by Ivan Musicant; Harcourt Brace Jovanovich; 349 pages; $19.95.
She was laid down under the restrictions of the naval treaties of the 1920s and launched before the far more powerful Iowa class came along to revolutionize battleship design. But as the author points out in this spirited account, “none of the Iowas ever blasted it out eye to eye with a Japanese battleship at eight thousand yards and sent it to the bottom.” That is what the Washington did in the desperate night action known as the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal late in 1942, but before and after this extraordinary highlight of her career, she steamed through an enormous amount of naval history, running the ghastly North Atlantic convoy routes to Russia and serving through most of the fighting in the Pacific.
Of course the story of any ship is the story of the people who worked her, and Musicant has done extensive research, both in the ship’s papers and by interviewing her crew. The result is a scrupulous and fascinating account filled with humor, mysteries great (did an admiral commit suicide aboard her?) and small (what in the world did two of the crew find worth doing in the bleak islands around Scapa Flow to lure them into going AWOL for twelve days?), drunken mischief ashore, and high courage afloat.