Resurrection: Salvaging the Battle Fleet at Pearl Harbor, is the second book by Naval enthusiast Daniel Madsen. Published in 2003 by USNI Press, this fine work tells the largely forgotten tale of the Officers, Sailors, and civilians that made up the massive effort to raise and repair the battleships and other warships and auxiliaries sunk and damaged in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and began the process of returning them to war.
Madsen mentions, but does not dwell on the events leading up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, or the subsequent quest for answers in its aftermath. Instead, his story begins as the preponderance of the surface power of the US Pacific Fleet is shattered by bombs and torpedoes on the morning of December 7th. The real story of his book begins in the aftermath of the attack in the days and weeks following the raid, as the Fleet and its Officers take stock of the devastation and begin the long process of readying the clogged anchorage for the task of supporting a fleet at war and salvage of the ships who lay in the mud near Ford Island.
Having done exquisite research, Madsen grabs the reader with the thorough and eloquent description of the enormity of the tasks, and the paucity of resources, equipment, labor, expertise, and time in which to perform them. The formation of the Base Force Salvage Organization, and its interaction with the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard and Fourteenth Naval District, Pacific Bridge Company (and other civilian contractors) highlights both the friction of competing requirements and the admirable cooperation of disparate entities to succeed in the face of a determined enemy. Routine issues, such as the stowage and repair of salvaged weapons and optics, feeding and housing large workforces efficiently, disposal of thousands of tons of flotsam from the sunken hulls, strained the abilities and capacity of men and facilities. In addition, the constant shifts in priorities as damage assessments on the sunken ships are revised and requirements for repair of battle damage to the fleet in the fight with the Japanese subsume facilities and resources, reinforces the patience and flexibility of the Officers and Sailors whose lot it was to undertake this grim, backbreaking, dangerous work.
The story the author tells is unmistakeably one of triumph and defiance in the face of overwhelming odds and supreme challenges. The reader understands the sublime sense of accomplishment for these men as they watched the battleships once burned and forlorn, with decks awash, as they glided into drydock, and then out of Pearl Harbor for repair and refit, and then to war. The narrative is compelling and poignant at times, vivid in its descriptions of conditions and events. But Madsen does not encumber us with unnecessary technical detail. He provides plenty, just enough to bring the reader into the truly ingenious planning and calculations involved in righting, patching, and pumping damaged ships afloat after months on the bottom.
Madsen shifts often between salvage projects, locations, and time, often simultaneously, a technique he employed in his first work, Forgotten Fleet. This can be confusing to the reader of Resurrection, as the chronology of events at Pearl Harbor is much more central to the theme of this book than in the telling of the Mothball Navy. Some common errors are present. Madsen makes incorrect reference to gun caliber regarding the 5″ guns then in service, annotating them as “5-inch/.51 caliber”, “5-inch/.38 caliber”, and “5-inch/.25 caliber”, respectively. Caliber in this sense refers to the length of the bore of the cannon tube as measured by muzzle opening. (a 5-inch/51 caliber weapon has 255 inches of rifling between breach and muzzle, a 5-inch/25 caliber, 125 inches, etc.) Also, the “accepted” way of referring to a ship by name by old salts I have known has been as one would refer to a person. For example, USS Oklahoma would be called “Oklahoma”, and not “the Oklahoma“ (though I truthfully don’t know if this is written anywhere officially). However, these are minor flaws that do not detract from the work.
Well-illustrated with seldom-seen photos of damage and repair work in progress, Resurrection is an eminently readable book which will take and hold the interest of one who loves naval history and the stories of the men and events that made it. Among a stack of books on my nightstand (and others elsewhere throughout the house), Resurrection moved to the top of the list and stayed there until it was finished. That is no mean feat, and a tribute to Daniel Madsen. I recommend this book highly.