Battle of Surigao Strait Hardcover – Apr 14 2009
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"With copious endnotes, an extensive and interesting bibliography and thorough index, this book is worth buying by serious students of the Pacific War and for institutional libraries with a strong military history focus." ―The Journal of Naval History
"Anthony Tully has managed to trace the complicated flow of and reason for events... with a skill and aplomb that forces one to reconsider previously held views." ―Naval History
"Aims to sort out the discrepancies that have crept in over time to standard accounts of the battle... a confused and complex night action. Of special interest is Tully's exploitation of fresh source materials." ―Malcolm Muir, Jr., author of Black Shoes and Blue Water: Surface Warfare in the United States Navy, 1945–1975
"By giving a fuller view of the Japanese side, Tully's work forces a substantial revision of the traditional picture of the battle. Battle of Surigao Strait is not only military history based on scrupulous use of a plethora of new source materials, but is a spanking good read. Highly recommended." ―War in History
"The skillful incorporation of personal testimony from those involved is what really elevates this work above run-of-the-mill naval history and turns it into something special." ―Warship
"If the vibrant international community of experts who study the Pacific War and discuss and debate it online can be seen as a mafia, then Anthony Tully is its consigliore. Whenever a question arises about the battle history of World War II in the Pacific--what really happened after the fleets collided, dive-bombers entered their dives, and shot met plate--he is the indispensable man. In this book he paints Admiral Nishimura's high-speed run into history with an entirely fresh palette of detail, from the command decisions to the after-action reports. It offers naval history buffs something fresh and easy to relish on almost every page" ―James D. Hornfischer, author of Ship of Ghosts and The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors
"Tully's narrative is clear and clarifies a confused night battle in restricted waters. He disputes several perceived truths about the battle by giving the reader a complete record of what each ship was doing at each stage of the battle." ―Military Review
About the Author
Anthony P. Tully is an independent scholar and historian of the Imperial Japanese Navy. He is author (with Jon Parshall) of Shattered Sword, a study of the Battle of Midway. He lives in Dallas, Texas.
Top Customer Reviews
An informal writing style can make a book more enjoyable, but Tully has gone too far. Far too much of his prose resembles that of a bad novel. Here's a particularly wretched example: "At that moment there was a brilliant flare-up as a monstrous fireball bloomed on the horizon, followed by two more detonations and flares. The torpedoes where hitting! But what?" Perhaps Tully was trying to make his book exciting, but he's merely made his writing seem trashy.
At least turgid writing is harmless. A far greater problem is Tully's frequent attempts to characterize the officers' states of mind. For example: "By now Nishimura was likely regretting the whole idea of having pushed the Mogami scout group out ahead in the first place." This can't be any more than speculation. Did Nishimura express regret? Would this hypothetical regret have mattered? The reader has no way of knowing. The comment is all but meaningless.
What makes this so frustrating is that Tully proves he can write clearly. Consider this speculation regarding one of Nishimura's dispatches to his superiors: "In other words, Nishimura may have been speaking to posterity. He was expecting Kurita, Ozawa, and even Tokyo to eventually decode and read the dispatch." This is clearly Tully's opinion: he is not claiming a fiction writer's insight into a fictional character's mind.Read more ›
Both books share the same philosophy that a person, decades after the battle and not in any way, shape or form drawing from creditable first hand account and in many cases choosing to directly contradict actual battle veterans/witnesses' accounts, can "recreate" or "correct" history based on questionable hypothesis and convenient hindsight.
Please respect history and those who actually fought and died for their country.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
My most important caveat - and the reason why I can only score the book a "4" - is that there are significant interpretive and stylistic problems in Mr. Tully's text. Care must be taken when reading this book, as I will delve into later.
First, the good stuff: Mr. Tully has made a significant contribution to the history of the battle, and has contributed to a better understanding of the objectives of the Japanese forces in this battle. He has drawn from a number of Japanese language sources that have previously been unavailable in the West, along with a number of Japanese survivor's accounts. My only complaint here is that I wish he would have quoted more extensively from these sources rather than given us the Tully-interpretation on what they contain, because, as I will go in to later, there are places where Mr. Tully's interpretations are subject to question.
