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Battleship Book Reviews

The Nebula Hawk Battleship Seaport provides reviews of Battleship books.

Out of the Depths - The USS Indianapolis - Edgar Harrell

This is the first Warship book that I've read, which has actually been written, by one of the survivors, of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis - the retired US Navy Marine, Edgar Harrell:


Out of the Depths - The USS Indianapolis - Edgar Harrell


I found within it's pages, a retelling of the Loss of the USS Indianapolis, that serves to highlight, both the absurdities of War, and the Refusal of the Human Spirit - to give up! An absurdity of War ... Two Marines sleeping on a Turret roof one night (owing to the heat of the Pacific), with one Marine (Edgar Harrell), choosing not to the second night - only to have that same Turret roof, blown sky high (by a Japanese Torpedo / Magazine Explosion), knowing for well that your friend is gone (as he slept on the Turret's roof again that night). A refusal to give up ... Bobbing away, in a sun bleached sea, with a life jacket that's waterlogged, in a circle of corpses (your former crew-mates), surrounded by sharks (whether you knew it or not), with a parched mouth, and swollen lips - then out of the distance, something bobs up and down, a crate of potatoes, half rotten but Heaven! And it is here, that Edgar Harrell, felt that he would Survive, the ordeal of the Crew of the USS Indianapolis, floating in the Pacific Ocean (for up to four and a half days) - because he knew for well, that God had a plan ... Yes indeed, did I find that this retelling, is as much to do with God, as is the fact, that the US Navy blundered - knowing not (through various absurdities of Command), that the crew of the Indianapolis, were adrift at sea! In places, I found this book hard to read (or at least to relate to), because I don't believe, that I'm very religious (although I like the idea, of such a hierarchy and it's symbolism). Granted, it's hard to say for sure, how many of us would behave (and what we would choose to believe in), having just witnessed, several of our former crew-mates, being ripped to bits by sharks, whilst those very same sharks, chose to pass us by! In any case, there's several parts of this book, that stood out for me ... First: the USS Indianapolis herself. She was a workhorse of the US Navy, featuring in many of the campaigns of the Pacific. I especially liked the recounting, of the bombardment of Iwo Jima - as the power of the Indy's five inch, and eight inch Naval Guns, is made very clear. Added to this, is the technology of a Warship, which even in 1945, could hone a five inch shell, onto the path of an incoming enemy plane - through the marvel of Radar :) Second: the horror of having a Warship, fall apart beneath you. It's hard to imagine, that solid steel could bend and buckle, until you see it - Edgar Harrell did, the bow was gone! I was shocked, by the truth of his recount - at the injuries of the men, who were just trying to make their way, to the decks of a ship, that was rapidly taking on water, whilst exploding all around them, in Fires of Hell! Yet even then, would those same men, have chosen to remain on-board, if only they had the choice. Third: the reality of floating in a sea/ocean (for several days). You can't escape it, unless you die. You have to ride it, even a fifteen foot wave. You have to take it, sun blistered skin. You have to bear it, darkness of night. You have to go with it, this endless tide. For there's simply nowhere, you can go! Your at the mercy of the sea. As was Edgar Harrell, and his fellow survivors. Whilst reciting his tale, did I feel that Edgar, answered an important question - just how would you pass the time? As Edgar was blessed with a working watch, both a blessing and a burden (as he says). I felt that I connected with, an idea that was proposed here - were going to swim for the coast! Though it be, hundreds of miles - were a Marine, and we Strive to Survive :) Fourth: is the disbelief that was encountered, by Edgar Harrell and his fellow survivors, at the persecution (and court-martial) of their Captain - Captain McVay. It seems absurd to me, that you can blame a Captain, for the loss of his warship, whilst they were at war - especially when it was higher up, that the blunders occurred. The fact remains that the Indianapolis, should never have sailed unescorted, through hostile waters. I fully agree with Edgar, that McVay was not at fault - and I feel that the various letters of correspondence, really adds a unique perspective, to the contents of this book. Fifth: Is a further absurdity of War ... Which for me, is perhaps the most striking part of this tale. Whilst many of the survivors, may very well have survived four days at sea (through strength, belief, willpower, luck, etc.), it was that last half a day (from when they had been spotted), that I feel for many, the real test came! For one simple reason: they'd almost run out of, the energy to keep going (e.g. the ability to tread water) - yet they had to wait, for the various rescue ships, to arrive on the scene! It must have been a true Test of Faith, where I suspect minutes felt like hours, and a still mind-numbing thought: that they had been left afloat for so long, in the first place! I wonder how many more would have been saved, if they'd been found, half a day earlier? As at the end, all strength fails - you succumb to the sea. Overall: this book really is, a recounting of one man's Quest for Survival, and the Strength of his Character - amongst the Cruel Sea, of a Pacific War. Whilst I might not share, all of Edgar's views and beliefs (pertaining to God), I feel that I can relate, to two important points that he makes. The first: Edgar won't go near the sea/ocean these days. I can understand why. It would almost be like going back. And as Edgar says: the visions of the dying throws of the Indianapolis, are still raw in his mind (let alone the sharks). The second: when not everything is going to plan, and your entire World seems to be falling apart (let alone a Warship), just remember one thing - God Wills It (at least I believe, that's what Edgar was hinting at). Peace.

