Part Two, SOG: “A Bloodstained Sea”

In this section, Hornfischer wisely switches to present tense:

Within minutes, Lt. Bruce D. Skidmore, stationed high in the Houston‘s foremast, reports enemy cruisers bearing thirty degrees relative to starboard, steaming southwest on a nearly perpendicular course to the northwesterly oriented Allied line. The enemy fleet reveals itself slowly . . . out of the equatorial sea. The steel branches proliferate. There is no telling how large it is . . . “We realized help would come, but not today,” said Marine Pfc. Marvin Robinson.

Ship of Ghosts, p. 74

Hornfischer is superb at describing the tactical moves made by the two opposing commanders, Admirals Doorman and Nagumo.:

Doorman . . . worries that the Japanese ships might beat him to the intersection of their converging courses. If that happens, the enemy will cross his formation’s T, thereby exposing his lead ships to full broadsides from the entire opposing line. Doorman changes course twenty degrees to the left, paralleling the course of the enemy cruisers. The maneuver momentarily hangs the three leading British destroyers out on the cruisers’ starboard bow, closest to the Japanese. The HMS Electra, the right-hand ship in the scouting line, attracts vicious fire . . . A spectrum of dye-colored foam rises around her. The Electra’s commanding officer, Cdr. C. W. May, has the ship “twisting like a hare” chasing shell splashes.

Ship of Ghosts, p. 75

The Appendix

Feb. 26, 1942: With their ship, the USS Houston, under assault by Japanese aircraft, its five-inch guns were “elevated to fire nearly straight up,” which meant “the crews had to reckon with their own ordnance coming right back down on them. The larger chunks weighed as much as three pounds, jagged things a half-inch thick, maybe three or four inches wide at one place.”

An appendix at the back of the book lists the names of all Americans “killed in action or died in captivity” from the USS Houston: The list, which goes on for 12 pages, includes Last Name/First Name/Rank/Branch of Service/ Date of Death/Place of Death/Cause of Death.

The level of detail is simply amazing.

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