The Washington Post
Danger's Hour: The Story of the USS Bunker Hill and the Kamikaze Pilot Who Crippled Herby Maxwell Taylor Kennedy
In the closing months of World War II, Americans found themselves facing a new and terrifying weapon: kamikazes the first men to use airplanes as suicide weapons.
By the beginning of 1945, American pilots were shooting down Japanese planes more than ten to one. The Japanese had so few metals left that the military had begun using wooden coins and clay… See more details below
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In the closing months of World War II, Americans found themselves facing a new and terrifying weapon: kamikazes the first men to use airplanes as suicide weapons.
By the beginning of 1945, American pilots were shooting down Japanese planes more than ten to one. The Japanese had so few metals left that the military had begun using wooden coins and clay pots for hand grenades. For the first time in 800 years, Japan faced imminent invasion. As Germany faltered, the combined strength of every warring nation gathered at Japan's door. Desperate, Japan turned to its most idealistic young men the best and brightest college students and demanded of them the greatest sacrifice.
On the morning of May 11, 1945, days after the Nazi surrender, the USS Bunker Hill a magnificent vessel that held thousands of crewmen and the most sophisticated naval technology available was holding at the Pacific Theater, 70 miles off the coast of Okinawa.
At precisely 9:58 a.m., Kiyoshi Ogawa radioed in to his base at Kanoya, 350 miles from the Bunker Hill, "I found the enemy vessels." After eighteen months of training, Kiyoshi tucked a comrade's poem into his breast pocket and flew his Zero five hours across the Pacific. Now the young Japanese pilot had located his target and was on the verge of fulfilling his destiny. At 10:02.30 a.m., as he hovered above the Bunker Hill, hidden in a mass of clouds, Kiyoshi spoke his last words: "Now, I am nose-diving into the ship."
The attack killed 393 Americans and was the worst suicide attack against America until September 11. Juxtaposing Kiyoshi's story with the stories of untold heroism of the men aboard the Bunker Hill, Maxwell Taylor Kennedy details how American sailors and airmen worked together, risking their own lives to save their fellows and ultimately triumphing in their efforts to save their ship.
Drawing on years of research and firsthand interviews with both American and Japanese survivors, Maxwell Taylor Kennedy draws a gripping portrait of men bravely serving their countries in war and the advent of a terrifying new weapon, suicide bombing, that nearly halted the most powerful nation in the world.
The Washington Post
The U.S. aircraft carrier Bunker Hill and the Japanese kamikazes that struck her on May 11, 1945, embodied two fundamentally different approaches not only to war but to life, according to Kennedy. The Bunker Hill manifested American material power, and its civilian sailors reflected the determination of a nation to punish Japan's aggression with total victory. The pilots of the Divine Wind (or kamikaze) , on the other hand, represented a philosophical and spiritual response, an epic of pride, honor and virility. And when the kamikazes struck the Bunker Hill, it seemed for a time that a few determined men could frustrate American power, killing almost 400 Americans and wounding another 250. In what he views as a relevant lesson for the age of terror, Kennedy (Make Gentle the Life of This World) explores "how an individual's desire to live can be so successfully suppressed" that he will train for certain death. The author combines extensive archival research with interviews of American and Japanese participants in a spellbinding account showing that much more than geopolitics was at stake in the Pacific war. Photos. (Nov. 4)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
At Okinawa, the Japanese commanders tried a desperate tactic: suicide bombers crashing their planes into the greatest navy ever assembled. On May 11, 1945, four such planes penetrated the defense of one aircraft carrier and caused havoc. Alternating between the stories of the sailors and the kamikaze fliers, Kennedy picks apart the terrible events of that day in remarkable detail. The brutality and callousness of the commanders who directed the kamikaze effort, long after it was obvious that the cause was lost, did much damage but did not delay the Allied victory. Highly recommended for all libraries.
Edwin B. Burgess
Elaborate study of one of the final naval battles of World War II, focusing on both Japanese and American participants.
