Rabaul – most people do not know where this is, but many American airmen and sailors who served in the Southwest Pacific during World War II know the name all too well. During World War II, Rabaul was a major base for the Japanese – mainly for airplanes, but also for ships because of its excellent harbor. Bruce Gamble explores the battles that were fought over and around Rabaul in his book entitled Fortress Rabaul: The Battle for the Southwest Pacific, January 1942-April 1943.
This book is the first of two volumes covering the battle for Rabaul and covers from January 1942 (when Japan attacked and seized Rabaul) to April 1943 (when Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was killed when his plane was shot down by American fighters).
As portrayed in the book, soon after the Japanese seizure of Rabaul from the Australians, the base came under air attack from the Australians at first and then the Americans as well. These first attacks were made in extremely small numbers (three or four bombers) and by inferior aircraft (initially the Australians did not have any fighters or bombers that were designed as such – they used planes modified as fighters and bombers). However, as the Americans increased their forces in the Pacific, the Allies gained the upper hand.
Gamble writes good history and a good story. His writing contains a lot of information (the history part), but reads like a novel. He includes several fascinating stories of the men who fought and died over Rabaul – these stories include Americans, Australians, and Japanese. I particularly like the chapters on the three recipients of the U.S. Medal of Honor that were awarded to three American airmen.
One other point I want to make is a little one, but I think one that is important. Gamble clarifies the results of attacks made by either the Allies or the Japanese. He first discusses the results of the attack as described by the attacker and then checks those results against post war documents and writes what the defenders claimed as casualties. For example, the Japanese claimed on an attack against the USS Lexington task force that they had shot down ten American planes, severely damaged the Lexington, and sunk a cruiser. However, Gamble specifies that the Americans actually lost two planes and no damage to any ships. This type of analysis is great because it puts the accounts of the participants into perspective.
Based on the quality of this book, I look forward to reading the second volume about this battle.