Danger's Hour: The Story of the USS Bunker Hill and the Kamikaze Pilot Who Crippled Her
by Maxwell Taylor Kennedy
Simon & Schuster, 2008, 515 pages
The casualties suffered by the Essex-class aircraft carrier Bunker Hill
exceeded those inflicted by any other Japanese suicide attack. On May 11, 1945,
two kamikaze aircraft carrying 250-kg bombs hit Bunker Hill in quick
succession, and they killed 393 men and injured 264 men. Maxwell Taylor Kennedy,
an Associate Scholar at the John Carter Brown Library for Advanced Research in
History and the Humanities at Brown University, performed extensive research and
conducted numerous interviews to tell the story of these kamikaze attacks from
both the American and Japanese perspectives.
The subtitle of Danger's Hour: The Story of the USS Bunker Hill and the
Kamikaze Pilot Who Crippled Her does not reflect that two kamikaze pilots,
both flying Zero fighters, hit and crippled the aircraft carrier. Kennedy states
that Lieutenant Junior Grade Seizō Yasunori, leader of the Navy's Kamikaze Corps
7th Showa Special Attack Squadron, hit Bunker Hill first but never
documents how he reached this conclusion. Six members of Yasunori's squadron
sortied from Kanoya Air Base between 0640 and 0653 on May 11, 1945 .
Kennedy explains that one pilot crashed into the sea before reaching enemy
targets (p. 440), but he does not give details on what happened to the other
squadron pilots and how he concluded that Yasunori hit Bunker Hill first.
Also, Kennedy mixes up the given and family names of Seizō Yasunori .
Throughout the book he uses the convention of given name first and family name
last for Japanese names of various persons, but he incorrectly refers to Seizō Yasunori as Yasunori
Seizo. He even goes so far as to use erroneous phrases such as "the Seizo
children," "the Seizos were a patriotic family," "the Seizo family was
bankrupted," and "his father, Masanosuke Seizo" (pp. 257-8). In each of these
phrases, Seizo should be replaced by the correct family name of Yasunori.
Ensign Kiyoshi Ogawa, the second kamikaze pilot to hit Bunker Hill,
gets by far more coverage than Seizo Yasunori in Danger's Hour, possibly since Kennedy could
obtain more information about Ogawa through documents and
family members. Robert Schock, a Bunker Hill sailor, took a broken
aviator watch, a piece of the flight jacket's name tag, two personal photos, and
other items from the remains of the dead pilot of the second kamikaze aircraft,
which over 50 years later proved the identity of Ogawa. In 2001, Ogawa's grandniece and
her mother came to the U.S. to receive these items from Schock's grandson.
The book covers details of Ogawa's childhood, student days at Waseda University,
basic naval training after being drafted, flight training at Yatabe Air Base in
Ibaraki Prefecture, and final days at Kanoya Air Base in southern Kyūshū prior
to the his kamikaze squadron's sortie.
Part I, which takes up about two thirds of Danger's Hour, provides a
wide-ranging and unfocused historical background for the kamikaze attack and its
aftermath. For instance, an entire chapter on fraternization and race relations
aboard the Bunker Hill has little relevance to the kamikaze attack. In
another example, the background stories of Al Turnbull, torpedo bomber pilot in
the air group aboard Bunker Hill, get plenty of coverage. Although
interesting in themselves, many details in this background section have little
connection to the main story.
Part II, the book's heart, begins with the kamikaze hits and vividly
describes the terrible blasts and the horrific damage caused by subsequent
fires, smoke, and flooding. Kennedy tells what happened to selected Bunker
Hill crewmen and airmen after the kamikaze attack. He provides scientific
descriptions of how men suffered and died from fire and toxic smoke filled
with suspended particles. The individual accounts depict the hellish situations
many men faced and how others bravely searched the ship to help survivors. The
narratives at times become difficult to follow as they shift between places and
groups, and some descriptions of the dangers faced by the men get repeated. The
book's brief last part describes the burial at sea of 352 men that took place
the day after the attack. Although very badly damaged, Bunker Hill did
not sink and returned on her own power by way of Pearl Harbor to Bremerton,
Washington. The fascinating Epilogue tells what happened after the war to
American and Japanese survivors and presents their feelings and reflections
about their wartime experiences.
Some stories stand out. Chief Engineer Joseph Carmichael calmed the crew's
fears of sinking by making an announcement over the loudspeaker and kept the
boilers and engines operating despite losing 99 men from his department of just
over 500. Pilot Al Turnbull jumped 50 feet into the sea, barely found a life
raft in the waves, floated alone in the raft for several hours, and finally was
rescued when a destroyer spotted him in the midst of sharks that surrounded his
raft. He screamed in pain when picked up by a rescuer and later found out that he had snapped
half of his ribs on the left side when he jumped from the ship and hit the
water. Not all of the stories are heroic. While Chief Engineer Carmichael
inspected the ship, he discovered that some thief had used an acetylene torch to
burn through safety deposit boxes in the ship's post office to steal crewmen's money
during the chaotic aftermath of the kamikaze attack.
Many historical photographs effectively supplement the narrative that
describes the attack, aftermath, and damage. Although the book has an extensive
bibliography, it does not have any notes to document sources of specific
statements. The web site Danger's Hour
includes videos of interview excerpts and additional photographs not included in
Despite some repetition, Danger's Hour excels in its
easy-to-understand descriptions of technical subjects. The book provides a good
understanding of Japan's kamikaze pilots and the incredible destruction wrought
by a successful kamikaze attack. Cutting down Part I's far-reaching background
information, most with little relevance to the kamikaze attack, would have
greatly enhanced the book's readability.
Remains of Bunker Hill pilots who tried
to escape flames caused by kamikaze attack
1. Osuo 2005, 204.
2. The following sources all show Yasunori as the
family name and Seizo as the given name: Ogawa 2001, 130; Osuo 2005, 204;
Tokkōtai Senbotsusha 1990, 201.
Ogawa, Takeshi. 2001. Tokkō no jisshō (Actual proof
of special attacks). Tōkyō: Choeisha.
Osuo, Kazuhiko. 2005. Tokubetsu kōgekitai no kiroku (kaigun
hen) (Record of special attack corps (Navy)). Tokyo: Kojinsha.
Tokkōtai Senbotsusha Irei
Heiwa Kinen Kyōkai (Tokkotai Commemoration Peace Memorial Association). 1990.
Tokubetsu Kōgekitai (Special Attack Corps). Tōkyō: Tokkōtai Senbotsusha
Irei Heiwa Kinen Kyōkai.