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The Last Kamikaze: The Story of Admiral Matome Ugaki
by Edwin P. Hoyt
Praeger, 1993, 235 pages

Vice Admiral Matome Ugaki, one of the Imperial Japanese Navy's top leaders from Pearl Harbor to the end of the war, wrote a 15-volume diary covering his wartime experiences. This detailed diary serves as a valuable primary source to understand the thinking of Japan's military leaders. Edwin P. Hoyt, a military historian who has authored several books on the Pacific War, uses Ugaki's diary extensively in The Last Kamikaze. The book's title refers to Ugaki's leading the last kamikaze attack against the Allied fleet in Okinawa after he listened to the Emperor's surrender message on the radio.

Hoyt, who authored a book on Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto in 1990, takes up more than half of the book telling the story of Ugaki and Yamamoto from Pearl Harbor to April 1943, when Yamamoto perished and Ugaki received serious wounds after American fighters ambushed their planes. This book tells the story exclusively from the Japanese viewpoint, which provides many interesting insights into the inner workings of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Especially fascinating are the two leaders' negative opinions of other Navy leaders who failed to act decisively at key points during the war. Ugaki's comments also highlight the lack of cooperation and coordination between the Japanese Navy and Army.

In 1991, the University of Pittsburgh Press published an outstanding English-language translation of Ugaki's diary entitled Fading Victory. Its length of over 700 pages may deter many readers, but its excellent translation, annotations, and appendices make it far superior to The Last Kamikaze. Hoyt's book seems to be little more than a condensed version of the translated diary, with some additional information based on his previous books on Yamamoto and The Kamikazes. Ugaki's diary makes little mention of his wife who died in April 1940 and his two sons, and The Last Kamikaze does not provide additional background on his family relationship and his personal experiences prior to World War II.

Even though Hoyt used Fading Victory in putting together Admiral Ugaki's story, he makes some careless mistakes in writing. For example, he misspells several names key to the history of Japan's kamikaze attacks, even though Fading Victory correctly translates the names [1]. Also, he writes that in the winter of 1945 Ugaki's "wife had died more than three years earlier," but she had died more than four years before (Ugaki 1991, 117). Although these errors may seem minor, a high-quality historical work should not contain this many inaccuracies.

The last quarter of the book covers Ugaki's leadership of the kamikaze attacks from Kyushu against Allied ships near Okinawa. He took command of the Fifth Air Fleet in February 1945 and made his headquarters at the large naval air base in Kanoya, located in far southern Japan. From there he ordered several mass kamikaze attacks against Allied ships, but ultimately he could launch no more mass attacks due to lack of fuel, planes, and skilled pilots. On August 2, he moved his headquarters to Oita City, and from there he took off in the final kamikaze attack of the war together with ten other planes under his command. After a final radio message on his way to Okinawa, nothing more was heard from Ugaki and the planes in his kamikaze attack unit.

Although The Last Kamikaze makes a quite readable history of the Japanese Navy and the personal story of Vice Admiral Ugaki, more serious researchers should consider reading Ugaki's entire diary in Fading Victory. Readers interested specifically in the history of Japan's kamikazes should also consider other books, since only the final quarter of The Last Kamikaze deals with Japan's kamikaze attacks. Also, this final part of the book only talks about attacks in Okinawa, with no mention of the kamikaze attacks that happened earlier in the Philippines.

Note

1. Takejiro Ohnishi (p. 141) should be Takijiro (Ugaki 1991, 723). Masufuni Arima (p. 140) should be Masafumi (Ugaki 1991, 476). Azuza Special Attack Unit (p.164) should be Azusa (Ugaki 1991, 547-8). Tachiari air base (p. 184) should be Tachiarai. Tokuko ki (special attack plane) (p. 223) should be tokko ki.

Source Cited

Ugaki, Matome. 1991. Fading Victory: The Diary of Admiral Matome Ugaki, 1941-1945. Translated by Masataka Chihaya. Edited by Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.