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by Eric Hammel
Pacifica Press  2000
Soft cover
520 pages
Index, photos, force list, maps
ISBN: 0-935553-04-5
Cover Price:
Language: English

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Starvation Island

Guadalcanal was the classic three-dimensional campaign. On land, at sea, and in the air, fierce battles were fought with both sides stretching their supplies and equipment to the breaking point. The campaign lasted six months, involved nearly one million men, and stopped Japanese expansion in the Pacific. When the campaign began on August 7, 1942, no one on either side quite knew how to conduct it, as Eric Hammel reveals in his account.

Guadalcanal: Starvation Island
Corrects numerous errors and omissions in the official records that have been perpetuated in all the books previously published about the campaign. Hammel also draws on the recollections of more than 100 participants on both sides, especially the enlisted men in the battle.

Read about the remains of the fleeing British administration and colonials, who either by choice or because they were unable to escape in time became "Coastwatcher" observing Japanese sea and air movements and radioing reports to the Allies. Their intelligence would give the Allies the advantage to prepare for raids well in advance, but this information came at a price - the Japanese hunted the Coastwatchers who were dependent on local Solomon Islanders for support, and infrequent supply drops from planes or submarines to support their efforts.

Confusion on Both Side
The early days of the US Marine's invasion caught the Japanese forces by surprise, most of whom were laborers or engineering troops. Initially, the Japanese response with almost nil, and even some of the Korean laborers were taken prisoner. It would take days for the Japanese to fully grasp the size of the invasion, and prepare an adequate force to route the Marines.

Soon, American had problems of their own. Poor intelligence and maps meant the Marines were in the dark, few Europeans planners has access to had ever spent any significant time on the island. For instance, pre-invasion maps put Mt. Austern as an objective 100's of feet from the shore. In reality, it was eight miles away!

Logistics and supply problems on the beach rapidly became apparent. Supplies were unloaded faster than they could be managed. Soon, the entire beach area was dangerously crowded with supplies. The situation was so acute that even combat Marines were asked to help haul supplies!

Darkest Days
Unexpectidly, the Navy withdrew its air support from Guadalcanal. As Seebees rushed to complete the Japanese airfield, which was improved and renamed Henderson Field. This one airfield became the most pivotal piece of real estate in the entire region, as the Japanese tried to destroy it, and the Americans keep it in operation as a forward base for land based aircraft to operate from.

During their darkest day, Marines were forced to eat captured rice for three meals a day. Jittery nightwatches led to American casualties. Japanese air raids, and shore bombardment racked the beachhead on many occasions. At one point, a Japanese submarine even fired on a patrol of Marines on the shore with its deck gun! Anecdotes like these are found throughout the book, and have not received mention in other histories of the campaign.

A Comprehensive Tome
Hammel crafts his book in a way different than most histories. Instead of being merely an analysis from the higher command's level, we read about the thoughts and observations of a whole wealth of characters, from the fighter pilot in the sky, to the marine on the ground. Enlisted men and officers. Just as exciting, is the Japanese side of those same figures. For the first time, that I have ever read, one is able to see and understand more about what was going on in mind of the other side.

Survivor's accounts bring us into the heart of the battle and portray the fighting accurately, realistically, and powerfully. Guadalcanal: Starvation Island follows the men and the commanders of this decisive World War II campaign in an integrated, brilliantly told narrative of the desperate struggle.

This is a comprehensive tome. Readers who are familiar with history of Guadalcanal, or those who are new to the subject will both find plenty exciting about this book, and gain a new appreciation for the violence and intensity of the fighting while reading a book that is difficult to put down.

Review by  Justin Taylan  

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Last Updated
September 21, 2023

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