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Fortress Rabaul: The Battle for the Southwest Pacific, January 1942 – April 1943 by Bruce Gamble

Bruce Gamble’s “Fortress Rabaul: The Battle for the Southwest Pacific, January 1942 – April 1943″ is a magnificent and important work on this often neglected part of World War II. Mr. Gamble has paid the price in research. The accounts he collected from participants in the campaign, the US and Australian archives, and the official records of the US, Australian, and Japanese clarify and punctuate the events.  
You experience Rabaul and New Britain through his graphic description of the topography and weather. You get a clear understand of the volcanic origins of the Rabaul and the impact the volcanoes and volcanic activity to include earthquakes have on the land and inhabitants. 
Mr. Gamble does an excellent job telling the story. I read the book in one week while on vacation. I found it that compelling and entertaining. The author does an exceptional job telling the story.  I was floored by the account of the bombing of the Komaki Maru. “The Komaki Maru shuddered under the impact of the two hits, which ignited the cargo of aviation fuel. ‘A few seconds later,’ recalled an Australian eyewitness, ‘the ship was an inferno and the roar of the flames almost drowned out the screams of the Japanese trapped aboard.’

The narrative reads with all the vigor and imagery of a novel. The chapter Medal of Honor: Lieutenant Edward H. “Butch” O’Hare reads like a Hollywood action movie. We learn the story of the man whose name graces O’Hare Airport in Chicago.  We see how his action saved the USS Lexington and won him his nations highest military honor, the Medal of Honor. We learn the story of how he interposed his fighter between his ship and an advancing enemy formation of 9 attacking twin-engine heavy bombers. We see how without hesitation, alone and unaided, he repeatedly attacked this enemy formation, at close range in the face of intense combined machine gun and cannon fire. We find out that by his gallant and courageous action, his extremely skillful marksmanship in making the most of every shot of his limited amount of ammunition that he shot down 5 enemy bombers and severely damaged a sixth before they reached the bomb release point. As a result of his gallant action—one of the most daring, if not the most daring, single action in the history of combat aviation—he undoubtedly saved his carrier from serious damage.

Other Medal of Honor stories like that of Harl Pease, Jr are include. The book is excellent. It is a must read for any military or aviation history buff. It would make a great addition to any community or university library. 

The Pritzker Military Library has an interview with the author  Bruce Gamble at: Pritzker Military Library Interview Video.


1 Comment

  1. Jimmie, one of the things which bothered me about the recently-concluded HBO miniseries “The Pacific” was its complete lack of continuity. I appreciate that they were following the storylines of several people, but the story they wound up telling wasn't about “The Pacific” – and as a result, they left out many key parts of the Pacific War, and Rabaul was a big one.My father was a part of this campaign with the Army Air Corps. I can tell you plainly that while the Japanese likely lost the war at Guadalcanal, they prolonged it at Rabaul.(Although reviewed to death by now, a couple of excellent 'classic' reviews as companion-pieces would be “Japanese Destroyer Captain” by Tamichi Hara, and “Samurai!” by Saburo Sakai).

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