Book Review: Kamikaze Attacks of World War II: A Complete History of Japanese Suicide Strikes on American Ships, by Aircraft and Other Means


by Robin L. Rielly

Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2010. 384. . $55.00. ISBN: 0786446544

Although a careful study of the history and culture of Japan ought to have alerted Westerners to the possibility, the introduction of suicide tactics, usually known as kamikaze, by the Japanese armed forces came as quite a surprise, and Kamikaze Attacks of World War II offers an often gripping account of what was ultimately a battle between men who wanted to live and those who wanted to die. 

Naval historian Reilly, author of Kamikazes, Corsairs, and Picket Ships: Okinawa, 1945 and Mighty Midgets at War: The Saga of the LCS (L) Ships from Iwo Jima to Vietnam, among other works, gives us much more than a catalog of American ships hit by suicide aircraft, as he includes attacks by suicide boats, divers, and other methods during the Pacific War.  He opens with an overview of the cultural roots of the kamikaze tactic, takes a look at the rituals used to foster the kamikaze spirit, and then plunges into a detailed narrative of kamikaze operations, using both American and Japanese sources.  By judicious use of many illustrations and diagrams, Rielly helps clarify what were certainly horrifying moments of very high speed combat for both attackers and defenders.  A final chapter on preparations for the use of suicide weapons in defense of the Home Islands is particularly sobering given his statistical analysis of the effectiveness of suicide operations. 

Despite the lack of coverage of suicide attacks on Allied vessels, Kamikaze Attacks of World War II is a valuable book for all students of the Pacific War.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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