There are a number of "mysteries" about the battle, such as how the Japanese battleships were actually lost. Mr. Tully pulls together the available evidence - much of it new to Western readers - and does a workmanlike job in addressing the questions. In all the important areas of interpretation, Mr. Tully's analysis is spot on, and the reader will be well rewarded by the time spent in this book.
The only thing that stops this book from being the "definitive" work on Surigao Strait is that it primarily concentrates on the Japanese side of the story - I would estimate that 85% of the pages are written from the Japanese viewpoint. This is not a criticism, as there is certainly need for a good English-language history of the battle from the Japanese viewpoint, filled admirably here. It is just notification that readers will still need Wilmott and Vega and the venerable Morrison to fill in parts of the story from the Allied side.
Oh, this book could - should! - have been a "5" - but there are problems.
One of the problems is stylistic, one regards historical interpretations, and the other regards the underlying depth of knowledge. Readers must be forewarned that there are errors in the book (few as they are), and that this relative lack of errors gives the book a lot of deserved credibility - but this credibility in turn gives some of Mr. Tully's speculative turns too much credence. Then the author soils his credibility when he descends into the realm of purple prose (PP) and exclamation points (EPs) in order to inject some "excitement" into the story.
Let's start with the PP and EPs. But first, remember I am overall giving this book a high recommendation. Buy it! But, here's the warnings.
Mr. Tully likes to enliven the story. I think he does a disservice by cheapening his material. He and I have corresponded on this point (he is, by the way, a consummate gentleman and excellent scholar, and a fine and courteous person). I think he overdoes it. Here's a sampling; you be the judge:
* ""All hands, take up your battle station! Prepare for night battle!" The men trooped as one below to their stations and their destiny."
* "Yet his escape gives the clue: it is unlikely he would have survived that magazine's detonation!"
* "The torpedoes had either gone under the keel or failed to explode!"
* "Ushio's TBS radio was out of order!"
* "With this notice in mind, onward with the battle!"
* "Its speed fell even more rapidly, down to just five knots! Yamashiro was slowing to a crawl - a sitting duck!"
* "It had been really close!"
* "... shells were directed at only one target, hapless Yamashiro!"
* "... strong enough data for a firing set-up! The ranges were now lining up consistently, and at last they were ready to go!"
* "In fact, the action would only last eighteen minutes!"
* "Disaster was in the making!"
* "But wait -- !! Sharp-eyed navigator Kondo on Nachi suddenly noticed ... "
* "The stout Mogami had scarcely been scratched!"
* "... this remark speaks volumes!"
* "It is hard to avoid the impression that he hoped they would become targets in his stead for any pursuing enemy!"
Whether you like this sort of thing is mostly a matter of taste, except in those places where the exclamation points falsely give an impression of surprise or suddenness. In my view, it is overdone. And, in the process of thus making the text more "readable," the author strays too far: he goes from history to speculation. Consider the following lines from the text:
** "Abukuma's hardy crew was unbowed: they set to work on emergency repairs with gusto."
** "Nishimura's gratitude and pride at this comeback must have been as great as the Allies' chagrin."
** "Nishimura likely nodded with satisfaction, and with growing resolve and perhaps confidence, ordered course set for the final run-in to Leyte Gulf."
** "Nishimura probably brightened at hearing this, ..."
** "The officers on the bridge of flagship Yamashiro must have heard Shigure's confusing hails to "Fuso" with startled relief, jumping to the obvious but erroneous conclusion: The Fuso!"
