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Wings Over Sakishima
by Fredio Samples
Privately published, 2010, 157 pages

The title Wings over Sakishima accurately summarizes the book's contents, which describe day after day and week after week of aerial bombing and strafing by Allied aircraft from April to June 1945 during the Battle of Okinawa. The Sakishima Islands (Gunto) lie about halfway between Okinawa and Formosa. The Japanese Navy and Army used several airfields on two islands, Miyakojima and Ishigakijima, for attacks against the Allied fleet. These came under heavy Allied bombardment for several weeks. Despite the bombing throughout the day, the Japanese repaired the runways during the night so that by the morning they could be operational. This self-published book primarily consists of excerpts from official accounts of American attacks on the two islands along with a few personal accounts from veterans who fought at Sakishima.

Fredio Samples begins the book with the story of how he became interested in what happened at the Sakishima Islands during WWII after he had a strange nightmare while stationed as a U.S. Air Force radarman on Miyakojima in 1964. He then provides a few pages of background information related to the period prior to the Allied invasion of Okinawa on April 1, 1945. The next part takes up about half the book and provides details on daily operations by the Allies against the Sakishima Islands from April 1 to June 24, 1945. The attacks were primarily made on Miyakojima's three airfields (Hirara, Nobara (called Nobaru by Japanese), and Sukama) and Ishigakijima's two airfields (Ishigaki and Miyara). Some of these airfields had more than one runway. This book section makes for quite difficult reading due to the sheer number of details presented page after page. The following is an example describing operations at Sakishima Islands that took place on May 11, 1945 (only first half included below) (p. 74).

USS SUWANEE sent 8 Hellcats and 8 Avengers to strike NOBARA Airfields on MIYAKO JIMA. Expended were 19-500# G.P. and 74-100# General Purpose bombs against runways and installations and 103-5 inch rockets were fired against AA positions. Hellcats and Avengers totaling 14 planes flew TCAP [Tactical Combat Air Patrol], LCAP [Local Combat Air Patrol], LASP [Local Anti-Submarine Patrol] and photo coverage. CHENANGO'S planes struck ISHIGAKI and MIYARA Airfield runways. One "Kate" and a twin engine airplane were damaged at the ISHIGAKI Airfield and fires were started in the dispersal areas. Twenty six 500# bombs, 140-100# bombs and 124 rockets were expended. CAP [Combat Air Patrol] and ASP [Anti-Submarine Patrol] was handled by 22 planes. The USS SANTEE launched two photo planes, sixteen Hellcats and 15 Avengers for strikes against MIYAKO JIMA airfields. Runways were cratered and dispersals were damaged. One single engine plane was destroyed and 4 more were damaged on the ground. Expended on these strikes were 150-100# bombs, 8-500# bombs and 70-H.E. [High Explosive] rockets. Twenty of SANTEE'S planes were assigned Local CAP and ASP duty.

The last chapter, the book's best, includes stories of nine men who fought at the Sakishima Islands and survived until the end of the war. The veterans wrote most of these stories included in this chapter with the best one being five pages by Lieutenant Junior Grade Max Denman, a Hellcat fighter pilot from Air Group 40 aboard USS Suwannee (CVE-27). He flew a bombing mission over Nobaru Airfield on Miyakojima on May 28, 1945. This riveting account tells of his parachuting out of his Hellcat after being hit by anti-aircraft fire and his harrowing captivity as a POW through the end of the war. The book has quite a few historical photos, two maps showing the location of the Sakishima Islands between Okinawa and Taiwan, and maps along with aerial photographs of the five airfields that were bombed with the exception of Miyara Airfield on Ishigakijima. The book also has two handmade posters, one which is also on the bottom half of the cover, that summarize the various groups, aircraft, and ships involved in the battle at Sakishima around a map of the islands. An appendix lists the names and other information of 48 pilots and crewmen who were shot down or who went down due to aircraft mechanical problems at Sakishima between April 1 and June 23, 1945, with many of them losing their lives.

The history Wings over Sakishima lacks a couple of key ingredients. First, Japanese strategy and battle operations barely get mentioned with almost the entire focus of the book being on actions taken by the Allied side. Second, little information is provided about the activities of the British Pacific Fleet in support of the Allied attack of the islands at Sakishima. The author does mention the British Fleet's involvement in general terms and briefly describes hits by kamikaze aircraft on the British aircraft carriers Formidable (May 4 and 9, 1945), Illustrious (April 6), Indefatigable (April 1), Indomitable (May 4), and Victorious (April 1 and May 9). However, whereas the activities of bombers and fighters from air groups operating off U.S. carriers get described in great detail, the operations of British aircraft only get summary mention even though they made a significant contribution to the Allied operations at Miyakojima and Ishigakijima. The lack of details probably comes from Samples' not having access to British official battle records.

The back cover states that the five airfields on Miyakojima and Ishigakijima were used as Japanese launching points for their Formosa-based Special Attack Forces known as kamikazes, and during the Battle of Okinawa these kamikaze aircraft made their final flight from these two islands. However, the book provides no information on specific flights flown from these two islands. For example, no mention is made of the Kamikaze Special Attack Corps 3rd Ryuko Squadron that sortied from Miyakojima in late July 1945 and sank the destroyer Callaghan (DD-792) (see web page on 3rd Ryuko Squadron Monument). Among those men in the Japanese Navy who died in aerial suicide attacks, 23 made sorties from Ishigakijima and 7 came from Miyakojima [1]. The most significant kamikaze strike described in the book was against the escort carrier Sangamon (CVE- 26), which saw much action at Sakishima until the ship got hit by a Nick twin-engine fighter during the evening of May 4, 1945, when returning to Sakishima after being resupplied at Kerama Retto. Casualties from the kamikaze crash were 46 killed and 116 wounded, and the heavily damaged Sangamon never returned to battle. On June 7, 1945, escort carrier Natoma Bay (CVE-62) got hit by a Zero fighter carrying a bomb. One officer was killed, and four men were wounded in the attack. The book does not provide any information on possibly where these kamikaze attackers came from for Sangamon, Natoma Bay, or other ships hit by kamikaze aircraft such as the five British Fleet aircraft carriers.

The book Wings over Sakishima relates stories and provides information not found in other published books on WWII. However, it makes for difficult reading with overwhelming official details provided on Allied operations. Paragraphs run very long, often more than a page, which also makes the text difficult to read.


Damage to Sangamon's hangar deck
from kamikaze hit on May 4, 1945

Note

1. These numbers come from an exhibit at Kanoya Naval Air Base Museum that lists the sortie air bases of those men in the Japanese Navy who died as part of the Kamikaze Special Attack Corps.