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Posted on Jan 11, 2006 in Books and Movies, Front Page Features

Carriers in Combat: The Air War at Sea – Book Review

By Michael Durand

carriers.jpgBook Review – Carriers in Combat: The Air War At Sea
Chester G. Hearn
Praeger Security International
Hardback, 316 pages $49.95

The first rickety biplane leapt off an 83 ft. platform rigged on the scout cruiser Birmingham piloted by the civilian barnstormer, Eugene B. Ely in 1910. Ely landed on a nearby beach and became the first man to take off from a ship. Shortly thereafter United States Navy although skeptical, launched what became an aircraft carrier development research program because at $25,000 it was so cheap to fund. Hearn argues that Carrier development, design and employment moved shakily forward during the pre WWII years. France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Russia, the United States and Japan all saw the need for a seaborne airfield. While Britain was the first to commission a carrier, it was the Japanese who perfected its deployment in their pre-WWII navy.

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Like Rick Atkinson, in An Army At Dawn, Hearn has a gift for packing in the facts without compromising readability. Carriers in Combat: The Air War At Sea is no sleepy lecture hall collection of antiquated facts. It is a first rate effort in storytelling. Hearn could well be that uncle of yours back from a life at sea as he masterfully puts a face on each character that moved the Aircraft Carrier into the prominence it enjoys today. Hearn leads the reader through 95 years of naval air warfare and explains the forces that have shaped it. Political leaders and their policy makers, gutsy barnstormers, budget cutters and the sheer courage of naval aviators and those who ordered them into harms way are all vibrantly visible as they teach the reader of story of the aircraft carrier. Any understanding of modern military history is incomplete without this lesson on carriers.

While the bulk of the book necessarily comprises World War II, Hearn aptly relates the carrier’s further development to present day. Continuously adapting, the sea borne airfield fights many types of war, from fighting large naval engagements to cold war and regional conflicts. The carrier is more important to fulfilling the missions of the US fighting forces than ever before. Carriers have become increasingly more necessary in supporting special operations in the war on terrorism. Presumably due to their classified nature, the most recent developments in carrier strategy are not discussed in detail. This is unfortunate because the reader feels like a prom date taken home before the end of the dance. Perhaps the next printing will flesh out the most recent events. Still, Hearn nicely wraps the book up in his conclusion by listing carriers in the navies of the world and relating their strengths and specialties. If you weren’t lucky enough to find a copy in your stocking, don’t wait to add this to your library.

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