Account of a Famous WW2 Battle

Written by a Correspondent Who Was There

By Jeff Salter

Having a life-long interest in military history – and especially about World War Two – I’ve read countless books and many hundreds of articles. Though I cannot adequately explain specifically WHY, most of the full-length books I’ve read have centered on the European Theater… and most of those about the battles on Germany’s Western Front. Other than scores of articles, I don’t believe I’ve read any book about China-Burma-India (CBI Theater), very few books about the North Africa campaigns… and hardly any books about land actions in the Pacific Theater.

Well, that final subject has now been broached as I’ve recently completed Guadalcanal Diary, by war correspondent Richard Tregaskis [1916-1973].

guadalcanal-4

Unlike many books about a significant battle in a massive war, this one was totally fresh — taken directly from Tregaskis’s notes while he covered nearly every aspect of the first several weeks of that months-long battle, and published on Jan. 1, 1943, actually several long weeks before that infamous island had finally been completely secured. [Guadalcanal had significant strategic importance, both by its location in the Solomon Islands near primary shipping lanes and its nearly complete air strip — Henderson Field. So it was NOT going to be given up easily by the Japanese Army and Navy.]

This action – primarily by the U.S. Marines, with considerable support by the Navy and later reinforcements by the Army – began a mere eight months after the Pearl Harbor attack… and was considered the first major offensive of the Pacific Theater.

As with so many of the later island-hopping battles of the South Pacific, the Allies had precious little “intelligence” about what type and how many enemy they faced. And like many other islands, this one was continually re-manned and re-supplied by the enemy during the months of the campaign.

There were many blunders on both sides of this battle. Chiefly, the Americans assumed too soon they’d secured the island and sent the carrier Enterprise out to sea. That left the remaining American ships vulnerable to the Japanese counter-attack and also left the Marines stranded on the island without supplies, reinforcement or naval guns.

It isn’t my purpose – and this isn’t the place – to explain the entire battle for Guadalcanal. Suffice it to say, the Americans counted 7100 dead, some 7800 wounded, 4 captured… plus the loss of 29 ships and 615 aircraft. Japanese losses were greater in every category, especially in their tally of 19,200 dead [some sources estimate closer to 30,000 Japanese dead].

I cover all that only to say that this book’s coverage – ending as it does early in the battle, before the tide turned briefly back to the Japanese – tells only a small part of the story and makes the Guadalcanal campaign appear to have been rather short and relatively sweet. When, in reality, it was long and bitter and costly.

In other words, one should not read this book and think they understand the battle for Guadalcanal. For good balance, one should also read the famous novel by James JonesThe Thin Red Line. And also pick up a good, complete non-fiction account of this campaign, such as Guadalcanal: The Definitive Account by Richard B. Frank… or Midnight in the Pacific by Joseph Wheelan.

Make no mistake — Tregaskis has my admiration. As an un-armed correspondent, he faced many of the same perils as the Marines he followed into harm’s way. And he did indeed venture into danger… voluntarily accompanying the troops into enemy territory and to other nearby islands. This was no correspondent who sat in the Press Tent and waited until some junior officer returned from a patrol to find out what happened. Tregaskis was in the trenches, on the beaches, in the boats, etc. He had many near-misses by snipers, artillery, and mortars. He was certainly a lot braver than I would have been. My beef is that his book ends when things were still looking somewhat rosy for the American forces on that island. And that’s a strange place to halt the story on Guadalcanal.

Question:
Have you read any interesting non-fiction books which are excellent as far as they go, but seem to tell an incomplete story?

[JLS # 417]

 

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About Jeff Salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Twelve completed novels and five completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Double Down Trouble" -- June 2018 /// "Not Easy Being Android" -- Feb. 2018 /// "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 /// "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 /// "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015 /// "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015 /// "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015 /// "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014 /// "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014 /// "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014 /// "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014 /// "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013 /// "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013 /// "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013 /// "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012 /// "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012 /// Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
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8 Responses to Account of a Famous WW2 Battle

  1. jbrayweber says:

    Can’t answer your question. I don’t read many non-fiction books. I think the last non-fiction book I read was A Weekend in September. It was about The Great Storm (Galveston’s 1900 hurricane). I was impressed with the book, even found that I might have had an ancestor on the island that survived.

    My grandfather fought in the Philippines campaign as well as the Ryukyus, New Guinea, and Luzon campaigns.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      My wife’s dad was also in the Phillipines, though I’m not certain which islands. He was in the Americal Division, but his arrival was near the end of the war in the Pacific, so he was not in actual combat. Still in danger, of course.
      My dad, after years of stateside training (incl. OCS), arrived in Europe on V-E day… so he mainly had what they called “occupation duty” overseas.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Patricia Kiyono says:

    I used to read a lot of biographies, but haven’t read much non-fiction since I started writing fiction. As for book that tell an incomplete story, I suppose it could be argued that autobiographies aren’t QUITE complete, because they’re written before the subject’s story is over. And I’m always leery of books that claim to tell WHY an event happened, because they usually tell only one side of the story.
    Thanks for the description of this book. I can’t imagine how Tregaskis mustered the courage to do his job. So glad he survived to tell his story.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jeff Salter says:

      excellent points — the history books are written by the victors… from their perspective (naturally). And also true about auto-biographies — if one really wants to “know” a subject, they should read memoirs, an objective analysis from an admiring researcher, and an objective analysis from a researcher who basically dislikes the subject.

      Like

  3. Clay Cormany says:

    Back in the 70s, I read R. Harris Smith’s OSS: The Secret History of America’s First Central Intelligence Agency. The book gave a general picture of the OSS’s origins as well as its operations in different theaters throughout World War II, including Italy, Yugoslavia, and Indochina. Because it gave a comprehensive picture, it may not have given the “gritty details” of what was happening in each theater. I would imagine a whole book could be written about the OSS’s role in each location.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      It sounds like that book did give a fairly complete overview, however.
      Yeah, people could write an entire book about one small UNIT within one particular battle, of one campaign. But for most of us, that might be too microscopic.

      Like

  4. I dare to guess that EVERY non-fiction book fails to tell the whole story about their topic. Most are done by one person’s perception, and often, that person was not a participant or eye-witness. Many factors fall into place when it comes to writing non-fiction, not the least of which is the pre-conceived ideas of many writers. It is wonderful to read that a writer has changed his or her view during their research…IF they did their research. Most have a story that they want to tell and/or people who they wish to glorify or vilify and and they will ignore or bury facts that disprove their goals.
    I remember this book being on my family’s bookshelf, however, I can’t imagine either of my parents reading it.It must have been given to them by someone.My parents lived through the war and lost many people they knew, and saw too many come back emotionally scarred; there were many within the family. As I have mentioned, they worked in a war plant and the ‘glory’ of what they helped to produce, no matter how bad the outcome otherwise, was hard for them.

    Liked by 1 person

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