13/07/2017 | Nebula Hawk | Web: Out of the Depths - Indy Survivor

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Bismarck - Robert Ballard

One of the most interesting battleship books that I have encountered recently, is Robert Ballard's Bismarck:


Bismarck - Robert Ballard


My favourite chapter is - First Blood. This chapter covers the details of the Battle of the Denmark Strait - yes it is about the sinking of HMS Hood, but it also considers the aftermath of the battle (such as the damage that had been done to the Bismarck - especially towards her bow). There are some chilling first hand descriptions of the explosions on-board HMS Hood (as viewed from both the Bismarck, and Prince of Wales) together with some details on how Hood's three survivors survived. After reading this chapter, it's a miracle that there were any survivors at all: one jumped overboard (but got entangled in aerial wires as Hood sunk), another (Ted Briggs) escaped the compass platform/bridge (but was soon dragged under with the pull of the ship) the third was essentially washed through a window - from the highest point on the ship (the spotting top). Contrasted with this, are the thoughts of the Germans on-board Bismarck: which seem to have been at first astonishment, followed quickly by disbelief, followed quickly by transfixing (an inability to act), followed later by thoughts of impending doom - when it became apparent that the British intended to sink the Bismarck at all costs. My second favourite chapter is - Bismarck, Then and Now. I have always enjoyed looking at pictures of battleships - and this chapter has more than enough, but with a unique twist: as it compares black and white photos of the past (from previous voyages), together with basic photos of the wreck. I use the term basic photos, because at the time of the dive on the Bismarck (1989), the ability to both photograph and video underwater wrecks was in its infancy (at least by today's standards). Thus, the underwater wreck photos are somewhat on the smaller side/grainy (although not all), but I found that this mattered little - as I found them sufficiently spooky (especially when combined with the artists impressions of the overall wreck of the Bismarck). If you were to ask me, what my favourite diagram is within the book, then I would say that it is the diagram that explains/shows how the Bismarck sunk. It clearly shows that she rolled over, with her four 15 inch gun turrets falling out, as she descended rapidly towards the sea bed. Yet it is here, that an oddity occurred - for the Bismarck righted herself on her way to the bottom, before eventually slamming into the side of an extinct underwater volcano, and preceding to slide down it's side. My other favourite diagrams are the Bismarck's starboard profile, interior profile (showing key armour locations) and an overhead view - as they are also compared to original black and white photographs of the day. Overall: this is a highly detailed book, that provides a tonne of information on the battle (and it's aftermath), together with a great many pictures of the Bismarck (both past and present) which is mixed in within the Hunt for the Bismarck (aka the search to find the wreck).

06/04/2017 | Nebula Hawk

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In Harm's Way - The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis - Part Two

Third - Rescue: What shocked me the most, was that it was only through luck, that the crew of the USS Indianapolis (floating in the Pacific), were even spotted in the first place!


In Harm's Way - The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis - Doug Stanton


