Customer Review

3.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting, but seriously biased; it also contains a lot of strong but very questionnable opinions, 25 Oct 2012
This review is from: Japanese Destroyer Captain: Pearl Harbor, Guadalcanal, MidwayThe Great Naval Battles as Seen Through Japanese Eyes (Paperback)
This book offers certainly an interesting insight into the mind of a high ranking officer of Japanese Imperial Navy during World War II and also contains interesting reflections on various naval battles and Japanese admirals who fought them, beginning with the most important of them, Isoroku Yamamoto. It can however be only partly considered as a source of historical knowledge, as it contains also some factual errors and a lot of very subjective judgements, some of them pretty odd.

PRECISIONS

Before going into the heart of the review, it is important to precise that the subtitle of this book is very misguiding as captain Hara was nowhere near the attack of Pearl Harbor. As far as Midway is concerned, although he took part in the campaign, his destroyer ("Amatsukaze") was affected to escort of invasion fleet which DID NOT participate in the carrier's battle itself and hardly did see any action at all. He also didn't participate in most of Japanese victories, like Coral Sea, Savo, Tassafaronga or Kolombangara and he was not present at two decisive fights of Pacific War, the battles of Philippine Sea and Leyte.

However, as captain of destroyer "Amatsukaze", then the commander of 27th Destroyer Squadron on board of destroyer "Shigure" and finally as skipper of ultra-modern light cruiser "Yahagi", captain Hara saw indeed with his own eyes the following thirteen battles:

a) on "Amatsukaze"

- air raid against American naval base at Davao on Mindanao (Philippines), 8 December 1941, escorting aircraft carrier "Ryujo"; a complete fiasco, as no American ships were found
- invasion of Davao, 20 December 1941, an easy Japanese victory, as the base was already almost completely evacuated
- the invasion of Ambon Island, 30 January-3 February 1942, a Japanese victory
- the first battle of Java Sea, 27-28 February 1942, a great Japanese victory
- the invasion of Christmas Island, 31 March 1942, an easy Japanese victory as British garrison surrendered without resistance
- the battle of Eastern Solomons, 24-25 August 1942, a Japanese defeat
- the battle of Santa Cruz, 26 October 1942, a dearly paid Japanese victory
- the first night battle of Guadalcanal, 13 November 1942, a Japanese tactical victory but paradoxally also a very serious strategic defeat

As commander of "Amatuskaze" he also grievously damaged American submarine USS "Perch" on 1 March 1942 - unable to dive she was easily finished two days later by other Japanese ships.

b) on "Shigure"

- the battle of Vella Gulf, 6-7 August 1943, a Japanese defeat
- the battle of Horaniu, 17 August 1943, a draw
- the battle of Vella Lavella, 6 October 1943, the last Japanese naval victory of the war
- the battle of Empress Augusta Bay, 1-2 November 1943, a heavy Japanese defeat

Also, as commander of 27th Destroyer Squadron on "Shigure", he was present at a skirmish between a Japanese convoy and American torpedo boats near Kolombangara on 2 August 1943, when destroyer "Amagiri" rammed and sunk the "PT-109", commanded by a young lieutenant named John Fitzgerald Kennedy...

c) on "Yahagi"

- operation Ten-Go, 7 April 1945, a crushing Japanese defeat

STRONG POINTS

I particularly liked the description of Hara's background and his career in the years before 1941. A great number of Japanese officers came from modest families and military service gave them an oportunity to rise in the society hierarchy - in return they were fiercely loyal to the military institution and willing to fully comply with its rites and customs. The description of daily life in Japanese Navy in the 20s and 30s is also very instructive - it especially allows us to see the contempt and unbelievable brutality with which the simple sailors were treated by officers and NCOs.

Another strong point of this book, written in 1958 and published in 1961, is that it was the first largely available publication to criticize admiral Yamamoto. Even for the most anti-militaristic of the post-war Japanese Yamamoto was a heroic figure, a military genius opposed to war against USA, but who waged it nevertheless brilliantly when ordered to do so - and whose untimely death in 1943 was a factor in Japan's defeat. Americans on their side also lionized him in books and films, presenting him as a genius. Captain Hara was probably the first man to openly and very loudly point at the numerous disastrous errors made by Yamamoto of which the greatest and the most tragic was the incredibly stupid battle plan he adopted for Midway operation, a plan which made Japanese defeat in this campaign very probable, before even the first shots were fired. Yamamoto's tendency to engage Americans with only a part of his available forces caused further disasters later during Guadalcanal campaign. This frank and critical evaluation made sensation in 1961, but is seen today as a very appropriate by most military historians.

The description of Hara's war time duties is a very useful lecture for anybody interested in Pacific War. His description - and criticism - of daily management of Pacific War by Japanese top commanders is particularly precious. It can be however sometimes a difficult reading, as captain Hara was definitely a better fighting soldier than a writing one...

