The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal
From the book
Two years before the war began, an old spanish priest in a Filipino village said to an American journalist, "The Pacific: Of itself it may not be eternity. Yet certainly you can find in it the scale, the pattern of the coming days of man. The Mediterranean was the sea of destiny of the Ancient World; the Atlantic, of what you call the Old World. I have thought much about this, and I believe the Pacific holds the destiny of your New World. Men now living will see the shape of the future rising from its waters."
The vessel of that ocean held more than half the water on earth, its expanse larger than all the landmasses of the world. Its beauty was elemental, its time of a meter and its distances of a magnitude that Americans could only begin to apprehend from the California, Oregon, and Washington coasts. It was essential and different and compelling and important, whether one measured it by grid coordinates, assessed it by geopolitics and national interests, or sought its prospects above the clouds. And when war came, it was plain to see that the shape of the future, whatever it was to be, was emerging from that trackless basin of brine.
Whose future it would be remained unsettled in the first summer of the war. The forces of distant nations, roaming over it, had clashed briefly but had not yet collided in a way that would test their wills and turn history. That collision was soon to take place, and it would happen, first and seriously and in earnest, on an island called Guadalcanal.
It was a single radio transmission, a clandestine report originating from that island's interior wilderness, that set the powerful wheels turning. The news that reached U.S. Navy headquarters in Washington on July 6, 1942, was routine on its face: The enemy had arrived, was building an airstrip. This was not staggering news at a time when Japanese conquest had been proceeding smoothly along almost every axis of movement in the Asian theater. Nonetheless, this broadcast, sent from a modest teleradio transmitter in a South Pacific jungle to Townsville, Australia, found an attentive audience in the American capital.
The Cambridge-educated agent of the British crown who had sent it, Martin Clemens, had until recently been the administrator of Guadalcanal. When it became clear, in February, that the Japanese were coming, there had been a general evacuation of the civilian populace. Clemens stayed behind. Living off the land near the village of Aola, the site of the old district headquarters, the Australian, tall and athletic, took what he needed from gardens and livestock, depending on native sympathies for everything. Thus sustained, he launched a second career as a covert agent and a "coastwatcher," part of a network of similarly situated men all through the Solomons.
Holed up at his station, he had radioed word to Townsville on May 3 that Japanese troops had landed on the smaller island of Tulagi across the sound. A month later, he reported that they were on Guadalcanal's northern shore, building a wharf.
Then from his jungle hide, Clemens saw a twelve-ship convoy standing on the horizon. Landing on the beach that day came more than two thousand Japanese construction workers, four hundred infantry, and several boatloads of equipment--heavy tractors, road rollers, trucks, and generators. Clearly their purpose was some sort of construction project. Having detected Clemens's teleradio transmissions to Australia, the enemy sent their scouts into the jungle to find him. As the pressure on Clemens and his fellow Australian spies increased, he kept on the move to elude them, aided by a cadre of native scouts, formidable and capable men....
- The author focuses specifically on the key naval battle of early WWII, giving us a sense of its importance and recounting the military decisions that ultimately decided its outcome. The book's topic is narrow, but this tale of heroism, luck, and tragedy vividly reminds us of the horrors of war. Narrator Robertson Dean makes the story as interesting as a mystery even though we know the outcome. His voice is assured and authoritative, and his deep, rich baritone conveys the urgency of the mission without becoming frenetic or hurried. As is his style, Dean stays away from overt character voices but provides enough subtle differentiation that we know when someone is speaking. Further, his diction and pacing propel the action forward. R.I.G. (c) AudioFile 2011, Portland, Maine
Bob Shacochis, National Book Award winner, author of The Immaculate Invasion "With the publication of Neptune's Inferno, a masterpiece of 20th century naval history, it's time to declare James Hornfischer a national treasure, a member of the distinguished band of brothers--Stephen Ambrose, Shelby Foote, Ken Burns, Spielberg and Hanks--whose sacred mission has been vital to America's journey, preserving the stories of our fathers and grandfathers for future generations, before those stories fade forever out of our consciousness into the shadows of time."
- Jonathan Parshall, co-author of Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway "Hornfischer has produced an account that is visceral, yet technical; sweeping, yet personal. It's a terrific read, and an important new addition to the literature on this most important naval campaign in the Pacific."
- Ian W. Toll, author of Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy "Hornfischer's accounts of naval combat in the Pacific are simply the best in the business."
- Ron Powers, author of Mark Twain: A Life and co-writer, Flags of Our Fathers "With this grand, sweeping, history-correcting book, James Hornfischer takes his place among the elite historians of the United States war in the Pacific during World War II. Like a Curtiss Helldiver, Neptune's Inferno catapults the reader high into the skies for a clear perspective on the vast oceanic conflict, then dives relentlessly to propel us right into the smoke and fire and human valor of the brutal inferno known as Guadalcanal. Along the way, and drawing on newly available papers, Hornfischer clears up lingering misconceptions about this battle, including the full extent of the U.S. Navy's role in victory. And in his character portraits of the brilliant, quirky top admirals and generals of the fractious Army-Navy command, Hornfischer offers a worthy counterpart to Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals."
―John B. Lundstrom, author of The First Team "
"Neptune's Inferno is a superb portrait of the U.S. Navy's critical role in the Guadalcanal campaign, both the surface and aerial combat. Comprehensive with much that is new, yet immensely readable, it covers not only the admirals, but the junior officers and bluejackets as well. Highly recommended."
- San Antonio Express-News "An epic work...In Neptune's Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal, Hornfischer deftly captures the essence of the most pivotal naval campaign of the Pacific war...Compiling interviews with survivors, unpublished eyewitness accounts, and previously unavailable documents, [he] skillfully re-creates the bravery displayed by sailors who opposed the Japanese in what could be called America's finest hour of the Pacific campaign. The book is richly supported by meticulous source notes, a concise bibliography, rare photos and campaign maps...With Neptune's Inferno, Hornfischer...has earned his place among the hallowed ranks of military historians. [It] is a literary tour de force that is destined to become one of the most definitive works about the battle for Guadalcanal. It deserves a place of honor on every military bookshelf."
Dallas Morning News
"Ambitious...entertaining...insightful...judicious...A vivid and engaging account...of war at sea in 1942." --Ronald Spector, The Wall Street Journal
"Neptune's Inferno is well written, packed with scene-setting details and clearly the product of extensive research, including interviews with some of the battle's now-aged survivors... The author's two previous WWII books, The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors and Ship of Ghosts, thrust him into the major leagues of American military history writers. Neptune's Inferno is solid proof he deserves to be there."
- Publishers Weekly "Hornfischer (Ship of Ghosts) understands the human dynamics of the U.S. Navy in the Pacific war...[he] gives an empathetic but balanced account...[reconstructing] the fighting in a masterful synthesis of technical analysis, operational narrative, and tales of courage."
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