Kamikazes, Corsairs, and Picket Ships: Okinawa, 1945
by Robin L. Rielly
Casemate, 2008, 435 pages
Destroyers, LCS(L) (Landing Craft, Support (Large)) ships, and various other
ship types assigned to radar picket stations surrounding Okinawa defended the
main Allied fleet from Japanese air attacks from March 26 to August 13, 1945.
Attacks by kamikaze aircraft on these radar picket stations sank 15 ships and
damaged 45 others. Robin Rielly, author of
Mighty Midgets At War: The Saga of
the LCS(L) Ships from Iwo Jima to Vietnam (2000) and Historian and Archivist
of the National Association of USS LCS(L) 1-130, thoroughly covers these air
attacks by utilizing an extremely wide range of English-language primary
sources. Rielly explains in the Preface that no other history has made a
complete study of the attacks on the radar picket ships at Okinawa. However, the history
Picket Ships at Okinawa (1996) by Paul Thurman has the same basic scope,
but Rielly's history far surpasses this prior effort with an incredible number
of details, many which cannot be found in other histories of Japan's kamikaze
The first two chapters provide very valuable background information about picket ships and their tactics, Japanese Navy and Army special (suicide) attack
aircraft and strategy, and makeup of the American Combat Air Patrol (CAP)
aircraft. Although the Chance Vaught 4UC Corsair gets mentioned in the title,
the Grumman F6F Hellcat gets introduced as the most successful American fighter
in the air battles over the radar picket stations. The ship types that served
the most time at the radar picket stations included three destroyer types
(mainly DD (destroyer) but also DM (destroyer minelayer) and DMS (destroyer
minesweeper)), LCS(L), and LSM(R) (Landing Ship, Medium (Rocket)). Out of
101 DDs, DMs, and DMSs assigned to radar picket stations, 10 were sunk and 32
were damaged by kamikaze attacks. The 88 LCS(L)s assigned to picket stations had
2 sunk and 11 damaged by kamikazes, whereas the 11 LSM(R)s had the highest
casualty rate from kamikaze hits with 3 sunk and 2 damaged.
Chapters 3 to 7 report radar picket station battle action chronologically and
then by radar picket station number. The recitation of innumerable battle
details during these chapters makes reading slow going and encourages one to
start skimming certain sections, but these numerous facts reflect the
thoroughness of the author's research. The battle narratives have a couple of
helpful features rarely found in kamikaze attack descriptions in other
English-language sources. First, the book incorporates American CAP movements
and actions into the battle descriptions based on air group and squadron action
reports. Second, these chapters make use of a variety of American-produced
documents regarding Japanese air power, including postwar interrogations of
Japanese military leaders, Japanese monographs prepared by the Military History
Section of the Army Forces Far East Headquarters after the war's end, and
translated Japanese communications intercepted by American intelligence.
Especially fascinating are intercepted Japanese messages regarding several of
the ten Kikusui mass kamikaze attacks carried out during the Battle of Okinawa
such as Vice Admiral Ugaki's detailed orders for Kikusui No. 3 Operation to
begin on April 16, 1945.
The final chapter has a thoughtful and convincing analysis of why radar
picket ships at Okinawa suffered such great losses. He discusses five primary
factors: (1) nature of the kamikaze attacks, (2) improper use of support
gunboats, (3) assignment of ships ill-suited for task, (4) failure to establish
land-based radar at the earliest possible times, and (5) crew fatigue. The
book's end section has the following quote from Vice Admiral Turner in praise of
the fighting courage of men who served on radar picket ships (p. 348):
The gallant ships in these stations were at all times, and in a very
literal sense, in the first line of defense at Okinawa. Their expert raid
reporting and efficient fighter direction made possible the timely
interception of enemy aircraft which would otherwise have been able successfully to attack our transport and supply ships in force. The enemy
pressed his attacks with fanatical determination and still failed to disrupt
our progress, largely because the Radar Pickets were an obstacle he could
not overcome. By their steadfast courage and magnificent performance of duty
in a nerve wracking job under morale shattering conditions, the crews of the
ships and craft on the Radar Picket stations have emblazoned a glorious new
chapter in naval tradition.