Commissioned in 1943, the Essex Class aircraft carrier Bunker Hill sailed across the Pacific in the campaigns that reclaimed numerous islands from the Japanese, at tremendous cost. On May 11, 1945, the ship was hit by a kamikaze assault and suffered more than 700 casualties. Kennedy (Make Gentle the Life of This World: The Vision of Robert F. Kennedy, 1998) describes that attack and its aftermath in scarifying detail that is not for the squeamish. He writes of pilots trapped below deck and incinerated, "tangled together in a terrible knot worse than any nightmarish image by Hieronymus Bosch," and of the young Japanese pilots who caused that damage, one of whose hand, detached from the body, "somehow maintained its shape, like a delicate glove, crushed." Kennedy writes well, if gruesomely, of the lives of the fighters on both sides, and particularly of kamikaze flyer Kiyoshi Ogawa, 23 years old when he piloted his plane onto Bunker Hill's deck. But the author sometimes writes to puzzling effect. He suggests at the outset that Americans who lived on the West Coast saw the war in the Pacific coming in advance and that America had no expansionist designs in Asia; he sidesteps the considerable historical discussion on the debate over invading Japan versus dropping the atomic bomb; and he lingers on the supposedly Caucasian physical characteristics of Ogawa and the Okinawans without quite explaining his fascination. He is also content to qualify matters that other historians would have nailed down, as when he writes, "The Bunker Hill did not sink, but she was knockedpermanently out of the war. She probably never launched another aircraft." Probably? It is the historian's business to answer such questions.
Useful to students of the last months of the Pacific War, though less so than Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney's Kamikaze Diaries (2006) and David Sears's At War with the Wind: The Epic Struggle with Japan's World War II Suicide Bombers (2008).
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John Quincy Adams on America, 1821
Looming is an old sea term it describes the result of peculiar atmospheric conditions that occur rarely, but most often at sea, in which ships far beyond the furthest horizon may be clearly seen long before they are within visual range. When this happens, sailors and landsmen near shore are treated to a view over the horizon a look forward into time. Rural Americans were shocked by the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Easterners thought the war would begin in Europe, but students on the West Coast, and those Americans who followed events in Asia more closely during the 1930s, saw war in the Pacific looming over the not so far horizon.
In 1939, America and Japan were on a collision course. Both their economies were recovering. Defense spending was lifting each nation's economic potential. Shipyards in both nations were being expanded. All the while, a noose in the form of an economic blockade was tightening as America brought increasing pressure on Japan to end its expansion in Asia. Japanese militarists who controlled their government determined they would be overthrown if they capitulated to American demands. These leaders, including Hideki Tojo, realized, too, that they could not defeat the United States in a fair fight. The Japanese concluded that they had one chance: if they could severely damage the American Pacific Fleet especially America's carriers then the weakened United States, more concerned about the war in Europe, would make peace with Japan.
It is difficult to rationalize the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and much easier to write it off along with the kamikazes as the irrational act of a fanatical nation gone awry. However, it is important to try to understand the Japanese point of view leading up to the war in the Pacific, and the reasons behind the attack on Pearl Harbor. A detailed analysis is far beyond the scope of this book, but a broad outline may be drawn.
From the time of the first European settlements in America, a frontier line, descending north to south, separated civilization from wilderness. This line can be seen clearly on maps through the decades, beginning first on the Eastern Seaboard, and moving steadily westward. By the mid-nineteenth century, the western frontier began to merge with American settlements founded on the West Coast that were expanding eastward. By 1890, the census announced that the American frontier no longer existed. For a time, though, America continued to advance westward, beginning a period of colonization and imperialism that directly threatened Japanese hegemony in Asia and the Pacific. America's west, for the first time, did not end at the shores of California.
This expansion continued an extensive history of confrontation over control of the Pacific. Marines had been sent to Sumatra in 1831. In 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry landed in Japan and forced Japan to open trade with America. In the midst of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln sent a U.S. naval vessel to the Sea of Japan to shell the Home Islands and teach the Shogun a lesson about American power and interest in Asia. In the 1870s, when Japan was wresting control of Korea from China, President Ulysses Grant sent naval forces to Korea to burn coastal forts.
Japanese and American expansion were poised to collide, each determining, as the nineteenth century ended, how to get the most of what was left of Pacific Asia. The de facto annexation of Hawaii in the 1890s put Washington, D.C., 5,000 miles from its farthest borders. Control of the Philippines in 1899 extended American territory westward even beyond Japan.
