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B-29 Hunters of the JAAF
by Koji Takaki and Henry Sakaida
Osprey Publishing, 2001, 128 pages

The American B-29 Superfortress bombing campaign against the Japanese mainland devastated the cities. The incendiary bombs destroyed not only military targets but also over two million homes (p. 110). The Japanese Army Air Force (JAAF) used its planes to try to defend the home islands against B-29 attacks. This book tells the individual stories of both JAAF pilots who made daring attacks on B-29s, sometimes by ramming them in suicidal attacks, and B-29 pilots and crewmen who fought them off. Other English-language books on Japanese suicide attacks have little information on these JAAF pilots who made ramming attacks on B-29s, so this well-researched book provides many details and historical photos not found elsewhere.

Most English-language books and film documentaries consider kamikazes to include Japanese pilots who conducted suicidal ramming attacks on American aircraft. However, whereas kamikaze pilots who tried to dive into ships had no chance of living, several JAAF pilots survived B-29 ramming attacks to fight another day. Even after hitting a B-29, a pilot sometimes had a chance to parachute from his plane or even to land his damaged plane.

Osprey Publishing has published over 100 books on military aircraft and fighter pilots, organized in series such as Aircraft of the Aces, which gives the experiences and achievements of ace fighter pilots. B-29 Hunters of the JAAF is part of the 13 volumes of Aviation Elite Units, which tells the combat histories of fighter or bomber units. Henry Sakaida has written two other books for Osprey, Imperial Japanese Navy Aces 1937-45 and Imperial Japanese Army Air Force Aces 1937-45. He has spent much of his adult life researching the history of Japanese fighter pilots. Koji Takaki is currently working on several other book projects with Sakaida.

The book divides the B-29 bombings into three phases. First, B-29s performed high-altitude precision bombing through January 1945, but this turned out to not be very effective when compared to the number of planes destroyed and damaged. Next, General Curtiss LeMay began low-level fire bombing of Japanese cities, which caused great destruction. Finally, in April 1945, the B-29s began tactical bombing of airfields in Kyushu, the southernmost main island of Japan, to neutralize the bases used for kamikaze attacks against Allied ships near Okinawa. The authors provide both sides' claims of aircraft downed, but many times the combatants considerably overestimated or exaggerated the claims. Americans lost 360 B-29s during their bombing raids (p. 117). The book does not give an estimated number of B-29s lost due to ramming attacks, but many of the 360 went down due to conventional aerial attacks, antiaircraft fire, and mechanical problems.

Tokyo exhibit of
 JAAF fighter and B-29 mural
(February 1945)

 
B-29 Hunters of the JAAF contains many fascinating tidbits about JAAF pilots or B-29 crewmen, but the authors do not give extended personal stories. In one of the best short stories (pp. 79-81), the authors describe how seven surviving crewmen parachuted out of a B-29 on fire and losing altitude after being hit several times by Japanese fighters. Three JAAF advanced fighter trainers had the opportunity to shoot at one of the Americans, Second Lieutenant Raymond "Hap" Halloran, coming down in a parachute. Halloran decided to wave at the one of the pilots, who returned the greeting with a salute and let him live. Halloran survived the war but was ill-treated during captivity. In October 2000, Halloran visited the crash site of his B-29, and on the same trip he shook hands with the Japanese pilot who had spared his life more than a half century before.

Rare historical photos and exceptional color illustrations fill this book. Several photos display the B-29s' intricate artwork, from Disney characters to bare-breasted women. The book also includes many interesting photos of Japanese pilots, American B-29 crews, JAAF planes, and the remains of crashed B-29s with Japanese onlookers. One photo (p. 65) shows an exhibition at Hibiya Park in downtown Tokyo of a K-61 Hien ("Tony") used to bring down a B-29 bomber, a mural showing the inside compartments of a B-29, and the nose wheel and auxiliary fuel tank of a B-29 that crashed into Tokyo Bay (see photo on this page). The book also has many well-drawn illustrations of JAAF planes, tail markings, unit insignia, and markings used to signify claims to B-29 kills.

Although this specialized book presents many fascinating stories and photos, it does not provide enough background information on the entire scope of the B-29 attacks and the Japanese military's defense of the home islands. The book covers certain B-29 missions subjected to JAAF ramming attacks, but the authors do not specify the book's scope to make clear whether all ramming attacks have been included. The book focuses on ramming attacks, so the reader does not get an understanding of their relative importance when compared to conventional aerial attacks or to antiaircraft fire. The book's purpose seems to be the presentation of interesting aspects of many individual combat missions, so readers expecting a general history will be disappointed. The book is packed with details on combat missions, geographical locations, and combatants' names, so the reading may be slow or confusing for those without some previous background.

English-language histories about Japan's kamikaze operations use the term "kamikaze" for the JAAF pilots who made ramming attacks on B-29s [1], even though the Japanese military did not use this term to refer to these pilots. Instead, the Army formed "special attack" units with the purpose to make suicidal ramming attacks against the B-29s. Both the Army and Navy formed "special attack corps" to carry out suicide attacks, and these included planes to crash dive into ships, kaiten manned torpedoes, explosive motorboats, and other weapons. The official Japanese listing of soldiers who died in all types of special attacks does not include every JAAF pilot who died in a suicidal ramming attack (Tokkotai Senbotsusha 1990, 298-9). Instead, only those pilots in designated special attack units are officially recognized. The authors of B-29 Hunters of the JAAF do not address whether or not the JAAF pilots mentioned in the book are members of special attack forces, and the term "kamikaze" is not used to describe the pilots.

The thorough research of Takaki and Sakaida on a narrow topic resulted in this fascinating book with much information and many photos not found in other English-language publications.

Note

1. For example, both Hoyt (1983, 189-94) and Lamont-Brown (1997, 75-6) use the term "kamikaze" for the JAAF pilots who made ramming attacks. Lamont-Brown (124-6) also uses "kamikaze" to refer to other ramming attacks made during the war by naval pilots.

Sources Cited

Hoyt, Edwin P. 1983. The Kamikazes. Short Hills, NJ: Burford Books.

Lamont-Brown, Raymond. 1997. Kamikaze: Japan's Suicide Samurai. London: Cassell.

Tokkotai Senbotsusha Irei Heiwa Kinen Kyoukai (Tokkotai Commemoration Peace Memorial Association). 1990. Tokubetsu Kougekitai (Special Attack Corps). Tokyo: Tokkotai Senbotsusha Irei Heiwa Kinen Kyoukai.