The Pacific offers gritty re-enactment of war

By Harry Bioletti

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Harry Bioletti served in the Pacific War in the 29th and 30th Battalions. Photo / Supplied
Harry Bioletti served in the Pacific War in the 29th and 30th Battalions. Photo / Supplied

The first episode of The Pacific shows promise and the viewers will be rewarded if they can stand the gritty reality. The mayhem is yet to come.

The story started slowly and there was little mention of New Zealand - the country where many of the American Marines were based before heading to the Solomon Islands to fight the Japanese.

As one officer told his men before they left for the Pacific: You will be landing on specks of earth that you have never heard of. It seemed no one had heard of New Zealand or Guadalcanal.

The Pacific - the latest mini-series from Hollywood producers Stephen Spielberg and Tom Hanks - went to air tonight on TV One.

It painted a picture of sparse forests where soldiers patrol the jungle on a cut track. I recall dense jungle where soldiers had to walk in single-file and the man at the front had to cut a path with a machete. I remember the mud, the slush and the dirt. In spite of the bombardment, the birds were still singing.

The Japanese did not run into machine gun fire. They were experienced fighters and had come down through Malaysia to Singapore by the time they met the Yanks in the Solomon Islands.

It was the Americans who were the largely inexperienced. Some of them had been driving taxis in the Bronx, they didn't know much about jungle warfare. They had just come out of the Great Depression. One American soldier put it to me like this: These boys haven't worn a decent pair of boots in their lives. But Uncle Sam had provided them with the best equipment and demanded their loyalty.

The opening battle scene in Pacific shows Marines climbing down the nets of a destroyer tied up alongside an LCP (Landing Craft Personnel). I would have liked to have seen the sea a bit rougher. I recall soldiers being very careful to make the jump as the wave came up, otherwise you could end up in the sea, weighed down by rifle and ammunition and crushed between the LCP and the destroyer.

In Pacific the LCPs head straight into land but sometimes they would have to hang around off the coast for up to three hours before landing. Everyone got sick. The small Pacific beaches couldn't cope with a whole battalion landing at one time.

But I did notice that they learned quickly about booby-trapped bodies in Pacific. The Japanese did leave behind booby-traps, particularly in their fortifications and you had to be wary.

It took the might of Uncle Sam six months to subdue the Japanese on Guadalcanal - an island about six times the size of Waiheke in Auckland's Hauraki Gulf. It was the turning point in the Pacific War and the beginning of the end for the Japanese. It was a war of attrition - it was not over in five minutes.

I'm looking forward to the rest of the series. I got cheesed off with the earlier series Band of Brothers - the soldiers had clean shaven faces, spotless boots and uniforms. War is not like that.

Pacific is for real. We are seeing history re-enacted. I just hope it is not viewed as entertainment, but there is little risk of that.

* Harry Bioletti served in the Pacific War in the 29th and 30th Battalions. He was also a member of an advanced guard that was sent to New Caledonia to source suitable campsites for the New Zealand battalions. He is the author of The Yanks are Coming, amongst other books, and also contributed a chapter to Against the Rising Sun: New Zealanders remember the Pacific War.

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