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Kamikaze: To Die for the Emperor
by Peter C. Smith
Pen & Sword Books, 2014, 237 pages

This general history of Japanese kamikaze attacks during WWII contains quite a number of errors that prevent it from being a worthwhile source of information. Readers who desire a well-researched, accurate, and documented history of Japanese aerial suicide attacks should consider Robin L. Rielly’s Kamikaze Attacks of World War II published in 2010.

The author Peter C. Smith, who has written other military history books such as Midway: Dauntless Victory (2007), relies heavily on official US Navy reports for an analysis of the Japanese military strategy rather than using Japanese sources. During the first half of the book he several times cites Vice Admiral Matome Ugaki’s diary, translated into English as Fading Victory (1991), even though he was not a leader in the kamikaze attacks that took place in the Philippines.

At times the text with its details and technical terms reads somewhat like official military reports with few personal stories, although there are three or four short sections where WWII veterans write about their experiences, which breaks up the rather dry recitation of facts from US Navy records. British author Smith provides many details about the experiences of the British Pacific Fleet (BPF) with kamikaze attacks that other general histories about Japanese kamikaze often leave out or minimize. For example, the Flight Deck Officer of the carrier HMS Indefatigable (R-7) describes the crash into the ship of a Zero fighter carrying a bomb that killed eight and injured sixteen of the crew on April 1, 1945.

Some inaccuracies in Kamikaze: To Die for the Emperor include:

  • A photo caption reads that the carrier Randolph (CV-15) was hit at Ulithi Atoll by an ōka manned missile carried by a Frances twin-engined bomber. In reality, Frances bombers did not carry ōka in any WWII battles, since Betty bombers were the only mother planes used to carry ōka into battle. No ōka hit Randolph.
  • Another photo caption places Chiran Air Base in Fukuoka Prefecture in southern Kyushu. In actuality, Chiran is in Kagoshima Prefecture in southern Kyushu, whereas Fukuoka is in northern Kyushu.
  • Numerous Japanese names gets misspelled. For example, Motoaru Okamua should be Motoharu Okamura. Torhma should be Torihama. Mantome Ugaki should be Matome Ugaki. Soemu Toyodo should be Soemu Toyoda.
  • The Japanese name of Ryūko, which has the real meaning of “dragon and tiger,” is incorrectly given the meaning of “flying tiger” by the author.
  • A caption of the escort carrier Bismarck Sea (CVE-95) on fire after being hit by two kamikazes mistakenly gives the date as May 21 rather than February 21, 1945.
  • Regarding the number of deaths (1,036) reported by the Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots, the author makes an unsupported statement that “it is far from clear if all these made actual attacks which led to their deaths, or whether these were aerial attacks or other forms of suicide ventures like the ground assault on Yontan airfield” (p. 172). The museum and other sources explain that the figure includes Army airmen who died in special attacks around Okinawa, starting on March 26, 1945. The number does not include Navy Kamikaze Corps deaths and Army special attack deaths in the Philippines. The 1,036 deaths include 88 Giretsu Unit paratroopers and pilots who made a suicide attack against Yontan Airfield in Okinawa the night of May 24, 1945, to destroy American aircraft on the ground.
  • The quotation that opens Chapter 9 is erroneously attributed to Corporal Kazuo Araki of the 72nd Shinbu Squadron when it should be Yukio Araki.
  • One photo caption incorrectly states that Tomisaku Katsumata flew a Zero fighter that hit the escort carrier Suwannee (CVE-27) on October 25, 1944, but he actually took off from Cebu Air Base as part of a kamikaze unit on October 26, 1944.

Some incidents have internal inconsistencies when described on different pages. For example, page 176 describes that the destroyer Drexler (DD-741) was hit and sunk by two Army Kawasaki Ki-45 Toryu (Nick) twin-engined fighters, but page 145 incorrectly says that Drexler got hit and sunk by just one twin-engined Francis [sic], which was a Navy aircraft. In another example, page 8 gives Yoshiyasu Kuno as the name of the first kamikaze pilot who lost his life after he took off from Cebu Air Base in the Philippines on October 21, 1944, but page 11 gives his name correctly as Kofu Kuno.

The history generally proceeds in chronological sequence, but sometimes the dates shift back and forth with no explanation, and the author now and then includes asides right in the middle of a narrative. For example, Chapter 11 gives the detailed story of the sinking of the destroyer Callaghan (DD-792) on July 29, 1945, but then Chapter 12 starts with an in-depth description of the sinking the destroyer Bush (DD-529) on April 6, 1945. This history of Japan’s kamikaze attacks at times rambles from topic to topic without a clear direction. The mid-section has 16 pages of historical photographs, but the value of these is diminished by several inaccurate captions.

Although the book contains some footnotes with sources, no bibliography documents where certain information was obtained. The identification of Japanese pilots who hit Allied ships without any information source is one example of lack of documentation such as the mention of the name of Takeichi Minoshima as the Japanese pilot who hit the destroyer Mullany (DD-528) while piloting his Oscar fighter on April 6, 1945. In several places the author takes information from this Kamikaze Images web site without any acknowledgement of the source. These include translated material from pages on the Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots, Nagoya Kamikaze Special Attack Corps Kusanagi Unit Monument, Tsubasa no kakera: Tokkō ni chitta kaigun yobi gakusei no seishun (Wing fragment: Youth of Navy reserve students who died in special attack), and Kamikaze Special Attack Corps 3rd Ryūko Squadron Monument.

Destroyer Gansevoort (DD-608) with itemized damage that
she received when struck on port side by kamikaze plane in
Mangarin Bay, Mindoro, on afternoon of December 30, 1944