Book Review
Rabaul 1943-44
Rabaul 1943-44 Reducing Japan’s Great Island Fortress
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by: Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]

Rabaul 1943-44 Reducing Japan’s Great Island Fortress from Osprey Publishing LTD is the second book in the new series Air Campaign. It goes on sale on 25 January 2018.

Rabaul was essential to Japan’s invasion of the south Pacific and to strangle Australia. Japan’s operations to conquer New Guinea and hold Guadalcanal were supported by Rabaul. This book chronicles the development of and importance of that greatest of Japan’s Pacific bases, and the Allied requirement and effort to neutralize it.

Rabaul has fascinated me since I acquired my first military book set, Airpower by Edward Jabowski. My library collection about the Fifth and Thirteen Air Forces further emphasized the importance of Rabaul. That bastion of Imperial Japanese offensive operations even has its own episode of the classic series Victory At Sea. Thus I am thrilled that an entire book has been devoted to the unique campaign to subdue the base almost exclusively by air power.

Rabaul 1943-44 is authored by Mark Lardas and illustrated by Mark Postlewaite. This second title of the new series is catalogued by Osprey as ACM and also as ISBN 978-1-4728-2244-4. The book is 96 pages of content divided into nine chapters and sections:


    Attacker’s Capabilities

    Defender’s Capabilities

    Campaign Objectives

    The Campaign

    Aftermath and Analysis

    Further Reading


Author Lardas opens the story of Rabaul and Simpson Harbor with descriptions completely new to me. I never knew just how magnificent Simpson Harbor is as an anchorage. That and how Rabaul became such an epic battle zone is explained through the first 13 pages that include an informative chronology. Next Attacker’s Capabilities and Defender’s capabilities presents the air, sea and land forces the Allies and Japan brought to the fight. The main aircraft involved are described with basic performance data and with and order of battle by squadrons or other unit compositions, and their command structures. Rabaul also hosted a significant number of Japanese search radars. Having read about the air war over Rabaul for decades I am very surprised about a revelation about a particular Japanese aircraft pressed into the defense.

Rabaul was powerfully garrisoned and supplied as related in Campaign Objectives. We also learn of Allied plans and preparations to ready for the attack. Excitement begins in the 43-page chapter The Campaign. It lays out the plans and tactics for the attack and defenses. The Allies had to capture or build numerous airfields to bring Rabaul into range. Japan brought in air and naval reinforcements for their own counteroffensive. Their naval units came to contest Allied amphibious landings in the Solomons. Those warships brought heavy defensive firepower into Simpson Harbor and saw Allied bombers forcing attacks in the face of strong fighter and flak opposition against heavy cruisers and supporting warships, as well as expansive supply depots and military concentrations. This chapter presents chronologically the first attacks by Fifth AF, coordinated and independent attacks by Allied carrier strikes, and finally the handoff to ComAirSols (Command Air, Solomons – joint Army, Navy, Marine and Allied air forces). Those attacks provoked Japan to send more reinforcements. Something had to give.

Author Lardas details the size of Allied strikes and the number of fighters Japan would send aloft. He also recounts the number of flak guns by size. The number of attacking and defending fighters in many raids surprised me, especially considering the number of kills that occurred. There would often be 50-100 Japanese fighters to confront raids with 50-100 escort fighters and yet only a handful of actual losses would be recorded for both sides. This corresponds with the memoirs of a VMF-214 Black Sheep I read years ago. These records contradict the common belief that the Mitsubishi Zero was helpless against Corsairs, Hellcats and P-38s by late 1943 through early 1944. Still, Rabaul missions and the target rich environment produced an “ace race,” including Black Sheep One, Pappy Boyington. That leads into a commentary about kill over-claiming; Corsair ace Robert “Butcher Bob” Hanson is all but accused of lying about his kills. The book does not otherwise mention aces or how Rabaul missions lead to the death of several 5th and 13th AF aces.

One interesting yet unexpected story presented is about a Japanese officer and a “comfort girl” during an air raid.

Even after Japan withdrew its air and naval forces from Rabaul, the author explains why the fortress was not someplace the Allies wanted to invade. He also recounts how Rabaul still had fire in its belly when as late as spring 1945, it launched two torpedo planes in a night attack, launching two torpedoes, scoring two hits, and sinking an aircraft carrier (or so they thought).

