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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

1942 by Bob Wurth and Kokoda by Peter Fitzsimmons

25. – 538.) 1942 by Bob Wurth and 26. – 539.) Kokoda by Peter Fitzsimmons – I read the books concurrently while in Australia finishing both of them on the 14 hour flight from Sydney to Vancouver. 1942 focuses on the pivotal year of WW II for Australia. Kokada is the story of the epic battle of the Pacific campaign in which the Australian army stopped the Japanese army. It was the first time the Japanese army had been defeated in the war.
            1942 alternates between the Japanese and Australian actions. I was surprised by the extent of the Japanese Navy’s role in advocating and planning war strategy. They were consistently more aggressive than the army.
            When there was unexpectedly swift success in Malaya and the Philippines after the attack on Pearl Harbor there are many in the navy eager to attack Australia. The army was opposed, worrying about over-extending the army, and doubtful about the benefit of occupying part or all of Australia. Had they realized Australia was essentially defenceless, having sent its 3 best divisions to fight in North Africa, the Japanese would have attacked. I had not realized the depths of the antagonism between Australia’s Prime Minister, John Curtin, and Winston Churchill over Curtin’s insistence the Australian troops be returned to Australia when Churchill judged an invasion unlikely.
            Providing a human Japanese perspective Wurth focuses on the midget submariners who knowingly set forth on their missions knowing they were suicide missions. While he wonders why Japanese admirals had so much concern for this small group a disproportionate share of his book is devoted to the submariners. It was poignant to read of their sacrifice and provoked anger at the admirals who sent them to their pointless deaths.
            Eventually the Japanese army and navy agreed to capture Papua New Guinea and then consider anew invading Australia. 1942 makes clear that the pivotal naval contest of the Pacific was the Battle of the Coral Sea in which a Japanese fleet on its way to attack Port Moseby was forced to retire by the American navy.
            The Japanese then decided to attack overland following the Kokada Track. Their primary opposition were the members of the 39th and 53rd battalions of the Australian militia. Very young, often 18 or 19 years old, they were derisively called "Chocos” (chocolate soldiers who would melt away in combat). Barely trained and ill equipped they faced top Japanese soldiers.
            Kokoda sets out how these militia, primarily the 39th as most of the 53rd  did melt in combat, stopped the Japanese and then conducted a fighting retreat through the mountains until finally reinforced by regular Australian army soldiers. The 39th fought hard and well.
            Fitzsimons focuses on the experiences of Joe Dawson and Stan Bissett to illustrate the men who fought on the Kokada Track.
            I had only vaguely known of the battle and thought the Japanese were stopped more by disease and supply problems than the Australian militia. I was wrong. The Australians suffered just as much from disease and struggled to supply their troops.
            It was startling to read how difficult it was to go up and down the hills that made up the Kokoda Track. While in Australia we had visited with Bob and Jan Sydes. At 59 Bob made the trek with a son and his daughter. I was deeply impressed by his strength and stamina to walk the Track. I could not have made it.
            Fitzsimons is not afraid to write about the stupidity of upper Australian army leadership which sent soldiers to fight in the jungle in khaki uniforms and tried to run the defence from Australia.
            The Japanese, at a huge cost, did drive the Australians almost back to Moresby where they were halted by a combination of supply problems that left the troops on the verge of starvation and strengthened Australian forces. Fitzsimons has little use for “Dugout” Doug McArthur and the Australian Army leader, General Thomas Blamey.
            It was moving to read of the skill and determination of the Australians. It was a powerful moment to read the words of the commander of the 39th to his men after they pulled out of the line. They were so exhausted and affected by disease they could barely stand at attention.
            The young men of the 39th saved Australia from invasion.
            Japanese tactics were limited to aggression. When they were checked on the Kokoda Track the solution was to launch frontal charges with high losses. Such tactics were to persist for the rest of the war when they actually needed sound defensive plans. Just as with Hitler, they were so focused on the attack they could not adapt to defence. Equally the indifference to casualties reminded me of Hitler. While the Japanese soldiers, sailors and airmen were ready to die for their country their leaders were too willing to spend their lives when they should have looking to preserve these fierce fighters.
            Fitzsimons is the better writer. His book unfolds like a novel. Wurth is a more standard popular historian. Excellent books. (June 22/10) (Kokada second best non-fiction of 2010)


  1. It was moving to read of the skill and determination of the Australians. It was a powerful moment to read the words of the commander of the 39th to his men after they pulled out of the line. Kokoda Treks

  2. Thanks for the comment. Your treks sound like powerful experiences for the participants. I was glad to read of your efforts to improve the lives of the villagers along the trek route.