This is a quite remarkable assemblage of anecdotes detailing the carnage wrought by Japanese aerial and naval suicide campaigns conducted against Allied forces in the Pacific during World War II. The bulk of the book consists of explicit, blow-by-blow descriptions of a number of these horrifyingly deadly attacks. Sears obviously went to great lengths to obtain official action summaries, diaries, letters, first-hand accounts by survivors, interviews with unsuccessful attackers, and many other sources providing vivid portrayals of the incidents.
Despite the value of Sears' depictions as a record of the atrocities resulting from the kamikaze phenomenon, this book's readability and overall value are diminished by several significant defects. The text contains multitudes of punctuation goofs, mistaken or misleading word choices, and other basic typographical errors that any competent copy editor should catch on the first reading. Sears, obviously an experienced Navy man, throws many acronyms and other jargon into his narratives, often neglecting to define them at first use. A glossary explains many of these terms, but the requirement to consult it so frequently detracts from the flow of reading.
A more serious weakness is the inconsistency of both fact and commentary in Sears' attempts to frame his battle reports with summaries of the major events in the tide of war in the Pacific. The frustrating thing is that he does a marvelous job of introducing many of the pivotal battles and decisions in a way that even the least knowledgeable of readers can understand. But, probably in an effort to remain concise, in some places he omits or skews facts to the extent that those same neophyte readers may come away with misconceptions that might never be corrected. For instance, the Battle of Midway is dismissed in a paragraph without any indication of the crucial role of this engagement in shaping the rest of the Pacific air war. Sears' description of the SBD Dauntless dive bomber not only misspells its designation as SPD, but confuses it with its predecessor, the SB2U-3 Vindicator, mistakenly bestowing the latter's unfortunate nickname of "wind indicator" on the far more airworthy Dauntless. The universally respected Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher receives short shrift throughout the book, coming across to any uninitiated reader as a hesitant, obstructionist figure mainly responsible for losing carriers Lexington (CV-2) and Yorktown (CV-5) and serving more as an obstacle than a competent leader at Guadalcanal. (Sears probably picked up his negative view of Fletcher from Samuel Eliot Morison, who had been offended by the publicity-shy admiral's refusal to cooperate with his naval history research.)
One of the more ironic gaps is Sears' failure to provide any detail in mentioning the gallant sacrifice of the American ships of Taffy 3 during the Battle Off Samar in October 1944. As described by James Hornfischer in his excellent book The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy's Finest Hour, destroyer Johnston and destroyer escort Samuel B. Roberts charged the battleships and heavy cruisers of Admiral Korita's armada at point-blank range with such ferocity that the Japanese fled in disarray, thereby sparing the Leyte landings from probable disruption. In the face of certain destruction, USS Johnston executed not one but two attack runs, the second after the ship had already been riddled with shells and many of the crew were dead. This heroism presents such an obvious parallel to the deliberately suicidal behavior of the kamikazes that its omission is incomprehensible in a book of this level of detail, particularly since Sears himself is a former destroyer officer. On the other side of the conflict, Japan's long-standing traditions of death with honor and respect for suicide receive little attention, and there's no mention of the naval officer generally credited with drawing up the first plan for a Special Attack Corps, Lt. Comm. Jo Eiichiro, whose samurai heritage undoubtedly spawned the concept.
I think the most damaging lapse is the book's denouement without a thorough treatment of the potential for catastrophe inherent in a land invasion of the Japanese home islands. After sprinkling numerous implied comparisons of damage caused by kamikazes in outlying areas with a presumably vastly greater toll to be inflicted during the final battle, Sears ends his account with only a cursory mention of the atomic bombs and a few anecdotes illustrating the joys (and problems) meeting homecoming sailors and airmen after the war. In light of Sears' diligence in research and access to original databases and first-hand sources, it seems likely that he should be able to contribute significantly to the ongoing discussion of hypothetical losses due to suicide attacks that purport to justify the use of the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Appendices listing ships and crew victimized by kamikazes are limited to those personally researched by Sears. Hundreds more were targeted by suicide planes, and their story remains to be documented by a more complete, if perhaps less graphic, chronicle. Although this is an outstanding record of the ghastly effects of many individual suicide attacks, it cannot stand alone as a history and analysis of suicide missions in general, their significance in the overall war picture, or their lasting effects on victims from both sides.
