A Senseless Sacrifice?
Jon Diamond, Hell in the Central Pacific (Pen & Sword, 2020)
There are many combat tasks that strike me as border-line lunacy. Storming ashore onto an island full of Imperial Japanese soldiers that you know will fight to the death is high on that list. In September 1944, this is what US Marines, supported by American soldiers, did on the Palau Islands, and then fought desperately for every yard against a fanatical enemy. Joe Diamond narrates that story in another of Pen & Sword’s Images of War series.
Diamond begins with the strategic considerations leading to the Palau Islands Campaign. Although a general overview, what it boils down to is that the Japanese had built airfields on the Palau Islands during their rapid expansion in the 1930s from which they bombed the Philippines, and the Americans wanted to neutralize them. Diamond moves onto what awaited the American soldiers tasked with taking the Palau Islands: Japanese defences and weapons, and the hostile environment. That combination provided the hell the Americans had arrived to subdue in September 1944. It would take them two months. Diamond turns to the forces involved and their commanders before narrating the actual assaults and subsequent fighting – the account of the fighting up Umurbrogol Mountain highlights a stunning military achievement. Diamond rounds things off with a summary of a campaign that cost 10,000 American casualties for what turned out to be a strategic waste of lives and resources.
Like all the Images of War books, Hell in the Central Pacific relies on the quality and variety of its images to create its impact. In that regard, this contribution to the series is a hit. The photographs of soldiers on the islands are undeniably dramatic and provide a real sense of what American soldiers endured. For me, the photographs of African-American SBs and two marines with a working dog stood out, but there are many other excellent images to choose from. However, there are also too many ‘context’ photos that have nothing to do with the Palau Islands campaign, and much of the strategic background section could have been pared down to extend the combat narrative, which is barely one-third of the book. Nevertheless, Diamond does a a good job of narrating the campaign and battle, and for those of us in awe of American sacrifice in the island-hopping campaign, that along with the images makes Hell in the Central Pacific a worthwhile addition to our bookshelves.