THE CORPS OF ENGINEERS: THE WAR AGAINST JAPAN. By Karl C. Dod (1966, 1982; 759 pages, 1 chart, 33 maps, 54 illustrations, 2 appendixes, bibliographical note, glossaries, index, CMH Pub 10-6.)

A companion to the operational volumes in the Army's Pacific theater subseries, this volume chronicles the story of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the most primitive, undeveloped, and remote areas of the Pacific Ocean, China, and Southeast Asia. More often than not, these regions were covered with impenetrable jungles, alive with tropical insects and debilitating diseases, cut by swift and wide rivers, criss-

Page 107

crossed with rugged mountains, and at the end of tenuous supply lines that stretched hundreds, if not thousands, of miles back to developed bases.

Whether in the tropical jungles of Papua-New Guinea or the Burma-China borderlands, on the coral atolls of the Central Pacific, or on the inhospitable islands of the Aleutians, American forces were initially confronted with a lack of even the most rudimentary logistical facilities and with few of the supplies they needed to sustain modern combat operations. They first had to carve out toeholds for bases that could then be tied into the worldwide logistical network that would pump in the men and materiel to press the fight against the Japanese. That difficult job belonged to the Army engineers, who first fought as combat engineers on the front lines and then became the builders who transformed jungles or atolls into new links in the chain of the advanced airfields, ports, and supply bases that would sustain the next forward steps on the road to Tokyo.

The Corps of Engineers began its war against Japan well before the attack on Pearl Harbor as engineer units in Alaska, Hawaii, the Philippine Islands, and Panama labored to improve the defenses of the United States and its vital overseas possessions against hostile attack. After the war began, engineers in the Philippines were consumed in the desperate and unsuccessful campaign to hold Bataan and Corregidor until help arrived. Meanwhile engineer units began flowing into Australia and on to Papua where they developed the bases from which the Allies would begin their long campaign to return to the Philippines.

General MacArthur's strategy of "leapfrogging" up Papua-New Guinea and back to the Philippines stressed avoiding strong Japanese concentrations and seizing and then developing the airfields and bases that would permit his air forces to cover his next leap forward. The success of this approach depended heavily on the ability of his engineer forces to build sufficient facilities quickly under enemy fire, in hostile and primitive conditions, and often with limited supplies of materials and heavy equipment.

Among the most notable of the many achievements of the Army engineers in the Southwest Pacific Area were the operations of the 2d, 3d, and 4th Engineer Special Brigades which conducted all of MacArthur's amphibious assault landings from 1943 through the end of the war. Created in 1942 to conduct the Army's assault landings, the boat and shore operations of the engineer special brigades found their fullest use in MacArthur's numerous amphibious operations.

In the China-Burma-India (CBI) Theater from 1942 through 1944, engineers concentrated on establishing the airfields, supply lines, and bases necessary to sustain British, Indian, Chinese, and American forces facing the Japanese. While many engineer units supported the aerial supply route across the Himalayas (the Hump) and built airfields in China from which U.S. and Chinese air forces struck back at the Japanese and their homeland, others confronted a virtually impassable barrier of mountains, rivers, and jungles in their mission to reestablish an overland supply rouse to China. By February 1945 Army engineers had driven the Ledo Road and its accompanying petroleum pipeline across the mountains and jungles of northern Burma to link up with the old Burma Road and thus once again opened a secure land route to China for military supplies.

Page 108

Return to the Table of Contents