Red Sun Setting, The Battle of the Philippine Sea; William Y'Blood; 1981; Bluejacket Books; 213 pgs, glossary, appendices, notes, index
in thThe Battle of Leyte Gulf (BLG, October, 1944), which took place several months after the Battle of the Philippine Sea (BPS, June, 1944), essentially ended the mighty Japanese Navy as a threat in the Pacific. Ray Spruence, who acquitted himself quite well at Midway some two years before, was overly cautious. He headed the American side of the BPS and had a good shot at the taking out the Japanese Navy. But that would have to wait.
Regardless, the BPS, AKA "The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot" was a great success. The Marianas were the target of the invasion that was designed to bring the Japanese out to face the Americans. The Marianas include Guam, Saipan (a sad story, where many Japanese, fearing the Americans, committed suicide), Tinian (the Enola Gay took off from there), and Iwo Jima (the bloodiest of the island hopping amphibious assaults).
The Japanese were desperate at this point. They were up against it, primarily in terms of fuel. American submarines had dramatically curtailed their oil supply. This shaped the battle in many ways. At one point, Japanese destroyers were getting fueled from battle ships, rather than oil tankers! Much of the oil burned by the Japanese in the BPS was pumped directly from the ground in Tarakan, Indonesia and into the tanks of combat ships. This oil was high in paraffin and could be burned without refining. Thus, the fleet went to the oil, rather than the other way around!
Spruence decided he would wait for the Japanese to come to him. This made sense because the Japanese Navy planes had longer range than the Americans, and the Americans wanted to draw the Japanese in close. This worked to a point. The Japanese found the Americans first and launched all they had. But the defeat at Midway had decimated their Naval fliers and crews. The battle hardened Americans fliers met a bunch of rookies and tore them apart. Like the Battle of the Coral Sea (BCS) and Midway, no ship ever sighted an enemy ship. American submarines played a large part in the BPS, sinking at least one carrier. No so, for the Japanese.
The Thatch Weave, introduced at Midway by flier Jimmy Thatch, was used to good effect. The Japanese Zero (AKA Zeke) was faster and more agile than the Hellcat. But it could not take a punch. The Hellcat could. The Weave worked like this. Two planes fly together… a lead plane and a bait plane to one side and behind. A Japanese flier will naturally want to attack the rear plane first. The moment that happens, the two American planes veer violently towards each other, crossing each others paths and moving apart; and then they quickly swing back towards each other. This brings the Japanese plane chasing the bait plane under the guns of the lead plane, and down it goes.
One or three stories stood out for me.
A flier named Henderson flamed 4 "Zekes" (Mitsubishi Zeros) on his first pass, and then was lost from sight by his mates. His last message was "I knocked down four, and I have thirty more of them cornered!"
Another flier named Vracia landed his plane on the Lexington after the first major air engagement. As he was climbing out of the cockpit, he saw Admiral Mitscher looking down at him from the ship's island. He flashed a huge grin and held up 6 fingers, one for each kill.
A third story starred a Japanese flier. Because the Japanese fliers were so green, they had to be individually instructed by their flight leaders, in the air, minutes before they were to go into battle, regarding what each should do, and when, when they attacked. The Americans had a fluent Japanese speaker on board who listened in, providing essential intelligence for the Americans fliers about to enter the battle. At the end of the fight, the Americans let him go (i.e.: did not give chase) because, as an admiral quipped, he had done so much for them during the battle.
Although there was much more to the battle, it ended with the Americans launching everything they had at the Japanese at extreme range. This meant many fliers were forced to ditch as they ran out of gas on the return leg. In the end , the Americans sank three carriers and did damage to a few other ships.
On the Japanese side were the two biggest battle ships in world history: the Yamato (sunk at Okinowa) and Musashi (sunk in the BLG).They had a dozen or so carriers and many support and screening vessels. The Americans had a similar complement, including the carriers Yorktown and Lexington. Savvy readers will note that the Yorktown went down at Midway and the "Lex" was sunk in the BCS. The mighty US industrial base had replaced them. At the end of the war, the Americans had more than 100 carriers of various sizes. I believe that the Enterprise and the Hornet (the Dolittle Raid carrier) survived the war. If you recall the movie Magnum Force, there was a motorcycle "duel" on the decks of the Hornet at anchor in San Francisco Bay.
