THUNDER GODS by Hatsuho Naito
Kirkus Star


The Kamikaze Pilots Tell Their Story
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An utterly fascinating and authoritative retelling of a dark chapter in military history. When Saipan's fall turned the tide of battle decisively against Japan in WW II's Pacific theater, the Imperial High Command began considering desperate measures to stem (if not repulse) the inexorable advance of US forces. By mid-1944, the Navy was wholly committed to special-attack (i.e., suicide) missions, and the dread kamikaze squadrons were soon thrown into action. The program was a two-part proposition. Initially, ordnance-laden fighters or bombers deliberately crashed on the decks of American warships. The second and more effective phase of the last-ditch effort involved specially built Ohka (literally, exploding cherry blossoms) that were launched from mother aircraft and piloted on one-way rides by young NCOs or junior officers whose headbands immortalized them as Thunder Gods. During their mercifully brief time in combat (mainly through the Okinawa campaign), these manned bombs wreaked considerable psychological havoc. The physical toll they took, however, was relatively modest. Only 15 vessels (none larger than a destroyer) were actually sunk, with damage inflicted on another 59. Casualities were high on both sides. Roughly 12,300 US servicemen were killed and about 36,400 wounded. All told, over 3,900 kamikaze pilots lost their lives. Drawing on such archival sources as still exist and interviews with the handful of surviving Thunder Gods, Naito (a former naval officer who helped engineer the Ohka) provides a riveting start-to-finish account of a futile, self-destructive defense program. He also sets the record straight on any number of points--e.g., the myth that kamikaze pilots were mindless fanatics who went willingly, even joyously, to their deaths. Each of the four units had bitter-enders, but most Thunder Gods were at best dutifully resigned to their grim fates. As the author makes clear, moreover, significant numbers resisted going gently into that good night, drinking heavily and otherwise confronting superiors with severe disciplinary problems. An absorbing, albeit chilling, chronicle. There are 16 pages of candid and combat photos that illuminate key portions of the text.

ISBN: 87011-909-5
Publisher: HarperCollins
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