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First Shot: The Untold Story of the Japanese Minisubs that Attacked Pearl Harbor
by John Craddock
McGraw-Hill, 2006, 255 pages

The title, First Shot: The Untold Story of the Japanese Minisubs that Attacked Pearl Harbor, deceives readers as to the true contents of this rambling Pacific War history. Only three chapters cover the title's topic, whereas the other six chapters stray into all sorts of other subjects. Despite the subtitle's marketing of the "untold story" about minisubs that attacked Pearl Harbor, almost all of this story about Japanese midget subs (term used in book despite subtitle) has already been told in detail in two fine books: Advance Force Pearl Harbor (1992) by Burl Burlingame and The Coffin Boats: Japanese Midget Submarine Operations in the Second World War (1986) by Peggy Warner and Sadao Seno. First Shot uses various key sources to retell not only the Japanese midget sub story but also other Pacific War stories covered thoroughly in other books. The book's Prologue and Epilogue do provide an update to Burlingame's 1992 book regarding the exciting finding in 2002 of the fourth of the five Japanese midget subs that tried to attack Pearl Harbor.

Chapter 1 typifies the book's lack of focus. The chapter seems to signal the start of a biography of Isoroku Yamamoto, Japanese Combined Fleet Commander, while the midget subs' planned role in the Pearl Harbor attack gets discussed for only two pages. Although the midget subs were considered to be part of a special attack force, a euphemism for a suicide squad, Admiral Yamamoto demanded that a plan be developed to recover the two-man midget sub crews after the attack. Five I-class mother submarines carried on top one midget sub each to be released near the Pearl Harbor entrance. After the midget subs fired their two torpedoes, they were to proceed to a small remote Hawaiian island to rendezvous with the mother subs. Despite this scheme for a possible rescue after the attack, the crewmen still recognized that their mission, for all intents and purposes, was a suicide attack due to the extremely slim chance of recovery.

Admiral Yamamoto returns later in the book as Chapter 6, "The Assassination," focuses on how American military intelligence decoded a message that he would be flying from Rabaul to Bougainville on April 18, 1943. A squadron of American P-38 Lightning fighters intercepted Yamamoto's plane and shot it down over the jungle.

Several other chapters deal with topics far removed from the midget subs that attacked Pearl Harbor. Chapter 2 gives a rather boring summary history of midget subs developed and deployed by other countries, with the chapter's last few pages briefly describing Japanese midget subs. Chapter 5 presents the Battle of Midway with vague mentions of a "cameo role" by midget subs (p. 99) and that the Japanese force "included at least six subs" (p. 114), but the author provides no further details about these midget subs at Midway. Chapter 7, "The Suicide Squads," discusses the Japanese military's decision to use suicide aircraft and kaiten (human torpedoes). The chapter focuses on the I-58 submarine captained by Mochitsura Hashimoto with an extended diversion into how his submarine torpedoed and sank the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis on July 30, 1945. Chapter 8 considers Japanese wartime atrocities and the postwar international tribunal to prosecute Japanese war criminals. The author uses a couple of pages to speculate on what would have been the fate of Admiral Yamamoto had he survived the war.

The majority of only three chapters deal with the first shot of the Pacific War and the five midget subs that attacked Pearl Harbor, but even these chapters at times wander off to other subjects. Chapter 3 tells the story of the first shots of the Pacific War fired by the old destroyer USS Ward at one of the Japanese midget subs trying to sneak into the harbor. The shots and subsequent depth charges destroyed the enemy midget sub, but the radio message from Ward sent more than one hour before the Japanese air attack inexplicably did not alert anyone that an attack may be imminent. Ten pages at the end of this chapter digress from the main storyline to consider the reasons why the Pearl Harbor attack came as a surprise with the main source being a book published in 1985 by Edwin T. Layton, the Navy's Chief Intelligence Officer at Pearl Harbor at the time of the attack.

Chapter 4 presents the Pacific War's first prisoner of war, Kazuo Sakamaki, who was captured when his midget sub ran aground on the day after the Pearl Harbor attack. This chapter also summarizes what is known about what happened to the five midget subs launched between 7 and 12 miles from the harbor entrance. None succeeded in their attacks. Chapter 9 examines the retrieval of three midget subs and the puzzle of what happened to the two midgets that have never been recovered, the ones from the I-16 and I-20 mother submarines. One of these, as described in the book's Epilogue, was discovered in 2002 and still lies unrecovered in water over 800 feet deep. Kazuo Sakamaki piloted the I-24 midget that was captured the day after the attack. The I-22 midget entered the harbor, fired two torpedoes that missed, and was sunk after the destroyer Monaghan fired at and rammed it and then dropped depth charges. This heavily damaged midget was raised a few weeks later and placed for viewing at Pearl Harbor. The I-18 midget sub, still with two unfired torpedoes, was discovered in 1960 in 76 feet of water in Keehi Lagoon just outside the Pearl Harbor entrance. The recovered sub had heavy damage consistent with depth charges. Japan claimed the I-18 midget sub as its property, and the refurbished sub now is on display outside the Museum of Naval History in Etajima, where the former Japanese Naval Academy was located.

The chapter on suicide squads contains a few errors. Craddock writes (p. 157), "more than 3,000 kamikaze aircraft were readied on Okinawa" in preparation for the Allied invasion, but actually Japan had only a few aircraft at airfields on Okinawa. The majority of kamikaze aircraft were at bases on mainland Japan with many being readied at airfields on Kyūshū, the southernmost main island of Japan, for mass kamikaze attacks against the Allied fleet. There are some spelling errors of Japanese names, such as Hiroshi Kuroke (p. 157) rather than Kuroki for one of the co-inventors of the kaiten human torpedo. The destroyer Mannert L. Abele, sunk by two kamikaze aircraft including an ōka rocket-powered glider bomb on April 12, 1945, is incorrectly referred to as Mannert L. Aebele (p. 157). The I-58 submarine carrying kaiten weapons was part of the Kongō Group, not Konga Group as stated in the book (pp. 153, 155).

Although First Shot does have some interesting sections, Burlingame's Advance Force Pearl Harbor (1992) contains much more information and numerous photos related to the Japanese midget subs that attacked Pearl Harbor. For those interested in other subjects covered by First Shot, the principal sources used by Craddock will most likely provide better and more focused information. For example, those interested in Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto should consider Hiroyuki Agawa's exceptional biography, The Reluctant Admiral: Yamamoto and the Imperial Navy (1979).