44 NAVY NEWS, JUNE 2010
Colour of war
IF YOU didn’t catch it on the History Channel recently, the
critically-acclaimed WWII Lost
Films is now out on three-disc DVD.
unearthed some 3,000 hours of colour footage from public and private archives (some seen and well-known, a lot not) around the globe to create ten hours of programming. The series is American-centric (the 12 servicemen featured all served under the Stars and Stripes) and Pacific-centric with the UK’s involvement largely peripheral. With that caveat aside, this is a first-rate documentary series, narrated by major actors such as Rob Lowe or Gary Sinise. The footage is excellent and has been remastered in high definition, while the 12 featured ‘characters’ are excellent witnesses to war through their diaries, letters and memoirs, particularly Time-Life journalist Robert Sherrod. Brits aren’t entirely absent –
you’ll see the Torch invasion force off North Africa in late 1942 – but what’s perhaps even more fascinating is colour imagery of life in the UK and USA in the 1940s and some rare colour footage from the Japanese side of the conflict. The box set is available on standard-format DVD (£19.99) or Blu-Ray (£24.99). ■ We have fi ve copies of WWII: Lost Films to give away courtesy of Go Entertain. To win, tell us the name of US
naval base in Hawaii attacked by the Japanese which provoked America’s entry into the war in December 1941. Your answer must reach us by
Nelson, w Documentary makers
FROM October 25 1944 to August 13 1945, in well over 300 attacks, Japanese kamikaze suicide aircraft sank or permanently disabled some 66 allied ships and damaged around 250 more.
They infl icted about 16,000 casualties,
About 3,000 suicide missions consumed almost 4,000 Japanese
aircrew, writes Professor Eric Grove of the University of Salford.
Two out of three kamikazes
were shot down by defending fi ghters or fatally crashed because of mechanical failure.
targets. In all a kamikaze had slightly less than a ten per cent chance of damaging an enemy asset and each hit infl icted around 40 casualties. These fi gures come from what is probably the best book yet published on the kamikazes, Fire
from the Skies: Surviving the
Kamikaze Threat by American author Robert C Stern (Seaforth, £25 ISBN 978-1848320383). He has thoroughly trawled the
relevant Action Reports held in the National Archives at College Park
comprehensive account of the American side of the story. He has also used other sources, both printed and electronic, to put the reports into context. Academics would quibble at the author’s defi nition of ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ sources. Some of the latter are really the former, notably the original American 1945 studies of suicide attacks which the author uses for some excellent tactical analysis. The
book is its reliance on secondary sources for attacks on allied ships. The coverage of HMAS Australia, a ship that mysteriously seemed to attract suicide attackers,
mid-day on Friday July 16 2010. Send your entry to lostfilms@ navynews.co.uk
or WWII Lost Films Competition, Navy News, Leviathan Block, HMS Nelson, Portsmouth, PO1 3HH.
excellent. However, that of the kamikaze assault on the British Pacifi c Fleet is perhaps a little thin – although the author clearly makes the point of the advantages of the armoured decks of the British carriers against these manned missiles.
One interesting point that emerges from this account is that if the suicide pilot dropped his bomb just before impact then the damage was more serious. Keeping it on the aircraft often diminished its effect in the general mayhem of the crash. Bombs that were separated either before or during the crash penetrated side)
inside (or alongside) the ship and caused greater damage.
precise aircraft att
CONTINUING the Pacifi c theme, the memoirs of one of the chief protagonists in The Pacifi c – the TV mini-series in the Band of Brothers vein – have been reprinted after half a century. Robert Leckie’s Helmet for my Pillow (Ebury, £12.99 ISBN 978-0-09193-754-6) is a visceral – and at times slightly overblown – account of fighting with the US Marine Corps from Guadalcanal to Peleliu.
journalist and historian post- war – also provides an excellent account of boot camp and R&R in Melbourne after the hellish fighting for Guadalcanal. Leckie was wounded ten
The author – he became a greater
well with the problem of identifying the precise types of the aircraft used in the attacks, one that is diffi cult to solve, as I pointed out in a recent review of a previous kamikaze book by Rielly (that is cited in Stern’s comprehensive bibliography). Precise aircraft identifi cation was not necessarily top of the assailed ships’ companies’ priorities! The author does a generally good job in pointing out the likely discrepancies.
