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US Navy Ships vs Kamikazes 1944-45
by Mark Stille
Osprey Publishing, 2016, 80 pages

This small book provides an excellent introduction to the history, issues, and aircraft related to Japan's use of aerial suicide attacks in the last ten months of the Pacific War. Effective use of maps, tables, illustrations, maps, chronology, and historical photos allows readers to understand quickly Japan's development of special (suicide) attack operations, the Allies' effort to defeat these attacks, and their impact on the war. This history's quality, both in content and approach, reflects the experience of author Mark Stille, a retired US Navy Commander who has authored numerous other books for Osprey Publishing about World II such as Imperial Japanese Navy Submarines 1941–45 (2007), The Imperial Japanese Navy in the Pacific War (2014), USN Battleship vs IJN Battleship: The Pacific 1942–44 (2017)

In contrast to overstated opinions about kamikaze pilots offered by many other authors, Stille presents considered views and analysis about Japan's suicide attacks and the pilots who carried them out. For example, he gives the following judgment of the attitudes of Japan's kamikaze pilots and their leaders (p.42):

The notion that these men were robots who performed their last duties without regret is incorrect. Ultimately, all were volunteers, although subtle coercion was undoubtedly part of the process. There was no great overt pressure placed on men to volunteer. They were not brainwashed into crashing their aircraft against American ships. Many left behind thoughtful letters explaining their choice and expressing their hope that their sacrifice would display the moral strength that Japan would need to deal with the desperate situation it was in and with the likelihood of rebuilding the nation after defeat.

Given the pure motives of the kamikaze pilots, and the ultimately futile nature of their sacrifice, it is easy to blame their superiors for cynically leading them to suicide. For their part, they were making a cold calculation that conventional attacks were fruitless and that the only prospects for success were special attacks. Of course, the proper conclusion that should have been reached by late 1944 was that continuing the war was hopeless. The allure of suicide attacks, which would give the Americans another example of the purity of the Japanese spirit and perhaps a reason to re-think paying the necessary price to achieve total victory, gave Japan's leaders an irresponsible reason to continue the war. The same leaders who went to war with no real idea of how to conclude it successfully were now content to oversee the total destruction of the nation. The kamikaze pilots paid a dramatic part, but a very small part, in this final period of shortsightedness by Japan's reckless leaders.

The author provides three challenges that made it so difficult for kamikaze planes to hit enemy ships even for experienced pilots: American combat air patrol (CAP), antiaircraft fire from ships, and fast and maneuvering targets (p. 11). Ultimately, Japan's suicide attack operations failed (p. 75):

Despite the statistics that highlight the damage caused by kamikazes, it is indisputable that the suicide attackers were unsuccessful in their desperate attempts to change the course of the war. As a military weapon, the kamikaze was ineffective in achieving its goals. The initial kamikaze attacks were insufficient to stop the American invasion of Leyte, and then even as the kamikaze program picked up speed, it was unable to stop or seriously hinder the invasion of Luzon. American losses were heavy, but were still at levels that could be sustained. Indeed, they were never close to impacting on future operations. Even at Okinawa, the efforts of the kamikazes were inadequate to even slow the pace of the American advance. The failure of the kamikaze as a military weapon was mirrored by its failure as a psychological weapon. The morale of the American sailor was unbroken by the onslaught. Short of surrender, the Japanese had no other option but to resort to suicide attacks. Even this desperate move was ultimately futile.

The book's six main sections cover Design and Development, Technical Specifications, Strategic Situation, Combatants, Combat, and Statistics and Analysis. The text gives roughly equal coverage to the Japanese and Allied sides. The Combat section summarizes Japan's suicide attack operations chronologically with a focus on ships that were sunk or heavily damaged as a result of attacks. The history gets told more from the American rather than the Japanese perspective, although the Japanese views are taken into consideration. The book has a list of 26 sources for further reading, but some of these have questionable quality, so it would have been helpful if the author had given two or three books as his top recommendations.

The history has a few pieces of misinformation. The sources for these errors could not be determined since the book does not have footnotes to document sources. For example, the two Chinese characters 神風 typically pronounced as kamikaze were pronounced officially as shinpū (often shown as shinpu) when referring to the Navy's aerial special attack corps. The author mistakenly gives the proper pronunciation of the name as shinbu (p. 8), which is actually the same pronunciation as many of the Army's special attack squadrons with the two Chinese characters of 振武. In another example, the book says that no pilot was ordered against his will to fly a suicide mission (p. 40), but there are several examples when pilots were assigned to special attack units with no request for volunteers [1]. As a final example, the author states that a twin-engine Betty (Navy Type 1 Attack) Bomber sank the escort carrier Bismark Sea off Iwo Jima on February 21, 1945 (p. 62-3), but no Betty bomber made a suicide attack on an Allied ship in the Pacific War. The Japanese lost 10 Suisei (Judy) bombers, 16 Tenzan (Jill) bombers, and 5 Zero (Zeke) fighters during this special attack, and no Betty bombers or twin-engine planes were part of the special attack squadron [2]. This is a case where cross-checking with Japanese sources would have led to a different conclusion as to what plane type hit Bismarck Sea.

Japanese suicide aircraft just about to strike
USS Louisville (CA-28) on January 6, 1945 (p. 74)


1. For a listing of several examples when pilots were assigned to special attack units with no request for volunteers, see Note 5 of the review of Robert Stern's book Fire From the Sky: Surviving the Kamikaze Threat.

2. See Katori Air Base Monument for additional details on the Japanese aerial special attack that took place off Iwo Jima on February 21, 1945.