Before Perry's visit, Japan knew little of the outside world and considered itself the preeminent nation. But once Japan opened itself to the West, Japanese leaders were shocked by the power of industrialized countries, and determined to force 200 years of economic development into a single generation under the Meiji emperor. Remarkably, they largely succeeded and set their sights on becoming not merely an island nation, but a power on the mainland of Asia.
Japan fought China in 1894-1895 and won Taiwan and parts of Manchuria. Yet they were forced by the colonial powers, particularly the United States, to take a limited profit from their brutal China war. The Japanese people were told by the emperor that they must "endure the unendurable." (These words were echoed fifty years later by his grandson, Hirohito, when Japan surrendered.) The newly industrialized Japanese devastated the Russian fleet in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905. But the United States brokered peace, and again forced the Japanese to lose face accepting less than they had won.
Although Japan was an ally of the United States against Germany during the First World War, the Japanese were insulted when the white Western powers refused to allow a racial equality clause in the peace treaty at Versailles. They again felt slighted when the victorious powers divided up the world and gave Japan only a few island chains considered to have little value the Marshalls, the Carolines, and the Marianas. In 1922, again under American pressure, Japan signed a naval treaty in Washington, D.C., which limited the size of its navy to about two thirds the size of the American fleet.
It wasn't long before the United States and Japan were looking down each other's throats.
Japan, like the United States, was torn by the Great Depression. Families that had prospered for generations within the traditional Japanese economic system were suddenly undone by new competitive realities as Japan became integrated into the world economy. Japan's leadership grew alarmed at the paucity of jobs and economic possibilities for the growing and increasingly restless population. They feared that Japan would be unable to compete without controlling land beyond the Home Islands, so the military regime continued and extended a foreign policy of aggressive territorial expansion.
In 1931, the Japanese invaded Manchuria and established a puppet regime called Manchukuo. The subjugation of the Chinese population in the 1930s required an enormous political, economic, and military commitment. Japan sent thousands of otherwise unemployed youths to Manchuria to make it Japanese. They built railroads, roads, bridges, and schools especially teaching schools to indoctrinate Chinese into the Japanese system. The Japanese government, like Adolf Hitler's in Germany, began a large-scale buildup of its military financed through deficit spending. This spending lifted the Japanese economy out of the depression and created an alliance between Japanese capitalists and Japanese military cliques. This coalition in turn determined a great deal of the country's national policy a policy that led inexorably to war.
The League of Nations refused to recognize Manchukuo, so Japan withdrew from the League, and refused to sign the new Geneva Convention. Two years later Japan withdrew from the Washington Naval Treaty, which had set proscriptions on the size of the signators' navies. Japan then initiated a rapid expansion of their fleet. By August 1937, Japan was conducting a full-scale war against China, committing violent atrocities, including what is now known as the Rape of Nanking. The world was outraged, but Western powers, hoping to avoid war, did nothing aside from putting forth weak protests. This policy of appeasement emboldened the Japanese militarists.
By 1940, the Far East and the Pacific were controlled by the great European colonial powers and Japan. The British controlled Australia, India, Burma, northern Borneo, the east coast of New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago, the Solomon Islands, and the Gilberts. The Dutch controlled much of what is now Indonesia and southern Borneo. The Vichy French controlled Indochina (now Vietnam).* The United States controlled the Philippines, Hawaii, Midway, Wake, and Guam.
In addition to the Home Islands, Japan controlled Manchurian China, Korea, Okinawa, Taiwan, much of Sakhalin Island, and the Caroline, Marshall, Bonin, Ryukyu, and Marianas island chains.
The Japanese island chains in the Pacific were almost unknown to most Americans. Their names now have a deep resonance for anyone with knowledge of the Pacific war. Micronesia includes the island battlegrounds of Palau, Yap, Truk, and about 550 other small islets, including Ulithi Atoll. The Marianas chain includes Saipan, Tinian, and a dozen or so other smaller islands. Guam is part of the Marianas, but it was controlled by America via a small, extraordinarily brave contingent of Marines until the start of the war. The Marshall Islands became known for the battles on Kwajalein, Eniwetok, and Majuro they include about thirty other coral atolls located halfway between Australia and Hawaii. The Ryukyus, the island chain hanging south of the Japanese Home Islands and sweeping down to Okinawa, was the battleground of the kamikazes. The Bonins are most famous for a small island called Iwo Jima.
