/ Published October 26, 2018
The Kamikaze Hunters, Fighting for the Pacific: 1945 by Will Iredale. Pegasus Books Ltd., 2016, 456 pp.
A recent viewing of “The Final Countdown” DVD validated Mr. Will Iredale’s premise for writing The Kamikaze Hunters. In the movie, a naval aircraft carrier is mysteriously transported to Hawaiian waters near Pearl Harbor on 6 December 1941. The captain and crew of the USS Nimitz are perplexed until their research reveals the Japanese attack force preparing for attack: they are reliving events that occurred 40 years before their arrival.
In today’s environment of hyperspeed communication, history oftentimes remains an overlooked resource. Making time to read becomes a challenge for many who seek enlightenment from the past to satisfy their curiosity or deliberate personal and professional growth. After reading the prologue of Mr. Iredale’s The Kamikaze Hunters, I knew I would recommend this book as a multipurpose make-time-to-read adventure.
Emulating many characters mentioned in his book, Mr. Iredale took advantage of an opportunity when hearing British naval carrier pilot Keith Quilter’s story about fighting in World War II, in the Pacific (that is, designated as a US forces area-of-responsibility), and shoot-down and escape. How is it possible he only heard of Great Britain’s involvement in battling German forces? Granted, English citizens experienced several years of imposed blackouts, air raids, and high casualty rates in the cities, thereby making the defeat of Germany a priority. However, like Mr. Quilter, the stories needed to be told.
During the time of an extensive communication time-delay, the focus on relief for their nation, and other politically motivated reasons, “[m]any people in Britain in 1945 didn’t even realize the British were fighting in the backyard of Japan. How can we expect later generations to remember” (p. 11)? Mr. Iredale’s tenacious exploration of historical references and interviews with GI-generation military who experienced the events resulted in a well-developed, fluid story that could benefit all generations.
His expansive situational, rich character, and vibrant landscape descriptions are impressive. This literary approach reminds the reader of the need for critical thinking and evaluation of perspectives—especially of others—to explore a complete sight picture from which to make a best-informed decision. Mr. Iredale examines Japan’s political focus; military strategic, operational, and tactical successes and flaws; and adapting to the changing battlefield in 1944, which led to a combat technique that was unfamiliar to the Allies. “The concept was called shimpu, meaning ‘divine wind’, but it soon became better known by a name which would haunt thousands of American and British servicemen—kamikaze” (p. 224–25).
Aircraft, training, and other military aspects of American forces are also described in detail. Important for today’s Airmen and sister service personnel are technological advances made in response to combat and support requirements. Similarly, an awareness of political motivation from civilian and military leaders and how the military’s justification and determination can positively influence policy and action for goals greater than individual nations. For example, to increase the number of British naval fighter pilots and Pacific support, an agreement was reached for them to complete training on American soil and use US Corsairs launching from Royal Navy vessels. Keeping in mind the different communications and limited oversea travel options in the 1940s (even without war) when interacting with British naval pilots, it is not surprising to read how many Americans “realized these young men were not so different from [our] own” (p. 77–78).
At times, readers can become so absorbed in the story that they forget the focus of this well-developed story follows several men who were inspired to join the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm. Some men joined based on familial relations serving in the military while others were inspired by attending air shows, celebrity endorsements, print media, and flying club participation. Although sometimes treated or referred to in a condescending manner by active-duty British military personnel, these men took their hostilities-only volunteer status seriously and helped turn the tide of World War II.
An objective author, Mr. Iredale highlights the bureaucratic turmoil among Winston Churchill and his leaders, the resistance for the Royal Navy’s Foreign Air Arm (FAA) to receive training and top-notch equipment, flaws in the FAA selection process, and territoriality expressed by the Royal Air Force. Despite the difficulties and occasional roadblocks, FAA pilots and the Royal Navy earned the respect of their Allies and the Japanese forces because “[n]o one could deny that the airmen of the British Pacific Fleet had risen to the task. . . The Royal Navy’s airmen had pulled their weight with the American task groups” (p. 331–32).
Filled with stories of beauty to the brutality of war, Mr. Iredale’s foreshadowing and storytelling intrigue the reader with several questions:
1. Whatever happened to Wally Stradwick? Tommy Gunn? Don Cameron? Prince Philip?
2. Which country’s ship decks were best constructed to withstand kamikaze attacks?
3. Why did it take so long to change FAA selection criteria?
Any reader interested in a perfect blend of military history, 360-degree perspective, resilience, and story that transports you to relive the past should read Mr. Iredale’s book. All Airmen would benefit from the wealth of historic examples of service before self, integrity, and excellence in all we do from Allied forces. Also important are adapting technology to increase battlefield advantage as well as the power of the human spirit to individually and collectively overcome adversity. Airmen from all generations should take advantage of the myriad of stories Mr. Iredale provides to learn from The Kamikaze Hunters and facilitate success.
Lt Col Katherine Strus, PhD, USAF, Retired
"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."