As the WWII juggernaut of Japanese forces streamed southward early in the conflict toward Australia, its naval and air forces systematically destroyed much of its Allied opposition. American naval strength was found largely in the outdated and under-armed Asiatic Fleet, including a group of four-funneled flush-deck destroyers, among them the USS Edsall. Written off as expendable and with inadequate provisions, they were often sent on sacrificial operations with little military benefit, but for political expediency. Their crews, nonetheless, committed themselves resourcefully and bravely despite the staggering odds. In March 1942 the Edsall blundered into a Japanese fleet (possibly as it entered dangerous waters to rescue the survivors of the Pecos, which was ferrying men southward), and despite the gargantuan challenge arrayed against it, managed to hold off some of the best Japan had to offer, eventually and predictably succumbing to dive bomber attacks after a two-hour engagement. A few men survived the engagement, only to disappear in the hell that was the Japanese POW system, and no known crew made it out of the war. A small number of bodies were later located, having been executed and buried. Adding to their plight, their bravery and sacrifice was largely ignored and unreported, if not actually hidden from public eye. Donald Kehn tries to rectify this oversight with A Blue Sea of Blood.
Sadly, the effort was unsatisfactory. One can applaud the author’s research and efforts, as well as the wealth of information he provides, especially in light of the paucity of available materials, both governmental and personal, but he falls short in his storytelling. The strips of available information are lightly tacked to a sparse set of bones. One almost gets the feeling that the project should have been smaller, perhaps a large article in a major naval publication, but that in making it a book it became unwieldy, repetitive, and ultimately of lesser quality. One also gets the feeling that an inferior editing job was done. The story just doesn’t flow as well as some similar efforts, such as Ship of Ghosts. And this is sad, because the story is an important one. Another minor quibble is that Kehn to often puts himself in the story (this material should have been put in footnotes, or a separate appendix).