How Carriers Fought by Lars Callender

How Carriers Fought by Lars Callender

Focusing on the big Pacific carrier battles of WW2, the author wanted to find out how they were fought, why particular methods and strategies were used, and whether the parties (particularly the USN) could have done better. He couldn't find a book that told him those things, so set about writing it himself.

Considerable research and reading apart, Callender brings to this ab initio analysis his experiences as a theoretical physicist, private pilot, yacht navigator, radio and radar designer and gunfire control systems analyst. The result is an omnium gatherum of factors, some more relevant, some less, often entertainingly presented. Like Shakespeare's Autolycus, Callender is a snapper-up of what for others are unconsidered trifles. He provides, in essence, a rag-bag of arcane details, some of which will be new business, and knits all together with skill. I often found the result educational but, per contra, can see that some key points have been missed, which produces the odd flaw in the analysis. One I would identify is perhaps not recognising, when discussing armour, that Illustrious and her sisters were designed in 1936 against the strategic vision of 1936 when the aircraft, weapons and actions of the future war were hardy foreseeable. Indeed the US Essexes' design must date to 1940. Sometimes the narrative spills over to what might have been if the Japanese war had gone on a bit longer.

The actual battles are well and succinctly described with exact figures by aircraft type for each attack and ensuing losses, and details of weather, twilight and moonlight. Actions and choices are analysed from an essentially mathematical point of view - using Game Theory, Operations Analysis and other techniques - in terms of costs, both in hardware and financial. Following this there is interesting detail on the political (MacArthur vs FDR etc.) and economic and financial aspects of various strategies, policies and procurement choices then and for the future - here the author has dug deep.

The text is well seeded with maps, diagrams and photographs. The approach is basically mechanical rather than human. The use of the present tense in discussing the warfare of three quarters of a century ago I sometimes found confusing but eventually adjusted to that, and never stopped being interested in what the author had to say.

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