Gregg Adams, Japanese Infantryman versus US Marine Rifleman (Osprey, 2023)
An atoll is an almost flat, ring-shaped coral reef encircling a lagoon. There are many of them in the Pacific Ocean, but they barely trouble mapmakers. The Japanese found them useful as forward bases for air and sea operations, however, and dug elaborate defences out of almost nothing. It was up the United States Marine Corps to take these atolls, fighting yard by sandy yard. Gregg Adams highlights three American assaults on atolls to illustrate how these two determined enemies locked horns in a desperate struggle for tactical and strategic supremacy.
Adams examines the fighting on the Tarawa, Roi-Namur, and Eniwetok atolls in the Gilberts and Marshall Islands. From late 1942, the Japanese fortified these islands as part of their strategic defence. By October 1943, the US Navy was strong enough to take the offensive in the Gilbert Islands with Tarawa as the first target for a Marine landing. After that victory, they attacked the Marshall Islands in February 1944. Adams reviews the opposing sides and their doctrines. That includes US amphibious warfare, which was more complicated than it looks in the movies and newsreels! For the Japanese defenders, they had to dig in, counterattack, and sacrifice when necessary. Adams next surveys the structure of both sides; we find the US Marine Corps up against a variety of Japanese units, including civilian units that were still required to fight. Then we are into the actions on Betio Island, Tarawa Atoll; Namur Island, Kwajalein Atoll; and Engebi Island, Eniwetok Atoll. These accounts are accompanied by many photographs showing shattered palm trees and buildings, and Marines trying to make best use of whatever cover they can find under fire from the hidden Japanese. In his analysis of this peculiar combat, Adams notes that the Americans had to learn as they went from atoll to atoll, developing new weapons and tactics. The Japanese learned almost nothing, partly from believing that what they were doing would work; a misplaced optimism as it turned out. Adams highlights the plight of Japanese garrisons increasingly isolated on other atolls as the Americans swept past them on their next mission.
It somewhat boggles the mind that men were sent into combat on these heavily defended little atolls. Adams demonstrates, however, that far from being crass assaults there was planning and method behind them, and the US studied each attack before launching the next one. There were also not many options when the defenders refused to surrender. Adams is ably assisted by Osprey’s usual artwork, and the book as a whole is a satisfying and illuminating read.