Reviewed by CAPT W.J. Ruhu, USN(Ret.)
As a summary of the Solomons Campaign of 1942-1943, this is a useful book. The references Koburger employs are also impressive. And the author’s premise that the Battle of Guadalcaoal from 11 November to IS November was the turning point in the Pacific War is possibly a good one. But why this is so is never satisfactorily explained, although Koburger says that in this battle, Admiral Yamamoto missed bis last chance to win the Mahanian decisive fleet battle-by failing to commit more than a part of his available fleet.
Why Koburger’s confusion? Having read many of the references used by Koburger, it must be assumed that he believed them implicitly and didn’t detect the basic flaw in their rationale of why the U.S., having thoroughly wargamed Plan Orange before the war-a thrust across the northern Central Pacific to relieve the (captured) Philippines with a defeat of the Japanese fleet along the way-failed to effect this U.S. grand strategy for winning the war. What is not recognized, particularly by Koburger, is that the U.S. got side-tracked into first trying to gain control of the Solomons.
It seems evident that General MacArthur threw a monkey wrench into the single, pre-war U.S. grand strategy, by getting President Roosevelt’s go-ahead for MacArthur’s “I shall return” (to the Philippines) strategy. The U.S. was thus stuck with a dual grand strategy with MacArthur’s needs to control eastern New Guinea and Guadalcanal coming first-to insure a return to the Philippines via New Guinea, the Admiralties, and the Carolines (Palau). But the Japanese were even more discomfited by having their grand strategy for winning the war thrown off the track with MacArthur’s arrival in northeast Australia in March of 1942. The Japanese timetable for seizing Papua and solidifying the lower Solomons as part of their outer perimeter defense for protecting the Southeast Asia Co-Prosperity sphere-seized at the start of the war-was thrown out of whack.
Moreover, Koburger confuses and obfuscates his arguments by adding a second premise that it was amphibious warfare (which he says had to be learned by the U.S. Navy) that created the turning point, rather than/ast carrier war. In developing his amphibious warfare or expeditionary war premise, the author says that .. submarines contributed little to the Solomons Campaign”. This statement is made despite bis notations that: U.S. submarines were used to blockade Rabaul and CincPac assigned five fleet boats for patrols off Truk; the S 38, patrolling at the bottom of St. George’s Channel on 7 ‘August, reported on a large force of Japanese warships headed for Guadalcanal; on 8 August, a day after U.S. Marines were landed on Guadalcanal, the S 38 sank the MEIYO MARU, a transport loaded with troops to reinforce the Japanese garrisons on Guadalcanal-causing the convoy commander to tum his remaining five troop transports back to Rabaul, giving the U.S. Marines on Guadalcanal the opportunity to consolidate their hold on the airfield at Lunga Roads; on 10 August the S 44 sank the heavy cruiser KAKO as it was returning to Kavieng; although no mention is made of the U.S. submarines patrolling of Savo Island, they might have caused Admiral Mikawa who, after sinking three U.S. heavy cruisers and the Australian’s CANBERRA and heavily damaging CHICAGO, made the remarkable decision to leave the scene of battle and withdraw to the north without trying to destroy the Allies’ transports offloading in the sound between Guadalcanal and Tulagi; similarly, Koburger makes no note of the paranoia generated in the minds of the Japanese commanders by the ubiquitous U.S. submarines operating in the Solomons.
On the other hand, Japanese submarine attacks on U.S. ships greatly affected the tide of battle in the Solomons Campaign: on 31 August, a Japanese submarine sank the U.S. aircraft carrier SARATOGA with four torpedoes; on 15 September WASP was sunk by two torpedoes and the battleship NORTH CAROLINA bad her bow blown off; on 26 October HORNET was sunk by four torpedoes; on 6 June YORKTOWN was sunk by four torpedoes; and finally, that in extremis submarines were used to supply beleaguered troops throughout the Solomons. In fact, submarines played a major role in the Solomons Campaign even though Koburger was apparently unaware of their overall effectiveness.
In addition to U.S. and Japanese submarines affecting the tide of battle in the Solomons, Koburger fails, in part, to recognize how the very superior Japanese torpedo, the Long Lance, gave the edge to the Japanese surface forces in their night actions against U.S. warships. The Long Lance bad five times the range, double the warhead weight, ran at three knots higher speed and was wakeless-unlike the U.S. Mk 14 torpedo used for surface and submarine attacks that was a great wake maker, had an insufficient warhead of less than 600 pounds, ran three knots slower to only 4,500 yards. The many defeats of U.S. surface forces in night engagements can be laid mainly to the superior tactics that the Japanese could employ when using this weapon.
The editing of this book is not good. Most disturbing was the mislabeling of Maps 2 and 3 and their placement in the wrong positions in the test.
But again, if the reader wants to read an orderly description of the Solomons Campaign, this book will provide a satisfactory account.