The author grapples i
rapp oblem the he
ples m e
of a book iS ’
ok by S
One of the best features of the book is its wealth of illustration and the way in which the illustrations and their analytical captions are used truly to enhance the text. Often a series of complementary photographs is used to illustrate a particular attack.
impressive is the section of a dozen pictures of the most effective attack by two Zeroes that almost sank the carrier Bunker Hill.
times, the last time on Peleliu – described in haunting detail. He was one of 1,470 casualties in his battalion during the fighting for the island. Just 28 men in Leckie’s unit were still fit for battle.
The names of the pilots involved in this attack are known because of Maxwell Taylor Kennedy’s in- depth study of the incident. One cannot really expect such depth in a book such as this but it does demonstrate an avenue for further research. It would,
for example, be
fore or etra )
the is main weakness of the Maryland to provide a
The Grove Review
details of the kamikazes which attacked the BPF. That would, however, be an enormous linguistic as well as archival challenge; I am told the script of the Japanese naval archives is very hard to read, even for someone with the language. The author does,
provide an excellent and thoughtful cultural explanation of why the Japanese resorted to such extreme measures.
He explains how at the heart of the kamikaze impulse was the Japanese culture of the failed hero in which sincerity and nobility of purpose are more important than success. Death was not sought for its own sake but as the only acceptable and noble resolution. The ultimate humiliation was capture; impossible.
young well-educated men who, often with genuine regret,
suicide attacks as an inevitable, national duty. It was unlikely to change the course of the war but it would provide a better and more honourable ending to it.
suicide a i
n w natio ional
to c th p
Jiha mos did n
This understanding adds an extra dimension to the author’s account that provides comprehensive coverage of the especially terrifying experience that was involved in being under kamikaze attack.
myself to being moved by their fi nal letters home that I have seen in Japanese museums.
by their by th
any af myself
not fterli to
Unlike the modern Jihadi suicide bomber, most Kamikaze pilots did not expect reward in any afterlife. I must admit lf
U ad t
Most of the kamikazes were saw
to know the precise
● One of the defi ning images of a kamikaze attack... Damage control parties deal with the aftermath of a Zero striking the fl ight deck of HMS Formidable, May 4 1945. Eight crew were killed, 51 wounded and 11 aircraft were destroyed – but less than fi ve hours after this classic photograph was taken, Formidable was back in action
Inevitably the author must spend quite a lot of time on the travails of the Okinawa radar pickets that are the subject of Rielly’s recent book but here they are put into the wider context of the whole kamikaze campaign. The often-overlooked operations in the Philippines after the initial use of kamikazes in the closing stages of the Leyte Gulf battle are fully covered. I
source notes but I cannot here as there are excellent end notes as well as useful appendices. This is, overall, a splendid and worthwhile piece of work. ■ The Naval Staff in World War 1 has received a bad press. The main historian of the Royal Navy of this period, Arthur Marder, was only too ready to listen to the criticisms by the contemporary ‘young turk’ Naval offi cers, notably Richmond, Dewar and Kenworthy,
The main theme of the book is, as the subtitle suggests, covering the terrors faced by the Allied crews under what was truly ‘special attack’. It is however much more than that. The book provides a comprehensive history of the whole kamikaze threat. The author is careful to distinguish true kamikaze operations and jibaku – Japanese pilots with damaged aircraft unable to return to base spontaneously crashing into the ships they were attacking. What strikes the reader, is not so much the destructiveness of the kamikaze crashes but how often, even quite small ships, notably destroyers, could take multiple hits and still stay afl oat. On the other hand, certain hits might break a ship’s back and cause
thought they knew better than the established authorities and whose prejudices have coloured naval historical writing since. Now the record is set straight by Dr Nicholas Black, head of history at Dulwich College, whose King’s College London PhD thesis has formed the basis of the book The
British Naval Staff in the First
World War (Boydell and Brewer,
£60 ISBN 978-1-84383-442-7). The author has rigorously trawled through the relevant documents; a particularly brilliant touch was his use of the contemporary Admiralty telephone directories that provide the basis for Appendix B of over 50 pages that lists all the personnel who worked on their staff and references, when appropriate, their service records. He shows how the Naval Staff, set up only shortly before the war, rapidly matured and developed into an effi cient ‘brain’ for the Navy, contributing to its role as ‘the shaft of the spear’ that pierced the heart of the Central Powers. At fi rst the staff had to grapple with a most diffi cult First Lord, Winston Churchill, who had been put in post to set up such a body but whose character and tendency to interfere created many problems.
