Sea of Thunder: Four Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign 1941-1945

( 26 )


Sea of Thunder is a taut, fast-paced, suspenseful narrative of the Pacific War that culminates in the battle of Leyte Gulf, the greatest naval battle ever fought.

Told from both the American and Japanese sides, through the eyes of commanders and sailors of both navies, Thomas's history adds an important new dimension to our understanding of World War II.

Drawing on oral histories, diaries, correspondence, postwar testimony from both American ...

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Sea of Thunder: Four Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign 1941-1945

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Sea of Thunder is a taut, fast-paced, suspenseful narrative of the Pacific War that culminates in the battle of Leyte Gulf, the greatest naval battle ever fought.

Told from both the American and Japanese sides, through the eyes of commanders and sailors of both navies, Thomas's history adds an important new dimension to our understanding of World War II.

Drawing on oral histories, diaries, correspondence, postwar testimony from both American and Japanese participants, and interviews with survivors, Thomas provides an account not only of the great sea battle and Pacific naval war, but of the contrasting cultures pitted against each other.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
In Sea of Thunder, Evan Thomas does not attempt to present a history of the entire Japanese-American naval war. Instead, he does something more adventurous and more revealing; he views that conflict of nations through the prisms of four naval commanders, two from each warring nation. Using oral histories, dairies, correspondence, and postwar testimony, he shows how cultural differences and personalities played a major part in the outcome of critical October 1944 Battle of Leyte Gulf. Military history from a different angle.
From the Publisher
"Thomas's prose keeps pace with the fight and captures its eerie quality...The result is both a naval adventure story and a striking meditation on the nature of military courage." — The New Yorker

With this exemplary book, Evan Thomas has set a benchmark for historical writing — and analysis — against which subsequent work will be measured." — Michael J. Bonafield, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

"One of the most insightful analyses yet written of personalities and military cultures at war...An exciting read...Thomas draws the battle scenes with exquisite precision...Those who would direct military strategy and policy should be well warned — and should have Thomas's book, well-worn, at their bedsides." — Wesley K. Clark, The Washington Post Book World

"A riveting tale of character and war by one of our most graceful writers. With impressive scholarship and a brilliant eye for detail, Evan Thomas tells the extraordinary story of Leyte Gulf without ever losing sight of the men in the maelstrom." — Rick Atkinson, author of An Army at Dawn

"This is a wonderful book; thoughtful and riveting all at the same time, and it's good history — you're never quite sure things are going to turn out the way you know they did!" — Ken Burns, filmmaker of The War

