Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Very LPO Christmas

Long time reader, emailer, and Fleet Spy you see Hat Tip'd now and then, AT1, has a Christmas list for you procrastinators. Never, ever, underestimate a good First Class Petty Officer. Never.

AT1; over to you!

1. Queen of the Flat-Tops by Stanley Johnson.
Out of print for a few years (it was originally published in 1950), but if you want to read about the opening days of the SW Pacific Campaign from the carrier raids against Lae and Tulagi in February, this is your book. VADM Brown's attempt to bomb Rabual that lead to Edward O'Hare's engagement against five G4M Betty Bombers is in this book. This book also gives insight into what the Navy was like in the early days of the war; snap shots talking about crossing the line and some of the fun from that; dealing with his stateroom roommate. All of this from what would now be termed an embedded reporter from a newspaper in Chicago. Of course, this information is dated because it was basically filed as a series of news reports that were then gathered up and edited into a book. I think the best scenes in it was describing what the actual battle of Coral sea was like, then what the fuel line explosions felt like to him.
An in-depth discussion about the development of the F-18 from what it was originally viewed as, a light-weight tactical fighter to supplement the F-14 that would be cheap to purchase and maintain, over to becoming what it is today. Understand as you read this book that the author has an axe to grind since he fought against the USAF Fighter Mafia in the late-70's over the F-15 and F-16s. However, if you get past his axes you find an in-depth scathing attack on how military weapon systems are purchased by the US Department of Defense. How and original idea from the fleet gets added to, modified, and changed in is gestational period, when it hits prototype some of the plans get changed either because the technology isn't there or doesn't work to promised specs. Then when the system finally hits the fleet for operational use it isn't at all what was promised at the start. The biggest takeaway from this book for me was not so much how messed up the system is, but rather how an simple acquisition gets messed up as more people put their fingers (and careers) on the line to make it work. It isn't so much the process needs to be improved on, but rather you need fewer people involved. It seems the more people get involved the more the platform will be required to do.
The author interviewed surviving members of the 1972 to 1973 surge deployment of VA-75 when they were attached to CVW-3 onboard the USS Saratoga. You want to read about how a surge back to an active combat zone did to the military unit? This book might be able to give you insight until the first series of OIF/OEF books start to come out. It is all here; a unit that is in a stand down process and slowly getting prepped for a deployment to cover our NATO requirements in the North Atlantic and Med, that is until the Easter Offensive starts and National Command Authority surges carrier air power to try and bring the North Vietnamese back to the peace tables. You read about having to try and get fifteen aircraft that are in various states of overhaul back together and ready to be deployed in 96 hours after receiving the deployment order. Having to send Sheriff's, Police, and even US National Park Rangers go hunting for folks who are on leave. Read about wives now worrying about their husbands because they are going back to that combat zone, compared to when they were just going on a standard six month to the Med. Read about On the Job training with certain missions and systems because not every one had a chance to get to the school or even do the live warshot until they hit the combat zone. Then when they arrive on station the loss of friends and senior leadership. Also most interesting is a minor debate that still seems to ripple amongst the veterans to this day, is how the junior guys didn’t get a chance to do some of the more dangerous missions. However the senior guys did and in turn get the awards for those more dangerous mission as well. You also see a cruise that was six, becomes seven, and then becomes just shy of twelve months long as the USS Saratoga is left out for the Easter Offensive, then Linebacker I and Linebacker II. A fine study from a civilian on a personal military history that was able to intermix the official war diary in with the memories of the veterans that were there.

4. War Plan Orange: The U.S. Strategy to Defeat Japan, 1897-1945 by Edward S. Miller.
A very dry but interesting history of how the war plans were developed between the end of the Spanish American War and the start of the Pacific Campaign of World War 2. As you read this, you will see the realization of the fights about the introduction of new forms of warfare from submarines to long range bombers into the war plans. Reading how the joint war planning board were fighting with each other over who would be responsible for what bases that were to be taken and how. You will also sense some of the frustration on the joint board as their hands were tied up due to various peace treaties during the interwar period. This book can really help you understand more of why Macarthur reacted the way he did during the opening months of the invasion of the Philippines and then why he chose to advance back to the Philippines. Also you can see the way that Nimitz and his staff's island invasion choices were made during the Central Pacific portion. All of it goes back to some basic choices made at the turn of the century to support the new global Navy that was being built. Also a very interesting thing about this book is how they started to influence the decision to have portable dry docks and other service craft built to keep the fleet in combat longer and closer to the fight. These would pay dividends during the Philippines operations and during the Okinawa Campaign. This should be on the book shelf of any Pacific War historians library.