If it hadn't been for a loan submarine bomber (piloted by Lieutenant Chuck Gwinn and his crew), then it seems likely to me, that they would only have been found, when all were dead ... What really stands out for me (in this book), is that the entire rescue effort - stems from Gwinn. If it hadn't been for him, and his two radio reports (of survivors in the water), then nothing would have happened - as it seems as though, the hampering of the chain of command (aka the need for confirmation), would have sealed the crew of the USS Indianapolis's fate (as indeed it had, up until now). For once those two radio messages were received, did the US Navy swing into action - as it seems to me, that various superior officers were now not so keen, to be seen as the one's that did nothing. I was further shocked by the book at this point, as no one knew who these men were (that were floating in the sea). It is here that this book, helps to convey the selflessness of the rescuers, that helped to save the crew of the Indy ... For I found this especially true in two places: i) the sea plane that put down, to haul over fifty survivors on-board - knowing for well, that landing the sea plane on open choppy water, could have doomed their own fate. And ii) the American rescuers, that dived into the water, knowing for well that there were sharks down there! Added to this, was the fact that these rescuers, still did not know exactly who they were rescuing - as it took a question about baseball, and a direct answer: were from the USS Indianapolis. Shock ... That was felt by both the rescuers, and the survivors (as many felt that they were still hallucinating). And yet, ask any sailor, who has been adrift at sea for days, wondering whether they would ever be rescued, what the most important thing in this entire world is? And their answer shall be: water! As fresh water is worth it's weight in gold - actually, forget the gold, just give me the water :) With that in mind, was there also another part of this book, that stood out for me: the quality of the care, that the men received (after they had been rescued). For most (if not all), were covered in oil (that had to be removed), before their various injuries could even be looked at (such as broken arms and broken legs), together with the effects of long term exposure to salt water (such as salt water ulcers). In essence, this part of the book, left me with the impression that medical crews (such as doctors and nurses), worked tirelessly to bring these shipwrecked men, back to full health (as indeed they did). Conclusion: I found this book, to be a draw-dropping read, about the horrors of war - I simply could not believe, some of the things I was reading (although I did). I was particularly amazed, by one simple point, that kept tugging at me, as I continued to read: how easily avoidable, the aftermath of the sinking could have been. As it seemed to me, that there were four opportunities earlier on (in the disaster), where the crew of the Indy - could have been rescued far sooner. Three of these stem from the SOS message, that the radio crew of the USS Indianapolis, managed to send out as she sunk. It would seem that this SOS message, was received not once, but three times (by on-shore listening posts), that failed to act on the SOS - because they awaited confirmation from the Indianapolis, that she was in-fact sinking. A command/requirement, that the Indianapolis could not meet - as she was sunk in around twelve minutes. The sending of the SOS (which the Indy's radio crew stand/swear by), was complicated by the specific set-up of the Indy's radio equipment. She had two radio rooms (one forward, one aft). The forward one was the primary (i.e. could both send and receive messages), but it was taken out by the second torpedo hit. This left the aft radio room ... But whether through design, or an operational quirk (I do not know which) - it could only receive, incoming radio messages! Even so, does this book make it clear, that the Indy's radio crew, managed to improvise/modify some of the radio equipment, so that it could send an SOS. I think it's crazy, that a ship the size of the Indianapolis (610 feet), would of only had one workable send and receive radio room (both should have been set-up as such). And the fourth opportunity to have rescued the crew of the Indianapolis much sooner? Well ... For me, that lays entirely with her estimated time of arrival (in the Navy port of Leyte). It seems absurd, that she would have been allowed to go (approximately) two days overdue - without anyone asking (by way of a radio message), whether she was still out there? Granted, it may have been unwise to have reported the Indy's position (in such a response), but a simple YES I'M HERE would have worked wonders. Finally: I'm on the side of Captain McVay! I don't see how, you can hold a Captain responsible for the loss of his ship, when that Captain requested an anti-submarine escort (aka a Destroyer) - and was told that none was necessary. As if none was necessary, why did McVay's orders include a requirement for zigzagging? Granted, the zigzagging was to be carried out at his discretion - but why include them at all, if intelligence believed his route to be safe, and free from Japanese subs? It feels to me, as though higher up Navy personnel, were simply covering their own backsides - by pinning it on McVay.

27/03/2017 | Nebula Hawk | Web: | Read More: In Harm's Way - Part One, Captain McVay Exonerated

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In Harm's Way - The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis - Part One

So, you think your having a bad day? Think again! Just chat to any of the survivors of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis - and tell me again ... As they truly were - In Harm's Way:


In Harm's Way - The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis - Doug Stanton


