Great Naval Battles of the Pacific War


Great Naval Battles of the Pacific War; The Official Admiralty Accounts: Midway, Coral Sea, Java Sea, Guadalcanal and Leyte Gulf. Compiled by John Grehan. Frontline Books, an imprint of Pen and Sword Books Limited, Barnsley, Yorkshire, 2022.

Reviewed by Tim Coyle


Maritime history scholars have been well served by works dissecting naval battles by generations of authors; no more so than those of the Second World War. The hierarchy of study and analysis began with the personal impressions of participants of varying levels of command with the more senior players cognisant of their reputations and legacies.

More junior writers recorded the stresses of serving at sea under the pressures of the gigantic maritime conflict. These writings were followed by historians, now in their second generation, adding an analytical gloss to the operations. To research their topics, the writers had to examine primary sources – the official files and records – to provide a credible base for their assessments.

Primary archival sources have a tangible presence and drama; when opening a file, the feeling is overwhelmingly one of holding history in one’s hands. Inside are musty official letters, hand-scrawled comments, orders, instructions and procedures and after-action reports through which the researcher can feel the immediacy of the files’ contents.

Great Pacific Battle of the Pacific War is one such primary source, although devoid of the atmosphere of the original material. Quite simply, it comprises narratives drawn exclusively from Naval Staff Histories Battle Summaries 23 (The Battle of the Coral Sea), 28 (Battle of the Java Sea), 40 (The Battle of Midway), 45 (Naval Operations of the Campaign for Guadalcanal August 1942 to February 1943) and 46 (The Battle for Leyte Gulf). As such, Battle Summaries were written by contemporary naval officers from official reports devoid of extraneous comment, analysis or opinion. In keeping with the raw reporting style, some readers may be disappointed in the brevity accorded to some actions – for example the brusque coverage of the 19 February 1942 air attack on Port Darwin to which Summary 28 paragraph 6(v) devotes 10 lines.

Original diagrams of the actions accompany the text; however, in his introductory note Grehan states it was not possible to reproduce all the diagrams or appendices, most of which are available on the internet. Some references were omitted as there are no modern traceable equivalents. The narratives are supported by contemporary images and an index of persons and vessels rounds off the work.

Factual, original and free of bias and excessive analysis Great Naval Battles of the Pacific War was written by naval officers for their brethren and forms a fine reference for contemporary research


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