I haven’t done any book reviews for a while. Since retirement I’ve been going full blast on building models even to the extent I’m reading less. Well, a little less. And I suppose that means I’ve been writing here as much as I want.
But this book has really caught my attention so I thought I’d share.
Jefferey Cox was a new writer to me when I picked this up. His book covers the early part of the Guadalcanal Campaign, August to October of 1942. So the subject is certainly not new to me.
Guadalcanal is a fascinating campaign. In August of 1942 the US Navy was feeling pretty good about things. Midway was clearly a huge victory and new Japanese operations seemed to have petered out. So Admiral King, the Navy’s Commander-in-Chief, was looking to push back. He was particularly unhappy with the so called “Germany First” policy that the US and British Combined Chiefs had agreed on. Well, all of them except for him. So he was determined to cause some trouble before the Pacific theater became a forgotten back water.
When the Japanese started developing an airfield on Guadalcanal, at the far southern tip of the Solomon Islands he saw an excuse. This could conceivably encroach on shipping routes from the US to Australia. So he ordered Admiral Nimitz to direct all efforts to seizing that base.
This was still early in the war for the US, which was still a long ways from full industrial output. And fully trained combat units were in short supply. When the 1st Marine Division was chosen to take the island, it didn’t exist. Three separate regiments, two of which were at sea, that had never operated together were formed into the new force. Other disparate elements like the 1st Raider Battalion and the 1st Marine Parachute Battalion were added to over staff the Division under the command of General Alexander Vandegrift.
The operation was code named Watchtower, but as Vandegrift scrambled to bring together men, supplies and ships it became known as “Operation Shoestring“.
This is a fascinating story for several reasons. To start, this is well before Allied advantages in technology and production could make much of an impact. Numbers on both sides were close, and neither side had prospects of massive relief coming any time soon. Also, neither side fully appreciated the strengths or weaknesses of their opponents in anything like a realistic way yet.
It also became a complete air, land and sea campaign fought on a huge battlefield; almost 500 miles from Guadalcanal to Rabual. Both sides main bases, Noumea for the Allies and Truk for the Japanese were another 500 miles removed.
On this huge battlefield a savage campaign was fought by men who’s names also loom larger than life; Joe Foss, Mike Edson, Roy Geiger, Willis Lee, William Halsey, Saburo Sakai, Raizo Tanaka, Chuichi Nagumo. This is among the great epics of the Second World War.
I could say I’ve read it all before. Seriously, I’ve read so much on this campaign it surely counts as a mental illness. There have been a number of outstanding works on it. Most of them focus on one aspect; air, land, sea or even one of the many sub-battles that make up the whole. A couple are more complete histories. So superficially I could say this new book isn’t needed. And I admit to being a little grumpy about a mistake in the first chapter (referring to Butch O’Hare as the Army Air Force’s first ace of World War II. That’s pretty specific for something so wrong. He was the Navy’s first ace. Boyd Wagner, in the Philippines, was the AAF’s first ace).
But the writer quickly redeemed himself. He gives lot’s of detail and is careful to humanize things at every level. We get observations and insights from decision makers and the common soldiers affected by those decisions. The description of Guadalcanal itself is colorful and fun in a terrifying sort of way (it wasn’t known as the Isle of Death for nothing!). I don’t think I’ve ever read so much about the island’s wild wildlife before.
Action is all presented in a way that is accurate, well detailed and easy to follow. While maintaining the human element. For readers awaiting the third volume in Ian Toll’s Pacific War Trilogy this could be seen as a more detailed look at the climax of his first book. The writing style is actually similar and I think the two works compliment each other. There is a sequel covering the end on Guadalcanal and the rest of the Solomons Campaign that should be out in a few weeks. So that allows time to finish before Ian Toll’s next book comes out.
Jefferey Cox also wrote an earlier book on the Java Sea Campaign. This book did lead me to pick that one up too. So in a nutshell, I’ve liked this book enough it led me to purchase the writer’s earlier work and I’m eagerly looking forward to his next. ‘nuf said.