First Shot Book Review

First Shot:  The Untold Story of the Japanese Minisubs That Attacked Pearl Harbor

By John Craddock

Hardcover in dustjacket, 210 pages, bibliography, notes, photographs, and index

Published by McGraw-Hill, October 2005

Language: English

ISBN-10: ‎0-07-143716-9

ISBN-13: ‎978-0-07-143716-5

Dimensions: ‎6.2 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches

The use of the five Japanese minisubs during the attack on Pearl Harbor has always been controversial.  Many Japanese naval officers opposed the idea, fearing the submarines would contribute little and risked alerting the Americans to the impending attack.  On the American side, the submarines represented missed opportunities to warn of the attack (just as many Japanese officers feared), and the penetration of the harbor revealed inadequacies of the defenses.  In the aftermath, the Japanese were convinced the minisubs had torpedoed American warships.  The American Navy insisted they had done no damage, a position which was maintained for decades.

In First Shot John Craddock documents what was known about the attack and the fates of the minisubs in 2005.  The midget submarine (I-20-tou) sunk by USS Ward’s gunfire had been located, but not positively identified.  I-16-tou had not been located although she was suspected to have torpedoed the USS West Virginia (BB-48) and USS Oklahoma (BB-37) by some.  He also briefly describes the midget submarine raids against Sydney Harbor and Diego Suarez, the latter arguably their most successful operation.  Operations in the Solomons are briefly mentioned.  There is some interesting information on ENS Kazuo Sakamaki, who commanded I-24-tou and became PoW Number One.

However, for a good part of the book Craddock is exploring peripheral subjects.  Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s early career is described in detail, and there is an entire chapter on his assassination.  There is a chapter on Coral Sea and Midway, as well as the use of the Kaiten manned torpedoes during the last year of the war.  Another chapter discusses Japan after the war.  All interesting and well written, but not the topic of the book.

There are also some missed opportunities which are not mentioned.  For instance, Ward had a busy morning on 07DEC41, and reported depth charging a total of four submarine contacts off the entrance to Pearl Harbor – and at least three of the minisubs were known to have been damaged by depth charges outside the harbor.  Tracing her movements could have filled a chapter, and she was not the only destroyer prosecuting submarine contacts in the area at the time.  Midget submarine operations in the Solomons and the Aleutians would also be interesting, and would give some insights into the evolution of doctrine and employment of these vessels as the war progressed.

While this book is worth reading, it is limited by what was known at the time.  The author “gets out into the weeds” with topics outside of the book’s scope, and doesn’t fully explore topics which are related.  This work is a start, but there is a comprehensive book still waiting to be written on the saga of the fifty Ko-hyoteki midget submarines used by the Imperial Japanese Navy in the Pacific War.

Grumman F2F / F3F Color Photographs

The Grumman F2F was a single seat fighter operated by the U.S. Navy from 1935 through 1939. It was a refinement of Grumman’s successful twin-seat FF-1 design, being both faster and more maneuverable. Here are three F2F-1s from VF-2B’s second section in an impressive display of precision flying. The Lemon Yellow tail surfaces indicate aircraft assigned to USS Lexington (CV-2).
The F2F had a 700 hp Twin Wasp Junior radial and a two-bladed prop. The wheels retracted flush with the fuselage sides and the fuselage was bulged aft of the cowling to accommodate them. This aircraft is from VF-7 assigned to USS Wasp (CV-7).
Grumman enlarged the design to improve stability and changed the designation to F3F-1. The -2 model incorporated a 950 hp Wright Cyclone engine and a three-bladed prop. The golden-colored varnish on the propeller blades was seen on several pre-war USN aircraft types.
The U.S. Marines also flew the type, these aircraft are assigned to VMF-1 at Quantico.
Here is a section of F3Fs flying along the California coast. The red tails indicate they are assigned to VF-5 from the USS Yorktown (VF-5). The F3Fs were the last biplane fighters operated by the U.S. Navy, being replaced by the Brewster F2A Buffalo in Fleet service.
The F3F was featured prominently in the Hollywood film “Dive Bomber” starring Errol Flynn and Fred MacMurray. Here is a screenshot from the film showing the Squadron Commander’s aircraft from VF-6, the True Blue tail designating assignment to the USS Enterprise (CV-6).
A beautiful aerial shot of VF-6s Second Section leader’s aircraft in flight. The unusual flight gear seen on the pilot is a movie prop pressure suit for the filming of “Dive Bomber”.
The surviving F2F and F3F biplanes were retained as advanced trainers until the end of 1943, based at NAS Miami and NAS Corpus Christi. Not the best quality photograph but it does show trainer markings on this F2F at NAS Miami.
A crop of a larger view of the ramp at NAS Miami in 1942 reveals several F2F and F3F trainers.  I found this photograph fascinating not only for the variety of obsolescent aircraft types but the odd mixture of paint schemes and markings.  Most of the Grumman fighters are wearing trainer schemes similar to Yellow Wing specifications, but overall Light Gray as well as Blue Gray over Light Gray camouflage schemes are present as well.  In addition, some aircraft display national insignia with or without red centers, and with or without tail stripes.  (80-G-K-13386 crop)

The Coral Sea 1942 Book Review

The Coral Sea 1942: The first carrier battle

Osprey Campaign Series Book 214

By Marke Stille, Illustrated by John White

Softcover in dustjacket,  96 pages, profusely illustrated, index

Published by Osprey Publishing, November 2009

Language: English

ISBN-13: 978-1-84603-440-4

Dimensions: 7.4 x 0.2 x 9.5 inches

The Imperial Japanese Navy planned Operation Mo to seize Port Moresby on the southern coast of New Guinea for the purpose of isolating Australia and threating Allied air bases there.  This would help secure the southern frontier of their Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere and protect their bases at Rabaul.  Supporting the Japanese invasion fleet were the large aircraft carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku and the light carrier Shoho.  American and British signals intercepts warned Admiral Nimitz of the impending operation, and he decided to contest the invasion by sending all four of his available aircraft carriers, although Enterprise and Hornet did not arrive in time to participate in the battle.

The battle was the first naval engagement fought entirely by aircraft.  Although the opposing fleets were often in close proximity they never sighted each other.  The Americans lost the aircraft carrier Lexington, with Yorktown damaged, while the Japanese lost the light carrier Shoho, with Shokaku damaged.  With Zuikaku’s air group depleted the Japanese determined the landings at Port Moresby could not be supported and cancelled the invasion.

Both sides claimed victory.  On the Allied side, the threat to Australia was abated and the Japanese juggernaut was turned back for the first time in the war.  On the other hand, the Japanese thought they had sunk two American carriers.  Their own fleet carriers could be repaired and their air groups replenished, and the IJN would enjoy a two to one superiority in aircraft carriers in the meantime.  In reality, damage to the Yorktown was (quite heroically) repaired in time for her to participate in the Battle of Midway, while neither Zuikaku nor Shokaku were present.

Author Mark Stille has done an excellent job of documenting the events leading up to the Battle of the Coral Sea as well as the play-by-play of the battle itself.  Naval battles are complex affairs, but the graphics-intense format of the Osprey Campaign series shines in making a clear presentation of the ship and aircraft maneuvers.  The length of this work is just enough to present this engagement well.  This is one of the better volumes of this series and well worth picking up.