After analysing Churchill’s actions and his covering of his tracks by blatant lies the author approvingly quotes Lord Selborne, one of his predecessors as First Lord, who wrote in 1916 that Churchill was “clever but quite devoid of judgement… I don’t think he has any principles.” The Dardanelles fi asco was not due
who often criticise the lack of
to bad staff advice but because the First Lord was “suffi ciently confi dent and unscrupulous to alter what he was told”. The situation was not improved
by a First Sea Lord, Fisher, who ran a kind of parallel Admiralty,
Churchill because of the different hours both men kept.
Fisher also continued to rely for strategic planning – notably for a possible foray into the Baltic – on the ‘Fishpond’, his close associates in whom he had confi dence, such as Julian Corbett..
ed r rarely seeing
parallel seeing f the men
then with Geddes. Black defends Jellicoe’s role from the accusation of being an over-centraliser but I still remain unconvinced. As Jellicoe expert
Admiral James Goldrick pointed out to me when we discussed this recently, one can interpret the changes Jellicoe introduced l less as creating a dispersed federal system, as the author argues,
out to m thi
Jackson regime may have had its weaknesses in the personalities, if not the intellectual capacities, of the political and naval heads of the Service, but Black points out how it saw innovative thinking on how to bring on a successful action with the High Seas Fleet. The deployment of the ‘Queen Elizabeths’ of the Fifth Battle Squadron with Beatty’s Battle- Cruiser Fleet (BCF) was part of a staff-led concept to capitalise on better radio intelligence to take calculated risks. Sadly, the concept was let down
at Jutland by Beatty’s unwilling- ness properly to coordinate with his reinforcements, the atrocious shooting of the BCF and the lax ammunition-handling practices throughout the Fleet.
The succeeding Balfour-
and the introducti
The great challenge of Jellicoe’s year as First Sea Lord wa Lord was the U-boat threat and the debate over the introduction of convoy.
at the The
putting the First Sea Lord t the centre of things.
di but more as Australian hit their
Kamikazes and cool heads
killed and injured.
Of those who began their dives, only just over a third
and new account, pointing out how convoy had been previously considered but rejected. He ex- plains the way in which Admiralty policy was reversed to embrace it and also, a little disturbingly, how a superfi cially-strengthened staff began to toy with more superfi - cially ‘offensive’ anti-submarine concepts in 1918 after convoy had saved the day.
that is elucidated in the book is the tightening blockade and the struggle between the Admiralty and the Foreign Offi ce over its extent.
parts of the book, Black defends the Jutland-related actions of Capt Thomas Jackson, Director of the Operations Division.
that he fell for a simple German subterfuge of changing the High Sea Fleet’s fl agship’s call sign by asking the wrong question of the cryptanalysts. Jellicoe was therefore misinformed and lost faith in the intelligence he was getting from the Admiralty. Black makes a convincing case that Jackson was no fool but an experienced staff offi cer fully versed in the skills of ‘sigint’; it seems that the codebreakers of Room 40 found a scapegoat in him. In any case, as Andrew Gordon has pointed out, the errors in Whitehall in placing the German Fleet had less infl uence on the outcome of the battle than is often argued. Jellicoe came to the Admiralty at the end of 1916 as First Sea Lord, fi rst with Carson as First Lord and
The classical accounts assert In one of the most important Another aspect of the naval war
Black provides a fascinating
It took time for the blockade to tighten to a decisive point, which it seems to have done after American entry into the war in 1917. The Admiralty would have liked something more rigorous sooner which was understandable, but one wonders on which side of the war the USA would have entered if its sensibilities and interests, like those of other neutrals, had not been appeased at the behest of the Foreign Offi ce. The book reads well, although it could have done with a bit more rigorous editing here and there. It should be read by anyone with an interest in the Royal Navy in the World War 1 as a very necessary corrective to more traditional accounts. The only problem is price which probably puts it out of reach of many potential readers but they can always ask their library to get it. A cheaper paperback edition, perhaps without the long Appendix B, would be an excellent project. Unless one has read Black’s
volume, one cannot be said to be well informed about the Great War Royal Navy. It is a book of the highest signifi cance which deserves the widest readership.
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