This is an exceptionally well-written historical account of the Japanese suicide campaign that emerged at the end of World War II in the Pacific theater. Sears does a very nice job of weaving togther accurate historical fact with the accounts of individual sailors involved in battling the Kamakazi. The author manages to give you history written with real narrative tension. Sears also includes accounts of a couple of Japanese airmen who survived the Kamakazi campaign. It is a valuable addition to the library of anyone with an interest in World War II combat.
Burke J. Landry
Sears portrays the battles with the kamikazes superbly and so graphically as to be nearly palpable. The memories of my experiences as a gun-tub member on the aircraft carrier,Intrepid, CV11 prior to and during the battle for Okinawa brought back a flood of memories as I relived them in my mind. The accounts of the men on the smaller boats, the DD's, the DE's and the landing crafts and the ships that were more heavily damaged, e.g., the Franklin, mostly attest to the heroism of ordinary people placed in traumatic situations beyond their control. The discussions involving the Japanese sailors and airmen also state that heroism was not one sided. This book is a must read for anyone who experienced such trauma. I believe that reading this book might possibly serve as a catharsis for some who still might not be able to discuss their war-time experiences. Just to know that there were some who experienced similar or even worse catastrophies than they might relieve some internal stress which prevents them from opening up about them.
Charles L. Packer
If you're a lubber, then this book probably deserves the number of superlative reviews and is probably a good read. Otherwise, save your time. Maybe I'm slow to catch on and this is common knowledge--and referred to by another term--, but this is another "interview" book, a book in which an author devotes a lot of time and effort, though much less than that of a true, scholarly work, researching crew lists and contacting as many surviving crew as he can and interviews them. That antidotal "record" then becomes the body of research which is the basis for his book. Enough said, the reader should know what the implications of said approach are, or not. This is such a book.
I recently mistakenly picked it up again to reread, forgetting. Just a smattering--really what I can recall at this writing--of what the reader will discover in just the first pages is:
He writes that a destroyer sailor went to his "light machine gun". A light MG is a .30, a heavy MG is a .50. What the author is, no doubt, referring to is a 20mm--MG, I guess.
The author apparently doesn't know the difference between a gun turret and a gun mount as he uses the terms inter-changeably in speaking about the same gun mount!
Lastly, "the main CANNON of a destroyer..."
I checked some of the definitions in the book's glossary, which terms the author thought worth defining (or the implied presumption of including "duh" terms, eg, "anchor") and how he defined them.
I found that a nautical mile was approximately 1.5 times that of a statute mile--apparently the author didn't do the math (a statute mile is 1760 yards, a nuatical mile is 2002 yards--that is, a nautical mile is 1.14 that of a statute mile). And the smoking gun of all naval or maritime history writers not well versed in their subject: defining parts of a ship from a lubber's perspective. For example, a "deck" is a horizontal member that runs a significant portion of the length and beam of a ship and separates spaces and compartments vertically. That's what it is, allowing for my on the fly attempt, if one wants to call it a floor, then... But a deck is NOT what sailors and Marines call a floor.
BTW, the dustcover notes that the author was a naval officer (really, the lubberese--excuse my coinage--"United States Navy officer" was used, instead of the correct United States Naval Officer) who served in destroyers and in Vietnam. I suspect that he was a reserve officer, USNR as opposed to USN. There's a world of difference, though I'm not generally impressed with "ring knockers" USNA graduates.
At War With The Wind is a must read for anyone that is a World War II Naval buff. The actions described reflect the true feelings of those that actually faced the latest invention of Japans Imperial Navy..the Kamikaze!
The damage caused by these planes were more devastating than some bombs or naval shells could project.
While material for this book was being collected, David Sears has open a channel of communications that has re-energized the thoughts among many surviving shipmates that were for years silent. Even though many are now in their late 80's or 90's they seem to once again able to discuss those harrowing days when they were young.
I for one recommend this book very highly. I have done much research myself on one of these kamikaze'd ships (USS Haraden DD-585)and find that this adventure into the past is very prized by those that are still with us from those days long ago.
A job well done and a must read!
Gary USS Haraden Webmaster [...]