27 July 2011

Book Review: First Shot - The Untold Story of Japanese Minisubs That Attacked Pearl Harbor, by John Craddock, ****

America’s first shot of World War II was fired by a worn-out World War I destroyer. An hour before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S.S. Ward hit its mark - a tiny but lethal Japanese submarine - but no one heeded the captain’s report. Before the morning was out, more than 2,400 people were dead, thousands more were wounded, and more than 100 American warships were destroyed or crippled. What became of the Ward’s message?

Why didn’t Pearl Harbor command sound a general alarm? And what was the mission of the midget submarine and four others like it—deemed critical enough by Admiral Yamamoto, mastermind of Japan’s Pacific naval war, that he was willing to risk the element of surprise on which his entire plan depended? First Shot is the compelling examination of a missed opportunity and the role of midget submarines in Japan’s Pacific war strategy.

This is a well written book, keeps the reader's attention and is full of interesting information. It may be at times a bit simplistic and, as noted in other reviews, may contain the occasional factual error, but it does provide everything you ever wanted to know about Japanese midget subs. It is true, as others have noted, that this could have been done in many fewer pages, but as a non specialist I enjoyed reading the various chapters devoted to the historical context. The parts on the history of midget subs in other countries is welcome as it puts the Japanese boats and plans in context. Yes the book could have been shorter: but, as such, the "first shot" episode of 7 December 1941 would be just a footnote in history, while the wider context, which well described here, provides an interesting and new angle to the whole Pacific war. The personal story of the sole midget sub survivor, POW n.1 in the U.S., receives adequate attention and personality of Yamamoto is explored in depth, which I think is relevant to the broader history.

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