Target: Rabaul the Allied siege of Japan’s most infamous stronghold, March 1943–August 1945
Target: Rabaul the Allied siege of Japan’s most infamous stronghold, March 1943–August 1945, Bruce Gamble, 2013 , ISBN 978-0-7603-4407-1, 390 pp.
This is Bruce Gamble’s final book in the Rabaul battle trilogy and shows well his 15 years of research as well as his deep understanding of its complex history. Without Gamble’s work it is entirely possible this significant and incredibly long battle would be largely forgotten to most.
As Gamble writes, Rabaul is World War II’s longest battle if one does not compare it to the Battle of the Atlantic (which ranged over thousands of miles). Regardless, Rabaul became a lynchpin in Japan’s strategy to conquer the southwest Pacific as well as isolating Australia and New Zealand. The battle for Rabaul raged 44 months from 4 January 1942 until 15 August 1945 (though the Japanese naval base was neutralized by February 1944 and the air war had become decidedly one-sided in favor of the Allies).
Gamble has the facts, to be sure he includes plentiful stories of combat actions (both heroic and tragic and on both sides), but also gives the reader an understanding of the personalities who influenced the decisions, therefore the course of events.
Rabaul was the most heavily defended Japanese position outside of Japan’s home islands. Gamble goes into detail describing the activities and weapons of the over 100,000 man garrison. He also mentions oft untold facets such as the unexplained fates of nearly 15,000 Japanese civilians on Rabaul (businessmen and their families who set up businesses in the recently occupied city of Rabaul). Gamble also completely describes the experiences of the captured Allied combatants as well as civilians (including Germans, surprisingly). Many of their fates are known but the vast majority (thousands) simply disappeared with hardly a war crime indictment. The cruelty and starvation visited upon these prisoners is difficult to comprehend but Gamble describes their experiences well – so well that the reader may soon feel the grime and the lice on their skin. Another facet is the often overlooked, by other authors, is the foray by the U.S. Navy into drone warfare with the Interstate TDR-1.
Gamble also tells the tale of a variety of combat experiences so well that the roar and vibrations of the immensely powerful aircraft engines are nearly palpable. Raids by B-25 Mitchell gunships (General Kenney led the effort which developed A-20 Havocs and B-25 Mitchells to become ship killers by skip bombing and strafers with eight fixed forward firing heavy machine guns) are described and Gamble has the reader almost feeling the terror experienced by the Japanese as waves of strafers raked airfields from stem to stern with tens of thousands of bullets expended during each wave as well as several hundreds of parafrag clusters.
Aside from personality descriptions, Gamble also literalizes important meetings as well as moments – it is not surprising to learn that many strategic decisions, where thousands of lives hung in the balance, were decided in an atmosphere of personality clashes (to be polite). Gamble’s description of political maneuvering, and how surprising successful it was, during a visit to Washington D.C. is enlightening regarding how understanding the personalities of your superiors is as important as understanding your enemy.
This is the concluding book in Gamble’s Rabaul trilogy and is a summation of the events which reduced Japan’s greatest stronghold to waste – it also encapsulated the human suffering, sacrifice and heroism experienced daily by thousands for those 44 long months.
As is the publishing business custom, Zenith Press and On-line Bookstore provided a copy of this book for an objective review.
The first book of Bruce Gambles trilogy addresses the defense and surrender of Rabaul and is, Invasion Rabaul: the epic story of Lark Force, the Forgotten Garrison, January–July 1942. It is published by Zenith Press and On-line Bookstore.
The second book of Gamble’s Rabaul trilogy is, Fortress Rabaul: the Battle for the Southwest Pacific, January 1942–April 1943, which address the Allied seizure of the initiative to isolate then eliminate the Japanese garrison there. It is published by Zenith Press and On-line Bookstore and the review of this book can be found here.