A Main Selection of the Military Book Club and a Featured Alternate of the History Book Club
In the last days of World War II, a new and baffling weapon terrorized the United States Navy in the Pacific. To the American sailors, the self-sacrificing warriors of Japan were known as “suiciders,” but among the Japanese, they were named for the “divine wind” that once saved the home islands from invasion: kamikaze.
This is the harrowing story of a war within a war—a relentless series of furious and violent engagements pitting men determined to die against men determined to live. Its echoes resonate hauntingly at a time of global conflict, when suicide as a viable weapon remains a perplexing and terrifying reality.
Told from the perspective of the men who endured this horrifying tactic, At War with the Wind is the first book to recount in nail-biting detail what it was like to experience an attack by Japanese kamikazes. David Sears, acclaimed author of The Last Epic Naval Battle, draws on personal interviews and unprecedented research to create a stunningly vivid narrative of war.
In “the finest account of the American reaction to the furious suicide raids that attempted to turn the course of the War in the Pacific,” these unforgettable stories reveal one of the most horrifying and misunderstood chapters of World War II (Donald L. Miller).
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The Alligator and the Bull
When things get tough, they send for the sons of bitches.
— Chief OF Naval Operations Ernest J. King
Easter Fools' Day
On Easter Sunday morning, 1 April 1945, the American invasion of Okinawa — the inevitable climax to the U.S. Central Pacific campaign against the Imperial Japanese Empire — was poised to begin.
The choice of day must have unsettled many devout Christians among the hundreds of thousands of sailors, Marines, and GIs aboard the 1,300 ships assembled in Hagushi Roadstead. This would undoubtedly be a day for death not resurrection. However, to battle-hardened cynics — an interfaith group well represented among those same men — the coincidence of Easter, April Fools' Day, and an island assault made exquisite sense.
To the planners of this amphibious invasion — code name Operation Iceberg — 1 April had stopped being Easter, April Fools' Day, or even Sunday. Instead, it was L (for Love)-Day, a date certain toward which their efforts, expectations, and fears had been pointing since preparations first began in October 1944.
Everything about L-Day's scheduling, approach, arrival, and outcome was part of a complex web of circumstances, contingencies, and events — some natural, some man-made, some minute, some massive, some within its planners' reckoning, and others well beyond reckoning.
This web included a number of details:
The weather, a loose term encompassing winds, storms, sea currents, phases of the moon, tides, and all the other uncontrollable, often unpredictable, and occasionally gargantuan works of God and nature in the Central Pacific
The progress — or bitter delay — of simultaneous battle campaigns being pressed elsewhere in the Pacific or amid Europe's charred remains
The accuracy (always suspect) of intelligence estimates and reconnaissance photos detailing the strength and disposition of Japanese defenders
The availability of ships needed to transport and service Iceberg logistics
The availability of other ships to chase submarines, clear coastal minefields, launch forays by underwater demolition teams (UDTs) (see glossary for acronyms), add firepower to preinvasion bombardment, and do other chores either to project or to protect Iceberg
The availability and capabilities of bomber and fighter aircraft to dominate the skies over Okinawa and the one hundred or more Japanese-held airfields within striking distance
The inventories of fuel, ammunition, medicine, and food supplies essential to sustain Iceberg
The compilation and controlled distribution of plan documents bulging with command chains, charts, timetables, routing orders, codes, call signs, ship and unit designations, communications circuits, and other details to govern Iceberg
The readiness (above all) of the six troop divisions (the Marines' 1st and 2nd; the Army's 7th, 27th, 77th and 96th) whose skill, blood, and sacrifice would doubtless be required in full measure to take and hold Iceberg's objectives.
That all of Iceberg's moving pieces, interdependencies, and numbing details could be mastered by one mind seemed improbable. That they could be devised, organized, written, mobilized, and moved to completion largely through the sheer force of that same mind seemed inconceivable. But there actually was such a mind, and on the morning of L-Day, its proprietor, Vice Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner of the U.S. Navy, paced the deck of his flagship USS Eldorado (AGC-11).
