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Underwater Warriors
by Paul Kemp
Brockhampton Press, 1999, 256 pages

The Preface's first sentence states that the midget submarine is "one of the most potent weapons of war developed in the twentieth century," but the remainder of the book details this weapon's many failures during World War II. The navies of four countries tried to employ midget submarines, but even the most successful underwater warfare unit, Italy's Decima Mas, had a negligible effect on the war's course. Paul Kemp, author or coauthor of about twenty other books on submarines, midget submarines, and naval warfare, has written a well-researched book, but at times it reads like an encyclopedia filled with technical details.

Most chapters do not have descriptive titles to easily determine their contents, but the book has a logical structure with the midget submarine operations of Italy, Japan, Britain, and Germany separately described in three to six chapters each. The book's first chapter provides a brief history of midget submarines prior to World War II, and the last chapter tells about the limited use of midget submarines after the war primarily by Russia and several smaller countries. The book also includes over seventy historical photos.

The Preface to Underwater Warriors divides midget submarines used in World War II into the three categories of human torpedoes, small submersibles, and true midget submarines. However, the book has some inconsistencies on the use of these terms. Although the Preface states that the Japanese kaiten and the German Neger were small submersibles, the main text refers to these two weapons as human torpedoes. The author never specifically defines the term "human torpedoes," but these weapons fall into three groups. First, some human torpedoes (e.g., Italian Maiale (Pig), British Chariot) had detachable warheads that assault frogmen placed underneath enemy ships, and the frogmen used the torpedo to escape prior to a timed explosion. In the second group, assault frogmen neared an enemy ship and then launched a torpedo (e.g., German Neger). In the final category, which includes only Japanese kaiten, a human pilot steered the launched torpedo into an enemy ship in a suicide attack.

Although this book mentions many individuals connected with midget submarines, it lacks in-depth personal stories. The different underwater weapons introduced in the book include detailed information on development, technical capabilities, and deployment. As on overview of all World War II midget submarines, the book focuses much more on the weapons themselves rather than the thoughts and emotions of the men who piloted them.

Four chapters totaling about fifty pages give the history of Japan's two underwater special attack weapons, the Ko-Hyoteki (Type A Target) midget submarine and kaiten human torpedo. The Japanese Navy used the term "special attack" (tokko in Japanese) to describe both of these weapons, which meant that the pilots of these underwater weapons expected to die as part of the attack. Although no pilot of a launched kaiten torpedo ever survived, five crewmembers of Ko-Hyoteki two-man midget submarines survived after being launched from their mother submarines in attacks at Pearl Harbor and off Guadalcanal. However, Ensign Kazuo Sakamaki, pilot of one of the five midget submarines that attacked Pearl Harbor, became America's first Japanese prisoner-of-war when captured after his midget submarine washed ashore.

Kemp does an acceptable job of summarizing mainly technical details and battle results of Japanese midget submarines and kaiten, but several Japanese names are spelled incorrectly. The Japanese section of Underwater Warriors contains more details on midget submarines than Suicide Squads: The Men and Machines of World War II Special Operations (1999) by Richard O'Neill. However, Kemp's book lacks the many personal stories contained in the two best English-language books on this subject: The Coffin Boats: Japanese Midget Submarine Operations in the Second World War (1986) by Peggy Warner and Sadao Seno and Kamikaze Submarine (originally published as The Kaiten Weapon) (1962) by Yutaka Yokota with Joseph Harrington.

Just as the first sentence of the Preface overstates the historical significance of midget submarines, a sentence in the book's last paragraph also overstates their current role, "There is no doubt that midget submarines are still a force to be reckoned with." Based on their insignificant battle results in World War II and today's disregard for them by the world's major military powers, midget submarines likely will have a negligible or no role in future conflicts.


Kaiten mounted on Japanese submarine I-370 
when departed Hikari Base in Yamaguchi Prefecture on February 20, 1945.
I-370 was sunk off Iwo Jima on February 26 with kaiten unlaunched.