Cressman, Robert J. The Official Chronology of the U.S. Navy in World War II. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2000
Preface and Acknowledgments; photos; Notes; Glossary; Bibliography
Appendix: Principal civilian officials and naval officers in command, 7 December 1941 - 2 September 1945
The rare original Naval Chronology, World War II from the Navy Departmentof which a tattered copy survives hereis an uneven combination of amazing detail, exasperating vagueness, and inexplicable omission. Except for some very specific and unusual events, it has long been supplanted by the magnificent Chronology of the War at Sea, 1939-1945 by Rohwer and Hummelchen (revised edition published by Naval Institute Press; see our "Reference Shelf" and "Ship Losses" surveys from 1997 and 1996 respectively.)
Surprisingly, veteran naval writer Robert J. Cressmanwho is also a historian in the Contemporary History Branch of the Naval Historical Center in Washington, DChas resuscitated the original Navy Department chronology with a hugely improved and expanded edition produced jointly by the Naval Historical Center and the Naval Institute Press. One's initial response, given the ready availability of the Rohwer and Hummelchen chronology, could easily be "Why bother?" As it turns out, the bother was very much worthwhile. Cressman has created an excellent chronology of naval operations which, although not quite as inclusive as Rohwer and Hummelchen's multi-national perspective, offers significantly more detail and human interest in regard to the United States Navy.
Cressman notes several areas in particular where he has upgraded his edition beyond the original USN version:
- Losses of and damage to many more smaller USN vessels are cited
- As much as possible, although the latter was left out of the original, notes on losses of and damage to enemy ships are included here
- Unlike the original, the new edition includes extensive information on merchant ships
- While the original did not address the US submarine offensive against Japan, this material figures prominently in the new edition
- References to ambiguous "collisions" and "accidental explosions" have been refined to provide more specific information about the incidents
- Nomenclature has been standardized
- Locations are provided with exact longitude and latitude whenever possible, and usually supplemented with a general geographic description such as "SW of Guadalcanal"
In addition to the usual litany of naval (and naval air) movements and engagements, Cressman incorporates a wide range of events of lesser familiarity and lesser strategic import: accidental damage to ships, landings of raiders and commandos, rescues of shipwrecked sailors, establishment of naval bases and air stations, and so on. While the focus is on USN operations, many entries cover USAAF air-sea actions, the USMC, Allied operations in conjunction with or in close proximity of the USN (especially British and Dutch sub operations in the Pacific and Indian Oceans), and enemy activities against US warships and merchantmen.
Cressman also chose to include brief accounts of actions for which individuals were awarded the Medal of Honor. These vignettes humanize the chronological entries and provide a welcome addition to the more familiar recitation of days and ships and victories and losses.
Here is Cressman's rendering of Thursday, 7 October 1943, a fairly typical day at sea:
Japanese complete evacuation of Vella Lavella, Solomons.
Light cruiser Concord (CL 10) is damaged by on-board explosion (leaking gasoline tank) off Nuvahiva Island, Marquesas.
Submarine S 44 (SS 155) is sunk by Japanese escort destroyer Ishigaki north north-east of Araito Island, east of the Kamchatka Peninsula, Kurils.
Japanese gunboat No. 20 Inari Maru is destroyed by accidental gunfire off Wake Island.
Japanese transport Kikukawa Maru is destroyed by accidental fire at Truk.
Tank Landing Craft LCT 216 breaks in half in heavy sea while in tow to Palermo, Italy; LCT 196 breaks in half in heavy sea; the after section is scuttled by British surface ships but the forward section is towed to Bizerte, Tunisia.
U.S. freighter Yorkmar, in convoy SC 143, is torpedoed and sunk by German submarine U 645 at 56° 48' N, 20° 30' W. Of the 39-man merchant complement, 11 drown in the abandonment; two of the 28-man Armed Guard perish as well. Canadian corvette HMCS Kamloops and British frigate HMS Duckworth rescue the survivors.
For the same day, the original USN chronology offers:
Japanese complete evacuation of Vella Lavella, Solomon Islands.
United States naval vessel sunk:
Submarine S-44, by Japanese surface craft, Kurile Islands area
Sadly, the single element missing from this volume is one that would have made it significantly more useful: an index. This oversight means there is no way to find entries for a given person, ship, or place except to scan through page after page of text.
Despite that unfortunate shortcoming, this is an excellent chronology and certain to prove valuable to many, many students of the war. While Rohwer and Hummelchen offer a broader view of more navies, more operations, and more theaters (and more specifics about non-USN material), Cressman's narrower focus allows for more entries on and more detailed information about the USN and its operations. Although Rohwer and Hummelchen's volume remains the best overall chronology of the war at sea, The Official Chronology of the U.S. Navy in World War II is a terrific book, worth adding to any WWII library, and certainly the most complete day-by-day record of the United States Navy during the Second World War.
Available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from Naval Institute Press.
Thanks to NIP for providing this review copy.
Reviewed 12 January 2000
Copyright © 2000 by Bill Stone
May not be reproduced in any form without written permission of Stone & Stone