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Kamikazes, Corsairs, and Picket Ships: Okinawa, 1945
by Robin L. Rielly
Casemate, 2008, 435 pages

Destroyers, LCS(L) (Landing Craft, Support (Large)) ships, and various other ship types assigned to radar picket stations surrounding Okinawa defended the main Allied fleet from Japanese air attacks from March 26 to August 13, 1945. Attacks by kamikaze aircraft on these radar picket stations sank 15 ships and damaged 45 others. Robin Rielly, author of Mighty Midgets At War: The Saga of the LCS(L) Ships from Iwo Jima to Vietnam (2000) and Historian and Archivist of the National Association of USS LCS(L) 1-130, thoroughly covers these air attacks by utilizing an extremely wide range of English-language primary sources. Rielly explains in the Preface that no other history has made a complete study of the attacks on the radar picket ships at Okinawa. However, the history Picket Ships at Okinawa (1996) by Paul Thurman has the same basic scope, but Rielly's history far surpasses this prior effort with an incredible number of details, many which cannot be found in other histories of Japan's kamikaze operations.

The first two chapters provide very valuable background information about picket ships and their tactics, Japanese Navy and Army special (suicide) attack aircraft and strategy, and makeup of the American Combat Air Patrol (CAP) aircraft. Although the Chance Vaught 4UC Corsair gets mentioned in the title, the Grumman F6F Hellcat gets introduced as the most successful American fighter in the air battles over the radar picket stations. The ship types that served the most time at the radar picket stations included three destroyer types (mainly DD (destroyer) but also DM (destroyer minelayer) and DMS (destroyer minesweeper)), LCS(L), and LSM(R) (Landing Ship, Medium (Rocket)). Out of 101 DDs, DMs, and DMSs assigned to radar picket stations, 10 were sunk and 32 were damaged by kamikaze attacks. The 88 LCS(L)s assigned to picket stations had 2 sunk and 11 damaged by kamikazes, whereas the 11 LSM(R)s had the highest casualty rate from kamikaze hits with 3 sunk and 2 damaged.

Chapters 3 to 7 report radar picket station battle action chronologically and then by radar picket station number. The recitation of innumerable battle details during these chapters makes reading slow going and encourages one to start skimming certain sections, but these numerous facts reflect the thoroughness of the author's research. The battle narratives have a couple of helpful features rarely found in kamikaze attack descriptions in other English-language sources. First, the book incorporates American CAP movements and actions into the battle descriptions based on air group and squadron action reports. Second, these chapters make use of a variety of American-produced documents regarding Japanese air power, including postwar interrogations of Japanese military leaders, Japanese monographs prepared by the Military History Section of the Army Forces Far East Headquarters after the war's end, and translated Japanese communications intercepted by American intelligence. Especially fascinating are intercepted Japanese messages regarding several of the ten Kikusui mass kamikaze attacks carried out during the Battle of Okinawa such as Vice Admiral Ugaki's detailed orders for Kikusui No. 3 Operation to begin on April 16, 1945.

The final chapter has a thoughtful and convincing analysis of why radar picket ships at Okinawa suffered such great losses. He discusses five primary factors: (1) nature of the kamikaze attacks, (2) improper use of support gunboats, (3) assignment of ships ill-suited for task, (4) failure to establish land-based radar at the earliest possible times, and (5) crew fatigue. The book's end section has the following quote from Vice Admiral Turner in praise of the fighting courage of men who served on radar picket ships (p. 348):

The gallant ships in these stations were at all times, and in a very literal sense, in the first line of defense at Okinawa. Their expert raid reporting and efficient fighter direction made possible the timely interception of enemy aircraft which would otherwise have been able successfully to attack our transport and supply ships in force. The enemy pressed his attacks with fanatical determination and still failed to disrupt our progress, largely because the Radar Pickets were an obstacle he could not overcome. By their steadfast courage and magnificent performance of duty in a nerve wracking job under morale shattering conditions, the crews of the ships and craft on the Radar Picket stations have emblazoned a glorious new chapter in naval tradition.

Maps, photographs, and tables add significantly to this history's value. The book also has a comprehensive index and bibliography with physical locations of primary sources. Rielly lists over 50 persons from whom he obtained information through interviews, correspondence, personal papers, and diaries. However, the book mentions just a few personal accounts and rather focuses on the overall history of picket station battles.

