The Big ‘E’: The Story of the USS Enterprise

The Big E2 October 2009 (Updated 8 April 2015) l Lakeland, Florida — The 1976 paperback edition’s pages are now yellowed by age, but the cover remains for the most part unmarred if slightly faded from repeated use. The condition is a testament to the import and influence of the work. As a young man the reviewer poured through the pages of the book eagerly, through subsequent years, and continuing to the present, Commander (Ret.) Edward P. Stafford‘s book remains a favorite and is perennially devoured. In light of the release of The History Channel‘s Battle 360 Season One DVD(ASIN: B002MXG520) , which addresses the saga of USS Enterprise (designated as ‘CV-6’ by the U.S. Navy), it is prudent to post a review of Stafford’s The Big ‘E”.

Cover of Ballantine Books' May 1976 edition.

Ballantine Books’ May 1976 edition.

Retired aviator Admiral Arthur W. Radford, U.S. N., states of USS Enterprise in the ‘Foreward’ the following fact: ” One of the few in the beginning and one of the many at the end — she was without a peer in that illustrious company of United States Navy Aircraft that dominated the naval actions of those drama-packed years.”

First published in 1962, The Big ‘E’ is considered a historical primer related to U.S. aircraft carrier operations over the course of the Second World War. USS Enterprise was the carrier that contributed greatly to achieving victory in the Pacific Theater; Enterprise participated in nearly every major engagement and earned a total of twenty battle stars for service. The ship’s major combat actions included the following: Participating in the Doolittle Raid and subsequently playing a critical role during American operations around Midway, Santa Cruz, Guadalcanal, the Philippine Sea, Leyte Gulf, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

Furthermore, The USS Enterprise (CV-6) Association records that Enterprise docked in Southampton, England on 23 November 1945. During her port call the veteran carrier was boarded by Sir Albert Alexander, the First Lord of the Admiralty. He presented a British Admiralty Pennant, which is the most prestigious decoration of the Royal Navy, to CV-6. Notably, Enterprise is the only ship external to the Royal Navy to have received the ensign since the award’s creation more than 4 centuries past.

Whenever possible, Edward Stafford presents the reader with participants’ insights to bring the ship’s log entries to life. For example, he writes (page 42), “From her deck the men of the Enterprise could see the distant blue-green of Suvaii, British Samoa. Here were the South Seas Islands of books and dreams, of Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe, and the Bounty mutiny, where Captain Cook and the frigate Essex had sailed and fought, where in some lush and savage valley lived Herman Melville’s lovely Fayaway. Men found time to stare wistfully across the sea.” He added, “They were men and mostly dreamed of the bare-breasted Polynesian girls with gardenias in their long black hair and names like the jungle waterfalls.” Obviously, the impact upon this impressionable youngster was great.

Mr. Stafford was commissioned an Ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve in September 1941 and was called immediately to active duty serving initially as Commanding Officer of the submarine chaser USS SC 692. The small ship performed convoy escort in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean and participated in the invasion of Sicily. In May of 1944 Edward was assigned to the Pacific Theater, as Executive Officer of the destroyer escort USS Abercrombie, where his vessel was a participant in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. In March 1950 Edward Stafford entered Naval Aviation, serving for eight years as a pilot and operations officer for hurricane hunter and airborne early warning squadrons. Stafford was the technical advisor for the 1970 docudrama Tora, Tora, Tora!

Little Ship Big WarIn 1984 Stafford published the autobiographical Little Ship, Big War, a narrative which describes his service aboard Abercrombie. The year 1988 saw the Naval Institute Press publish Edward Stafford’s fourth and final book. It was titled Subchaser and the publication chronicled his experiences as a twenty-four-year-old combat skipper on SC-692.

Edward P. Stafford passed away peacefully, at age 95, of natural causes at Holmes Regional Medical Center, Melbourne, Florida, on Tuesday, 24 September 2013.

SubchaserAlthough CV-6 and Stafford have passed from earthly existence, The Big ‘E’ is extant and remains a classic.

The Big ‘E’ appeals to historians and the general public alike. It is a most engrossing work and is highly recommended to all students of aviation history.


The reviewer (John Stemple) encourages all to read Edward Stafford’s works.

Sources, Suggested Readings & Viewings

Battle 360 Season One

Edward P. Stafford, USN (Obituary)

NavSource Online: USS Enterprise

Japanese dive-bombers strike the USS Enterprise

Landing Crashes Aboard USS Enterprise (CV-6)


The USS Enterprise (CV-6) under attack during the Battle of Santa Cruz

Stafford, Edward P. The Big ‘E’, New York: Ballantine Books, 1976.

The Big ‘E’: The Story of the USS Enterprise

The History Channel

USS Abercrombie (DE-343)

USS Enterprise (CV 6)

Tora! Tora! Tora!

USS Enterprise (CV-6) hit twice by kamikaze – 11 April 1945

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