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A Glorious Way to Die, A Book Review

Discussion in 'The Pacific and CBI' started by belasar, Feb 5, 2014.

  1. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    A Glorious Way To Die: The Kamikaze Mission of the Battleship Yamato, April 1945, By Russell Spurr, 1981, Hardcover, Newmarket Press, 340 pages, Photos, Maps-Charts, Bibliography, Index,

    This is the account of Yamato's final voyage and last days in the end game of the Pacific war. Sent on a forlorn hope for no better reason than to save the "honor" of the Imperial Japanese Navy by men, who for the most part, would not be making so grand a gesture.

    The author, Russell Spurr, was a veteran of the Indian Navy during WWII and later as correspondent working in Asia, over the next two decades used his spare time researching this subject and has presented a balanced and readable account of this extraordinary and at the same time bizarre battle.

    As the book opens the vast, and to Japan, almost uncomprehendingly powerful American war machine has turned its attention to the island of Okinawa, for what would be the Second World War's last set piece battle. Japan's plight was dire and the Emperor's somewhat naive query "where is the Imperial Navy in the defense of Okinawa" played its part in this tragically needless sacrifice.

    The answer was, effectively there was no fleet left for Japan. The once vaunted Second Fleet consisted of one white elephant of a Dreadnought, a Light Cruiser and 8 Destroyer's. A handful of submarines and escorts for the remaining convoys to the Home Islands rounded out the once proud Imperial Navy. The only new construction was suicide submarines, torpedo's and motorboats.

    The plan, such as it was, was for Yamato and her diminutive escort to sail for the shores of Okinawa, beach themselves, and then act as coastal batteries while the balance of the crew went ashore to act as infantry. Hundreds of aircraft would go forth as Kamikaze's, but only a handful could be spared to fly cover and then only just past sight of land. Only enough fuel to get to their target would be provided, though sympathetic quartermasters would squeeze out a little extra to give a pathetic extra margin to maneuver with.

    This was a one way trip that no one with any reason expected them to actually complete. If they had why didn't they pack these ships with real infantry to disembark when they beached?

    Yamato and her escorts never got anywhere near Okinawa. Struck by the carrier planes of three Task Group's, it took less than two hours to sink the largest Battleship ever built, a Light Cruiser and four of eight Destroyers to the bottom for the loss of 10 aircraft and a dozen aircrew (though others planes were written off upon their return). By any measure one of the most lopsided victories between two battle fleets at sea. Perhaps also somewhat of a poetic irony, at Pearl Harbor Japan's carrier aviation placed the cadaver of surface battle fleets into the coffin and less than 100 miles off the Japanese coast, American carrier aviation buried it once and for all.

    Spurr looks at this operation from a variety of angles. Both the Japanese sailors who desperately defended and the American aircrews who steadfastly struck from the skies are treated with equal respect and compassion. The commanders who sent their men into battle are explored from each side, and those who observed the battle on the sidelines are also taken into account.

    His narrative is smooth, clearly straightforward and with very little extraneous material distracting from the primary material of the book. He is fair to each side while calling out the mistakes (as he sees them) both sides made. This may not be the final word on this episode, but until until something better comes along it is a worthy offering.

    Note the book cover shown is for the thrifty paperback edition.
     
  2. Phantom of the Ruhr

    Phantom of the Ruhr Member

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    I own this book (in fact the very edition pictured) and remember picking up several times before from my local library. I have to agree with you. its a very good account of the farce that was Operation Ten-Go.
     
  3. Carronade

    Carronade Ace Patron  

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    [SIZE=medium]This was a one way trip that no one with any reason expected them to actually complete. If they had why didn't they pack these ships with real infantry to disembark when they beached?[/SIZE]

    Yamato's draft was 36 feet, so when she "beached" she'd still be in about that much water - momentum might carry her a little further in, but then again battle damage might increase the draft. We'd have to examine the coastline of Okinawa to see how close to shore that would be; with the ship under attack they might not be able to pick and choose the best grounding site. In any case they'd need landing craft to offload combat-equipped troops, and they'd still be under attack from American ships and aircraft.

    The fleet destroyers in Operation Ten-Go drew around 12 feet. On a few occasions like Wake Island, the Japanese did land troops from destroyers by running them aground; these were the older, smaller, WWI-era ships. Usually they had been converted to patrol boats or fast transports with most of their armament removed. The Japanese also used destroyers as transports in the Solomons and later campaigns, but carrying troops or supplies was a hindrance in combat.
     
  4. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    Also it's hard to fight naval vessels if there's a bunch of infantry all over the vessel. From what I recall that was one of the problems the RN had at Crete and Dunkirk.
     

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