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The Sacrificial Lambs
by Bill Sholin
Mountain View Books, 1994, 250 pages

Bill Sholin formed the National Kamikaze Survivors Association in 1997 and served as its President until he passed away in 2005. In May 2002, about 400 kamikaze attack survivors and their relatives shared their wartime experiences at the association's first reunion held in Everett, Washington. This book written by Sholin tells about his experiences aboard the destroyer Wren and gives the history of Japan's kamikaze attacks on Allied ships.

The 23 chapters in The Sacrificial Lambs jump back and forth between personal reminiscences about the destroyer Wren and battle descriptions of kamikaze attacks. The book lacks a single focus, with only about ten percent of the material on the destroyer Wren relating to kamikaze attacks. More than three quarters of the way through the book, Wren gunners shoot down their first kamikaze planes off Okinawa. Before this point in the book, Wren spends most of her time in the Aleutian Islands, with several crossings to bomb the Japanese-occupied Kurile Islands, far north of kamikaze attacks that took place in the Philippines and Okinawa.

The title comes from the author's belief that Navy destroyers served as sacrificial lambs to save the remainder of the Allied fleet from kamikaze attacks. Part of the book's subtitle is "US destroyers vs. Japanese Kamikazes," but in several places in the book Sholin acknowledges the valuable role played by other types of ships and by carrier-based fighters such as the Corsair. In the Battle of Okinawa, 148 destroyers of all types participated, and 119 of these suffered kamikaze crashes and 43 were sunk or scrapped (p. 223). Radar picket destroyers had the task of early detection of incoming kamikaze planes, and these picket lines mostly located 40 to 70 miles to the north and northwest of Okinawa in a half circle took the brunt of the kamikaze attacks. Although the Japanese military leaders wanted most to destroy aircraft carriers, many kamikaze planes dove at these destroyers on the picket lines.

The book's history of kamikaze attacks generally gives a tedious chronological recitation of ship name, attack date, where hit, casualties, and what happened to the ship afterward. Sholin writes that he gathered his own information by researching the history of each ship rather than relying on other available summaries. His primary research source was the eight volumes of the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships published by the U.S. Naval Institute. The book also has many photos of kamikaze attacks and of the destroyer Wren and her crew.

Although Sholin gives battle details about scores of kamikaze attacks, he provides no background information on Japan's military strategy and the Japanese kamikaze pilots themselves. Instead, battle descriptions begin with the appearance of kamikaze planes, with no details on the origin of the planes and the background of the pilots. The book's most interesting parts provide eyewitness accounts of kamikaze attacks. Two kamikaze planes hit the destroyer Drexler in quick succession, and the book gives accounts by seven survivors when the ship sank in 49 seconds after being hit by the second kamikaze aircraft. Another gripping account relates to several shinyo suicide boats (explosive motorboats) that tried to attack Wren, but the destroyer's gunners destroyed nine of them before they could get close.

Any Wren crewman, and most likely any World War II destroyer crewman, will probably love this book. However, most readers will prefer a book that focuses on the history of Japan's kamikaze operations and that covers the Japanese perspective on the attacks. Bill Sholin wrote two other books related to kamikaze attacks: Truman's Decision: Kamikazes the Unknown Factor (1997) and The Kamikaze Nightmare: Terror of the Lambs (2000).


Wren's radar searches
the skies off Okinawa