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Neptune's Inferno
Cover of Neptune's Inferno
Neptune's Inferno
The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal
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"A literary tour de force that is destined to become one of the . . . definitive works about the battle for Guadalcanal . . . [James D.] Hornfischer deftly captures the essence of the most pivotal naval campaign of the Pacific war."—San Antonio Express-News
The Battle of Guadalcanal has long been heralded as a Marine victory. Now, with his powerful portrait of the Navy's sacrifice, James D. Hornfischer tells for the first time the full story of the men who fought in destroyers, cruisers, and battleships in the narrow, deadly waters of "Ironbottom Sound." Here, in stunning cinematic detail, are the seven major naval actions that began in August 1942, a time when the war seemed unwinnable and America fought on a shoestring, with the outcome always in doubt. Working from new interviews with survivors, unpublished eyewitness accounts, and newly available documents, Hornfischer paints a vivid picture of the officers and enlisted men who opposed the Japanese in America's hour of need. The first major work on this subject in almost two decades, Neptune's Inferno does what all great battle narratives do: It tells the gripping human stories behind the momentous events and critical decisions that altered the course of history and shaped so many lives.
Praise for Neptune's Inferno
"Vivid and engaging . . . extremely readable, comprehensive and thoroughly researched."—Ronald Spector, The Wall Street Journal
"Superlative storytelling . . . the masterwork on the long-neglected topic of World War II's surface ship combat."—Richard B. Frank, World War II
"The author's two previous World War II books . . . thrust him into the major leagues of American military history writers. Neptune's Inferno is solid proof he deserves to be there."The Dallas Morning News
"Outstanding . . . The author's narrative gifts and excellent choice of detail give an almost Homeric quality to the men who met on the sea in steel titans."Booklist (starred review)
"Brilliant . . . a compelling narrative of naval combat . . . simply superb."The Washington Times

"A literary tour de force that is destined to become one of the . . . definitive works about the battle for Guadalcanal . . . [James D.] Hornfischer deftly captures the essence of the most pivotal naval campaign of the Pacific war."—San Antonio Express-News
The Battle of Guadalcanal has long been heralded as a Marine victory. Now, with his powerful portrait of the Navy's sacrifice, James D. Hornfischer tells for the first time the full story of the men who fought in destroyers, cruisers, and battleships in the narrow, deadly waters of "Ironbottom Sound." Here, in stunning cinematic detail, are the seven major naval actions that began in August 1942, a time when the war seemed unwinnable and America fought on a shoestring, with the outcome always in doubt. Working from new interviews with survivors, unpublished eyewitness accounts, and newly available documents, Hornfischer paints a vivid picture of the officers and enlisted men who opposed the Japanese in America's hour of need. The first major work on this subject in almost two decades, Neptune's Inferno does what all great battle narratives do: It tells the gripping human stories behind the momentous events and critical decisions that altered the course of history and shaped so many lives.
Praise for Neptune's Inferno
"Vivid and engaging . . . extremely readable, comprehensive and thoroughly researched."—Ronald Spector, The Wall Street Journal
"Superlative storytelling . . . the masterwork on the long-neglected topic of World War II's surface ship combat."—Richard B. Frank, World War II
"The author's two previous World War II books . . . thrust him into the major leagues of American military history writers. Neptune's Inferno is solid proof he deserves to be there."The Dallas Morning News
"Outstanding . . . The author's narrative gifts and excellent choice of detail give an almost Homeric quality to the men who met on the sea in steel titans."Booklist (starred review)
"Brilliant . . . a compelling narrative of naval combat . . . simply superb."The Washington Times

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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One

    Trip Wire

    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 stress...

About the Author-
  • James D. Hornfischer, a native of Massachusetts, is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Neptune's Inferno, Ship of Ghosts, and The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, which won the Samuel Eliot Morison Award for Naval Literature. Two of his widely acclaimed works about the U.S. Navy in World War II are selections of the U.S. Navy's professional reading list. A graduate of Colgate University and the University of Texas at Austin, he lives with his wife and their three children in Austin, Texas.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    December 6, 2010
    Hornfischer (Ship of Ghosts) understands the human dynamics of the U.S. Navy in the Pacific war as well as any student of the subject. Here he focuses on the period when the Navy underwent its sternest test. The struggle for Guadalcanal, he writes, was "the most sustained and vicious fight of the Pacific war." It featured seven major naval actions and required the Navy to master a new kind of war: it was the first of the amphibious expeditionary campaigns charcteristic of the Pacific theater, combining air, land, and sea forces,and the U.S. was spectacularly unprepared to cope with its demands. Nor did the U.S. understand as yet how effective its Japanese opponent was—eventually, this knowledge was purchased with blood, and Hornfischer gives an empathetic but balanced account of that process. He reconstructs the fighting in a masterful synthesis of technical analysis, operational narrative, and tales of courage. His listing of one set of commendations submitted by one ship after one action stands in particular for all "the men without rank" who made up for the shortcomings of ship designers, admirals, and captains in the waters of Ironbottom Sound. 16 pages of b&w photos, 9 maps.

