Ever wonder what a Pacific War battle sounded like? For those of us who have never been in combat it is hard to imagine what fighting on those Pacific islands must have sounded like. But what did it sound like? Those of us who were not there will truly never know, but we can rely on the written word and spoken testimony by Pacific War combat veterans to begin to get a sense of what a Pacific War battle must have sounded like.
If you comb Pacific War veteran memoirs and oral histories you are bound to come across countless descriptions of the unique and unsettling sounds of land, air and sea combat that defined the war in the Pacific. For the purpose of this article, we will only be looking at the sounds of war commonplace to the combat infantry experience in the Pacific.
According to Marine Sterling Mace, 'Random shots sound like tearing paper, knifing through what few leaves remain.'  GI Floyd Radike: '...I could hear the bang and thud of artillery and the corn-popping sound of rifle and machine gun fire.' 
As he moved south in early May 1945 to relieve battered Army units engaged in a vicious stalemate combat against the Shuri Line defenses on Okinawa, Marine Eugene Sledge recounted the following about the sounds of war:
'The farther we preceded, the louder the sound of firing became: the bumping of artillery, the thudding of mortars, the incessant rattle of machine guns, the popping of rifles. It was a familiar combination of noise that engendered the old feelings of dread about one's own chances as well as the horrible images of the wounded, the shocked, and the dead - the inevitable harvest.' 
Marine Clifford Fox experienced one of the most intense bombardments of the entire Pacific War - the Japanese naval bombardment of Henderson Field on the night of 13-14 October 1942. Fox described what the intense bombardment he experienced on Guadalcanal that night sounded like:
'And then came the shells from the sea. We were located less than a thousand yards from Henderson, so some of these shells drifted into our position, landing among us. God, the noise was incredible. Boom. Boom. They sounded like freight trains coming through the sky. The earth shook like it was going to open up and swallow us all. I thought it was the end of the world.' 
Marine Fred Heidt experienced the same bombardment and also described it as sounding like a train:
'When the battleship shells went over, it sounded like an express train: a whooshing noise.' 
Aussie Bill Crooks described what the horrors and confusion of a jungle firefight sounded like on New Guinea in September 1942:
'We, D Company, actually walked into an ambush just below a rock face too steep to climb. It was matted in bamboo and lawyer vine. Suddenly all hell opened up from the vines, a blast of massed fire. At the time we thought we had bumped head-on into a battalion. But experience after leads me to believe it was probably two companies. They were advancing around the cliff in probably four single-file columns. That is, one of their companies in two single files, four or five yards apart and ten yards out, and their other company the same. We were strung out in single file and we must have walked into the middle of the head of their column. It was the loudest noise of a massed firefight I ever heard. We had in a minute the platoon commander and a section leader killed and ten or twelve wounded. And bloody confusion. Nobody said a word. I remember moans and groans later in the night. Terrible screams of the wounded. It must have been theirs because we recovered all of ours straightaway and sent them back. But you could never tell with the Jap. They used to talk and scream, hoping one of us would come looking and bang! Later we passed the same place and recovered our two dead.
It was all over in say ten minutes. We must have fired half our ammo and they half theirs. Bushes and light trees disappeared as if cut by a scythe. Grenades were bursting. Our Brens and their light machine guns were blasting away. The bullets were zinging and zipping all around us. The noise was absolutely deafening. It was all extraordinary: the sound of it, the number of men involved and the closeness. We were in the center of them and they in the center of us. Do not have a clue how many Nips we hit. Probably the same ratio as they hit of ours. We never found a body later, but they dragged their dead away and hid them for burial later by night or burnt them.' 
GI Stan Coleman described the murderous storm of steel American artillery unleashed on Japanese attackers at Torokina on Bougainville the night of 24-25 March 1944 as sounding like thunder:
'One night 37th was hit with an all out banzai attack. We swung our guns max elevation. Our shells were going way and the hell gone. We fired all night long and into the day. I loaded shell after shell. Every howitzer in the perimeter was firing at the Japanese and it sounded like thunder that lasted for hours. When we ceased fire, smoke lay over the land everywhere. I loved the smell of gunpowder. Still do.' 
Amazing "real time" footage of the 11th Airborne Division coordinating air, artillery and infantry attacks on Japanese held Hill 2380 on southeast Luzon in the Philippine Islands. Douglas A-20 Havocs can be seen pounding Hill 2380 into submission with napalm and parachute demolition bombs in preparation for artillery and infantry attacks. This footage provides amazing insight into WW2 combat in the Pacific, specifically combined air-ground operations. What is unique about this footage is that it was shot live with sound - the vast majority of WW2 combat footage was shot without sound.
Along the same vein and very relevant to this topic, the modern Finnish Army has filmed POV footage of what it is like to be on the receiving end of an artillery barrage. Though modern military, the hardware employed here is not all that dissimilar to WW2 vintage. This is essentially what it would have been like to experience an artillery barrage during the Pacific War (or any 20th century conflict for that matter). Be sure to watch in HD and crank up the volume for maximum effect!
1. Mace, Sterling. Battleground Pacific: A Marine Rifleman's Combat Odyssey in K/3/5. St. Martin's Press, 2012. (p. 58).
2. Radike, Floyd W. Across The Dark Islands: The War in the Pacific. Presidio Press, 2003. (p. 41).
3. Sledge, Eugene.
4. Bergerud, Eric. Touched With Fire: The Land War in the South Pacific. Penguin Books, 1997. (p. 393).
6. Ibid, pp. 362-363.
7. Ibid, p. 518.
This article was written by:
'The very atmosphere of a battle defies description and eludes the imagination. Words cannot convey even a suggestion of the sounds heard and the emotions felt, when every faculty is heightened, when every nerve is tense.'
--- Charles Dowie, Great War veteran