Edited by board administrator 9/3/2017, 4:11 pm
After the loss of Force Z the book then skips entirely over the period from December 11, 1941 to the end of March, 1942, to focus, in the last chapter, on Ceylon and the Indian Ocean. This might seem odd, but as the focus of the book is actually upon Malaya and the Indian Ocean it seems natural to the reader by that point.
Throughout the book Boyd makes it clear that the RN, had it been given the necessary resources, was a match for the IJN, though he repeatedly admits that the resources were not there. Whether this is true is a matter for speculation as the RN actually had only very limited direct combat with the IJN. But if the experience of the EXETER and her companions at the Java Sea battle is any indication, it seems clear that at that point in time, despite the combat experience of EXETER, JUPITER, ENCOUNTER and ELECTRA they were no match for the less experienced IJN forces arrayed against them.
The most questionable (and to me astounding) assertion comes in the final chapter, when talking about the IJN's raid on Ceylon in April 1942, which resulted in the losses of HERMES, DORSETSHIRE and CORNWALL, and others, Boyd writes:
"Somerville ran reckless risks but brought his 'rabble' to the edge of an extraordinary victory."
Boyd's thesis here is that Somerville had certain advantages: radar, and the night combat experience of his fleet, which if employed against the Japanese could have given him a victory nearly as great as Midway.
This seems odd since Boyd admits that Somerville had only one modernized battleship WARSPITE, plus the R Class, which were ( he says) useless, two modern carriers with only 57 strike aircraft and 37 fighters, with inexperienced aircrews and ships that had not trained together. Against this was Nagumo's experienced force of five fleet carriers, with 275 aircraft, the four KONGOs, two heavy cruisers, and a screen of modern destroyers.
And yet Boyd speculates that with luck, Somerville might have inflicted serious damage upon the Japanese carriers if he had gone forward with a planned night strike against Nagumo with radar equiped Albacores, or the radar equiped light cruisers ENTERPRISE and EMERALD. While admitting that these were long shots, he demolishes any prospect of success by pointing out that Somerville's aircrews were untrained in night torpedo attacks, having never performed one. At the same time Boyd is, (as were many in the Admiralty) highly critical of Somerville, not for withdrawing to avoid contact, but for risking his fleet to far superior enemy forces.
The one point that Boyd does make of significant value, in this chapter, is his criticism of Nagumo, pointing out that Nagumo lacked flexibility and the Japanese demonstrated the same rigid thinking and mistakes that would bring them disaster at Midway two months later. But these were not readily visible in April, since they suffered only minor aircraft losses.
This book has valuable information and insights despite those few areas in which one might disagree, and so I recommend it to anyone interested in this often overlooked subject.
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