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Hell Is Upon Us: D-Day in the Pacific - Saipan to Guam, June-August, 1944 Paperback – 5 Jul 2007
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About the Author
Victor Brooks teaches at Villanova University and is the author of several books (available from Da Capo), including The Normandy Campaign and The Boston Campaign. He lives in Pennsylvania.
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Now let's start off with the positive, and there are plenty of good things here. Firstly, the author has a clear crisp style which keeps the reader's attention and seeks to avoid the `Regiment X advances on the left flank against Brigade Y' style of military history. Secondly, the preliminary chapters summarising the pacific war up to June 1944 are excellent, especially explaining the strategic importance of the earlier operations in the Central Pacific drive by the US Navy. In addition, the Japanese side of events is far from ignored although obviously limited by the availability of new sources.
However, for all these plus points there are a number of problems which make me loath to give it top marks. There is a slightly amateur feel to the text and the research. The astoundingly poor editing and proof reading only compounds this. There appears to be little or no original research and one is left feeling that this work is best treated as an introduction to the subject and certainly comes nowhere near to being the definitive account.
In addition to these problems, the author constantly draws some rather odd comparisons with American Civil War commanders, battles and force sizes. The author assumes that all his readers have such knowledge of the Civil War that these comparisons will provide an illumination that would otherwise be missing by just stating the numerical size of the forces. To begin with it seems a little quirky but by the end of the book it has become more than a little annoying and they add absolutely nothing to the analysis of the campaign.
In the end, this should be treated as a solid introduction to this key campaign, but serious students of history will be well advised to look elsewhere.
Brooks begins with how the plan was developed and agreed upon, as well as the various other plans that were taken into account until the Marianas plan was finally confirmed. He details all of this in the first few chapters, giving an overview of the planning as well as the forces available to both sides. He doesn't neglect the Japanese side, giving the reader much valuable information about the planning and thought processes behind the Japanese defense, how they were willing to give up certain islands with only token resistance yet there were others that were vital to Japanese interests. Brooks devotes a chapter to the prelude to the Marianas campaign: the re-taking of the Aleutian islands off the coast of Alaska and the Marshall islands as well. These are important because, left on their own, they would present a dagger poised in the side of any thrust through the Central Pacific. Thankfully, Brooks doesn't gloss over these campaigns, but he also doesn't dwell on them too much.
The meat of the book is the invasions of three islands: Saipan, Tinian, and Guam. Brooks gives us an in-depth study of these attacks, with how the Japanese were arrayed, how the Marines would land and where, and the vicious fighting between the two adversaries as they struggled for over cliffs and into caves, as well as some street fighting in the few cities that were on these islands. The American commanders always kept the carnage of Tarawa in the backs of their minds, and were definitely influenced by it. Brooks' prose is clear and relatively simple, making this an ideal book for those with an interest in military history without necessarily having the background. It's definitely not dry. Each chapter that begins one of the invasions has a fairly detailed map of the island in question, so anybody who wishes to can track the progress of the assaults as Brooks describes them. I'm glad that, unlike some history books, the maps are not all stuck at the beginning (or end) of the book. This format makes it a lot easier to follow.
The prose, while being quite easy to read, fails in some places. Brooks repeats quite a few details unnecessarily, especially when he just gave such details a few pages ago. He mentions twice how Admiral Nagumo was in charge of the carrier assault force on Pearl Harbor and how he was the darling of Japan, but then fell from grace after the battle of Midway. He constantly compares the relationship between King and Admiral Nimitz to the relationship between Grant and Sherman and that between Lee and Jackson in the Civil War. In fact, he often references the Civil War in ways that I don't understand the purpose. He says that one man was born a few years after the Civil War ended rather than just giving the date by itself. These little annoyances pop up all over the book and started to get on my nerves, a problem when I'm enjoying the information that Brooks is presenting. The editing is also shoddy, with words misspelled in a lot of places (the battle of Antietam being spelled "Antirtim" at one point).
As I said, this is Brooks' first book on the Pacific War, and thus I found interesting his surprise at the numerous Banzai charges that the Japanese used, as stated in the Afterward. While the Japanese troops were going to be overwhelmed because they could not be reinforced, they could still exact a heavy toll on the Americans. However, inevitably on the first night of each invasion, Japanese commanders would send their troops on suicidal rushes of the American lines, with the intent of throwing them into the sea. Thus, huge numbers of defenders would be dead on the first night with relatively few casualties caused to the Americans. I was familiar with all of this, but it took reading about them in quick succession as I did in Hell is Upon Us to really drive home the fact that this happened so often. It may have been the "honourable" thing to do as far as they were concerned, but militarily it was a disaster.
Hell is Upon Us is definitely worth a read for anybody with an interest in the Pacific campaign. It even gives a good overview of what is commonly known as the "Marianas Turkey Shoot," the last big carrier-vs-carrier battle that effectively wiped out the Japanese naval air fleet. The book is well-researched (though there are few notes) and Brooks makes the whole thing interesting. Just ignore some of the weird writing and find yourself becoming better informed.
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