  • Kirkus

    October 1, 2010

    Hornfischer (Ship of Ghosts: The Story of the USS Houston, FDR's Legendary Lost Cruiser, and the Epic Saga of Her Survivors, 2006, etc.) chronicles the World War II Pacific campaign to capture and hold Guadalcanal from the Japanese.

    The battles were remarkable, and the author is at his best when he lets the story unfold on its own. The campaign began in August 1942 when 16,000 Marines were dispatched to capture a landing field the Japanese were constructing that would enable aircraft to control a radius of 500 strategic miles of the South Pacific. Loss of the airfield would expose the Navy to Japanese air attacks throughout the region; its capture would enable the Allies to protect the routes and, moreover, attack the Japanese entrenched in New Guinea. The Marines routed the Japanese, but the Navy, attacked at night by Japanese cruisers, lost four ships and withdrew. Afterward, between August and December, in a series of brutal naval engagements, the Japanese navy landed soldiers on Guadalcanal to retake the field and destroyed American and Australian aircraft carriers, cruisers and destroyers. However, the U.S. Navy shocked the Japanese with its own night attacks and the use of SG radar to sink Japanese battleships and surface craft of all kind, ultimately leading to the loss of nearly 40 Japanese ships and the death of more than half of all Japanese aviators who had participated in the attacks on Pearl Harbor. With painstaking research and an intimate sense of tragedy, Hornfischer relates how failed communications, erroneous orders, loss of nerve and unwillingness to trust radar led many American ships directly into the sights of Japanese arms. The outcome was in doubt until the Japanese withdrew in February 1943. The horror of the flagship San Francisco shelling its own fleet not once, but twice, and the abandonment of the crew of the torpedoed Juneau to die in shark-infested waters are among the wrenching tales that need few adjectives to engage readers. Unfortunately, the author often stretches and provides too many descriptors, intruding on a story that is riveting in its own right.

    Sure to please military and WWII buffs, but may leave others unsatisfied.

    (COPYRIGHT (2010) KIRKUS REVIEWS/NIELSEN BUSINESS MEDIA, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

  • Library Journal

    March 15, 2011

    During the Battle of Guadalcanal, which extended from August 1942 into early 1943, the U.S. Marines grimly staved off loss on three of the Solomon Islands while the U.S. Navy and Imperial Japanese Navy fought in surrounding waters. The Japanese had better planes, torpedoes, and night fighting tactics. Naval historian Hornfischer (Ship of Ghosts) emphasizes the individual experiences of officers and enlisted men to humanize his exciting account. The night surface actions were particularly deadly, as the participants' descriptions of the smoke and confusion of intense gunnery actions show. Losses were fairly even, but the Japanese eventually evacuated Guadalcanal. With good maps and extensive documentation, this is gripping and readable, not a dry military report. Recommended for general World War II history buffs.

    Copyright 2011 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • 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."
  • Dr. Peter R. Mansoor, colonel, U.S. Army (ret.), Gen. Raymond E. Mason Jr. Chair in Military History, The Ohio State University "Neptune's Inferno is an exceptional piece of military history. Hornfischer has broadened and deepened our understanding of the U.S. Navy's role in the Solomons campaign in this eminently readable account of the bloody naval battles of attrition in the fall of 1942 that doomed the Imperial Japanese Navy to defeat and irrevocably shifted the strategic initiative in the Pacific War."
  • Library Journal "With good maps and extensive documentation, this is gripping and readable, not a dry military report."
  • Cleveland Plain Dealer "The star of this year's reading list is James D. Hornfischer, a military historian whose flair for narrative is rivaled only by his ability to organize the sweep of battle and assess strategy and tactics in layman's terms."
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The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal
James D. Hornfischer
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