Surprising history of the “half-forgotten” British effort to help the United States end the war with Japan in 1945.
While the British were celebrating victory over Germany, the U.S. war against Japan raged on, enlisting the help of the little-known air arm of the Royal Navy, the Fleet Air Arm. As London Sunday Times journalist Iredale delineates in this enlightening work, Prime Minister Winston Churchill knew that the British needed to work alongside the Americans in defeating Japan or be open “to American accusations that Britain’s main concern was restoring its rule in its old colonies while the Americans bore the brunt of the final battles.” And while the U.S. did bear the brunt against Japan (e.g., the Philippines, Okinawa) the FAA, operating from the aircraft carriers Indomitable, Victorious, Illustrious, and Indefatigable, was employed to strike at Japan-occupied Indonesia’s two most important oil refineries. Iredale fashions a meticulous account of the run-up to these late campaigns, detailing the aircraft involved, namely the Royal Navy Corsairs, Hellcats, and Spitfires, mass-produced with American help under the lend-lease program; as well as the training of the FAA pilots first in Canada, then in Michigan and Florida. U.S. Adm. Ernest J. King was not keen on using the British (“The Limeys had never fought in the Pacific”), but the pilots proved themselves admirably against the desperate eleventh-hour weapon by the Japanese, the suicide kamikaze pilots. In “softening up” the Sakishima Islands for the Marine invasion, the Royal Navy (under American command for the first time in history) targeted airfields beginning in March 1945 on Miyako and Ishigaki islands and several sites over mainland Japan as well. In May alone, the British Pacific Fleet lost more than 40 percent of its original aircraft, and all of the British carriers had been hit at least once by a kamikaze. In an impressive first book, Iredale fairly weighs the effectiveness of the British effort.
An engaging history of an underreported facet of the Pacific war.