Danger's Hour : The Story of the USS Bunker Hill and the Kamikaze Pilot Who Crippled Her
In the closing months of World War II, Americans found themselves facing a new and terrifying weapon: kamikazes -- the first men to use airplanes as suicide weapons.
By the beginning of 1945, American pilots were shooting down Japanese planes more than ten to one. The Japanese had so few metals left that the military had begun using wooden coins and clay pots for hand grenades. For the first time in 800 years, Japan faced imminent invasion. As Germany faltered, the combined strength of every warring nation gathered at Japan's door. Desperate, Japan turned to its most idealistic young men -- the best and brightest college students -- and demanded of them the greatest sacrifice.
On the morning of May 11, 1945, days after the Nazi surrender, the USS Bunker Hill -- a magnificent vessel that held thousands of crewmen and the most sophisticated naval technology available -- was holding at the Pacific Theater, 70 miles off the coast of Okinawa.
At precisely 9:58 a.m., Kiyoshi Ogawa radioed in to his base at Kanoya, 350 miles from the Bunker Hill, "I found the enemy vessels." After eighteen months of training, Kiyoshi tucked a comrade's poem into his breast pocket and flew his Zero five hours across the Pacific. Now the young Japanese pilot had located his target and was on the verge of fulfilling his destiny. At 10:02.30 a.m., as he hovered above the Bunker Hill, hidden in a mass of clouds, Kiyoshi spoke his last words: "Now, I am nose-diving into the ship."
The attack killed 393 Americans and was the worst suicide attack against America until September 11. Juxtaposing Kiyoshi's story with the stories of untold heroism of the men aboard the BunkerHill, Maxwell Taylor Kennedy details how American sailors and airmen worked together, risking their own lives to save their fellows and ultimately triumphing in their efforts to save their ship.
Drawing on years of research and firsthand interviews with both American and Japanese survivors, Maxwell Taylor Kennedy draws a gripping portrait of men bravely serving their countries in war and the advent of a terrifying new weapon, suicide bombing, that nearly halted the most powerful nation in the world.
The U.S. aircraft carrier Bunker Hill and the Japanese kamikazes that struck her on May 11, 1945, embodied two fundamentally different approaches not only to war but to life, according to Kennedy. The Bunker Hill manifested American material power, and its civilian sailors reflected the determination of a nation to punish Japan's aggression with total victory. The pilots of the Divine Wind (or kamikaze) , on the other hand, represented a philosophical and spiritual response, an epic of pride, honor and virility. And when the kamikazes struck the Bunker Hill, it seemed for a time that a few determined men could frustrate American power, killing almost 400 Americans and wounding another 250. In what he views as a relevant lesson for the age of terror, Kennedy (Make Gentle the Life of This World) explores "how an individual's desire to live can be so successfully suppressed" that he will train for certain death. The author combines extensive archival research with interviews of American and Japanese participants in a spellbinding account showing that much more than geopolitics was at stake in the Pacific war. Photos. (Nov. 4)
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Simon & Schuster
November 10, 2008
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Excerpt from Danger's Hour by Maxwell Taylor Kennedy
1. The Path to Pearl Harbor
But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.
-- John Quincy Adams on America, 1821
Looming is an old sea term -- it describes the result of peculiar atmospheric conditions that occur rarely, but most often at sea, in which ships far beyond the furthest horizon may be clearly seen long before they are within visual range. When this happens, sailors and landsmen near shore are treated to a view over the horizon -- a look forward into time. Rural Americans were shocked by the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Easterners thought the war would begin in Europe, but students on the West Coast, and those Americans who followed events in Asia more closely during the 1930s, saw war in the Pacific looming over the not so far horizon.
In 1939, America and Japan were on a collision course. Both their economies were recovering. Defense spending was lifting each nation's economic potential. Shipyards in both nations were being expanded. All the while, a noose in the form of an economic blockade was tightening as America brought increasing pressure on Japan to end its expansion in Asia. Japanese militarists who controlled their government determined they would be overthrown if they capitulated to American demands. These leaders, including Hideki Tojo, realized, too, that they could not defeat the United States in a fair fight. The Japanese concluded that they had one chance: if they could severely damage the American Pacific Fleet -- especially America's carriers -- then the weakened United States, more concerned about the war in Europe, would make peace with Japan.
It is difficult to rationalize the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and much easier to write it off along with the kamikazes as the irrational act of a fanatical nation gone awry. However, it is important to try to understand the Japanese point of view leading up to the war in the Pacific, and the reasons behind the attack on Pearl Harbor. A detailed analysis is far beyond the scope of this book, but a broad outline may be drawn.
