My strongest recommendation up front: buy this book, read it. There are information and insights here that you will not be able to get from any other English-language source on the Battle. This book is in my collection, and I expect to be referring to it often in the future. The author has done a great job of research, drawing on many unused American and Japanese sources, and has corrected many errors in the "standard" historical works and records. You will get information on the Japanese planning and conduct of the battle that you will not get anywhere else.
My most important caveat - and the reason why I can only score the book a "4" - is that there are significant interpretive and stylistic problems in Mr. Tully's text. Care must be taken when reading this book, as I will delve into later.
First, the good stuff: Mr. Tully has made a significant contribution to the history of the battle, and has contributed to a better understanding of the objectives of the Japanese forces in this battle. He has drawn from a number of Japanese language sources that have previously been unavailable in the West, along with a number of Japanese survivor's accounts. My only complaint here is that I wish he would have quoted more extensively from these sources rather than given us the Tully-interpretation on what they contain, because, as I will go in to later, there are places where Mr. Tully's interpretations are subject to question.
There are a number of "mysteries" about the battle, such as how the Japanese battleships were actually lost. Mr. Tully pulls together the available evidence - much of it new to Western readers - and does a workmanlike job in addressing the questions. In all the important areas of interpretation, Mr. Tully's analysis is spot on, and the reader will be well rewarded by the time spent in this book.
The only thing that stops this book from being the "definitive" work on Surigao Strait is that it primarily concentrates on the Japanese side of the story - I would estimate that 85% of the pages are written from the Japanese viewpoint. This is not a criticism, as there is certainly need for a good English-language history of the battle from the Japanese viewpoint, filled admirably here. It is just notification that readers will still need Wilmott and Vega and the venerable Morrison to fill in parts of the story from the Allied side.
Oh, this book could - should! - have been a "5" - but there are problems.
One of the problems is stylistic, one regards historical interpretations, and the other regards the underlying depth of knowledge. Readers must be forewarned that there are errors in the book (few as they are), and that this relative lack of errors gives the book a lot of deserved credibility - but this credibility in turn gives some of Mr. Tully's speculative turns too much credence. Then the author soils his credibility when he descends into the realm of purple prose (PP) and exclamation points (EPs) in order to inject some "excitement" into the story.
Let's start with the PP and EPs. But first, remember I am overall giving this book a high recommendation. Buy it! But, here's the warnings.
Mr. Tully likes to enliven the story. I think he does a disservice by cheapening his material. He and I have corresponded on this point (he is, by the way, a consummate gentleman and excellent scholar, and a fine and courteous person). I think he overdoes it. Here's a sampling; you be the judge:
* ""All hands, take up your battle station! Prepare for night battle!" The men trooped as one below to their stations and their destiny."
* "Yet his escape gives the clue: it is unlikely he would have survived that magazine's detonation!"
* "The torpedoes had either gone under the keel or failed to explode!"
* "Ushio's TBS radio was out of order!"
* "With this notice in mind, onward with the battle!"
* "Its speed fell even more rapidly, down to just five knots! Yamashiro was slowing to a crawl - a sitting duck!"
* "It had been really close!"
* "... shells were directed at only one target, hapless Yamashiro!"
* "... strong enough data for a firing set-up! The ranges were now lining up consistently, and at last they were ready to go!"
* "In fact, the action would only last eighteen minutes!"
* "Disaster was in the making!"
* "But wait -- !! Sharp-eyed navigator Kondo on Nachi suddenly noticed ... "
* "The stout Mogami had scarcely been scratched!"
* "... this remark speaks volumes!"
* "It is hard to avoid the impression that he hoped they would become targets in his stead for any pursuing enemy!"
Whether you like this sort of thing is mostly a matter of taste, except in those places where the exclamation points falsely give an impression of surprise or suddenness. In my view, it is overdone. And, in the process of thus making the text more "readable," the author strays too far: he goes from history to speculation. Consider the following lines from the text:
** "Abukuma's hardy crew was unbowed: they set to work on emergency repairs with gusto."
** "Nishimura's gratitude and pride at this comeback must have been as great as the Allies' chagrin."
** "Nishimura likely nodded with satisfaction, and with growing resolve and perhaps confidence, ordered course set for the final run-in to Leyte Gulf."
** "Nishimura probably brightened at hearing this, ..."
** "The officers on the bridge of flagship Yamashiro must have heard Shigure's confusing hails to "Fuso" with startled relief, jumping to the obvious but erroneous conclusion: The Fuso!"
