Osprey's Rabaul 1943-44

Author:

Mark Lardas

Publisher/Distributor

Osprey Publishing

Price

$20.00 MSRP

Reviewer:

Scott Van Aken

Notes: 96 pages, 7 x 9 inches, softcover
ISBN: 978-1-4728-2244-4

For their second title in the new Air Campaign series, Osprey has picked a great subject, the isolation of Rabaul on New Britain. Prior to WWII, Rabaul was very much a backwater. It had a superb port at Simpson Harbor thanks to the harbor being basically a filled in volcano caldera. This made it quite deep very close to shore. However, it was not along any of the trade routes so its benefits went pretty much unused except for copra shipping.

The Japanese expansion in the first months of the Pacific War changed that. Rabaul was perfectly situated along Japanese supply lines into the Solomons and to New Guinea  from its island bases. As such, they quickly went to work to fortify this area. It included a huge number of troops and the construction of several new airbases, several of which were properly paved. It was probably the second largest bastion of the Japanese Navy aside from Truk outside the home islands.

It was also a real thorn in the side of the Allies once they began pushing back. Fresh troops for New Guinea and the Solomons as well as the supply of materiel and aircraft went through Rabaul. It was also a major staging base for the Japanese fleet.

Experiences on Guadalcanal and in New Guinea showed that getting the Japanese out of Rabaul would be extremely difficult. Even more so as the Pacific was the last place to get new equipment and troops. The decision of 'Germany first', really put the brakes on any sort of major operation to take Rabaul, so the choice was then made to isolate it. It was felt that once the airpower on Rabaul was neutralized, the area could be bombed to ineffectiveness.

So that is what was done. As the Allies slowly moved up the Solomons and New Guinea, it allowed them to provide air bases closer and closer to Rabaul. This in turn allowed a greater number of sorties with larger loads and a shorter distance back for damaged planes. However, it did not happen over night and took months to eventually accomplish.

In this book, the author has very much done his research and we are provided with both the development of plans on both sides and the forces that initially faced each other. Japan was held back by the lack of ability to get the replacements it needed, which that was not so much an issue with the Allies. Eventually, Rabaul was ringed by air bases from which the Allies could mount missions. Once all the military targets were destroyed, they concentrated on flattening the housing and even sprayed diesel fuel on the fields where the troops were trying to grow food. The book provides a superb selection of period photos as well as some great art work and maps to make what could be a rather confusing campaign, much more lucid. It is a great story of the defeat of a fortress by air power, the first time this was done in a war. It is a book that is very much worth picking up.

January 2018

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