Desperate Sunset: Japan’s Kamakazes

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DESPERATE SUNSET: JAPAN’S KAMIKAZES AGAINST ALLIED SHIPS, 1944-1945. By Mike Yeo. Osprey Publishing, Oxford, 2019.

Reviewed by: Dr James Bosbotinis, The Naval Review

Having followed the author of Desperate Sunset on social media, including as he previewed the then forthcoming book on Japanese kamikaze operations in the Second World War, this reviewer was eagerly anticipating the publication of the book. Although I was familiar with Japan’s use of kamikazes in the latter stages of the Pacific War, Desperate Sunset offers an in-depth study and account of the Tokubetsu Kogekitai, or Special Attack Units, which notably, draws on Japanese sources.

The author, Mike Yeo, a Singaporean and based in Melbourne, Australia, is a well-known defence journalist, who writes extensively for a range of publications. Yeo is also a keen student of aviation history and of the Pacific War. This is evident throughout the book.

Desperate Sunset is divided into five chapters, ‘Introduction’, ‘Tactics and Aircraft’, ‘The Philippines’, ‘Other Theaters’, and ‘Okinawa’, and includes a concise bibliography. Yeo explains in the Introduction, that the use of kamikaze tactics should not have come as a surprise to the Allies, explaining that “there had been numerous occasions throughout the Pacific War when Japanese pilots facing an imminent crash in a stricken aircraft had opted to adopt jibaku (Japanese term for the act of suicide) tactics…” (p. 9). However, the decision to establish dedicated Tokubetsu Kogekitai, or tokko-tai, to undertake deliberate, planned suicide attacks against Allied ships marked a significant shift. The employment of the tokko units is examined in chapter two, which focuses on the tactics, ordnance and aircraft employed by the Imperial Japanese Naval Air Force and Imperial Japanese Army Air Force respectively. As an aviation enthusiast myself, the latter part of this chapter was particularly interesting, providing an overview of the various Japanese aircraft employed in kamikaze attacks.

The following three chapters cover the battles for the Philippines and Okinawa, plus kamikaze operations from Formosa, during the Battle of Iwo Jima, against the British Pacific Fleet in operations in Southeast Asia, and off Honshu in the last days of the War. The majority of the book covers the Battle of Okinawa. The chapters are well-illustrated and feature supporting maps, diagrams, and text boxes covering notable incidents, personalities and aircraft. Yeo provides a highly detailed, yet eminently readable account of Japan’s kamikaze operations. The depth of his research, including from Japanese sources, is evident. Yeo, for example, notes the story of Takehiko Ena, who had “the possibly unique distinction of having survived two tokko missions”, due to his aircraft on both occasions developing technical problems. Similarly, Yeo details the experience of Kaoru Hasegawa, who attempted four tokko missions, the last of which, an attack on a destroyer, the USS Callaghan, resulted in his bomber being shot down, but him surviving and eventually forming friendships with the surviving crew of the Callaghan.

This is an excellent book, providing a compelling account of Japan’s kamikaze operations, with high quality photographs throughout. Desperate Sunset will appeal to both the historian seeking a greater understanding of Japan’s experience in the Second World War and the lay reader. This book will particularly appeal to those with an interest in military aviation. Desperate Sunset is well-written, with only a very few minor typos. It is recommended.

 

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