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At War with the Wind: The Epic Struggle with Japan's World War II Suicide Bombers
by David Sears
Kensington, 2008, 502 pages

At War with the Wind strays far from the subject matter advertised in its subtitle: The Epic Struggle with Japan's World War II Suicide Bombers. The book's first third (Part 1 of 3) covers the Pacific War from Pearl Harbor and describes the personalities of US military leaders, but it only has two pages about Japan's aerial suicide special attack forces. In addition to Part 1, other lengthy sections in the last two parts (e.g., Battle of Iwo Jima, typhoon in December 1944) have no direct relationship to The Epic Struggle with Japan's World War II Suicide Bombers. Sections that deal with Japan's suicide bombers contain various inaccuracies, and they ignore key parts of Japan's kamikaze operations.

David Sears, who also authored The Last Epic Naval Battle: Voices from Leyte Gulf (2005), contacted numerous American WWII veterans who experienced kamikaze attacks in order to include some of their accounts in this history. Although these stories add interesting details and personal tidbits, the sheer number of people mentioned and the brevity of individual accounts lessen their effectiveness in capturing the emotions of battle. The inclusion of some personal stories seems forced in which certain wartime accounts get added based on the author's personal interview regardless of whether or not the account relates to the book's main topic. In addition, the author often tells several parallel stories of different US Navy ships or other topics in the same chapter, which makes it very difficult to follow the account of a single topic from beginning to end. For example, the 16 pages of Chapter 21 (A Perfect Day for What Happened, 6 April 1945) include six separate narrative threads [1], including one that describes kamikaze attacks on destroyers Bush (DD-529) and Colhoun (DD-801). This one story has four abrupt breaks to other locations around Okinawa, and the other narrative threads have similar breaks.

In addition to personal stories of US veterans obtained through interviews, the book includes bits and pieces of four published Japanese wartime memoirs:

  • Japanese Destroyer Captain by Tameichi Hara
  • I Was a Kamikaze by Ryuji Nagatsuka
  • Thunder Gods by Hatsuho Naito
  • Part Two, "All Boys Dream of Flying" (about Toshio Yoshitake), in Blossoms in the Wind by M.G. Sheftall

However, with these excerpts of four Japanese personal accounts spread throughout the book, they lack the continuity and depth necessary to really understand the experiences in comparison to reading the original sources. The book lacks an in-depth discussion of Japanese military organization and strategy that included extensive use of suicide attacks, and it instead focuses on snippets from these four personal histories. The more than ten pages of Sources and Acknowledgments make no mention of The Divine Wind: Japan's Kamikaze Force in World War II (1958) by Captain Rikihei Inoguchi and Commander Tadashi Nakajima and Fading Victory: The Diary of Admiral Matome Ugaki, 1941-1945 translated by Masataka Chihaya. These two first-hand accounts are indispensable references for any history of Japan's kamikaze operations, since they reveal the thinking of the leaders.

Although the book contains hardly any overviews about Japan's kamikaze special attack operations, its few summaries provide inaccurate information. Sears states that nearly 4,000 Japanese Navy and Army air crewmen died in tokkōtai (Special Attack Corps) missions during the three-month Okinawan campaign (p. 382), but actually this number represents the total deaths over ten months from October 1944 to August 1945. The same type of error occurs when the book indicates that Vice Admiral Ugaki, commander of the 5th Naval Air Fleet, had presided over the deaths of upward of 2,500 IJN Special Attack fliers (p. 393). This total number is overstated, since it includes about 400 IJN deaths in the Philippines and Taiwan from October 1944 to January 1945 (Ozawa 1983, 79), prior to Ugaki's taking over command of the Navy's kamikaze operations in February 1945. Page 382 states that 32 ships were sunk and nearly 400 more were damaged by kamikaze attacks during the three-month Okinawan campaign, but in fact only 25 ships were sunk and slightly over 250 were damaged by kamikaze aircraft during this time period [2].

