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The Sen-Toku Raid
by John Mannock
New American Library, 2005, 453 pages

Before the end of World War II, the Japanese Navy completed three Sen-Toku class submarines that could each launch three bombers with foldable wings. The Japanese had plans to use the planes from these submarines in a strike against the Panama Canal, and they even discussed using the planes to bomb U.S. cities. On August 15, 1945, two Sen-Toku submarines (I-400 and I-401) were proceeding toward the Ulithi Atoll to launch a suicide attack on American ships anchored there. However, without ever launching their planes, the two submarines received orders to return to Japan after the emperor announced Japan's surrender. John Mannock has written an excellent thriller based on Sen-Toku submarines and several types of suicide attack weapons developed by the Japanese. The Sen-Toku Raid has the same elements as a great action flick: suspense, memorable characters, intense conflict, and surprising twists.

Based on the accuracy of events, places, and weapons described in this novel, John Mannock (a pseudonym) obviously performed much detailed research to create a story with great realism. His first novel, Iron Coffin, also told the story of a World War II submarine—a damaged German U-boat off the coast of Louisiana. Mannock's second novel displays storytelling mastery shown by few authors of historical fiction. He served in the American military in the early 1980s in an infantry reconnaissance unit, which may partly explain the convincing accounts of reconnaissance found in The Sen-Toku Raid.

The novel opens with six men in a U.S. Navy Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) that reach the beach of a Philippine island one night in October 1944 in order to reconnoiter, mine, and destroy submerged obstacles in preparation for a full-scale amphibious invasion by U.S. Marines. They succeed in their mission, but only two on the team survive, after drifting on a chunk of wood for six days before being rescued by a Royal Australian Air Force seaplane. The two men later get shot down while a transport plane carries them and a group of Allied soldiers and civilians to another island. This small group of Allies discover a Japanese Sen-Toku submarine base on a small Philippine island, so the outnumbered men plot to destroy it. The final man of the Underwater Demolition Team to survive communicates a warning that another Sen-Toku submarine carrying kamikaze planes and other suicide weapons plans to launch an attack on Washington, D.C. The attack is foiled, but President Roosevelt covers it up as an "intricate if somewhat overdone aerial exercise designed to test the absolute impregnability of the defenses surrounding our nation's capital" (p. 440).

In addition to kamikaze planes that sortied from land bases, the Japanese Navy developed several other weapons intended for suicide attacks (called "special attacks" in Japanese). This book weaves in these different weapons as part of the plot, even though some models were never deployed before the end of the war. The Underwater Demolition Team that scouts out a Philippine island at the beginning of the novel encounters shinyō (explosive motorboats) and fukuryu (frogmen who destroy landing craft with an explosive charge mounted on top of a wooden pole). The Sen-Toku submarine carries three types of suicide weapons: one ohka (manned rocket-powered glider), two kaiten (manned torpedoes), and three bombers. The plot even includes a Zero fighter's ramming of an American plane pursuing it. Late in the war, the Japanese Army had formed special attack squadrons to protect the homeland by ramming B-29 bombers, but other pilots also sometimes tried to use this tactic against enemy planes.

The men who carry out suicide attacks in the novel generally display a strong sense of duty to the emperor and Japan, which seems to be their main motivation. A precept in the Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors of 1882 expresses that "duty is heavier than a mountain, death is lighter than a feather," and each man in the military needed to know this entire Imperial Rescript by heart. However, rather than duty to the emperor, the Sen-Toku submarine commander seems more motivated by revenge for the loss of his wife and sons in Doolittle's 1942 raid on Tokyo. This commander uses a practical approach to motivate the suicide pilots on his submarine by nurturing and exploiting that "each young suicide pilot, deep down, had an overwhelming need to feel special, part of an elite" (p. 245). Even when faced directly with death, each man carries out the suicide attack with courage. For example, the shinyō explosive motorboat pilot "felt no fear, only a kind of light-headed exhilaration" (p. 66) as he steered his small boat toward an American ship. Interestingly, the American who steals a kaiten begins to have similar feelings as the Japanese suicide pilots when he steers the torpedo toward its target.

Although the Japanese built three Sen-Toku submarines, their actual capabilities differed somewhat from the features of the two submarines in the novel. They both carried three Seiran ("Mountain Haze" in Japanese) bombers inside a deck-mounted cylindrical hangar, which opened forward with launch rails from the hangar door to bow for the planes to be catapulted into the air. The Seiran bombers could be readied for flight in seven minutes even in the dark. However, in contrast to the novel's submarines, the historical Sen-Toku submarines did not have the ability to also carry two kaiten and an ohka weapon. Other Japanese submarines had been converted to carry two to six kaiten, but no submarine had both aircraft and kaiten. The Japanese did have plans to design a submarine that could launch rocket-propelled ohka weapons, but they never developed one.

