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The Elusive Enemy: U.S. Naval Intelligence and the Imperial Japanese Fleet

30 March 2020

The Elusive Enemy: U.S. Naval Intelligence and the Imperial Japanese Fleet, Douglas Ford, 2011, ISBN 978-1-59114-280-5, 297 pp.

The Elusive Enemy: U.S. Naval Intelligence and the Imperial Japanese Fleet by Douglas Ford

This is an excellent book written by a superlative historian who researched two get the entire story as well as ripple effects of historical decisions. Yes, not everything went according to plan, technology did not provide silver bullets and humans make mistakes of interpretation. But the why and how these occurrences transpired is the meat of Ford’s detailed text.

The Elusive Enemy is not a relaxed weekend read. Ford’s book covers this aspect of World War II in academic detail with a well written, a bit wordy perhaps for the casual reader, well documented (plenty of citations as well as notes) work. Orders and timelines, both (U.S. Navy) USN and Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN), have been thoroughly investigated as has each cultural thought processes.

Ford takes care to lay out the cultural thinking of both sides as each had different perspectives and conclusions from the same set of events. Both sides made excellent decisions as well as poor ones.

But why?

That is the beauty of The Elusive Enemy. Ford has the reader understanding how the IJN moved to mount the Pearl Harbor attack as well as why the USN was convinced such an attack would not be reasonable expected. Also detailed is Japan’s use of radar (a subject rarely addressed elsewhere) as well as the trepidations of the USN’s employing the  radar—all was not perfect and required more and more numbers of fighters in the various CAPs as the war progressed to the Home Islands. Interestingly, the Navy did not become confident of eliminating the IJN forces until the wars very end and for good reason—as well as cultural thinking. As interestingly the IJN continued to pursue its original short term strategy until well into the war when plans had gone awry—as well as cultural thinking. Yes, this is a book as much about thinking as it is about facts.

Ford often touches on and realistically tells the story of paradigms that many would prefer not looked into more closely. But these are the ripple effects, unintended consequences of decisions, of history and should be understood to fully appreciate the decisions made by commanders upon which history turned. Spruance during the invasion of  the Marianas was affected by Pearly Harbor and Halsey during the invasion of the Philippines was influenced by the criticism directed to Spruance—but other admirals were operating on a less than perfect understanding of IJN forces and thought processes.

Ford addresses both the IJN’s surface and air forces in this thoroughly informative book. Fascinating, is Ford’s enlightenment of the IJN’s pagoda structures on the major warships which was thought of as a harmful feature by the  USN due to a feeling of cultural superiority of plain misunderstanding. Just as intriguing is the USN’s lack of appreciation of the Long Lance torpedo and its clear superiority until late into the war. USN surface and air forces are equally addressed especially concentrating on progressive radar improvement (especially regarding airborne torpedo attacks) as well as aircraft improvements like the F6F Hellcat.

The Kamikaze threat is addressed in a broad brush approach. Although its altering of USN Navy tactics was not explained in detail (poor AA radar performance and the F8F Bearcat) Ford does go into the numbers which are significant and had to be just this side of terrifying back in the day. In effect radar direction failed the closer the IJN aircraft became and, though many ships were severely hit of sunk, there were entirely too many near misses.

This is a book to better understand how the IJN as well as the USN moved and how designs came the made not to mention the slow but sure comprehension each culture became aware of the other. Military history in not only facts and dates—it is the understands and misunderstanding opposing forces have about one another. Ford accomplishes this aim handily in The Elusive Enemy.


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