** "... reform with renewed hope."
** "... the officers could feel the gunners' frustration like a physical presence, and shared it."
There are many, many, MANY more in this vein, 99% of which are unfootnoted and thus do not have a primary source to establish it as fact. Tully continually speculates on what the Japanese were feeling
and constantly tellings us what their emotions "must have been." There must have been tension meters installed on both flag bridges and most ship control stations, as Mr. Tully continually asserts when the tension was going up or down. (In my experience, sailors can be relaxed and joking at places where others would assume that the "tension was unbearable," which is why I protest most of Mr. Tully's forays into interpretive psychology.) Most of such sorties into the speculative appear to have no documentation - in other words, Tully made them up, generally inserting what he felt they felt, rather than what the historical record (slim at it is) says the characters felt. Now, if Tully was a psychologist who had spent some time in the Japanese Navy (preferably in command of a ship), then I would read these opinions with some interest. However, to my knowledge he does not have those qualifications. I have 20 years in the US Navy, and 14 years of sea duty, and many of Tully's flights of imagination I feel are flat wrong and do not reflect actual "sailor behavior," or at least describe situations where there are a number of other plausible alternative explanations. When Tully describes Nishimura as likely "nodding with satisfaction," and giving orders with "confidence," he is turning this work from fact to fiction.
My last complaint is that there are a number of errors in the book, errors that could have been caught during the editorial process.
Tully has steam turbine ships often "revving their engines," which is silly. He talks about Japanese "proximity alarms" clanging on bridges and inside gun turrets, without explaining what they are (likely a mis-translation of the gun firing warning alarm). He claims that 1,000 yards was the "optimum" range to fire a torpedo, without citing a source to back up this (erroneous) claim. Some of his time and distance calculations are wrong, for instance, when he mentions that a group of ships 40,000 meters (~20 nm) behind the other could catch up in 20 minutes.
There are terminology errors: in one, he persistantly names the Japanese voice radio system the "TBS." TBS was the American system - calling the Japanese system the TBS would be like calling the Japanese radar the SC or SK or SG. He refers to a possible Japanese torpedo attack as "fire for effect" - "fire for effect" is a ground artillery term for firing after the spotting rounds have landed and the location of the fire corrected to land on the target. Not only is it incorrect to use at sea, especially for torpedo fire, it also is wrong in the context of the situation, because what Mr. Tully is apparently trying to convey is launching the torpedoes at indistinct targets that have not been accurately tracked, something the exact opposite from "fire for effect." In one place, when referring to US torpedo fire, he confuses "range to target" at the time of firing with track range to intercept when he states that the range to the target was near the limit of the torpedo range at intermediate speed setting.
There are some questionable errors of interpretation. Many times he attributes motives for certain actions - for example, for some formation changes - that any Naval officer would know are wrong. At another point, he cites an eye-witness as stating that torpedoes hit a ship or went under the keel, but then in the next paragraph relies on "calculations" to say this was not so. Balancing an eyewitness against calculations that are likely to be inexact as to time of launch, and considering that torpedoes had speed and course variabilities, I would have counseled to believe the eyewitness. In another place, Tully interpretes the Japanese course as an attempt to "slip around the far eastern end of the veritable tornado of gunfire" (PP), where this would make no sense to this naval officer - the Japanese were more likely opening up their firing arcs for their amidships guns.
Mr. Tully also demonstrates a bias towards the Japanese in his account. He repeatedly praises the Japanese gunfire as accurate with comments like "markedly good," "shooting well," "their shooting was good," and similar terms. But in the end, the Japanese scored only 6 hits by Yamashiro's secondary battery (one on their own ship) and none with their main batteries, a rather poor performance. He ignores the US Navy's assessment that the Japanese shooting was erratic. He praises Admiral Nishimura's navigation, refering to the fact that he was a navigation specialist, when it would be highly unlikely that an Admiral was doing his own chart work. Japanese crewmember actions are invariably described in Herculean terms, mostly without footnotes.
There are other problems with facts, calculations, terminology, and interpretations - but this review is getting a touch long.
The bottom line is that Mr. Tully's fine work cries out for a naval officer to have read it and corrected some of the more jarring errors prior to publication. Why the editor did not do this is beyond understanding. As a result, a bunch of piddling errors and PP and EPs marr an otherwise excellent contribution to the history of the war in the Pacific.
After having killed a bunch of electrons fussing about problems, I advise you to put all that aside. Be forewarned of these *minor* problems, but do not allow them to deter you from acquiring and reading this overall fine work. Highly recommended.
