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Standby Arnold
by Chesty Arnold
Privately published, 1994, revised edition, originally published in 1992, 110 pages

The gunners of destroyer escort USS Swearer (DE-186) faced several attacking kamikaze planes during the Battle of Okinawa. This book by Chesty Arnold combines his personal experiences in the US Navy and a history of Swearer, commissioned in November 1943. Arnold joined Swearer's crew in the beginning of 1945 after three years of service in the Naval Intelligence Department in Miami and Nassau. The first half of this personal memoir covers Arnold's service prior to joining Swearer's crew, and the second half describes Swearer's involvement in the battles at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

Arnold has a unique personal writing style, filled with humor and preoccupied with women when he is not at sea. He is definitely not a professional writer, with misspellings throughout the book. His historical research for the book seems limited since he often skips specific dates and ship names. For example, when describing the last kamikaze attack on Swearer by two planes, Arnold does not mention the date nor the names of the destroyer escort and the small ship hit by the two planes.

Although the cover of this book features kamikaze planes diving on the USS Swearer, the ship somehow managed to escape unscathed. On April 1, 1945, Swearer's gunners poured ammunition into a diving kamikaze plane, which crashed into the sea next to the ship. Over the next few weeks, Arnold witnessed other ships getting hit and "dog fights above and suicide planes diving in all directions." On April 16, two kamikaze planes came in over the island of Ie Shima and headed directly toward the ship skimming 20 or 30 feet above the water, so Swearer's gunners continuously fired ammunition at the planes. One plane veered off and hit the USS Bowers (DE-637), another destroyer escort, in the superstructure. The other plane crashed just a few yards from Swearer. The ship then went alongside Bowers to take aboard wounded men who would be transported to a hospital ship. Sometime in July or August, two kamikaze planes approached Swearer, but both changed directions toward other ships. One plane hit another destroyer escort, and the other one sank a smaller vessel. Swearer and another ship rescued the men from the smaller ship except for one who went down with the ship [1].

The book contains several inaccuracies related to Japan's kamikaze. For example, page 66 states that the Japanese had "prepared every suitable plane available to be used" as a kamikaze or suicide plane for the Battle of Okinawa, but the Japanese Navy and Army actually still used many warplanes as conventional fighters and bombers. Arnold writes on the same page that the planes were loaded with high explosive fuel, but the actual fuel used by kamikaze planes did not differ from other planes and often was of low quality due to the fuel shortage that Japan suffered in the final year of the war. Page 67 mentions "feathered robes" worn by kamikaze pilots, but this must be pure fantasy dreamed up by the author since the real kamikaze pilots wore regular flight suits [2]. Page 76 has the following statement, "In one time frame from April 6th to June 22, 1945, there were at least 10 mass attacks with over 100 planes crashing . . ." Although the Japanese sent over 100 kamikaze planes each in some of the first mass attacks, the numbers were greatly reduced toward the end of this period. For example, the 9th mass attack on June 3 had 30 kamikaze planes that sortied and did not return [3], and the 10th mass attack on June 22 had only 22 kamikaze planes that did not return [4].

Standby Arnold provides a humorous look at one man's service in the US Navy during World War II. When viewed as a history of the destroyer escort Swearer, this book has many shortcomings. However, the book has some historical value as one crewman's comments on the ship's experiences, especially with kamikaze planes, during the Battle of Okinawa.

Notes

1. This account of two kamikaze planes in July or August could not be independently confirmed. 

2. Nila (2002, 40, 63) provides examples of Navy kamikaze flight suits.

3. Hara 2004, 234

4. Hara 2004, 237-8

Sources Cited

Hara, Katsuhiro. 2004. Shinsou kamikaze tokkou: Hisshi hitchuu no 300 nichi (Kamikaze special attack facts: 300 days of certain-death, sure-hit attacks). Tokyo: KK Bestsellers.

Nila, Gary. 2002. Japanese Naval Aviation Uniforms and Equipment 1937-45. Illustrated by Bill Younghusband. Botley, UK: Osprey Publishing.