Japan’s Pacific War – Personal Accounts of the Emperor’s Warriors, Peter Williams

Japan’s Pacific War – Personal Accounts of the Emperor’s Warriors, Peter Williams

This excellent book is the result of a series of interviews with Japanese veterans of the Second World War, carried out by an Australian author who living in Japan when he began.

Although it isn’t clear from the title, or indeed from the write-up, the focus of this book is on the experiences of Japanese servicemen who fought against the Australians. We thus get a great deal of detail on the fighting on New Guinea, which takes up about half the book, as well as sections on the intitial Japanese conquests of Malaya and Singapore and the Allied invasions of New Britain and Bougainville and the campaign in the Dutch East Indies. Leyte Gulf is included because there were some Australian ships involved, and there is also a small section on the fighting on the Philippines.  However you won’t find anything on Burma or the major American battles, and what material there is on the fighting in China generally comes as comments on how much easier the fighting had been there compared to against the Australians.

This isn’t really the sort of book that you can ‘review’ in the normal way. What these men said is what they believed, so all one can really do is comment on it. The value comes from those opinions, which give us a valuable insight into the experiences of the Japanese soldiers, airmen and sailors during the war.

These accounts have some things in common with their German equivalents. One common theme in both cases is that they only lost because their opponents were more numerous, better armed, and better equipped, forgetting that most of the early Japanese conquests were achieved for very similar reasons! They also tend to be more hostile to the Americans, who many blame for forcing Japan into the war (mostly ignoring their invasion of China), in the same way that many German accounts are more hostile to the British than the Americans, again because German propaganda tended to blame Britain for turning the invasion of Poland into a wider war, and for refusing to admit defeat in 1940. We get very different attitudes to the Allied fighting style, with some acknowledging that the Allied approach was a perfectly acceptable way to use their superior resources, and others seeming to think that the Allies were somehow cheating by not fighting like the Japanese had expected. One even critisised the Australians for not making enough use of the mass infantry charge, claiming that it would have been a quicker way to win, rather ignoring the failure of just about every Japanese infantry charge from Guadalcanal onwards!  

One almost constant theme from the army veterans is that the Japanese supply chain was utterly inadequate, often leaving them almost starving, even as early as the retreat along the Kokoda Trail, when Japanese was still largely on the offensive. During the long series of defensive battles in New Guinea the situation got even worse, and there are eyewitness accounts of cannibalism.

1 – Malaya, Singapore and the Dutch East Indies 1941-42
2 – Rabual 1942
3 – Darwin, the Arafura Sea and Timor 1942-43
4 – Kokoda – the Japanese advance 1942
5 – Milne Bay 1942
6 – Kokoda – the Japanese retreat 1942
7 – The Battle of Buna 1942-43
8 – Escape from Buna 1943
9 – Air Combat – New Guinea and the Solomon Islands 1942-43
10 – Wau and Salamaua 1943
11 – Lau 1943
12 – Finschhafen 1943
13 – Shaggy Ridge 1943-44
14 – The Cowra Prisoner of War Breakout 1944
15 – The Battle of Leyte Gulf 1944
16 – Wewak 1944-45
17 – New Britain 1944-45
18 – Bougainville 1944-45
19 – Tarakan 1945
20 – Philippines, Borneo and the Dutch East Indies 1944-45
21 – The End of the War 1945
22 – The Surrender in New Guinea
23 – Prisoners of the Australians
24 – After the War
25 – Reflections
Appendix A: Life in the Imperial Japanese Navy
Appendix B: Aircraft and Air Tactics

Author: Peter Williams
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 248
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2021

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