Winged Samurai Book Review

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Winged Samurai: Saburo Sakai and the Zero Fighter Pilots

By Henry Sakaida

Softcover, 159 pages, heavily illustrated

Published by Champlin Fighter Museum, August 1985

Language: English

ISBN-10: 091217305X

ISBN-13: 978-0912173054

Dimensions: 8.2 x 0.5 x 11.0 inches

First-hand accounts of Japanese airmen from the Pacific War are rare in the West; biographies are almost unique.  In Winged Samurai author Henry Sakaida presents the results of several interviews with Saburo Sakai, who is recognized as Japan’s fourth-highest scoring ace.

There has been a biography of Sakai’s exploits published in English, Samurai! by Martin Caiden, an adaptation of Sakai’s own Ôzora no samurai (Samurai in the Sky).  It appears Caiden took several liberties with the narrative in order to dramatize the account for Western readers.  These are not limited to the construction of details and conversations, Sakai himself indicates many incidents related in Caiden’s book never actually happened.

Henry Sakaida corrects Sakai’s record.  The book is not presented in the usual narrative form, but it reads more as a collection of reference materials, much of which comes from Sakai’s own personal collection.  It is heavily illustrated with photographs, maps, and copies of official reports.  The author has researched each engagement from both sides wherever possible.  Combatants are identified by name and unit, and Sakai’s own evaluations of the Allied aircraft, pilots, and tactics are of particular interest.  Several pages are devoted to the combat over Guadalcanal on 07AUG42, where Sakai encountered U.S. Navy carrier aircraft for the first time and was severely wounded.  Much of this account is based upon an article written by John B. Lundstrom and draws upon interviews and records of the U.S. Navy aircrews involved.

Also included are brief biographies of many of the Zero pilots Sakai flew with as well as photographs and accounts of reunions held after the war, where Sakai was treated as an honored guest by many of the men he fought against.  This is an interesting book and a valuable addition to the history of the Pacific War.  I would love to see it reprinted in hardback on glossy paper with color profiles of the aircraft.  Maybe someday! 

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7 thoughts on “Winged Samurai Book Review

  1. I have long wanted to get a copy of this, and like you, wish it could get a refurbishment in hardback, etc. I have always loved “Samurai!”, warts and all. Despite its faults, which are many thanks to Caiden, what it does do well is give the reader a “feel” for what it was like to be an IJN fighter pilot in New Guinea and the Solomons in ’42.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, but I would now put Caiden’s Samurai! in the historical fiction class. I’d love to see a profile artist like Claes Sundin illustrate the aircraft from the book on both sides of the encounters – provided there is enough detail in the record.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. That is one area where Michael Claringbould’s book “Eagles of the Southern Sky” really shines IMHO. His and his co-author’s work on sorting out the claims of both sides against the loss records is eye-opening. Guess what? Sakai doesn’t come out looking as great as folks have made him out to be here.

    Liked by 1 person

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