South Pacific Cauldron: World War II's Great Forgotten Battlegrounds

South Pacific Cauldron: World War II's Great Forgotten Battlegrounds

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by Alan Rems

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The war in the South Pacific in its entirety has remained remarkably neglected by historians. This is the first comprehensive narrative history covering all land, sea and air operations in the theater to the end of World War II.

While Guadalcanal is familiar to most Americans and the Kokoda Trail is well known to Australians, the war in the South Pacific


The war in the South Pacific in its entirety has remained remarkably neglected by historians. This is the first comprehensive narrative history covering all land, sea and air operations in the theater to the end of World War II.

While Guadalcanal is familiar to most Americans and the Kokoda Trail is well known to Australians, the war in the South Pacific includes many now forgotten operations that deserve to be well remembered. Also, significantly, the official Australian history of World War II correctly observed that Australia’s part in the Pacific war is barely mentioned in American histories. This volume finally brings the major Australian contribution to the fore, recognizing too the valuable part played by New Zealand forces in the Solomons campaign.

The dramatis personae could hardly be improved upon, including brilliant and imperious General Douglas MacArthur, audacious and profane Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, and bibulous and indelicate Australian General Thomas Blamey. No less interesting are many others that will be mostly new to readers, many from the Japanese side, including indomitable generals Noboru Sasaki and Hatazo Adachi. As for the fighting men, many of their stories are captured in accounts of the actions for which they were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, Victoria Cross, and other decorations for valor.

Three chapters are of special interest. Based on the author’s archival research, Chapter 10 tells through confidential correspondence the remarkable story of the death of the top Marine general in the Pacific and its cover-up sanctioned by Halsey. Chapter 23 concerns the first African-American ground troops in combat and tells how the performance of one company on Bougainville resulted in a reversal of that policy. Chapter 26 involves Blamey’s questionable decision to eradicate the isolated Japanese forces, forcing his Australian militia to risk their lives knowing their sacrifices could make no difference in the outcome of the war.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Rems often offers critical analysis of the decisions made by these and other officers, and readers will find particularly interesting questions he raises about the necessity of a number of operations, such as Bougainville or the continuation of major operations in the theatre after the fall of the Philippines, which he concludes were not only ill-conceived, but a waste of time, materiel, and most tragically men. South Pacific Cauldron is an important contribution to the literature of the Pacific War.”—Strategy

“Seventy years after the end of World War 2, Australian policy emphasises the South Pacific’s crucial role in Australia’s national security. Supporting Australian policy, the ADF’s forthcoming enhanced amphibious capability is intended for employment in the South Pacific and the wider region. This employment is initially focused on security, stabilisation, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief tasks. South Pacific Cauldron provides members of the ADF with historical context for operations in the South Pacific, including the utility of amphibious operations.”—Australian Defence Force Journal

“Readers already familiar with the war in the Pacific and newcomers alike will find this a great one-volume condensation of the South Pacific campaign. Rems explains the operations lucidly, giving clear and concise accounts of both friendly and enemy activities. His evaluations of the commanders on both sides and their principal lieutenants are frank but balanced. The controversies between allies and even between branches of service are carefully dissected and explained. This well-rounded presentation is an excellent book that no CAMP member should fail to read.”- Journal of America’s Military Past

“Award-winning author Alan Rems brilliantly tells of the ground, naval, and air campaigns against the Japanese during World War II, from 1942 to 1945, in the South Pacific, a region long overlooked by public interest but equally as important as the more famous battles in the Central Pacific. Rems offers both the big picture and the foxhole view of bloody warfare in the jungles and mountains.... ”— Military Officer

“Alan Rems adds breadth and context to our understanding of World War II’s South Pacific campaigns in an accessible, highly readable and well-packaged book that is especially timely given the approach of the 70th anniversary of VJ (Victory over Japan) Day.”—Military Review

“Rems has produced a remarkably well-written work on the hard-won victories achieved by the Allies in the South Pacific. South Pacific Cauldron is a fitting tribute to the men who fought and died in an often overlooked theater of World War II. As such, it is a welcome addition to our knowledge of World War II in the Pacific Theater.” --On Point: The Journal of Army History

"This is an old-fashioned military history with hard-bitten commanders, heroism, and small-unit engagements. The overall hero is Admiral William F. Halsey, whose performance Rems considers 'brilliant.' The author provides a valuable service in presenting an overview of the South Pacific campaign in one compact volume."--CHOICE: Current Reviews for Academy Libraries

