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Early U.S. Navy Carrier Raids, February-April 1942: Five Operations that Tested a New Dimension of American Air Power

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Early U.S. Navy Carrier Raids, February-April 1942: Five Operations that Tested a New Dimension of American Air Power

By David Lee Russell

Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2019

7” x 10”, softcover, vii + 197 pages

Illustrations, maps, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $39.95

ISBN: 9781476638614

 

From February through April in 1942, the United States Navy launched a series of aircraft carrier raids against the Empire of Japan. Although the raids were pinpricks, with little material impact, they proved critically important.

 

Early U.S. Navy Carrier Raids February–April 1942: Five Operations That Tested a New Dimension of American Air Power, by David Lee Russell, shows exactly how important the five raids were. The February carrier raids on the Marshall and Gilbert Islands, Rabaul, and Wake and the Marcus Islands, a March raid on Lae and Salamaua in New Guinea, and the April Doolittle Raid on Japan were the first offensive operations in the Pacific by the United States Navy following Japan’s attacks in December 1941. The author devotes a chapter to each raid, with an opening chapter introducing the situation, and a final chapter placing the results of the raids in the context of the overall war and their significance to its outcome.

 

Each raid gets a detailed examination. Russell presents the planning, execution and outcome of each set of raids. He documents each American attack and each Japanese counterattack occurring during the raid. These are accompanied by a generous assortment of maps and illustrations, helping readers better understand the action in each raid.

 

Russell makes comprehensive use of primary sources, such as operations orders, after-action reports and wartime analyses. These are extensively quoted in each chapter, adding immediacy to his descriptions. He backs this up with post-war analyses.

 

The book covers some of the most dramatic episodes of World War II. The clearest example is that of the Doolittle Raid. Other incidents include “Butch” O’Hare single-handedly breaking up an attack on Lexington. He earned “ace-in-a-day” status, credited with shooting down five G4M bombers in a few minutes’ fighting. It also offers a look at men who played starring roles in the Pacific War, from admirals like William Halsey to pilots, like Wade McCluskey  and John Thatch, who played critical roles at Coral Sea and Midway.

 

This book is of primary interest to naval historians. Those focused on maritime history or pre-twentieth century naval history will probably give it a pass. Similarly, while interesting to read, ship modelers will find little of interest. For those interested in World War II United States carrier operations, it is a must read, if not a must have. Those interested in World War II naval operations, especially those whose focus is the Pacific theater will find it useful.

 

It is also useful for wargamers gaming carrier air combat. The appendices have full orders of battles for the American task groups committed to each raid. However, it is weaker in providing Japanese orders of battles. Readers learn what the American actually encountered, but not what the Japanese potentially had.

 

Early U.S. Navy Carrier Raids February–April 1942 offers a well-written account of a series of operations that, while minor, were significant. All (except for the Doolittle Raid) are largely forgotten today. Russell offers readers a fresh look at them in this book.

 

Mark Lardas

League City, Texas

 

This review is provided courtesy of the Nautical Research Guild.

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