Marine Tank Battles In The Pacific Book Review


Marine Tank Battles In The Pacific

By Oscar E. Gilbert

Hardcover in dustjacket, 356 pages, illustrated

Published by Da Capo Press January 2001

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1580970508

ISBN-13: 978-1580970501

Dimensions: 6.0 x 1.2 x 9.0 inches

This book follows the use of tanks in the United States Marine Corps during the Second World War.  For the Marines, the war in the Pacific against the Japanese brought a set of unique obstacles.  The first which would have to be overcome is the US in general and the USMC in particular lacked armor, especially effective tanks of modern design.  This was exasperated by the lack of the sealift capacity to land them quickly and in sufficient numbers to support the infantry.  When (or in some cases if) they could be brought ashore the Pacific islands were not ideal tank country and many were unsuitable is various ways; Guadalcanal was a muddy jungle; Tarawa drowned tanks in shell craters; Cape Gloucester was a swamp; Peleliu was an oven with no water; the black sands of Iwo Jima bogged the tanks down.

The tenacity of the Japanese defenders was legendary.  What they lacked in dedicated anti-tank weaponry they more than made up for in bravery.  Mines disabled many tanks, these were planted in likely approach areas or hand delivered by infantry who perished as the mines detonated.  Marine tankers quickly learned to operate in groups for mutual support while also being supported by infantry to prevent being swarmed.  The Japanese would employ 47 mm anti-tank guns from concealed bunkers, when fired from close range these were quite capable of penetrating the armor of the Sherman medium tank.  Many garrisons were also equipped with 75 mm anti-aircraft guns which were capable of penetrating the frontal armor of the Sherman at most ranges.  Japanese tanks consisted of the Type 95 Ha-Go and Type 97 Chi-Ha series.  In the few tank on tank battles these proved inferior to U.S. armor and were vulnerable to the Marines Infantry’s 37 mm anti-tank guns and bazookas.

This book is well-researched and depends on numerous first-hand accounts to convey what each campaign was like.  The Marines pull no punches in their accounts which are often detailed and graphic.  There are numerous action photographs presented which should have been a highlight of this volume but unfortunately these are not reproduced well, suffering from overly dark tones with little contrast on plain paper.  In several cases the captions call out interesting details for the reader which are invisible due to the poor presentation of the photograph.

Still this book is valuable, being a detailed and well-researched history of one of the more neglected aspects of the Pacific War.  If a subsequent printing corrected the issues with the presentation of the photographs it would also be useful as a modeling reference.  In spite of the problems with the photographs I can recommend this book for the quality of the research and presentation of first-hand narratives.