Besides mistakes in summary numbers related to Japan's kamikaze operations, various information about the Japanese side contains errors. For example, ōka means "cherry blossom," not "exploding cherry blossom" (p. 179). The author states that on June 22, 1945, only one of 14 mother planes (Betty bombers) carrying ōka weapons returned to base (p. 381), but Naito (1989, 180-1) indicates that three of the total six mother planes returned to base. It appears that the eight Zero fighters carrying bombs were added to the six Betty bomber mother planes to arrive at the incorrect total of 14 mother planes. In regards to the kamikaze attack on ships around Okinawa on February 21, 1945, the book states that "opportunistic strikes staged through airstrips in the Bonins were still feasible" (p. 279). The kamikaze aircraft on this date came from Hachijojima, part of the Izu Islands, not the Bonin Islands (Warner 1982, 174). The author states that "Morrison withstood close brushes by four kamikazes and a direct hit by a fifth" (p. 365), but in reality this destroyer got hit by four kamikaze aircraft on May 4, 1945 [3]. One statement exaggerates the frequency of kamikaze attacks, ". . . attacks such as the one on Lindsey had been occurring daily for nearly seven months . . ." (p. 10). The Lindsey attack happened on April 12, 1945, and the first organized kamikaze attack took place on October 25, 1944, slightly more than five and a half months before. During that period, there were many days in which no attacks occurred. For the 61 days between January 16 and March 17, 1945, suicide attacks in which kamikaze pilots lost their lives happened on only 7 days (Hara 2004, 172-8).

Pages 173-4 describe Captain Tameichi Hara's time at Oppama Naval Torpedo School in Kanagawa Prefecture when the shin'yō suicide motorboats were introduced in October 1944, but actually Hara was stationed at the torpedo boat training school at Kawatana in Nagasaki Prefecture from May to December 1944 (Hara 1961, 263-9). Typos of Japanese words appear in several places (e.g., Skatanbo instead of Akatonbo (p. 89), Taitari instead of Taiatari (p. 257), Toshihko instead of Toshihiko, Shigemitzu instead of Shigemitsu (p. 396), Guma instead of Gunma (p. 399)). Page 235 erroneously uses the word kun'yomi (Japanese reading that originates from Japanese language prior to introduction of kanji characters and their Chinese readings from China) as if it is a synonym of kamikaze and shinpu in the following sentence: "For Japan, whether called shinpu, kun'yomi, or kamikaze, the 'god wind' or 'divine wind' phenomenon achieves . . . ." On February 21, 1945, the carrier Saratoga (CV-3) and escort carrier Bismarck Sea (CVE-95) got attacked by kamikaze aircraft near Iwo Jima (Fry 1996, 148; Inoguchi and Nakajima 1958, 131; Yasunobu 1972, 101), about 1,400 km east of Okinawa. However, the book mistakenly places Saratoga "thirty-five miles northwest of Okinawa" and Bismarck Sea "east of Okinawa" at the time of the attacks (p. 279).

Kaoru Hasegawa, who flew on a kamikaze mission on May 25, 1945, went to the destroyer Callaghan veterans' reunions in 1995 and 1997 (Hasegawa 1998, 20), but the book incorrectly states that his first visit happened in 1999 (p.399). The author indicates that Callaghan was sunk on July 29, 1945, by an "ancient twin-float biplane" (p. 383-4). This biplane was not a floatplane but rather a Type 93 Land-based Intermediate Trainer (Allied code name of Willow) (Yasunobu 1972, 161). The last seaplane kamikaze attacks took place on July 3, 1945 (Osuo 2005, 240). Fred Mitchell of the destroyer Drexler (DD-741) is described mistakenly as "the sole survivor of a Drexler 40-mm mount" (p. 374). However, Mitchell has known since a 1987 reunion that Duke Payne, Gunner's Mate on this quad 40-mm gun mount, also survived [4]. Also, Mitchell served as lookout and radioman for this gun mount, but he did not actually work on it.

The number of pages devoted to kamikaze attacks sometimes has little relationship to their historical importance. The coverage seems to be based on the number of personal interviews, since some significant events in the history of Japan's kamikaze operations receive little or no coverage. For example, the book does not mention the Navy's kamikaze operations from Formosa in January 1945. In a 14-page chapter on the Battle of Iwo Jima, less than one page gets devoted to the long-range attack by 32 aircraft in the Kamikaze Special Attack Corps 2nd Mitate Unit that sank one escort carrier and damaged five other ships. The March 1945 suicide mission by the Azusa Special Attack Unit's 24 twin-engine Ginga bombers, 11 which flew over ten hours from southern Kyūshū to Ulithi, gets no specific mention other than a couple of sentences saying that the carrier Randolph was hit by a suicide aircraft that killed 25 persons (p. 284).

