The Heart of Hell

The Heart of Hell

The Untold Story of Courage and Sacrifice in the Shadow of Iwo Jima

Mitch Weiss

Berkley Caliber, New York, 2016, 432 pages

Book Review published on: March 2, 2018

The Heart of Hell is a historical work that tells the story of Landing Craft Infantry (Gunboat) 449 (LCI-449). Weiss’s extensive research allows him to trace the life of LCI-449 beginning with its deployment from the East Coast of the United States. He describes in sufficient detail the role it and its crew played in the battles it participated in throughout the Pacific theater. Battles in places familiar to readers such as the Marshall Islands, Saipan, Guam, and Tinian provide depth in the development of the cast of individuals and of LCI-449 while concurrently creating and providing context to the role of LCI-449 during the fateful battle of Iwo Jima.

The LCI was a relatively narrow ship—158 feet long by 23 feet wide—with its original design and intent to carry up to two hundred troops and land them on a beach. The LCI(G) were repurposed LCIs that were modified by removing two of its forward 20 mm gun mounts and replacing them with two 40 mm guns. Most LCI(G)s were armed with four additional 20 mm guns, six 50 caliber machine guns, and ten MK7 rocket launchers. These modifications provide protection to those vessels and enabled close-in fire support of amphibious operations. Weiss ably describes how this was accomplished with a high degree of success in the Mariana and Marshall Island campaigns for not only reconnaissance and underwater demolition teams but also for marines and soldiers on the ground. To do this, the LCI relied not on overwhelming firepower or dense armor but rather the courage and heart of its crew.

The Heart of Hell is much more than a historical work that describes the utilization of an LCI(G) during the Second World War in the Pacific. This is a work that builds upon the humanity of the sailors on LCI-449 and crescendos with the battle of Iwo Jima. Weiss is adept at painting a picture for the reader of the individuals involved—the sailors and their friends, families, and loved ones.

By crafting the story with a care to the human dimension, Weiss has created an eminently readable work. His ability to create a connection between the reader and individuals depicted within the pages is remarkable. One finds themselves deeply vested in the welfare of the sailors of LCI-449, and by extension their friends, families, and loved ones. Weiss explores the backstory of the cast of characters in sufficient depth to successfully humanize them, all of which serves to add to the shocking gruesomeness and reality of combat. In short, for the reader, the names of his cast are not simply words on a page but rather individuals with real emotions who breathed, lived, were grievously wounded, and sometimes died. This microcosm of the war in the Pacific is highly recommended.

Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Roger J. Linder, U.S. Army, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas