- Hardcover: 364 pages
- Publisher: Naval Institute Press; First Edition (UK) edition (30 April 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1557504326
- ISBN-13: 978-1557504326
- Product Dimensions: 17.8 x 3.8 x 26.7 cm
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 6,023,801 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Sunburst: The Rise of Japanese Naval Air Power, 1909-1941 Hardcover – 30 Apr 2002
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Serving as a sequel to "Kaigun", the prizewinning study of the surface and subsurface forces of the imperial Japanese Navy, this new work illuminates the rise of Japanese naval aviation from its genesis in 1909 to its thunderbolt capability on the eve of the pacific War. In the process of explaining the essential strengths and weaknesses of Japanese naval air power in the years before and during the Pacific War, this book provides the most detailed account available in English of Japan's naval air campaign over China from 1937 to 1941. A final chapter analyzes the utter destruction of Japanese naval air power by 1944.
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But until the publication of Mark Peattie's "Sunburst," there has been no non-technical history in English of how the Imperial Japanese Navy created the air force that attacked Oahu.
Although Japan had to play catchup to the west in everything from law to manufacturing, aviation was the one aspect of the 20th century where the Japanese started even with the outside world.
The Japanese navy was the first to use airplanes in combat (against the Germans in China in 1914), and Lt. Chikuhei Nakajima wrote a visionary, if wrongheaded, manifesto on air power years before the better known (and equally wrongheaded) Billy Mitchell in the United States or Giulio Douhet in Italy.
In the 1930s, the Japanese navy was the first air force to use fighter planes to escort bombers on long-range missions (again in China).
And from December 1941 to March 1942, the world marveled at the apparently unstoppable power of the Japanese aviators at they dominated their enemies from Hawaii to Ceylon.
While giving full credit to the Japanese for what they did, again and again Peattie points to "fatal" weaknesses in their technology, personnel policies, resources, tactics and doctrine. Especially doctrine.
Peattie, who wrote an earlier study of Japanese naval strategy, too briefly contrasts the Japanese navy's "hit-and-run" doctrine with the round-the-clock operations mounted by the U.S. Navy against Japan, once it caught its breath.
Peattie also fails to mention that the Japanese navy, for all its success in sneak attacks and against second-line targets, never won a carrier battle.
By contrast, the much-despised (by the Japanese aviators and apparently also by Peattie) "gun club" of the Japanese surface navy won battle after battle against the Americans, even when outnumbered.
The overall incompetence of the Japanese war machine has been documented elsewhere. The Japanese made hardly any effort to protect their seaborne commerce, failed to set strategic goals, fought among themselves as vigorously as against their enemies and overextended in every direction.
In naval aviation, Peattie shows, the situation was as bad as in any other department.
The symbol of the apparent strength and real weakness of the Japanese war machine is the Zero fighter, and Peattie devotes much attention to it.
In myth, the Zero was a technically advanced weapon far beyond the capacity of the United States to match. In fact, the Zero was a bad compromise, obsolete on the drawing board. A pilot-killer, it was a war-losing weapon.
Peattie gives a good description of the doctrinal battles that led to the creation of a fast, light, maneuverable, underarmed and poorly protected interceptor.
The Zero would have been a liability in any navy but in one that deliberately chose to have a small corps of superbly trained pilots, rather than a lot of reasonably skilled ones, the tradeoffs were disastrous.
The fact that few Zero pilots survived the war has, for some reason, failed to tarnish the plane's reputation.
And the impact on public opinion of the brief but gaudy success period of the Japanese naval air arm has not lessened after 60 years. Peattie's balanced and authoritative "Sunburst" fills a gap in the historiography of the modern Pacific and corrects widespread misconceptions, while adding a few of its own.