From the time of the first European settlements in America, a frontier line, descending north to south, separated civilization from wilderness. This line can be seen clearly on maps through the decades, beginning first on the Eastern Seaboard, and moving steadily westward. By the mid-nineteenth century, the western frontier began to merge with American settlements founded on the West Coast that were expanding eastward. By 1890, the census announced that the American frontier no longer existed. For a time, though, America continued to advance westward, beginning a period of colonization and imperialism that directly threatened Japanese hegemony in Asia and the Pacific. America's west, for the first time, did not end at the shores of California.
This expansion continued an extensive history of confrontation over control of the Pacific. Marines had been sent to Sumatra in 1831. In 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry landed in Japan and forced Japan to open trade with America. In the midst of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln sent a U.S. naval vessel to the Sea of Japan to shell the Home Islands and teach the Shogun a lesson about American power and interest in Asia. In the 1870s, when Japan was wresting control of Korea from China, President Ulysses Grant sent naval forces to Korea to burn coastal forts.
Japanese and American expansion were poised to collide, each determining, as the nineteenth century ended, how to get the most of what was left of Pacific Asia. The de facto annexation of Hawaii in the 1890s put Washington, D.C., 5,000 miles from its farthest borders. Control of the Philippines in 1899 extended American territory westward even beyond Japan.
Before Perry's visit, Japan knew little of the outside world and considered itself the preeminent nation. But once Japan opened itself to the West, Japanese leaders were shocked by the power of industrialized countries, and determined to force 200 years of economic development into a single generation under the Meiji emperor. Remarkably, they largely succeeded and set their sights on becoming not merely an island nation, but a power on the mainland of Asia.
Japan fought China in 1894-1895 and won Taiwan and parts of Manchuria. Yet they were forced by the colonial powers, particularly the United States, to take a limited profit from their brutal China war. The Japanese people were told by the emperor that they must "endure the unendurable." (These words were echoed fifty years later by his grandson, Hirohito, when Japan surrendered.) The newly industrialized Japanese devastated the Russian fleet in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905. But the United States brokered peace, and again forced the Japanese to lose face -- accepting less than they had won.
Although Japan was an ally of the United States against Germany during the First World War, the Japanese were insulted when the white Western powers refused to allow a racial equality clause in the peace treaty at Versailles. They again felt slighted when the victorious powers divided up the world and gave Japan only a few island chains considered to have little value -- the Marshalls, the Carolines, and the Marianas. In 1922, again under American pressure, Japan signed a naval treaty in Washington, D.C., which limited the size of its navy to about two thirds the size of the American fleet.
It wasn't long before the United States and Japan were looking down each other's throats.
Japan, like the United States, was torn by the Great Depression. Families that had prospered for generations within the traditional Japanese economic system were suddenly undone by new competitive realities as Japan became integrated into the world economy. Japan's leadership grew alarmed at the paucity of jobs and economic possibilities for the growing and increasingly restless population. They feared that Japan would be unable to compete without controlling land beyond the Home Islands, so the military regime continued and extended a foreign policy of aggressive territorial expansion.
In 1931, the Japanese invaded Manchuria and established a puppet regime called Manchukuo. The subjugation of the Chinese population in the 1930s required an enormous political, economic, and military commitment. Japan sent thousands of otherwise unemployed youths to Manchuria to make it Japanese. They built railroads, roads, bridges, and schools -- especially teaching schools to indoctrinate Chinese into the Japanese system. The Japanese government, like Adolf Hitler's in Germany, began a large-scale buildup of its military financed through deficit spending. This spending lifted the Japanese economy out of the depression and created an alliance between Japanese capitalists and Japanese military cliques. This coalition in turn determined a great deal of the country's national policy -- a policy that led inexorably to war.
The League of Nations refused to recognize Manchukuo, so Japan withdrew from the League, and refused to sign the new Geneva Convention. Two years later Japan withdrew from the Washington Naval Treaty, which had set proscriptions on the size of the signators' navies. Japan then initiated a rapid expansion of their fleet. By August 1937, Japan was conducting a full-scale war against China, committing violent atrocities, including what is now known as the Rape of Nanking. The world was outraged, but Western powers, hoping to avoid war, did nothing aside from putting forth weak protests. This policy of appeasement emboldened the Japanese militarists.
