The Imperial Japanese Army: The Invincible Years, 1941–42
By Bill Yenne. 350 pp. Osprey, 2014. $29.95.
In this highly readable account, Bill Yenne compresses Japan’s six-month rampage through southeast Asia into one manageable book by presenting an overall picture rather than detailing the campaigns in Malaya/Singapore, the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies, and Burma. Carefully selecting events, with scrutiny on the command level, he weaves major personalities’ strategies and experiences into a historical and geographic con text that gives depth to his work. Yenne com piled his story entirely from English-language sources, including books on the Imperial Japanese Army and Allied operations and personalities.
The subtitle is a misnomer; it should read “The Invincible Months.” Yenne claims the IJA was unbeatable until “the start of 1943,” but the “invincible” period ended in May 1942 with victories in the Philippines and Burma. Yenne contradicts his own assertion by stating that the IJA was “stopped in its tracks” for the first time during the Kokoda battles in Papua, which began in November 1942. In reality, though, the IJA’s first defeat came more than two months earlier—in late August 1942, at the Battle of the Tenaru on Guadalcanal.
These are relatively minor substantive points, however. More disappointing is the absence of a notes section providing information about sources. In addition, the index fails to cite most of the individuals mentioned in the text—even figures who played major roles in the battles the author describes.
These reservations aside, Yenne has produced a volume that serves as a popular introduction to the IJA’s heyday. Readers seeking a more detailed account of the events of this period will want to refer to the extensive literature devoted to individual campaigns.
—William H. Bartsch, a Pacific War historian and former United Nations economist, recently completed his fourth book, Victory Fever on Guadalcanal
Originally published in the February 2015 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here.