** "... reform with renewed hope."
** "... the officers could feel the gunners' frustration like a physical presence, and shared it."
There are many, many, MANY more in this vein, 99% of which are unfootnoted and thus do not have a primary source to establish it as fact. Tully continually speculates on what the Japanese were feeling
and constantly tellings us what their emotions "must have been." There must have been tension meters installed on both flag bridges and most ship control stations, as Mr. Tully continually asserts when the tension was going up or down. (In my experience, sailors can be relaxed and joking at places where others would assume that the "tension was unbearable," which is why I protest most of Mr. Tully's forays into interpretive psychology.) Most of such sorties into the speculative appear to have no documentation - in other words, Tully made them up, generally inserting what he felt they felt, rather than what the historical record (slim at it is) says the characters felt. Now, if Tully was a psychologist who had spent some time in the Japanese Navy (preferably in command of a ship), then I would read these opinions with some interest. However, to my knowledge he does not have those qualifications. I have 20 years in the US Navy, and 14 years of sea duty, and many of Tully's flights of imagination I feel are flat wrong and do not reflect actual "sailor behavior," or at least describe situations where there are a number of other plausible alternative explanations. When Tully describes Nishimura as likely "nodding with satisfaction," and giving orders with "confidence," he is turning this work from fact to fiction.
My last complaint is that there are a number of errors in the book, errors that could have been caught during the editorial process.
Tully has steam turbine ships often "revving their engines," which is silly. He talks about Japanese "proximity alarms" clanging on bridges and inside gun turrets, without explaining what they are (likely a mis-translation of the gun firing warning alarm). He claims that 1,000 yards was the "optimum" range to fire a torpedo, without citing a source to back up this (erroneous) claim. Some of his time and distance calculations are wrong, for instance, when he mentions that a group of ships 40,000 meters (~20 nm) behind the other could catch up in 20 minutes.
There are terminology errors: in one, he persistantly names the Japanese voice radio system the "TBS." TBS was the American system - calling the Japanese system the TBS would be like calling the Japanese radar the SC or SK or SG. He refers to a possible Japanese torpedo attack as "fire for effect" - "fire for effect" is a ground artillery term for firing after the spotting rounds have landed and the location of the fire corrected to land on the target. Not only is it incorrect to use at sea, especially for torpedo fire, it also is wrong in the context of the situation, because what Mr. Tully is apparently trying to convey is launching the torpedoes at indistinct targets that have not been accurately tracked, something the exact opposite from "fire for effect." In one place, when referring to US torpedo fire, he confuses "range to target" at the time of firing with track range to intercept when he states that the range to the target was near the limit of the torpedo range at intermediate speed setting.
There are some questionable errors of interpretation. Many times he attributes motives for certain actions - for example, for some formation changes - that any Naval officer would know are wrong. At another point, he cites an eye-witness as stating that torpedoes hit a ship or went under the keel, but then in the next paragraph relies on "calculations" to say this was not so. Balancing an eyewitness against calculations that are likely to be inexact as to time of launch, and considering that torpedoes had speed and course variabilities, I would have counseled to believe the eyewitness. In another place, Tully interpretes the Japanese course as an attempt to "slip around the far eastern end of the veritable tornado of gunfire" (PP), where this would make no sense to this naval officer - the Japanese were more likely opening up their firing arcs for their amidships guns.
Mr. Tully also demonstrates a bias towards the Japanese in his account. He repeatedly praises the Japanese gunfire as accurate with comments like "markedly good," "shooting well," "their shooting was good," and similar terms. But in the end, the Japanese scored only 6 hits by Yamashiro's secondary battery (one on their own ship) and none with their main batteries, a rather poor performance. He ignores the US Navy's assessment that the Japanese shooting was erratic. He praises Admiral Nishimura's navigation, refering to the fact that he was a navigation specialist, when it would be highly unlikely that an Admiral was doing his own chart work. Japanese crewmember actions are invariably described in Herculean terms, mostly without footnotes.
There are other problems with facts, calculations, terminology, and interpretations - but this review is getting a touch long.
The bottom line is that Mr. Tully's fine work cries out for a naval officer to have read it and corrected some of the more jarring errors prior to publication. Why the editor did not do this is beyond understanding. As a result, a bunch of piddling errors and PP and EPs marr an otherwise excellent contribution to the history of the war in the Pacific.
After having killed a bunch of electrons fussing about problems, I advise you to put all that aside. Be forewarned of these *minor* problems, but do not allow them to deter you from acquiring and reading this overall fine work. Highly recommended.