Wesley K. Clark
Sea of Thunder, by Evan Thomas, an assistant managing editor of Newsweek, provides one of the most insightful analyses yet written of personalities and military cultures at war. The book tells the story of the Japanese and American commanders whose fates converged in history's last great naval engagement, the Battle of Leyte Gulf in October 1944. It is also a story of competing traditions and the extraordinary influence of personality, organizations and culture on warfare -- despite the advanced technologies wielded in World War II.
— The Washington Post
Ronald Spector
A number of talented authors have written about Leyte Gulf, among them C. Vann Woodward, the great historian of the American South, and James A. Field Jr., who was actually there, and won a Bronze Star. Samuel Eliot Morison devoted an entire volume to the battle in his History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. Now Evan Thomas is trying his hand, and it’s likely his predecessors would have enthusiastically approved of the result. Sea of Thunder is an engaging and thorough account based on extensive research in both the United States and Japan that describes the war in the Pacific and culminates at Leyte Gulf.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Thomas, Newsweek's assistant managing editor, turns his considerable narrative and research talents to Leyte Gulf, history's largest and most complex naval battle. He addresses the subject from the perspectives of four officers: William Halsey, who commanded the U.S. 3rd Fleet; Adm. Takeo Kurita, his Japanese counterpart; Adm. Matome Ugaki, Kurita's senior subordinate and a "true believer" in Japan's destiny; and Cdr. Ernest Evans, captain of a lowly destroyer, the U.S.S. Johnston. The Americans believed the Japanese incapable of great military feats, while the Japanese believed the Americans were incapable of paying the price of war. Both were tragically wrong. Halsey steamed north in pursuit of a what turned out to be a decoy, while Kurita's main force was positioned to destroy the American landing force in the Philippines. Evans repeatedly took the Johnston into harm's way against what seemed overwhelming odds. His heroism, matched by a dozen other captains and crews, convinced Kurita to break off the action. With Halsey's battleships and carriers just over the horizon, Kurita refused to sacrifice his men at the end of a war already lost. Ugaki bitterly denounced the lack of "fighting spirit and promptitude" that kept him from an honorable death. Evans fought and died like a true samurai. As Thomas skillfully reminds us, war is above all the province of irony. (Nov.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
The assistant managing editor of Newsweek uses the perspectives of four commanders-two Japanese and two American-to reconstruct the clash of navies and cultures in the South Pacific during World War II. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The paths of four different seaborne warriors-two Japanese, two Americans-collide at the now-overlooked Battle of Leyte Gulf, the "gory apex," mother of all sea battles. The October 1944 battle remains the largest in history; as Newsweek assistant managing editor Thomas observes, it involved 300 ships and nearly 200,000 sailors over an area of 100,000 square miles. Most Americans know little about it, perhaps because many sailors at the time wanted to forget it; for one thing, Thomas writes, the battle involved serious missteps on the part of Admiral William "Bull" Halsey-no one but reporters ever called him "Bull," and then not to his face-who through miscommunication and "poor staff work" failed to control a critically important approach, endangering the American invasion of the Philippines. He blamed near-disaster on a subordinate, Admiral Thomas Kinkaid, who, shut out from Halsey's master plan, made assumptions that he should not have. Halsey elliptically acknowledged later that "he had been bold where caution was called for," but Thomas does more to relieve Kinkaid of blame. The battle cost the lives of many American sailors, including one of Thomas's four chief subjects, Commander Ernest Evans, a mixed-blood Cherokee who set his destroyer against the Japanese as if he were leading a cavalry charge. Among the fighters on the Japanese side were two admirals, Matome Ugaki and Takeo Kurita, who took different approaches to military matters; Ugaki, whose superiors regarded him as a drunk, had worried from the outset that Japan would lose a war with America but nevertheless followed and exceeded orders, while Kurita decided on his own to steam away from battle, thereby saving the lives ofperhaps 30,000 Japanese sailors and untold Americans as well; whereas Ugaki launched kamikaze assaults, Kurita "had not been willing to sacrifice his men in a futile gesture of nobility."A competent inquiry into a naval battle that, Thomas ably shows, deserves more study.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743252225
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 11/6/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 474,346
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Evan Thomas is the author of The Very Best Men: Four Who Dared: The Early Years of the C.I.A.; Robert Kennedy: His Life; The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst and the Rush to Empire, 1989; Sea of Thunder: The Last Great Naval Command, 1941-1945; and John Paul Jones. His most recent book is Ike’s Bluff: President Eisenhower’s Secret Battle to Save the World.

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Read an Excerpt

Sea of Thunder

Four Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign 1941-1945

By Evan Thomas

Simon & Schuster

Copyright © 2006

Evan Thomas

All right reserved.

ISBN: 0743252217



In 1943, American sailors and soldiers entering the harbor at Tulagi, the front-line U.S. Navy base in the South Pacific, passed a billboard telling them to

Kill Japs, kill Japs, kill more Japs!

The billboard was signed by Adm. William F. Halsey, Jr., their commander. As the war progressed, newspapers quoted Halsey as saying about the Japanese, "We are drowning and burning them all over the Pacific, and it is just as much pleasure to burn them as to drown them."

To twenty-first-century ears, Halsey sounds like a racist monster or a sadist. In his own time, however, he was regarded by the public as a war hero, a little outspoken, too crude perhaps, but refreshingly blunt about the true nature of the enemy and the hard job ahead. In the wartime America of the 1940s, Halsey's attitude was unexceptional. Americans routinely referred to the Japanese as "Japs" and "Nips," and often as animals or insects of some kind (most commonly, monkeys, baboons, gorillas, dogs, mice, rats, vipers and rattlesnakes, and cockroaches). The Japanese were just as bigoted. They depicted Americans and other Westerners as reptiles,worms, insects (rendered in cartoons with the faces of Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill), frogs, octopuses, beached whales, and stray dogs. Dehumanizing the enemy to make it easier to kill them is an ancient practice between warring nations, but rarely has it been practiced with more depraved creativity than in the Pacific War.

