Hell in the Central Pacific (The Palau Islands 1944)

Hell in the Central Pacific (The Palau Islands 1944)

Jon Diamond
ARRSE Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
Review by @Bubbles_Barker

Now, I confess this is much more my thing. The Images of War series has been around for a while and I think in general they do what they say on the tin – in other words they provide a photographic archive of specific campaigns or types of equipment and back it up with a generally readable commentary. While they aren’t classical military history, they are good at giving the general context and letting the photographs (some of which are quite rare) do the rest. This particular volume is nearly 250 A4 pages of black and white photos of the mainly US campaign in the Palau Islands to protect the flank of MacArthur’s planned invasion of the Southern Philippines in late 1944, written by a US kidney specialist (yes, you read that correctly) who has a number of these books to his name. So, expect the book to be overwhelmingly (and appropriately) US-oriented but to his credit there is limited mention of ANZAC forces. The Palau campaign included such appalling operations as STALEMATE II (the Battle of Peleliu), a ferocious battle fought in appalling conditions on a tiny rock atoll by the USMC and US Army against fanatical Japanese resistance (see Spielberg’s ‘The Pacific’ Episodes 5, 6 and 7). The facts of that operation are stark, planned to last for four days, it lasted two months with all but 19 of the 11,000 Japanese defenders having to be rooted out and killed. Incredibly, a platoon-sized force of Japanese remained active on Peleliu until two years after the war ended.

It's more than just that battle though and some of the photos are striking: a Japanese officer assaulting a pillbox on Bataan with a samurai sword and a flamethrower team, a memorial to Japanese Marines at Milne Bay made of human femurs, USMC with Boys AT Rifles (who knew?) and many more. There is ample description of the appalling conditions, prehistoric logistics (everything in a small box, all marines carrying three 75mm HE rounds each off the beach), African Americans being used as combat troops, use of ‘war dogs’, innovative use of halftracks and LVTs, the list is endless and of use to historians, modellers or just those with an interest in the reality of war. The tactical context descriptions are good and if you can put up with the repeated use of the adjective ‘hellacious’ easy to read.

Overall, it’s an excellent historical reference and serves as a salutary reminder of the reality of combat in the late war South Pacific – five mushroom heads.

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