By 1940, the Far East and the Pacific were controlled by the great European colonial powers and Japan. The British controlled Australia, India, Burma, northern Borneo, the east coast of New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago, the Solomon Islands, and the Gilberts. The Dutch controlled much of what is now Indonesia and southern Borneo. The Vichy French controlled Indochina (now Vietnam).* The United States controlled the Philippines, Hawaii, Midway, Wake, and Guam.
In addition to the Home Islands, Japan controlled Manchurian China, Korea, Okinawa, Taiwan, much of Sakhalin Island, and the Caroline, Marshall, Bonin, Ryukyu, and Marianas island chains.
The Japanese island chains in the Pacific were almost unknown to most Americans. Their names now have a deep resonance for anyone with knowledge of the Pacific war. Micronesia includes the island battlegrounds of Palau, Yap, Truk, and about 550 other small islets, including Ulithi Atoll. The Marianas chain includes Saipan, Tinian, and a dozen or so other smaller islands. Guam is part of the Marianas, but it was controlled by America via a small, extraordinarily brave contingent of Marines until the start of the war. The Marshall Islands became known for the battles on Kwajalein, Eniwetok, and Majuro -- they include about thirty other coral atolls located halfway between Australia and Hawaii. The Ryukyus, the island chain hanging south of the Japanese Home Islands and sweeping down to Okinawa, was the battleground of the kamikazes. The Bonins are most famous for a small island called Iwo Jima.
Perhaps the most salient factor in Japanese territorial acquisition was that the Japanese, who had a relatively small military, were able to accomplish so much with so little. Radical nationalists had developed a pattern of brutal, lightning attacks against enemy strong points, followed by aggressive territorial acquisition far exceeding anything they could reasonably be expected to acquire, much less to hold. After these initial gains, the Japanese would enter into peace negotiations, in which much of the original territory would be divested, though still leaving Japan with enormous new territories, "legitimized" by the new peace treaty.
The United States, through a combination of economic sanctions and diplomatic pressures, determined to end Japanese expansion in Asia and the Pacific. This conflict between America and Japan was intensified repeatedly in a series of diplomatic moves by both countries that eventually made war inevitable. Each time the Japanese increased their territorial expansion, the United States ratcheted up pressure on Japan to withdraw.
America became particularly alarmed when the Japanese government, at the urging of General Tojo, formally aligned itself with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy in the Tripartite Pact. The Japanese pressured the French government in Indochina into concessions for naval bases in North Vietnam. In 1941, the Japanese forced the French to grant additional bases in the South. The United States feared that these would be used as a jumping-off point for a push through the Philippines toward the southern resource areas of the East Indies.* In reaction to this expansion, President Franklin Roosevelt froze Japanese assets in the United States and immediately put a halt to all oil shipments to Japan.
Roosevelt then made two demands upon the Japanese: that the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) withdraw from Vietnam and that the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) withdraw from northern China. The IJN, which had entered foreign policy politics for the first time with its foray into Vietnam, could not afford to lose face to the domestic population by backing down.
The IJA, which was significantly more politically powerful than the IJN, was even more reticent to accept a result that ended in the army losing face. But if Japan could not ensure a reliable petroleum supply they could not hope to stand up to the United States. The American fuel embargo put the Japanese in an untenable position. They had only a year to a year and a half 's supply of petroleum reserves.
The Japanese war machine, its economy, and its military regime were entirely dependent on imported oil. Radicals in the Japanese government began to look southward to additional violent territorial acquisition to solve their resource problem. The Dutch East Indies was full of oil then, as it is today, and the Japanese militarists determined to take control of these reserves. The only force left in Asia that could stop them was the American fleet at Pearl Harbor.
The Japanese generals knew that the United States would soon be at war with Germany. American leaders were vastly more concerned about a unified Europe controlled by Hitler, and so Japanese leaders reasoned that the war in Europe would take precedence over anything going on in Asia. But they also knew that it was possible for the Americans to fight on two fronts so long as the powerful U.S. Pacific Fleet remained ready.
The two nations had been furiously building warships since the middle of the 1930s, and both sides now had navies of nearly equal size. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor they had ten aircraft carriers to America's eight, ten battleships to America's twelve (although the Japanese had the two most powerful battleships in the world), thirty-six cruisers to America's fifty, and only ten destroyers to America's one hundred seventy-one. Each side had a little more than 100 submarines. Nevertheless, the war-making potential of the United States vastly outstripped that of the Japanese.
