Book Review: South Pacific Cauldron: World War II's Great Forgotten Battlegrounds


by Alan Rems

Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2014. Pp. xxiv, 284. Illus., maps, chron., notes, biblio., index. $38.95. ISBN: 1612514715

The “Forgotten” Campaigns of the South West Pacific

Naval historian Rems opens by pointing out that the Guadalcanal Campaign and naval actions aside, most operations in the Southwest Pacific are largely overlooked, and then proceeds to give us a good look at these forgotten campaigns. 

Rems tales a very good account of the experiences of American, Australian, New Zealand, and even Fijian and Papuan troops who fought the Japanese from early 1942 through late 1944, on several fronts in New Guinea and up the chain of the Solomons from Guadalcanal to Bougainville, in the process isolating the great Japanese base at Rabaul. More attentive to non-American Allied forces and leaders than most American authors, Rems has some very good battle pieces, often reaching down to the level of the individual soldier, sailor, or marine through excerpts from letters or other documents. 

These were all hard fights, often in amazingly harsh environments, blistering sun, swamp, jungle, snakes, disease. Operations were frequently undertaken on the basis of poor intelligence, and there was extreme command tension and inter-Allied and inter-service friction due to the egos of Gen. Douglas MacArthur and other officers, such as the Army Air Force’s brilliant and innovative George Kenney and Australia’s able, but usually side-lined Thomas Blamey. Rems often offers critical analysis of the decisions made by these and other officers, and readers will find particularly interesting questions he raises about the necessity of a number of operations, such as Bougainville or the continuation of major operations in the theatre after the fall of the Philippines, which he concludes were not only ill-conceived, but a waste of time, materiel, and most tragically men. 

South Pacific Cauldron is an important contribution to the literature of the Pacific War.


Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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