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The Kamikazes
by Edwin P. Hoyt
Burford Books, 1983, 333 pages

Inaccuracies and an unsuitable tone spoil this history of Japan's kamikaze pilots who carried out suicide attacks against Allied ships. The book lacks any maps of where suicide planes came from and where attacks took place. Only about 20 pages cover kamikaze operations during the Battle of Okinawa even though about two-thirds of the Japanese deaths by aerial suicide attacks occurred then. Wetherall (1986, 43) points out in a review of this book that its "general reliability is marred by errors in historical names and sloppiness in the romanisation of key Japanese words." Wetherall considers The Sacred Warriors, a general history published in 1982, to be "more inspired in every way" than The Kamikazes. The book also contains erroneous statements taken from Yasuo Kuwahara's fictional account entitled Kamikaze, which was published in 1957 and was marketed for several decades as an authentic autobiography of a kamikaze pilot (see web page Ten Historical Discrepancies of Kamikaze by Kuwahara and Allred for details).

Edwin Hoyt is a military historian who has written numerous other books on World War II. Arbor House originally published The Kamikazes in 1983, and this edition published by Burford Books contains a two-page Foreword by Hoyt dated April 1999. Even this new Foreword contains several factual errors, and the book's main part still has uncorrected errors from the previous edition. The Foreword has the "Russo Japanese War of 1903," even though this war occurred in 1904-5. Hoyt writes in the Foreword that the suicide attack as a military policy was invented on October 16, 1944, but two naval officers there when the first Kamikaze Unit was formed in the Philippines indicate the date was October 19 (Inoguchi and Nakajima 1958, 3, 14). The first name of "Takejiro Ohnishi," creator of the Kamikaze Corps, should read "Takijiro."

Some statements have little support. Hoyt writes in the Foreword that "the suicide attack as a military policy was invented on the spur of the moment by Admiral Ohnishi," but Warner and Warner (1982, 68-86) provide much evidence that the Japanese military supported suicide attacks prior to this and that Ohnishi received orders to use suicide tactics in the Philippines. The Foreword says, "There is not much talk about Kamikazes in Japan today." This seems to be an overstatement, since many books have been published and several commercial films have been released on the topic starting soon after the end of World War II. Although the book generally gives a correct account of events surrounding Japan's kamikaze operations, it contains many more examples of incorrect and unsupported statements. Some are basic factual errors such as placing Osaka, Kobe, and Kure on the northern coast of Kyūshū rather than the southern part of Honshū (p. 231). One paragraph has been selected below for detailed analysis to show the extent of the book's inaccuracies (p. 256):

At 4:00 A.M. on March 26 Lieutenant Toyoku Seki led six suicide pilots flying old Aichi 99 (Val) dive bombers to Kerama Retto. Lieutenant Seki had a personal interest in these islands—they were his home. He was also one of the kichigai (madmen) in his unit, and he welcomed the chance to strike a blow for the Emperor.

The short paragraph above contains the following errors or omissions (details to support conclusions for 1 to 5 come from the web page Ishadō Monument):

  1. The name of the squadron leader was Yōkyū Ishadō, not Toyoku Seki, which is possibly a misreading of the kanji characters used for his name.
  2. The rank of the leader was Army Captain, not Navy Lieutenant.
  3. The squadron flew Army Type 99 Assault Planes (Allied code name of Sonia), not Navy Aichi Type 99 Carrier Bombers (Allied code name of Val).
  4. The paragraph does not state where the planes originated from but Hoyt writes two paragraphs later that the escorts returned to Kyūshū. The planes actually took off from Shiraho Airfield on Ishigakijima (Ishigaki Island), which is located about 250 km east of Taiwan and about 300 km southwest of Kerama Rettō.
  5. The squadron leader was not from Kerama Rettō but rather Ishigakijima.
  6. There is no evidence that he was "one of the kichigai (madmen) in his unit." This use of the word kichigai to denote madmen seized with the suicide craze comes from the 1957 fictional account Kamikaze by Yasuo Kuwahara.

There were no Navy Kamikaze Corps squadrons that made sorties on March 26, 1945, so it is not possible that a Navy Kamikaze Corps unit made the attack at Kerama Rettō.

Hoyt generally provides a straightforward account of the history of the kamikaze attacks, but at times he uses an unsuitable tone for a historian. For example, he writes of the "sad little letters" that Japanese squadron commanders wrote to families of missing fliers (p. 152). This may be an attempt at sarcasm, but the use of "sad little" would probably disturb family members who received such letters. The following unsupported statement seems insulting, "Japanese people are by nature melancholy, or at least mercurial" (p. 36). This is given as one of the reasons why Japanese soldiers readily accepted the idea of owing their lives to country and emperor. As a final example, Hoyt writes of staff officers of the Fourth Air Army "abandoning their geisha friends" as they prepared to fight as infantrymen in the Philippines due to lack of aircraft (p. 168). This side comment about "geisha friends," even if it were true, seems totally irrelevant to the historical narrative.

Anyone interested in an evenhanded well-researched history of Japan's kamikaze pilots should skip this book and try The Sacred Warriors by Denis and Peggy Warner. In addition, The Divine Wind by Rikihei Inoguchi and Tadashi Nakajima provides a detailed firsthand account by two Japanese Navy senior officers involved from the beginning with attacks by the Kamikaze Special Attack Corps.

Sources Cited

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

Kuwahara, Yasuo, and Gordon T. Allred. 1957. Kamikaze. New York: Ballantine Books.

Warner, Denis, Peggy Warner, with Commander Sadao Seno. 1982. The Sacred Warriors: Japan's Suicide Legions. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.

Wetherall, William. 1986. Universal divine wind. Far Eastern Economic Review. 27 February, 43-44.