Ohio History Journal

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Book Reviews

Book Reviews



Bougainville:  The Forgotten Campaign, 1943-1945.  By Harry A. Gailey.

(Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1991. vii + 237p.; maps, illustra-

tions, notes, glossary, bibliography, index. $27.00.)


On November 1, 1943, U.S. Marines landed on the west coast of Bougainville, the

largest and most northerly of the Solomon Islands. Following successes on

Guadalcanal and New Guinea, this assault opened the last phase of the campaign to

reduce Japan's base at Rabaul and oust Japan from the southwest Pacific.

Harry Gailey, a San Jose State historian, provides a thorough account of the fight-

ing on Bougainville. He puts it in the broader context of the Pacific War and allied,

mostly American, strategy, keeping the campaign in perspective. The flow of events

reduced Bougainville to a strategic "backwater" within six months, but fighting con-

tinued to August, 1945. This stemmed largely from Australian forces replacing

American troops in the fall of 1944.

American planners never intended to conquer all of Bougainville. Instead, they

sought to destroy Japan's airfields there and establish a secure perimeter. From here,

planes could attack Rabaul constantly. Initially viewed as preparation for an invasion,

these raids, along with those by carrier and other land-based planes, effectively de-

stroyed Japan's stronghold and made a landing unnecessary.

Despite problems, the early stages of the campaign went well for the Americans.

By avoiding the main concentrations of Japanese forces, they were able to establish a

beachhead and advance inland despite difficult terrain. Sites for airstrips were se-

cured, and these were operational before 1944. The Japanese did not launch a major

counterattack until March, 1944, although there was sharp fighting from the begin-

ning. By then, American control of the air and sea, coupled with vastly superior

fighting power, doomed Japanese efforts. Questionable tactics also cost the Japanese


For their remaining time on Bougainville Americans refrained from major offensive

actions, being content to keep the isolated Japanese garrisons off balance with deep

patrols. A de facto cease fire existed until the Australians arrived. Japanese troops

concentrated on raising food, being totally cut off from supplies, while the Americans

made the best of life in a difficult climate by developing extensive facilities with as

many comforts as possible.

During this lull African-American troops went into action on Bougainville. The

Army had replaced the Marines in December, and units of the black 25th Regiment

and 93rd Division arrived by early spring. One company of the 93rd panicked while

on patrol when it stumbled upon some unexpected Japanese. The incident unfairly

discredited black combat troops and brought a virtual end to their use in the Pacific.

Gailey handles this episode with balance and sensitivity, showing how too many saw

what they wished in what was basically a minor failure of green troops.

Treated as very junior partners by MacArthur, Australian Commanders decided to

take the offensive once they assumed responsibility for Bougainville. Gailey is criti-

cal of their decision to abandon the U.S. strategy, but the Aussies managed to drive

the Japanese to the tips of the island by August, 1945. This resulted in literally un-

necessary casualties on both sides. Whether these were politically or psychologically

worthwhile is not addressed directly, though Gailey feels they were not.

When dealing with the major issues and events, Gailey presents a fine narrative and