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Dogfights: Kamikaze
Directed by Robert Kirk and Abe Scheuermann
HISTORY, 2008, 44 min., DVD

For two seasons from 2006 to 2008, History Channel broadcast 29 episodes of Dogfights, which featured computerized graphics to bring a new level of realism to the presentation of historical aerial battles. The documentaries also provided commentary by an effective combination of veterans, many who fought in the battles presented, and history experts. Dogfights during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War make up most episodes, but the series also covers World War I, Israel's Six-Day War and Yom Kippur War, and the Gulf War. The Season 1 DVD set includes 11 episodes, and Season 2 has 18 episodes. Although most episodes focus on dogfights, a few episodes go astray from the series title such as "Hunt for the Bismarck" and "Death of the Japanese Navy," which focus on naval battles.

The narrator often compares the aircraft types engaged in battle to give viewers a better understanding of odds facing combatants. Key characteristics such as speed, maneuverability, armament, range, climbing, and diving are evaluated side by side for aircraft used by dogfight opponents. Most of the episodes are presented from the American point of view, but the series includes some interviews with German, Japanese, and Israeli pilots when their fighters are presented. Although the pilots seem quite sincere in their descriptions of battles that happened decades before, one sometimes wonders whether there can be some exaggeration in what actually occurred, especially in situations where no witnesses from the pilot's side were present to confirm reports. The phrase "supremely confident and very aggressive" appropriately describes the dogfight pilots presented in this series. The nearly life-like computerized graphics, accompanied by the narrator's gripping voice with stirring music and sound effects, generate real excitement for viewers as the battles unfold.

Three episodes in the Dogfights series cover Japan's special (suicide) attack operations:

  1. Kamikaze (Episode 1 of Season 2): Covers kamikaze aircraft attacks on three ships.
  2. Secret Weapons (Episode 17 of Season 2): One segment tells about first kaiten human torpedo attack at Ulithi Atoll.
  3. Death of the Japanese Navy (Episode 8 of Season 1): Last segment describes suicide mission of battleship Yamato to Okinawa and her sinking by bombs and torpedoes dropped from American planes.

The "Kamikaze" episode focuses on attacks made on the escort carrier St. Lo (CVE-63) on October 25, 1944; the destroyer Laffey (DD-724) on April 16, 1945; and the destroyer Mannert L. Abele (DD-733) on April 12, 1945. Veterans from each of the three ships provide eyewitness accounts of the kamikaze attacks. The episode provides some background information regarding Japan's kamikaze operations, but the documentary mainly concentrates on the individual attacks.

The documentary asserts that Yukio Seki, commander of the first kamikaze squadron of five Zero fighters that carried 250-kg bombs, hit and sank the escort carrier St. Lo, which lost 114 men out of a crew of over 850. However, controversy exists based on available evidence as to whether or not Seki was the pilot in his squadron who hit St. Lo.

The attack of 22 Japanese kamikaze planes and conventional bombers on the destroyer Laffey is very complex to portray due to the number of planes that attacked from different angles over a period of 80 minutes. The computerized graphics presented by Dogfights assists to understand what Laffey's gunners, and later in the battle the CAP (Combat Air Patrol) fighter pilots, faced during the attack. Some hits by planes and bombs get shown more than once at different angles. In the end Laffey got struck by six kamikaze aircraft and four bombs [1] and still remained afloat, but 32 men out of a crew of 355 lost their lives.

The final kamikaze segment shows the attack by a deadly rocket-powered ōka, described as a "flying torpedo," that hit the destroyer Mannert L. Abele, which sank in three minutes. The ship had been hit right before by a Zero fighter, and 79 men in total lost their lives due to the two kamikaze hits. The segment's last part shows an ōka attack on the same day that hit the destroyer Stanly (DD-478). The missile's armor-piercing nose section went right though the armor plates on both sides of ship, so it caused little damage and wounded only three men. A second ōka barely missed Stanly as it flew over. Hideo Suzuki, a former ōka pilot, describes the insidious weapon and the training to fly the rocket-powered glider.

The fascinating 11-minute segment on how a kaiten human torpedo sank the fleet oiler USS Mississinewa (AO-59) on November 20, 1944, has nothing to do with dogfights. Harumi Kawasaki, former kaiten pilot; Michael Mair, author of Kaiten: Japan's Secret Manned Suicide Submarine and the First American Ship It Sank in WWII; and Herb Daitch, Mississinewa veteran who survived the sinking, provide incisive comments regarding the kaiten program and the attack by kaiten co-inventor Sekio Nishina that sank the huge oiler and killed 63 crewmen.

The segment on the sinking of the battleship Yamato features Francis Ferry, an SB2C Helldiver carrier-based dive bomber aircraft pilot from the carrier Bennington (CV-20) who hit the giant ship with a bomb. Over 300 American carrier-based aircraft participated in the attack, and just 10 planes and 12 men were lost. Only 270 Yamato crewmen out of nearly 3,000 survived the sinking. Although Dogfights generally presents accurate historical facts, this segment presents an incorrect route for the battleship Yamato, which actually went from its anchorage at Mitajiri in Yamaguchi Prefecture, through the Bungo Strait, south along the eastern coast of Kyushu, and then turning west at the southern tip of Kyushu to approach Okinawa on the western side. The show's map presents Yamato's route starting far north and east of the actual sortie point and then going far to the east of the real route and approaching Okinawa on the eastern side. The narrator states that Yamato was detected south of Kyushu on April 7, 1945, but in fact Yamato and her nine escorting ships had been detected the previous evening by two American submarines as the Japanese fleet passed through the Bungo Strait in northern Kyushu [2].


1. Some sources provide slightly different numbers depending on how near hits and glancing blows are counted.

2. Bawal 2010, 152-3.

Source Cited

Bawal, Raymond A., Jr. 2010. Titans of the Rising Sun: The Rise and Fall of Japan's Yamato Class Battleships. Clinton Township, MI: Inland Expressions.