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Authors: John Prados

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BOOK: Islands of Destiny: The Solomons Campaign and the Eclipse of the Rising Sun
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When I was a boy reading this history, I was repeatedly struck by its one-sidedness. Some authors were better than others, and official histories made a more explicit effort to look at both sides. There were very few works from a Japanese perspective. That grated. In
Combined Fleet Decoded
I noted that the problem for historians of the Pacific war is to explain how the Imperial Navy, so powerful in its day, could have achieved so little in exchange for its utter destruction. One element that sustains my proposition that the Solomons marked the turning point is that during this campaign the Japanese remained capable of giving as good as they got. Deterioration was just setting in. In the Solomons the Imperial Navy inflicted eleven major warship (cruiser and above) losses and endured the sinking of nine of its own big ships. But from the end of this campaign until their surrender, the Japanese managed to sink just two major enemy warships while losing dozens of their own. Examining this question is impossible without sustained attention to the Japanese—and to the intelligence.

Meanwhile, the focus on Allied actors and strategy in existing accounts also cried out for equivalent consideration given to the adversary. Historians have moved somewhat in that direction during recent years, and this book furthers the trend. With the Allied side of the war as familiar as it is, what is truly fresh—and fascinating—is more of the story told from the Japanese point of view. I have provided adequate coverage of the Allies while devoting considerable space to the little-known adversary.

Islands of Destiny
is a classic military history. While the memory-versus-history debate continues, and works focused solely on personal experiences have furnished some vivid narratives, I prefer the big picture. This does not mean that individuals are ignored—the reader will find characters in these pages whose stories are quite extraordinary. Rather it means that individual feats are integrated into an overall narrative that explores every element of the story. A primary focus on memory impedes the search for larger truths. Identifying this campaign as a turning point, and presenting my reasons for that conclusion, requires a level of analysis beyond the personal narrative. I have nevertheless gone further into such narratives than elsewhere, as in the Normandy book. Here the reader will find accounts of Japanese sailors
and soldiers that illuminate important themes and illustrate the Solomons experience in unprecedented detail. The idea of showing both sides is carried down to the personal level.

It is remarkable that at this remove, with so much having been written on the Pacific war, it is possible to present an account that is not merely derivative. I do indeed owe much to the giants in this field, and knowledgeable readers will recognize my agreement—and occasional differences—with arguments advanced by such historians as Samuel Eliot Morison, E. B. Potter, John Toland, Paul S. Dull, John B. Lundstrom, Richard Frank, Eric Bergerud, Robert Sherrod, Ron Spector, John Winton, and others, along with less well-known authors such as Samuel B. Griffith II, Edwin P. Hoyt, and Henry Sakaida. I have made substantial use of memoirs from both sides, official histories and documents, periodicals, and other material.

A few words are in order regarding Japanese sources, and I also wish to make special acknowledgment of groups and individuals who have labored in this vineyard with great benefit to the historian. I am not fluent in Japanese nor affluent enough to afford the kind of research and translation services required to access the Japanese literature. This led me to search for material that had been translated into English, which I have mined to considerable effect, as the narrative will demonstrate. The focus here on intelligence also opened the door to a huge array of Japanese information that had been translated at the time by Allied personnel, not just codebreakers but Nisei experts of the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section, the South Pacific Command, the Japanese language officers of the U.S. Navy, and other intelligence personnel. Their work afforded access to diaries, ships’ logs, after-action reports, command directives, interrogations of captured Japanese, and a wealth of similar material. Let me give special thanks for their service.

Another acknowledgment needs to be made to the people who worked for the United States Strategic Bombing Survey and those who served in intelligence with the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers in Japan after the war. Their efforts to uncover the Japanese side, including finding Imperial Navy veterans who became key intermediaries and sources, a host of interviews with former Japanese officers, the set of high-command directives,
the action and movement records of major Japanese warships, a mountain of technical studies of the Japanese war effort and operations, and the set of monographs commissioned from Imperial Navy (and Army) officers. Together the intelligence records plus the postwar investigations furnished much of the raw material used here.

In addition I want to acknowledge the efforts of certain individuals whose enthusiasm for the subject has made available incomparable resources. The first of these people is the author John Toland. In researching his book
The Rising Sun
, Toland did what I could not—he went to Japan, hired a translator, and interviewed many Japanese veterans. Moreover, he did that in the 1960s, when many more of them were alive than is now the case, and with their memories fresher. Toland’s careful notes, available at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, encompass far more than what he used in his history of Japan’s war, and form a vital set of source material. Less ambitious but also drawn from Japanese participants is the work of Haruko and Theodore Cook. Historians Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon, through their association with Gordon W. Prange, developed an interest in the Japanese that led them to produce several collections of documents concerning Pearl Harbor and also, of key importance, a translation of the diary of fleet chief of staff Ugaki Matome. Finally I cannot leave the issue of sources without extending special thanks to historian Anthony Tully, author of important reinvestigations of the battles of Midway and Surigao Strait. On his Web site,, Tully has created a priceless collection of material, much of it his own but also in cooperation with like-minded enthusiasts, on virtually every ship in the Imperial Navy as well as numerous related subjects.