According to the United States Strategic Bombing Survey (USSBS),* the successful Japanese history of use of force with limited commitments counted more in the minds of Japanese military planners than the relative war-making potential of Japan and the United States. The unfortunate pattern of Western appeasement, probably more than any other single factor, led the Japanese to believe they could attack America's largest naval base in the Pacific with relative impunity.
The Japanese armed forces decided on a complex, bold, but reckless plan to attack the United States fleet without warning. They would utilize carrier-based planes to deal such a crippling blow to America's naval forces that Japan could sue for a relatively benign peace that would end America's blockade and leave Japan in control of a steady supply of oil. After sinking America's Navy, the Japanese armed forces calculated they would be able to take, in relatively quick succession, the Allied-held islands of the Pacific out to Midway, north to the Aleutians, and south to New Guinea, along with the European colonial holdings in mainland Asia.
First, a Japanese carrier strike force would destroy or neutralize the American fleet at Pearl Harbor using a surprise attack on a Sunday morning. In order to ensure success at Pearl Harbor, Admiral Takijiro Onishi determined to send ten volunteers in miniature submarines, each about seventy-eight feet long and weighing nearly fifty tons. On the same day, Japanese troops would attack simultaneously in points throughout Asia. Their objective was to secure the "southern resource area," a group of mainly Dutch-held oil-rich East Indian islands. This oil would fuel Japan's economy and put off a major confrontation with the United States for half a century. But in order to succeed, the Japanese would have to destroy the American fleet at Pearl Harbor, especially the aircraft carriers, in a single, decisive battle.
The IJN fleet that attacked Pearl Harbor would then race back across the Pacific, refuel, and cover the advance of Japanese armies in Asia. Those forces would occupy Vietnam and use it as a launching point to neutralize the French in Cambodia and Laos, and British forces in Malaysia, Burma, and Singapore in order to gain complete control of the southern resource area. Half of the IJA divisions would be utilized in China to complete the conquest there, and to extend the Japanese empire into Burma. The islands of the Central and South Pacific would be occupied and then reinforced to become "unsinkable aircraft carriers" to defend against any attempted encroachment by the weakened American fleet, and to cut off the Philippines from American resupply efforts.
Then they would sue for peace.
Early on the morning of December 7, 1941, Japanese fighters, divebombers, and torpedo planes attacked the ninety-six ships of the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. American radar detected the initial Japanese sorties while still 200 miles away, but incredulous officers considered the blips erroneous or friendly. American ships remained anchored less than 1,000 yards apart. Nearly 400 American planes were lined wing to wing. American antiaircraft gunners did not have live ammunition.
Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, leading the Japanese aerial attack, radioed back to Admiral Yamamoto at 7:53 a.m., "Tora Tora Tora," confirming that the Japanese naval air forces had achieved total surprise.
The United States Pacific Fleet was devastated. The backbone of the American Navy in the Pacific, the battleships (BBs), were almost entirely wrecked at Pearl Harbor. The Arizona, the West Virginia, the Oklahoma, and the California sank at their berths after receiving multiple torpedo and heavy-bomb hits, and near-misses. More than 1,100 Americans were killed when the USS Arizona exploded and sank. The Nevada was struck by numerous bombs and at least one torpedo.
The Pennsylvania, the Maryland, and the Tennessee were damaged by bomb hits. The stern of the Tennessee buckled from the heat of the fires burning on the nearby Arizona.
American cruisers (CCs) were also badly damaged. The Helena was struck by aerial torpedo; the Honolulu was damaged by a nearmiss from a large bomb. The Raleigh was struck by both torpedo and bomb and severely flooded.
The destroyers (DDs) were mauled. The Shaw was hit by a bomb that detonated her forward magazine. The Cassin and Downes were struck by three bombs in dry dock. A fourth detonated between the two ships. The Cassin rolled off her stands and struck the Downes -- detonating torpedo warheads aboard the Downes. Fuel from the two ships then ignited and damaged both hulls.
Many auxiliary vessels were also badly damaged or destroyed. Some exploded against the sides of others. Many capsized before they sank, notably the Utah, which ended up almost precisely upside down.
The Japanese destroyed nearly every plane at the Army airbase at Hickham Field, and wrecked many naval aircraft at Pearl Harbor. Two thousand four hundred and three Americans were killed. In comparison, Japanese losses were paltry. Fifty-five Japanese airmen were killed. They lost twenty-nine planes. All five of their suicidal midget submarines were lost; nine out of their ten crew were killed.*