Perhaps the most salient factor in Japanese territorial acquisition was that the Japanese, who had a relatively small military, were able to accomplish so much with so little. Radical nationalists had developed a pattern of brutal, lightning attacks against enemy strong points, followed by aggressive territorial acquisition far exceeding anything they could reasonably be expected to acquire, much less to hold. After these initial gains, the Japanese would enter into peace negotiations, in which much of the original territory would be divested, though still leaving Japan with enormous new territories, "legitimized" by the new peace treaty.
The United States, through a combination of economic sanctions and diplomatic pressures, determined to end Japanese expansion in Asia and the Pacific. This conflict between America and Japan was intensified repeatedly in a series of diplomatic moves by both countries that eventually made war inevitable. Each time the Japanese increased their territorial expansion, the United States ratcheted up pressure on Japan to withdraw.
America became particularly alarmed when the Japanese government, at the urging of General Tojo, formally aligned itself with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy in the Tripartite Pact. The Japanese pressured the French government in Indochina into concessions for naval bases in North Vietnam. In 1941, the Japanese forced the French to grant additional bases in the South. The United States feared that these would be used as a jumping-off point for a push through the Philippines toward the southern resource areas of the East Indies.* In reaction to this expansion, President Franklin Roosevelt froze Japanese assets in the United States and immediately put a halt to all oil shipments to Japan.
Roosevelt then made two demands upon the Japanese: that the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) withdraw from Vietnam and that the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) withdraw from northern China. The IJN, which had entered foreign policy politics for the first time with its foray into Vietnam, could not afford to lose face to the domestic population by backing down.
The IJA, which was significantly more politically powerful than the IJN, was even more reticent to accept a result that ended in the army losing face. But if Japan could not ensure a reliable petroleum supply they could not hope to stand up to the United States. The American fuel embargo put the Japanese in an untenable position. They had only a year to a year and a half 's supply of petroleum reserves.
The Japanese war machine, its economy, and its military regime were entirely dependent on imported oil. Radicals in the Japanese government began to look southward to additional violent territorial acquisition to solve their resource problem. The Dutch East Indies was full of oil then, as it is today, and the Japanese militarists determined to take control of these reserves. The only force left in Asia that could stop them was the American fleet at Pearl Harbor.
The Japanese generals knew that the United States would soon be at war with Germany. American leaders were vastly more concerned about a unified Europe controlled by Hitler, and so Japanese leaders reasoned that the war in Europe would take precedence over anything going on in Asia. But they also knew that it was possible for the Americans to fight on two fronts so long as the powerful U.S. Pacific Fleet remained ready.
The two nations had been furiously building warships since the middle of the 1930s, and both sides now had navies of nearly equal size. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor they had ten aircraft carriers to America's eight, ten battleships to America's twelve (although the Japanese had the two most powerful battleships in the world), thirty-six cruisers to America's fifty, and only ten destroyers to America's one hundred seventy-one. Each side had a little more than 100 submarines. Nevertheless, the war-making potential of the United States vastly outstripped that of the Japanese.
According to the United States Strategic Bombing Survey (USSBS),* the successful Japanese history of use of force with limited commitments counted more in the minds of Japanese military planners than the relative war-making potential of Japan and the United States. The unfortunate pattern of Western appeasement, probably more than any other single factor, led the Japanese to believe they could attack America's largest naval base in the Pacific with relative impunity.
The Japanese armed forces decided on a complex, bold, but reckless plan to attack the United States fleet without warning. They would utilize carrier-based planes to deal such a crippling blow to America's naval forces that Japan could sue for a relatively benign peace that would end America's blockade and leave Japan in control of a steady supply of oil. After sinking America's Navy, the Japanese armed forces calculated they would be able to take, in relatively quick succession, the Allied-held islands of the Pacific out to Midway, north to the Aleutians, and south to New Guinea, along with the European colonial holdings in mainland Asia.
