The Japanese Navy in WW2, David C Evans (ed.)

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  • This is a reprint of the 1989 second edition, with seven additional articles, of a 1969 work presenting in translation twelve post-war essays by senior IJN officers covering the Pacific War at sea as seen through Japanese eyes.

    While twelve of the items record participants' experiences of individual campaigns and actions - Pearl Harbor, Midway, Guadalcanal etc - the others offer an analysis of generic topics such as Japanese efforts at anti-submarine warfare, which was given a very low priority until it was too late. The authors are frank about what they see, after the event, as Japanese failings and in many cases attribute these to the Japanese character in which the offensive is prioritised above the defensive. We see rigid doctrine based on obsolete concepts, inflexibility causing reinforcement of failure, impatience, glib self-delusive acceptance of grossly inflated damage reports, failure to appreciate US industrial capability, and very confused and conflicting higher command arrangements including often the IJN and the Japanese army having fundamentally different aims. Technically we see how investment in such as radar, combat information handling, long range reconnaissance (the Catalina), proximity fuzes for anti-aircraft ammunition, and even bulldozers, along with US codebreaking successes, delivered enormous advantages to the US, and how radar negated the IJN's investment in night action. Strategically we see how events at one end of the IJN's perimeter influenced decisions at the other thousands of miles away, and how by mid 1944 shortage of fuel and merchant shipping was affecting plans and events. The effects of weather and poor radio communications were often crucial.

    The translation is first class and makes smooth reading. The selection of topics is totally pertinent. American mistakes are also chronicled. While the analyses are thoughtful and often frank, the accounts of some actions, particularly the sinkings of the Atagi and the vast Yamato, are gripping. My sole criticism is that the lettering on some of the charts was so small as to be very difficult to read. There is of course no recognition by the enthusiastic authors that they were participating in a war that was totally wrong morally, let alone any shred of contrition at Japan's choice of aggressive war starting with the faked China Incident of 1937.

    This book is an essential ingredient to any deep study of the Pacific War. Western authors limited to English should use (and should have used) this book to gain understanding of what the enemy was doing, and more particularly what he was thinking - appreciating the situation from a different cultural base (the two essays about kamikazes show that difference to be unbridgeable) - and a different perspective. In particular the picture available to the Japanese Command is an important ingredient of understanding the conflict. I found the insights into the IJN thought process, as the realisation that Japan had bitten off more than it could chew spread across the IJN, and the great deal of additional information including many critical technicalities, absorbingly interesting.


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