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Sea of Thunder

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Sea of Thunder. Four Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign 1941-1945. By Evan Thomas. (Simon & Schuster, New York: 2007. Pg. 432.) ISBN: 0-7432-5222-5.

Reviewed by Herbert White - June 8, 2007

Four daring men, two American commanders - Admiral William "Bull" Halsey and Commander Ernest Evans, and two Japanese commanders - Admiral Takeo Kurita and Admiral Matome Ugaki, were to play pivotal roles in the Battle of Leyte Gulf (Second Battle of the Philippine Sea). This ofttimes overlooked World War II battle signaled the defeat of the Japanese Navy, and the end of the era of great naval sea battles. In Sea of Thunder: Four Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign 1941-1945 Evan Thomas provides a detailed analysis of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, and in setting the stage for this momentous battle, he also offers a concise overview of the war in the Pacific and the circumstances that led the Untied States and Japan to go to war against each other.

Beginning in the months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Thomas examines the wartime careers of Halsey (Commander of the U.S. 3rd Fleet), Evans (Captain of the U.S.S. Johnston), Kurita (Commander-in-Chief of the Japanese Second Fleet), and Ugaki (Commander of the Imperial Japanese Navy First Battleship Division which consisted of three ships). When Thomas gets to his examination of the Battle of Leyte Gulf (October 1944), he addresses how their earlier experiences in the war impacted the decisions they made during this fateful battle.

Thomas' choice of subjects to focus on in this book is a bit unique, as most writers writing about a battle would tend to concentrate on the 'top' commanders. Instead, Thomas has selected two of the highest ranking commanders Halsey and Kurita, and juxtaposed their stories with two important, but decidedly lower ranking men, Evans and Ugaki. This choice gives the reader a glimpse of the battle from two slightly different command perspectives.

The Battle of Leyte Gulf was a memorable battle in many regards. It was the last great naval battle of World War II, and it was the largest naval battle to be fought in modern times. It saw the first battle in which kamikazes were used, and it was a battle that the Imperial Japanese Navy never recovered from. In short, it spelled the beginning of the end for the war in the Pacific. While a large segment of this book focuses on the battle, Sea of Thunder does not offer a comprehensive overview of the battle. Rather, Thomas' aim seems more to use the battle as a backdrop from which to examine the four human subjects and the differences between them - both culturally and militarily.

Sea of Thunder is a gripping and informative book that is hard to put down. Thomas' writing style is dynamic and his descriptions are vivid. By presenting the Battle of Leyte Gulf from the viewpoint of these four different commanders, Thomas not only provides a unique look at the battle, but he also gives the reader an intimate glimpse into the mind set of each man. He also examines their many failures, both personal and militarily, that occurred on both sides, and the tragic consequences that resulted. This book can be read effectively for a number of different reasons from simple entertainment to a general history of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, or as a joint biography of four disparate World War II naval commanders.

Related Reviews:

The Quiet Heroes, by Bernard Edwards
A riveting history of the British merchant seamen who plied the U-Boat infested waters of the Atlantic throughout the dark days of World War II.

Battleship Oklahoma BB-37, by Jeff Phister, with Thomas Hone and Paul Goodyear.
An engaging history of the USS Oklahoma, with a special emphasis of the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, where she was sunk by Japanese bombers.

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