First, a Japanese carrier strike force would destroy or neutralize the American fleet at Pearl Harbor using a surprise attack on a Sunday morning. In order to ensure success at Pearl Harbor, Admiral Takijiro Onishi determined to send ten volunteers in miniature submarines, each about seventy-eight feet long and weighing nearly fifty tons. On the same day, Japanese troops would attack simultaneously in points throughout Asia. Their objective was to secure the "southern resource area," a group of mainly Dutch-held oil-rich East Indian islands. This oil would fuel Japan's economy and put off a major confrontation with the United States for half a century. But in order to succeed, the Japanese would have to destroy the American fleet at Pearl Harbor, especially the aircraft carriers, in a single, decisive battle.
The IJN fleet that attacked Pearl Harbor would then race back across the Pacific, refuel, and cover the advance of Japanese armies in Asia. Those forces would occupy Vietnam and use it as a launching point to neutralize the French in Cambodia and Laos, and British forces in Malaysia, Burma, and Singapore in order to gain complete control of the southern resource area. Half of the IJA divisions would be utilized in China to complete the conquest there, and to extend the Japanese empire into Burma. The islands of the Central and South Pacific would be occupied and then reinforced to become "unsinkable aircraft carriers" to defend against any attempted encroachment by the weakened American fleet, and to cut off the Philippines from American resupply efforts.
Then they would sue for peace.
Early on the morning of December 7, 1941, Japanese fighters, divebombers, and torpedo planes attacked the ninety-six ships of the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. American radar detected the initial Japanese sorties while still 200 miles away, but incredulous officers considered the blips erroneous or friendly. American ships remained anchored less than 1,000 yards apart. Nearly 400 American planes were lined wing to wing. American antiaircraft gunners did not have live ammunition.
Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, leading the Japanese aerial attack, radioed back to Admiral Yamamoto at 7:53 a.m., "Tora Tora Tora," confirming that the Japanese naval air forces had achieved total surprise.
The United States Pacific Fleet was devastated. The backbone of the American Navy in the Pacific, the battleships (BBs), were almost entirely wrecked at Pearl Harbor. The Arizona, the West Virginia, the Oklahoma, and the California sank at their berths after receiving multiple torpedo and heavy-bomb hits, and near-misses. More than 1,100 Americans were killed when the USS Arizona exploded and sank. The Nevada was struck by numerous bombs and at least one torpedo.
The Pennsylvania, the Maryland, and the Tennessee were damaged by bomb hits. The stern of the Tennessee buckled from the heat of the fires burning on the nearby Arizona.
American cruisers (CCs) were also badly damaged. The Helena was struck by aerial torpedo; the Honolulu was damaged by a nearmiss from a large bomb. The Raleigh was struck by both torpedo and bomb and severely flooded.
The destroyers (DDs) were mauled. The Shaw was hit by a bomb that detonated her forward magazine. The Cassin and Downes were struck by three bombs in dry dock. A fourth detonated between the two ships. The Cassin rolled off her stands and struck the Downes detonating torpedo warheads aboard the Downes. Fuel from the two ships then ignited and damaged both hulls.
Many auxiliary vessels were also badly damaged or destroyed. Some exploded against the sides of others. Many capsized before they sank, notably the Utah, which ended up almost precisely upside down.
The Japanese destroyed nearly every plane at the Army airbase at Hickham Field, and wrecked many naval aircraft at Pearl Harbor. Two thousand four hundred and three Americans were killed. In comparison, Japanese losses were paltry. Fifty-five Japanese airmen were killed. They lost twenty-nine planes. All five of their suicidal midget submarines were lost; nine out of their ten crew were killed.*
America's Pacific Fleet was all but crippled by the Japanese attack. But far from being disheartened by the infamous assault, Americans became set in their absolute determination to avenge Pearl Harbor and force the unconditional surrender of Japan. Nothing less would be sufficient. The American submarines and carriers, which were not at Pearl Harbor on December 7, were the only fleet arms to emerge from the Japanese surprise attack relatively intact. This fortuitous preservation led to a complete restructuring of U.S. naval strategy, based on carriers rather than destroyers. Ironically, loss of the fleet at Pearl Harbor forced the United States to create an entirely new, entirely modern fleet. American political will, incensed by the "dastardly" Japanese assault, allowed the president to immediately begin construction of the largest, most powerful navy in the history of the world, and to use the new carrier-based Navy as the principal means of destroying the empire of Japan.
