The Ship with No Name
by Christopher Nicole
First edition published in 1987 by Random House
Sheridan Book Company, 1995, 384 pages
The German Navy launched the Graf Zeppelin aircraft
carrier in December 1938, but they never finished and commissioned the ship as
German shipyards concentrated on other priorities such as production of
U-boats. The Ship with No Name portrays Japanese pilots using such a
German carrier to launch a suicide attack on the US, and the novel presents
other believable historical details from the Japanese, German, and American
sides. This WWII action thriller has an exciting plot, but the author reveals
little of the background and motivation of its main characters, such as the
commander of the Japanese suicide squadron.
Commander Keiko Hatatsune, a pilot who shot down three
American fighters at Pearl Harbor, conceives a bold plan to retaliate for the
American bombing of Tokyo on April 18, 1942, which left his father dead. On the
next day, he proposes to the Navy's senior admirals that Japan attack New York
by using German planes to fly from a nearly complete German aircraft carrier,
the Graf Zeppelin. The Nazi government agrees to the proposal and
assigns Hjalmar Koenig, Germany's most skilled captain, to carry Japanese
pilots and crew led by Hatatsune to within a few hundred miles of New York.
As Hatatsune and Koenig make preparations for
their mission, a spy named John Anderson, a former American naval officer,
tries to find out details regarding the real purpose of Hatatsune's arrival in
Germany. Using his cover as a Swedish journalist, he takes advantage of his
close personal relationship with Helga Staffel, secretary to the Commander in
Chief of the German Navy, to discover information about the secret suicide
mission. Although he manages to transmit facts about the mission to his Swedish
contact, the American admiral who receives the relayed message doubts its
accuracy, and the Gestapo jails Staffel and uses torture to question her about
her involvement in leaking the information to Anderson.
Although Hatatsune thought originally that the carrier Graf
Zeppelin would be used for the attack, Hitler decides not to sacrifice the
nearly complete carrier and instead provides a carrier whose keel was laid in
1939 but which had never been launched. Koenig and Hatatsune refer to it as Nemo
(meaning "no name" in Latin). Captain Koenig oversees its
completion in secret at a German port, but he keeps it stripped down with only
the bare necessities for its one mission in order to keep it light for maximum
speed. The Japanese pilots will use German Junkers 88 bombers for their planned
New York attack called Operation Kong (named after the 1933 movie).
Nemo succeeds in evading Allied warships and crossing
the North Atlantic. In the early morning of December 7, 1942, one year after
the bombing of Pearl Harbor, 17 planes each manned with a pilot and a bomber
successfully take off from the carrier. However, a British cruiser detects the
plane sorties, and land-based interceptor squadrons scramble to meet the
incoming bombers. They shoot down 15 planes, but two including Hatatsune's
plane escape unnoticed into the clouds. Clive Wharton, who encountered
Hatatsune earlier in the war at Pearl Harbor and Midway, single-handedly stops
the two last bombers with an untested Vaught Corsair fighter.
Most characters in this novel lack emotional depth. The book
contains a great deal of sex but little romance and emotion. Other than
Hatatsune, the individual identities of the Japanese pilots and crewmen stay
unknown. Even Hatatsune's motive of revenging his father's death seems rather
shallow, since he quickly succumbs to a German temptress and reveals to her
details about his secret suicide mission. Although generally the book's
characters seem believable, Hatatsune's learning German in three weeks while on
a sub from Japan to Germany stretches credibility. His given name of Keiko, a
common woman's name in Japanese, also makes no sense.
Even though the novel contains numerous references to the
suicidal nature of Hatatsune's mission, the details of the planned suicide
attack remain vague throughout the book. The Japanese planes
each take off from the carrier with two 250-lb. bombs, but the pilots never
discuss exactly where or how the bombs will be dropped. The book does not
mention any plan for possible escape, so if the planes had successfully
released their bombs, they apparently would have ditched in the water somewhere
near New York since they did not have enough fuel to return to the carrier.
The back cover advertises this novel as "THE ULTIMATE
KAMIKAZE MISSION," and the book contains some references to "Divine Wind"
(kamikaze in Japanese). However, the author incorrectly uses this term.
For example, a Japanese admiral says the suicide mission will "create a
latterday Divine Wind" (p. 26) when Hatatsune proposes the attack on New
York. The original kamikaze (divine wind) referred to two typhoons that
stopped Mongol fleets attacking Japan in the late 13th century, and this
original use of the term had nothing to do with suicide attacks. Thus, the
Japanese admiral's reference in 1942 to "latterday Divine Wind" makes no sense in a historical context. The term kamikaze
appeared again in late World War II to refer to suicide attacks to stop the
Allied fleet approaching Japan, but the use of this historical reference at that
time initially evoked the image of driving off foreign invaders rather than
The Ship with No Name has a suspenseful plot with convincing historical
background. However, this WWII novel needs more than flat characters with
unclear motivations. The personal histories and real emotions of the Japanese
suicide pilots, including Commander Hatatsune, stay hidden.