The War in the Pacific Islands, 1942-1944
This is the second volume in a projected trilogy on WWII in the Pacific. It follows his book “Pacific Crucible” which deals with the early stages of the war – primarily the battles of Coral Sea and Midway. This book goes from the Guadalcanal invasion to 1944 and the conquest of Saipan. This would allow the start of the B29 strategic bombing offensive against Japan itself to begin.
This period is the ‘swing period’ of the war. The Japanese started with a significant advantage in trained pilots and the initiative that let them attack peacetime garrisons and weak and unprepared foes. After a few months, the Allies started to get their bearings and start to be able to contest the Japanese fleet, especially when divided. The battle of Midway ended the period where the Japanese could realistically continue expanding in the Pacific, but the US still needed time to collect their forces, get them into the battle.
That is the period discussed in this book – the US seizure of Guadalcanal was risky, as the Japanese could strike hard at the protecting naval forces and the troops, but the air base on the island increasingly took its toll on the Japanese ships and planes. Surface actions came frequenty, from the disaster at Savo to others that were more even or even victories. But regardless, the Japanese could not push the US away, and every month brought the arrival of massive US naval forces closer.
The US Navy (with some significant Commonwealth help, especially the Australians) needed time to gain experience meeting the Japanese, and took their lumps. But every Japanese ship damaged or lost was gone for good, while the US kept getting more ships.
Finally, the US forced the Japanese out of the Solomons, and then began the Central Pacific offensives at Tarawa, Kwajalein and finally Saipan. By this point, the Japanese Navy is hardly a threat to the assembled fleets – the latest battle was the famed “Marianas Turkey Shoot” where the air force was crushed and the newest Japanese carrier blew itself up from fuel fumes more than US bombs or torpedoes.
The book is big enough to give a more thorough treatment of the campaigns than standard one volume histories. It has a little of the view of the Japanese side, but it is more the US view of the war than trying to show what both sides were doing equivalently. Hopefully the third volume continues at this detail rather than slide off when the war gets totally one-sided as often happens. I look forward to the third volume with some interest, as I am reading more about this part of the war these days.