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Battle Orders 9: Japanese Army in World War II, Conquest of the Pacific 1941–42

by Gordon L Rottman

Published by Osprey Publishing Ltd, ISBN 1-84176-789-1, 96 pages.

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It is becoming an increasingly agonizing task for me to attempt to review this author’s work. I do not like emphasizing the negative aspects of a book, especially when the information presented is largely unique or highly desirable, as it indeed is in this case. In fact, usually, I confine my negative observations to the quality (or, more accurately, the lack thereof) of the photographs as used by this particular author to illustrate his books. This I have mentioned in reviewing Mr. Rottman’s books on the WW2 US Marine Corps in this series, as well as his books in the Osprey Campaign series. Unfortunately, in the case of this review, not only will I complain about photo quality, I will also note some absolutely bizarre uses of the English language as well.

The author does indeed give a competent overview of the Imperial Japanese Army’s (IJA) structure and organization during the prelude to, and the early actions in, the Pacific during World War 2. He begins with a brief on Japanese history and culture, something which is critical to the understanding of the subject at hand. Here he tells of how Japan fought against “Westernization”, how her people sought to maintain the old ways of the Samurai, how she became industrialized, how the nation embarked on the Imperial road, and how the character of the people of the Land of the Rising Sun shaped the nation’s military. He then gives valuable information regarding the “whys and wherefores” of the adoption of certain tactics, organizations and equipment. Finally, there are brief overviews of the campaigns undertaken during the first few months of World War 2 in the Pacific, or as the Japanese called it the “Greater East Asia war”.

This is all accompanied by various charts and maps, which usefully support the text. For instance, there are tables that list the orders-of-battle for the various units that saw action during the described campaigns. In addition, there are short unit deployment histories contained on a two-page table. The photographs are for the most part well-captioned but, as is usual for this author, either extremely poorly reproduced (what kind of originals is he using, I wonder?) or so small as to be mere afterthoughts. There are a number of contemporary Japanese illustrations used, which look to be well-reproduced, but unfortunately, are presented in such a tiny size as to be nothing more than mere curiosities.

As I intimated in my first paragraph, I was prepared for poor photographic reproduction. What I was not prepared for was the rather unusual use of the English language in several places in the text. For instance: on page 6, “…the accession of Emperor Yoshihito…” should probably read, “the ascension”. On page 8, “…series of incidents cumulating in…” should probably read, “culminating in”. My favorite is in the chronology on page 91, where the author states “…Japan pressurizes the government…”. One puts “pressure” on a government to get certain results. One “pressurizes” a vessel by filling it with a gas (for example, a space-craft filled with air). I noted an error or two again in another usual place (the author has demonstrated time and time again his lack of knowledge in the area of AFV recognition). For instance, on page 51, what the author describes as a Type 92 tankette is actually an early Type 94 tankette. His caption that accompanies the tiny photo of the Type 89A/89B/Type 94 medium tank is also confused, but to be honest, this particular tank’s sub-types are difficult to identify, especially if the provided photo is the only reference. The chronology on page 91 would have the casual reader believe that the Japanese conquest of Wake Island occurred in a single operation taking place on a single day. In fact, the battle raged from Dec. 8th through the 23rd (as the text ably recounts) and included a bloody repulse of the first Japanese attempt at a landing. Finally, on page 5, US Commodore Matthew Perry’s name is misspelled as “Parry”.

While Mr. Rottman has certainly earned the title of one of Osprey’s most prolific writers (especially if one counts only the titles published in the last two years), he is also, in my opinion, one of the most erratic. This is a pity, since he continues to tackle relatively little-known or quite intriguing material.

Recommended with reservations.

Frank V. De Sisto

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