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Dark Waters, Starry Skies: The Guadalcanal-Solomons Campaign, March-October 1943

25 Aug 23


(Osprey Publishing – £30.00)
ISBN 978 1 4728 4989 2

528 pages

Having read Jeffrey Cox’s previous book, Blazing Star, Setting Sun, covering the Guadalcanal-Solomons campaign from November 1942 to March 1943 (see NR Vol. 109, No. 4, Autumn 2021, pp. 555-556), one had high expectations approaching Dark Waters, Starry Skies. The author, a litigation attorney and independent military historian, has particularly focused on the Pacific War, writing on the Java Sea campaign, as well as his ongoing series on the Guadalcanal-Solomons campaign. Cox’s interest in and engagement with the subject is clearly evident in Dark Waters, Starry Skies; it is a substantial book, and features extensive notes and a concise bibliography. It is not intended to be an academic text, but provide an engaging account that will appeal to the lay reader, whilst providing the breadth and depth necessary for the academic or professional audience.

Following a broadly chronological approach, Cox sets out to detail the progression of the Guadalcanal-Solomons campaign as the Allies sought to continue to push back Japanese forces after the latter’s retreat from Guadalcanal in February 1943. The author provides the context leading up to this, so if you have already read Blazing Star, Setting Sun, there is some retracing of steps taken. The Prologue, and first chapter also address the Japanese capture and execution of civilians, which is also the subject of the Epilogue; it provides an additional facet to Cox’s account and insight into Japanese decision-making processes. The principal focus for the book is to provide an account of the progression of the campaign in the Solomons and New Guinea across air, land, and sea. This encompasses the spectrum of tactics, operational-level planning and strategy, as well as technical factors, and as with, for example, the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, tactical innovation.

The author puts at the centre of his study, the theme of communications and information, explaining that “Those twin towers – intertwined twin towers – of any military operation. This narrative has hit the theme time and again that without one or both of those towers, any military operation is in dire peril”. The value of communications and information, or lack thereof is particularly highlighted with regard to the operation to neutralise Admiral Yamamoto, and the impact of poor communications security vis-à-vis the effect of signals intelligence. As with Blazing Star, Setting Sun, the author ably addresses such factors as leadership, inter-service tensions, doctrine and contrasting perspectives on the nature of naval warfare, especially the Japanese obsession with the ‘decisive battle’ and its implications.

Were my expectations met reading Dark Waters, Starry Skies? No, they were surpassed. This is an excellent book, providing a highly detailed and engaging account of the Solomons campaign. Cox ably balances detail and readability, plus there are only a few minor typos. The selection of photos included in the photographic plate are good, and the maps provide clarity to the battles discussed in the text. Dark Waters, Starry Skies will appeal to all those interested in learning more about the war in the southwest Pacific, but I would particularly recommend this book to those either at or preparing for staff college: it provides a valuable study into the development and execution of a campaign. It is highly recommended.