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Michael Haskew’s ‘Aircraft Carriers’: An illustrated history of a new form of combat

The mailboat recently brought an illustrated history of aircraft carriers, by Michael Haskew.


The mailboat recently brought an illustrated history of aircraft carriers, by Michael Haskew. I was intrigued because I’ve never actually read a history of carriers, except by reference to military innovation in the interwar period.

The book is full of good, odd facts. I didn’t know, for example, that the first U.S. Navy carrier, the Langley, actually participated in World War II. By then it had been converted to a seaplane tender. It was sunk by the Japanese off Java in February 1942.

Paging through it, an odd thought struck me about the photos: You only rarely see the faces of people in combat. You see planes taking off and landing, you se ships burning. But not many faces. Until the age of the carrier, I suspect, naval combat was a lot more like ground combat than it is now.

Another thing I noticed is that in some photos, the propellers of aircraft seem to bend slightly, as above. Is that really happening or is it an optical illusion? If it was the physical case, it must have put enormous stresses on the metal of the props.

Photo credit: U.S. Navy/Wikimedia Commons

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at

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