Gregg Adams, US Marine versus Japanese Soldier (Osprey, 2024)
In just three months, between 15 June and 15 September 1944, US Marines launched three amphibious assaults on the Japanese held Mariana islands in the Pacific Ocean. The combat was brutal and fought mainly between infantrymen, sometimes hand-to-hand. Gregg Adams surveys those soldiers on both sides of the bayonet and has a fascinating story to tell.
Adams begins by describing the organisation and equipment of the US Marine Corps. The Corps underwent a thorough reorganisation before the Marianas campaign, though on the ground that made little difference to Marines who considered themselves elite. That was helped by their having greater firepower at squad level than the Japanese and every Marine knew how to fight. Adams also describes the Japanese organisation in some detail down to the battalions with the unenviable task of defending the islands in the Marianas. Moving on to doctrine and tactics, Adams considers the development and application of US amphibious warfare, which in WWII was a constant work-in-progress. That included naval bombardment, aspects of pre-landing demolition, and command and communications. Japanese defensive doctrine had dictated trying to defeat the enemy at the beach, including counter-attacks, but in Summer 1944 that prudently changed to defence in depth tactics with limited counter-attacks. The result either way was total destruction of the Japanese forces, though the cost to the Marines was always high.
Turning to his case studies, Adams narrates the assaults on Saipan, Guam, and Peleliu. He provides the background to the battles, the forces involved, and an account of the fighting for each one. These were hard fought battles with the Japanese using the numerous caves in the coral to their advantage, and the Marines struggling to grab a foothold on the islands. Once they did, the battles were attritive in nature with Marines winkling out dug-in Japanese defenders. Nowhere was this tactic more difficult than on Peleliu where the Marines suffered staggering casualties as they inched forward, but the Japanese still wore down in an ultimately one-sided fight. Perhaps the futility of the Japanese efforts is best described by one source on Guam where counter-attacking Japanese soldiers resorted to kicking and pounding on Marine tanks, such was their desperation.
Adams concludes that these assaults in the Mariana Islands ‘validated US amphibious doctrine’, though they still had many lessons to learn, particularly concerning how to overcome Japanese defensive positions. For the Japanese, Adams highlights deficiencies in artillery, a lack of infantry, and often suicidal counter-attacks. The change to defence-in-depth tactics proved somewhat more effective at Peleliu and later island defensive actions. Adams closes with a note on the consequences of the US capture of Saipan, which was a turning point in the Pacific War.
Some Osprey books read like chapters in larger works, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In this case, US Marine versus Japanese Soldier builds on Adams’ previous volume in the Combat series and other Osprey books on the Pacific Campaign, and as you collect these books, as so many do, they create a mosaic effect covering different aspects of the conflict. In effect, as a student, you can choose your own reading path towards understanding the whole campaign. However, US Marine versus Japanese Soldier is also a self-contained volume covering all the aspects you need to know about how these men executed and defended against amphibious assaults. Adams doesn’t take his story much further than the beaches, but there are other more targeted Osprey books for that. Adams’ engaging and informative text is well supported by Osprey’s usual quality artwork and photograph selection, which military history readers will undoubtedly enjoy.