The ASL Book Club

pwashington

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'Tower of Skulls' by Richard Frank looks very interesting if you are looking for history on the beginnings of the Asia-Pacific War (Jul '37 - May '42).

His book on Guadalcanal was excellent.
Both on my reading shelf (missed the Guadalcanal book when it first came out). Lots of time to read now....
 

TopT

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Both on my reading shelf (missed the Guadalcanal book when it first came out). Lots of time to read now....
I have so many books to read right now but I am definitely buying Tower of Skulls.

I am also interested in 'The Vanquished: Why the First World War failed to End'

I am really enjoying reading about the politics, history and how they shaped both Europe & East Asia prior to and after WW II. The beginnings of WW II were in China but it couldn't be called a World War because it only involved 2 adversaries.
 

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I've done a bunch of digging into the early part of the Pacific War lately:


Crenshaw, Russell Sydnor. The Battle of Tassafaronga. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1995.

This is a short and very specific work. Crenshaw served as gunnery officer on USS Maury, and wrote this book fifty-odd years later, trying to piece together what exactly happened on the night of Nov 30, 1942. I'm not sure I agree with all of his conclusions, but he makes some interesting observations, particularly relating to the differing narratives about the battle. He presents the American understanding of the battle, followed by the battle as understood by the Japanese, followed by a composite that might actually somewhat resemble what really happened. I found this work to be most valuable as a study in the effects of the fog of war.


Hara, Tameichi with Fred Saito and Roger Pineau. Japanese Destroyer Captain. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1967.

A fascinating book that needs to be taken with a bit of a grain of salt. Hara was one of the only Japanese destroyer skippers to serve and survive through the entire course of the war. This memoir provides an incredible inside look not only at a number of naval engagements (don't take the cover text at face value-- Midway and Guadalcanal are only briefly touched on), but at Japanese officer culture as well.

Hara is intensely critical of the Naval General Staff, particularly regarding what he sees as a refusal to commit heavy cruisers and battleships to Rabaul. I'm not sure this is an entirely fair criticism. Hara either didn't know or chose to overlook the extent to which fuel shortages dictated where heavy fleet units were dispatched.

Overall, an excellent book that could potentially be adapted into one heck of a movie.


Peattie, Mark. Sunburst: The Rise of Japanese Naval Air Power, 1909- 1941. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2001.

If you are at all curious about how Japanese naval aviation got where it was in 1941 and early 1942, this is the book for you. Not merely content to discuss the rapid evolution of aviation technology in the 1920s and 1930s, Peattie also provides a thorough exploration of doctrine and techniques.

I never expected that a book on air power would make me sympathetic to the views of the 1930s 'gun club' admirals, but Peattie makes an excellent case that during the interwar period, the effectiveness of aircraft against warships was at best unproven.

This work is probably most valuable to people with an interest in aviation history or Japanese air doctrine.


Russell, Ronald W. No Right To Win: A Continuing Dialogue With Veterans Of The Battle Of Midway. Lincoln: iUniverse, 2006.

An excellent contrast to Werneth's work. Russell has compiled various accounts from the Battle of Midway Roundtable into a comprehensive and engaging narrative. This work provides excellent insight not only into the history of the Battle of Midway, but also the historiography of the battle. A must for students of the Pacific War or naval history generally.


Werneth, Ron. Beyond Pearl Harbor: The Untold Stories of Japan's Naval Airmen. Atglen: Schiffer Military History, 2008.

A deeply frustrating book from which I expected much more than I received. While the idea-- compiling interviews from surviving Japanese combat aircrew-- is sound, the execution leaves a lot to be desired.

First, the interviews generally cover only a very high level summary of the subject's service in WWII.

Second, the quality of translation is mediocre. The English is certainly comprehensible, but it isn't always idiomatic. My sense is that the translator had Japanese as a first language and English as a second.

Finally, the book is missing a page. I don't mean that a leaf has been torn out, rather that it was skipped entirely in the production process. Fortunately, this page is in the endnotes rather than the main text.

Pass on this one unless you have an overwhelming interest in both naval aviation and the Japanese perspective on WWII.


Willmott, HP. Empires in the Balance: Japanese and Allied Pacific Strategies To April 1942. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1982.

HP Willmott is first and foremost a scholar of the grand strategy of the Pacific War. This work covers the initial Japanese expansion-- the assaults on The Philippines, Malaya, the Dutch East Indies, and Burma.

"Empires in the Balance" illustrates just what a motivated and well lead force with an audacious plan can get away with when opposed by fragmented foes whose leadership can at best be described as "sketchy."

My only regret is the title should read "Japanese and Western Allied Pacific Strategies December 1941- April 1942." Willmott unfortunately does not address any of the conflict in China during the period covered by this otherwise excellent work.

