Directed by Robert Kirk and Abe Scheuermann
HISTORY, 2008, 44 min., DVD
For two seasons from 2006 to 2008, History Channel broadcast 29 episodes of
Dogfights, which featured computerized graphics to bring a new level of
realism to the presentation of historical aerial battles. The documentaries also
provided commentary by an effective combination of veterans, many who fought in
the battles presented, and history experts. Dogfights during World War II,
the Korean War, and the Vietnam War make up most episodes, but the series also covers
World War I, Israel's Six-Day War and Yom Kippur War, and the Gulf War. The Season 1
DVD set includes 11 episodes, and Season 2 has 18 episodes. Although most
episodes focus on dogfights, a few episodes go astray from the series title such
as "Hunt for the Bismarck" and "Death of the Japanese Navy," which focus
on naval battles.
The narrator often compares the aircraft types engaged in battle to give
viewers a better understanding of odds facing combatants. Key characteristics
such as speed, maneuverability, armament, range, climbing, and diving are
evaluated side by side for aircraft used by dogfight opponents. Most of the
episodes are presented from the American point of view, but the series includes
some interviews with German, Japanese, and Israeli pilots when their fighters
are presented. Although the pilots seem quite sincere in their descriptions of
battles that happened decades before, one sometimes wonders whether there can
be some exaggeration in what actually occurred, especially in situations where
no witnesses from the pilot's side were present to confirm reports. The phrase
"supremely confident and very aggressive" appropriately describes the dogfight
pilots presented in this series. The nearly life-like computerized graphics,
accompanied by the narrator's gripping voice with stirring music and sound
effects, generate real excitement for viewers as the battles unfold.
Three episodes in the Dogfights series cover Japan's special (suicide) attack
- Kamikaze (Episode 1 of Season 2): Covers kamikaze aircraft attacks on
- Secret Weapons (Episode 17 of Season 2): One segment tells about first
kaiten human torpedo attack at Ulithi Atoll.
- Death of the Japanese Navy (Episode 8 of Season 1): Last segment
describes suicide mission of battleship Yamato to Okinawa and her
sinking by bombs and torpedoes dropped from American planes.
The "Kamikaze" episode focuses on attacks made on the escort carrier St.
Lo (CVE-63) on October 25, 1944; the destroyer Laffey (DD-724) on
April 16, 1945; and the destroyer Mannert L. Abele (DD-733) on April 12,
1945. Veterans from each of the three ships provide eyewitness
accounts of the kamikaze attacks. The episode provides some background
information regarding Japan's kamikaze operations, but the documentary mainly
concentrates on the individual attacks.
The documentary asserts that Yukio Seki, commander of the first kamikaze
squadron of five Zero fighters that carried 250-kg bombs, hit and sank the escort carrier St. Lo, which lost 114 men out
of a crew of over 850. However, controversy exists based on available
evidence as to whether or not Seki was the pilot in his squadron who hit St. Lo.
The attack of 22 Japanese kamikaze planes and conventional bombers on the
destroyer Laffey is very complex to portray due to the number of planes that
attacked from different angles over a period of 80 minutes. The computerized
graphics presented by Dogfights assists to understand what Laffey's
gunners, and later in the battle the CAP (Combat Air Patrol) fighter pilots, faced during the
attack. Some hits by planes and bombs get shown more than once at different
angles. In the end Laffey got struck by six kamikaze aircraft and four
bombs  and still remained afloat, but 32 men out
of a crew of 355 lost their lives.
The final kamikaze segment shows the attack by a deadly
rocket-powered ōka, described as a "flying torpedo," that hit the
destroyer Mannert L. Abele, which sank in three minutes. The ship had been hit
right before by a Zero fighter, and 79 men in total lost their
lives due to the two kamikaze hits. The segment's last part shows an
ōka attack on the same day that hit the destroyer Stanly
(DD-478). The missile's armor-piercing nose section went right though the armor
plates on both sides of ship, so it caused little damage and wounded only three men. A second ōka
barely missed Stanly as it flew over. Hideo Suzuki, a former ōka pilot,
describes the insidious weapon and the training to fly the rocket-powered
The fascinating 11-minute segment on how a kaiten human torpedo sank the
fleet oiler USS Mississinewa (AO-59) on November 20, 1944, has nothing to
do with dogfights. Harumi Kawasaki, former kaiten pilot; Michael Mair, author of
Secret Manned Suicide Submarine and the First American Ship It Sank in WWII;
and Herb Daitch, Mississinewa veteran who survived the sinking,
provide incisive comments regarding the kaiten program and the attack by kaiten
co-inventor Sekio Nishina that sank the huge oiler and killed 63 crewmen.
The segment on the sinking of the battleship Yamato features Francis
Ferry, an SB2C Helldiver carrier-based dive bomber aircraft pilot from the
carrier Bennington (CV-20) who hit the giant ship with a bomb. Over 300
American carrier-based aircraft participated in the attack, and just 10 planes
and 12 men were lost. Only 270 Yamato crewmen out of nearly 3,000 survived the sinking.
Although Dogfights generally presents accurate historical facts, this segment
presents an incorrect route for the battleship Yamato, which actually
went from its anchorage at Mitajiri in Yamaguchi Prefecture, through the Bungo
Strait, south along the eastern coast of Kyushu, and then turning west at the
southern tip of Kyushu to approach Okinawa on the western side. The show's map
presents Yamato's route starting far north and east of the actual sortie
point and then going far to the east of the real route and approaching Okinawa
on the eastern side. The narrator states that Yamato was detected south of
Kyushu on April 7, 1945, but in fact Yamato and her nine escorting ships had been detected
the previous evening by two American submarines as the Japanese fleet passed through the Bungo
Strait in northern Kyushu .
1. Some sources provide slightly different numbers
depending on how near hits and glancing blows are counted.
2. Bawal 2010, 152-3.
Bawal, Raymond A., Jr. 2010. Titans of the Rising Sun: The
Rise and Fall of Japan's Yamato Class Battleships. Clinton Township, MI: