A well-paced, action-packed narrative of a minor episode in WWII that had major results.
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, writes journalist/historian Davis, initially opposed going to war against the US; he had attended Harvard, spoke English, and had traveled here widely enough to know that “when the threat was great enough, common Americans would fight, and die, for their country.” Yet, obedient to the emperor and the high command, Yamamoto threw himself into preparations for the attack on Pearl Harbor, which was meant to follow immediately the Japanese ambassador’s delivery in Washington of a declaration of war. The ambassador fell behind schedule, however, to Yamamoto’s enduring shame; he had not wanted a sneak attack, in which there was no honor. American military intelligence took a different view, rightly pegging Yamamoto as the architect of not only Pearl Harbor but also the Imperial Navy’s formidable campaign in the Pacific. Davis’s account turns on five Army Air Corps pilots who were recruited into a group that came to be called the “Cactus Air Force,” whose members performed countless deeds of bravery and even heroism in combat, in one instance turning the tide of battle at Guadalcanal even as they flew against technically superior Japanese aircraft. (“About the only way a P-400 could shoot down a Zero,” the author comments, “was with the help of a Japanese pilot.” Davis sometimes lets anecdotes do the work of analysis, but his central narrative moves swiftly and surely as the American flyers, armed with broken Japanese codes, mount a daring effort to find Yamamoto’s command plane and bring it down. The outcome is well known to students of WWII history, but—as always seems the case in matters military—the official account of what happened differs in critical details from the accounts of the pilots, which lends immediacy to Davis’s arguments concerning evidence and confirmation.
Of most interest to military history buffs and students of the air war in the Pacific.