Edwin P. Hoyt has done a masterful job of conveying to the reader, inasmuch as possible, the full story of the early days of the Pacific War (December 1941-May 1942) in which the Imperial Japanese military (ground, air, and naval units) was able to sweep aside long established Western ascendancy in the Far East and Pacific. For a Mass Market paperback book packed with so much detail and replete with lots of stirring, heartbreaking, and inspiring eyewitness accounts of sacrifice, defeat, and small victories, it is brilliant. It is also highly readable, so much so that the average layperson will enjoy reading this history.
Like many people with an interest in the Second World War, my focus has tended to be on the European phase of the conflict. But in recent years, I have become curious about the Pacific War, which was fought on and over islands spanning thousands of miles of ocean, and on into China, Burma, and Southeast Asia. Thus I bought this book a few months ago to help add to my understanding of that struggle.
In the main, "The Lonely Ships" is the story of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet and its efforts - along with its Dutch and British allies -- to hold back the steady tide of the Japanese advance from the Philippines, to Malaya & Singapore, and on to the Dutch East Indies (modern day Indonesia) and Western New Guinea. Sadly, this fleet was allowed to lapse into neglect between the wars, because Washington opted to keep military spending to a bare mininum. Only towards the late 1930s - in light of the growing threat presented by Hitler and Japanese militarism - was military spending allowed to increase. Indeed, by the time Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and embarked on its own blitzkrieg in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, the U.S. Asiatic Fleet was ill-suited to meet the challenges now placed before it. “ …[F]rom the beginning , all that could be expected from the Western naval powers was a holding action: to serve while the powers at home got their wits about them, examined their resources, and decided what those priorities must be. All the while the men in the field fought the Japanese, destroyed the resources they could not protect, and retreated with as much cost to the enemy as they could exact.”
I highly recommend this book to both history enthusiasts and general readers alike.