Peter Ingman, South Pacific Air War Volume 4 (Avonmore Books, 2020)
This fourth volume of Peter Ingman’s series follows the action in the South Pacific from 19 June until 8 September 1942. If that isn’t narrow enough, Ingman focuses on the fighting over New Guinea, though other areas receive inevitable mentions. The detailed narrative that ensues is enhanced by Ingman telling the story from both sides.
Ingman begins with an overview of the Allied and Japanese forces and dispositions, the general background situation, and the tactics and strategies used. What is striking here is the lack of aircraft carriers in a theatre that would become dominated by them. Ingman begins his narrative with an account of night operations, then follows that with regional operations in July. Covering the Japanese landings at Buna comes next in the itinerary, along with the Allied opposition. Ingman detours to the Solomons before returning to New Guinea and intense Allied attacks on enemy bases in early August in the run up to the landings at Tulagi and Guadalcanal. When those assaults went in, the Japanese lost many planes attempting interdiction. The Japanese also did not know about the Allied airbase at Milne Bay until early August when it was already up and running. Ingman continues to describe operations in New Guinea through August, including the attempts by the Japanese to capture the Milne Bay base. The Allies, in turn, attacked the Japanese airbase at Buna with considerably more success. By September, notes Ingman, Japanese losses had greatly reduced their fighting capability. He concludes that a period that started with Japanese optimism, despite Midway, ended with their star falling despite the heavy losses they had inflicted on Allied aircraft and crews. He adds further details of losses on both sides in his appendices.
This slim but interesting volume includes colour maps, attractive colour plates of the aircraft, and monochrome contemporary photographs. The variety of warplanes used in this theatre is eye-opening, from heavy bombers, such as the B17s, to numerous different fighters, bombers, reconnaissance aircraft, transports, and the almost ubiquitous Japanese Zeros. That is also the case for the range of missions they conducted; bombing runs on enemy bases, of course, but also attacking ships and resupply drops. Ingman’s text is formed from lots of short paragraphs strung together in a detailed blow by blow account of operations with little room for analysis. It reads like reportage at times, but that also pulls you along as the action comes thick and fast. I enjoyed reading this more than I thought I would and came away with a new appreciation for how the air war was fought in this theatre.