History Channel // 2005 // 276 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Ryan (Retired) // October 26th, 2006
"I shall return."
"D-Day" is a generic term used in military planning; it's a label for the day on which the attack takes place. Significant events are timelined based on that day, i.e. something will occur on D-1 or D+4. This makes the planning easier -- when events aren't referenced to specific calendar dates like "August 5, 1944," you don't have to change every single date on the schedule if you decide to move the attack forward or back a week.
The most famous D-Day of them all is the massive Allied landing in Normandy in June of 1944. With good reason, too: involving over 3,000,000 soldiers, the Normandy landing is still the largest amphibious landing in history. But there were many, many other amphibious assaults over the course of World War II, most of which took place in the Pacific theater. This collection of documentaries from the History Channel, part of their ongoing "The History Channel Presents" DVD series, tells the stories of the major invasions of the theater. It's a thorough and well-made collection that fans of military history will surely enjoy.
There are six distinct hour-long documentaries included on the two discs of the set, all of which were made by veteran A&E/History Channel documentarian Lou Reda. The first disc is the "D-Days in the Pacific" feature proper, split into three episodes:
* "Death at the Tideline"
The first hour covers the early history of the war in the Pacific, from Pearl Harbor through the early Japanese victories in the Philippines, Guam, Wake Island, and New Guinea. After thwarting the Japanese invasion of Midway, and dealing a devastating blow to their carrier fleet, the US could finally start to go on the offensive. The story of American D-Days begins at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. Threatened with the possibility that the Japanese would cut off Australia from the US, the invasion was practically a necessity. Although victorious, the attackers were, in hindsight, underequipped, and they struggled to hold the island against repeated Japanese counterattacks. The next offensive strike, at Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands, was even rougher. Poor charts, insufficient naval bombardment, stubborn coral reefs, and a lack of cover on the nearly-flat island added up to a nightmare for the Marines. Relearning a lesson learned at Gallipoli in World War I, the Marines found that a direct amphibious assault of a heavily-defended objective is a costly venture.
* "Closing the Jaws"
Hour #2 picks up at the end of 1943, after the successful capture of Tarawa. With the outer fringes of Japan's conquests recaptured, the US developed a two-pronged strategy: while the Army, commanded by Douglas MacArthur, captured or isolated Japanese bases in New Britain and New Guinea on their way back to the Philippines, Adm. Chester Nimitz and the Marines would "island hop" through the Japanese fortified bases in the central Pacific, capturing the tiny islands with the big airstrips that could support strategic bombing of Japan itself. MacArthur did his part, neutralizing New Guinea by isolating the main Japanese base at Rabaul. That left Nimitz to capture the Marianas Islands, which would put Tokyo within range of the new B-29 Superfortress bombers. The Marianas were taken in three steps. First came Saipan, a heavily defended rock that was the main Japanese airbase in the chain. Then Guam would be taken. Finally, the real prize: the island of Tinian, which had the long airstrip needed for the big strategic bombers.
* "The Final Graveyard"
With the Marianas captured, the door was open to retake the Philippines and press on towards the Japanese home territories. MacArthur successfully landed the army at Leyte Gulf, but a miscommunication by Nimitz led to the beachhead being left undefended by the Navy. Only the bravery of a small anti-submarine squadron, which took on the full Japanese capital ship surface fleet sent to smash the invasion, saved the landing from disaster. Meanwhile, the Marines discovered, at Iwo Jima and Okinawa, that the Japanese would defend their territory to the last man. After the capture of Okinawa -- only 350 miles from the Japanese mainland -- planning began for the invasion of Japan itself.
Disc Two of the set is really a disc of extras, although it's not treated as such by the packaging. Two episodes of A&E's Biography are included, covering the two titans of the Pacific Theater, Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Adm. Chester Nimitz. Both men were honorable, brave, and highly intelligent. Beyond that, they couldn't have been more different. Whereas MacArthur was brash, arrogant, and an inveterate self-promoter, Nimitz was humble, thoughtful, and more than willing to let his subordinates (like his Annapolis classmates William "Bull" Halsey and Ray Spruance) take credit for their victories. Each was, in his own way, an absolutely vital part of the US victory in the Pacific. Finally, an additional documentary on the Army/Marine landing at Peleliu (in the Palau islands), "The Bloody Hills of Peleliu," goes into detail on that one lesser-known invasion. It predates the main feature by nearly a decade; some of the interviews contained in it were reused in the "Final Graveyard" episode. But it does contain plenty of additional information and tells the Peleliu story in much greater detail than the feature.
The quality of these six documentaries is uniformly excellent. They are informative, interesting, and thorough. While some footage is reused (and overused), the reuse never reaches the point of being an annoyance. Picture and sound quality are fine, given the archival nature of most of the footage. I do have a nitpick, though: much of the footage in the main "D-Days in the Pacific" feature has been colorized. I'm not a fan of the colorization of black and white film; I think the results always look unnatural and strange. Given that, however, this is one of the least intrusive and annoying examples of colorization I've seen. Still, I'd prefer that the original B&W be left alone.
I also would have enjoyed a more expanded discussion of Operations Olympic and Coronet, the planned invasions of Kyushu and Honshu (respectively) in late 1945-early 1946. These assaults, which of course never took place, would have been the largest amphibious actions in history. Olympic would have required the largest fleet ever assembled, and Coronet would have been the largest landing in history, three times the size of the Normandy invasion (15 divisions vs. 5). Casualties on both sides would have been enormous. Let me put it this way -- the US military is still using, and isn't really close to running out of, the stock of Purple Hearts prepared in 1945 in anticipation of the invasion of Japan. I remember seeing a documentary on the subject, but I think it was a Discovery Channel production -- which would explain why it isn't here, of course.
Overall, though, this is a great set for World War II buffs or anyone interested in military history. It's got a lot of detail about the Pacific campaign, and two good biographies to boot. There aren't a lot of bells and whistles on this disc, just good information and lots of historical footage. Really, that's all you need to make a good documentary. If this subject matter interests you, by all means take a look at D-Days in the Pacific.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 276 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated