Learning from the past

I hope you had a fun and relaxing Fourth of July celebration with your family and friends this week!

My celebration was colored by two people I met this past week.  In last week’s blog, I highlighted meeting an amazing 98-year-old WWII nurse who served in the South Pacific at the Betsy Ross Open House.  Sunday, I met a 99-year-old Army Air Corps colonel who flew 50 combat missions in a B-24 over Europe.

These two amazing Americans reminded me of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made to keep our nation free AND that we have nearly lost the generation that served in World War II.

With that as background, I wanted to pass along a book recommendation for your summer reading list.  I am a big fan of military history books.  History provides me both perspective on challenges and leadership lessons.

While I’ve not quite finished reading it, yet, James Hornfischer’s novel, Neptune’s Inferno, is an excellent telling of the Naval Battles off Guadalcanal early in World War II (1942).

You may not be familiar with the details of the military strategies of the war but the author vividly describes the first offensive/amphibious invasion of the war. He also uncovers some shocking facts about the reality of this series of vicious naval battles surrounding the brutal ground battle on the island.

I was surprised to learn the Navy lost three sailors in the waters around the island for every solider or Marine that was killed on Guadalcanal.

Hornfischer painstakingly did his research through survivor interviews and newly available documents to portray a nearly overwhelmed Navy struggling to find leaders who could fight effectively during wartime.

He highlights the Japanese Navy’s vastly superior long-range torpedoes, optics, and night fighting capabilities. In one battle, a vastly smaller group of Japanese destroyers devastated a superior U.S. cruiser/destroyer force with the most devastating surface torpedo action of the war.

The U.S. had one critical tactical advantage: fledgling radar technology.  The problem was that initially many admirals and ship’s captains didn’t trust it or know how to use it effectively.  It became an absolute game-changer, especially in night battles.

So, what are some of the lessons gleaned from the battle fought in the “Ironbottom Sound” littered with vanquished U.S. ships from a Navy fighting on a shoestring?

  • Leaders need to be open to change
  • Embracing new technology can make all the difference
  • Superiority doesn’t always guarantee a positive outcome

I am finishing up Neptune’s Inferno soon, so I hope you will pass along your suggestions for my summer book list!

Thanks for reading,