The book is very interesting and full of good information; much should be familiar to anyone who has read about Rabaul a few times and yet I learned a few new things. I think it does a commendable job of recounting the campaign without getting bogged down in personalities of generals, admirals, or fighter aces. But the book has several mistakes and typos, some obvious, some subtle but perpetuating myths:
    • G4M Rikko “Betty” bomber maximum speed of 365 mph (page 25)
    • “Pappy” Gunn as a Group commander
    • Grumman’s F6F Hellcat was designed to fight the Zero (page 18)
    • A Fifth Air Force base losing its importance after the campaign against Rabaul began in September 1944 (page 6)
    • Mislabeling Kahlil/Kara airfields and Buka airfield on the map The Rabaul Theater: October 1943-May 1944.

Regardless, the book is very informative and presents the reduction of Rabaul in a format that is easy to digest. The book even mentions the little-known radio-controlled TV guided drone, the TDR-1. That aircraft is especially interesting to me due to a personal connection. The author deemed it a failure but 42% of them hit their target – a far greater success rate than any manned aircraft.
Photographs and Artwork
Osprey supports the text with an impressive gallery of photographs, including a couple in color. I did not count them although it seems like there is almost one for every page. Several of Rabaul and Simpson Harbor are new to me. Artist Mark Postlewaite created original artwork for the book:


I. Back to base with the enemy in pursuit depicts ‘Bats out of Hell”, B-25s of the 499th Bomb Squadron, 345th Bomb Group, withdrawing low over the water under fighter attack.
II. First fighter sweep, December 17, 1943 shows the impending collision of a New Zealand Air Force P-40 and a Zero during the first attack from Torokina led by USMC ace Greg Boyington.
III. Attack from above shows a USN SBD at the moment of bomb release against Japanese flak batteries.

Birds-Eye Views

A. Three Ways to Attack an Airfield: the fortes and foibles, and aircraft of high-level bombing, dive bombing, and low-level attack.
B. Skip Bombing: How to do it: the B-25, scourge of Japanese surface vessels, attacking a ship.
C. First strike by the Fifth Air Force, October 12, 1943: diagraming 7 events; Japanese and Allied air groups; anti-aircraft batteries by type and caliber.
D. US Navy airstrike against Simpson Harbor, November 5, 1943 diagrams 11 events plus USN and Japanese air units.


1. The Southwest Pacific: Strategic Overview: from Japan to Hawaii to Australia, the primary Japanese and Allied sea and air ferry routes, air and naval bases.
2. The Northeastern Gazelle Peninsula: 18 Japanese troop concentrations and units, dozens of gun positions, supply dumps, power plants, etc., and effective range of anti-aircraft batteries.
3. Rabaul and Simpson Harbor shown with dozens of gun positions, supply dumps, power plants, mine fields, etc.
4. The Rabaul theater: October 1943-May 1944: from the Admiralty Islands to New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, over 43 items are shown on this map: naval and air bases for the Japanese and Allies; types of bases and dates; with dates and phases of advances.
Rabaul 1943-44 Reducing Japan’s Great Island Fortress is a great introduction to Osprey’s new series Air Campaign. I am enthusiastic about cracking the covers of the premier title, Battle of Britain 1940 and the next two, Rolling Thunder 1965-68 and especially Malta 1940-42.

The book is very informative and educational and should be good for one’s first introduction to Rabaul as well as for those who have been reading about it for a while. I think it does a commendable job of recounting the campaign without getting bogged down in personalities of generals, admirals, or fighter aces. The gallery of photographs and artwork is excellent and supports the text.

I am disappointed with the amount of typos and wrong information. They make me question information presented that I am not previously familiar with.

Despite that bad information I judge this to be a book worth acquiring for those interested in Rabaul, the South Pacific campaign, air campaigns, the Solomons campaign, and those fascinated by large sustained air battles. Recommend.
Highs: Very informative and educational text. The gallery of photographs and artwork is excellent and supports the text.
Lows: I am disappointed with the amount of typos and wrong information.
Verdict: The book is very informative and educational and should be good for one’s first introduction to Rabaul as well as for those who have been reading about it for a while.
  Scale: N/A
  Mfg. ID: 9781472822444
  PUBLISHED: Jan 22, 2018
  NATIONALITY: Japan / 日本

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About Frederick Boucher (JPTRR)

I'm a professional pilot with a degree in art. My first model was an AMT semi dump truck. Then Monogram's Lunar Lander right after the lunar landing. Next, Revell's 1/32 Bf-109G...cried havoc and released the dogs of modeling! My interests--if built before 1900, or after 1955, then I proba...

Copyright ©2021 text by Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of AeroScale. All rights reserved.


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