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B-25 Mitchell vs Japanese Destroyer: Battle of the Bismarck Sea 1943

11 Aug 23


(Osprey Publishing – £13.99)

ISBN 978 1 4728 4517 7

80 pages

The Battle of the Bismarck Sea, which saw the neutralisation of a major Japanese reinforcement convoy to New Guinea from 3 to 5 March 1943, marked a key milestone in the Allied campaign against Japan in the southwest Pacific. It also provides a valuable case study on the advantage conferred by signals intelligence, an openness to innovation and the operational and strategic effects of tactical innovation. This especially with regard to the use of allied airpower against Japanese shipping, which as demonstrated in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, was employed to devastating effect.

As the author, Mark Lardas, describes, “Through to the end of 1942, most surface vessels that were hit, much less sunk, by aircraft succumbed either to torpedoes or ordnance dropped by a dive-bomber”; but typically, dive bombers could “generally only carry one bomb of ship-killing size on a mission”, with torpedoes also carried singly or in pairs. Developing an approach that would enable medium bombers, for example, with their greater payloads, to successfully prosecute ships at low-level thus conferring more accurate delivery, would provide a significantly enhanced capability. However, low-level attacks also incurred greater risk as “Flying straight and level at a ship at low altitude made the aircraft an excellent target for the vessel’s light antiaircraft weapons”. Lardas in B-25 Mitchell vs Japanese Destroyerexplains how the Allies developed two complementary tactical approaches that overcame both the threat posed by anti-aircraft fire in low-level attacks, and improved bombing accuracy: by providing medium bombers with enhanced forward-firing gun armament and skip bombing.

Across nine chapters, covering principally the design and development and technical specification of the B-25 Mitchell bomber and the three classes of Japanese destroyer that fought at the Bismarck Sea (Fubuki, Asashio and Kagero-classes respectively), the respective training systems and doctrine, and the lead up to, and action itself, this book provides a succinct analysis of the factors that led to Allied success at the battle. As is to be expected from Osprey, the text is accompanied by excellent photos, illustrations and diagrams, and provides a well-written, engaging read. The book concludes with a chapter on ‘Statistics and Analysis’, followed by ‘Aftermath’, which discusses the implications of the battle. As Lardas argues, innovation, both technical and tactical, were key to Allied success: “The Allies, dissatisfied with their aircrafts’ combat performance, experimented [added emphasis] with new weapons systems and tactics to improve them. Curiosity and innovation were built into their society”. In contrast, although Japan was aware of the air defence deficiencies in its destroyers, its fixation on preparing for surface combat provided a “limitation built in by training and culture”.

B-25 Mitchell vs Japanese Destroyer will appeal to those with an interest in the Second World War, in particular the conflict in the Pacific, and or wider naval history, maritime strategy, and to use the contemporary lexicon, cross and multi-domain operations. It would provide much useful food for thought for those at or preparing for staff college. All in all, at £13.99, and 80 pages, this book provides a highly engaging and informative read. It is recommended.