The roots of mutual contempt between Japan and the United States were twisted and deep. The Americans, as historian John Dower has shown, regarded the Japanese as half-child, half-savage, to be pitied or condescended to but also to be feared. Before the turn of the twentieth century, newspapers and politicians warned of the "Yellow Peril," and when Congress set immigration quotas in the 1920s, Asians were excluded altogether. The Japanese copied the West by modeling their navy on the British Royal Navy, from uniforms to ships, but regarded Westerners as filthy "demons" who wished to defile the pure Yamato race. When the kamikazes flew off on suicide missions against the Americans in the spring of 1945, virgin schoolgirls holding cherry blossoms were mustered to the airfields to wave them goodbye.

Some historians see the war between Japan and the United States as a grand tragedy of racial prejudice. It was certainly a cultural misunderstanding on an epic scale. Without suggesting moral equivalence -- Japan was the clear aggressor -- it is fair to say that both sides blundered into war. Blinded or warped by racial and cultural bias, East and West consistently underestimated or misjudged the other. Before the war, the Americans did not believe the Japanese capable of great military feats, like attacking Pearl Harbor, in part because Japanese were widely regarded in the West as "little people," near-sighted, buck-toothed comical figures who made cheap toys and bowed obsequiously. By the same token, the Japanese, whose faith in their own master or divine "leading race" (shido minzoku) exceeded Adolf Hitler's belief in German superiority, thought that Americans would surrender quickly because they were weak and decadent, a nation of frightened housewives, labor agitators, and greedy plutocrats. When the Americans did not give up but rather kept building more planes and tanks, the Japanese responded with massive suicidal attacks, believing that Americans, selfish and mongrelized, could not stand up to such a show of national unity and self-sacrifice. The Americans eventually decided, as a Fifth Air Force intelligence circular put it in July 1945, that "the entire population of Japan is a proper Military Target . . . THERE ARE NO CIVILIANS IN JAPAN." The Americans began burning Japanese cities -- sixty-six of them, finally obliterating Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atomic bombs.

The degree to which cultural and racial stereotyping led to fatal misjudgments is remarkable. The Japanese did not think that the Americans had the stamina required for long stretches of submarine duty. So they neglected antisubmarine warfare -- with the result that American submarines were able to cut the vital supply lines between Japan and her oil-rich southern colonies. Similarly, the Japanese were lax about changing their communication codes, in part because they thought that the Americans were not smart enough to break them.

In the war in the Pacific, misunderstanding and miscalculation reached an apogee -- or nadir -- in late October 1944, at a naval engagement known as the Battle of Leyte Gulf. It was the biggest naval battle ever fought. The conflict involved more ships (almost 300), more men (nearly 200,000), and covered a larger area (more than 100,000 square miles, roughly the size of the British Isles) than any naval battle in history. The fighting was horrific, dramatic, and courageous. And yet both sides missed their main chance.

For Admiral Halsey, the commander of the main American striking force, the battle beckoned as the dream of a lifetime. A brassy, rough-and-ready national hero, dubbed "Bull" Halsey by the press, he had overcome defeatism early in the war. He believed he was on the verge of the greatest naval victory since Trafalgar. And yet, misjudging the enemy, he fell for a Japanese feint and sailed off in the wrong direction.

For the Japanese navy, the battle offered the opportunity to die gloriously -- and, possibly, to turn around the course of the war. Halsey's mistake opened the way for Adm. Takeo Kurita and the main Japanese battle fleet to descend upon Gen. Douglas MacArthur's landing force invading the Philippines. Up against smaller, weaker ships -- destroyers and "jeep" carriers -- the Japanese should have been wolves amongst the sheep. But confused, exhausted, and daunted by an unexpected show of American gallantry, Kurita turned his fleet around at the critical moment and limped home to quiet disgrace. In Japan today, naval scholars still debate Kurita's "mysterious retreat."

Curiously, in America, the Battle of Leyte Gulf has been largely forgotten. When Americans think of the victorious "Good War," they tend to think of D-Day and the liberation of Europe, not the Pacific War. Most people have heard of the Battle of Midway or seen the image of the marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima. But the Battle of Leyte Gulf blurs together with a dozen other battles fought in jungles or on coral reefs on the other side of civilization. Most Americans do not know when the Battle of Leyte Gulf was fought, where Leyte Gulf is, or even how it's pronounced (lay-TEE). They certainly don't know why the battle mattered.