5. The Son Tay Raid: American POWs in Vietnam Were Not Forgotten (Williams-Ford Texas A&M University Military History Series) by John Gargus.
Written by one of the helicopter pilots in the raid into North Vietnam by the USAF and US Army Rangers to try and free some of the POW's. The big take away from this book is that the POW's were not forgotten, and MAC-V and the National Command Authority were actively looking at ways to find them and get them. Only by dumb luck, a Recon Drone under a program titled Buffalo Hunter found the Son Tay compound with POW's in it. Then the DIA and various other service intelligence agencies were looking at ways to get them out. It was finally decided to crash land a HH-3 into the center of the compound and have US Army Rangers sweep the compound to get the prisoners out to another helicopter just outside where a stronger force was holding the only road in and out of the compound. Then near the end of the rescue USAF A-1's would come in and bomb the compound back destroying everything left behind. Read this mission and then look at one of the missions they were talking about for the Iranian Hostage Crisis in 1979, it is the same thing. In the end the mission succeed in proving two things. First that the North Vietnamese country side could be invaded and that we could get our prisoners out if we wanted to, second of all it showed the North Vietnamese that we cared about our people and willing to do what was required to try and get them back. The North Vietnamese response to this was consolidate all the POW's to the infamous Hanoi prison in downtown Hanoi for the rest of the war. The only downside was that the POW's were moved just hours before the mission took off, so the team missed out on the rescue, but the proved the concept. These teams were also the genesis of the Delta Force and 160th Special Operation Air Regiment. Using the lessons learned from this raid would lead to better training, better equipment (even if it was Commercial off the shelf), and better intelligence. The other thing you see is that the over compartmentlization of the intelligence agencies lead to one side knowing about one of their secret projects affecting the area around the camp and choosing not to tell anyone else for fear of leaks. So for me I could start to see the roads for other major intelligence failures being laid due to people wanting to protect their jobs or work environment

6. Away All Boats by Kenneth M. Dodson.
One of a series written just after World War 2 by folks who were there and novelized their own experiences. Originally published in 1953, this book is what I would consider a fine study on leadership and how to influence men into proper leadership positions. Forget the great movie with Jeff Chandler and George Nader, as nearly always the book is better. This is the story of a former Merchant Mariner Captain named McDougal, who joins the Navy after Pearl Harbor and is assigned to a newly built attack transport ship named the Belinda. However, he isn't the captain of this ship, rather he is replaced a man named Hawks who was expecting to take command of a cruiser and instead is assigned to this APA. Starting with the landings at Makin and finally ending at Okinawa you see Captain Hawks who hated being on this ship change to understand that no one doesn't have a part in this war, but you also see 90 wonders from OCS and the V officer programs understand there is more to leadership then just what is granted to them by Navy Regulations. The ending is what makes the leadership lesson come together. I won't spoil it completely, but it is a little different then what the movie plays out with regards to the details.

Inferno: The Epic Life and Death Struggle of the USS Franklin in World War II by Joseph A Springer.
A intermix of both the official story and the stories from a number of different enlisted sailors and officers onboard the ship from the time she was commissioned in 31Jan44 till she was almost destroyed in March of 1944. The true meat of the story is during raids off the Japanese Homeland in preparation to the Okinawa campaign. She is loaded down with an deck load of planes fully armed and prepared to attack Japanese air fields. All of the sudden out of some cloud cover a Japanese plane comes in and plants a bomb or pair of bombs (even today it is unknown) and they detonate amongst the strike planes. The ensuing destruction lasted about ten hours and there was a strong belief in 3rd Fleet that she was going to be the first fleet attack carrier lost to combat since the battle of Midway only two years before. In the detonation of F6F's, F4U's, SB2C's and TBM's some of the F4U's were loaded down with the 11.27in Tiny Tim rockets, the damage caused destruction of communications in and off the ship and she even started to take on a 13 degree list due to water being used to put the fire out. Over half her crew were killed in the initial series of plane and bomb blasts. At the end of the day the crew of less then 150 men were able to save the ship, get her power back online and actually steam back under her own power all the way to Ulithi fleet atoll for initial sea worthiness repairs and then all the way home to Brooklyn Naval Yard. Where the war was over as she passed by the Statue of Liberty, she was decommissioned. Her Catholic Chaplin was awarded the Medal of Honor for knowingly putting himself in danger to give last rites to men all over the flight deck. If you pick this book up for the modern sailor you will read about why certain damage control decisions were made in the production of ships, such as scuppers around hatches; because there were situations during this ship's fight against the fire where gasoline and fire waterfalls were pouring through open or warped hatches to lower decks and spreading the fire. Think about this as well, the USS Franklin would be the last heavily damage carrier until twenty three later when the USS Forrestal would suffer in 1967. There are some errors in this for purists, but push those out of your mind as you read this exciting story. This is a book should be on the Navy Reading List.

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