One aspect of World War II that hasn't received a lot of press lately (if at all) is the campaign to re-take the Marianas island group by US Marines in June-August, 1944. It was a bit overshadowed by a rather large invasion taking place in France, but in its own way, this series of island invasions broke open the Pacific war as much as the Normandy invasions did the European.
Victor Brooks writes about this campaign in Hell Is Upon Us: D-Day in the Pacific and does a very good job with it, too. Judging from other books on his resume, Brooks has a wide range of interests, with books on Normandy as well as many on the U.S. Civil War. This is his first on the Pacific, however. Only a few writing idiosyncrasies bring down what is, for the most part, a wonderful book.
Brooks begins with a prologue that gives a short history of the island of Guam (one of the Marianas) and its capture by the Japanese immediately after Pearl Harbor. This segues into the story of the Casablanca meeting between Roosevelt and Churchill and the attempt to have the bulk of American forces concentrated in Europe against Germany, leaving the Pacific to be held until Germany had been dealt with. Admiral Earnest J. King fought very hard against this idea, volunteering his own: a drive across the entral Pacific that would eventually cut right to the heart of the Japanese empire. After convincing the dignitaries, he had to convince the Army to go along with it rather than General McArthur's plan to go through the western Pacific and the Philippines. The massive casualties taken in the invasion of the island of Tarawa made the idea of island-hopping a bit less attractive, but King persevered. What made the Marianas an attractive target (and what generally prompted the authority to go ahead with the plan) was the fact that the airfields on these islands were in reach of the main Japanese islands, perfect for bringing the war to the homeland. Thus Operation Forager was confirmed.
Brooks details this in the first few chapters, giving an overview of the planning as well as the forces available to both sides. He doesn't neglect the Japanese side, providing much valuable information about the planning and thought processes behind the Japanese defense, how they were willing to give up certain islands with only token resistance but not others that were vital to Japanese interests. Brooks devotes a chapter to the prelude to the Marianas campaign: the re-taking of the Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska and the Marshall Islands, as well. These are important because, left on their own, they could present a dagger poised at the side of any thrust through the Central Pacific. Thankfully Brooks doesn't gloss over these campaigns, but he also doesn't dwell on them too much.
The meat of the book is the invasions of three islands: Saipan, Tinian, and Guam. Brooks gives us an in-depth study of these attacks - how the Japanese were arrayed, how the Marines would land and where, the vicious fighting between the two adversaries as they struggled over cliffs and into caves, the streetfighting in the few cities on these islands. The American commanders always kept the carnage of Tarawa in the backs of their minds and were definitely influenced by it.
Brooks' prose is clear and relatively simple, making this an ideal book for those with an interest in military history without necessarily having the background. It is definitely not dry. Each chapter that begins one of the invasions has a fairly detailed map of the island in question, so anybody can track the progress of the assaults as Brooks describes them. I'm glad that, unlike some history books, the maps are not all stuck at the beginning (or end) of the book. This format makes it a lot easier to follow.
The prose, while being quite easy to read, fails in some places. Brooks repeats quite a few details unnecessarily. He mentions twice how Admiral Nagumo was in charge of the carrier assault force on Pearl Harbor, and how he was the darling of Japan but fell from grace after the battle of Midway. He constantly compares the relationship between King and Admiral Nimitz to the relationships between Grant and Sherman and between Lee and Jackson in the Civil War. In fact, he often references the Civil War for questionable purpose. He says that one man was born a few years after the Civil War ended rather than just giving the date by itself. These little annoyances pop up all over the book, a problem when the reader is otherwise enjoying the information being presented. The editing is also shoddy, with words misspelled in quite a few places (the battle of Antietam is spelled "Antirtim" at one point).
This is Brooks' first book on the Pacific War, and I found interesting his surprise at the numerous Japanese Banzai charges, as stated in the Afterword. While the Japanese troops were going to be overwhelmed because they could not be reinforced, they could still exact a heavy toll on the Americans. Inevitably on the first night of each invasion, Japanese commanders would send their troops on suicidal rushes on the American lines with the intent of throwing them into the sea. Thus, huge numbers of defenders would die on the first night with relatively few American casualties. I was familiar with all of this, but it took reading about them in quick succession as I did in Hell Is Upon Us to really drive home the fact that this happened so often. It may have been the "honorable" thing to do as far as they were concerned, but militarily it was a disaster.
Hell Is Upon Us is definitely worth a read for anybody interested in the Pacific campaign. It even gives a good overview of what is commonly known as the "Marianas Turkey Shoot," the last big carrier-versus-carrier battle that effectively wiped out the Japanese naval air fleet. The book is well-researched (though there are few notes), and Brooks makes the whole thing interesting. Just ignore some of the weird writing and find yourself becoming better informed.