The Sacred Warriors: Japan’s Suicide Legions
by Denis and Peggy Warner
with Commander Sadao Seno
Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1982, 370 pages
Many books about the kamikaze attacks on American ships
relate the history from a particular viewpoint or focus on a small piece of the
total story. Denis and Peggy Warner succeed in their goal to give a more
comprehensive perspective of the kamikaze phenomenon by relating the actions
and reactions of Japan and the U.S. and by examining the reasons for Japan's
Australian Denis Warner worked as a war correspondent for
the American forces in the central Pacific in 1944 and 1945. The direct
journalistic style used in The Sacred Warriors places the reader in the
middle of the action when the kamikaze forces attack. The book's many quotes by
eyewitnesses provide fascinating individual viewpoints and help bring the
terrifying events to life. Warner himself experienced kamikaze attacks, and he
describes the aftermath of one of them when a Japanese plane crashed into the
British aircraft carrier Formidable, where he was working as a correspondent.
Chapters 5 to 15 cover the history of the kamikaze pilots
from their beginnings in October 1944 in the Philippines to the last
large-scale kamikaze attack on American ships around Okinawa on June 22, 1945.
The authors present the attacks in chronological order, which makes the
accounts easy to follow. However, many readers may tire
with the overwhelming quantity of facts: ship names, dates, times, locations,
Japanese plane names, casualties, officer names, and more. This information
makes these chapters invaluable as a reference, but the descriptions of attack
after attack make it a challenge to read the book from cover to cover.
Japan's special attack units in World War II included much
more than planes. The Japanese military also developed kaiten (human
torpedoes), midget submarines, shinyo (explosive boats), and ohka (manned
rocket-powered glider bomb). Denis and Peggy Warner
chronologically weave the history of these other suicide attack methods with
the well-known kamikaze planes.
Some chapters, although interesting, do not belong in this
book. The first two chapters cover the invasion of Saipan by the Americans.
Although these chapters show the willingness of the Japanese people to commit suicide
rather than be captured and illustrate the hopelessness of the Japanese
military situation at this point in the war, they have little connection to the
history of Japan's special attack forces. Since Denis Warner covered the
invasion of Saipan as a correspondent, he must have felt compelled to include
this moving account as part of a book on kamikazes. The last half of Chapter
16, "Preparing for the Holocaust," about biological warfare also has
only a marginal relationship to the book's main theme.
Chapters 3 and 4 thoroughly trace the origins of Japan's
suicide attack operations. Many histories of the kamikaze pilots start when
Vice Admiral Takijiro Ohnishi formed the first kamikaze unit in the Philippines
in October 1944, but these two chapters explain that support and planning for
suicide attacks began much earlier. In July 1943, a naval officer specifically
recommended to Ohnishi that suicide plane attacks be used against enemy ships.
In February 1944, the Emperor gave official sanction to the policy for the Army
and Navy to develop and use special (suicide) weapons. Even before formation of
the first kamikaze unit, Japanese newspapers and radios urged young men to
volunteer for suicide attacks against ships and other planes. The evidence presented
in these two chapters shows that Ohnishi's formation of the first kamikaze unit
was not just a spur-of-the-moment decision to counter the heavy plane losses
being encountered by Japanese forces, but rather the culmination of a policy
that had much support from military leaders.
The next to the last chapter gives an assessment of where
Japan stood with special attack forces at the end of the war and what damage
these suicide units might have caused if the U.S. had decided to invade the
Japanese mainland. The last chapter describes the ultimate fate of the two
principal kamikaze leaders, Vice Admiral Ohnishi by harakiri (ritual suicide) and
Vice Admiral Ugaki by a final kamikaze attack right after the Emperor announced surrender.
The Sacred Warriors has an extensive bibliography of
both English and Japanese sources, which reflects the thoroughness of the
authors' research in preparing this book. Denis Warner and his wife Peggy, who
has collaborated with her husband on several works about Japan, conducted long
interviews with Japanese survivors of the suicide squadrons and with American
and Australian survivors of the suicide attacks. The authors also worked with
Commander Sadao Seno, who graduated from Japan's Naval Academy in Etajima and
was assigned to command a midget submarine, to provide readers with the
Japanese perspective of the special attack forces assigned to suicide missions.
The book's introduction lists the many people in the U.S.,
Australia, and Japan who contributed to the information found in the book.
Appendix 1, "Kamikaze Score Card from May 1944 to August 15, 1945," lists the
ships sunk and damaged by special attack aircraft including the ohka manned
missiles. This appendix provides a valuable reference source, but the listing of
ships sunk contains a few errors, including two ships listed twice as being sunk
on different dates and a destroyer used after the war and transferred to
Argentina's Navy. See 47
Ships Sunk by Kamikaze Aircraft for additional details on discrepancies in
Warner and Warner's record of ships sunk.
This well-written, meticulously researched book is a
valuable addition to the library of anyone interested in the complete history
of Japan's suicide attack forces.