An unknown part of U.S. Navy history, now told

 The US Navy and the War in Europe.  By Robert C. Stern.  Annapolis, MD:  Naval Institute Press, 2012.  ISBN 978-1591148968.  Notes.  Bibliography.  Illustrations.  Maps.  Index.  Pp. 320.  $55.95.

As a proud graduate of Canoe U and salty Navy man, I have read a large number of books about the U.S. Navy and the War in the Pacific, most recently Craig Symonds' new volume on the Battle of Midway and James Hornfischer's outstanding work on the Naval Campaign of Guadalcanal. 

But, for the most part the Navy's contribution to the war in Europe has not been comprehensively told, outside of Samuel Eliot Morison's magisterial, and quite frankly ponderous work on the U.S. Navy in WW2.  There have been multiple volumes on the U-boot fight in the North Atlantic and various works on the Navy's contribution to D-Day, but they have been piece part at best. 

This volume finally fills that gap, providing an excellent one-volume look at the Navy's fight in Europe, which surprisingly, at least for this Grouchy Historian, ranged all the way from the Arctic Circle to the waters off North Africa.  

There were several surprises in this book for naval historians who thought they knew everything about the US Navy in Europe:
  • The biggest naval battle in Europe for the USN was not with the Germans, but....the FRENCH...yup...that's right, the Vichy French fleet sailed out of Casablanca during Operation Torch to give  short, but, as expected, one-sided battle with the USN in November 1942.  Just goes to show how great an ally the French were...and of course their naval prowess.
  • The USN actually launched carrier strikes on Norway.  Yup, this was a real surprise to me.  The USS Ranger, which had been considered too small and unseaworthy to plow the Pacific, performed many duties in Europe and the Mediterranean, including launching the only carrier strike on German shipping off Norway in the war.  In fact, I was also surprised to learn that US and British escort carriers (CVEs) and British light and fleet carriers provided a great deal of the air power during the initial phases of many amphibious operations in the Med and Southern France during the war.
  • Finally, I did not realize the hazards those workhorse DDs, DDEs, and other small ships encountered providing vital gunfire support during Allied amphibious landings.  Many of these ships were damaged or sunk by mines, German shell fire or German air attack.
  • Speaking of German air attack, it was a bit of a surprise to discover how often the Germans used the world's first air-to-surface guided missile during the war.  I heard a little bit about this in other books, but this volume really described the technical battle between the German glide bombs and allied electronic countermeasures...40 years before the whole American-Soviet naval contest between guided missiles.  Fascinating stuff.
Overall, I have to say this was a really wonderful book...with plenty of illustrations, diagrams, and maps.  And of course, at the discounted Amazon price.   Truly a magnificent effort to capture the USN contributions to VE-Day in one readable volume.