Extensive end notes provide support for the book's statements, but this does not mean that descriptions related to Japan's kamikaze operations are necessarily correct. Since the author did not make direct use of Japanese-language sources that in some cases contain more complete and accurate information than that found in his references, the book includes a few errors regarding kamikaze pilot names, squadrons, and aircraft that could have been easily avoided. For example, the book states that a Zero piloted by Kanichi Horimoto took off from Miyakonojo Airfield and crashed into the destroyer Ingraham on May 4, 1945 (p. 213-4), but he actually flew a Hayate Type 4 Fighter (Frank) [1] with no Navy Zero fighters stationed at the Army airfield in Miyakonojo. The description of kamikaze attacks on April 2, 1945, states, "Captain Minoru Hasegawa and Sub-Lt. Nishi Yamamoto of the 66th Air Regiment were credited with leading the flights" (p. 104). In actuality, both men were members of the 20th Shinbu Squadron, and two different men from the 66th Hiko Sentai (Air Regiment) died in suicide attacks on the same date [2]. Captain Hasegawa previously was a chutai (squadron) leader in the 5th, not 66th, Hiko Sentai [3]. Based on Japanese records, Yamamoto's given name was Eiji rather than Nishi [4]. One appendix lists Japanese airfields with several mistakes (pp. 369-71). Four airfields on Honshu (Kisarazu, Kasumigaura, Komatsu, and Miho) and one airfield on Shikoku (Takuma) are erroneously listed as being on Kyushu. The list shows Nittagahara Army Airfield even though its proper pronunciation is Nyutabaru. Kengun Airfield in Kumamoto Prefecture and Bansei Airfield in Kagoshima Prefecture are missing from the list even though these were the second and third largest Army airfields when considering the number of men who sortied from there and died in suicide attacks [5]. The example errors mentioned in this paragraph arise from using translated Japanese sources prepared soon after the war ended without confirming their accuracy by consulting other Japanese sources.

Despite a few errors related to Japan's kamikaze operations, the thoroughness of Rielly's research and analysis and his well-organized presentation make Kamikazes, Corsairs, and Picket Ships the definitive history of radar picket stations at Okinawa where 1,348 men were killed and 1,586 men were wounded in kamikaze attacks.


Damage to LCS(L) 88 after kamikaze attack of
May 11, 1945 at Radar Picket Station #5

Notes

1. Sakurai 2010. Other sources such as Osuo (2005, 199) incorrectly list the date of Horimoto's sortie and death as May 11, 1945, but still show his aircraft as a Hayate Type 4 Fighter (Frank).

2. Osuo 2005, 195, 208.

3. Hata 2002, 106-8, 314; Osuo 2005, 53.

4. Osuo 2005, 195; Tokkotai Senbotsusha 1990, 264.

5. Chiran Tokkou 2005, 69.

Sources Cited

Chiran Tokkou Irei Kenshou Kai (Chiran Special Attack Memorial Society), ed. 2005. Konpaku no kiroku: Kyuu rikugun tokubetsu kougekitai chiran kichi (Record of departed spirits: Former Army Special Attack Corps Chiran Base). Revised edition, originally published in 2004. Chiran Town, Kagoshima Prefecture: Chiran Tokkou Irei Kenshou Kai.

Hata, Ikuhiko, Yasuho Izawa, and Christopher Shores. 2002. Japanese Army Air Force Fighter Units and Their Aces 1931-1945. London: Grub Street.

Osuo, Kazuhiko. 2005. Tokubetsu kougekitai no kiroku (rikugun hen) (Record of special attack corps (Army)). Tokyo: Kojinsha.

Sakurai, Takashi. 2010. Dai 60 shinbu tai (60th Shinbu Squadron). <http://www5b.biglobe.ne.jp/~s244f/shinbutai_hensei-035.htm> (May 28, 2010).

Tokkotai Senbotsusha Irei Heiwa Kinen Kyoukai (Tokkotai Commemoration Peace Memorial Association). 1990. Tokubetsu Kougekitai (Special Attack Corps). Tokyo: Tokkotai Senbotsusha Irei Heiwa Kinen Kyoukai.