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War in the Pacific

Volumes 1 and 2


Peter Harmsen

Newport, NSW: Big Sky Publishing, 2021- 2022


Reviewer:  Neville Taylor, August 2023


The War in the Pacific series (a third volume is forthcoming) presents detailed accounts of the belligerent Japanese stance in China and Southeast Asia since the 1905 conflict with Russia and its occupation of southern Sakhalin Island, Manchuria. Events are cleverly intertwined with the politics and events in the Western Hemisphere with appropriate thoughts and comments by principal players of all sides.

Both volumes contain relevant maps of the utmost clarity, comprehensive Endnotes, Bibliography, Index, and a generous collection of black and white photographs. a Glossary and Abbreviations. Harmsen’s grasp of prose and his precise use of words enables his reader to absorb an incredible insight into events in a very short time.


Volume 1: Storm Approaching 1931 - 1941

2021    Paperback   272pp    RRP $32.99


Harmsen takes us back almost two millennia to the initial animosity between Japan and China. A brief history, including their differing approach to the inevitable intrusion of Western explorers, merchants, missionaries and their isolation policies, sets the scene for the decade prior to World War II.

Japan was determined to exert its influence, initially in China, then throughout Southeast Asia and the western Pacific. Incrementally it captured key Chinese cities until 1937 without actually declaring war until late in that year. 1938 saw Japan suffer its first defeat by Chinese forces assisted by Russian aircraft.

Japan had very early chosen to ignore the treaty limiting is naval build-up and embarked on a program of building both battleships and carriers, whilst obtaining a foothold in Indochina in July 1941. In January 1941 the US Ambassador to Japan was tipped off about a possible Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour.

The final chapter describes in detail the actual 7 December attack in the Western Pacific as well as the Japanese landings on the Malay Peninsula and bombing of Clark airfield in the Philippines.

Volume 2: Formidable Foe 1942 - 1943

2022   Paperback   272pp    RRP $32.99


The reader is immediately catapulted into the events off the Malayan Peninsula when HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales rushed out of Singapore without any air cover and were promptly sunk in the space of one hour on 10 December 1941 by Japanese torpedo bombers.

Hong Kong and the islands of Guam and Wake were the next to fall to the rampaging Japanese forces. The resource-rich Netherlands East Indies was the next Japanese objective, with eastern expansion as far as Rabaul with a view to launching air strikes from the New Britain island. By 15th February Singapore, Britain’s ‘fortress’, was in Japanese hands with tens of thousands of Allied combatants becoming prisoners of war. Despite some successes in air battles, the Allies were still at the mercy of the Japanese, with the Philippines falling on 6th May. The Japanese even envisaged using a naval base in Ceylon, destroying Britain’s Eastern Fleet and linking with Rommel’s Afrika Korps.

In April 1942 US planes bombed various cities in Japan to show the Japanese they were not unreachable. From January to May the Japanese invaded Burma through Thailand. In May the Japanese attempted to invade Port Moresby by sea from Rabaul, but they were met in the Coral Sea in a battle fought between carrier-based aircraft. There was no victor, and the Japanese returned to Rabaul. A month later the Battle of Midway saw the Japanese lose four carriers and 322 aircraft whilst the US lost the carrier USS Lexington. Six months after Pearl Harbour and the Japanese were in defensive mode as they could not replace their losses and the US had gained air supremacy.

Striking north in the Pacific, on 7 August the US landed on Guadalcanal in the Solomons. It was a savage battle for Henderson Field, its vital airstrip. Finally, on 4 January, the Japanese executed an undetected night withdrawal. Over two weeks at the end of August, the Japanese army suffered its first defeat when they tried to secure the airstrips at Milne Bay. After seeing the lights of Port Moresby, with no food and little ammunition, the Japanese withdrew back along the Kokoda Track with Kokoda being recaptured by the Australians on 2nd November.

Japan attempted to reinforce Lae with almost 7000 troops in a convoy from Rabaul in March 1943. It was totally destroyed by US carrier aircraft in the Battle of the Coral Sea. The Japanese had captured two of the Aleutian Islands – the only US soil occupied in the War. A fortnight-long battle in May saw the US recapture Attu and Kriska Islands. Again, the Japanese tried to reinforce Rabaul with a convoy of ten cruisers and eight destroyers. On 4th November, a two-carrier US group sank six of the cruisers, two destroyers and destroyed 25 aircraft. Later that month, the US successfully invaded Tarawa Island in the Gilbert Islands held by 2600 Japanese.

With commitments over such a massive part of Asia and the Pacific, the Japanese were forced to use the minimum-sized force in each theatre. While they struggled for resources and had limited manufacturing capacity, they then lost the ability to resupply their forces that were often only sustained by their determination to never be captured.



The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.

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