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Kamikaze: Japanese Special Attack Weapons 1944-45
by Steven J. Zaloga
Osprey Publishing, 2011, 48 pages

The Japanese military developed a wide variety of suicide weapons in 1944 and 1945 in a desperate attempt to stop the Allied advance toward the home islands. This well-researched and well-organized book covers these weapons developed by the Navy and Army for use in suicide missions, euphemistically called special attacks (tokkō) in Japanese. Although limited in number of pages, this publication imparts a great deal of valuable information through its crisp narrative, summary data tables, historical photos, and well-drawn illustrations of weapons.

Steven Zaloga has written many books on military technology and history, such as Defense of Japan 1945 (2010) and Japanese Tanks 1939-45 (2007). His experience and thoroughness as an historian are reflected in his thoughtful comments about different special attack weapons, including ōka rocket-powered glider bombs, kaiten human torpedoes, and explosive motorboats. The two pages of Further Reading at the end list numerous sources Zaloga used in the book's preparation. This short book presents few new findings, and many details can be found in Robin Rielly's much longer history, Kamikaze Attacks of World War II (2010). However, this volume that is #180 in the New Vanguard series by Osprey Publishing effectively meets the series' goal of presenting the "design, development, operation and history of the machinery of warfare through the ages" in concise, focused books.

The Introduction states that the book's focus will be on weapons designed specifically for special attacks. However, the narrative in the book's front section has quite a few pages on the general history of Japan's WWII aerial suicide attacks, most which were carried out by various types of conventional aircraft with minor modifications. While most likely outside the stated scope of this book, an in-depth analysis of how these different aircraft were converted for special attacks would provide valuable information more relevant to the majority of suicide missions carried out by the Japanese Navy and Army. Although conventional aircraft modifications generally do not get covered in the book, it does provide some details on the conversions of the Army's Ki-67 Hiryū (Peggy) and Ki-49 Donryū (Helen) bombers into special attack aircraft by arming them with large warheads. Many weapons discussed in the book were designed for special attacks but never made it into testing, production, or battle before the end of the war.

The title of Kamikaze does not exactly reflect the book's contents, since the Japanese used the name of Kamikaze (or Shinpū) only for the Japanese Navy's aerial special attack units. The Japanese Army also carried out many aerial special attacks but used other names (mainly Shinbu during the Battle of Okinawa), and both the Navy and Army had a variety of other special attack weapons not named Kamikaze. Unlike many other sources on Japan's WWII military operations, this book provides very detailed explanations and background information in the captions for the many historical photos and illustrations.

The paragraph on the Navy's two-man Model 5 Shinyō motorboat does not completely describe its use during the war. Zaloga writes (p. 38), "The only other major type built during the war was the Shinyō Type 5, which was intended to serve as a detachment leader's boat and so it was fitted with two engines and carried a 13mm heavy machine gun. The idea was that this boat would lead the attack, and provide covering fire for the rest of the detachment." The subject then abruptly shifts to the Army's explosive motorboats with no mention that starting in January 1945 many entire shinyō squadrons were formed with only two-man Model 5 boats. Each of these 47 squadrons had 25 two-man Model 5 boats. A shinyō squadron with one-man Model 1 Shinyō motorboats had about 50 Model 1 boats and four two-man Model 5 motorboats for the squadron's officers [1].


1. Kimata 1998, 200-1, 348-9.

Source Cited

Kimata, Jiro. 1998. Nihon tokkōtei senshi (History of Japan's special attack boats). Tōkyō: Kojinsha.