The Japanese woefully underestimated the outrage, strength, discipline, and resolve of the American people and the war-making potential of the American economy. America may not have desired empire in Asia, but President Roosevelt never considered anything less than Japanese surrender after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The Japanese leaders who initiated the assault on Pearl Harbor, especially Admiral Onishi, became increasingly desperate as the war moved closer to Japan and the magnitude of their error became manifest. Far from conceding, however, these men turned to increasingly fanatical measures to slow the American advance. In perhaps their most reckless undertaking, Japanese leaders drafted all of their most gifted university students in a single day. They taught the brightest of the student-conscripts how to fly, and in the final months of the war ordered these idealistic young men to crash their aircraft into the American aircraft carriers.
Copyright © 2008 by Maxwell Taylor Kennedy
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Meet the Author
Maxwell Taylor Kennedy graduated from Harvard University and the University of Virginia School of Law. He taught environmental studies at Boston College, where he cofounded the Urban Ecology Institute. Mr. Kennedy served as a prosecutor for three years before he collected and edited his first book, Make Gentle the Life of This World: The Vision of Robert Kennedy. Maxwell Taylor Kennedy is an avid scuba diver and co-led an expedition that located the wrecks of a fleet of pirate ships off Venezuela. He also participated in the National Geographic Explorers search for PT 109. A devoted maritime historian, Mr. Kennedy is currently an Associate Scholar of the John Carter Brown Library, a Center for Advanced Research in History and the Humanities at Brown University. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Vicki, and their children, Maxey, Summer, and Noah.
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I'm two hours into reading this book and appalled. I saw the author interviewed on the Daily Show and was delighted to see someone had finally written a book on the Kamikaze pilot not as a monolith by as a collection of persons. Maybe the Japanese side of his book is informed, but the American side of his research shows unbelievable ignorance. P. 19. The IJN had only 10 destroyers when the war started! The Pearl Harbor attack group is usually credited with 9 to 11 DD's and the IJN with 111. A typo? P. 23 discusses the results of Pearl Harbor and the blessings of the carriers surviving the attack with the result that the U.S. naval strategy was restructured "based on carriers rather than destroyers." Huh? Don't you mean battleships? P. 38 names an Avenger pilot at Coral Sea who attacked the carrier Shosho. (Most histories call her Shoho). All the attacking U.S. torpedo bombers were TBD Devastators. The TBF Avenger didn't debut until Midway, a month later. But as luck would have it, I initially opened the book to P. 120, and glanced at the footnote. It claims that Nimitz commanded the 5th Fleet in the central pacific and Halsey the 3rd Fleet in the Western Pacific. This is just so wrong. Nimitz was Cincpac and Cincpoa: Commander in Chief Pacific and Pacific Ocean Area. Halsey, 3rd Fleet, worked for him as did Spruance, 5th Fleet. Halsey and Spruance alternated command of the same ships; one executing an invasion while the other planned the next one. This gave Japan little or no time to recover from the last blow before the next one hit. Directly below that foot note was another. It identified U.S. fleet carrier strength (CV's) at Leyte Gulf as 8 with 26 Escort Carriers (CVE's). Where are the Light Carriers (CVL's)? CVL's weren't much bigger than CVE's, but they were built on a cruiser hull rather than a merchant hull. Slightly longer and twice as fast, a CVL was considered a part of the Fast Carrier team and since it could carry the F6F fighter like the CV's and keep up the speed, they were part and parcel of the first team. At Leyte, Morrison's history names 8 Essex CV's, 8 Independence CVL's, the prewar Enterprise (CV) and 18 CVE. Kennedy's raw numbers balance (minus the Enterprise) but his lumping shows a complete failure to grasp the Navy's doctrine of fast carriers. In general, Kennedy's failure to get right the background upon which his story plays out shows an terrible ignorance that raises serious doubts about his grasp of the unique facts he brings to his history. In a few years my grandkids will be learning about their great-grandfather's WW II. I'll probably give them this book so they can read the gut turning humanity of this tragic story. But there will be a lot of margin notes correcting this and that and pointing them elsewhere.
Have you ever wished someone would write a book or make a movie about an obscure topic that greatly interested you, but then when it happens, the result is disappointing--and what's worse, you know that the only shot this obscure topic was ever going to get had been squandered?
