Morning Star, Midnight Sun – The Early Guadalcanal-Solomons Campaign of World War II August-October 1942, Jeffrey R. Cox

Morning Star, Midnight Sun – The Early Guadalcanal-Solomons Campaign of World War II August-October 1942, Jeffrey R. Cox

This book focuses on the first part of the Guadalcanal campaign, from the original Japanese arrival on the island, through the American invasion and on to the naval battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, a period that saw the US Marines fairly easily establish themselves on the island, only to find the Navy pulling out before unloading most of their supplies. A prolonged series of land and naval battles followed, many of them very hard fought.

The book ends with the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, the last major carrier vs carrier battle of the campaign, which saw the Americans lose the Hornet and suffer heavy damage to the Enterprise, but the Japanese suffer much heavier losses amongst their elite naval aviators. Amongst the Japanese dead was Murata Shigeharu, leader of the torpedo bombers during the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese lost almost half of the aircraft they committed to the battle, along with 148 aircrew including two dive bomber group leaders and three torpedo squadron leaders. As the author makes clear, one of the big advantages held by the Japanese early in the war was the superior expertise and experience of their ‘Sea Eagles’. The battles around Guadalcanal were even more costly for the Japanese naval air arm than Midway had been, and they were never really able to repair the damage done in these early battles.

The author has quite a distinctive tone throughout this book. He pays a great deal of attention to the personalities of the main commanders on each side, starting with an analysis of the famously irascible Admiral King that helps to explain why he was considered to be such a capable commander (despite being best known to British readers for ignoring advice about the U-boats and thus leaving US coastal traffic very vulnerable in 1942). He is very willing to make judgements about the leading characters on both sides, mainly rather negative ones (the notable exceptions amongst the top brass are the American ground commanders on Guadalcanal itself and Admiral Halsey). However his analysis of the reasons for the Japanese failure on Guadalcanal is convincing  - a mix of the famous ‘victory disease’, a tendency to believe the massively over-exaggerated claims of success by Japanese aviators, and the familiar habit of coming up with massively over-complicated plans that relied on over-elaborate timing if they were to work. We see this at sea, where the fleet was over divided into rather too many different units, operating too far apart to realistically support each other, and on the island, where many early attacks were on far too small a scale, and others relied on several forces managing to cross through the jungle to reach different starting points and coordinate attacks despite having limited or no communications!

On occasions I think his judgements are a little unfair, in particular when looking at the way key information failed to reach the commanders of various fleets. One key problem for the Americans in some of these naval battles was that important messages were picked up on one ship, but not on the flagship, and never reached the Admiral in charge. However it should be remembered that vast amounts of information will have been received onboard every warship, and extra ship to ship communications would only add to the potential confusion. I would agree that is less easy to understand why key information didn’t always reach the top when it was actually known on the flagship.

This is a splendid account of the early parts of the Guadalcanal campaign, with detailed, gritty accounts of the key battles that give fairly equal time to both sides of the battle.

1 – Fighting the Problem
2 – Makee Learnee
3 – The Sleeping Watch
4 – Pandaemonium
5 – Is He Lucky?
6 – Pride Goeth…
7 – ‘Why Not?’
8 – ‘I am Aoba
9 – All Hell’s Eve
10 – The Lion Comes
11 – Not Quite Midway
12 – And Then There Was One
Epilogue: Far from Satisfactory, Far from Hopeless

Author: Jeffrey R. Cox
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 448
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 2019

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