This is an amazingly detailed book authored by a Polish Ph.D. in Law, living in Japan, writing about Japanese advances in the eastern Indian Ocean. As if that isn’t intriguing enough, author Michał A. Piegzik covers a little known (at least to most Americans) subject in a much larger backdrop of Allied defeats in the early Pacific War, focusing on ABDA (American, British, Dutch, Australian) forces as they reeled from Japanese attacks in Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Dutch East Indies, the Philippines, Java, and Burma.
What makes this author’s approach interesting is that Michał A. Piegzik graduated from the University of Wroclaw’s (Poland) Faculty of Law in 2015. He moved his family to Japan as the Pacific War is his passion. Michał’s research entails original documents in Japanese and English, illuminating both combatant sides very well. His work was recognized by being awarded the Japanese Ministry of Education (MEXT) scholarship for his exceptional research results. He lives in Sagamihara (Kanagawa prefecture) and is the author of five books and over 20 articles on Japanese law and the Pacific War, most of which are in Japanese.
The Japanese, and particularly the Imperial Navy, knew that they had to hit the Allies quickly and deliver devastating blows early as they couldn’t afford a protracted war. Concurrently with the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese launched a series of attacks by sea, air and land in Southeast Asia during “Southern Operation” (Nampo Sakusen), focusing on the Philippines, British Malaya, and American bases in the Central Pacific. The Japanese continued their successes and by January 1942, they attacked British Borneo and the Dutch East Indies. Surprised by their early victories, the successful execution of Namp Sakusen provided the Japanese three main offensive options; of which they could only focus on one due to the vast distances involved and limited resources: to eliminate Australia from the war, to extend operations to the Indian Ocean, or seek a decisive battle with America in the Pacific Ocean. This book focuses on the option chosen – the Indian Ocean.
The Darkest Hour, Volume 1: The Japanese Naval Offensive in the Indian Ocean 1942- The Opening Moves covers the Nippon Kaigun (Imperial Japanese Navy) and its main naval campaign in the eastern Indian Ocean from late March through early April 1942, including “Mobile Force” (Kidō Butai), the name for the combined carrier battle group composing most of the aircraft carriers and carrier air groups of the Imperial Japanese Navy. The Japanese were the first to successfully highlight the new carrier raid and attack strategy. The Kidō Butai had already demonstrated its devastating affect at Pearl Harbor (7 December 1941) and Darwin (19 February 1942); they planned to repeat this feat and destroy the British Fleet with its aircraft carriers in the Indian Ocean. The book is focused on this campaign and is broken down with six chapters, five appendices, an extensive bibliography, and 31 tables.
Japanese strategists realized that seaborne transport was much more efficient than overland on poorly developed transportation lines across brutal terrain and weather in Malaysia, Thailand and Burma. One of my previous book reviews, Burma Victory 1944-1945, outlined the draining effects of logistics and combat in this theater.
The Japanese plan was to defeat the US Navy, then focus on capture of Ceylon (modern day Sri Lanka) off the southeastern coast of India to control the Indian Ocean and sever British shipping lanes to the Middle East. The Tripartite Agreement with Germany and Italy created the exclusive zone of influence of the Empire of Japan and would be established east of meridian of 70o E, including most of India and Ceylon. The Empire of Japan wanted a “gathering of the eight corners of the world under one roof (hakko ichiu)” and was also promoted as the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Under this concept, all non-Japanese people were subject to barbaric treatment, to include the native people of Burma and India that they hoped to swing to their side to counter the British.
The book is presented logically, complete with photographs of the major leaders and operations, maps, tables and even a colour (written in the Queen’s, now the King’s English) profile section composing the following six chapters:
- Japanese Strategic Plans in the Indian Ocean
- British Defence Plans
- Aircraft Carriers in the Indian Ocean
- Occupation of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands
- Christmas Island Invasion Operation
- Kidō Butai in the Indian Ocean
Complete with four appendices:
- Kidō Butai’s and Malay Force’s Orders of Battle during the Indian Ocean operation
- List of Japanese aircraft
- Japanese Terminology Relating to the Operation in the Indian Ocean
- Japanese Submarine Operations in the Indian Ocean
This book is a boon for modelers of the early Japanese conquests in the Pacific War. There is a plethora of black and white photos of belligerent naval and aircraft. On the British side, there are Sea Hurricanes, Fairey Swordfish and Albacore, Catalinas, and Grumman Martlets (Wildcat), along with color profiles of HMS Hermes and HNLMS Jacob van Hemskerck. The Japanese side is covered in even more depth with seven color pages of Zeroes, Vals and Kates (with descriptions on the markings classifying which aircraft carrier, group, commander, etc) and a color profile highlighting the five Japanese carrier deck markings used in the operation.
This is a great book on a little-known period in World War II. The details are incredibly researched, maps clearly explain the campaign, and the photos and drawings are immaculate. My only complaint is that the six chapters fantastically lead up to the main event, then abruptly ends on the eve of battle. Volume 2, with its three chapters, covers the attack against Ceylon and the Eastern Fleet, is slated for release in August or September 2022.
Profuse thanks to Casemate and IPMS-USA for providing the review sample.