That's my feeling of disappointment in this near-miss by Maxwell Kennedy. The book is filled with insightful research into the world of the Japanese suicide pilots commonly called kamikaze and into life on a large aircraft carrier in the final months of World War II. But doing the research and putting the information together into a readable bookor two different things.
It seems as if Mr. Kennedy filled 3 by 5 notecards with snippets of facts and arranged them in piles by topic and then threw each small pile into the air and whatever order they came down in is how he presented them in the book. Time after time the reader is jolted to a stop by a sentence or a paragraph that leaves one asking, "What does that have to with this?" A little farther along the topic resurfaces and the reader is now asking, "He already said that, and why didn't he put this information together with that information?"
Sometimes, the effect is that he beats a point to death because it appears three times over the course of two pages, when consolidating the three references into one cohesive paragraph would have had more effect. A case in point is his assertion that the design and placement of the pilot's ready room just below the flight deck placed the pilots in unnecessary danger. Instead of writing a strong argument to support his assertion (which, by the way, is valid), he throws in a sentence here and there as is he wasn't confident enough to say it directly.
Mr. Kennedy was poorly served by his editor. A competent editor would have helped rewrite passages into a flowing narrative that supported his story, would have caught the inconsistencies in usage (in some places pilots are referred to by last name and then first name and then nickname in the same passage, making it sound as if he was writing about three men), the use of acronymns and jargon without definition, and references to people without explanation as to who they are and why they are being included.
What we have here is a collection of facts and observations that could have been arranged into a long magazine article, maybe in American Heritage or Smithsonian, but instead, has been scrambled into a book--a long, curvy road where a straight highway would have sufficed.
All that being said, Mr. Kennedy certainly did his homework, especially in delving into the lives of the suicide pilots and the culture that made such a strategy even thinkable, debunking a lot of myths about the supposed fanaticism of the Japanese pilots. He also makes a strong argument that Japan was defeated by the summer of 1944 and that a lot of subsequent bloodshed on both sides was ultimately for no good reason other than a refusal by one side to admit defeat and a racially motivated desire for revenge on the other side.
Because it is unlikely no one else will ever write anything that will be published about this event, you'll have to settle for this effort and wonder what could have been.
Having grown up watching the Victory at Sea television series and listening to the music, it was a nice sidebar to this story to know that the USS Bunker Hill was the ship portrayed on the album covers of the score.
However, I was disappointed in the way that Mr. Kennedy compiled his extensive research into this narrative. This is a riveting story but the author got bogged down in too many facts placed haphazardly together. At times, this was a long, slow read. He did do justice to all the men on board the ship, as well as give great insight into the kamikaze pilots and Japan's mindset during the war, but his descriptions tended to be rambling. While I would recommend this book to others, it would be with this caviat: the pages do not flow together smoothly at times.
I'm in my early 50s. My father was in the Army during the Korean War. For my generation, World War II is something from history books without much connection to daily life. But in "Danger's Hour," Maxwell Taylor Kennedy brings to life not only the men of the USS Bunker Hill, but also the Japanese kamikaze pilots who gave their lives for what they knew to be a lost cause.
Kennedy provides plenty of background information on the conflict between the U.S. and Japan; he also describes in detail the anatomy of an aircraft carrier. Woven into those details is the human story: the tedium of military training, the conflict between love of family and duty to country, response to the nightmare of battle, and the ultimate nightmare of the attack on the Bunker Hill.
The research that went into this book is staggering, yet Kennedy's writing style makes it easy to absorb. Reading his analysis of the kamikaze pilots' training and the reasons Japan chose suicide over surrender, I couldn't help but draw parallels to the terrorist suicide bombers of today. And yet, Kennedy offers insights into the personalities of some of the Japanese pilots, showing that very little was black or white in this war.
One word I would use in describing the American servicemen in this book is bravery. Flying perilous missions. Manning guns under enemy attack. Risking their own lives to save their comrades after the kamikaze attack. Tom Brokaw was right: these men were members of our greatest generation.
Read "Danger's Hour" for an inside view of life and death on an aircraft carrier.
