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John J Domagalski
Famously the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in 7th December 1941 severely damaged the US Pacific Fleet. 1,500 or so miles to the West, the less capable Asiatic fleet – based in the Philippines – remained intact but terribly vulnerable, as its Manilla base was within 300 miles of Japanese occupied Formosa (now Taiwan). While the Philippines themselves were of little strategic value, having nothing in the way of raw materials, they lie between Japan and the Dutch East Indies and thus any US or Allied Forces on them posed a potential threat to (future) Japanese lines of communication.

Comprising some 7,000 islands, the Philippines are a naval challenge – with a heavy accent on the littoral. Thus, shortly before the attack at Pearl Harbour, it became the destination for Torpedo Boat Squadron 3, equipped with six PT boats commanded by Lieutenant John D. Buckley USN. This book is the story of the American retreat from the Philippines, seen through his part in the battle. Given the air threat, vividly demonstrated by the Royal Navy’s loss of HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse, the US Navy withdrew all its surface ships, other than Buckley’s PT boats.

The book covers the development of the new (to the US Navy) concept of PT boat operations and then details some of Buckley’s actions, culminating with the remnants of his squadron conveying General MacArthur from the fortress of Corriegor on the first 500 mile stage of his evacuation to Australia (for which Buckley received the Congressional Medal of Honour. By way of context it also provides a straightforward narrative of the actions which led to the retreat to Battan and final surrender. The author deftly avoids being sucked into the controversy of MacArthur – but does make some telling points about “Dugout Dug.” He also goes some way into describing the pressures on a junior officer who has become the de facto commander of the entire surface fleet defending the Philippines and, where possible, provides cogent analysis of their impact. So far so good.

In the American way almost any person is introduced with a paragraph on their home town, state, education and parent’s occupations. This becomes a little wearing – particularly for the bit part players. His choice of adjectives is hyperbolic and frequently melodramatic and he has an unfortunate affection for the passive form. There are plenty of maps, but for reasons that defy comprehension they are not to scale and by no means every location mentioned in the text is marked on the maps.

While these faults detract from the reading pleasure, this is an excellent and original account of a disastrous campaign. Furthermore, Buckley’s fortitude in bringing a new weapon into contact with a superior enemy with inadequate logistic support is inspiring and should be more widely known. Read it.

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