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Invasion Rabaul — MORITURI VOS SALUTAMAS

17 April 2014

Invasion Rabaul — MORITURI VOS SALUTAMAS

Invasion Rabaul: the epic story of Lark Force, the forgotten garrison, January–July 1942, Bruce Gamble, 2006, ISBN 978-0-7603-4591-7, 304 pp.

Invasion Rabaul: the epic story of Lark Force, the forgotten garrison, January–July 1942 by Bruce Gamble with cover design by Kent Jenson

Invasion Rabaul: the epic story of Lark Force, the forgotten garrison, January–July 1942 by Bruce Gamble with cover design by Kent Jenson

Gamble’s first of a trilogy of books is enlightening for the history that has largely been forgotten and it is superbly done. The invasion of Rabaul by the Japanese early in the Pacific theater of war during World War II was an immense, and embarrassing, disaster handed to the Australian military. Caught without sufficient men or machines the personnel of Lark Force (the name given to the  1400 service men, as well as 6 nurses, assigned to defend Rabaul) these Aussies never stood a chance. But it is what their leaders in Canberra did which is why this portion of history has been largely swept under the carpet. Incredibly, Lark Force was written off by their high command well before the Imperial Japanese Navy appeared on Rabaul’s horizon. Lark Force could have been evacuated, could have even been told, could have had better aircraft (they had 10 Wirraways [AT-6 Texans] and 4 Hudsons) as well as more heavy guns of which they had a scant handful — but their leaders safe in their homeland’s capital decided to betray their trust instead. Gamble quotes these Canberra men as stating that Lark Force would  be consigned (i.e., written off) as “hostages of fortune” — simply incredulous.

Why? That remains unexplained but Gamble tells the tale of Rabaul’s invasion and Lark Force’s hasty defense as well as elements of Lark Force (who had to quickly dissolve into the jungle to evade and escape) — a tale Aussie’s can be justifiably proud. Gamble understands the complexities of the strategies, personalities and culture — explaining it well with the a flowing yet efficient writing style.

Readers will learn of the combats and tactics employed as well as the machines and even a bit of geology. Those are the bricks. Readers also learn so much about many of the individuals involved. This is the mortar that fills in the spaces between the bricks making the story a solid and sound structure. Gamble excels in this ability.

Gamble’s research also found dark and light sides of human nature which occurred in this portion of the battle for Rabaul — as well as heroism and tragedy:

  • The sinking of the Montevideo Maru with tremendous loss of Allied POW lives by the USS Sturgeon
  • Massacres as well as avoidable death of POWs by disease and starvation at the hands of their Japanese captors
  • The fate of William Arthur Gullidge, Australia’s world famed big band composer (recall it was music’s Big Band Era at the time)
  • One characteristic which define Aussie service men from other armies
  • The endurance of persons under conditions of extreme exposure and unremitting danger

One statement sums up Lark Force’s situation as well as their spirit. Gamble researched the quote sent by Squadron Leader John Lerew when the invasion was imminent, realizing the jig was up, and they were left to be lost without preparation for a proper fight — yet fight they would and there would be no doubt of that. He asked Flight Lt. Geoffrey Lempriere to write, in Latin, for a transmission which had to sent in the clear to give a situation report back to Canberra. The terse three word statement read, “Morituri vos salutamas” — the traditional Roman gladiatorial salute to Caesar, “We who are about  to die salute you.”

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Note: this book was originally published as Darkest Hour: the true story of Lark Force at Rabaul — Australia’s worst military disaster of World War II

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.

The third book of Bruce Gamble’s Rabaul trilogy is, Target: Rabaul the Allied siege of Japan’s most infamous stronghold, March 1943–August 1945, which sums 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. It, too, is published by Zenith Press and On-line Bookstore and the review of this book can be found here.

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