Rabaul

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Review by Martin Koenigsberg

Just Finished my 56th Book Review of the Year!!

In the previous book in the Trilogy- Darkest Hour, Bruce Gamble told the story of Australia’s ill-fated attempt to defend Rabaul , the large anchorage on the South Pacific Island of New Britain, the early 1942 conquest by Japan that grew bloodier after they achieved their aims, and the danger this posed to the US/Australian/British Imperial Alliance. In Fortress Rabaul, the Allied Strike Back. But is is weakly at first as they recover from the initial blows and just begin to get the vital resources they need to contain or conquer an ever growing Japanese Main Base threatening their vital sea lane connection with the USA. It’s also the book where you discover that the Coral Sea, Kokoda, Guadalcanal, and Port Moresby campaigns are also all really about Rabaul, as the Allies try to reckon with this dangerous dagger pointed at their arteries. The book starts with the varied, under supported, and poorly coordinated attempts to neutralize or destroy the base, gathers pace with the appointment of General Kenney and the creation of the Fifth Air Force of the USAAF, and then crescendos at the end with the death of the creative and dynamic Japanese Admiral and war leader Yamamoto in a hail of .50 Caliber bullets spewing from American P-38s. Gamble, the Military Veteran and respected Historian, tells the story as a tick-tock of modern air warfare- keeping the focus on the Aerial bombardment of Rabaul itself, even as the Navies , Marines and Soldiers fight the peripheral battles – each worthy of many books themselves. But having the focus on the center of the many battles- the US /RAAF trying first to harass- then destroy this one Japanese center of gravity keeps the book on track and the reader really engaged. I am eager to read the next book…

As with all the Pacific/CBI battles- this book is really about resources. The Japanese, with their weaker industrial base and interservice rivalries writ large do an amazing job of fortifying Rabaul and creating supply dumps- even if their failure to prioritize foodstuffs in the traffic bodes poorly for the future. The Allies- with so many other areas of need in late 1942-1943 just aren’t sending enough combat gear, even if the prerequisite engineering supplies are making a difference. With the arrival of Gen Kenney, someone relatively immune to Macarthur’s meddling, and the creation of the the Fifth Air Force, things begin to get better. The arrival of enough P-40s, the first Beaufighters for the RAAF, more P-39s, P-38s and the throw weight of a serious B-24 Bomber arm begins to move the dial. As far away as this was from the factories in Detroit, Southern California and Bristol where the aircraft originated, the effort was massive and unprecedented. I found it a fascinating subject, a story well told- but that may be because internally I know that my father will become a bit player in the next book-an Engineer making airbases and camps for MacArthur’s command.

There are a few adult themes and some graphic stories of casualties and POW abuse, so this a book best read by Junior readers over about 13/14 years. For the Gamer/Modeler/Military Enthusiast- this book is a torrent of useful information. The aerial, Naval , or land warfare gamer gets ideas for scenarios and campaigns and mini-campaigns. There’s basic information for the Cruel Seas small boat gamer- this is the PT /Barge /Sloop theatre of the Pacific. The Victory at Sea/Fleet Wargame gamer gets Coral Sea/Santa Cruz- and a tonne of possible other fleet battles. Blood Red Skies/Aces High/WWII Aerial gamers get all the mission/scenario/campaign ideas they can handle. If you play FOW/Bolt Action/BattleGroup/WWII Miniature games, there are Marines on Guadalcanal, Aussies at Kokoda/Buna-Gona, and GIs in New Guinea too- lots of ideas for the gamer- refighting what happened- or trying other ideas to take on Fortress Rabaul. The Military Enthusiast get one of the best explanations of the Theatre -at both Macro and Micro levels- along with a great narrative timeline that show how and why things happened as they did. I think this is a fine addition the the South Pacific, Pacific Air War, Rabaul, Guadalcanal, New Guinea, Coral Sea, Naval Warfare, Macarthur, Yamamoto or IJN shelves in any WWII Library.

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