"Written in a narrative style accessible to readers of all backgrounds, South Pacific Cauldron is a complete history of all World War II battles and conflicts that took place in the South Pacific Cauldron region, including numerous little-known operations such as the final Australian campaign. A handful of black-and-white maps and photographs as well as notes, a bibliography, and an index round out this invaluable contribution to military and world history shelves."- The Midwest Book Review

“For decades the history of the Guadalcanal campaign has dominated the South Pacific literature available to new generations of readers. But there was much more to the fighting in that area, as Alan Rems demonstrates in this well-researched history of a major theater of World War II. The fighting against a determined Japanese enemy was complicated by the command issues involving not only American interservice cooperation, but also those with Allies, notably Australia. Air and sea power were valuable contributors to the capture of island after island and to eventual victory.”—Paul Stillwell, naval historian and author of The Golden Thirteen: Reflections of the First Black Naval Officers and Submarine Stories: Recollections from the Diesel Boats

South Pacific Cauldron is a first-rate account of the brutal and important fighting that occurred in the Solomon Islands and New Guinea during World War II. By examining the campaign from the American, Australian, and Japanese perspectives, Alan Rems provides military history buffs with a fine starting point for the overlooked military operations in one of the world’s most hostile environments.”—Stephen R. Taaffe, author of Marshall and His Generals: U.S. Army Commanders in World War II and MacArthur's Jungle War: The 1944 New Guinea Campaign

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From the Preface

Nearly forty years ago, Guadalcanal veteran and author James Jones lamented how little was remembered about the World War II battlefields of the South Pacific. He wrote, “Almost all of them names people in the United States never heard of.” The same could likely have been said about how much was remembered by Australians and New Zealanders, whose nations fought there alongside America. Since Jones’ lament, the situation can only have worsened with the deaths of most who served there.

Even the setting is largely forgotten. The words “South Pacific,” for most, evoke only the fictional island paradise on which Rodgers and Hammerstein set their musical adaptation of James Michener’s tales. But there were few “enchanted evenings” in the very different South Pacific region—Melanesia— that we speak of here. Encompassing the Solomon Islands, the eastern half of New Guinea, and the waters and lands of the Solomon and Bismarck seas in between, this region contained some of the worst terrain and weather of all World War II combat zones. With towering mountains; treacherous razorback ridges; dense, disease-ridden jungles; great miasmal swamps; infernal heat and humidity; and torrential rainfall, the environment there was challenging enough without the dangers of battle.

From that war zone, one battlefield, Guadalcanal, has remained etched in American memory as a symbol of courage and endurance. Australians and New Zealanders might remember, too, the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Kokoda Trail, fought when their nations were under dire threat of invasion from Japan.

After these 1942 battles, the Allies went on the offensive and the character of the war in the South Pacific changed. Beachheads were obtained on large islands at relatively low cost, and terrain, weather, and supply difficulties often slowed advances more than the Japanese did. It was slow, hardscrabble fighting, hardly material for dazzling war reporting, and what public attention remained was mostly absorbed by the more spectacular Central Pacific offensive that started in November 1943 with Tarawa. Except for those at home with ties to men whose lives were invested there, the war in the South Pacific was eminently forgettable. But for those who were there it was The War. And its result influenced the outcome of World War II no less than El Alamein, Kursk, Anzio, Normandy, and Iwo Jima did.

James Jones commented about the war in the South Pacific in 1943: “They had a year of battles, fought without any great victories to stimulate troop morale. . . . Short, sharp, costly fights, each of them, which got scant publicity at home.” His observation about publicity was correct, but Jones’ mordant view about what was accomplished was not. In just nine months, the Allies wrested control of the South Pacific from the Japanese, neutralizing their great base of Rabaul and opening the way to the Philippines and the heart of the Japanese Empire.

Meet the Author

Retired CPA Alan Rems has been a regular contributor to Naval History magazine since his first attempt earned him the U.S. Naval Institute’s 2008 Author of the Year award. Responding to veteran complaints in the literature that the war in the South Pacific is little known, Rems has written the first complete history of World War II there. Alan and his wife Janet, a retired newspaper editor, live in Centreville, Virginia.

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South Pacific Cauldron: World War II's Great Forgotten Battlegrounds 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a masterfully researched account of little-known battles.  It follows American, Australian, New Zealander, and Japanese leaders and their forces in full-bodied accounts.