Book Review: MacArthur's Jungle War: The 1944 New Guinea Campaign

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by Stephen R. Taaffe

Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas 1998. xiii, 312 pp. Maps, notes, bibliog., index. $35.00. ISBN: 0-7006-0870-2

Stephen R. Taaffe has produced a useful and highly readable account of one of the most neglected campaigns of the Second World War. The battles in New Guinea, especially the later ones in the western portion of the island, remain virtually unknown today.

Taaffe spends several chapters discussing the background and buildup to the campaign, and then devotes one chapter to each of the major battles that occurred in New Guinea during 1944. The battle accounts are crisp and fast-paced, dealing with action at the battalion level or higher. Important leaders are evaluated as well. Factors affecting combat, such as logistics, and especially the brutal environment and the diseases it produced, are also discussed.

One of Taaffe's central themes in this work is that the entire 1944 New Guinea operation was, for MacArthur, a necessary inconvenience, a mere prelude to the liberation of his beloved Philippines. MacArthur's principle opponent during this campaign was not really the Japanese, but rather the US Navy. Taaffe repeatedly stresses MacArthur's emphasis on speed, on the necessity of keeping up with the Navy's central Pacific campaign, occasionally to the detriment of planning and at the cost of increased casualties.

Taaffe's work is a solid overview of this campaign, but his limitation of one chapter per battle means that some of the larger battles, such as Hollandia and Wakde-Sarmi, are given a relatively brief treatment. The book lacks photographs, and generally includes no more than one map per battle. These relatively minor limitations aside, MacArthur's Jungle War is a first-rate account of this campaign, and is highly recommended to anyone with an interest in the Pacific theater of the Second World War.

Reviewer: Thomas Goetz   


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