I've enjoyed listening to Craig Symonds' Midway book at least twice now, so I thought I'd give his naval history of World War II a try. The problem with reading so much similar history, however, is that unless I take notes while reading I have no clear recollection of the book when I'm done. I liked it, and I know I saw a few minor errors (ship names or types), but I can't be much more specific than that – with two exceptions where I learned things I definitely didn't know. before
First, Symonds emphasized that WW II was in fact a naval war above all else because the U.S.'s sea lift capacity was the determining factor in the war. With due respect to the Red Army, what enabled the Allied victory was America's ability to build the ships to keep Britain from starving, and at the same time create the sea lift capacity to project its military overseas in both theaters of the war. We forget that every solider, weapon, bullet, and box of supplies had to be carried over thousands of miles of seas on ships, and the ability to build the ships that did that was what won the war. Naval engagements almost pale in comparison to the race to build adequate shipping, because without it there was no way the Allies could have gone on the offensive in either theater. The shipping necessary to keep small tasks forces at seas for a few weeks at a time was one thing. The shipping necessary to carry and supply
Second, scratch any account of the American campaigns in either theater and you hear about the overriding need for "landing craft" but this was the first book that explained what was being referred to. Yes, the services needed craft to carry soldiers to the beaches, but according to Symonds it was the LSTs – landing ship "tank" that were pure gold, as they brought to the beaches (over and over) the supplies and hardware that enabled troops to fight once ashore. The Allies forces never had immediate access to port facilities after amphibious assaults, making LSTs the lifeline for both the Army and the Marines. Eisenhower postponed Overlord a month to get a handful more, underscoring that they were the crucial bottleneck in 1942-44 in the same way that escort vessels had been two years earlier.
On the other side, the lack of sea lift doomed the Japanese war effort from the beginning, when the garrison on Guadalcanal could not be adequately supplied. The undersized and similarly undersupplied U.S. forces could have been forced off the island, but Japan could never assemble sufficient strength to do so. The reason was that the Americans controlled the air, but the campaign is still an illustration of the crucial role that (adequately protected) sea lift played. Then, once the problems with American torpedoes were fixed, the U.S. submarine campaign completely throttled Japanese industry. Conversely, the American forces in the Pacific were able to project themselves across thousands of miles of empty ocean because they had sufficient shipping. In the European theater, after the landings at Normandy supplies only had to cross a few dozen miles of Allied-controlled sea, and even without port facilities the necessary supplies were landed. Even the destruction of one of the two "Mulberry" artifical harbors did not fatally crimp the supply chain, as the LSTs' beach unloading produced an equivalent amount of supplies.
Learning that is what made the book worthwhile to me.