Review: The Conquering Tide: War in the Pacific Islands, 1942-1944

The Conquering Tide: War in the Pacific Islands, 1942-1944
The Conquering Tide: War in the Pacific Islands, 1942-1944 by Ian W. Toll
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Conquering Tide: War in the Pacific Islands, 1942-1944 is the second in Ian W. Toll’s planned trilogy on World War II in the Pacific and picks up where the excellent first book in the trilogy, Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific 1941-1942 left off. In Pacific Crucible, Toll chose a central premise – hubris and contempt – and wove the story of the early part of World War II in the Pacific around it. In The Conquering Tide he’s done the same thing.

“But the American military leadership, thrust unexpectedly into war in 1941, was largely unprepared to function in an integrated high command.”

Toll brings up the central premise of The Conquering Tide right at the beginning of Chapter 1: interservice rivalry. Initially, it’s interservice rivalry between the Navy and War Departments but throughout the book you can see it as well between the Navy and Marine Corps, between the Marine Corps and the Army, and between regions of the Pacific Theater. Rivalry isn’t limited to the American’s either; the Japanese suffer from interservice rivalry and to worse ends than the Americans. Luckily, there were personalities within the American leadership that were able to overcome rivalries and work together to attain victories. The Japanese were unable to do the same and that was one of the reasons their war began to unravel.

“In subsequent operations of 1942 and 1943, north and south of the equator, planners had been forced to work against oppressive deadlines and commanders had been forced to rely on deficient or awkward logistics. But the Americans had always appeared before they were anticipated, and the Japanese had been obliged to fight earlier than they would have liked.”

Another theme that runs through The Conquering Tide is a defense of Admiral Ernest J. King’s aggressive strategy in the Pacific. Not always appreciated and agreed with by subordinates and allies, King pursued an aggressive strategy in the Pacific. Others thought he was moving too quickly and before forces were ready, but King realized that the Japanese were no better off. By moving quickly and early, King’s strategy resulted in Japanese held islands being attacked before they had the opportunity to strengthen defenses even further. No doubt, had the Americans waited until they were more ready to attack, the Japanese defenses would been stronger than those encountered and the battles would have been harder and the casualties higher.

Throughout The Conquering Tide, we see the fortunes of the Americans and the Japanese change. The resources and manufacturing capability of the Americans do nothing but build while the resources and manufacturing capabilities of the Japanese shrink. Toll looks at this from both the military and domestic perspectives for both countries. Throughout the battles and campaigns, the Japanese lose equipment and manpower that they simply don’t have the resources and capability to replace all the while losing access to the resources they don’t have at home through the loss of their merchant shipping to American submarines.

While this story has been told many times before in a plethora of other books, Toll’s book bears reading. Most books on World War II work from the Allies’ perspective, not surprising since they were the victors, but Toll tells the story of the Pacific from both sides. He includes the perspectives of command level and field level leadership as well as the perspective of individual sailors, marines, soldiers, and airmen. He doesn’t limit the narrative to military operations either, he also uses the perspective of the home front. I thought his description of San Francisco as a war city was a good segue into the story of the USS Wahoo and was very interested in how the fortunes of war effected the Japanese population. Toll’s writing style is vivid and descriptive and he brings personalities to life by getting into their minds and thought processes. I gave Pacific Crucible five stars and The Conquering Tide is just as good – another five star book. I can’t wait until the third book in this trilogy!

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