Mr. Tully does an excellent job of rescuing the battle from that historical ghetto. He has tapped not only previously overlooked original Japanese records of the battle, but also the memories of Japanese survivors. These sources have been added to the US records to provide a balanced view of not only the Surigao Strait battle but also the strategic and operational situations that led to the battle.
The Japanese naval command sent Yamashiro and Fuso, their two oldest and slowest battleships on what was essentially a one-way mission to attack portions of the US landing force in the Phillipines, supposedly in coordination with other Japanese forces. In a nice bit of historical irony these two antiques were met by six old, slow US battleships, five of them Pearl Harbor survivors.
The Japanese forces were plagued by an overly intricate plan, constantly changing orders, and communications problems. The Americans had their own confusions from split commands and communications. Through all the confusion, Admirals Nishimura and Oldendorf kept focused on their respective missions, leading to the battle in Surigao Strait.
The narrative of the actual battle in Surigao Strait is very well done, and clarifies a very confused night battle in restricted waters. Mr. Tully disputes several received "truths" about the battle and provides good documentation and/or reasoning for his opinions. We now have a very complete record of what all the ships were doing at each stage of the battle, which ended with one Japanese destroyer as the sole survivor of Nishimura's force.
I would liked to have seen large-scale purpose-made charts illustrating each stage of the battle. The reproductions of Japanese charts don't quite do the trick.
In general I agree with the review written by Alan Zimm with respect to the book's style and defects, but did not find them so egregious as to lower my rating. There are many books available covering the battle from the American side, and Tully's coverage was certainly adequate to give the reader the necessary American coverage. The primary defect, and it was glaring, was the lack of good maps (probably two) on a large scale to cover the Philippine Islands to show the both Nishimura's and Shima's approaches and Shima's withdrawal. I was forced to use a world atlas as a supplement to follow the movements. There are many textual references to islands and ports that cannot be found on the author's maps, and in some cases it was difficult to obtain a concept of the distances involved. For that reason I lowered my rating to 4-1/2 stars, but left the 5 star rating in the heading.
One of the most signal facts disclosed in this work was the earlier planned use of Yamashiro and Fuso on a suicide mission against the Marianas during the Saipan invasion. It was called off following the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot (Battle of the Philippine Sea), but this clearly showed Combined Fleet's attitude to their semi-obsolete battleships.
I appreciated the author's work on the aftermath, presenting the fate of the Japanese warships that survived the battle. The reader would also be well-advised to read the informative appendixes. The notes and references are also comprehensive.
But above all, this is a very scholarly work, researched in great depth, and certainly the definitive work on the battle. Many of the author's sources are being used here for the first time, and his refusal to present opinion as fact is highly commendable. The Fuso's fate is a classic case in point. The author present a enormous amount of evidence, some of which is contradictory, in a very scholarly fashion for the reader to decide the (essentially unimportant) cause, time and place of the Fuso's sinking. If for no other reason, Author Tully wins me over on this point alone. I am so tired of journalists presenting history with their personal spin, regardless of facts, through careful cherry-picking and intrepretations without notes or references that sometimes I could go postal. There is none of that here. This is a scholarly work.
In short, I highly recommend this book to all readers interested in the Pacific War of World War II. Overlooking the somewhat minor points of criticism by Zimm and the lack of two maps, this is how history should be presented.
It really needs an editor/proofreader. There are a number of typos, and also a lot of clumsy syntax that distracts from the narrative. But worst of all are the maps.
1. The map of the Philippines is general, and has very few labels. Yet the author continuously refers to ship positions in relation to certain islands. One has no idea where those islands are. I had to go online and print out my own map of the PI.
2. The map of the approaches is tiny, and is only one of the plates in the picture section of the book. It should have been full page. Worse, the longitude is wrong. The map correctly has 120E passing thru (unlabeled) Coron Island. Then the longitude numbers decrease rather than increase as one goes Eastward. Thus it shows 115E passing thru Samar, rather than 125E.
