S. Martin Shelton

Retired U.S.Navy Captain, Novelist

Archive for the tag “Pacific War”

Review – The Siege of Tsingtau

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Four Stars

The Siege of Tsingtau is a professional read. Stephenson threads the narrative with insightful analysis and precise detail that oftentimes are primarily apt for the military historian. Nonetheless, he develops with absolute clarity this little known, yet critically important, battle of World War One with long-range repercussions on the Pacific War of the 1940s.

In the early twentieth century, the Empire of Japan had no pressing quarrel with Imperial Germany. As World War One erupted in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, the quasi-military government of the Land of the Rising Sun seized a golden opportunity and on 14 August 1914 declared war on Deutschland. Japan’s goals were twofold: to counter Germany’s imperialist expansion in the Orient and to capture Germany’s vast central-Pacific empire stretching some 2,300 nautical miles across the ocean. Included were the Caroline Islands, Marshalls, Marianas, Pelews, Maloelap, and others—an area that encompassed all of Micronesia.

Within 86 days, the Imperial Japanese Army had captured Imperial Germany’s Oriental possessions and Pacific Ocean colonies, including the leased German Kiautschou Protectorate on China’s Shantung peninsula and its port city Tsingtau. The Japanese conducted their siege campaign thoroughly, professionally, and, most importantly, effectively. In fairness, the German defenders were naval infantry personnel who were outnumbered in personnel and overwhelmed in equipment and training.

The German East Asiatic Naval Squadron, which consisted of two armored cruisers, the SMS Scharnhorst and the SMS Gneisenau, and four light cruisers, escaped the Japanese naval blockade and steamed toward Germany’s colonies in Micronesia. An Imperial Japanese Navy task force, led by the battle cruiser IJN Shikshim, pursued the escaping German squadron with the ostensible goal of destroying it, thus ensuring safe passage for Allied commerce in the central Pacific.

However, when the Imperial Japanese Navy reached Germany’s Pacific Ocean possessions in the central and southern Pacific, they abandoned the pursuit and let the German squadron sail eastward towards Frederikshavn, their home port.

Japan’s victory secured and expanded its existing political and economic position in the Orient. More importantly, Japan took possession of German Micronesia and established a “Bamboo Curtain” that flanked any line of communication across the central Pacific and prevented passage through the area, all in violation of Japan’s League of Nations mandate. Shortly, the Japanese Imperial Navy began the fortification of key islands, the preliminary phase of their planned Pacific War with the Occidental colonial powers. Such bases included Saipan in the Marianas, Truk, Ponape and the Palau Islands in the Carolines, and Kwajalein, Wotje, and Jaluit in the Marshall—names all too familiar to our Greatest Generation.

FIN

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Book Review- The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945

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Rating – Five Stars

Toland presents in this superb tome a view of the Pacific War (1941-1945) that most of us have never thought about or seen. He writes in a smooth, engaging style. We are engrossed in the narrative of this page-turner. We view the details of this horrendous campaign from the Japanese perspective—it’s an eye opener incarnate. I was a young teenager on 7 December 1941, and followed the war closely in the papers, radio, and in newsreels. Finally, after all those years, I have a new perspective of the wherewithal—and it’s engaging.

In essence, the Japanese government and military convinced themselves and their public that the United States of America caused this war. Their rationale is complicated, self-deluding, and ignores their long-term ambitions of conquest.

As early as the late nineteenth century, the Japanese military had devised a scheme, dubbed the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, designed to forcefully take the rich natural resources of Southeast Asia that the home islands were deficient in—needed to make Japan a great nation. Such resources include: oil, rubber, tin, manganese, iron, silver, and a host of other items.

Following, Japan waged aggressive wars with its neighbors to implement this conquest plan: Sino-Japanese War, 1894 to 1895; Russo-Japanese War, 1904 to 1905; World War I, 1914 to 1945, Changkufeng incident with the USSR in 1938, Khalkhin Gol conflict with the USSR in 1939.

Tensions grew between Japan and the USA during the 1930s after the Kwantung Army invaded and conquered the Chinese Province Manchuria. In 1936, Japan invaded China proper. Within a few days, the Kwantung Army captured Peking, Shanghai, and other coastal cities.

In 1941 Prime Minister General Hideki Tojo told the Japanese Diet, “The Greater East Asia war is founded on the exalted ideals of the founding of our empire and it will enable all the nations and peoples of Greater East Asia to enjoy life and to establish a new order of coexistence and co-prosperity on the basis of justice with Japan as the nucleus.”

In July 1941, the Japanese Army invaded French Indochina for its many resources including rubber—the essential commodity for war. A few days later, President Roosevelt ordered all Japanese assets frozen and a complete embargo of oil and other resources. Great Britain and the Netherlands followed. These actions denied Japan her rightful place as the leader of Asia and challenged her very existence. Every day the Japanese navy consumed twelve thousand tons of irreplaceable bunker oil. With only a small reserve, Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoye said, “…the armed forces would be a helpless as a whale thrown up on the beach.”

At the military’s urging, Tojo convinced the Diet and Emperor Michinomiya Hirohito, to authorize the military to implement Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s plan to attack secretly the American fleet at anchor in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; and for the Army to launch the invasion of Hong Kong, Malaya, Singapore, Burma, Siam, the Philippines, Netherland East Indies, Guam, Wake Island, New Guinea, and Portuguese Timor.

From time to time, Toland personalizes the war, and we see the conflict from the perspective of the ordinary Japanese soldier. For example, we follow privates engaged in the Guadalcanal campaign, Tarawa, Iwo Jima, Leyte, Saipan, and Okinawa. Surprisingly, we begin to empathize with them—our pernicious enemy. Occasionally, he fails to follow through and we know not what happened to the soldier—killed, suicide, wounded, captured, survived?

I do have a few “picks to nit.” The most serious is Tolan’s diminution of the Japanese barbarous atrocities: the Bataan death march, Rape of Nanking, Death Railway in Siam, Rape of Manila, and many thousand other mistreatments of military prisoners of war and civilian captives. His Spartan coverage of these Japanese transgressions is curious—it’s almost a passing reference.

For the aficionados of the Pacific War this book is an essential reference.

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