Some stories of kamikaze attacks stop before a reader can find out what happened. After providing background information in several places about the ōka rocket-powered glider bombs, the book mentions the first ōka mission in which 15 ōka-carrying bombers escorted by 32 fighters took off from Kanoya Air Base on March 21, 1945 (p. 289), but apparently the author forgot to finish the story, since the rest of the book makes no mention of the fate of these aircraft. Page 379 describes the sinking of the destroyer Twiggs (DD-591) on June 16, 1945, by a torpedo, but the section makes no mention that the plane then circled about and dove into the ship (Parkin 1995, 325-6).

The viewpoints of American WWII veterans dominate this history. The Japanese side generally gets presented objectively. However, the book's introductory section associates the killing of 17 sailors aboard the USS Cole in 2000 by Al-Qaeda terrorists with the kamikaze crash into the destroyer Lindsey in April 1945 that killed 57 sailors. This type of linking of kamikaze pilots who fought the US Navy in wartime with Al-Qaeda terrorists who killed in times of peace disturbs both family members of kamikaze pilots who gave their lives and surviving kamikaze squadron members.


1. The six narrative threads in Chapter 21 are (1) Bush (DD-529) and Colhoun (DD-801); (2) Rodman (DMS-21) and Emmons (DMS-22); (3) Hyman (DD-732); (4) Howorth (DD-592); (5) Leutze (DD-481) and Newcomb (DD-586); and (6) VF-17 fighter pilot off Hornet (CV-12).

2. 47 Ships Sunk by Kamikaze Aircraft; Yasunobu 1972, 171.

3. 2007 USS Morrison (DD-560) Reunion has the following description of the kamikaze aircraft that hit Morrison on May 4, 1945:

On April 30, 1945, Morrison moved to Radar Picket Station No. 1 about 50 miles north of Okinawa and in the flight path of many kamikaze planes from air bases in southern Kyūshū. The destroyer Ingraham (DD-694) and four smaller landing craft were at this same picket station when about 25 enemy planes were sighted on radar at 7:15 a.m. on May 4. Although American CAP fighters downed many planes, several Japanese planes got through to Picket Station No. 1. One plane hit Morrison at 8:32, and another hit at 8:33. Two floatplanes then hit the destroyer in quick succession at 8:35, and the ship started to sink and went under by 8:40. The four kamikaze planes hit so rapidly and the ship sank so quickly that most men below deck were lost.

The sources for the above account include the USS Ingraham (DD-694) Action Report for period from April 29 through May 4, 1945 and the USS Morrison (DD-560) Action Report for May 4, 1945.

4. Forever Grateful by Fred Mitchell; Survival of Drexler Survivors Reunion Association.

Sources Cited

Fry, John. 1996. USS Saratoga CV-3. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing.

Hara, Katsuhiro. 2004. Shinsō kamikaze tokkō: Hisshi hitchū no 300 nichi (Kamikaze special attack facts: 300 days of certain-death, sure-hit attacks). Tōkyō: KK Bestsellers.

Hara, Tameichi, Fred Saito, and Roger Pineau. 1961. Japanese Destroyer Captain. New York: Ballantine Books.

Hasegawa, Kaoru. No date. My Personal History: Two Lives. Booklet of articles originally published in Nihon Keizai Shimbun from November 1 to 30, 1998. Osaka: Rengo Co.

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

Nagatsuka, Ryuji. 1973. I Was a Kamikaze. Translated from the French by Nina Rootes. New York: Macmillan Publishing.

Naito, Hatsuho. 1989. Thunder Gods: The Kamikaze Pilots Tell Their Stories. Translated by Mayumi Ishikawa. Tokyo: Kodansha International.

Osuo, Kazuhiko. 2005. Tokubetsu kōgekitai no kiroku (kaigun hen) (Record of special attack corps (Navy)). Tōkyō: Kojinsha.

Ozawa, Ikurō. 1983. Tsurai shinjitsu: kyokō no tokkō shinwa (Hard truths: Fictitious special attack myths). Tōkyō: Dohsei Publishing Co.

Parkin, Robert Sinclair. 1995. Blood on the Sea: American Destroyers Lost in World War II. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.

Sheftall, M.G. 2005. Blossoms in the Wind: Human Legacies of the Kamikaze. New York: NAL Caliber.

Ugaki, Matome. 1991. Fading Victory: The Diary of Admiral Matome Ugaki, 1941-1945. Translated by Masataka Chihaya. Edited by Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.

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

Yasunobu, Takeo. 1972. Kamikaze tokkōtai (Kamikaze special attack corps). Edited by Kengo Tominaga. Tōkyō: Akita Shoten.