Eldorado was an amphibious assault command ship, a special class of vessel designed to be the control and communication hub for invasion task forces such as this. Eldorado had begun life as a Maritime Commission ship. Even after her conversion for U.S. Navy use, Eldorado 's exterior still retained the boxy look of a merchant vessel, except that her rigging bristled conspicuously with a forest of antennas.
Inside, Eldorado was crowded with military brass and buzzing with nonstop activity. Her interior spaces housed the staffs for both the amphibious forces commander — Richmond Kelly Turner — and for Iceberg's landing force commander, an Army general with a colorful lineage and an equally colorful name: Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr. Eldorado's advanced radar and communication capabilities and well-equipped Combat Information Center (CIC) also made Eldorado the nerve center in Iceberg's air defense arrangements.
Finally, Eldorado was equipped with extensive radio broadcast facilities and served as headquarters for a bustling contingent of war correspondents. Some, like 35-year-old Time reporter Robert Sherrod, were old hands in the Pacific, having witnessed the war there since its earliest and most dismal days. Others were newly transplanted from Europe to the Pacific where, finally, the American newspaper and radio public seemed to be shifting its attention. One of these newer arrivals was New Yorker writer John Lardner (son of the famed sports journalist and short story writer Ring Lardner). Another was no less than Ernie Pyle, the roving Scripps Howard correspondent whose coverage of GIs in Europe had earned him the 1944 Pulitzer Prize and endeared him to enlisted servicemen everywhere.
Pyle, 45, was such a legend that he'd become part of the story for fellow correspondents, photographers, broadcasters, and even historians. "A frail little man, a gentle soul who hated war" was the impression of Samuel Eliot Morison, the Harvard historian on hand to chronicle America's ocean wars. Pyle was there, Morison observed, "owing to his sense of duty to tell the American people about the war with Japan and the way the ordinary soldier and sailor felt."
Iceberg was to be the penultimate act in the drama of war with Japan — the final act, already in the early stages of planning, would be the invasion of Japan's home islands. The drama that had been unfolding ever since America took the offensive in the Pacific two-and-a-half years before. Considered in such terms, Turner was a combination producer, author, director, and stage manager. And the stage before him on this cool, humid, slightly overcast morning was just now emerging behind layered curtains of mist and smoke.
In its entirety, Okinawa is a large, elongated island, stretching some sixty miles north to south. Morison, who, after covering so many Pacific island invasions, had nearly run out of inventive ways to describe these island targets, likened Okinawa's shape to "a comic-strip dog with an elongated neck and an overgrown jowl."
Except for a pinched waist (to Morison, the "dog's neck") with flat terrain just two miles wide (either side bounded by a deepwater bay — on the west open to the East China Sea, on the east to the Pacific Ocean), a spine of steep, rugged limestone hills dominated Okinawa's terrain. Not all the island was bleak. In the south, the island sloped up gently from the beach. Umbrella-topped pine trees, plots of terraced farmland, and small stands of forest softened the austerity of the hills; and squares of rice paddies and sugarcane fields checkered its coastal plains. But days of preinvasion shore bombardment and air strikes had chewed up or flattened much of the scenery once visible through the binoculars and gun sights of the invasion fleet.
The limestone hills were themselves the summits of a summit. Okinawa is actually a sunken volcano peak, one in a chain of 140 or so other sunken peaks, whose collective formal Japanese name is the Nansei Shoto, or Southwestern Islands. The chain's more familiar name is the Ryukyus; roughly translated it means "bubbles on the water." The equivalent Chinese pronunciation of Ryukyu is Loochoo, the inspiration for what eventually became known to American veterans of the struggle for Okinawa as the "Great Loochoo."
The island, like most other Central Pacific islands, is entirely girdled by sharp coral reefs, 250- to 500-yard-wide barriers barely concealed by water at high tide, obstacles for landing craft trying to cross them, perils for any deep-bottom vessels that dared come close to shore. The Okinawa tides produced treacherous swells that surged at the reef line and broke onto its small, narrow beaches. Those beaches offered few good exits for the crowds of invasion troops whose lives and fortunes would soon depend on getting off the beaches quickly.
