In the Highest Degree Tragic: The Sacrifice of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet in the East Indies during World War II

In the Highest Degree Tragic: The Sacrifice of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet in the East Indies during World War II

In the Highest Degree Tragic: The Sacrifice of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet in the East Indies during World War II

In the Highest Degree Tragic: The Sacrifice of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet in the East Indies during World War II

Synopsis

In the Highest Degree Tragic tells the heroic story of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet's sacrifice defending the Dutch East Indies from the Japanese in the first three months of the Pacific War. Donald M. Kehn Jr.'s comprehensive narrative history of the operations involving multiple ships and thousands of men dramatically depicts the chaotic nature of these battles. His research has uncovered evidence of communications failures, vessels sinking hundreds of miles from where they had been reported lost, and entire complements of men simply disappearing off the face of the earth.

Kehn notes that much of the fleet went down with guns blazing and flag flying, highlighting, where many others have failed to do so, the political and strategic reasons for the fleet's deployment to the region in the first place. In the Highest Degree Tragic rectifies the historical record, showcasing how brave yet all-too-human sailors and officers carried out their harrowing tasks. Containing rare first-person accounts and anecdotes, from the highest command echelons down to the lowest enlisted personnel, Kehn's book is the most comprehensive and exhaustive study to date of this important part of American involvement in World War II.

Excerpt

The story of the destruction of the old U.S. Asiatic Fleet in defense of the Dutch East Indies (modern-day Indonesia) in early 1942 is one of multifaceted tragedy. Men and ships were squandered not only for questionable military purposes but, worse, as political gestures to uncertain allies. How and why this small, outdated American force should have been offered up as a sacrifice is the basis for this book.

The need for such a history is obvious enough. Although the campaign took place over seventy years ago, and a number of works have been published that purport to cover it entirely, not one has done a job of exceptional accuracy. the cause for this is twofold. First, few have had adequate access to primary Japanese military records or personal memoirs of the East Indies operations. Second, telling the truth about the backbiting within the joint command known as abda has been an undesirable endeavor. Our need for allies in Western Europe during the Cold War saw to that. Both of these inhibiting factors have been addressed and rectified in this work.

American history as written, published, and taught for over seven decades in the United States has also failed to properly comprehend the bravery and dedication to duty shown by its own fighting men in the Java campaign. Most histories of the Pacific War— even now—leapfrog from the attacks on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 to the Doolittle Raid of April 1942 or the Battle of the Coral Sea that May, with no mention of the fight for the East Indies or the wasting of the Asiatic Fleet. As an Asiatic Fleet officer who was there observed later, the campaign was a peripheral affair and one in which we did not triumph. These factors were thought to explain official and unofficial willingness to overlook combat operations in the East Indies.

Be that as it may, one’s patience is taxed by the nonrecognition and ignorance still persisting for those men and the lonely struggle in which they found . . .

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