Author: Bryan Perrett
Harcover: 234 pages
Price: UK 19.99 GBP
A review by Bill Plunk
The rise of Japan as a dominant power in the Pacific and ultimately her decision to go to war against the United States in 1941 were driven by many factors and the narrative of how that came to be is the driving force behind the story in Why The Japanese Lost, The Red Sun’s Setting. While the title might suggest otherwise, the book does not engage in a deep analysis of the many factors in play that drove the Japanese to war and ultimately led to her unconditional surrender in 1945. Instead the focus is more on the arc of the development of the Imperial Japanese Navy and how it was employed in World War II as an extension of Japanese foreign policy and shaped the strategies pursued in the fighting that followed. In this regard the author succeeds in covering a lot of ground in a relatively short number of pages with only a few diversions along the way.
The book is organized into 15 separate chapters as well as a closing ‘envoi’ and a bibliography and supporting index. The first relatively short chapter lays the cultural groundwork for the story that follows and provides a brief view of the events that led to the opening of Japan to the west in the 1800s and its experience dealing with western colonial powers that convinced it of the need to have its own navy to protect its national interests. The following three chapters cover the rise of the IJN and the battles fought first against the Chinese in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 and then ten years later against the Russians in the Russo-Japanese War 1904-1905. Of the three chapters, one each is devoted essentially to the Battle of the Yalu (or Yellow Sea), the Port Arthur campaigns, and the Battle of Tsushima with supporting details and events leading up to and following each of these battles included in the narrative. In Chapter 5 the book very briefly discusses Japan’s involvement in World War I and its rise to Great Power status and acquisition of colonies from Germany in the process.
The first five chapters cover 69 pages and serve as background information primarily for the ‘big show’ that begins in Chapter 6 which is aptly titled ‘Times They Are a’Changing’. Here the story touches on the interwar influences including the Washington Naval Treaty of 1921 which set the capital tonnage ratio of 5:5:3 between Great Britain, the US, and Japan but which left out warships such as aircraft carriers and submarines. The chapter also deals with some of the technology developments of the period including Billy Mitchell’s influence on air power doctrines, the development of monoplane fighter, bomber, and torpedo aircraft, as well as the ‘Long Lance’ torpedo. Other important events of note include the USS Panay incident in China as well as the outbreak of World War II’s effects on the colonial Dutch, British, and French strategic positions in Asia and the Pacific.
The heart of the book however lies in Chapters 7-15 which cover 138 pages and focuses on the naval battles from 1941-1945 with only slight mention of various ground campaigns or battles that were connected to the ensuing naval engagements. The initial successes beginning with Pearl Harbor and continuing through to Midway are dealt with in turn with the focus on the naval aspects and how this fed the ‘Victory Disease’ mentality of invincibility among the senior Japanese leadership. Much attention is devoted to the battles in and around Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands in 1942-1943 with each major surface action given its share of time in the narrative. Chapter 12, titled ‘Pacific Jigsaw’, provides some interesting diversions including the brief Japanese experience with armed merchant cruisers, the career of the USS England and it’s sinking of 6 Japanese submarines in the space of 12 days, and the brief accounts of the exploits of the submarines USS Tang and HMS Tradewind as examples of how US/Allied submarine tactics were successful vs. those of the Japanese. The remaining three chapters deal with the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot/Battle of the Philippine Sea and both the surface and carrier engagements of the Battle of Leyte Gulf (Operation SHO). Here the book effectively ends with the last 5 pages devoted to the ‘Envoi’ conclusion with a brief mention of the use of Kamikazes, the final one-way sortie of the Yamato, and the conclusion of the surrender ceremony in Tokyo Bay aboard the USS Missouri.
If you’re looking for a nice compact description of the major naval engagements of World War II involving the IJN, then this book delivers this in an effective way with a natural flow that only occasionally takes a side trip here and there along the route. Even though the title suggests that the focus would be on examining why the Japanese lost the war, the book devotes scant attention to the reasons behind their defeat and only touches briefly on the broad points such as the lack of mass production capability, the mistaken short-term focus on fighting a quick war and forcing a favorable settlement, and the ultimate inability to replace critical losses in experienced aircrew as factors behind their ultimate defeat. Missing entirely is any in-depth analysis or assessment beyond those brief mentions to accompany the broader narrative of the rise of the IJN and the arc of its early string of seemingly unstoppable victories followed by the tide turning and their surrender. Instead the reader is largely left to draw their own conclusions and assessment beyond the cursory attention paid by the author as mentioned. Despite this, the book is an entertaining read and does cover all the major engagements of the Pacific war in a thorough way, making it a handy reference to turn to in that regard.
Our special thanks to Pen & Sword for providing the review sample!