"FIGHTING FOR MACARTHUR"
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Book Review
Mark J. Reardon

 

 

 

 

 

THE AUTHOR
John Gordon, a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army with a PhD in public policy, is a senior defense analyst at a defense think tank, and has written widely on military subjects. A resident of Gainesville, VA, he also serves as an adjunct professor at George Mason University and Georgetown University.

Fighting for MacArthur
The
Navy and Marine Corps' Desperate Defense of the Philippines
John Gordon
Naval Institute Press, October 2011
ISBN-10: 1612510574, ISBN13: 978-1612510576 
9.3 x 6.4 x 1.3 inches, 416 pages.

 

I must admit that this particular subject is not one that I normally delve into. As a fan of Matrix Games' "War in the Pacific" computer game, I have bought books on the Pacific War to check on the research that went into the game. There is a fair amount of material on the US Army in the Philippines, to include the official history volume (Fall of the Philippines) and good books such as "Bataan: The Last Ditch" which borrows heavily from Student Personal Experience Papers written by career Army officers attending the Infantry Advance Course at Fort Benning, GA in the late 1940s. Recognizing that my knowledge of the campaign was largely limited to the US Army's participation (and less so, but to some degree also the Philippine Army), I bought this book. After reading it, I must say that it was money well spent. The author clearly put considerable time and effort in researching and writing this account. It reads well, yet it also contains a great deal of relevant detail previously unpublished - especially the sections discussing the 4th Marines. The evacuation of US forces in China, to include the 4th Marines (or most of them) and the gunboats are covered in detail. The author also sheds some light on the fate of the Marines in North China, many of whom were imprisoned because they could not be evacuated to the Philippines in time.

There is not a lot about the larger surface combatants of the Asiatic Fleet as most of those vessels left the Philippines early in the campaign. The author does talk about the fleet's numerous submarines, which made several attacks against the Japanese invasion fleets, albeit with little result as their torpedoes did not work. There is some coverage of the Navy's PBY Patrol Wing, but it also departed fairly early in the campaign. The remaining naval forces in the Philippines at this time consisted of shore based units, the Marines, PT boats, China gunboats, other light coastal craft and some support vessels such as the tender USS Canopus.

Although the account focuses more on the bombing of the Cavite Navy Yard and defense of Corregidor than other topics, those were among the most important events affecting the officers and men of the Asiatic Fleet during this period. The destruction of Cavite meant that the Asiatic Fleet's ability to support itself was significantly degraded. The Navy, due to Admiral Hart's forethought, began evacuating its stores to Corregidor and Bataan soon after Cavite was destroyed. This course of action should have been adopted by the Army, but the transfer of supplies did not happen, thus dooming the defenders of Bataan to slow starvation. In sharp contrast, the naval personnel in the Philippines ate well and remained in good health.

The contribution of Naval personnel fighting as infantry against Japanese amphibious landings behind the main line of resistance is also well covered. The part that sailors and Marines played in the defense of Corregidor, to include their actions during the Japanese amphibious attack on the island are narrated with exceptional clarity and detail.

In terms of personalities, the Author paints a solid picture of Admiral Thomas Hart, who most readers should grow to admire as I did. That said, the author does not like Douglas MacArthur (who is admittedly a hard man to like), making his own feelings on this topic quite clear at several points in the book. To me, that was a small distraction which seemed out of place. Criticism of the Army's operations, planning, and personalities, however, is warranted. The commanding officer of the artillery on Corregidor, for example, should have allowed his batteries to aggressively contest their Japanese counterparts when the latter started softening up the island for an amphibious landing. The author points out that the officer involved instead stressing precision firing and conservation of ammunition, which did little good as the defending cannon were knocked out one by one.

Editing is refreshingly good compared to many other books I have read in the past several years. There are also adequate maps and diagrams, in my estimation, to accompany the narrative. Highly recommended for students of the early phase of the Pacific War and also for historians seeking to learn a bit more about the preparedness (or lack thereof) of Western colonial forces deployed in Asia/Pacific region during the months leading up to the outbreak of hostilities in December 1941.

Mark J. Reardon

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