- - Tuesday, May 17, 2016



By Michael E. Haskew

Zenith Press, $40, 240 pages

The initial response of every U.S. president since Harry Truman to a world crisis has been to ask, “Where are the carriers?”

In Michael E. Haskew’s look back at the history and development of the aircraft carrier, he notes that it was soon after the Wright Brothers’ historic flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C., in 1903 that some naval officers and civilians began exploring and developing the airplane’s military capabilities. The first successful launch of a plane from the deck of a ship occurred in 1910.

On Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese aircraft launched from six aircraft carriers stationed 230 miles off Hawaii flew into Pearl Harbor and destroyed the U.S. Pacific Fleet and other U.S. military installations.

Four American battleships were sunk and four others were heavily damaged. American cruisers, destroyers and other ships and aircraft were also destroyed or heavily damaged — 2,403 Americans died in the attack while the Japanese military lost 29 aircraft, a fleet submarine, five midget submarines and 185 men. Thankfully, the American carriers were at sea at the time of the attack.

“When it was over, no doubt remained: The aircraft carrier was ascendant in naval warfare, eclipsing the dreadnaught battleship as the primary offensive weapon on the world’s oceans,” Mr. Haskew writes. “World War II in the Pacific, prosecuted across thousands of miles of open sea, was won and lost with the deployment of carrier air power.”

Mr. Haskew’s coffee-table book offers a concise history of the carrier from the Wright Brothers to Pearl Harbor, and on into the Korean, Vietnam and Middle East wars.

“The story of the aircraft carrier is the story of innovative, visionary thinking among naval leaders and the introduction of one of the few conventional weapons systems that is capable of influencing the outcome of a conflict with its very presence,” Mr. Haskew writes.

The book traces the efforts of the pioneers of U.S. naval warfare, as well as the innovators in the British, Japanese and other navies around the world. Mr. Haskew does a fine job of documenting the successes and failures and the triumphs and tragedies that occurred during the long developmental voyage leading to our modern nuclear aircraft carriers.

The book also presents the carrier at war. Alongside a good number of interesting photos and illustrations, Mr. Haskew provides a narrative of the carrier in conflict.

Mr. Haskew tells us that it was a submarine officer, Navy Capt. Francis Low, who suggested that medium bombers might be able to take off from a carrier. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who wanted a propaganda victory against Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor, approved the plan to launch B-25 bombers off a carrier.

On April 18, 1942, Lt. Col. James Doolittle led the historic raid as the bombers took off from the deck of the USS Hornet, flew 600 nautical miles to Tokyo, and dropped bombs on the Japanese capital.

At Midway in the Pacific on June 4, 1942, it was carrier versus carrier. Aircraft from the Japanese and American carrier fleets attacked each other’s ships and fought air duels in the sky. American carriers won the engagement, as their aircraft dive-bombed and torpedo-attacked the Japanese fleet in the historic naval battle.

“The Midway defeat was disastrous for the Japanese, who lost four carriers, a cruiser, 332 planes, and more than 2,000 men,” Mr. Haskew writes. “The Americans lost the gallant Yorktown, the destroyer Hamman, 137 planes, and 307 killed in action. Among the most one-sided victories in naval history, the Battle of Midway put the Japanese on the defensive for the balance of World War II.”

Mr. Haskew also covers the nearly 15 years of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam and Southeast Asia, and notes that the aircraft carrier was an active participant in the conflict. In 1964 a geographic point in the South China Sea was named “Yankee Station,” which is where the American carriers launched airstrikes against the communist forces during the long conflict.

My old ship, the USS Kitty Hawk, was the first carrier to take up position on Yankee Station. The carrier aircraft attacked North Vietnamese and Viet Cong infrastructure and troop concentrations and supported American and South Vietnamese ground forces throughout the war. American carrier pilots also engaged Soviet-made MiG fighters in air-to-air combat.

American carriers later participated in combat from Libya to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The carriers also participated in numerous humanitarian missions over the years.

“Aircraft Carriers” is a well-written and well-illustrated book that should be in the library of any reader interested in military history.

Paul Davis, a Navy veteran who served on an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War, is a writer who covers crime, espionage and terrorism.

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