Highly recommended if you like Action Pack 9 and want to get a picture of how it fits into the greater Pacific War. Also if you want to see the British make pretty much every possible mistake over a five month span.
You may have missed your calling Geoff!👍;)🆒
 

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'Tower of Skulls' by Richard Frank looks very interesting if you are looking for history on the beginnings of the Asia-Pacific War (Jul '37 - May '42).

His book on Guadalcanal was excellent.
I've tried to read every book I could find about Guadalcanal, and I consider Richard Frank's book and Hornfischer's 'Neptune's Inferno' to be the best.
 

KhandidGamera

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Recently finished Hornfischer's "The Fleet At Flood Tide". Truly outstanding work from the same author of "Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors". Picks up the Pacific war at the invasion of Siapan through VJ Day.
In Frank's Downfall there was one approach on framing and perspective why the atomic bombs were thought to be necessary. I thought one of the most effective things Hornfischer did in TFAFT was another maybe more persuasive one from a "putting yourself in their shoes in understandable today terms" way when he described how U.S. admirals and generals came and saw first hand the fanaticism of the mass suicide of civilians on Saipan and how it affected their perspective. He also did a good job of explaining how the civilian suicides were not all what they appeared to be - a lot of coercion and brainwashing. His Neptune's Inferno is really good per Yuri. Want to get Toll's trilogy on the Pacific when it completes. Have Barrier and Javellin now to read, based on Parshall's recommendation in Shattered Sword.
 

Eagle4ty

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As a Pacific War historian? Or as a book reviewer? :p
Not totally familiar with the first (we'll have to b.s. a bit more when we get together), but at the latter you rock! BTW if you really want a good read, and one of the best describing the conditions in the South Pacific IMHO, pick up Eric Bergerud's Touched With Fire. A bit thick (but not so much as a good history book goes) but a quick read, quite engaging. He also has done RED THUNDER: Tropic Lightning. I haven't cracked it yet (plowing through Glantz's Stalingrad trilogy & Hue 1968) but looking forward to it.
 

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Not totally familiar with the first (we'll have to b.s. a bit more when we get together), but at the latter you rock! BTW if you really want a good read, and one of the best describing the conditions in the South Pacific IMHO, pick up Eric Bergerud's Touched With Fire. A bit thick (but not so much as a good history book goes) but a quick read, quite engaging.
Touched with Fire is pretty high on my list. Unfortunately, I don't have a copy on hand.

I have read Bergerud's other book on the South Pacific, Fire in the Sky, which focuses on the air war. Fire in the Sky isn't particularly sexy reading (if you want vivid descriptions of air combat, read anything by John Lundstrom), focusing more on logistical and operational factors. That focus makes it a valuable resource though-- it's one thing to read about degradation of pilot quality, it's another entirely to understand that the degradation is because the pilot in question is trying to fly 1,200 miles while suffering from a bad bout of malaria, possibly mixed in with dengue for good measure.
 

Eagle4ty

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Touched with Fire is pretty high on my list. Unfortunately, I don't have a copy on hand.

I have read Bergerud's other book on the South Pacific, Fire in the Sky, which focuses on the air war. Fire in the Sky isn't particularly sexy reading (if you want vivid descriptions of air combat, read anything by John Lundstrom), focusing more on logistical and operational factors. That focus makes it a valuable resource though-- it's one thing to read about degradation of pilot quality, it's another entirely to understand that the degradation is because the pilot in question is trying to fly 1,200 miles while suffering from a bad bout of malaria, possibly mixed in with dengue for good measure.
Not really too much into reading about zoomies and their exploits but there are a few I've enjoyed. (Hey they probably looked down on us pounders and said, "Man I bet you it really sucks to be those guys down there." Whereas we usually looked up and said, "Man, it really sucks to be the guys down here."). If I remember the next time we get together I'll bring it along for you to borrow. Now I DO want it back, or I'll come looking for you. Remember, I know where you live!:sneaky:
 

Uncle_Duke

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My dive into the PTO continues:

Alexander, Joseph H. Edson's Raiders: The 1st Marine Raider Battalion in World War II. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2001.

