The Japanese Navy in World War II: In the Words of Former Japanese Naval Officers
Edited and translated by David C. Evans
Second edition, originally published in 1969
Naval Institute Press, 1986, 568 pages
Most of this book's 17 chapters were published previously in the 1950s and
early 1960s as individual articles in the United States Naval Institute
Proceedings. These chapters written by different former Japanese Navy
officers offer insights into Japanese military thinking not typically found in
Pacific War histories written from the American perspective. Of course, there
are instances of overestimation or errors in battle results from the Japanese
viewpoint, but the editor often provides end notes to explain results from
the American side. Each chapter starts with a brief introduction from the editor
David C. Evans, who taught history at the University of Virginia and is the
co-author of the 1997 book Kaigun: Strategy, Tactics, and Technology in the
Imperial Japanese Navy, 1887–1941.
Four chapters deal with Japan's use of special (suicide) attacks in the last
ten months of the war: 13 - "The Kamikaze Attack Corps" by Rikihei Inoguchi and
Tadashi Nakajima, 14 - "Japanese Submarine Tactics and the Kaiten" by
Kennosuke Torisu assisted by Masataka Chihaya, 15 - "Kamikazes in the Okinawa
Campaign" by Toshiyuki Yokoi, and 16 - "The Sinking of the Yamato" by
Mitsuru Yoshida. Full-length books (The
Divine Wind (1958) by Inoguchi and Nakajima and
Requiem for Battleship Yamato
(1985) by Yoshida) cover the material in Chapters 13 and 16, but Chapter 15
presents the views of Toshiyuki Yokoi, which are not published elsewhere. He was critical of the decision to use
the Kamikaze Corps's suicide attacks. His opinions contrast sharply with those of Inoguchi
and Nakajima, two senior Navy officers who supported these tactics.
From early November 1944, Rear Admiral Toshiyuki Yokoi was Commander of the
25th Air Flotilla based on Kanoya Air Base in southern Kyūshū. On February 9,
1945, he was appointed to be Chief of Staff to Vice Admiral Matome Ugaki, Commander of
5th Air Fleet whose mission was to stop enemy carrier striking forces by
concentrating on suicide air attacks. He asked permission to decline the
position due to his opposition to suicide attacks but was still requested to
take the post. Yokoi expresses his opinion when he heard about the order from
General Headquarters that suicide attacks would be adopted by the military (pp.
Imperial General Headquarters was so fully convinced that it issued an
outrageous and unprecedented order to the effect that all armed
forces should resort to suicide attack. This proved that the high command,
utterly confused by a succession of defeats, had lost all wisdom of cool
judgment and had degenerated to the point of indulging in wild gambling. The
order was nothing less than a national death sentence. Like every military
order, it was issued in the name of the emperor and was, therefore, no
matter how outrageous, not open to question or criticism. Obedience was
imperative; there was no alternative. Critics of the kamikaze attacks should
distinguish the completely volunteer flights of October 1944 from those made
after this imperial order.
The following excerpt summarizes Yokoi's thoughts about suicide attacks
during the Battle of Okinawa (pp. 467-8):
The battle for Okinawa proved conclusively the defects of suicide air
attacks. Such operations cannot be successful where materiel and trained
manpower are limited. It would have been far wiser for the sadly depleted
Japanese military to have conserved its manpower instead of squandering it
as was done. It is not strange that this unrealistic aerial tactic ended in
failure. Even the physical destructive power of the weapon itself was not
sufficient for the task for which it had been designed. While it might deal
a fatal blow to small warships or transports, the enemy aircraft carriers,
which were meant to be primary targets, were sometimes able to survive
attacks in which they were hit several times. Setting aside Admiral
Ohnishi's original concept of adopting suicide attacks for the limited
purpose of inactivating carrier decks for a week, the whole concept of
suicide attacks to annihilate enemy task forces was more than unreasonable,
it was sheer lunacy. Once the order had been issued by headquarters for
these suicide attacks, they lost their voluntary aspect and became, instead,
"murder attacks," and humanity was lost sight of.
Yokoi concludes the chapter on "Kamikazes in the Okinawa Campaign" with the
following thoughts (p. 473):
Japan's suicide air operations mark the Pacific War with two scars that
will remain forever in the annals of battle: one, of shame at the mistaken
way of command; the other, of valor at the self-sacrificing spirit of young
men who died for their beloved country.
One frustration in Yokoi's chapter is a statement without any details about a
kamikaze pilot who strafed his commanding officer's quarters as he took off (p. 468).
This is sometimes referenced by other authors, but it is not known how such an
event without details can be verified.
Chapter 14 by Kennosuke Torisu, a former submarine
commander and submarine operations officer for the 6th Fleet, is considered an
authority on the kaiten human torpedo with several books written on the subject.
The chapter includes about eight pages on kaiten weapons, which were
first used at Ulithi, where the fleet oiler Mississinewa was hit and sunk
on November 20, 1944. As the Japanese submarine fleet dwindled toward the war's
end, many of the remaining submarines were equipped with kaiten although
with very limited success in battle.