While beach exits were a concern, three other features of Okinawa, each related, crowded Turner's apprehensions. First was its sheer size — five hundred square miles. Although Southwest Pacific commanders — notably General Douglas MacArthur — now had experience in campaigns to capture and occupy large islands such as New Guinea and Leyte and Luzon in the Philippines, Turner was more practiced in planning and taking tiny, flat coral atolls. More land to conquer required more time to conquer, and more time to conquer in turn meant that large and vulnerable parts of the U.S. invasion armada would have to stay near Okinawa to support the troops ashore.
A second and more unsettling aspect was the Great Loochoo's proximity, not only to Japan, but as well to Formosa (present-day Taiwan) and Eastern China, two parts of Japan's shrinking empire still firmly in its grip. Okinawa lay roughly equidistant from Japan to its north, China to its west, and Formosa to its southwest. The short distance — an average of 330 miles — put the invasion fleet and its troops within easy striking distance by land-based Japanese aircraft. In contrast was the long distance the Americans had come. San Francisco was 6,200 miles due east. Of more immediate consequence, Okinawa lay fully 1,200 miles from Saipan or Ulithi, the Allies' nearest secure supply centers. Turner's forces, in other words, were operating within Japan's aerial sights while simultaneously crawling far out on the narrowing limbs of communications and logistics so vital to Iceberg's success.
The third concern, Okinawa's civilian population, went with size and proximity. The Ryukyus' total civilian census was just over 800,000, more than half of them inhabiting Okinawa. The island's civilians were both dispersed and concentrated. People living in the rugged and remote north, mainly subsistence farmers, peasants, and fishermen, were widely scattered; in the south, however, density was 2,700 people per square mile, three times the wartime population density of the U.S. state of Rhode Island.
Invading armies almost never respect the fragile lives, modest possessions, and meager hopes of civilian populations who happen to be in their way. By effort, luck, or both, most civilians may be spared their lives and their worldly possessions; but their commerce, families, and communities, along with any tranquility they may once have enjoyed, are invariably disrupted and very often destroyed.
In the worst of worlds, civilians become targets of intention — and this often seemed so when the Japanese or their Axis partner, the Germans, were the invaders. But even when the invaders were welcomed as liberators — as were the Americans returning to the Philippines — big civilian populations usually impeded the invaders' work. They wandered into firefights; or, as refugees, they clogged lines of advance; or, if they feared traveling during the day and chose to travel instead at night, they could be mistaken — and frequently were — for enemy infiltrators by rattled, trigger-happy sentries.
All these problems, Turner realized, were likely to befall the Okinawans. But there was one more. Although Japan treated this slice of its empire with condescension bordering on disdain, Okinawans were nonetheless Japanese citizens. Who knew for certain how they would react to the American presence? Would they be armed? Would they obstruct or resist? And in the worst case, would their men, and perhaps even their women and children, become a mobilized, fanatical auxiliary to the seventy thousand or so Japanese troops estimated to be dug in on Okinawa?
Turner was not particularly gracious or patient to those around him. He was more apt to pace, scowl, and bark orders than stand above the fray. For some early morning calls to Generals Quarter (GQ: ship's battle stations) — though never on invasion day itself — he was apt to show up hatless, decked out in an old bathrobe and slippers.
He lacked the flair or physical presence to be sized up as a leader for the ages — indeed Turner was widely rumored to operate in a drunken haze by late morning. Yet he embodied, in his own distinctive way, the faults and graces and the failures and triumphs of America's come-from-behind struggle with the Imperial Japanese Empire for victory in the Pacific War.
Turner, the son of a Portland, Oregon, union printer, was a bookish 1908 U.S. Naval Academy graduate with flair — if it could be called that — for order, organization, and mastery of voluminous details. On L-Day, thirty-seven years following his "Trade School" graduation and just two months shy of his 60th birthday, Turner had aged into a grousing (perhaps hungover) eminence with a close-cropped balding head, jug ears anchoring steel-rimmed glasses, and a perpetually furrowed expression. Turner's demeanor and expression were perhaps the gatekeepers of his singular abilities: Turner happened to know more about amphibious warfare and to be more successful in waging it than any man before him or since.