This is a real gem of a book. Alexander provides a very human account of the First Raider Battalion's experiences, derived from a whole host of letters, memoirs, and interviews with surviving Marines of the 1st Raider Battalion. Alexander paints fantastic portraits of the figures involved with the battalion. Merritt Edson, Ken Bailey, Samuel Griffith, Angus Goss, and many others all come to life.​
The combat descriptions are some of the most chilling and vivid I've read outside of Eugene Sledge's With the Old Breed. Alexander's account of the survivors of Baker Company on the first night Bloody Ridge is going to stick with me for a while.​
This is a unit history, and should be read as such. Operational context is somewhat sparse, and a general familiarity with operations in on Guadalcanal and New Georgia will go a long way in appreciating this book. That being said, Alexander does a fantastic job of placing the 1st Raiders into context within the Marine Corps. Formation, training, and intended missions are all covered, as are the eventual reasons for the Raiders' disbandment in 1944.​
The illustrations are something of a mixed bag. Some, in particular those by Doug Greenbowe, are superb. I found the more technical illustrations be to rather lacking.​
The included maps have their ups and downs. On the one hand, they lack the topographical detail that is often present in the USMC History volumes. On the other hand, the maps have greater detail where specific unit positions are concerned, often going down to the company (and sometimes platoon) level for the Marines and to the battalion level for the Japanese.​
One map in particular is worth discussing here, and that is the map of the Battle of Bloody Ridge, September 12-14, 1942. Alexander's map places a significant water feature between the ridge and the Lunga River. This water feature, referred to as "the lagoon" appears in the maps of the area in Richard Frank's Guadalcanal (albeit in a slightly different location), but is absent from the US Army and USMC official histories. This feature is well attested to in the personal accounts Alexander quotes, which also support his placement.​
This suggests an error on the Edson's Ridge map in Operation Watchtower. If the feature were present in the location described by Alexander, it would run roughly north to south from hex H7 to T7, and average about a hex wide.​
Overall, an excellent read. Highly recommended for people interested in infantry combat in the Pacific Theater, and for people interested in USMC history generally.​



Dull, Paul S. A Battle History of the Imperial Japanese Navy (1941-1945). Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1978.

A classic that unfortunately has not aged terribly well. Dull's work is one of the first English language books to explore the Japanese side of the Second World War using Japanese language sources. Dull specifically uses a trove of Action Reports and War Diaries seized after the war, supplemented with various volumes of the Japan Defense Agency's War History Section's Senshi Sosho series, which are roughly equivalent to the US Army "Green Books."​
This work provides a very high level summary of the Imperial Japanese Navy's experience in the Pacific, covering the major battles from Pearl Harbor to Ten-Go. Dull tends towards a descriptivist approach, and doesn't provide much on the way of analysis of why events shook out the way they did.​
The quality of research is somewhat inconsistent, and is handicapped by the fact that the Senshi Sosho series was incomplete at the time of writing. For topics where Action Reports are extant and the Senshi Sosho books completed, Dull's work is excellent. The account of the Battle of the Java Sea is a good example. However, Dull did not have access to the Senshi Sosho volumes covering naval activity in the Upper Solomons, and these chapters suffer as a result.​
This is a hugely influential work, cited by nearly every subsequent author writing about the Pacific War. However, many of those authors have surpassed Dull's work in various fields. H.P. Willmott's Empires in the Balance has largely superseded the first two sections, though they might make a good introduction to the material for a reader intent on tackling Willmott's work. The chapter on Midway can be skipped in favor of Parshall and Tully's Shattered Sword.​
In general, the maps are quite good, synthesized from a combination of Japanese position data with Samuel Eliot Morrison's charts from various volumes of the History of United States Naval Operations in World War II.​
Bibliography is extensive and well annotated. This alone may make the book worthwhile for some researchers.​
Recommended for people interested in the historiography of the Pacific War, and for those who wish to mine Dull's bibliography for Japanese source material.​
 
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Yuri0352

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My dive into the PTO continues:

Alexander, Joseph H. Edson's Raiders: The 1st Marine Raider Battalion in World War II. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2001.
One map in particular is worth discussing here, and that is the map of the Battle of Bloody Ridge, September 12-14, 1942. Alexander's map places a significant water feature between the ridge and the Lunga River. This water feature, referred to as "the lagoon" appears in the maps of the area in Richard Frank's "Guadalcanal" (albeit in a slightly different location), but is absent from the US Army and USMC official histories. This feature is well attested to in the personal accounts Alexander quotes, which also support his placement.​
This suggests an error on the Edson's Ridge map in Operation Watchtower. If the feature were present in the location described by Alexander, it would run roughly north to south from hex H7 to T7, and average about a hex wide.​
Good catch on 'The Lagoon'!

I hadn't realized this omission from the game map as I haven't played Operation Watchtower yet. Perhaps this could be corrected by an overlay?
 

Uncle_Duke

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Good catch on 'The Lagoon'!

I hadn't realized this omission from the game map as I haven't played Operation Watchtower yet. Perhaps this could be corrected by an overlay?

