Neptune's Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal

Neptune's Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal

by James D. Hornfischer
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Neptune's Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal by James D. Hornfischer

With The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors and Ship of Ghosts, James D. Hornfischer created essential and enduring narratives about America’s World War II Navy, works of unique immediacy distinguished by rich portraits of ordinary men in extremis and exclusive new information. Now he does the same for the deadliest, most pivotal naval campaign of the Pacific war: Guadalcanal.

Neptune’s Inferno is at once the most epic and the most intimate account ever written of the contest for control of the seaways of the Solomon Islands, America’s first concerted offensive against the Imperial Japanese juggernaut and the true turning point of the Pacific conflict. This grim, protracted campaign has long been heralded as a Marine victory. Now, with his powerful portrait of the Navy’s sacrifice—three sailors died at sea for every man lost ashore—Hornfischer tells for the first time the full story of the men who fought in destroyers, cruisers,  and battleships in the narrow, deadly waters of “Ironbottom Sound.” Here, in brilliant cinematic detail, are the seven major naval actions that began in August of 1942, a time when the war seemed unwinnable and America fought on a shoestring, with the outcome always in doubt. But at Guadalcanal the U.S. proved it had the implacable will to match the Imperial war machine blow for violent blow.

Working from new interviews with survivors, unpublished eyewitness accounts, and newly available documents, Hornfischer paints a vivid picture of the officers and enlisted men who took on the Japanese in America’s hour of need: Vice Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, who took command of the faltering South Pacific Area from his aloof, overwhelmed predecessor and became a national hero; the brilliant Rear Admiral Norman Scott, who died even as he showed his command how to fight and win; Rear Admiral Daniel Callaghan, the folksy and genteel “Uncle Dan,” lost in the strobe-lit chaos of his burning flagship; Rear Admiral Willis Lee, who took vengeance two nights later in a legendary showdown with the Japanese battleship Kirishima; the five Sullivan brothers, all killed in the shocking destruction of the Juneau; and many others, all vividly brought to life.

The first major work on this essential subject in almost two decades, Neptune’s Inferno does what all great battle narratives do: It cuts through the smoke and fog to tell the gripping human stories behind the momentous events and critical decisions that altered the course of history and shaped so many lives. This is a thrilling achievement from a master historian at the very top of his game.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780553806700
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/25/2011
Pages: 544
Sales rank: 151,230
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

James D. Hornfischer is a writer, literary agent, and former book editor. He is the author of The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors and Ship of Ghosts, both widely acclaimed accounts of the U.S. Navy during World War II in the Pacific.

