Escort carrier Ommaney Bay on fire after crash by
kamikaze. Destroyer Patterson shown at right.
by Ron Burt
Alfie Publishing, 1995, 218 pages
Thunder and unexpected noises triggered flashbacks of the
"kamikaze nightmare." Pete Burt would shout out "DUCK!" and
then dive under furniture. In the late 1950s, over a decade after going through
four kamikaze attacks, he had a nervous breakdown as he continued to experience
the kamikaze nightmare. Pete suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for
more than three decades after the war until he experienced his final flashback
in 1977. This book written by his younger brother, Ron Burt, tells the intense,
emotional story of Pete's survival and eventual recovery from a kamikaze attack
that left him unconscious for seven days and required fifty operations over two
Ron Burt, who admits up front to not being
a professional writer, dedicated this book to his brother Pete and to his
shipmates on the escort carrier Ommaney Bay
and the light cruiser Columbia. Ron Burt
spent several years researching records and trying to contact eyewitnesses to
piece together what caused the kamikaze nightmare. The book starts with some of
their childhood experiences together. As a high school student, Pete enlists in
the Navy at 16 by altering his birth certificate to meet the minimum age
requirement of 17. He becomes a gunner on the escort carrier Ommaney Bay,
where he experiences his first battle engagements
in the fall of 1944 as his ship provides direct air support for the invasion of
Palau and Leyte.
On December 15, 1944, Ommaney Bay's gunners shoot
down an approaching kamikaze plane, which crashes into the water near the ship.
On January 4, 1945, a Japanese Ki-43 Hayabusa (Oscar) hits the ship, and
both of the plane's bombs penetrate the flight deck with violent explosions that
set fire to fully-gassed planes on the hangar deck and that cause water
pressure, power, fuel oil pumps, and bridge communications to fail. The men
below deck have no warning of the incoming plane, and men soon begin to abandon
the blazing ship. Although nearby destroyers pick up over 800 men in the water,
92 men are killed or missing in the sinking of Ommaney Bay.
Pete Burt survives the kamikaze attack on Ommaney Bay,
and he next gets assigned as a lookout on the light cruiser Columbia. On
January 5, the day after being rescued from the water, he watches as kamikaze
planes smash into four other ships. On January 6, a kamikaze plane with an
armor-piercing bomb hits Columbia, causing 41 deaths and 35 wounded (pp. 114-5) . On the same
day, the ship's gunners shoot down three other oncoming Japanese planes after
this deadly attack, and another kamikaze plane nearly misses the ship, spraying
fuel all over the bridge. On January 9, the day that the U.S. invades Luzon from Lingayen Gulf, a Zero
fighter with two 250-kg bombs crashes into Columbia
only 25 feet from where Pete Burt is standing. He describes what happens next
The explosion carries me thirty feet into a life line. My
body burns with hot shrapnel covering me from head to foot. My left arm is
practically blown to pieces. The muscle rips out from the elbow to my shoulder
exposing broken bones. Hanging halfway over the life line, I lay stunned as
numbness comes over my entire body.
Pete survives but loses consciousness for seven days. The Columbia
suffers 24 dead and 97 wounded from the attack. The last part of the book
covers Pete's long recovery from the kamikaze nightmare, and the final chapter
tells about the his brother Ron's search, starting in 1989, for information and
eyewitnesses about his brother's wartime experiences.
plunges toward Columbia
on January 6, 1945
Numerous remarkable, moving personal accounts from Pete Burt and his
shipmates fill this book. These stories give readers some idea of the great
terror and damage caused by kamikaze attacks. For some events such as the
kamikaze hit on Ommaney Bay, several survivors describe the same event as
they experienced it individually. This technique by the author reveals the utter
confusion and panic experienced by the men below deck who had no warning of the
attack. In another example (pp. 113-4, 142), after the kamikaze hit Columbia
on January 6, the captain gives the order to seal off several compartments
to prevent fire from reaching the ammunition stores. Tears pour out of Pete's
eyes when he realizes the compartments contain two Ommaney Bay
survivors. The 17 dead seamen trapped in the sealed compartments do not get
removed until Columbia returns to Pearl Harbor for repairs.
Possibly to bring some type of closure to the nightmare
suffered by his brother, the author makes a few statements and
conclusions that do not seem supported by available evidence. For example, Ron
Burt states without qualification that the pilot who attacked the Columbia
was Shigeru Kojima. However, a representative of the Japanese National
Institute for Defense Studies wrote in a letter to Burt, "As you know, it
is very difficult to determine who struck what ship in kamikaze suicide attack
especially in 1945, . . . " (p. 202). Seven pilots of Zero fighters
died in kamikaze attacks on January 9, 1945, in Lingayen Gulf (Tokkotai Senbotsusha
1990, 143; Hoyt 1983, 165), but Burt concludes on the identity of the
pilot based only on limited information the letter.
Even more incredible is the author's conclusion regarding
the hairstyle of the kamikaze pilot who attacked Columbia. Pete Burt
claimed for several decades that the pilot was a woman, so his brother Ron tried
to investigate why he would make such a claim. Pete describes the approaching
kamikaze pilot, "Here is this Jap Zero coming at us. Fire from the engine
streams along both sides of the fuselage. The Zero is only about fifty feet
above the surface of the water. I observe all of this in just a matter of a
split second. The pilot and I look at each other" (p. 134). The representative
of the Japanese National Institute for Defense Studies also wrote to Ron Burt
that Japanese warriors in the past wore their hair long, but Imperial Navy and
Army soldiers almost always had their hair cut short. Some pilots were permitted
somewhat longer hair. Based on this very limited information and from the "split
second" observation of his brother, Ron Burt makes the claim that the kamikaze
pilot, Shigeru Kojima, allowed his hair to grow long after being assigned to a
kamikaze unit. Burt alleges (p. 132) the pilot's "hair protrudes several inches
below the helmet" and "hangs almost to his shoulders," but no evidence exists
other than his brother's memory of a fleeting glance at the pilot before he
crashed into Columbia.
The American eyewitnesses to the kamikaze attacks provide
other interesting insights in this book. The U.S. Navy men in the Philippines
referred to the kamikazes as "suicide planes," since at that time
they did not know the name given to the pilots by the Japanese. Before Pete
Burt experienced any kamikaze attacks, he and his shipmates used to discuss the
safest place on a ship when a kamikaze hit. The general consensus was that
every inch of the ship was vulnerable, so the kamikaze nightmare constantly
haunted the American fleet in the first part of January 1945.
not only tells about the damage and terror inflicted on the American fleet off
the Philippines but also the tragedy and ultimate recovery of a man who
suffered his own personal kamikaze nightmare.
1. The entry for USS Columbia in the
Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships states that 13 were killed and 44
were wounded, but these figures may refer to only the casualties from the second
kamikaze plane to hit the ship on January 6, 1945, rather than both planes.
Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Department of
the Navy, Naval Historical Center. Web site: <http://www.history.navy.mil/danfs/>
Other web site: <http://www.hazegray.org/danfs/>
(June 3, 2007).
Hoyt, Edwin P. 1983. The Kamikazes. Short Hills, NJ:
Tokkotai Senbotsusha Irei
Heiwa Kinen Kyoukai (Tokkotai Commemoration Peace Memorial Association). 1990.
Tokubetsu Kougekitai (Special Attack Corps). Tokyo: Tokkotai Senbotsusha Irei Heiwa Kinen Kyoukai.