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Pacific Blitzkrieg

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Pacific Blitzkrieg closely examines the planning, preparation, and execution of ground operations for five major invasions in the Central Pacific (Guadalcanal, Tarawa, the Marshalls, Saipan, and Okinawa). The commanders on the ground had to integrate the U.S. Army and Marine Corps into a single striking force, something that would have been difficult in peacetime, but in the midst of a great global war, it was a monumental task. Yet, ultimate success in the Pacific rested on this crucial, if somewhat strained, partnership and its accomplishments. Despite the thousands of works covering almost every aspect of World War II in the Pacific, until now no one has examined the detailed mechanics behind this transformation at the corps and division level. Sharon Tosi Lacey makes extensive use of previously untapped primary research material to re-examine the development of joint ground operations, the rapid transformation of tactics and equipment, and the evolution of command relationships between army and marine leadership. This joint venture was the result of difficult and patient work by commanders and evolving staffs who acted upon the lessons of each engagement with remarkable speed. For every brilliant strategic and operational decision of the war, there were thousands of minute actions and adaptations that made such brilliance possible. Lacey examines the Smith vs. Smith controversy during the Saipan invasion using newly discovered primary source material. Saipan was not the first time General “Howlin’ Mad” Smith had created friction. Lacey reveals how Smith’s blatant partisanship and inability to get along with others nearly brought the American march across the Pacific to a halt. Pacific Blitzkrieg explores the combat in each invasion to show how the battles were planned, how raw recruits were turned into efficient combat forces, how battle doctrine was created on the fly, and how every service remade itself as new and more deadly weapons continuously changed the character of the war. This book will be a must read for anyone who wants to get behind-the-scenes story of the victory.

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Chapter 1. Guadalcanal: The Ad Hoc Operation

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CH A PT E R 1

GUADALCANAL :

The Ad Hoc Operation

o one predicted that the first ground offensive of either theater of the war would occur on an unknown speck of an island in the Southwest Pacific. After all, announced Allied strategy specified the defeat of Germany was the first priority. In the Pacific, the military expected only limited offensive efforts for at least the first years of the war. However, the threat Japan presented by building an enemy airbase less than 1,000 miles from Australia, especially one that interdicted the supply and communications between Australia and the United States, made an immediate offensive against the Japanese imperative. Fortunately, the unexpected Allied victory at Midway in May of 1942 made the success of such an assault feasible.

The major obstacle was the lack of trained units capable of conducting such an invasion. Amphibious landings had long been the purview of the Marine Corps, but its two trained divisions had been divided and sent to guard such places as Iceland and Samoa. By piecing together scattered regiments, the marines barely managed to gather an assault force, while the army busily created new divisions to augment the initial invasion forces. Against all odds and with a minimum of preparation and training, these ad hoc units managed to strike a decisive blow against the enemy and halt the Japanese advance.

 

Chapter 2. The Gilberts: Parallel Operations (A Tale of Three Smiths)

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CH A PT E R 2

THE GILBERTS:

Parallel Operations

(A Tale of Three Smiths)

s the Americans prepared the Gilbert Islands assault, Guadalcanal’s lessons were foremost in the planners’ minds. Although

American forces were ultimately victorious, many felt that inadequate training and poor intelligence had caused a needless waste of lives. To a large degree planners took the lessons learned on Guadalcanal and successfully applied the solutions to the next phase of offensive operations. At Guadalcanal, however, the landings were uncontested. In the Gilberts, U.S. forces and their amphibious doctrine were to be tested for the first time against a heavily defended beach. U.S. forces eventually prevailed, but only after a bloody threeday contest. In fact, given the size of the forces involved the fighting on Tarawa, the key island in the Gilbert chain was some of the bloodiest and most devastating of the war. It was under this stress that the fissures between the army and marine commanders first emerged.

 

Chapter 3. The Marshalls: The Perfect Operation

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CHA PT E R 3

THE MARSHALLS:

The Perfect Operation

ith victories on Guadalcanal and the Gilberts, the Americans not only succeeded in wresting valuable territory from the

Japanese, they also verified the basic soundness of U. S. amphibious doctrine and equipment. However, both operations also revealed a distressing number of weaknesses. With just six weeks between the Gilberts and upcoming operations in the Marshalls, there was scant time for planners to incorporate the lessons learned into training and to fix a myriad of remaining equipment issues. Still, the invasion of the Marshalls clearly demonstrated just how quickly the

Americans were capable of adapting and avoiding making the same mistake twice.

The operations in the Marshalls unfolded much like those in the

Gilberts: two divisions, one army and one marine, conducting independent planning and training followed by parallel operations. However, in the Marshalls leaders applied many of the specific tactical and operational lessons learned in combat just weeks before. On the one side, operators had to quickly modify and upgrade equipment.

 

Chapter 4. Saipan: Smith Versus Smith

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CH A PT E R 4

SAIPAN:

Smith Versus Smith

fter the relative ease of the Marshall operations, army and marine leaders believed they had mastered the technical details of amphibious landing operations. Armed with battle-tested equipment and battle-hardened troops, they collectively believed they were ready to tackle the key strategic element laid out in the 1943

Cairo Conference—the seizure of Guam and the Japanese Marianas— five months ahead of schedule.1

Unlike earlier landings involving the storming of atolls by relatively small forces, which ended in a matter of days, the Marianas would require weeks of slow painful ground operations conducted by several full combat divisions. For the first time since Guadalcanal, army and marine forces would fight side by side for an extended period. This close contact during the prolonged battle of Saipan exposed each service to the other’s culture to a greater degree than any previous battle. Inevitably problems arose, as at the heart of marine doctrine was quick amphibious strikes followed by withdrawal for recuperation before moving on to the next island assault, while the army centered its doctrine on sustained ground operations over a period of weeks or months.

 

Chapter 5. Okinawa: The Final Victory

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CH A PT E R 5

OKINAWA:

The Final Victory

fter the victory at Saipan, American forces continued their steady progress across the Pacific, tightening the noose around the Japanese homeland. By early April 1945, U.S. forces were poised to launch the largest amphibious operation of the war, aimed, for the first time, directly at one of the Japanese prefectures—Okinawa.

This operation was the capstone of three years of brutal warfare and presented the ultimate test of everything the army and marines had learned about joint operations. At Okinawa, the lessons of cooperation and coordination, the techniques of amphibious operations, and a thorough knowledge of Japanese tactics and the methods of countering them culminated in one colossal push into the final circle of

Japanese defenses.1

To do so, America assembled the largest amphibious force ever seen the Pacific. A full army, consisting of seven divisions organized under two corps headquarters, prepared to storm the island. In support were over fifty carriers and their escorts, organized in five naval task forces, including one British carrier task force. When one considers that only two years before, the navy had to send a barely patched-up

 

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