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"EXCELLENT Book on the Battle of Cape Esperance" Topic

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588 hits since 24 Nov 2020
©1994-2021 Bill Armintrout
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Blutarski24 Nov 2020 8:28 a.m. PST

For anyone with any interest in the true nuts and bolts of the 1942 naval night actions in the waters around Guadalcanal, I highly recommend the following book -

GUN CLUB – USS Duncan at Cape Esperance
by Robert Fowler

The author was an infant when his father, Torpedo Officer aboard USS Duncan, lost his life in the a/m battle and has spent decades doing both deep archival research as well as interviewing numerous surviving participants in the battle.

Buy this book if you are at all interested in the naval side of the Guadalcanal campaign. You won't be sorry.


hindsTMP Supporting Member of TMP24 Nov 2020 9:29 a.m. PST

Thanks for the heads-up.

How does this compare to the books by Captain Crenshaw ("South Pacific Destroyer" and "The Battle of Tassafaronga")? As you probably know, both were are written by a knowledgeable WW2 destroyer officer, and go into a lot of detail. In contrast to Mr. Fowler, Crenshaw was actually there, which would seem to be an advantage for an author. Comments?


Nine pound round24 Nov 2020 5:26 p.m. PST

Thanks for the advice- not halfway through yet, but it was already worth the money.

Nine pound round24 Nov 2020 6:34 p.m. PST

I will add (as someone who is probably more interested in the Solomons naval campaign than in any subsequent action of WWII, this book vividly illustrates the way in which the USN's highly successful program of expansion exacted a high price in the short term, as ships' crews went into the earlier actions with mixed crews that were assembled on short notice. You really get a visceral sense for how new to the job they were at that stage of the war.

Blutarski24 Nov 2020 7:16 p.m. PST

Hi Robert,
My father served on USS Lardner (DD487) in the PTO during WW2. Just as you have a deep interest in the BEF's Western Front campaigns in WW1, I harbor an equally intense interest in the Solomons naval campaign of 1942-1943. Both of the Crenshaw books you mention are among my collection of references; Crenshaw is an important reference source for this period. IMO, Fowler's work is at least as good as Crenshaw's work in terms of the quality and depth of detail relating to the Cape Esperance action.

I also have the book "The Battle of Cape Esperance" (to which Fowler makes several references) by Charles Cook, who was present at the battle as an officer aboard USS Helena. It is a good reference source for Cape Esperance. I consider Fowler's work to be an excellent companion volume in the sense that Fowler goes places where Cook's book (as I recall) did not. For example -
> Fowler discusses the management (and mismanagement) of the US search radar / FC radar tandem: i.e. ….. whose radars were unserviceable, which radars had been switched off intentionally, which had been left operating. He relates a very interesting account about one US ship that required eight minutes (!!!) for her FC radar to lock onto a Japanese target previously picked up and being actively tracked by her own search radar.
> Scott's instructions to his destroyers to set their torpedoes to the high speed setting, which conferred a speed of 41 knots but limited their range to only about 4500 yards. This provides IMO a valuable hint as to Admiral Scott's pre-battle tactical thinking.

Downside? Fowler has some harsh things to say about Scott and his management of the battle and about Captain Taylor's handling of USS Duncan. One must draw his own conclusions on such matters. My opinion? Scott's conduct of the battle was very far from a thing of beauty.

Check the Amazon reviews.


Blutarski24 Nov 2020 7:28 p.m. PST

Good on you, nine pound round. I think the Solomons is one of the very best arenas for naval wargaming ….. and still awaiting a really good set of rules.


Nine pound round25 Nov 2020 7:14 p.m. PST

Nothing harder to simulate than the "fog of war," and those actions had plenty of it. You're right about rules; I don't know how you capture the conditions that affected Savo Island, Cape Esperance, or the Guadalcanal battles without special rules and a referee.

From the gaming perspective, of course, that was the most balanced period of the war; after 1942, the odds against the Japanese lengthen remorselessly with each action, as the attrition compounds itself, and the US Navy continually improves. I tend to think that war was lost when the Senate's President dropped the gavel on the Two Ocean Navy Act, though.

I finished the book in a marathon read- quite literally un-put-downable. The work he did in interviewing the survivors was evident, and his careful assembly of their stories makes it one of the most graphic and horrifying descriptions of the loss of a ship I can remember, probably because I am used to semi-forensic explanations like Bill Garkze delivers, and Fowler focuses so heavily on the crew. There's a lot of material that, told simply and frankly, stays with you- the chief engineer trying to fight off the sharks as they try to eat him alive and the decapitated communications officer seated at his desk- those kinds of things don't usually make it into the books.

Just wish I had it in hard copy- Cape Esperance, like most of the Guadalcanal battles, is hard to make sense of without the maps to consult as you read, and that is harder to do on a Kindle.

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