The BPS finished the Japanese Navy's command of the air. Indeed, the now nearly useless aircraft carriers (due to lack of planes, pilots and crews) were used/sacrificed as a lure/feint during the BLG.
The book has many fine photos and anecdotes. I enjoyed it a lot. The writing was compelling and It really aided my thinking about the Pacific War.
It is frustrating to look at the shared sense of duty that the Americans had in 1944. Today, they can't agree on which way is "up".
Weird Earth; Donald R. Prothero; 2020; Red Lightning Books; 248 pgs; notes, further reading, index;
his book is in fine company. It is a book primarily about skepticism. The author and I have a little in common, in that we were or are members of a Skeptics Group. Prothero, a PhD geologist, is with the Pasadena Skeptics. I note that he is a PhD because he warns of books written by people who flaunt their PhDs.
The book covers geology related subjects that are a decent sub-set of all the crazy ideas that are out there. Young Earthers are trashed, as are flat Earthers, hawkers of crystals, Atlantis, dowsers, and moon-landing deniers.
Aside: Andy Kaufman died because he rejected modern medicine and relied instead on crystal healing.
It was a quick read and a good addition to my library on subjects (like Ley lines) that I would otherwise have to research.
One thing that comes across very clearly is that scientific illiteracy in the US is driven largely by the cesspool of the internet. In fact, by my count, he called the internet a "cesspool" four times. Ironically, the internet was created to serve scientists and promote data exchange. He speaks highly of, and quotes often, Carl Sagan. As a long time skeptic myself, I am familiar with the arguments about wrt scientific literacy, basic logical arguments, human biases, and such.
I only know one person personally that is foolish enough to posit a 10,000 year old (or less) Earth. I have had several exchanges with him over the years. One argument that gets repeated a lot is that his belief in god is no different than my belief in Newton's gravity and other scientific ideas like evolution. I often reply to this attack by explaining that I use the word "believe" in a different way (based on probability) than he does. The book suggests a different language, the gist of which is below:
Science has only one "belief"… namely, that the world is understandable. I do not "believe" in Newton's law, but rather I accept it, based on, in this particular case, an overwhelming preponderance of the evidence (Newton's laws got us to the moon and back). I like this language better, as it is easier to justify.
I also enjoyed the obvious fact that the author likes movies. He mentions several, including the worst SF film ever made (as voted by geoscientists), The Core.
The Abruzzo, Italy earthquake resulted in many deaths, and six seismologists were convicted of manslaughter for not predicting the quake! After 5,000 seismologists wrote letters, the conviction was overturned. Its hard to be a scientist sometimes.
The book has a well researched chapter on The Flood. The details of how Gilgamesh and the various versions of the old testament are weaved together into a mish-mash of "god's word" is very interesting. No one who understands how the Bible came to be can believe that it is the actual word of god, because it comes from several different sources, and it contradicts itself and reality… a lot. The absolute most charitable one can be is to say that the bible might reflect god's wishes, as filtered and understood by man. But that is thin gruel at best.
This book has a lot of fine photos and illustrations. It discusses basic skeptical issues like reserving judgment and human bias. And many of its topics are historical in nature, so there is lot here for a newcomer to the skeptical world to absorb.
If you have any interest in geology and the basics of skepticism, this is a good book for you.
Iron Coffins; Herbert Werner; 1969
Herbert Werner may be the luckiest man in the world. He joined the German Navy submarine force when the war started. He believed in Hitler and the German Reich. He found freedom October 30, 1945.
Werner started his submarine career as an ensign. He went on to captain his own boats. He planted mines in Chesapeake Bay. He successfully attacked convoys in the Atlantic, sinking dozens of ships. He wound up in prison camps after the war, but finally made his way back to Germany after more than 6 years of fighting. His family was killed while he was at sea. And he was depth charged in almost uncountable numbers by ships and planes.
