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Kamikazes, Corsairs, and Picket Ships: Okinawa, 1945.

Kamikazes, Corsairs, and Picket Ships: Okinawa, 1945. By Robin L. Rielly. Philadelphia: Casemate, 2008. Maps. Tables. Diagrams. Illustrations. Photographs. Notes. Appendices. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xii, 435 $34.95. ISBN: 1-93203386-1

Those steeped in the many World War II movies dealing with the Pacific, have seen plenty of scenes about Kamikaze attacks on the fleet off Okinawa. Often they show destroyers on radar picket duty and give an idea of the punishment inflicted on these ships and their crews.

It turns out that is only part of the story. Rielly spent years researching this little reported facet of the Navy's participation in the Pacific. The list of primary sources he sifted through is impressive. What comes from his work is a very detailed story of what took place off Okinawa's shores from the first of April through mid-August 1945. What will probably surprise most readers is that destroyers weren't the only types of ships engaged in the very hazardous duty of providing warning of impending air attack to the bulk of the fleet and the troops ashore. In addition to several classes of destroyers (and destroyer minesweepers and escorts), there were also patrol gunboats and several types of large landing craft. While not well suited for the duties assigned to them, they had antiaircraft guns and added to the screening force. Their crews went through the same hell as those of the destroyer types.

The first hundred pages provide excellent coverage of the nature of the duty at the picket stations, the types of ships and Navy/Marine/Army aircraft involved on the American side, the Japanese air forces arrayed against the U.S., and an overall picture of the Okinawa campaign. These chapters are well done as is the eighth and final chapter which summarizes and analyses the combat actions that took place. The appendices are also superb. It's the 225 pages in between chapters two and eight that get tedious. In his preface, Reilly says, "I have tried to avoid a journalistic style in my writing; however ... it was sometimes necessary." The five chronologically arranged chapters in the middle are almost totally journalistic in style. For example: "Patrolling on RP [radar picket] Station # 3 were Daly, Henry A. Wiley, LCS(L) 81, 111, PGM 10, and PGM 17. LCS(L) 111 left the station at 0505. A RPP [radar picket patrol] of two VMF-224 Corsairs flown by Maj. R.C. Hammond, Jr. and First Lieutenant Van Salter flew over the station. At 0625 a bogey was spotted on the Daley's radar screen. She vectored the two Corsairs out to intercept it and at 0630 they splashed the Val five miles astern of the destroyer. Major Hammond was credited with the kill." A reader comes away thinking that Rielly wanted to make sure every fact he uncovered was passed along.

Of the nearly 3,000 casualties taken on the picket stations, over 1,300 were Killed in Action (KIA). Fifteen of the 206 ships that served in this role were sunk and another fifty were damaged--many severely. The crews were at nearly constant battle stations. The horror was nearly unimaginable. But a few of the best stories and some better summations would have served the reader better than the style the author selected while still presenting the story.

Rielly packed the book with photos and diagrams. The one map he failed to provide, however, was the location of the nearly twenty radar picket stations. The entire book keys on these, but I have no idea where they were! Other than the style problem, that is one of the book's few failings. Make no mistake, I think this is a terrific book about a subject that has hitherto received only scant coverage. To understand what the thousands of sailors and airmen faced off the shores of Okinawa, this is a must read.

Col. Scott A. Willey, USAF (Ret.), Book Review Editor
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Author:Willey, Scott A.
Publication:Air Power History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2009
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