For the Imperial Japanese Navy, the battle was a death knell. Never again would the Japanese be able to put to sea to engage the Americans in a fleet action. Without a fleet, the Japanese Home Islands were cut off, starved, and exposed to American attack. The battle was also, quite possibly, the last big naval battle. Fleets of ships and men have been fighting for thousands of years, but never before or since have they arrayed themselves against each other on such a scale. In the long history of fleet engagements, from Salamis, where the ancient Greeks fought the Persians, through the epic line-of-battle duels of the British, French, Dutch, and Spanish during the Age of Sail, to the modern clashes of the world wars, the Battle of Leyte Gulf stands as a kind of gory apex. The combatants used every kind of craft, from submarine to kamikaze plane, and employed every type of available weapon, and died every imaginable way -- by fire, blast, exposure, drowning, and shark attack. At least 13,000 men, along with one of the two greatest battleships ever built, were lost.

This is the story of four commanders, two American, two Japanese, whose lives collided in the biggest sea fight of the worst war in modern history. My narrative will follow these men from the breakout of war in December 1941 to the day when they came together in the giant naval engagement in and around the Philippine Islands. The Battle of Leyte Gulf is the climax of this book, although not quite the end of the story for the three men who survived it.

Cultures clash; nations do battle. But in the end wars are fought, and won or lost, by the actions of individuals -- heroes and cowards, the prudent and wanton, ordinary men reacting, not always predictably, to extraordinary circumstances. The characters of these men often reflect the cultures of their nations. A twisted national culture can corrupt even the purest souls. And yet, individual differences do matter, often critically and sometimes surprisingly.

The four men in the story that follows had to think, as all warriors do, about their own mortality. Japanese culture -- or, more precisely, the national identity propagandized by the militarists who ran Japan during World War II -- venerated death. In American war songs, as historian H. P. Willmott has noted, Johnny comes marching home again; in Japanese war songs, he marches off to die. But that does not mean that the human beings who fought for Japan were always heedless about wasting lives. Americans, on the other hand, celebrated the individual. The job of an American soldier or sailor, to paraphrase Gen. George S. Patton, was not to die for his country, but to make the enemy die for his. While Japanese commanders extolled "spirit," American commanders valued material superiority. But the Americans were no less brave than the Japanese -- and, at times, no less foolhardy.

Illness, accident, fate all play a hand in deciding battles and determining the course of history. But the true story of any battle lies in the passage of individual character -- a quirky, sometimes fragile and storm-tossed vessel -- across the roiled, violent seas of national culture. Our journey begins aboard a ship in a bay on the coast of Japan, two months before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Copyright 2006 by Evan Thomas


Excerpted from Sea of Thunder
by Evan Thomas
Copyright © 2006 by Evan Thomas.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


PROLOGUE: Culture, Character, and the Loneliness of Command

CHAPTER ONE: Doubting Supermen

CHAPTER TWO: Damn the Torpedoes

CHAPTER THREE: Long John Silver and Confucius

CHAPTER FOUR: Pop Goes the Weasel

CHAPTER FIVE: The Department of Dirty Tricks

CHAPTER SIX: The Shattered Gem



CHAPTER NINE: A Fatal Misunderstanding

CHAPTER TEN: Ships in the Night

CHAPTER ELEVEN: Surprise at Dawn

CHAPTER TWELVE: They Were Expendable


CHAPTER FOURTEEN: The Mysterious Telegram

CHAPTER FIFTEEN: The Last Kamikaze

EPILOGUE: Why They Fought





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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 26 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 26 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2007

    some slight sloppy research

    picky,picky,picky but no excuse to have misspelled USMC General A.A. Vandegrift's name, although more than one who should know better has done the same by adding an 'r' to his name. As to the book, a sort of birds eye view of a complex battle with poor to non existent communications between task forces and commands. Looking from above it all, the blunders and miscalculations combine to reveal how capricious the 'fog of war' can be. I liked how the author put a human face on each character, featuring the Japanese players as well as the Americans. He provides a broader perspective on Admiral Halsey than we get from several other sources, as well as insights into the almost incomprehensible complex minds of the Japanese.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 10, 2006

    Pulitzer Maybe?