I think that's probably the most practical approach. There are two details that would need to be clarified first:
  1. Whether the "lagoon" is actually a water obstacle in ASL terms, or whether it's a patch of unusually swampy dense jungle.
  2. Its precise location. Alexander and Frank more or less agree on its north and south boundaries, but substantially disagree on its location on an east / west axis.
 

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Recommendations for any good Navy SEAL fiction, modern-day?
Thanks.
 

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Two more Midway books of interest.

Never Call Me a Hero-N. Jack "Dusty" Kleiss

Decent book about Midway, from Scouting Squadron Six, USS Enterprise.

Only Pilot to attack and hit three different ships during Midway. Kaga, Hiryu, and Mikuma.
Very interesting observations regarding Stanhope Ring and the Hornet Bombing Squadrons.

Wade McClusky and the Battle of Midway-David Rigby

Personal memoirs from the CAG USS Enterprise regarding his attack on the Japanese Fleet, and his following military career.
I met him in 1976 in Bethesda. (Knew who he was because I owned AH's Midway)
Interesting note: (He got perturbed with his son playing Midway, because his son would ahistorically split the Combined Fleet .)
 
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King Scott

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I am currently reading The Polar Bear Expedition by James Nelson...about the Allied occupation of Northern Russia 1918-19. The book focuses mostly upon the American experience/battles against the Red Army, but unfortunately only provides a passing overview of the Britt/French contributions. I am about half way through it, reads easily...a bit more rounded out with sources than the previous book that I read on the conflict (When Hell Froze Over by E.M. Halliday), but The Polar Bear Expedition is a new book and When Hell Froze Over was written over 50 years ago. Both books are well worth the read.

Recently finished Tank Rider: Into the Reich with the Red Army by Evgeni Bessonov. I picked up this book in the gift shop at Bovington when I visited, but it got mixed in with all of the other books in the "to read" pile. Nice to be able to read some first hand accounts from the Soviet perspective. For additional Soviet perspective reads, I recommend Panzer Destroyer: Memoirs of a Red Army Tank Commander by Vasiliy Krysov and Penalty Strike: The Memoirs of a Red Army Penal Company Commander, 1943-45 by Alexander V. Pyl'cyn.

Speaking of Soviet perspective and voices, one of the best that I have read is Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War by Svetlana Alexievich. While not WWII, it is still an extremely compelling and moving book. A collection of oral histories with veterans and families of Soviet soldiers...at times, this book will crush your heart and soul, especially in regards to Soviet censorship affecting mourning mothers.

Semper Fi!
Scott
 

Yuri0352

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I am currently reading The Polar Bear Expedition by James Nelson...about the Allied occupation of Northern Russia 1918-19. The book focuses mostly upon the American experience/battles against the Red Army, but unfortunately only provides a passing overview of the Britt/French contributions. I am about half way through it, reads easily...a bit more rounded out with sources than the previous book that I read on the conflict (When Hell Froze Over by E.M. Halliday), but The Polar Bear Expedition is a new book and When Hell Froze Over was written over 50 years ago. Both books are well worth the read.

Recently finished Tank Rider: Into the Reich with the Red Army by Evgeni Bessonov. I picked up this book in the gift shop at Bovington when I visited, but it got mixed in with all of the other books in the "to read" pile. Nice to be able to read some first hand accounts from the Soviet perspective. For additional Soviet perspective reads, I recommend Panzer Destroyer: Memoirs of a Red Army Tank Commander by Vasiliy Krysov and Penalty Strike: The Memoirs of a Red Army Penal Company Commander, 1943-45 by Alexander V. Pyl'cyn.

Speaking of Soviet perspective and voices, one of the best that I have read is Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War by Svetlana Alexievich. While not WWII, it is still an extremely compelling and moving book. A collection of oral histories with veterans and families of Soviet soldiers...at times, this book will crush your heart and soul, especially in regards to Soviet censorship affecting mourning mothers.

Semper Fi!
Scott
Scott,
Speaking of the Soviet perspective, if you haven't read these already, I highly recommend T-34 in Action by Artem Drabkin and Oleg Sheremet (available from Stackpole Books). This is a fascinating collection of oral histories from Soviet T-34 crew members during WWII. I was especially intrigued by the opinion of many of these tankers that the driver was considered the most important and usually the most experienced member of the crew.

Another excellent title by Svetlana Alexievich is The Unwomanly Face Of War, which is a collection of oral histories of Soviet women who served as soldiers, medical personnel and air crew during the Second World War. Certainly an underrepresented aspect of the war on the Eastern Front.
 

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Currently reading 'Spearhead' by Adam Makos.

Part of the book covers the famous Pershing vs. Panther engagement at Cologne. Interesting to read the story behind this engagement. You can find several videos of the battle on YouTube.

And the author does a great job to show you what life as a tanker was about in NWE 1944-45.
 
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