This is the first book in Bruce Gamble's trilogy about Rabaul. Originally published in hardcover,
it was titled Darkest Hour and chronicles the longest battle of World War II. The book starts with an overview of the Australian troops
who were trained (though not for jungle warfare) prior to being deployed to Rabaul. Known as Lark Force, they were a small garrison of approximately 1500 men who were clearly insufficient in numbers, weapons, tactics and defensive hard points to repel what the Australian high command knew would be coming at them from Japan.
On January 23, 1942, after weeks of aerial bombing to soften up the Australian defenders, the Japanese attacked with over 5000 battle-hardened troops. They quickly overran the defenders (though battle losses on both sides were incredibly small), and in a moment of confusion and lack of command and control, the Australian leader told his force, “Every man for himself.” Normally, this is not the best approach to leading troops in battle.
The rest of the book tells the heartbreaking story of courage and sacrifice as seen through the eyes of the defenders who survived the Japanese assault. Gamble's narrative follows key individuals, soldiers and junior officers who were driven into the jungle to try to find escape off of the island of New Briton. They persevered in their gallant efforts even though the Australian high command bound
them to their fate and made no attempt to rescue them--horrible military decision-making at its worst.
The book also retells the story of the Japanese murder of over 140 of the captured Australian forces and the barbaric nature of the Japanese treatment of these early prisoners of war.
Now that I have read the first installment, Invasion Rabaul, I cannot wait to read
Fortress Rabaul, the second part of this nonfiction story. The book is a very easy read, and the pages just fly by. It almost feels like a novel, but the sad part is that
this is a true story that shows the horrors of war in all its death and violence.