Book Review: Hell's Battlefield: The Australians in New Guinea in World War II


by Phillip Bradley

Sydney: Allen & Unwin / Chicago: Trafalgar Square, 2013. Pp. xxii, 506. Illus., maps, notes, append., biblio., index. $29.95 paper. ISBN: 1743317557

Australians at War in the “Nastiest” Theatre

Bradley, an Australian military historian, who has a string of excellent books to his credit, such as Australian Light Horse and To Salamaua, gives us a history of Australia’s role in the Pacific War. This is a story largely unknown to most Americans, due in part to manipulation of the media by Douglas MacArthur, who rarely permitted mention of Allied forces in his press releases.

Bradley gives us an excellent account of some of the toughest fighting of the Second World War. Not only were the opposing Japanese troops a tenacious, wily, and implacable enemy, but also the fighting in Papua-New Guinea and nearby Bougainville was conducted under some of the worst environmental conditions on earth, dense, disease infested jungle, a theatre called by Samuel Eliot Morison “the nastiest” of the war.

Bradley drawing on an impressive volume of first hand accounts. While most of his sources are Australian, he does include material written by Papua-New Guinean personnel and even Japanese troops. Bradley manages to take us from desperate hand-to-hand combat on the treacherous Kokoda Trail, Milne Bay, Salamaua, or some other fighting front, to the policy makers in the rear, and back to the front again with surprising fluidity, thus linking the men at the sharp end to those making decisions, not always wisely or unselfishly or in the spirit of Allied unity.

Originally published in Australia as Hell’s Battlefield: To Kokoda and Beyond, this is very useful read for anyone wishing to know more about this corner of the war, and also an outstanding account of men at war.

Note: Hell’s Battlefield is also available as an e-book.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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