Book Review: Operation KE: The Cactus Air Force and the Japanese Withdrawal from Guadalcanal


by Roger Letourneau & Dennis Letourneau

Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2012. Pp. xx, 370. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $42.95. ISBN: 1591144469

An insightful account of at the Japanese evacuation of Guadalcanal.

Although for a time a near-run thing, the American campaign for Guadalcanal turned into a major victory, marred nevertheless at its end by the daring and well-executed evacuation of some 10,000 surviving Japanese troops by the Imperial Navy.  Operation Ke is a detailed and often gripping account of the evacuation and the determined but ultimately unsuccessful effort  by Allied air forces based on Guadalcanal to halt the movement. 

Drawing heavily upon original documents, including Japanese sources, the authors give us an even handed account of the events.  They open with the causes of the Japanese decision to evacuate the island and their careful planning and organization for the mission.  They then give us several chapters on American and Japanese aviation resources, personnel, and  doctrine, and a look at some of the preliminary movements.  These are followed by a series of chapters that give an almost day-by-day account of the closing weeks of the campaign until the last surviving troops were taken off.  Although the book is focused on the air campaign against the evacuation, adequate treatment is given to both ground and naval operations.  The authors conclude that the success of the evacuation was due to very careful planning and execution by the Japanese, arguably making the operation their most successful of the campaign.

Operation Ke is an important work for anyone interested in the Solomons Campaign.


Note: Operation Kee is also available as an e-book, ISBN 978-1-61251-179-5.

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Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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