Admiral John S. McCain and the Triumph of Naval Air Power. By William F. Trimble. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2019. Maps. Photographs. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xv, 370. $38.00 ISBN: 978-1-68247-370-2
This is the latest in the Studies in Naval History and Sea Power series that covers issues relating to sea power such as strategy, tactics, technology, diplomacy and financing and administration of that power. McCain was a combat commander who had a significant impact on carrier tactics in World War II. His career included numerous staff assignments before and during the war where he learned the intricacies of Washington politics and impacted Navy policies. This book seeks to place McCain in his proper place in history.
Trimble is eminently qualified to write a book both on naval aviation and McCain himself. A professor emeritus at Auburn University, he has written biographies of Glenn Curtis, William Moffett, and Jerome Hunsacker (all naval aviation pioneers), a history of seaplane striking forces, and a history of the Naval Aircraft Factory. McCain was a developer of tactics; he commanded seaplane striking forces during the Guadalcanal campaign; and he was a vocal commentator on, and critic of, the planes the Navy procured to fight the war.
The book is well researched, clearly and concisely written, and provides a reasonable balance of facts with analysis of McCain as a leader and tactician. Trimble strikes a balance between correcting other overly critical historians and becoming an apologist for McCain. He provides a clearer view of McCain as a commander.
McCain was a latecomer in naval aviation circles, one of a group of senior officers who recognized the technology trends in naval warfare and chose to transition into aviation at a later age. He was over 50 when he began flight school. Only Bull Halsey was older when he finished flight training. Despite this late start, McCain threw himself into the business of naval aviation, serving as commander of the USS Ranger (the first purpose built U.S. aircraft carrier) and rapidly developing the knowledge and skill to apply naval airpower. However, his first combat assignment was not with carriers; he managed the disparate non-carrier-based aviation assets (patrol, base defense, and transport) assigned to support the Marines on Guadalcanal. Working on a shoestring, he developed tactics and procedures to stretch his resources to the maximum. That he wasn't always successful is evident...