Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Review of The Twilight Warriors by Robert Gandt (Broadway Books, 2010)

1945 and the United States and its allies are closing in on Japan. Bypassing Formosa, they decide to invade Okinawa, an island close enough to the main islands to provide a strong air and naval base. Okinawa is heavily defended and well organized and the Japanese military are prepared to use kamikaze flights and ship runs to try and halt the advance. Their plan is to inflict as much damage as possible to make the Americans realise the cost in life of invading the main Japanese islands and hopefully reach some kind of peace on acceptable terms. It’s a strategy that pays some dividends, with 34 US ships sunk, 368 damaged, 763 aircraft lost, 4907 Navy men killed and 4,824 wounded, and 12,520 soldiers killed and 36,311 wounded, and it directly influences the decision to drop the atomic bombs. On the Japanese side, 16 ships and 4000 planes were lost, and 110,000 personnel were killed plus 100,000 civilians. The Twilight Warriors tells the tale from both American and Japanese perspectives and covers engagements on land, air and sea, and the strategies adopted by military leaders, though it provides the personnel experiences by concentrating on the exploits of USS Intrepid’s fighter pilots.

Gandt does a good job of providing an overarching picture of the scope and extent of various battles. However, the battle on the island is covered in somewhat sketchy terms, with the narrative focusing more on the naval and aerial side of the battle, and in particular the kamikaze raids and the sinking of the Yamato and her escorts. Given the wide brief and approach, as might be expected, the narrative chops and changes perspectives quite a bit, flitting between various actions and decisions, and the exploits of a small group of naval aviators. The latter grounds the battle in the everyday experiences of men facing danger head-on, with a number of them killed in action, or ditching into the sea. Snippets are also given of the views and experiences of other US personnel, especially on ships under kamikaze attack and those taking part in such suicide missions. At first, this style is quite jarring, but as the book progresses it finds a rhythm and works quite well to give a sense of scale of operations, yet still be grounded in individual lives. Overall, an interesting, engaging and a little uneven read.

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