Mark E. Stille. Pacific Carrier War: Carrier Combat from Pearl Harbor to Okinawa. Osprey Publishing, 2021. ISBN: HB 9781472826336. 304pages. $35.00 USD.
By Joshua Shephard
Largely developed during the 1920’s, aircraft carriers came into their own during the epic clash for the Pacific during World War II. Although a handful of older officers continued to regard the battleship as central to fleet operations, it became readily apparent at the outset of the conflict that the carrier had forever altered the nature of naval warfare. Mark Stille’s latest volume Pacific Carrier War explores the vital role of carriers in the war that unfolded in the far east. In good measure, the course of the war in the Pacific was shaped by the carriers that decided the balance of power in the region. Stille charts the trajectory of the war by examining the Pacific theater’s pivotal carrier actions: Pearl Harbor, Coral Sea, Midway, the Eastern Solomons, Santa Cruz, and the Philippine Sea.
The author pens a straightforward account of the Japanese attack on America’s Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. The attack, carried out by an Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) eager to maintain dominance in the Pacific, resulted in a humiliating defeat for the U.S. Navy. In a devastating exhibition of the reach and power of aircraft carriers, Japanese planes played havoc on American vessels in the harbor. Despite the seemingly one-sided battle at Pearl Harbor, the Japanese, tellingly, failed to knock out any American aircraft carriers, which were absent from the harbor at the time of the attack. The affair had been a blunt Japanese tactical victory, but brought the United States into World War II. America’s entry into the war ensured that in the contest for the Pacific, Japan would face an enemy with a far greater capacity to produce superior aircraft and the carriers that could launch them.
But during the first year of the war, Japan arguably possessed superior aircraft and more experienced pilots. Stille’s account of the Battle of the Coral Sea not only details the desperate nature of the fighting, but highlights the American deficiency in successfully coordinating strikes by carrier-based aircraft. American attacks, often carried out in piecemeal fashion, failed to score a decisive tactical victory. As the author explains, the fierce fight at Coral Sea would nonetheless contribute to the stunning American victory at Midway. The IJN, whose carrier strength had been blunted at Coral Sea, would be caught largely unprepared for a robust American response at Midway. Although American carrier strikes continued to suffer from a woeful lack of coordination, poor Japanese intelligence, paired with outright bad luck, resulted in a crushing Japanese defeat.
Stille pens detailed descriptions of the carrier battles at the Eastern Solomons and Santa Cruz. Although the Americans continued to gain increasing tactical efficiency, the Japanese Navy persisted as a formidable opponent. Although American carrier task forces failed to secure a decisive victory, it was clear that Japan’s Pacific empire was slowly shrinking. By the time the last great carrier battle of the war unfolded in the Philippine Sea, America’s unmatched industrial output had produced new aircraft designs which far outclassed older Japanese counterparts. During a swirling air battle in June of 1944, increasingly experienced American pilots and naval personnel inflicted an irreversible defeat on the Imperial Japanese Navy. Although the IJN continued to operate carriers and surface vessels, a shattering loss of aircraft ensured that Japan’s days of offensive carrier operations were at an end.
Author Mark Stille is a veteran writer who possesses a close familiarity with his subject matter. A retired United States Navy commander, Stille saw service aboard two carriers and on the faculty of the Naval War College. A seasoned author and thorough researcher, Stille has authored fifty volumes on naval history. With 291 pages of text, his most current book contains lucid accounts of fierce naval action and likewise examines the strategic and tactical decisions of the fleet commanders who wielded the carriers in combat. Pacific Carrier War is highly recommended for students of the naval history of World War II.
Joshua Shepherd, a sculptor and independent researcher, has created over 30 public monuments. His articles, with a special focus on Revolutionary and frontier America, have appeared in publications including MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History, Military Heritage, Journal of the American Revolution, and Civil War Quarterly.