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Danger's Hour: The Story of the USS Bunker Hill and the Kamikaze Pilot Who Crippled Her
by Maxwell Taylor Kennedy
Simon & Schuster, 2008, 515 pages

The casualties suffered by the Essex-class aircraft carrier Bunker Hill exceeded those inflicted by any other Japanese suicide attack. On May 11, 1945, two kamikaze aircraft carrying 250-kg bombs hit Bunker Hill in quick succession, and they killed 393 men and injured 264 men. Maxwell Taylor Kennedy, an Associate Scholar at the John Carter Brown Library for Advanced Research in History and the Humanities at Brown University, performed extensive research and conducted numerous interviews to tell the story of these kamikaze attacks from both the American and Japanese perspectives.

The subtitle of Danger's Hour: The Story of the USS Bunker Hill and the Kamikaze Pilot Who Crippled Her does not reflect that two kamikaze pilots, both flying Zero fighters, hit and crippled the aircraft carrier. Kennedy states that Lieutenant Junior Grade Seizo Yasunori, leader of the Navy's Kamikaze Corps 7th Showa Special Attack Squadron, hit Bunker Hill first but never documents how he reached this conclusion. Six members of Yasunori's squadron sortied from Kanoya Air Base between 0640 and 0653 on May 11, 1945 [1]. Kennedy explains that one pilot crashed into the sea before reaching enemy targets (p. 440), but he does not give details on what happened to the other squadron pilots and how he concluded that Yasunori hit Bunker Hill first. Also, Kennedy mixes up the given and family names of Seizo Yasunori [2]. Throughout the book he uses the convention of given name first and family name last for Japanese names of various persons, but he incorrectly refers to Seizo Yasunori as Yasunori Seizo. He even goes so far as to use erroneous phrases such as "the Seizo children," "the Seizos were a patriotic family," "the Seizo family was bankrupted," and "his father, Masanosuke Seizo" (pp. 257-8). In each of these phrases, Seizo should be replaced by the correct family name of Yasunori.

Ensign Kiyoshi Ogawa, the second kamikaze pilot to hit Bunker Hill, gets by far more coverage than Seizo Yasunori in Danger's Hour, possibly since Kennedy could obtain more information about Ogawa through documents and family members. Robert Schock, a Bunker Hill sailor, took a broken aviator watch, a piece of the flight jacket's name tag, two personal photos, and other items from the remains of the dead pilot of the second kamikaze aircraft, which over 50 years later proved the identity of Ogawa. In 2001, Ogawa's grandniece and her mother came to the U.S. to receive these items from Schock's grandson. The book covers details of Ogawa's childhood, student days at Waseda University, basic naval training after being drafted, flight training at Yatabe Air Base in Ibaraki Prefecture, and final days at Kanoya Air Base in southern Kyushu prior to the his kamikaze squadron's sortie.

Part I, which takes up about two thirds of Danger's Hour, provides a wide-ranging and unfocused historical background for the kamikaze attack and its aftermath. For instance, an entire chapter on fraternization and race relations aboard the Bunker Hill has little relevance to the kamikaze attack. In another example, the background stories of Al Turnbull, torpedo bomber pilot in the air group aboard Bunker Hill, get plenty of coverage. Although interesting in themselves, many details in this background section have little connection to the main story.

Part II, the book's heart, begins with the kamikaze hits and vividly describes the terrible blasts and the horrific damage caused by subsequent fires, smoke, and flooding. Kennedy tells what happened to selected Bunker Hill crewmen and airmen after the kamikaze attack. He provides scientific descriptions of how men suffered and died from fire and toxic smoke filled with suspended particles. The individual accounts depict the hellish situations many men faced and how others bravely searched the ship to help survivors. The narratives at times become difficult to follow as they shift between places and groups, and some descriptions of the dangers faced by the men get repeated. The book's brief last part describes the burial at sea of 352 men that took place the day after the attack. Although very badly damaged, Bunker Hill did not sink and returned on her own power by way of Pearl Harbor to Bremerton, Washington. The fascinating Epilogue tells what happened after the war to several American and Japanese survivors and presents their feelings and reflections about their wartime experiences.

Some stories stand out. Chief Engineer Joseph Carmichael calmed the crew's fears of sinking by making an announcement over the loudspeaker and kept the boilers and engines operating despite losing 99 men from his department of just over 500. Pilot Al Turnbull jumped 50 feet into the sea, barely found a life raft in the waves, floated alone in the raft for several hours, and finally was rescued when a destroyer spotted him in the midst of sharks that surrounded his raft. He screamed in pain when picked up by a rescuer and later found out that he had snapped half of his ribs on the left side when he jumped from the ship and hit the water. Not all of the stories are heroic. While Chief Engineer Carmichael inspected the ship, he discovered that some thief had used an acetylene torch to burn through safety deposit boxes in the ship's post office to steal crewmen's money during the chaotic aftermath of the kamikaze attack.

Many historical photographs effectively supplement the narrative that describes the attack, aftermath, and damage. Although the book has an extensive bibliography, it does not have any notes to document sources of specific statements. The web site Danger's Hour includes videos of interview excerpts and additional photographs not included in the book.

Despite some repetition, Danger's Hour excels in its easy-to-understand descriptions of technical subjects. The book provides a good understanding of Japan's kamikaze pilots and the incredible destruction wrought by a successful kamikaze attack. Cutting down Part I's far-reaching background information, most with little relevance to the kamikaze attack, would have greatly enhanced the book's readability.


Remains of Bunker Hill pilots who tried
to escape flames caused by kamikaze attack
 

Notes

1. Osuo 2005, 204.

2. The following sources all show Yasunori as the family name and Seizo as the given name: Ogawa 2001, 130; Osuo 2005, 204; Tokkotai Senbotsusha 1990, 201.

Sources Cited

Ogawa, Takeshi. 2001. Tokkou no jisshou (Actual proof of special attacks). Tokyo: Choeisha.

Osuo, Kazuhiko. 2005. Tokubetsu kougekitai no kiroku (kaigun hen) (Record of special attack corps (Navy)). Tokyo: Kojinsha.

Tokkotai Senbotsusha Irei Heiwa Kinen Kyoukai (Tokkotai Commemoration Peace Memorial Association). 1990. Tokubetsu Kougekitai (Special Attack Corps). Tokyo: Tokkotai Senbotsusha Irei Heiwa Kinen Kyoukai.