Many persons helped in the compilation of the sources I used here. I am indebted to Jane Smith-Hutton, an OSS officer and wife of a senior U.S. naval intelligence expert, who provided important source materials and spent many hours illuminating for me the inner ethos of the Navy’s World War II intelligence community. I had similar conversations with Phillip Jacobsen, one of the Navy’s intelligence radio monitors actually on Guadalcanal. At a key moment in the writing Ron Spector lent me a vital set of documents. Louis Fisher graciously read a portion of the manuscript and commented on certain issues of international law. For special advice on the project I wish to thank Rena Szabo Masters. I also want to acknowledge John E.
Taylor, Judy Thorne, and Richard von Doenhoff at the National Archives (NARA). At the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library of NARA let me thank Stephen Plotkin and Michael Diamond. At the Naval Operational Archives I am indebted to Michael Walker, in particular, as well as to John Hodges, Kathleen Lloyd, and Gina Akers. At the Roosevelt Library I was assisted by Susan Y. Elter, John C. Ferris and Robert Parks. Elizabeth Mays of the Navy Department Library, Linda O’Doughda of the U.S. Naval Institute, and Edward Finney Jr. of the Naval Historical Center all provided valuable help. Some of these persons have passed away, retired, or gone on to other things since I conducted this research. Jane Smith-Hutton, an elegant and fine lady, passed away in 2002. Phil Jacobsen left us four years later, my last letter to him never answered. I especially regret the passing in 2008 of archivist John Taylor, who merits extra mention as a tower of wisdom, insight, and knowledge of the source material for many generations of researchers. Another figure, John Ferris, has become a noted historian of intelligence. Ellen Pinzur read and edited the manuscript and extended her usual cheerful support. These persons, individually and together, have contributed much to what is good about this book. I alone am responsible for its faults and omissions.

—John Prados
Washington, DC
July 2011


Allied air command for the Solomons (also used for commander, AIRSOLS)
Station name for U.S. Navy codebreakers in Australia, 1942–1945 (aka FRUMEL)
Carrier Air Group
Station name for U.S. Navy codebreakers in the Philippines, 1941–1942
Commander in chief (Japanese)
Commander in chief, Pacific Ocean areas
Commander in chief (U.S.—also the chief of naval operations)
Navy Base Unit
Fleet Radio Unit Melbourne
Fleet Radio Unit Pacific
Government Code & Communications School (British)
Government-issue (common usage for a U.S. soldier)
U.S. Army Intelligence (also Southwest Pacific Theater Intelligence)
His Majesty’s Ship (in a ship name)
Station name for U.S. Navy codebreakers at Pearl Harbor, 1941–1943 (became FRUPAC)
Intelligence Center, Pacific Ocean area
Imperial General Headquarters
Japanese Naval Air Force
Marine Air Group
Station name for OP-20-G codebreaking activities
Navy General Staff
Office of Naval Intelligence
Codebreaking organization of the Office of Naval Communications (aka Station Negat)
Douglas Dauntless dive-bomber
Seventh Fleet Intelligence Center
Special Naval Landing Force
South Pacific Command (also used for commander, South Pacific)
Southwest Pacific Theater command
Grumman Avenger torpedo plane
Talk Between Ships (low-frequency intership radio net)
United States Ship (in a ship name)
Navy carrier-based dive-bomber squadron
Navy carrier-based fighter squadron
Marine fighter squadron
Marine scout bomber squadron
Navy carrier-based scout bomber squadron



The sky was fair, and aboard the battleship
, flagship of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s vaunted Combined Fleet, sailors traded winter uniforms for summer ones. The heat could be brutal in the Pacific’s middle latitudes where
cruised. Rear Admiral Ugaki Matome saw the desirability of lighter clothing, but he remained attired in his old gear. He had other concerns.

As fleet chief of staff, Ugaki struggled to understand what had just happened. Only days before, the Navy, with a huge preponderance of force, had advanced on Midway Island, to be dealt a stinging defeat by Americans inferior in almost every respect. This day, June 10, 1942, offered an opportunity to review the debacle with senior officers of the First Air Fleet, the carrier task force that had suffered stunning losses, also known as the Nagumo Force for its commander, Vice Admiral Nagumo Chuichi, and by its operational nomenclature, the Striking Force, or
Kido Butai
. Light cruiser
took advantage of a calm sea to approach the
, lowering a boat to carry Nagumo across to the flagship. Officers were unceremoniously bundled into straw mats to be lowered to the waiting launch.

For days since Midway little had gone well. Ugaki’s burdens were many. Fleet staff walked around in a daze. While serving the officers, steward Noda Mitsuharu noticed air staff officer Commander Sasaki Akira acting as if he were personally responsible for the Navy’s defeat. Sasaki’s eyes showed his lack of sleep, and, unshaven, he sat impassive in the operations room. The big boss, Combined Fleet commander in chief (C-in-C) Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku, his own eyes glittering strangely, had disappeared after the final, horrific news. Yamamoto had taken to bed for several days, eating nothing. He’d now been diagnosed with roundworms.

Insult had been added to injury when destroyer
ran down another screening ship,
, during a routine course change to avoid suspected submarines. At Midway the Imperial Navy had lost a prized heavy cruiser, the
, when she was crippled by collision with another warship and could no longer evade the enemy bombers.

Admiral Yamamoto finally reappeared on the
’s compass bridge sipping rice gruel. Ugaki professed joy, for Yamamoto was the soul of the fleet, acknowledged as its most brilliant leader.
’s collision brought back sour thoughts of the
, but both men knew the really disastrous result was the destruction of
Kido Butai
’s main strength—all four fleet carriers committed to Midway. Now they would review the battle with Nagumo’s officers.

BOOK: Islands of Destiny: The Solomons Campaign and the Eclipse of the Rising Sun
4.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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