Maps, photographs, and tables add significantly to this history's value. The
book also has a comprehensive index and bibliography with physical locations of primary
sources. Rielly lists over 50 persons from whom he obtained information through
interviews, correspondence, personal papers, and diaries. However, the book mentions just
a few personal accounts and rather focuses on the overall history of picket
Extensive end notes provide support for the book's statements, but this does
not mean that descriptions related to Japan's kamikaze operations are
necessarily correct. Since the author did not make direct use of
Japanese-language sources that in some cases contain more complete and accurate
information than that found in his references, the book includes a few errors
regarding kamikaze pilot names, squadrons, and aircraft that could have been
easily avoided. For example, the book states that a Zero piloted by Kan'ichi
Horimoto took off from Miyakonojo Airfield and crashed into the destroyer
Ingraham on May 4, 1945 (p. 213-4), but he actually flew a Hayate Type 4
Fighter (Frank)  with no Navy Zero fighters
stationed at the Army
airfield in Miyakonojō. The description of kamikaze attacks on April 2,
1945, states, "Captain Minoru Hasegawa and Sub-Lt. Nishi Yamamoto of the 66th
Air Regiment were credited with leading the flights" (p. 104). In actuality,
both men were members of the 20th Shinbu Squadron, and two different men from
the 66th Hikō Sentai (Flight Regiment) died in suicide attacks on the same date .
Captain Hasegawa previously was a chūtai (squadron) leader in the 5th, not 66th,
Hikō Sentai . Based on Japanese records,
Yamamoto's given name was Eiji rather than Nishi .
One appendix lists Japanese airfields with several mistakes (pp. 369-71). Four
airfields on Honshu (Kisarazu, Kasumigaura, Komatsu, and Miho) and one airfield
on Shikoku (Takuma) are erroneously listed as being on Kyushu. The list shows Nittagahara Army Airfield
even though its proper pronunciation is Nyūtabaru. Kengun Airfield in Kumamoto
Prefecture and Bansei Airfield in Kagoshima Prefecture are missing from the list
even though these were the second and third largest Army airfields when
considering the number of men who sortied from there and died in suicide attacks .
The example errors mentioned in this paragraph arise from using translated
Japanese sources prepared soon after the war ended without confirming their
accuracy by consulting other Japanese sources.
Despite a few errors related to Japan's kamikaze operations, the thoroughness
of Rielly's research and analysis and his well-organized presentation make
Kamikazes, Corsairs, and Picket Ships the definitive history of radar picket
stations at Okinawa where 1,348 men were killed and 1,586
men were wounded in kamikaze attacks.
Damage to LCS(L) 88 after kamikaze attack of
May 11, 1945 at Radar Picket Station #5
1. Sakurai 2010. Other sources such as Osuo (2005,
199) incorrectly list the date of Horimoto's sortie and death as May 11, 1945,
but still show his aircraft as a Hayate Type 4 Fighter (Frank).
2. Osuo 2005, 195, 208.
3. Hata 2002, 106-8, 314; Osuo 2005, 53.
4. Osuo 2005, 195; Tokkōtai Senbotsusha 1990, 264.
5. Chiran Tokkō 2005, 69.
Chiran Tokkō Irei Kenshō Kai (Chiran Special Attack
Memorial Society), ed. 2005. Konpaku no kiroku: Kyū rikugun tokubetsu
kōgekitai chiran kichi (Record of departed spirits: Former Army Special
Attack Corps Chiran Base). Revised edition, originally published in 2004. Chiran Town, Kagoshima
Prefecture: Chiran Tokkō Irei Kenshō Kai.
Hata, Ikuhiko, Yasuho Izawa, and Christopher Shores. 2002.
Japanese Army Air Force Fighter Units and Their Aces 1931-1945.
London: Grub Street.
Osuo, Kazuhiko. 2005. Tokubetsu kōgekitai no kiroku (rikugun hen)
(Record of special attack corps (Army)). Tōkyō: Kōjinsha.
Sakurai, Takashi. 2010. Dai 60 shinbu tai (60th Shinbu
(May 28, 2010).
Tokkōtai Senbotsusha Irei
Heiwa Kinen Kyōkai (Tokkōtai Commemoration Peace Memorial Association). 1990.
Tokubetsu Kōgekitai (Special Attack Corps). Tōkyō: Tokkōtai Senbotsusha
Irei Heiwa Kinen Kyōkai.