    Of course everyone interested in history has read about Leyte Gulf. But this book is a new take on this battle and the events surrounding it. The interesting part of course is the whole approach to this, particularly the study of the Japanese Admirals. Rivers of ink have been spilled on Bull Halsey. But it was interesting, among other vignettes, to read about his adventure of getting his pilot wings at Pensacola. So he refused to wear glasses, could not see the instrument panel, and never knew how high or where he was flying to.That must have overjoyed his PI (pilot instructor for those readers who never took military flight training). The mask like Japanese admiral who was totally wiped out by the early death of his wife was particularly illuminating as was the general description of the humanity of the Japanese under the total mask of emotional control.The huge psychological reaction by the Japanese Naval leadership to Doolitle's Tokyo raid was illuminating. The information given on the Naval Academy at Eta Jima was interesting. I was surprised by the description of the brutal beatings of freshmen cadets (twelve blows with a closed fist to the face at any perceived lack of respect) which rendered them 'sheepishly obedient' and carried this over into their service as officers. Fatal training flaw when compared to the German Army Auftragsbefehl (task oriented orders fostering individual initiative in officers) This book is a worthy successor to Evan Thomas' book on John Paul Jones which I recently had the pleasure of reading. Two Pulitzers anyone?

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 3, 2015

    more from this reviewer

    Sea Of Thunder is an interesting account of the WWII Battle of L

    Sea Of Thunder is an interesting account of the WWII Battle of Leyte Gulf. Even Thomas examines it by concentrating on several Japaneses and American naval commanders. I'm not sure that I learned anything new or startling. The mistakes and miscalculations on both sides have been exhaustively discussed. The cultural differences are where this account stands out. We are far enough from the conflict that both sides' bigotries and blind spots about each other can be calmly discussed. Thomas does pose a powerful ethical question at the conclusion of the book. Is it more courageous to fight to the bitter end and sacrifice the lives of your men or to take actions that minimize the loss of life in your command? Each reader can make his or her decision.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2013

    Highly recommended

    Excellent read. Enjoyed the prospection from both sides of the battle and the strategy/mindset of both leaders.

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  • Posted June 16, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    Not the best

    A little draggy. I had moments of bordem reading this book. Read "Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors" instead.

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  • Posted December 26, 2010



    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 22, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Sea of Thunder

    A fascinating look at the tumultuous rigors of command in the Pacific during WWII. Thomas does a wonderful job taking the reader into the heart of decisions commanders face under stress. A unique look into the pride and prejudices of both American and Japanese commanders. Each of the 4 major naval commanders are exposed for the reader to judge. I particularly enjoyed how Thomas brings all 4 commanders to the same moment in history at the Battle of Leyte Gulf. A must read for anyone interested in the Pacific War.

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  • Posted February 24, 2009

    this is a great read for anyone interesting in the Pacific campaign of WW11. It is easy reading, compelling, & tells the tale of the the battle of Leyte Gulf from both sides. If you are a huge fan of Admiral Hulsey, be prepared for some hard tr

    I am an avid fan of WW II, especially the European theater but I love the sea battles. Midway & Leyte Gulf. Sea of thunder is the best I have read. YOu know the ending but it is still exctiing to read. I loved the in depth character analysis of the individuals & the differences between the americans & the Japanese.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 14, 2008

    MOST INSIGHT FILLED Book on the Pacific Theater Book I've Read

    This book was probably the most in-depth World War II book I have ever read. Not just a recitation of history. But the thoughts of both US & Japanese particpants. And I have read VERY many WW II books. This book gives you background on the bi-lateral racism and hatred pervasive in the 1940's. You can see why the US born Japanese citizens were imprisoned without a second thought by our government. While white German-Americans were free to raom the US. This book gives you their thoughts. And surprising and previously unheard of trepedations of Japanese naval officers. That seemed all too eager to knowingly engage their own men in obvious losing slaughters just for the glory of the emporor. A VERY GOOD revelation of personal feelings and thoughts of these naval officers on both sides of the Pacific war.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2007

    Author Evan Thomas of Newsweak!

    Great promise! Poor delivery. Thomas, according to the blurb I read, offers the idea of four first hand accounts, dramatically told, within the context of an overview. We don't get it. In plenty we don't get it. Somebody looking for a buck took a look at the market and wrote this. Nothing new. Written by committee. Not only is concept not what it says it is to be, but style and POV inconsistent. Ho-hum. Look for a new title from Mr. Thomas soon. He's obviously grinding them out ASAP.

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