Lars Celander, How Carriers Fought: Carrier Operations in World War II. “An in-depth analysis of aircraft carrier battles in WWII and the evolution of carrier operations—from technology and strategy to life among the crew.” The book covers US, Japanese, and British carrier use in the war. Very much about the nitty-gritty of how things got done, with a lot of quantitative analysis. “Carriers evolved into ‘eggshells armed with hammers,’ destined for short but interesting lives.” One thing I had not previously appreciated about the 1942 carrier battles in the Pacific (Coral Sea, Midway, Eastern Solomons, and Santa Cruz) was the longer range of the Japanese search planes. Highly recommended for those with an interest in WWII naval and air history.
Scott Carpenter, French Like Moi: A Midwesterner in Paris. An American college professor buys a condo in Paris and, though fluent in French, learns how different Parisians and Midwesterners really are, through one story after another. This is one of the funniest books I have ever read. Thank you to my fellow Carleton College (where Scott Carpenter teaches) alumni for suggesting it.
During World War II the United States was prepared to use poison gas against the German army. 100 tons of mustard gas were shipped to the port of Bari in southern Italy, held by the Allies and far behind the front lines, on the ammunition ship John Harvey. Being an ammunition ship, the John Harvey also carried a full load of conventional explosive munitions. Disaster At Bari tells the story of how, on the night of December 2, 1943, the port of Bari was attacked by 105 Ju 88 Luftwaffe bombers. The attackers achieved complete surprise: the Allied high command did not think the Luftwaffe was still capable of a raid this far behind the front lines. The lights were on in the harbor so that unloading the docked ships could continue during the night. The Luftwaffe pilots and bombardiers made good use of this, and sank 17 cargo and transport ships, with 8 others damaged. One of the targets was the John Harvey. As an ammunition ship it blew up in a huge explosion, spreading mustard gas all around.
Hundreds of victims were taken to hospitals with strange symptoms. Many died and the medical staff had no idea why. The presence of mustard gas on the John Harvey was a closely guarded secret. Eventually a senior medical officer was flown in from Allied headquarters in Algiers. He quickly realized that the men had been exposed to mustard gas. With some difficulty, he was able find out that the John Harvey had mustard gas in its cargo. There 617 military and merchant marine mustard-gas casualities that night. 84 men died. No one knows about the casualties among the Italian civilians. Many lives could have been saved if the presence of mustard gas had been known immediately and proper treatment administered to the victims.
Christopher Matthew, A Storm of Spears: Understanding the Greek Hoplite at War. The most important conclusion from this is how the Greeks wielded their spears. Despite all the pictures, they did not hold them over their heads with a back-handed grip. Instead, they held them with the butt of the spear tucked under their armpits. This allowed for much greater reach and strength. Lots of good experiments with re-enactors.
Dan Van der Vat, The Dardanelles Disaster: Winston Churchill’s Greatest Failure. The sequel to The Ship That Changed the World: The Escape of the Goeben to the Dardanelles in 1914, which I read years ago and really like. Again Van der Vat is looking at how a single ship made a big difference. Rather than the formidable battlecruiser Goeben, we are looking at the lowly Turkish minelayer Nusret. On March 18, 1915, the mines it laid sank 3 allied battleships, and seriously damaged 3 others and a battlecruiser. This forced the allies to abandon their plan to force the Dardanelles open by naval power alone, which was not really a good idea in the first place. As a result the allies decided to land an invasion force on the Gallipoli peninsula, which was an even greater failure.