“Rising Sun, Falling Skies: The Disastrous Java Sea Campaign of World War II” by Jeffrey R. Cox

rising sun falling skies

As many of you know, the part of World War II I’m the weakest on is the Pacific War campaign. I’ve purchased several books on this topic in hopes to rectify this weakness. A friend of mine actually turned me onto this book by letting me know about the author appearing at a local bookstore here in Indianapolis. Given the topic, I went straight out and bought the book. Something I don’t regret at all!

This book covers an underserved topic of the Pacific War and that’s the early days of the war in the Pacific from just before Pearl Harbor through the early part of 1942. This book solely covers both the air and naval campaigns of the Battle of Java Sea. Cox does a decent job of presenting details but it can be somewhat overwhelming to the casual reader.

“By this time, the Exeter had managed to reach 26 knots, zigzagging between 70 degrees True and 110 degrees True, or 20 degrees off her base course of 90 degrees True.” (p. 362)  I’m not a navigator so early on I had to figure out what these kind of details mean and there a number of places throughout the book that the majority of the paragraphs are laden with these type of sentences.

What Cox does extremely well through most of the book is to balance out the details with human stories and these stories are spread throughout the book. He also focuses on several key participants so that by the end of the book, when a person passes or a ship goes down, the reader feels the loss keenly. This excerpt was particularly moving and has stuck with me long after reading the last page:

“Sometime later, Captain Rooks’ cook, Ah Fong, who had come with the Houston from Shanghai, was seen cradling the skipper’s lifeless form in his arms. His voice trembling with emotion, the cook, the known to the crew as ‘Buda’, repeated over and over again, ‘Captain die, Houston die, Buda die, too.'” (p. 351) This particularly helped when reading the book “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption” by Laura Hillenbrand as the Houston and its fate and that of its crew is also mentioned.

I can actually already see the benefits of reading this book as I’ve read a couple of books since where some of the participants and/or ships are mentioned in passing and knowing the details made a difference.

Overall, I would highly recommend this book for those readers who are passionate about  naval warfare and/or the Pacific campaign of WWII. If you’re a casual reader, the details may bog you down. I would give it overall 4 stars.

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts?


About jenvolk5

Bank auditor by day, trivia and knowledge hound all other times.
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