Campbell (The Final Frontiersman, 2005, etc.) recreates the horror endured by Allied soldiers during the brutal New Guinea campaign of 1942-43.
Overshadowed by Marine heroics on nearby Guadalcanal, New Guinea combatants suffered triple the casualties and even worse conditions. The author builds his story around the 32nd Division, formed in 1940 but only minimally trained when it was abruptly sent to Australia, where it received no preparation for jungle fighting before moving to defend southern New Guinea in September 1942. In a bitter irony, two thirds of Japanese forces marching from the north through trackless jungles and freezing mountains died in the attempt, and the starving, disease-ridden remnants were already retreating when the 32nd began its advance. Fewer Americans died in the struggle north, but the story of their suffering makes painful reading, and the ragged, gaunt soldiers who survived had left most of their equipment behind. MacArthur assured local commanders that few Japanese remained when, in fact, they were numerous and protected by superb fortifications. Victory came after two months of ghastly fighting under terrible tropical conditions by soldiers who were short of supplies, malnourished and sick. The 32nd Division suffered 90 percent casualties. The book succeeds best describing events far from the battlefield. MacArthur’s genius was evident only in the publicity releases pouring from his headquarters. Directing the campaign from a distance (unlike the Marines’ Vandergrift at Guadalcanal), he ignored the immense difficulties of terrain and climate, rejected good intelligence when it contradicted his prejudices, repeatedly ordered poorly prepared units into suicidal attacks and then announced he’d won victories with minimal casualties. Despite a plethora of material including letters and diaries from both sides, Campbell recounts the fighting as Sunday supplement fiction, describing the action in purple prose as his soldiers snarl invented dialogue and engage in passionate internal monologues.
Readers who tolerate the overheated cinematics will discover a gripping story.