Iceberg was Turner's seventh major amphibious invasion in the Pacific. Japanese opponents, who had seen his operational genius poke through barrier after barrier in their ring of island defenses (and had seen the distinctive patch his amphibious sailors wore), begrudgingly called Turner "the Alligator," and put him front and center in their pantheon of loathing. A few days after the Marine landings on Iwo Jima two months before, a Japanese radio broadcast honored Turner with a particularly damning endorsement: "This man Turner shall not return home alive; he mustn't and won't; this is one of the many things we can do to rest at ease the many souls of those who have paid the supreme sacrifice."
Before an Iceberg preinvasion briefing began, several admirals but-tonedholed Time reporter Sherrod to give him the measure of Turner: "One of the admirals said, 'They can replace me, and they can replace you,' and, turning to a third officer, 'somebody could fill your shoes, but there's nobody else who can do Kelly Turner's job.' "
Turner's "job" since the summer of 1942 was to plan, prepare, and execute ever more mammoth, complex, and logistics-defying seaborne invasions: hundreds of thousands of Marines, GIs, and sailors riding hundreds of ships embarked hundreds and sometimes thousands of ocean miles from forward staging areas (vast, yet portable floating bases, seemingly built overnight, only to be as quickly dismantled and moved forward) to the shores of Japanese island strongholds. In the last 16 months — since he'd first been assigned to the Central Pacific — Turner's foul-tempered genius had propelled American forces across 3,500 miles of Japanese-defended ocean and islands.
Amphibious warfare was an interest Turner took up when he was past 50 and commanding little more than a classroom at the Naval War College. It was also a departure from what thus far had been a ticket-punching career, blending assignments on battleships, cruisers, and destroyers and even training in aviation — the obligatory experiences needed for advancement to flag rank.
Amphibious warfare was not then a field promising new career vistas for a middle-aged naval officer. U.S. battle traditions included few examples of landing troops in the face of enemy fire and none since the Civil War. The abysmal failure of British landings at Gallipoli during World War I had discouraged all major powers — except Japan — from concentrating on amphibious warfare. Battles would be won on land or at sea, but not on beachheads.
Turner brought prodigious powers of assimilation to his new area of interest. He seemed to know everything in detail and was ready to lecture anybody; he coupled this encyclopedic knowledge with visionary strategic thinking, tenacity, and nonstop energy. Turner was often criticized for his failure to delegate authority to subordinates. It was a failure that only deepened as he climbed in rank and his staff expanded. For Turner it was like asking a dog to delegate a bone.
Another of Turner's shortcomings, unfortunately, was a seemingly boundless appetite for interservice conflict. If his age and his fascination with amphibious warfare seemed to limit Turner's horizons, the feeding of this appetite for conflict nearly cost Turner his career.
When war began, Turner was a rear admiral directing the Navy's War Plans Division in Washington, DC. Before Turner's arrival, War Plans was a backwater and he came in like a typhoon, rousing its once indolent staff and driving them to exhaustion. His method was flood them with "to do" items — dozens of items daily — scribbled down and torn from a green memo pad that was always with him. He got into everything, was always looking for more to do, and demanded everything be done his way.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "At War With The Wind"
Copyright © 2008 David Sears.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ALSO BY DAVID SEARS,
Portents: Cole and Lindsey,
Part One - THE WAR OF BEACHHEADS,
Chapter 1 - The Alligator and the Bull,
Chapter 2 - Dark Waters,
Chapter 3 - Green Hells,
Chapter 4 - Forager, June and July 1944,
Chapter 5 - The Big Blue Blanket,
Chapter 6 - Clearing Skies, June 1944,
Chapter 7 - Returning,
Chapter 8 - Narrow Straits, October 1944,
Part Two - THE KAMIKAZE BOYS,
Chapter 9 - Becoming Young Gods, October 1944,
Chapter 10 - To Get In and Get Aboard, November 1944,
Chapter 11 - HI-RI-HO-KEN-TEN, November 1944,
Chapter 12 - Target Paradise, November 1944,
Chapter 13 - Suicide at Its Best, November–December 1944,
Chapter 14 - The Far Side of Leyte, December 1944,
