/ Published April 29, 2019
Pacific Blitzkrieg: World War II in the Central Pacific by Sharon Tosi Lacey. University of North Texas Press, 2014, 282 pp.
Sharon Tosi Lacy presents an in-depth historical and strategic analysis of five Central Pacific battles (Guadalcanal, Tarawa, the Marshall Islands, Saipan, and Okinawa) waged during World War II. Each battle is expertly broken down into sections that cover the strategic setting, operational planning, precombat training, operations, a battle summary, analysis, lessons learned, and the effect on future operations. Within each of these sections are subsections that explore various components—specific units, intelligence, casualties, commanders, and so forth. This all serves to comprise a fairly thorough history of amphibious assault, or “island warfare,” and an analysis of joint operations—in just 213 pages! There is an extensive notes section, bibliography, and index that bring the total page count to 282.
As a historical review, the book is an excellent piece. Lacy recounts many interactions between troops, as well as opinions from various individuals. Many of these interactions focus on the enlisted perspective of the various leaders in the Pacific conflict. Likely the most notable of these is the “Smith versus Smith” debacle. Lacy would be remiss if she did not include the boiling tensions between Marine LtGen Holland M. Smith and Army Maj Gen Ralph Smith. While this interservice conflict is a significant and oft-recounted incident in Pacific war history, Lacy is careful to avoid spending a wealth of the book on such a dramatic controversy. Refreshingly, the book sticks to its format and maintains its focus on the battles and logistical issues faced by the larger
forces rather than the Smith versus Smith discussion. Furthermore, Lacy indicates that the interactions between branches were ultimately successful once order was established.
Each chapter focuses on the five battles at hand and indicates useful lessons learned for military members facing joint environments. It is apparent from the initial battle analysis—Guadalcanal—that the American military forces in the Central Pacific were unprepared for the jungle warfare they encountered on the tiny island. Thus, many of the lessons learned focus on the need for cohesive training for such an environment. Moreover, while this initial confrontation centered on Navy and Marine planning, the ability of the Army forces to integrate on the ground indicated a more significant role in battles to come. The second battle—Tarawa—reinforced the soundness of American amphibious doctrine, and Lacey notes that this is echoed in the battles to follow in the Central Pacific. After the second battle discussion is a 20-page collection of black and white photographs. Most photos show general officers in the depths of planning, but there are some battle stills as well. Following the photography section, the third battle—the Marshall Islands—is analyzed. This is perhaps the most interesting conflict that Lacy covers, due partly to the comparatively extensive section on lessons learned. While not explicitly stated, Lacy conveys that this battle was a turning point in joint operations. The following battles—Saipan and Okinawa,—are reviewed in the same format and style, but the lessons learned seemed to be more superficial than those discussed in the earlier conflicts.
Lacy’s book presents a significant wealth of knowledge for some of the lesser-known battles of World War II. The illustrated maps and extensive discussion of mission operations and planning are sure to satisfy any reader interested in military strategy while some of the contentious interactions between commanders from differing branches will entertain strategy and history buffs alike. Does Lacy’s book offer any groundbreaking or significant insight into the generation of military strategy or doctrine? The answer is no; the book assesses these concepts a bit superficially in general. However, some readers may find it quite interesting to see where the military has gone wrong before, to avoid similar mishaps. As the US military continues to increase its footprint in East Asia, particularly to counter China, this book may hold the interest of operational planners. Today’s contemporary warfare would likely pan out differently in the same environment than the “island warfare” discussed in the book; however, many of the lessons learned and operational considerations are timelessly applicable.
Pacific Blitzkrieg is first and foremost, a historical account. It is obviously well-researched and comprehensive in this context. On the other hand, Lacy has also presented a work that can hold operational and joint officers’ interest as it covers a wealth of strategic and logistical facets of the Pacific battles which it reviews. This book is an excellent addition for any reader interested in military history or military strategy.
Capt Miranda Debelevich, USAF