Monday, April 16, 2018

Review of The Conquering Tide: War in the Pacific Islands, 1942-1944 by Ian W. Toll (W.W. Norton, 2015)

The second installment in a trilogy that charts the Second World War in the Pacific, this book focuses on the period mid-1942 from the Guadalcanal campaign through to mid-1944 and the battle for Guam, and US strategy of island-hopping and bypassing, and the strategic blunders of the Japanese and their overstretched resources. Toll’s aim is to provide a grand narrative, detailing the key decisions and battles, some of the key personalities and inter-service rivalries, and the wider politics of the war from a US and Japanese perspective. The challenge is to balance the broad sweep of history with enough detail to give a sense of the various actions and interactions. For the most part he succeeds, providing an overarching picture of the theatre, strategies politics, and rivalries, while also describing the views and experiences of key personnel and ordinary servicemen. He also manages to balance the perspectives of the US and Japanese. While it’s an interesting and engaging read, it suffers a little from an unevenness in coverage, with some campaigns or specific experiences getting fuller treatment than others, for example the extended description of three cruises of one submarine and concentrating on the Mariana Islands approach rather than the hopping up the Solomon Islands to towards the Bismarck islands and engagements in Papua New Guinea. The ending also seemed somewhat directionless, giving a general view of Japanese society at that point of the war, but giving little sense of the Allies plans for the final phases. Overall, a decent though uneven, overarching narrative of the mid-phase of the Pacific War.

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