Aircraft carrier development and operations
American & British Aircraft Carrier Development, 1919-1941
(Thomas Hone, Norman Friedman, and Mark Mandeles)
Naval Institute Press, 1999. 280 pp., b&w photos. $39.95 (hardcover)
Naval Institute Press, 1999. 264 pp., b&w photos. $34.95 (hardcover).
What a near thing it was! At the beginning of 1939, nine months before Germany propelled Europe into World War II, the United States had just four aircraft carriers. One was too small for fleet operations, and of the big carriers, only one was designed from the keel up for the purpose of launching warplanes. Luckily for the U.S., it was granted two years to make good its deficiencies. Even luckier, when Japan launched its carrier aircraft against Pearl Harbor, the American flat-tops were at sea and thereby escaped the hammer-blow.
The U.S. Navy went on to beat the Japanese at their own game. Hone, Friedman, and Mandeles do a workmanlike job of telling how American carrier officers laid the groundwork for that transformation. The British didn't do nearly as well: the Royal Air Force hogged men and materiel, and the Royal Navy went to war with an obsolete force of biplane fighters and bombers--a problem it eventually solved by adopting American models. Even the fact that the British were first off the mark in developing naval air power worked against them, ensuring that their carriers too were out of date when they went into combat.
This is a thoughtful analysis of why the Americans succeeded where the British failed. Alas, the story of Japanese carrier operations--as good or better than the USN's when the war began--is missing from an otherwise excellent book.
Landing on a ship at sea is an improbable venture at the best of times. At night or in instrument weather, it's so difficult as to approach the absurd. Here the USN was far ahead of the competition, as Charles Brown relates. His text is very readable, based largely on interviews and personal experience. Brown is an Academy graduate and 23-year veteran of carrier operations, and his background enlivens this exemplary history of how navy aviators learned to find and land on a deck they couldn't see until they were on final approach.