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Neptune's Inferno 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 152 reviews.
Shrdlu More than 1 year ago
James D. Hornfischer's book Neptune's Inferno holds the reader from paragraph to paragraph, page to page, and chapter to chapter. It's a story of men doing their duty under conditions that would make most of us shake with terror. They are going into battle, each sealed in his own duty station, many below the water line, hearing all hell break loose all around them,feeling the ship shudder when struck by enemy fire, hearing the screams of the wounded,and going about their job. It is, in short, a stirring tribute to the American sailor of World War II. Set in the waters around Guadalcanal in late 1942, it tells the story of outgunned American cruisers and destroyers fighting more heavily armored and gunned Japanese forces attempting to dislodge American Marines from their positions around a a former Japanese airfield, now named Henderson field in a series of night battles. The waters in which the battles were fought became known as Iron Bottom Sound because of the large numbers of warships that went to their graves there. This is not a story of ships fighting each other at long range. They were often less than 100 yards apart, firing at point blank range.It was not always one formation against another. American vessels steamed into the center of Japanese formations and it quickly became a battle of one ship against another. It also features men who entered the history books, such as Admiral Yamamoto for Japan and Admiral "Bull" Halsey of the United States. Its real story however, is of heroic men fighting not only to sink Japanese vessels but simultaneously fighting to save their own badly damaged ships from sinking. Hornfischer provides graphic details of the epic battle to save the cruiser San Francisco and the losing battle to save the cruiser Helena. He tells of an American destroyer sailing so close to a Japanese battleship during a night battle that they were looking up at its main deck as they went by.The reader feels the sheer terror that could grip the men in such a a battle, but the reader also comes away from the story with a real appreciation of the heroism and dedication of the men who fought their ships. What really got to this reviewer was that the officers and men who fought these ships had no control over anything. The Admirals decided on the course of action, and the captains of the ships went where they were ordered to go. The men in the gun turrets, control centers and engine rooms and other parts of the ship were sealed in their compartments to preserve water right integrity, and those compartments could easily become, and some did become, their coffins. As a World War II and Korean War Army veteran, at least I could look around and see what was happening. I could even make minor decisions. These men had none of those options. They simply did their duty. God bless them !!
sabbdaddy More than 1 year ago
For those interested in naval history, this book is a must. It provides great detail without reading like a textbook. In fact, it reads more like a blow by blow account of a heavy weight fight. Readers may find it difficult to put down,and, find themselves hungry for more by the end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hornfischer captures in very readble fashion, the complex South Pacific naval battles between the US Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy in late 1942. The well researched 400+ page account captures the military, human,logistical details of this multi-month conflict that is probably the largest such naval encounter. The author of Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors and Ship of Ghosts has done it again with another literary gem rounding out his personal WWII Pacific Naval trilogy that is essential for any home naval library.
Ikedog More than 1 year ago
This was the most in depth book I have read about the sea battles around Guadalcanal. The subject interests me because I have an uncle that was onboard the Helena when it was sunk, and like many vets he doesn't talk about the experience. This book didn't cover that action because it was after the timeline for the book, but it does give me an idea of what led up to that sinking. Mr Hornfischer's book "Ship of Ghosts" is also what got me to read this one, also an excellent read.
AirRaceAddict More than 1 year ago
For a person who personally thought that he knew a lot about the war in the Pacific, I am humbled in my attitude about my knowledge of the subject. Having first read "Last Stand of the Tin Can Navy" because my wife gave it to me for a Christmas present, I was eager to jump into this book. I was not disappointed. There were moments while reading "Neptune's Inferno" I felt like jumping on top of my chair and screaming at the hierarchy of the Navy (not a good thing to do at 35000 ft on a crowded airplane) for decisions that nearly lost this battle, in what appeared to be in the name of the Naval Academy brotherhood on one hand, and leadership incompetence on the other. Incredible loss of American blood and treasure, that if not for the seamanship and determination of the junior officers and enlisted sailors actually in the battle for the sea around Guadalcanal, may have turned the battle into a major defeat for the U.S. and her Allies. Having 20/20 hindsight is great as I try to keep this in perspective, and am doing my best to not judge some of the leaders too harshly. But my gosh, it has to make you wonder what they were thinking. I have removed my rose colored glasses towards the military leadership of that time because of this book and am casting a more critical eye towards other events and the how and why's. The book is not so much an indictment of the Admirals, as much as it is a celebration of the American fighting man. Mr. Hornfischer provides extraordinary detail to allow the reader a vivid look into the past with excellent research through the records and personal interviews with survivors and families. The author has inspired me to read more and update my knowledge about this battle and others in the Pacific during WWII. I am hoping that he writes a book on the battle for Okinawa, as my father and father-in-law were both there, Navy and Army respectively, and have since passed away, unfortunately, before we could get more of the details of their experience. An excellent read
ScurvyDog More than 1 year ago
There are two things that I may say of a James Hornfischer book since he burst onto the naval literature scene in 2004 with The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors. First, the book will be as well researched and documented as any I've seen and second, it will be historical data that has been rigorously examined, augmented by many first person accounts and newly obtained material, and crafted into an imminently readable volume that reads like a thriller. Such a book was his first. His second, Ship of Ghosts, has even made Hornfischer a member of the USS HOUSTON (CA-30) Association's extended family. Now comes his third naval history book, Neptune's Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal. There have been several books, many of them very good, on the half-year-long battle in 1942 for that island but they focus on the Marines and their engagements ashore. For the first time there is a book that examines the entire campaign from the perspective of the navy. There were several engagements during the period, some decided losses for the Americans and Hornfischer describes not only the events but the underlying reasons. He takes us through lessons learned as the American Navy, still moribund from the inactivity of the interwar years and the Depression, comes to life in the heat of battle. Taking each battle in turn, Hornfischer educates the reader without seeming to do so. We are being entertained by history; more than that we are enthralled with the stories he so deftly weaves as history becomes alive and real to the extent that I almost expected to feel salt spray on my face. From the understanding of the need to stop the Japanese advance at a point where Allied forces would have a real place to start the war, to the departure of the last Japanese evacuees when Guadalcanal was safely in American hands, every aspect of the campaign is presented in a fresh and compelling way: a history that is a page-turner. James Hornfischer fans will not be disappointed. If anything, the bar he set so high with The Last Stand has been raised and all future naval historical literature will be improved as a result.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Highly recommend, must read, couldn't put it down" are all overused but in this case spot on. I was a little reluctant to buy this book because my interest in naval history is a recent thing and not as well developed as military aviation, which is where my true interest and experience usually takes me, but I don't know how many times while reading this book I found myself saying "this book is worth every penny of it's cost" (not something I usually find myself saying lately) and "this book should be required reading by every American citizen." So good I searched everything I could find by Hornfischer and I'm working my way through them all. It's that good.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read this book in 2 days. Second book that I've read by him. Last Stand of the Tin Cans was the first. Another 2 day read. Can't wait for his next. Good writer. Great reads.
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In-Quest More than 1 year ago
The book tells the story of the naval struggle between Japan and America to control the air field on Guadalcanal. We took control of the air strip from the Japanese even before they finished building it. Next the two navies commenced a series of naval actions which became a war of attrition. Most of these naval actions were at night as our control of the air kept the Japanese navy away during daylight hours. The Japanese Navy took us to school on how to fight a night action. We had to learn quickly and paid with lives as we learned. We also learned how to put our radar advantage to good use over time. Very interesting story told well.
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Keyman1017 More than 1 year ago
James Hornfischer does an excellent job of fleshing out the background of the many naval battles fought in Iron Bottom Sound. I highly recommend his book. The Nook version failed in the reproduction of the battle maps, which were extremely tiny and blurry when a magnifying glass was used. I am disappointed in the Nook book's failure to spend more time developing this very important part of this story.
SantanaTN More than 1 year ago
One of the most interesting and fact filled books detailing a major yet little documented battle of World War II. Not only does it lay out the fiasco resulting from inept leadership both in Washington and in the Pacific arena, it also gives specific background details leading up to this historical event. The reader will learn that based on our protocol, the United States should have lost this war. Only through the tenacity of and sacrifices made by the sailors, soldiers and marines were we able to overcome these shortcomings in leadership. "Neptune's Inferno" is a glowing example of what happens when any nation becomes so absorbed in control that it loses the ability to look for a newer, better and more efficient way of operating its military as well as an excellent example of egos getting in the way of success by not listening to men in the field as they developed better approaches and improvements to communications. It truly is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the effectiveness, or lack thereof, the U.S. Navy exuded during World War II. On a personal note, having had a father and four uncles engaged in this battle, James Hornfisher captured the emotions and frustrations felt by each and every participant. It was as if I, the reader, was with each of them.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Absolutely fabulous
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amazing chronology of events surrounding Guadalcanal. A very good history lesson
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