WEAKER POINTS

Author's description of the fights can be sometimes pretty confusing and one needs to know the battles well before reading this book, because otherwise Hara's descriptions are impossible to understand. As to the battles in which he didn't participate, especially Midway and Tassafaronga, it is better to skip them entirely and read more about them in other books.

Some of the information provided by captain Hara seems pretty surprising and I would really like to find some confirmation from other sources. Hara affirms that Japanese Navy began the war with low stocks of munitions and the captains were asked to economise shells and torpedoes as much as possible - but in the first real naval battle he describes, the battle of Java Sea, Japanese destroyers launched two enormous salvoes of a grand total of 124 torpedoes as soon as they had the enemy in range... In another place he claims that Prime Minister Tojo, who was an Army man, was so uninterested in Navy actions during war that his assistant for naval affairs didn't have anything to do - for an important leader of a nation in the middle of a deadly war this is something I found hard to believe.

Captain Hara also blames heavily and easily a lot of Japanese admirals - Nagano, Yamamoto, Nishimura, Kakuta, Kondo, Ijuin, Koga, Ozawa, Omori, Toyoda, Kurita, Kimura, they all take heavy flak in his account. If some of his criticism is very justified (especially in case of Yamamoto and Kurita), for some others I believe he was very unfair - especially for admirals Kondo, Ijuin and Ozawa. I was also very surprised that he avoided so carefully to criticize some of the admirals who made really ENORMOUS blunders, especially Nagumo, Abe and in some extent also Mikawa.

A particularly INFURIATING thing is the lack of concern author shows to the sufferings of victims of Japanese imperialism. When reading this book one could almost believe that Japanese invasion of China was actually caused by the Chinese themselves. The "rape of Nanking" is for him "a seriously exaggerated thing" to which he devoids half a sentence. As far as the tens of thousands of Korean and Chinese woman reduced to slavery and forced to "service" Japanese soldiers in brothels, sometimes for years and years, when being held prisoners and fed the scraps, he just offers this comment - "those women always immediately followed Japanese Army and Navy". I must confess that this haughty and arrogant indifference enraged me greatly.

Also, already after the first 50 pages of the book, I started to be really, REALLY annoyed by author using all the time expression "How could he be so stupid!?"...

The book, although in principle fact checked by an American naval officer Roger Pineau, contains also quite a lot of factual errors. Here are those which I consider as pretty serious:

- on page 49 - Hara calls HMS "Repulse" a cruiser - in fact she was a battle-cruiser, which means a ship with size and firepower of battleship, but the reduced armor and high speed of a heavy cruiser; battle-cruisers were a sub-class of battleships
- pictures after page 84 - under the third picture it is written that "Amatsukaze" inflicted heavy damage on cruiser USS "San Francisco" - this is a mistake, no such thing took place; under the fifth picture "Kirishima" is called a "cruiser-battleship" - such a thing never existed - in reality "Kirishima" was a battle-cruiser (see above)
- on page 105 (footnote) - the heavy fleet-carrier USS "Enterprise" is described there as an "escort carrier" (which would mean a transport ship converted into an auxilliary aircraft carrier!); frankly, calling the archifamous "Big E" an "escort carrier" is more than an error - it is almost a sin!
- on page 107 - Hara affirms that at Coral Sea both "Shokaku" and "Zuikaku" carriers were seriously damaged - in fact Zuikaku didn't suffer any damage, but lost most of her planes
- on page 124 - by presenting the results of battle of Santa Cruz author affirms that Americans lost only the carrier USS "Hornet" - in fact Americans also lost one destroyer, USS "Porter"
- on page 126 - Hara claims that during the first night battle of Guadalcanal he torpedoed and sunk American cruiser USS "Juneau" - in fact she was only damaged during this battle - USS "Juneau" was sunk by Japanese submarine "I-26" the next day, when heading towards American base on Espiritu Santo for repairs
- on page 141 - Hara affirms that cruiser USS "Helena" was torpedoed and sunk during the first night battle of Guadalcanal; in fact she escaped from this battle with only superficial damage from shrapnel and was certainly NOT torpedoed; this cruiser was torpedoed and sunk much later, in 1943, during the battle of Kula Gulf
- on page 145 - Hara claims that during the first night battle of Guadalcanal nine American warships were sunk - in fact Americans lost only six (2 light cruisers and 4 destroyers)
- on page 172 - Hara claims that destroyers "Mikazuki" and "Ariake" both grounded near Cape Gloucester on 27 July 1943 and unable to move were later destroyed later by American planes - in fact "Ariake", although slightly damaged, easily freed herself, accomplished her transport mission and was sunk by American planes when she returned to try to tow the damaged "Mikazuki" to safety

CONCLUSION

This very famous book is certainly a must for anybody who is interested in Pacific War. It must be however treated with precaution as source of knowledge - also, it is a good idea to first read a general history of Pacific War before attacking this book, as it contains errors and some extremely subjective judgements.
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