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Operation KE: The Cactus Air Force and the Japanese Withdrawal from Guadalcanal Hardcover – November 15, 2012
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“In summary, the authors aptly describe KE as “a great escape,” successfully evacuating some 10,000 Japanese troops despite continued, often ferocious, U.S. air attack. The final chapter contains a detailed analysis of the reasons why the Japanese succeeded and the Allies failed to stop them, but notes that relatively few of the emperor’s rescued soldiers fought again in the Solomons. Operation KE is a worthwhile contribution to the literature of the Guadalcanal campaign.”
― Naval History
“Extremely detailed, informative and comprehensive.” ― Defense Media Network
“The narrative is rich in detail of the aerial action, giving comprehensive, blow-by-blow accounts that accentuate the heroism and resourcefulness of the Cactus Air Force crews.” ― Seapower Magazine
“By far the most detailed treatment of this important and under-studied operation. Packed with new research, the result is a thorough treatment of the air battles that raged in the Solomon Islands at the end of the Guadalcanal campaign.” ―Jonathan Parshall, co-author, Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway
“Operation KE is a crackling good account of the Japanese military's successful rescue of their 10,000 troops remaining on Guadalcanal in early 1943. Researched extensively from both U.S. and Japanese records, the story unwinds around day-to-day air and sea combat. The narrative is engrossing and the authors’ conclusions are sure to stir controversy." ― Lt. Col. James A. Feliton, USMC (Ret.) former Cactus Air Force Pilot during Operation KE
“The surprisingly successful Japanese evacuation of troops from Guadalcanal has for too long been largely ignored or minimized. Deeply researched and detailed, the Letourneaus’ work picks up where John Lundstrom’s masterful The First Team and the Guadalcanal Campaign left off in describing and analyzing the desperate and intense aerial combat that took place over the Japanese destroyer flotillas engaged therein. Detailing the equipment, tactics, challenges, and experiences of the air units and airmen of both sides, this work represents a groundbreaking contribution to this significant and previously overlooked history.”
―Allyn D. Nevitt, author of Long Lancers
From the Inside Flap
This revisionist history questions some key traditional assumptions underlying Operation KE the rescue of some 10,600 Japanese troops from Guadalcanal. The authors challenge the accepted American view that the Japanese succeeded largely because U.S. Pacific Theater commanders let them. Tracing the course of the air and sea clashes surrounding Operation KE, the writers conclude that Japanese strategic planning took advantage of the strengths possessed by the Imperial armed forces while exploiting the limitations of their adversaries. On the other hand, American misreading of Japanese intentions, the consequent pursuit of a cautious offensive strategy, plus a misallocationof resources, all undermined U.S. initiatives to stymy Operation KE.
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Top customer reviews
The book is written in a cut and dry format, very technical regarding equipment down to the upgraded model designation and it is all accurate, having read 100+ books on the Solomon Island battles…an advanced degree in polysci and a history minor with a concentration on the South Pacific War....so in short....
This entire Operation KE was an exception to the Imperial Army and Navy rules of war and their operational modus….typically when stationed in combat they were expected to die rather than surrender or be rescued…the only thing I can think is Imperial Navy must have been looking for kudos having blundered and lost their navel advantage in the Midway fiasco just months prior.
It’s worth the money but it is a little tedious on the details.
The historical research and detail that the authors display relative to air combat is on par with John Lundstrom's seminal works ("The First Team" and "The First Team and Guadalcanal Campaign"). They also pay homage to Eric Bergerud's excellent tome on the air war in the south Pacific in WW II ("Fire in the Sky"). The parameters of the conflict are established, along with the combat aircraft involved and the tactics and doctrine of each combatant. There is a great deal of technical detail about aircraft type and performance that may bore some, though it is important to the story to understand these details.
Technical aircraft details are largely correct (however the TBF Avenger had a .50 Browning in the power turret rather than in the nose), though there is a dearth of information on an important fighter aircraft component: combat duration. This is apart from flight radius. Combat duration is largely determined by the amount of ammunition carried. For instance, the Grumman F4F-4 carried six .50 machine guns in its battery, but they held only 240 rounds per gun versus the earlier F4F-3 which had four .50 Brownings but 450 rounds per gun. The difference was about 18 seconds of fire in the F4F-4 compared to 34 seconds of fire in the earlier F4F-3 variant. Any fighter pilot will attest to the fact that during arial combat, a 16 second difference is akin to a lifetime when you are being targeted by an enemy aircraft and are out of ammo. The Curtiss P-40s also had a very modest ammo supply, while the 37mm cannon on the P-39s held only 30 rounds. But this is a minor caveat regarding this superb work.
The book goes into deep detail on the Japanese decision to evacuate the 17th Army from Gudalcanal, and their strategy and tactics to accomplish this mission. It also illustrates the American response, which was almost exclusively the use of air assets located at Henderson Field within the US Lunga Point perimeter. The air battles were intense, and these are very well researched, outlined, and explained. The use of Imperial Japanese Navy destroyer assets to effect the night time evacuation of the starving survivors (approximately 10,700 men) of the Japanese Army turned out to be a brilliant gamble. Three runs by the Tokyo Express removed the emaciated, ragged, and disheveled IJA troops from this cauldron. The authors clearly outline why the US forces were unable to interdict these efforts, and how the Japanese successfully extracted the remains of the IJA forces that had challenged the US invasion of Guadalcanal since 7 August, 1942.
Importantly, the authors underscore the critical nature of logistics. Without serviceable airfields, experienced air maintenance crews, aviation fuel, ordnance, and spare aircraft parts, there was not much of a chance to be successful in an air campaign of attrition. Additionally, the health and well being of the pilots and plane crews was a salient issue that had an appreciable impact on the efficiency of the air stikes and fighter intercepts. The US won this attrition battle (though barely), and ultimately defeated the Japanese on Guadalcanal, and the eventually in the rest of the Solomons chain.
This book is a worthy addition to any collection of books on Guadalcanal. Roger and Dennis Letourneau are to be congratulated on an excellent work. Their scholarship, detail, analysis, and conclusions are largely above reproach. The book fills a void in the study of this landmark battle, and ultimately helps the reader to understand how the grueling six month campaign for this godforesaken island ended. It was a Japanese triumph of troop extraction in the face of heavy adversity, but one that was ultimately ephermeral in nature.
During the early part of February, 1943, the Japanese made three runs down the Slot to Guadalcanal. On these runs, the Japanese managed to rescue the Japanese managed to rescue the great majority of the 17th Army troops.
Operation KE has been described as one of the greatest rescue missions of the Pacific War. What was unsettling to the Americans was that the Japanese were able to pull off Operation KE right under their noses. The Cactus Air Force proved to be largely ineffective, while the U.S. Navy failed to place any major warships to disrupt the train of Japanese destroyers.
I've read many books about the Guadalcanal campaign and I am familiar with Operation KE, but this is the first book I've read that deals exclusively with it. I thought the authors did a good job overall of describing the objectives of Operation KE. The efforts made by the Japanese to subdue the Cactus Air Force are well detailed as well as the efforts of the Americans to disrupt the Tokyo Express. The authors do use some rather colorful cliches which are somewhat unnecessary, I felt.
Operation KE was successful thanks to good strategic planning by the Japanese and the failure of the Cactus Air Force to stop the Tokyo Express. This book does a good job of discussing one of the lesser-known events of the Pacific War. Recommended.
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