Chapter 15 - The Shadow of Lingayen, December 1944,
Chapter 16 - Uncompensated Losses, December 1944,
Part Three - THE CRUELEST MONTHS,
Chapter 17 - Corpses That Challenge the Clouds, January 1945,
Chapter 18 - From Hot Rocks, February 1945,
Chapter 19 - To the Great Loochoo, March 1945,
Chapter 20 - Far from Ordinary Skies, 1 April–6 April 1945,
Chapter 21 - A Perfect Day for What Happened, 6 April 1945,
Chapter 22 - "Delete All After 'Crazy,'" 7 April–13 April 1945,
Chapter 23 - Wiseman's Cove, 13 April–30 April 1945,
Chapter 24 - The Same Tooth, May 1945,
Chapter 25 - Short of Home, June and July 1945,
Epilogue - Movies on Topside, August 1945–Present,
Sources and Acknowledgments,
What People are Saying About This
"Well-researched . . . a must for World War II book aficionados."--(Steve Jackson, author of Lucky Lady)
"A real stunner . . . A superb narrative of life, death, and incredible heroism."--(Jim Hartz, former host of "Today")
"A work of power and passion . . . The finest account of the American reaction to the furious suicide raids that attempted to turn the course of the War in the Pacific."--(Donald L. Miller, author of D-Days in the Pacific)
"Powerful . . . David Sears salutes American heroism in the bleakest days of the war."--(H. Paul Jeffers, author of Command of Honor)
"Mesmerizing . . . With history like this, who needs fiction? Simply thrilling."--(Kenneth Sewell, author of Red Star Rogue)
"Thorough and vivid . . . A timely, absorbing book."--(John C. McManus, author of Alamo in the Ardennes)
"Gripping . . . Sears puts readers beside the heroic American sailors in the bull's eye."--(Jerome Preisler, author of All Hands Down)
"Gripping naval combat writing . . . Sears pulls no punches in this powerful account of the sheer terror that was kamikaze warfare."--(M. G. Sheftall, author of Blossoms in the Wind)
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
David Sears has taken the time and effort to thoroughly
research this book. Not only through other books and Naval
records, but by contacting the men and who lived through the
actual events and their families. This first hand reporting
puts you on the decks of these great ships, side by side with
the men who fought so bravely during some of the most horrific
fighting of World War II.
This book should be required reading for all our young people.
I think it may open their eyes to the kinds of sacrifices our
military made then, and continue to make, to preserve the freedom
we all too often take for granted.
I found this titled book to be researched to a great extent, particularly with personal interviews with surviving veterans of the Pacific war against Japan. The casualties inflicted on the U.S. Navy,specifically by the kamikazes , is told with precise attention to detail. It makes the reader fully appreciate the sacrifices made by those seaman, for the most part young boys not even old enough to vote during that time period.
I just finished reading David Sears latest book At War With The Wind in which he so aptly chronicles the WWII Naval battle of the South Pacific. Mr. Sears has done a masterful job of weaving together a vast amount of detail with hundreds of personal, eye-witness accounts of how those heroic sailors and marines fought one of the most bloody naval battles of modern warfare. David¿s writing style is very interesting and easy to read, yet this is a compelling account of the war. He has helped me to come to a much greater appreciation of what our fighting men and women have given for the freedom we enjoy today. It is a must read for anyone interested gaining insight into the history of our country.
At War with the Wind is an excellent look at the men of the U.S. Navy in the Pacific theatre and their battles with the Japanese, especially Kamikaze attacks. While historical, it tells of these battles from the men who were there. Many books have been written about World War II, but not many from the viewpoint of the flightdeck or the radio room from those who manned those posts and who watched friends' acts of true bravery and sacrifice. A nice photo section accompanies the book with personal photos of some of the sailors mentioned in the book.
The author truly cares about these men and portrays their heroism (though the men don't think of it that way) as humble as well as noble. A great read for those who want to understand history from those who made it.
One of the best books on the subject. The author talked to many sailors who lived through this horror. Should be required reading for any WWII buff.