Military historian and novelist Gandt (Black Star Rising, 2007, etc.) chronicles the epic Battle of Okinawa.
In the spring of 1945, as the Red Army approached Berlin, a ferocious land, sea and air battle raged in the Pacific, a dress rehearsal, many thought, for the upcoming invasion of Japan. The author credits the idea of bypassing the heavily fortified island of Formosa and seizing Okinawa to the brainy Adm. Raymond Spruance. Snapshots of Spruance, Marc Mitscher, Chester Nimitz, Ernest King, Morton Deyo and Arleigh Burke, towering names in American naval history, dot these pages, complemented by similar sharp takes on the Japanese high command defending the island. The heart of Gandt’s story, though, is the tale of the young aviators, the Tail End Charlies on the American side, fearful they’d never get into action, and the Japanese Thunder Gods, the kamikaze force whose suicide missions testified simultaneously to Japan’s will and her desperation. By no means comprehensive—Gandt checks in only periodically with the halting advance of Simon Buckner’s 10th Army—the narrative, nevertheless, consistently enlightens on numerous battle-related issues and incidents: the rivalry between the black shoe (seagoing) and the brown shoe (aviation) navy; how the Japanese consistently overestimated the destruction caused by the kamikaze missions; the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Buckner and famed correspondent Ernie Pyle; the peculiar susceptibility of the wooden-decked U.S. carriers to kamikaze attack; the sinking of the mighty battleship Yamato; the exploits of American ace Al Lerch, who shot down seven planes in a single mission; the strength of the USS Laffey, still afloat after six kamikaze crashes. The appalling price in lives lost, men wounded, ships sunk and aircraft destroyed made Okinawa “the costliest naval engagement in U.S. history.” Three months later the atomic bomb would fall on Hiroshima.
A fine popular account of history’s last great sea battle.