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Truk 1944-45: The Destruction of Japan’s Central Pacific Bastion

18 Aug 23


(Osprey Publishing – £14.99)

ISBN 978 1 4728 4585 6

96 pages

The war against Japan in the Pacific in the Second World War was inherently maritime, and to use the contemporary lexicon, multi-domain: carrier airpower, submarines, as well as surface and amphibious forces alongside land-based airpower being brought to bear against island garrisons and opposing fleets. Moreover, the requirements of particular missions or targets resulted in tactical innovation, for example, in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea where land-based medium bombers were used to dramatic effect against Japanese shipping, or as this book explores, to neutralise the Japanese base at Truk. Seen as “Japan’s Pearl Harbour or Gibraltar”, Truk provided the Japanese Navy with an anchorage in the central Pacific, “central to Japan’s Central Pacific defensive and offensive plans…within its lagoon lay islands large enough for surface fleet shore facilities and airfields to station the Imperial Navy’s aircraft”. For the Allies, Truk was “a roadblock” ahead of the liberation of the Philippines and moving against Japan itself. This meant Truk had to be neutralised, whether, as Lardas writes, by either amphibious invasion or potentially through airpower.

A concise book of 96 pages, Truk 1944-45 sets out in its introduction the importance of Truk and how it became a Japanese possession as a result of the First World War. It then examines the respective capabilities of the Allies and the Japanese, campaign objectives, the execution of the campaign, and its aftermath with a concluding analysis. A brief bibliography is also included. The author may be well-known to members as he has written extensively on naval and military subjects. Lardas writes in an engaging manner, providing much detail whilst maintaining accessibility for the lay reader. In Truk 1944-45, he ably sets out the challenges for both the Allies in neutralising Truk as a threat, and Japan’s interest in defending it, although this also highlighted an enduring weakness in Japanese doctrine. That is, as Lardas explains, “Truk’s value lay not in its possession, but in its potential”, with the result that defending it could be a drain as the “resources would thus be unavailable elsewhere…due in large part to Japan’s military doctrine which emphasised the offensive over everything else…yielding ground was unacceptable”.

Rather than invade Truk, the United States developed an approach centred on airpower to neutralise the Japanese threat based there. First, through massed carrier-launched airstrikes, Operation HAILSTONE, then the regular use of land-based long-range bombers to continually suppress the Japanese garrison. Truk was used a training opportunity in the latter stages of the war, as the Japanese defenders constituted a limited threat to B-24 and B-29 units new to the theatre, and a working-up opportunity for the British Pacific Fleet in June 1945, Operation INMATE. Notably, the US Army Air Force’s 509th Composite Group, operating out of the Marianas, conducted training sorties over Truk ahead of its missions to Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

As is the norm with Osprey books, Truk 1944-45 features excellent diagrams and illustrations alongside the text, which is generally well-written, although there are a few very minor typos. The book will appeal to those with a particular interest in naval, maritime and airpower history, and the Second World War, and the interested lay reader. It would also provide valuable reading for those preparing for, or at staff college. At £14.99, this book provides good value, an engaging read, and much food for thought. Recommended.