This is a book that may take some readers by surprise, you have to consider the subtitle more than you do the title. Instead of a narrative of the final phase of World War II in the Pacific, it is a book about Total War in the Pacific. Primarily, Hornfischer looks at the Pacific War from the Marianas to the fall of Japan from the perspective of Admiral Raymond Spruance, Admiral Kelly Turner, and Colonel Paul Tibbets (others are included as well, I particularly enjoyed the story of Draper Kauffman). The perspectives of Japanese nurse Shizuko Miura and Army Captain Sakae Oba are also important.
The first part of the book goes over the invasion of the Marianas. It details the preparations and logistics of the operation and gives an account of what happened during the assaults and fights for Saipan, Tinian, and Guam and during the naval battles fought around the invasions of the islands. Hornfischer examines leadership decisions on both sea and land, explaining why they were made. Information presented during the first part about how the Japanese fought in the Marianas and what was done to and by Japanese and Japanese controlled civilians becomes important to the second part of the book.
The question of morality in warfare is vexing. Is there a moral way to kill someone? Is a bullet preferable to starvation, starvation to incineration? By law or by norm, who is a legitimate target in a war in which one side will not yield?
The second part of the book gets into the Total War that fight against Japan began. The battles for Iwo Jima and Okinawa are briefly explained, showing how the acquisition of those islands would be beneficial to operations against the Japanese home islands. At this point, the Hornfischer gets into what would be needed to defeat the Japanese and bring them to surrender; based on what happened in the Marianas, at Iwo Jima, and at Okinawa it would not be easy and it would not be like the war in Europe was. This second part of the book not only explains how the atomic bombs were used, it goes into why. The final chapter gets into a philosophical discussion on the use of the atomic bombs and ends with how the United States treated Japan in defeat.
The Fleet at Flood Tide is a book I’m glad I read. It’s wonderfully written and delves as much into the why as it does the how, which is really what History is all about. It doesn’t glorify the victory at the Marianas or the use of the atomic bombs, it presents the tragedy involved as well. If you’re interested in why the atomic bombs were used, this is a must read as it lays out the case that the U.S. leadership used and shows what could have happened had there been an invasion of the Japanese Home islands. It also gets into the minds of Spruance, Turner, and Tibbets as well as some of the other personalities involved. The stories of Miura and Oba add much to the book by presenting the Japanese mindset. I highly recommend The Fleet at Flood Tide regardless of how much you have read on or know about World War II in the Pacific.