Reading this book shocked me. As I simply could not believe, that at the closing stages of World War Two, that an entire US Warship could be lost - without the US Navy being aware of it at all! And yet, that is EXACTLY what happened ... For the USS Indianapolis, was torpedoed and sunk by herself, in the middle of the Pacific - compounded by a complete breakdown in the Laws of the Sea, or at least, what a sailor can expect when their ship is overdue. First and Foremost, I liked the layout of this book, as I found that it was split into three main sections: Sailing to War (telling you of the Indy's top secret mission), Sunk (telling you that some sailors nightmares - do come true) and Rescue (telling you just how precious life - really is). I shall now consider each of these sections in turn ... First: Sailing to War ... Having been under repair (for a Japanese Kamikaze attack), the USS Indianapolis was suddenly whisked into active duty again, when it was decided that she would transport the atomic bomb (Little Boy), that would help seal the fate of Japan. As the book coveys, much of her crew was surprised by this whisk (as they were on leave) - which was further wrapped in mystery, as the crew knew nothing of the details of her cargo! I was especially surprised, by the fact that Captain McVay, also did not know of the identity of his cargo - only that it was important (as I'd previously believed that a ship's Captain, was a high enough rank to have known). But ... Such is the Secrecy of War! It is here that the book reveals, that the USS Indianapolis, was a flagship of the US Navy - having been chosen by Admiral Raymond Spruance (because of the flexibility of her high speed). Thus, was I surprised to learn that the USS Indianapolis, had been ordered to sail by herself, between the (previously occupied) Japanese Islands of Guam and Leyte - aka, through Japanese sub infested waters! For me, the fact that she was a flagship (alone), meant that she should have been escorted (by at least one Destroyer) - as the Indianapolis, could neither detect nor attack, enemy submarines: she was a heavy cruiser, that was designed to bombard shore installations (with her nine eight-inch naval guns). It was also within this section, that I found myself surprised by: i) how differently two sailors can view the same event (such as the loading of the nuclear bomb components on-board), and ii) by the believability of wartime decisions (such as attempting to pass an army medical officer off - as a navy gunnery expert). Second: Sunk ... What would qualify as a nightmare for you? Sleeping near the bow of the Indy, when a torpedo slams right into the bow - blowing you fifteen feet into the air? Or seeing the men that that happened to, simply being vaporised? Or perhaps ... Seeing your ship ploughing through the sea, having lost it's bow - water quickly rising? Or even sliding from the decks of the Indy, in your injured state - straight into an oil soaked sea? Or perhaps ... Being caught in a flash fire, that cooks your mate - but misses you? How about being dragged underwater, by a snaring cable - just when you'd thought you'd escaped? Being dragged down and down, until your blasted to the surface - by an escaping air bubble? Well ... That was just the start of the nightmares, for the men of the USS Indianapolis - as their ship sunk beneath them, in the middle of the night, in the middle of the Pacific! Yet it was known by her sailors (or at least believed), that after a day or two, that she would be declared overdue - and that their ordeal (of floating in the Pacific), would soon be over. Except ... That never happened :( For the survivors of the Indy's sinking, found themselves adrift in the Pacific Ocean, with no food or drink (i.e. fresh water), or medical provisions of any kind (in the most part), for four and a half days! If they were lucky, they'd managed to grab either a life vest, or a life belt - or if they were really lucky, they'd managed to grab a space on a raft. And yet, was I surprised to learn, that many of these sailors were actually injured (with broken legs and/or broken arms), together with various degrees of burns (to hands, torsos, faces and eyes). Yet even if you consider a sailor with a life vest, and a broken arm, that's covered in ship oil, to be extremely lucky - would that same sailor, need even more luck, to survive through to rescue! For as the crew of the USS Indianapolis, drifted clear of her oil slick, did the survivors start to become aware, of a menace beneath their feet: sharks!! Consider for a moment ... Could you drift for four and a half days in a life vest (that's becoming waterlogged), knowing that there's hundreds of sharks swimming, both around and beneath you? Your answer is NO!! Yet for the crew of the Indianapolis, they had to - for where else could they go? It's the chapter called Shark Attack, that all this is revealed in. It's the chapter called Genocide, where the nightmares came alive! As American sailors, started killing each other. As American sailors, started whole scale hallucinating: the USS Indianapolis had returned, and many of the boy's simply swum down to meet her. It was the sea salt you see, compounded by glaring sunlight, and no hope of rescue: for to the crew of the USS Indianapolis, did it seem that they had been forgotten about (which indeed they had - as no one knew!). Or did they?

