At 618 very dense pages, Richard Frank’s Guadalcanal is best described as encyclopedic in nature. The detail contained herein of the unit by unit, ship by ship, hour by hour detail of the entire six month campaign on both sides is epic.
Mr. Frank has said it took over a decade of research to produce this work, and I believe it. Its meticulous research is clearly evident and its sourcework impeccable. If you truly want every detail of the true turning point in the war in the Pacific, this is where to find it. I can truly say I enjoyed the book, and I now feel sufficiently educated on the conflict. I came to the book knowing only the most common known of facts and some basic knowledge of the units involved, greatly because of my palying War in the Pacific.
The book is so detailed and so filled with facts, figures, individuals, tactics, units, etc. that one cannot but have total respect and admiration for the author and his researching skills. The appendicies in the book are also an excellent addition to the vast amount of knowledge already in the preceding pages. His handling of the naval battles is masterful, it made it very easy for a novice naval history reader as myself to understand to and to follow the nuances of a naval engagement. I particularly like how he wrote about several engagements from the point of view of each side. It is incredible how much naval battles can turn on one incident! Likewise I was surprised at the amount of frinedly fire involved. His handling of Savo Island and Tanaka’s action at Tassafaronga made me feel inside those ships at time.
What struck me the most was the amount of mistakes both sides made, though I am well aware that hindsght is a substantial luxury! From bothced American planning in the initial stage to the sloth like reaction by the Japanese High Command. Though his retelling of the land battle can get somewhat bogged down at times it is realtively easy to make a clear picture of whats going on. His writing style also adds a lot of character to the book, I particularly enjoyed his retelling of the Tokyo Express convoys but was surprised at the frequency these were intercepted by PT Boats and by the Cactus Air force. I was also pleased that he gave the US Army and the USAAF its rightful place in the conflict. An uninformed opinion may be right in assuming it was just Marine Corps grunts and fliers with some help from the USN that won the battle, though in no way am I belittling their contribution especially in the defence against intial Japanese assaults, eg Ichiki. I was also surprised to learn about the extent of eventual Japanese commitment to Guadalcanal, two and half divisions but also in the lack of foresight displayed by IJHQ.
It seemed the Guadalcanal campaign came down to the side that made the least mistakes. Both sides are guilty of naive (USN Savo Island and Tassafaronga) and unforgivable mistakes (lack of air cover for the main Japanese reinforcement convoy). Though both sides had great and inspirational leaders (Tanaka, the Japanese major who commanded the rear guard, Halsey, Vandergrift, Ellis, Foss) these are counter balanced by other leaders less inspirational and decisive (Gormley for example). I was also very surprised at Frank’s handling of Fletcher, perhaps here I am showing my lack of in depth reading into the Pacific Campaign as I had always assumed the Fletcher had always received good press.
In summary a great, though long read, well researched and I am now much more conversant with the Campign at Guadalcanal and in many ways I agree with the author that though Midway was a dramatic defeat for Japan, Guadalcanal was THE turning point in the Pacific War as the US was able to, in the face of superior Japanese Naval power and support from Japanese bases, gain Henderson Field, defeat the attempts to retake it and to inch its way across the island and start, from there, its march up the Solomons.