Weekend History Post, September 23, 2007
If the average person were asked to name the largest campaigns of the 1941-45 Pacific War the list would probably resemble the coverage of the forthcoming Steven Spielberg mini-series, The Pacific. The counterpart to the well known Band of Brothers mini-series will cover five campaigns: Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Peleliu, Iwo Jima and Okinawa through the eyes of three historical persons, Eugene Sledge, Robert Leckie and John Basilone. Listed below are the total losses for the US and the Japanese in each of the campaigns to be covered by Spielberg's The Pacific. With the exception of Peleliu they are all household names. The British have their own memory map of the Pacific campaign. In their recollection for example, one battle in the India/Burma theater stands out: the Battle of Kohima, in which 4,600 British and 5,800 Japanese were lost. It is remembered as the "Stalingrad of the East".
What's missing from this coverage of the Pacific War?
The biggest American campaign in the Pacific of all. All the campaigns listed above, including the massive battle for Okinawa, are dwarfed by the Sixth and Eighth Army's Philippine Campaign of 1944-45. The raw statistics are astonishing. The Philippine Campaign was the graveyard of the Imperial Japanese Army: IJA KIA exceeded the estimated (300,000) German and Axis dead at Stalingrad. In terms of raw effort, Wikipedia notes that "in all, ten U.S. divisions and five independent regiments battled on Luzon, making it the largest campaign of the Pacific war, involving more troops than the United States had used in North Africa, Italy, or southern France." It also included the largest urban battle of the Pacific War, the Battle of Manila, in which 100,000 civilians were killed. Two of the most famous divisions in the US Army, the 1st Cavalry and 25th Infantry, participated in the Philippine Campaign. And yet it is nearly forgotten. It will not even be remembered in Spielberg's sequel to the Band of Brothers.
|Central and Southern||2,070||50,260|
What is even more striking is the phenomenal economy with which the US Sixth and Eighth armies inflicted these losses on the Imperial Japanese Army. Here are tables calculating the ratio of US to Japanese KIA in each campaign. Yet these remarkable ratios were inflicted in terrain that included urban battlefields, the dense jungles of Leyte and the rugged mountains of Luzon's Cordilleras against a first rate Japanese commander -- Tomoyuki Yamashita, the famed "Tiger of Malaya".
|Central and Southern||24.3|
Much of the credit for these accomplishments must go to a man nearly as forgotten as his campaign: General Walter Krueger. A book recently published by the University Press of Kansas, General Walter Krueger: Unsung Hero of the Pacific War, asserts that Krueger never got nearly as much credit as he deserved.
He made his name in the jungles of the Pacific theater, was featured on the cover of Time magazine, was tapped by Douglas MacArthur to lead the invasion of Japan, and made crucial contributions to the army's tactical and operational doctrine. Yet General Walter Krueger is still one of the least-known army commanders of World War II. Kevin Holzimmer's book resurrects the brilliant career of this great military leader while deepening our understanding of the Pacific War.
As head of the Sixth U.S. Army, Krueger exemplified the art of command at the operational level of war and played a pivotal role in the defeat of Japan that until now has not been fully recognized. To the public he was a "mystery man," and his abrasive personality may have sometimes caused problems for MacArthur, but his commander credited him as "swift and sure in attack, tenacious and determined in defense, modest and restrained in victory." And although Krueger left no diaries or memoirs-and stubbornly refused to record many of his personal views-Kevin Holzimmer has mined military archives on Krueger and his Sixth Army to produce a compelling biography that finally acknowledges his importance.
We are accustomed to regarding history as an accurate picture of the past. But like any picture, it is vulnerable to distortion from the choice of perspective. And our memory of the Pacific is nothing but distorted. It is truly amazing to discover in the familiar terrain of the history of the Second World War an omission of such scope, caused perhaps by contemporaneous media coverage and the emphasis of post-war Hollywood. Many Americans are now familiar with the saga of Stalingrad, thanks perhaps to the movie Enemy at the Gates, starring Jude Law and Ed Harris. But spare a thought for the Sixth and Eighth Armies and the Campaign they fought, which alone accounted for two and half times more Japanese KIA than all the campaigns combined that will be depicted in The Pacific.