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Book Review – The Commodore

By P.T. Deutermann; St. Martin's Press; Hardcover; 296 pages

Publication of another of P.T. Deutermann’s naval novels is for this reviewer an event. From the time I read Scorpion in the Sea back in 1992 I have been hooked on his naval books. With The Commodore, Deutermann continues a loose series of novels centered on the U.S. Navy in World War II. I can only hope there will be many more.

The Commodore centers around Harmon Wolf, a U.S. Navy destroyer commander who, through his bold surface actions against the all-conquering Imperial Japanese fleet (as well as through the attrition they inflict upon the U.S. Navy), becomes the de facto commodore of a division of destroyers fighting the desperate naval battles around Guadalcanal.  The book describes Wolf’s command of his ship, and later his division, as he develops tactics to combat the Japanese, who in the early months of World War II were the masters of naval night engagements. A Native American, Wolf has slowly risen through the U.S. Navy ranks – until the war begins. Then his tactics during actions against the Japanese catch the eye of Adm. William F. Halsey, who promotes and champions the aggressive Wolf. Wolf’s tactics and experiences in some ways echo those of real-world U.S. Navy destroyer captains Frederick Moosbrugger, Ernest Evans, and Arleigh Burke. While the ship names used are often fictional, some real-world characters and vessels are also depicted, and the battles, if fictionalized, are historically accurate. The real-world character depictions range from the positive ones of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz and Halsey to the vividly negative depiction of the almost universally despised Capt. Miles Browning. This mixture of fiction and actual history not only entertains but also educates the reader about the realities of this naval conflict.

Deutermann is a former destroyerman himself, and his expertise is demonstrated through his assured writing about command of what were at the time small combatants. Perhaps more importantly, in The Commodore Deutermann is able to transport the reader to the deck of a destroyer in World War II’s Solomon Islands campaign, vividly describing everything from the smell of the stack gas and the broiling heat of the steel decks to the sights, sounds and confusion of night naval battles. He is able to depict complex maneuvers and explain tactics, armament, and technology in a way that makes it all accessible to a layman reader rather than confusing or obtrusive.

The Commodore is a very difficult book to put down once begun, but this also makes it a quick read, which I expect will leave the reader, like this reviewer, eagerly anticipating Deutermann’s next effort.