Midnight In The Pacific: Guadalcanal: The World War II Battle That Turned The Tide Of War, by Joseph Wheelan
This book gives a good case for studying the battle of Guadalcanal and its significance in World War II. The author himself draws the connection between this campaign and others within the Civil War, arguing that Guadalcanal was a major turning point. And while there was a great deal of war to be fought after the eventual American victory at Guadalcanal, which took months to deliver and was a near-run thing that could have been stymied by greater concentration and logistical preparation among the Japanese, it is indeed true that the attritional nature of the American victory in the area allowed for American units to increase their skill level and prepare them for the challenges ahead in the island hopping efforts of the Pacific War even as it removed the ability of the Japanese to engage in further advances and relegated Japan to the defensive, where they would continue to fight two and a half years after Guadalcanal, which marked their furthest advance and gave an understanding of how and why it was that the United States and its allies would push back the Japanese position and ever-increasingly threaten the survival and well-being of Japan’s homeland itself. Guadalcanal was decisive because it was fought over for so long and so hard with such large numbers of planes, ships, and men operating at the end of their logistical lines in fierce combat on both sides.
This book is about 300 pages long and it covers the span of battle in Guadalcanal from August 1942 to February 1943, when the United States achieved full victory after the Japanese withdrawal. The book begins with two chapters that explore the initial August battles, including the Marine invasion and the naval disaster at the First Battle of Savo Island (1), and the successful Marine defense in the attacks of bombing raids as well as the Battle of Alligator Creek (2). After that the author explores the Marine feelings of abandonment that took place in September (3) as well as the showdown between October as the Americans and Japanese attacked into each other simultaneously (4). Then comes a discussion of Halsey’s aggressive naval challenges (5). The book then winds down with a look at the army taking over now that the sector was less urgently contested (6) and America had more resources to provide, as well as the operation by the Japanese to evacuate its able-bodied survivors while the United States claimed a costly but decisive victory (7). The book then ends with an epilogue, acknowledgements, notes, bibliography, and index.
One thing that this book does very well is to frame the Guadalcanal campaign in chronological order, so that the shifting nature of the battle and its various components can be understood. The initial American success on land was a surprise, but so too was the initial Japanese naval success, not followed up on, in Savo Island. Both the United States and Japan originally fought at Guadalcanal at the end of very long supply lines, but the US did a better job at building and holding airfields to turn the island battlefield into a base for further assaults. American superiority in relations with the locals gave America a noted intelligence advantage in many ways that also proved decisive in handling the Japanese aerial assaults that came from faraway Rabaul, and although there were plenty of mistakes made on both sides, it does appear as if the United States was able to move from vulnerability to strength as Japan moved from strength to extreme weakness and privation, unable to replace its ship, plane, and human losses that were fed piecemeal into a campaign that was decisive because of how much was lost and not the territory itself.