In the Author's Note section at the end of this book, the author states that he intended it to be "a microhistory of World War II in the Pacific". I wish I had known that before I started reading. It is obvious that the author has done excellent research into all aspects of his story, from the biographical details of kamikaze pilot Kiyoshi Ogawa to the operational history of USS Bunker Hill and her air group. However, I had a difficult time plodding through the first 280 pages of the book to get to the point where Ogawa finally pushes over into his fatal dive on the carrier. Such things as details of Japanese history back to Commodore Perry's visit in 1853 and a chapter titled "Fraternization and Race Relations Aboard the Bunker Hill" were in my opinion unnecessary to the story. Also, considering the amount of research the author did, he should have been more familiar with Navy terminology. Use of the words "floor" and "hallway" instead of "deck" and "passageway" can be annoying to persons likely to have an interest in this book. Carrier aviators did not wear "pressure suits" in 1945, and the man in charge of launching planes is the Flight Deck Officer and not the Landing Signal Officer. After the kamikazes strike and the Bunker Hill's crew begin their fight for survival, this book steps up and graphically describes the havoc and horror these brave men had to face.
As a late 60's USN vet, I'm appalled by the technical errors by p.75. I may finish it, but right now that's in debate. At least I only paid $5 for a barely-used HB copy. P53, "...diesel-steam turbines..." What was he trying to say with this contradiction? P. 54, ".... sixty-eight 40mm Bofors antiaircraft guns, and twelve 5-inch guns --- the latter so good that they remained in use through the Vietnam War." Gee, so did the 40mm Bofors.... look on the bow of any WWII LST re-used for theVN war.. P 63, "Steam from the generators satisfied all the ship's electrical needs." Steam, huh? Just an editing oversight I suppose, but so dam' glaring! Somewhere in there. he mentions the boilers burning diesel fuel.... no, in that era, I'm pretty sure they would have burned 'black oil'... NSFO, Navy Special Fuel Oil. Combining all of this with the historical errors of fact mentioned already, I'm amazed that this piece of ---- made it into print.
As others have stated, check your facts, two other facts not caught so far, The author stated that the Okinawa campaign was the first battle of the ware where the casualties from the navy outnumbered the casualties ashore. This is not true, Guadalcanal would have been the first. In addition the boilers run on distilled sea water, not sea water. I purchased this as an audio book so I cannot quote page numbers. Usually I purchase an audio book to learn, entertain, and distract from the long road. Not to have the road distract from the audio book. As in this case this book was probably the worst book I have listened to so far. As painful as it would have been by reading it, imagine the pain of listening to the endless trips down the garden path. Entire anatomy lessons on the respiratory system droned on and on.. one reviewer mentioned repetition? You have no idea. Lastly, it's easy given hindsight of 20/20 to describe use of the atomic bomb as unnecessary. I have never read that Eisenhower stated as such nor Hap Arnold. Let's say that these quotes are attributable for a second.. General Eisenhower was a European theater commander, as was General Hap Arnold. The author conveniently left out the tenacity of the Japanese on Peleliu and briefly mentioned the Japanese that held out on Okinawa for weeks after the major struggle there was over. Air power did not root the defenders out and the ability of the Japanese soldier to hang on in austere conditions truly was a deciding factor on whether or not to use the atomic weapon. But for this author to so flippantly state as a fact that it was not necessary is an attempt to re write history to suite his opinion rather than state the facts as they were at the time with a mention of hindsight and make a statement "it is in this authors opinion" which it was. I am glad I have the delete button..
As an amature historian of the Pacific War, and a person who had actually been on Bunker Hill during it's remaining days in the reserve (mothball)fleet, I found this an interesting story with numerous touching personal accounts. My father served with the fleet as an officer during the invasion of Okinawa and I served with several essentially unchanged ship of the WWII vintage with many veterans of that conflict and also am an avaitor. From that perspective the picture painted is very dynamic of the horror of this period during the war at sea. It is inevitable that a non Navy person will get some things wrong, a professional hazard of venturing beyond our personal experience! That said, the profile of the Kamakaze pilots and how they arrived at the time and place of their demise is quite facinating and opens some new perspectives. I spend a lot of time in Asia, more in China than Japan, but even today it is a very different set of values than what we have in the West. A time that when I was young, was almost close enough to touch, but now seems like a far different time and place. The in depth stories from the participants are among the last that we shall have access to.