3. The more detailed map of the battle has the longitude correct, but inexplicably leaves out the initial, and very successful, torpedo attack by Coward's tin can's.
That said, this is a most valuable addition to the literature on Leyte Gulf, and has found a permanent place on my bookshelf.
The author makes a decent attempt to unearth new information by combing overlooked Japanese accounts. But since very few senior officers survived the battle, and most of the ships involved in the major fighting were sunk, Tully has to really stretch some of the information he extracts from these accounts. Worse still, he presents previously visited arguments as something new. For example, he says "contrary to past impressions, Nishimura and Third Section were assigned to a diversionary and virtually kamikaze role from the start." But he states later that the Naval War College came up with this same scenario back in the 1950s.
To shore up his argument that he uncovered some new revelation, he cites firsthand accounts from Lieutenant Commander Nishino and Lieutenant Serino, both of whom believed in the kamikaze nature of the attack. I had to question whether two junior naval officers would be privy, beyond scuttlebutt, as to what Admiral Kurita's actual intentions were. Regardless, Tully uses these two firsthand accounts to trump previous authors and to reinforce the originality of his own argument: "...the participants were more aware of this than subsequent historians on both sides." In the end, the factual information he unearths makes for a convincing, but nonetheless circumstantial case for many of his arguments.
His analysis of various facts and events was somewhat uneven. The bulk of Tully's analysis was to straighten out the chronological events of the battle. He makes good use of both Japanese and American sources to work out the sequence of events, but the effectiveness of this was diminished by the lack of maps that corresponded to the timeline. There were so many different units and groups involved, it became very difficult to track which units were where on this time line. This was complicated by the fact that the Japanese fleet began to disperse due to battle damage inflicted on ships, as well as to the weaving they did to skirt American forces.
Tully also provides surprisingly little in-depth analysis into the various factors that attributed to the outcome of the battle. For example, while Surigao Strait is typically presented as being the last action between battleships, he only briefly mentions that the fatal damage inflicted on the Japanese fleet was by destroyer-launched torpedoes. The main caliber guns of the American battleships played only a supporting role.
Tully also fails to examine the mythos that Oldendorf's crossing of the Japanese 'T' was greatly overstated (he only briefly acknowledges this at the end of the book). Indeed, it appeared that Nishimura's turn parallel to the American battle line may have put his force in a more vulnerable position, as it actually made his fleet more visible to radar-directed gunfire.
Further, Tully takes only a cursory look at the efficacy of the American's radar-controlled gunnery, which could have given Oldendorf's battleships the credit for inflicting the decisive kill against Nishimura. He briefly states that that two of the three battleships using the older MK3 radar were unable to battleships were unable to target on the Japanese fleet, but doesn't examine this in any detail. A study by Joseph Czarnecki looked at how the order of the battle line and the geometry of the American ships vis-à-vis the Japanese allowed Maryland to target the Yamashiro, but not for Pennsylvania or Mississippi (except when Nishimura finally turned broadside, allowing the MK3 radar to get a definite fix). Rather, the author just focuses on the sequence of events, rather than the factors that affected the events themselves.
The weakest part of the book is the writing style. As other reviewers have stated, Tully's excessive use of exclamation points chips away at the seriousness of this work. The author also embellishes the narrative with unnecessary verbs and adverbs. "Shima became more pensive", or "Nishimura watched with satisfaction"
There are also sentences that were just plain confusing: "Nishino had not pulled away as far from the western shore and found his ship stalked by no less than six PT boats. Actually there were five PTs, far off on its starboard hand, but that made little difference." So was it five or six? The author also had a tendency to use informal words , such as "till" instead of "until" and "guesstimate". And it really got irritating when the author kept using "Weevee" instead of "West Virginia".
Bottom line, I didn't greatly enjoy the book as it was written, but Tully does still make a generally convincing argument for most of his points. I did find the stridency of his arguments over the work of others to be a bit much (similar to Shattered Sword), but I don't dispute his conclusions. I would give this book 3 1/2 stars. It was very good to see a greater focus on the Japanese side, which I think is the most valuable contribution Tully makes.
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