Author Topic: Review of "All the Gallant Men"  (Read 13473 times)

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Offline SVPete

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Review of "All the Gallant Men"
« on: January 28, 2017, 12:04:33 PM »
All the Gallant Men was written by Ken Gire, but is to a large degree the transcribed oral history of the Pearl Harbor attack and subsequent experience of Donald Stratton, a survivor from the USS Arizona. The cover jacket has Stratton's name in large letters, with "With Ken Gire" below, in much smaller letters. This is a graphic indicator that Gire let Stratton tell his own story, his way, even to the point of including, uncorrected, minor errors (insignificant to the story context) such as references to the battleships Ohio (there was no USS Ohio in the USN fleet at the time) and Utah (USS Utah was present and sunk at PH, but was no longer a battleship).

Stratton's account begins with his family and growing up in the Great Depression, how he came to join the USN and serve on the Arizona, and introduces "ordinary" people who figure in his account (e.g. a screw-up serving on the USS Vestal who became a "minor" hero. The heart of this very sobering book is Stratton's account of the attack, the devastating magazine explosion, his nearly miraculous escape from his burning and sinking ship (Remember that "screw up"? The Vestal was berthed next to the Arizona.), and painful recovery. Stratton was medically discharged, recovered some at home, and then enlisted again, serving on a destroyer off Okinawa.

Rewinding to the 1920s, the London Naval Treaty, to which the US and Japan were parties (with other nations), restricted the number of battleships each party nation was allowed in active or reserve service. For the US that meant scrapping every pre-Dreadnought battleship (very obsolete; including USS Ohio, BB-12) and every Dreadnought battleship (12" main guns) (except for USS Wyoming, which became a crane ship, USS Utah, which became a target ship, and USS Arkansas, which was due to be scrapped, but WW2 happened). New York class super-Dreadnoughts (14" main guns) were deemed inadequate for Pacific Fleet service. Consequently, the oldest BBs at PH were USS Nevada, USS Oklahoma, and the slightly newer USS Pennsylvania and USS Arizona.

On the Japanese side, they had been preparing for PH for nearly a year. In that time the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) had redesigned their air-launched torpedoes to work in shallow waters, and, as Stratton and Gire mention, briefly, had adapted 16" armor piercing shells used by IJN Nagato class battleships for use as bombs, and determined the height from which they should be dropped to pierce USN BB deck armor, without going all the way through the ship and inflicting moderate damage.

USN practice - except for the North Carolina class BBs, not yet in commission - was to armor its BBs to resist the same shells the BB fired. Thus, USS Arizona's belt armor and deck armor were designed to resist 14" armor piercing shells. Not the adapted 16" shells IJN Kates dropped in the PH attack. Consequently, the bomb that hit the USS Arizona on December 7, 1941 penetrated Arizona's deck armor, and exploded in one of the Arizona's magazines; a shell weighing a bit over a ton, packed with a few hundred pounds of explosives, set off tons of powder. The scores of men serving in or near the magazines were obliterated; the structural integrity of the ship was destroyed, causing the Arizona's bridge superstructure to collapse into the void.

The USS Oklahoma was struck by as many as 9 torpedoes in short succession, overwhelming her ability to counter-flood, so Oklahoma capsized. The Arizona and Oklahoma accounted for the majority of USN and USA lives lost at PH. The Arizona was destroyed; had she been at sea, she would have been sunk, swiftly, as did the RN battlcruisers that experienced magazine explosions at Jutland or HMS Hood. The USS Oklahoma was eventually righted, but being one of the least capable and slowest of USN BBs, she was never repaired and updated (as was her class-mate, the USS Nevada). She was sold for scrap in 1946, and sank enroute to the West Coast in 1947.

USS Nevada was repaired and updated, and served at Normandy, the invasion of south France, and finally the invasion of Okinawa. The Arizona's class-mate and -leader, the USS Pennsylvania was in drydock on 12/7/41, and was not seriously damaged. She was repaired, upgraded, and served in various Pacific Theater operations, including the old-school gun battle at the battle of Surigao Straight (part of the larger Battle of Leyte Gulf). Al other USN BBs damaged or sunk at PH were raised, repaired, and upgraded. Because of their slow speed, they could not escort USN carrier groups. The new, faster, North Carolina-, South Dakota- and Iowa-class BBs performed that duty. The older BBs were used for bombardment at invasions and the action at Surigao Straight (at which the 2 IJN BBs, 2 heavy and 1 light cruiser, and handful of destroyers were buried by 6 USN BBs, 4 heavy and 4 light cruisers, and 28 destroyers).

The probably apocryphal Yamamoto quote proved true (maybe "spoken" after the fact). The PH attack killed some 2400 men, destroyed two nearly obsolescent battleships, and destroyed quite a few planes (many of which were also obsolescent or obsolete). But it roused and riled a sleeping dragon, a Pyrrhic victory on steroids. Japan's burial was as much in US factories and shipways as in the skies and seas over and around Japan. It is said that Yamamoto told Japanese political leaders that the IJN could run rampant for 6 months, but after that he would give no guarantees. That comment may also be apocryphal (and after the fact), but almost 6 months to the day was the huge defeat (for the IJN) of Midway.