Monday, February 03, 2014

The Lonely Ships - Edwin P. Hoyt

The Lonely Ships is all about the U.S. Asiatic Fleet. Originally, the Fleet was largely for show, just to remind the European powers the U.S. had an interest in what happened in China. This was during the period where all the European countries worth their imperialistic salt had certain holdings in the country. The U.S. never did, but they eventually took the Philippines.

Over half the book is devoted to the Fleet's gradual destruction in the early stages of World War 2. It was simply too small, too ill-equipped, too poorly commanded, and too outclassed by the Japanese Navy. It was meant to be working in concert with British and Dutch forces in the area, but in practice, this didn't work so well. The British kept most of their forces back for defense of Singapore and Malaysia, fat lot of good it did them. They had most of the air power, but were generally stingy about lending it to the ships that were trying to halt the invasion of the Malay Barrier. Which meant the Japanese were virtually unopposed in the air. That doesn't end well for the Allies.

The problem was, I was more interested in the parts about the Fleet's service in China than in WWII. That odd interplay between the powers, the shifting relations with the Chinese. The idea that U.S. wanted to have a presence, but often forbid their gunboats from firing, unless fired upon first, was kind of interesting. Were they worried about starting something, or stepping on the toes of one of the European countries? Or did they recognize that, since they hadn't claimed a port, their position was precarious, and so they couldn't afford to raise the ire of the Chinese government?

So Hoyt didn't stay with the topics I found most interesting, but he wrote a good book overall.

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