story of American torpedo failures is split up and difficult to follow.
In this old warrior’s opinion, the author is too soft on some of the personalities he reviews. MacArthur is one example. He changed War Plan Orange and adopted junk in its place, and his superiors in Washington allowed it. Why? After the outright debacle following Pearl Harbor and the complete destruction of US air power in the Philippines, with consequences at least as bad as Pearl Harbor, he stayed in command. Why? Mr. Toll does complain about MacArthur, but he does not tell us he was incompetent. In fact, he more or less defends MacArthur’s leadership. It is the same with several other leaders. Mr. Toll gives them the benefit of the doubt too often.
I enjoyed both books and highly recommend them for anyone interested in World War II in the Pacific