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

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While the Pacific War has been widely studied by military historians and venerated in

popular culture through movies and other media, the fighting in the South Pacific theater has, with few exceptions, been remarkably neglected. Worthy of remembrance no less than Wake Island, Leyte Gulf, and Tarawa are the great unsung battlefields of Buna, Shaggy Ridge, and the Driniumor River on New Guinea, as well as the torpedo-infested waters off New ...

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

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While the Pacific War has been widely studied by military historians and venerated in

popular culture through movies and other media, the fighting in the South Pacific theater has, with few exceptions, been remarkably neglected. Worthy of remembrance no less than Wake Island, Leyte Gulf, and Tarawa are the great unsung battlefields of Buna, Shaggy Ridge, and the Driniumor River on New Guinea, as well as the torpedo-infested waters off New Georgia; and the deadly skies over Rabaul and Wewak.

Authoritative, yet written in a highly readable narrative style, South Pacific Cauldron is the first complete history embracing all land, sea and air operations in this critically important sector of that oceanic war. Unlike most other World War II accounts, this work covers the South Pacific operations in detail, including the little-known final Australian campaigns that continued until the Japanese surrender.

Author Alan Rems breathes life into the major figures of the South Pacific campaigns, 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 others that will be mostly new to readers, including many from the Japanese side, like the 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 some were awarded the Medal of Honor, Victoria Cross, and other decorations for valor.

South Pacific Cauldron's story is enhanced with 16 maps and 40 photographs, many rarely seen, that were carefully chosen from official American and Australian sources. The book includes a detailed chronology to put the widely separated operations in context and a detailed bibliography for additional reading on the subject.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"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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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781612514710
  • Publisher: Naval Institute Press
  • Publication date: 5/15/2014
  • Pages: 312
  • Sales rank: 150,070
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Alan Rems, a retired CPA, has been a regular contributor to Naval History magazine since his first writing effort that earned the U.S. Naval Institute's 2008 Author of the Year award. He lives with his wife, a retired newspaper managing editor, in Centreville, Virginia.
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Read an Excerpt

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.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations and Maps



List of Abbreviations


Chapter One: "The Hottest Potato"

Chapter Two: "I Want You to Take Buna, or Not Come Back Alive"

Chapter Three: "There Was Indeed Only One Yamamoto"

Chapter Four: "The Most Unintelligently Waged Land Campaign"

Chapter Five: "A Custody Receipt for Munda . . . Keep 'Em Dying"

Chapter Six: "Lae and Salamaua Must Be Defended to the Death"

Chapter Seven: "Prevent Your Troops Engaging My Troops"

Chapter Eight: "The Weakness of Trying to Fight Battles from a Distance"

Chapter Nine: "It's Torokina. Now Get on Your Horses!"

Chapter Ten: "Halsey Knows the Straight Story"

Chapter Eleven: "Make Sure They Think the Invasion Has Commenced"

Chapter Twelve: "Guadalcanal--Minus Most of the Errors"

Chapter Thirteen: "The Final Outcome . . . Was Never in Doubt"

Chapter Fourteen: "The Most Desperate Emergency"

Chapter Fifteen: "The Closest Thing to a Living Hell"

Chapter Sixteen: "A Shop in the Japs' Front Yard"

Chapter Seventeen: "More Nerve-Racking Than . . . Tobruk or El Alamein"

Chapter Eighteen: "Nature Proved to Be a Worse Enemy Than the Japanese"

Chapter Nineteen: "Keep Rabaul Burning!"

Chapter Twenty: "The Worst-Kept Secret of the War in the South Pacific"

Chapter Twenty-One: "But for the Stern Resistance . . . of the XIV Corps"

Chapter Twenty-Two: "They Wanted to Fight"

Chapter Twenty-Three: "The South Pacific Campaign Was Finished"

Chapter Twenty-Four: "Kicking Around a Corpse"

Chapter Twenty-Five: "The Japanese Could Die Where They Were or Die Advancing"

Chapter Twenty-Six: "Doubtful That He Checked with the Ordinary Foot Soldier"

Chapter Twenty-Seven: "No Enemy Can Withstand You"

Chapter Twenty-Eight: "Japan Man 'E Cry Enough"

Chapter Twenty-Nine: "Once It Was Over It Was Over"




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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2014

    This is a masterfully researched account of little-known battles

    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.

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