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Hell to Pay: Operation DOWNFALL and the Invasion of Japan, 1945-46. Updated and Expanded, by D. M. Giangreco

Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2018. Pp. xxx, 554. Illus., maps, tables, appends., notes, index. $35.00. ISBN: 1682471659.

Ending the War in the Pacific

D.M. Giangreco’s 2009 book, Hell to Pay: Operation DOWNFALL and the Invasion of Japan, 1945-1947, set the gold standard for research on the end of World War II in the Pacific. This new edition of the authoritative work has been greatly expanded and updated, and provides further insights into the context of Allied decision making in the conflict’s final months, with fascinating new research regarding Soviet planning and participation in the war against Japan.

True to his title, Giangreco argues that the pending invasion of Japan would have been an extremely bloody affair. Far from accepting defeat, the Japanese armed forces had accumulated thousands of kamikaze aircraft, a wide variety of suicide naval craft, an army of approximately three million men, and a rapidly expanding home defense force comprised of armed civilians. Although Japanese planners anticipated heavy losses, they believed that they could extract so high a price from the Allies that they would be able to secure an acceptable negotiated end to the war.

While the US and British were confident in their ability to win, they were deeply concerned about the costs of victory. This fatalism was underscored by American defense planners, when they ordered an additional 500,000 Purple Heart decorations in anticipation of massive losses, a stockpile so large it proved sufficient to cover American casualties in wars over the next 50 years.

Based on this grim reality, Giangreco argues that the atomic bombs were an unexpected blessing because they ended the "mutual suicide pact", almost certainly saving lives on both sides. Although this claim runs counter to much of the recent scholarship regarding the need for the atomic bombs, the wealth of primary source evidence convincingly documents the likely costs of an Allied invasion of Japan and puts Allied decision making into a proper strategic context.

In addition to fresh source material and some minor rewrites for readability, the new version vastly expands on the US-Soviet relationship during the war’s final months. Contrary to much of the prevailing scholarship, which claims that the US used the atomic bombs to intimidate the USSR and preclude their entry into the war, Giangreco demonstrates that the US actively sought Soviet participation.

This fascinating claim is well documented in two new chapters which argue that US Lend-Lease aid and political concessions at Potsdam were part of a coherent strategy to ensure that their Soviet ally would be a full partner in what was projected to be a costly invasion of the Japanese home islands. Rather than a race against time to avoid a Soviet invasion, this work demonstrates that the US was racing to get the Soviets into the war. For these new perspectives on Soviet involvement in the war alone, this new edition of Hell to Pay is worthy of purchase, as it provides a much needed reassessment of the US-Soviet relationship during World War II and new insights into origins of the Cold War.

The updated version of Hell to Pay is a must read for any student of World War II as Giangreco has greatly improved on his already impressive work.


Note: Hell to Pay is also available in several e-editions


Our Reviewer: Dr. Daniel, is an assistant professor at the Embry-Riddle College of Security and Intelligence, in Prescott, Arizona, where he researches and teaches at the nexus of political science, political theory, and military history, was the editor of 21st Century Patton, selections from the writings of George S. Patton that not only offer insights into the generals thoughts on war, but suggestions for the modern commander as well. His earlier reviews include one for the first edition of Hell to Pay.


Reviewer: J. Furman Daniel, III   

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