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The Kamikaze Campaign 1944-45: Imperial Japan’s Last Throw of the Dice

31 May 24

96 pages

Dr James Bosbotinis

As will be well-known to members, Japan’s use of deliberate suicide attacks marked a dramatic and horrific approach to counter overwhelming Allied, particularly American, superiority in the final year of the Second World War. In The Kamikaze Campaign 1944-45, the author, Mark Lardas, who has written extensively on a diverse range of historical subjects, sets out to examine the tactics, employment, implications and effects of Japan’s use of kamikazes as well as the Allied response. In this respect, the book follows the established Osprey format of chapters covering ‘Attacker’s Capabilities’, ‘Defender’s Capabilities’, ‘Campaign Objectives’, ‘The Campaign’, with an Introduction, Chronology, and ‘Aftermath and Analysis’; a brief guide to further reading is also provided. This approach provides a clear and concise treatment of the subject at hand.

As Lardas explains, the first use of ‘Special Attack’ units arose as the result of a local initiative in the Philippines in October 1944. However, the perceived success of kamikaze operations resulted in the official adoption of the approach by both the Imperial Japanese Navy and Army Air Force, with the use of kamikazes becoming central to Japan’s defensive efforts in the closing months of the war and ahead of the expected Allied invasion of Japan itself. Whilst the use of suicide attacks was seen as a means of offsetting Allied superiority, both qualitative and quantitative, the constraints facing Japan’s conventional operations would also undermine its employment of suicide operations. Moreover, Allied superiority would also provide it with an effective means of countering Japanese kamikaze attacks.

The author highlights the impact of the lack of trained pilots, a product of Japan’s pilot training system: “At the start of the Pacific War, the Navy was producing only 2,000 pilots a year, while the Army added just 750…”, and in 1941, “Navy pilots received 700 hours of flight training: Army pilots 500. By late 1944, this had shrunk to about 300 and 150, respectively”. The lack of trained pilots was a critical disadvantage confronting Japan both in terms of conventional and suicide attacks, and ironically, as the kamikaze campaign progressed, Japan became more reliant on poorly trained pilots who were expected to penetrate the gamut of Allied air defences. As Lardas emphasises, “the ability to meld the capabilities of individual parts of the Allies’ operational system – aircraft, antiaircraft, radar, and logistics – to defeating the kamikazes proved to be the Allies’ most important skill”, and a critical advantage vis-à-vis Japan.

The author ably explains how the combination of tactics, adaptation, better equipment, and training, provided the Allies with the means to effectively counter Japanese attacks. Further, Lardas highlights the importance of damage control: “By late 1944, Allied navies had achieved remarkable competence in containing and controlling battle damage. This was especially true for firefighting, as wartime experience revealed fire as the biggest combat risk to ships, especially aircraft carriers that were filled with explosives and volatile aircraft fuel”. The USS Franklin, an Essex-class aircraft carrier hit by a conventional airstrike during the Battle for Okinawa, is testament to this, having “earned the dubious distinction of being the most heavily damaged fleet carrier of the war, superb damage control allowing it to survive damage significantly more severe than that which sank the Lexington, Yorktown, or Hornet in 1942”.

The Kamikaze Campaign 1944-45 provides a well-written, detailed yet concise, discussion of Japan’s use of suicide air attacks and the Allied response. Lardas writes in an engaging manner, and the accompanying illustrations by Adam Tooby are excellent. There are very few minor typos, although the map on page 13 appears to have mixed up ‘September 1944’ and ‘August 1945’ as it suggests that Japan successfully pushed the frontline eastward considerably. This book will certainly appeal to those interested in the Second World War, in particular the Pacific campaign. Having read Mike Yeo’s excellent Desperate Sunset: Japan’s Kamikazes Against Allied Ships, 1944-1945, also published by Osprey, and reviewed in the NR, Vol.108, No. 3, pp. 460-461, The Kamikaze Campaign 1944-45 provides an excellent introduction to the subject, and is recommended.