Hell Is Upon Us: D-Day in the Pacific—June-August 1944

by Victor Brooks, Da Capo Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2005, $27.50.

Operation Forager, the seizure of the Marianas Islands by U.S. forces in 1944, was significant in the Allies’ drive toward Japan during World War II. It was the largest operation in the central Pacific at the time, and the first attempt to breach what the Japanese had designated their “absolute” defense line. The recapture of Guam, a U.S. territory taken by the Japanese at the start of the war, had tremendous symbolic importance. In addition, the combination of ground combat, the naval battle of the Philippine Sea and the U.S. Army Air Forces’ use of the islands as a base for the strategic bombing of Japan make this a truly joint story of the operation.

Despite those impressive credentials, the seizure of the Marianas has never generated the same public interest as the landings at Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Peleliu, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. For that reason alone, Hell Is Upon Us, an easy-to-read popular history of Operation Forager, is most welcome.

Because the book is based entirely on secondary sources and offers no new interpretation of the operation’s details, it has little to offer the reader who is already familiar with the Pacific War in general, and the Marianas landings in particular. For the reader who is not as well-versed, however, the author does a good job of setting the stage for Operation Forager by describing the debates that took place earlier in the war over such issues as the relative priority of the Pacific theater in light of the Allies’ Germany-first strategy; whether General Douglas MacArthur and Admiral Chester Nimitz should conduct a single, coordinated push toward Japan or be allowed to conduct separate drives; and disputes between the Army and Marine Corps over tactics, and within the Navy over the proper roles of aircraft carriers and battleships.

Hell Is Upon Us has maps of the Pacific theater and the Battle of the Philippine Sea, in addition to individual maps of each of Forager’s three major objectives: Saipan, Tinian and Guam. The maps do not always show important locations discussed in the text, but they are nevertheless a plus at a time when too many military books have no maps at all. Unfortunately the book also contains an inordinate number of misspelled words, other typos and minor, but annoying, technical errors. Many of the latter have to do with weapons of various types.

Any discussion of WWII landings in the Pacific must include a description of the important role played by the LVT (landing vehicle, tracked). The author gets off to a bad start on page 69 when he states that the initials stood for “landing vessel-tank.” A number of his comments about the use of LVTs are also misleading. Conceived as a logistical support vehicle, and used in that role in the Solomons, the LVT saw its first use as an assault vehicle at Tarawa in the Gilberts. Concerned that there would not be enough water over Tarawa’s fringing reef to allow landing craft to reach the beach, Marine commanders rounded up enough LVTs to land the initial assault waves. The author discusses this use of LVTs but makes the strange assertion that Tarawa’s planners “failed to understand how a ‘dodging tide’ could wreak havoc on landing craft scraping their bottoms on jagged coral.” It was precisely that understanding that caused the Marines to substitute LVTs for landing craft in the ship-to-shore movement.

Regarding the use of LVTs at Saipan, the author states that the landing ships, tank (LSTs) carrying the LVTs “opened their bow doors like the jaws of predators on the hunt and disgorged more than seven hundred amphibious tractors and tanks that began to circle around the mother ships in the choreography that was an island invasion.” Landing craft did circle near their transports while waiting to be called alongside to load troops, but LVTs had neither the speed nor the maneuverability to use that technique. Instead they were launched, already loaded, as close to the line of departure as possible and then formed into waves and headed for the beach. This was one of several cases where the author appears to have sacrificed accuracy for the sake of colorful wording.

Individually, these and similar errors are minor. Overall, however, they significantly reduce the value of Hell Is Upon Us for all but the casual reader.

 

Originally published in the November 2006 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here