In the Highest Degree Tragic


In the Highest Degree Tragic

The Sacrifice of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet in the East Indies during World War II

Donald M. Kehn Jr.

560 pages
50 photographs, index


August 2017


$44.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

August 2017


$44.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

August 2017


$44.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

In the Highest Degree Tragic tells the heroic story of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet’s sacrifice defending the Dutch East Indies from the Japanese in the first three months of the Pacific War. Donald M. Kehn Jr.’s comprehensive narrative history of the operations involving multiple ships and thousands of men dramatically depicts the chaotic nature of these battles. His research has uncovered evidence of  communications failures, vessels sinking hundreds of miles from where they had been reported lost, and entire complements of men simply disappearing off the face of the earth.

Kehn notes that much of the fleet went down with guns blazing and flag flying, highlighting, where many others have failed to do so, the political and strategic reasons for the fleet’s deployment to the region in the first place. In the Highest Degree Tragic rectifies the historical record, showcasing how brave yet all-too-human sailors and officers carried out their harrowing tasks. Containing rare first-person accounts and anecdotes, from the highest command echelons down to the lowest enlisted personnel, Kehn’s book is the most comprehensive and exhaustive study to date of this important part of American involvement in World War II.


Author Bio

Donald M. Kehn Jr. is the official historian for the USS Houston (CA-30) Survivors Association and the official historian of the Naval Order of the United States, Texas Commandery. He is the author of A Blue Sea of Blood: Deciphering the Mysterious Fate of the USS “Edsall.” 


"An important addition toward understanding the actions and sacrifices of the American naval personnel who fought in East Asia in that period. . . . Fans of good naval history will want to read this book."—Russell K. Brown, Journal of America’s Military Past

"An important work for anyone seriously interested the opening phase of the Pacific War, naval operations, and the history of the U.S. Navy."—A.A. Nofi, NYMAS Review

"In the Highest Degree Tragic tells an even-handed, riveting story of the last days of a fleet that fought loyally against great odds in a chaotic time of sweeping defeats."—Jeff Schultz, Michigan War Studies Review

“Unsurpassed in its detailed, participant-based coverage of the ill-fated efforts of the Asiatic Fleet and its Dutch, British, and Australian allies to counter the Japanese attempt to seize Java, this vivid account stands as the authoritative work on the subject.”—William H. Bartsch, author of Every Day a Nightmare: American Pursuit Pilots in the Defense of Java, 1941–1942


“Don Kehn has produced here a first-rate history of an oft-neglected yet critical phase of that conflict. Kehn captures it vividly, drawing adroitly from both Western and Japanese sources. Excellent!”—Jonathan Parshall, coauthor of Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1. Prewar: Hart Assumes Command
2. As Is: The Asiatic Fleet at War’s Outbreak
3. Manila Abandoned: South from the Philippines
4. Birth of a Nasty, Brutish, and Short Life: ABDA Is Formed
5. Overtures in Blood and Oil: Tarakan and Balikpapan
6. First Sortie of the Striking Force: Flores Sea
7. Abortive Efforts East and West: Banka Strait Sortie and Timor Relief Convoy
8. Axidents, Surprisals, and Terrifications: The Battle of Badoeng Strait
9. Disaster at Darwin: The Fate of Peary
10. Six Days to Oblivion: The Langley Episode
11. Chaos and Night: The Battle of the Java Sea
12. A Death So Valiant and True: The Last Fight of Perth and Houston
13. They Fled to Bliss or Woe: The End of the Game
14. Post Diem: In the Highest Degree Tragic


2018 John Lyman Book Award honorable mention in the category of “U.S. Naval History”

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