Monday, January 9, 2006

Read: "Across the Dark Islands: the war in the Pacific" by Floyd W Radike

Across the Dark Islands: the war in the Pacific by Floyd W Radike

Excellently written by infantry veteran Radike. Radike covers his day to day experiences in the Pacific campaign and provides succinct, interesting, and well thought over evaluations and observations on the work and progress of the Army's tactics and leadership during the Guadalcanal, New Caledonia and Phillipines campaigns.

Radike joined the National Guard in the late 30s in Michigan and ended up assigned to a NG unit from Washington. Radike starts his story in 1942 just prior to his Regiment's landing at Guadalcanal. Landing in Guadalcanal after most of the major fighting was finished, the Regiment's first casualty was "death by falling coconut" during a rainstorm.

Radike makes clear that the dangers of the jungle - Malaria, heat, mud, malnutrition - caused as many casualties as enemy contact. After the fighting in New Caledonia his company numbered less than 15 men, from an assigned strength of 200.

Radike makes several comments on the poor leadership that existed in the "old boy network" of his NG unit where promotions were based on seniority and friendship rather than leadership and fighting skill. The peacetime Army of the 30's was well known for it's lack of promotional opportunities. The "Regular Army" officers would buck for promotion by showing aggressiveness of the battlefield. Colonels looking for promotion to General would push and push the troops just to look good to their superiors. The effects of this on the troops - and their mortality - was largely ignored. Reminded me of Nick Nolte's character in Thin Red Line who pushes on an infantry attack to save his own skin.

Another item of interest is how the fighting units were the last ones to get new recruits. The brightest and fittest recruits would continually get assigned to rear areas after getting picked by senior commanders. In the Phillipines, Radike goes to the Corps Commanders headquarters to discover a bunch of new replacements playing basketball; the Corps Commander had picked them to stay in the rear so he could win inter-unit basketball games.

A lot of Radike's observations are echoed in Death Ground by Daniel Bolger which I am currently reading. Bolger, currently a brigadier general in Iraq, mentions several times about how the infantry has historically gotten lousy recruits and been undermanned.

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