Although the novel's deployment dates and geographical locations of Japanese suicide weapons at times do not agree with historical facts, Mannock provides details and uses technical terms to present convincing action and characters. He skillfully weaves in historical background with the novel's main story line. Mannock limits the number of geographical settings and even provides a map of the Philippines to show the exact location of the Sen-Toku submarine base, so readers can easily follow the story's action.

The book depicts a wide variety of interesting and memorable characters, both on the Allied and Japanese sides. Although Mannock presents some favorable aspects of several Japanese characters, he generally portrays the Japanese less favorably than the Allied combatants. The two most detestable Japanese, the arrogant ohka pilot who physically and verbally abuses a talented flight technician and the wily warrant officer eager for advancement by turning in others for rule violations, both get their just deserts when killed intentionally by someone on their own side.

The character of Major Barnaby, former sociology professor at Cambridge University and an Allied intelligence adviser and field researcher, supposedly has the most brains of anyone in the novel, but his statements regarding the history of kamikaze attacks reveal several major errors. Although the first Japanese aerial suicide squad was named shinpu (meaning "divine wind" in Japanese), Barnaby explains (p. 102), "Nisei translators, American soldiers of Japanese descent, . . . have come up with the shorter, somewhat more derogatory term kamikaze when referring to these units." Obviously, kamikaze is not a shorter word than shinpu in English, and even in Japanese the two words have the same number of syllables. Also, it is hard to believe that any Japanese person at the time would have considered the word kamikaze to be "derogatory," since kamikaze was a historical term that referred to the typhoon (divine wind) that saved Japan from a Mongol invasion in the late 13th century. Also, in contrast to Barnaby's assertion, the Nisei translators did not just "come up" with the word kamikaze. Many people, including Japanese during and after the war, have used the more common pronunciation of the two Chinese characters (kanji) that make up the word kamikaze (Japanese-style reading) rather than less common pronunciation of shinpu (Chinese-style reading), even though the correct pronunciation of the name for the first aerial suicide squad is shinpu. Another error Barnaby makes is to state that toku means "special attack," when the correct Japanese word is tokko or tokkou.

Major Barnaby also commits several anachronisms. On October 27, 1944, he explains (p. 102) that the word kamikaze "has pejorative overtones of foolishness or recklessness when used colloquially." This definitely happened in Japan in the postwar period, but the word had no such "pejorative overtones" at that time. He states (p. 102) that the "intelligence-gathering community knew for some time that the kamikaze existed," even though the first aerial suicide squad was formed on October 20 (Inoguchi and Nakajima 1958, 12-3), and the first newspaper article about their successful attack on October 25 was not even published in Japan until October 29 (Kaneko 2001, 134). American military translators did not first use the word kamikaze (instead of shinpu) until November 8 as part of the translation of a telegraphic communication from Tokyo dated October 31 (Hara 2004, 115). The telegraph did not indicate the pronunciation of the two Chinese characters that make up the word kamikaze or shinpu, so they translated it using the most commonly used pronunciation (i.e., kamikaze). On October 27, 1944, Major Barnaby also states that he knew about shinyō (explosive motorboats) and kaiten (manned torpedoes), even though very few men in the Japanese Navy knew of their existence at this date. For example, a commander of a shinyō squadron states, "the nature of my squadron was kept so secret that the relevant supply departments knew nothing about us" (O'Neill 1999, 79).

Just one month after publication, every one of eleven reader book reviews on Amazon and Barnes & Noble give The Sen-Toku Raid a rating a five stars (at April 17, 2005). This exciting novel deserves the accolades.

Sources Cited

Hara, Katsuhiro. 2004. Shinsō kamikaze tokkō: Hisshi hitchū no 300 nichi (Kamikaze special attack facts: 300 days of certain-death, sure-hit attacks). Tōkyō: KK Bestsellers.

Inoguchi, Rikihei, and Tadashi Nakajima, with Roger Pineau. 1958. The Divine Wind: Japan's Kamikaze Force in World War II. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press.

Kaneko, Toshio. 2001. Shinpū tokkō no kiroku (Record of Shinpū Special Attacks). Tōkyō: Kōjinsha.

O'Neill, Richard. 1999. Originally published in 1981 as an illustrated edition. Suicide Squads: The Men and Machines of World War II Special Operations. London: Salamander Books.