Three Minutes Off Okinawa
by Roy S. Andersen
Jana Press, 2007, 340 pages
The meaning of the title, Three Minutes Off Okinawa, never gets
explained, but the rather long subtitle, The Sinking of the Radar
Picket Destroyer the U.S.S. Mannert L. Abele by Japanese Kamikaze Aircraft,
summarizes well the contents of the book's second half. Mannert L. Abele
(DD-733) lost 84 crewmen when two kamikaze aircraft hit the ship off Okinawa on
April 12, 1945. A Zero fighter first hit the destroyer, and then its
delayed-action, armor piercing bomb exploded, breaking the ship's keel and
causing 55 deaths . Just a minute later, an ohka (piloted rocket-powered glider
bomb) hit the starboard waterline in the forward fireroom causing a huge
explosion that resulted in 22 men dead. The remainder of the total 84 dead lost
their lives in the water after the ship sank. Abele's electronics
officer, Roy S. Andersen, gathered together the stories of about 50 former
crewmen through interviews and written accounts. This history combines their
eyewitness accounts of the kamikaze attack and its aftermath with background
information about destroyers, Abele and her crew, and Japanese kamikaze.
Chapter 1 gets right into the action with a simultaneous attack by
five Japanese aircraft on April 3, 1945. Two kamikaze aircraft barely missed the
destroyer, and the third aircraft escaped after dropping a bomb that missed.
Inexplicably, no mention is made of what happened to the other two of five total aircraft.
Chapters 2 to 4 introduce Abele, her crew, and life aboard a destroyer.
The book has many photos of destroyers, decks, and compartments, but these come
from other destroyers, whereas the book only has two photos of Abele and
a few personal photos of her crew. The book's first half includes a background
chapter on kamikaze and another on the ohka weapon. The author only briefly
covers Abele's history from her commissioning in July 1944 to her
arrival at Okinawa in late March 1945. The last half of the book's 35 chapters
cover in detail the attack by two kamikaze aircraft, the ship's sinking, the
crewmen's time in the water, their rescue, and their trip back home. The book
has 11 appendices, including texts of citations for medals and awards to
personnel of Mannert L. Abele. The end of the book also has a glossary,
bibliography, notes, and extensive index.
The author provides excellent detailed descriptions of the two kamikaze
crashes into Abele at Radar Picket Station 14, but this book's real strength
lies in the emotional personal accounts provided by Abele crewmen of the
explosions, rescue, and recovery. The author Roy Andersen also presents his experiences,
but his use of the third person to describe personal events lessens the impact
of some stories. Chapter 26 describes several acts of courage by crewmen to
rescue others in the sea covered with several inches of oil. Many men helped
others who could not swim. Two landing craft, LSM(R)
189 and LSM(R) 190, at the same picket station rescued men from the
water, and 255 Abele crewmen were
transferred to Jeffers (DMS-27) and then after reaching Kerama Retto to
which was being used as a hospital admitting ship. Here the Captain wanted to
create some atmosphere of normality, so he asked for publication of a final
issue of the ship's newsletter, GQ Review. The newsletter contained a
short article about Abele's doctor (p. 272):
Heroes and heroism were everywhere Thursday afternoon, and space does not
permit to give the due honor to all, but the conduct of Doctor Hertner was
representative and surely exceptional.
The Doctor joined a raft on which there were several men and took charge.
The firmness and coolness of his command instilled confidence and kept the
morale of his fellows bolstered.
During the hour and a half that his raft was in the water he paddled
about, assisting in the rescue of wounded men, although he cannot swim.
Since the raft was upside down the first aid kit was inaccessible.
Fortunately, however, a kit was picked up which had been blown from the ship
and the Doctor administered Morphine syrettes to Kirsch, who was brought
aboard the raft badly burned.
On the LSM the Doctor immediately went to work treating and bandaging the
wounded. When we were transferred to the DMS, he continued without let-up.
He and Doctor Byrne of that ship worked through the night until the transfer
was effected to the GOSPER. The rest of that night and all the next day he
got no sleep, going to bed for the first time on Friday night.
The background information presented by the author on Japanese kamikaze and
ohka has a few mistakes. He incorrectly gives the definition of ohka as
"exploding cherry blossom," whereas its meaning is just "cherry blossom" (p.
112). The Thunder Gods (Jinrai Butai in Japanese) and the Special Attack Corps
are erroneously portrayed as being the same group (pp. 109-10). The Thunder Gods
only included Type 1 (Betty) Bombers that carried ohka weapons and Zero fighters
that carried bombs (Hagoromo 1973, 90-7; Naito 1989, 137-40). The Special Attack Corps included other Navy and Army
aircraft for suicide missions and also had explosive motorboats and kaiten human
torpedoes. Andersen states that Rear Admiral Masafumi Arima led a strike force
on October 26, 1945, but this attack happened 11 days earlier (p. 64). Although
many kamikaze pilots who made attacks during the Battle of Okinawa had limited
flight training, they had much more than the seven days mentioned by Andersen
(p. 65). He states the final three days were devoted to a suicide manual, and
Andersen documents his source as Axell and Kase (2002, 77-83). This manual was
prepared in May 1945 at an Army training air base named Shimoshizu near Tokyo, but
the Navy's Kamikaze Corps would not have used a manual prepared by the Army.
Moreover, most of the kamikaze attacks had been carried out even before such a
manual became available at that Army air base.
The book Three Minutes Off Okinawa provides an excellent example of a
former crewman's efforts to collect valuable stories of his shipmates and to
record the history of his warship that fought and sank so many decades before. The
detailed personal accounts of the kamikaze aircraft attacks that sank Mannert
L. Abele can be found nowhere else.
1. Page 137 states that 55 men died when the Zero
hit and its bomb exploded, but page 209 gives the number of 52.
Axell, Albert, and Hideaki Kase. 2002. Kamikaze: Japan's
Suicide Gods. London: Pearson Education.
Hagoromo Society of Kamikaze Divine Thunderbolt Corps
Survivors. 1973. The Cherry Blossom Squadrons: Born to Die. Edited and supplemented by Andrew Adams. Translated by Nobuo
Asahi and the Japan Tech Co. Los Angeles: Ohara Publications.
Naito, Hatsuho. 1989. Thunder Gods: The Kamikaze Pilots Tell
Their Stories. Translated by Mayumi Ishikawa. Tokyo: Kodansha
U.S.S. Mannert L. Abele (DD-733)