The Kamikaze Hunters: Fighting for the Pacific, 1945
by Will Iredale
Pegasus, 2016, 386 pages
Britain wanted to be seen as contributing to the defeat of Japan in the
Pacific War, so the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm (FAA) began operations there in
January 1945 under the overall command of the U.S. and continued until the war's end in August. All five aircraft
carriers of the British Pacific Fleet (BPF) that participated in battle action
off the Sakishima Islands between Okinawa and Taiwan were hit by at least one
kamikaze aircraft between April 1 and May 9, 1945. The Japanese kamikaze
attacks from bases in Formosa on the British carriers Formidable,
Illustrious, Indefatigable, Indomitable, and Victorious killed a total
of 44 men and wounded 83.
Despite the title of The Kamikaze Hunters, only 4 of the book's 19
chapters cover the British Pacific Fleet's fighting off the Sakishima Islands
where their primary mission was to put out of action the six airfields on Ishigaki and Miyako
Islands (also known as Ishigakijima and Miyakojima) and hunt down
Japanese kamikazes in the air and on the ground. The British Pacific Fleet
protected the American's fleet left flank from kamikaze attacks that originated
from Formosa or from Ishigaki and Miyako Islands. Britsh airmen shot down 42
Japanese aircraft while off the Sakishima Islands and claimed another 100
destroyed on the ground.
This focused history covers the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm activities from the beginning
of World War II. Action in the Pacific does not start until about halfway
through the book, with the first half covering training, including flight
schools in Canada and the U.S., and action in Europe such as the operation to
destroy the German battleship Tirpitz hiding in a Norwegian fjord. The
book's last half describes the British Pacific Fleet's three primary operations:
bombing and strafing of Japanese oil refineries in Palembang on Sumatra Island
in January 1945, airfields on the Sakishima Islands from March to May 1945, and
airfields on Japan's main islands from July to August 1945. The British aircraft
carrier pilots primarily used American-produced Hellcat and Corsair fighters
along with British-produced Supermarine Seafire fighters.
Will Iredale, former news reporter for The Sunday Times, put together
a very readable history of the British Pacific Fleet. He conducted many
interviews with veterans to provide stories missing from official histories.
Background information, especially is the first half, sometimes slows down the
narrative, but Iredale shows in his first published book great skill in telling thrilling
stories from the three major operations at Palembang, Sakishima Islands, and the
main islands of Japan. The book contains useful documentation with a
bibliography, extensive notes and references, and an index. There are 38
historical photographs in the middle of the book. The front of the book provides
maps of the locations of the carriers during the different operations off the
Sakishima Islands and the main islands of Japan. Two other books,
The Story of the British Pacific Fleet (1991) edited by Stuart Eadon and
Wings Over Sakishima (2010)
by Fredio Samples, cover the kamikaze attacks on the British Pacific Fleet off
the Sakishima Islands, but The Kamikaze Hunters far surpasses these two
for interest to a general reader.
The steel flight decks of the British Pacific Fleet's aircraft carriers
allowed them to avoid serious damage when Japanese kamikaze aircraft and their bombs
crashed into them, although the attacks caused many casualties. For example, the
two photographs at the bottom of the page from May 4, 1945, show a Zero fighter
carrying a bomb hitting the carrier Formidable, which caused 8 deaths and 47 men
wounded. However, the flight deck was quickly repaired, and the carrier landed
planes again by the end of the day.
The British lost 105 airmen in enemy action during the eight months they
fought in the Pacific War. At least 10 were executed after being shot down, but
most were killed by anti-aircraft fire during strafing runs and bombing raids.
With many examples of courage and heroism presented in this book, the Royal
Navy's Fleet Air Arm must be recognized for their significant contributions to
victory in the Pacific War.
Diving Zero fighter just before it crashed into Formidable's flight
deck on May 4, 1945. Attack killed 8 men and injured 47.
Formidable just after being hit by Zero fighter on May 4,