East China Sea 1945 – Climax of the Kamikaze, Brian Lane Herder

East China Sea 1945 – Climax of the Kamikaze, Brian Lane Herder

Campaign 375

This book focuses on the naval and air aspects of the fighting around Iwo Jima and Okinawa, the last two major battles of the Pacific War. This is a truly massive battle. On the Allied side the Americans assembled one of the most powerful fleets ever seen, on a scale unimaginable earlier in the war. The US Fast Carrier Force contained three task groups each as powerful as the entire US fleet at many of the earlier battles of the war, with seven fleet carriers and six light carriers. In total the Fifth Fleet had 40 aircraft carriers of various types, 20 battleships, 31 cruisers and over 2,000 carrier aircraft! On the Japanese side the surface fleet was gone, but they were able to gather over 3,000 aircraft and 300 MXY-7 suicide rockets, while the Navy still had some operational submarines and Kaiten manned suicide torpedoes.

By 1945 the American fleet was free to range just about anywhere.  While the fighting was going on at Iwo Jima and Okinawa, the fast carriers were able to hit Japan, attacking the Tokyo area on several occasions, while land based aircraft from the Philippines were able to batter Formosa. These raids weren’t without risk – on 19 March the carrier Franklin was very badly damaged, becoming the worst damaged US warship to survive the war (although at the cost of 798 dead and 487 wounded).

Although the Japanese made a much bigger effort at Okinawa than at Iwo Jima, their biggest success came at Iwo Jima, where kamikaze attacks sank the escort carrier Bismarck Sea and badly damaged the Saratoga.

One thing that isn’t often given the emphasis it deserves is that the kamikaze attacks were actually rather more effective than conventional Japanese air attacks. The Japanese still carried out conventional attacks during this period, but they rarely had any success and suffered heavy loses. The kamikaze units also suffered heavy loses, but in return did do significant damage to Allied warships. The Japanese had also learnt from their experiences earlier in the war, and no longer attempted to defend the beaches, so much of the pre-invasion naval bombardment was wasted. However this did also allow the Americans to quickly capture some coastal airfields which they were quickly able to put into use.

The Japanese air campaign against the Okinawa invasion fleet was also much more structured than one might expect. Although there was a constant drip of small scale assaults, the big attacks were organised into a series of waves, or Kikisui, starting with Kikisui No.1 of 6-7 April. An interesting feature of this attack is that only half of the 699 Japanese aircraft involved were kamikazes. Huge numbers of Japanese aircraft were shot down, but one advantage of the kamikaze method is that it only needed one or two to get through to inflict heavy damage. However this first attack also illustrates one of the big problems for the Japanese throughout the war – a tendency to believe the exaggerated reports of success that came from the returning airmen. On 6 April they sank six ships, with the biggest being destroyers, but claimed two carriers, two battleships, three cruisers, eight destroyers and five transports! However this was the high point of the campaign, and later Kikisui were smaller and generally less successful – American countermeasures improved while the strength of the kamikaze units inevitably dwindled. By the end the end Kikisui No.10 only included 45 kamikazes.

The book also covers the suicidal sortie of the suicidal sortie of the Yamato, carried out almost entirely to spare the pride of the Japanese surface fleet, which was otherwise unable to make any contribution to the battle. This was a bizarre operation, in which the Yamato’s group actually travelled far enough to have reached the northern Ryukyu Islands, but spent most of that voyage heading west instead of south in an attempt to ‘confuse’ the Americans. Instead this just meant that the air attacks that sank the Yamato were carried out at a safe distance from the US surface fleet.

This is an excellent account of this massive air and sea battle, giving some idea of its scale and ferocity, which played a significant role in the later decision to drop the atomic bombs on Japan, in an attempt to avoid an even more bitter and costly invasion of the Japanese Home Islands.

Opposing Commanders
Opposing Forces
Opposing Plans
The Campaign
The Warships Today

Author: Brian Lane Herder
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 96
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 2022

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