The average U-Boat had about a 20% chance of returning to port on any given patrol. The Germans had three major U-Boat ports: Lorient, New Rochelle, and Breast. They fed out onto the bay of Biscay. Nearer the end of the war, the average U-Boat had a one in five chance of just getting out of the Bay alive. This was thanks to the Allies substantial lead in radar technology. A flying boat could see a U-Boat on the surface with radar long before the plane could be spotted visually. No branch of the German military had a worse chance for survival.
Life on board a U-Boat was awful. Lousy (literally) food, extremely crowded conditions; the smell of chlorine, diesel, oil and sweat everywhere. By comparison, life on an American submarine was like a stay at the Ritz. When the sub went deep, the latrine could not be pumped out, so you can add human waste to the equation.
When the war finally ended, Werner spent 8 months in prison camps until he escaped them, and made it back to Germany proper.
I found the internal workings and tactics of the German U-Boat very interesting.
What was also interesting is what the book lacks. The author never questions the German goal and their ultimate victory until the very end. He believed in Hitler. Doenitz kept sending his U-Boats out until the very end, asking his submariners to commit suicide and ram shipping to buy time for the "secret weapons" to be developed and deployed. The book contained no mention of Nazi policies at all. Not even Hitler's orders to shoot survivors of a sinking ship in the water. No mention of the Jews and other persecuted groups and nations. The book was written in 1969, so the author had plenty of time to think of such things.
The best thing about this book is that its contents and conclusions are basically in the table of contents. This makes it easy for me to summarize. Harriet Hall (Skeptic, and MD) wrote a short positive piece in the Skeptical Inquirer about the book which prompted me to buy it.
NB: Listen to your doctor. Do not take medical advice from me. Do your research.
Chapter 1: Don't take fever reducing meds during a cold. No ASA, no Tylenol, and no Advil. These drugs reduce fever, hobble your immune system (the immune system likes it hot), and lengthen your illness.
Chapter 2: Antibiotics are over prescribed and finishing your course of treatment is not always a good idea.
Chapter 4: Vitamin D is over-hyped. I stopped taking it when I read it was associated with kidney stones.
In general, stick to the FDA recommended amounts. Huge doses of vitamins can create poor outcomes.
Chapter 5: Antioxidants are a waste of money.
Chapter 6: Testosterone treatments are bad for you.
Chapter 7: Aspirin doesn't prevent heat attack or stroke.
Chapter 8: Expose your kids to peanuts and other allergens early.
Chapter 9: Sun block doesn't really work. Stay out of the sun.
Chapter 11: Prostrate cancer screening is not good for you.
Chapter 12: Ditto Thyroid screening.
Chapter 13: Ditto breast cancer screening.
Chapter 14: Heart stents do not work.
Chapter 15: Knee arthritis surgery is unnecessary.
Chapter 16: Mercury fillings are safe and effective.
Chapter 17: Vitamin C doesn't help colds.
How do you treat colds? It turns out that the old method of breathing steam works, because the virus does not reproduce well in warmer environments. Otherwise, treat your colds with contempt.
Chapter 18: Do NOT ice a sprained joint. Rather, do the opposite and apply heat.
For decades, the usual treatment for sprains was RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) and it was pretty much exactly the opposite of what should be done.
Some of these are surprising results. Most I had heard of before.
The book is not as dry as one might imagine. It is fast read and backed by copious notes. It keeps the jargon to a minimum and the logic is easy to follow.
For example, your immune system is designed to work best at higher temperatures. Ergo, you get a fever when you get sick. It makes no sense to reduce your temperature, as doing so will impede your recovery.
One broad issue the book does discuss is malpractice law suits. These suits distort the system. The author recommends getting rid of jury trials and replacing the jury with a panel of experts.
This example amused the skeptic in me:
In 1986, "psychic" Judith Haimes had a CT scan of her head due to headaches. As a result, she claimed, she lost her power to talk to the dead. She sued and won $986,000!!... which was later overturned as excessive.
Lee Moller is a life-long skeptic and atheist and the author of The God Con.