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by John Nunneley
and Kazuo Tamayama
Casell & Co, 2000
Order now at amazon.com
|Tales By Japanese Soldiers
There was a time when I would have had zero interest in reading a book on the Japanese side of the war, but having now read a number of them, I have found that my understanding of the Pacific War has been greatly enhanced. Certainly any book on the Japanese experience is overwhelmingly tinged with tragedy but also clearly defines the nature of the enemy and the way he waged war.
John Nunneley served in the British Army in Burma and has written extensively on the conflict while Kazuo Tamayama is the secretary of the Japan-British society and holds an honorary MBE. Together they have gathered together veterans from the Burma conflict, and have melded their stories into the context of the actual events. For example the recollections of the Kohima battle use the British names for the battle key points. Having just read “The Siege”, the definitive account of Kohima from the British viewpoint, to now read the story from the Japanese side going over the same action, provides a rare insight into the battle.
The early recollections of the Japanese victories are also very insightful, and to my knowledge never covered in such detail in an English publication previously. The early campaign had much similarity to the Malayan peninsula campaign though fought with more limited resources in men and supplies. The stories of the Japanese infantry fighting against armoured units give a real insight into just how effective the Japanese forces were in the art of modern warfare.
The book is in four chronological parts, covering the advance into Burma, the occupation period, the operation into India to strike at the China supply routes, and the inevitable retreats. The difficulty of the terrain and climate comes across in every story and dominates the recollections. There are 62 individual stories, and this format makes the book extremely easy to digest.
For me, three incidents in the book stood out. The first involved the descriptions of the early fighting- the actions against the British tanks and the description of a Zero / Hurricane encounter over Akyab by a 64th Fighter Squadron pilot. The second and third incidents occurred during the retreat from Kohima and Impahl. Yasumasa Nishiji, an engineer who took part in the retreat, saw things that cannot be described in words, so he drew pictures, wonderful cartoon like images of “those forsaken by God.” The starving, the wounded, the woeful and the suicidal, they are all shown here in this tragic mosaic, in essence a snapshot of a defeated nation, forsaken by their leaders and driven to despair. Here is the emperor’s legacy, as stark as at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The third incident that stood out for me was the extraordinary adventure of four desperate soldiers who decided to raft down the Chindwin River to get back to their lines during the retreat from Impahl across the Arakan mountains. It is a wonderful tale and a cracking read, worthy of any explorer’s journal let alone a military history book.
For the military historian the book is a major reference on the Burma war with all the recollections clearly documented as to the unit involved, the dates and the locations. So many historians fail on such details, details that are vital to those trying to later put things into a proper context. Such attention to detail makes the book a worthwhile addition to any library on the Pacific War.
Review by Phil Bradley
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