Monday, July 15, 2013

Book Review - Bloody Buna

A few weeks ago I saw something that caught my interest in a big way. It was the announcement that the Flames of War folks would be releasing Pacific War rules and a supporting line of figures, beginning with Japanese infantry in late July. From what I have seen, FoW doesn't interest me in the slightest, but the figures they put out are very good, and when they do a range they tend to be ridiculously extensive about it. That announcement gave me visions of all the little Japanese tanks and tankettes, Australians in slouch hats, CBI Brits... More on that later.

The other thing the announcement did was make me want to pull out a Pacific theater book of some sort to really get the imagination ramped up. My choice was one of my favorites from my high school days (and a friend Leo favorite as well), but a book I had not read since; Bloody Buna (1974) by Lida Mayo. A few years ago I searched out a copy on eBay for old times' sake, and am very glad I did. Mayo was a historian in the Army's Military History division, and she worked with the same group of people who wrote many of the Army's "green book" official history series.

This campaign, from July 1942 until January 1943, and running concurrently with the Guadalcanal campaign, covers the first campaign in Papua, New Guinea. It includes the Japanese invasion of Milne Bay and the drive towards Port Moresby, including the vicious fighting along the Kokoda Track and in the Owen Stanley Mountains. Subsequent to the Japanese withdrawal back towards the north coast, the fighting for Buna, Gona and Sanananda are covered in adequate detail. This isn't a shot by shot recap, but is an operational overview, covering the troops movements, attacks, successes and failures. It does a good job of placing the fighting here into the overall context of allied operations elsewhere, and paints a clear picture of the difficulties faced by both sides. The terrain here was rugged inhospitable jungle, and the allies were not at all prepared for this kind of fighting, either from a training, leadership or equipment standpoint. There is a very valid conclusion that the allies won here not so much because they were able to defeat the Japanese, but because they were able to out-survive them. Allied air and naval presence was literally able to bring the Japanese to the brink of starvation, to the point where evacuation was the only option. Very few got out, and the casualties to the allies were horrific (far worse than at Guadalcanal, which was bad enough). This was a campaign that taught the allies many lessons on how to fight the Japanese in their well-hidden coconut log bunkers, tree tops and mangrove swamps, but those lessons came at a very steep price.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough for a great introduction to a campaign that may not be as well known, but is fascinating in many regards.

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