27/03/2017 | Nebula Hawk | Web: | Read More: In Harm's Way - Part Two

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The Mighty Hood - Ernle Bradford

At first glance, the most prominent feature of this book (on HMS Hood) - is the fact that it was written, within just a few years of HMS Hood, having been lost:


The Mighty Hood - The Life and Death of the Royal Navy's Proudest Ship


Initially, I felt somewhat apprehensive - as haven been written in 1959, how good could it be? Well ... Whilst it took me a chapter or two, to get into the text, I was so pleased that I did :) For one simple reason: this book on the Mighty Hood, contains a wealth of information, that you just don't find, in other (more modern) Battleship books. A clue lies in the book's subtitle: The Life and Death of the Royal Navy's Proudest Ship. And it is Hood's Life, that the book primarily concentrates on ... And of this Life, is Hood's Empire/World Cruise, one of the most important parts of the book. For it is here, that I started to feel, just something of the values of the Men, and of the importance of Routine (to the men that served on her) ... For a Sailor learns the Ways of the Sea: where to polish, where to knot, where to stand, where to tuck, where to box, where to train - but not after Rum! For a sailor endures the Trails of the Sea: in the sweats of the Tropic, in the freeze of the Arctic, in the storms of the Pacific, in the fogs of the Vikings, in the cheers of the Empire, in the demands of the Bow. As practice makes perfect - and all is not quite :) For a Warship is Alive: foot-steps in her corridors, meals in her galleys, lights in her decks, breathes in her hull, study in her gauges, commands in her Bridge. For a Warship, is the Heart and Soul of her Crew :) And yet, is there no accounting for luck ... As when Hood's fatal blow was struck, did all of it end: her lights and sounds were no more - just silence. The book's handling of this fate, was just as sudden - which left me with a feeling of, how can this be? How can a warship that sailed around the World, be lost in a matter of seconds? How can a warship that was a Legend the World over, suffer such an instant demise? Well ... We shall never know for sure - although the book does hint, at flaws in her design (especially the thinness of her deck armour, compounded by the stresses of her long hull form). In any case, I found several surprises within this book ... First: Was the level of competitiveness, that existed between the sailors of Destroyers/Cruisers, and the sailors of Capital Ships (such as HMS Hood). Destroyer men, seemed to feel that Capital Ships (such as HMS Hood), could not look after themselves - and did not want to be outdone (especially in terms of seamanship), by the crews of Capital Ships (that to them, almost never put to sea!). It is with some irony then, that such Destroyer/Cruiser men, longed to serve on-board HMS Hood :) Second: Was the level of luck encountered (or lack of it!), on the day of Hood's loss, by her Commander - Vice Admiral Lancelot Holland. For all intents and purposes, decisions that Holland took on the day, all appeared to be logical and correct (as of a wise and talented commander) - but without one key ingredient, luck of any kind! An example would be, when he sent his accompanying Destroyers, further North (to seek the Bismarck), only to stumble upon the Bismarck himself (well away from his Destroyers). The irony is, that at every decision he took (even those that were based upon, sound naval value) - luck simply conferred, his advantage away. For example: He had more heavy calibre Naval Guns (eight 15 inch and ten 14 inch), but his manoeuvrers during the night (whilst seeking the Bismarck), meant that he lost much of his Angle of Approach advantage - and as such, could only bring his forward naval guns to bear (four 15 inch from Hood, six 14 inch from Prince of Wales). Third: was the order, in which HMS Hood fired her guns (one barrel from each turret fired, followed by the other barrel, alternating for continuous fire). It's the first time that I'd read, such a specific fact like this, which I feel is a forgotten fact - from the time that this book was written ... Added to this, did I also find another forgotten fact - the fact that Hood, was not a new ship: she had been heavily used, throughout the oceans of the World, and her boilers plus turbines, were no longer capable of propelling her, at her design speed (of over thirty knots). Thus, it may appear obvious, that she was in need of a service - but I'd not thought about this requirement before (preferring instead, to ponder upon, her potential redesign). Overall: this book contrasts the Life of HMS Hood, against the Loss of HMS Hood. Her life was long, for a warship (around twenty-five years). She'd navigated the World. She was known to most (if not all) of the British Empire. She was known to the VIPs (such as Kings and Queens). She was known to the Children (that in peacetime, had both danced and played - upon her decks). She was known to the Sailors (both those that served on her, and those that wanted to). She was Alive - but she was still a warship. Her guns, that had been primarily used in training, were now for war. She was a Legend (known to all), that bore an Achilles Heel (known to few). Her men knew the calibre of her steel, the power of her guns, and the meaning of her flags. For they served a way of Life, that now no longer exists ... Silence: for those that know the Sea, may never walk upon the Land again - our Mighty Hood.

15/01/2017 | Nebula Hawk

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Battleship Artwork - HMS Hood 1937