Title: Winged Samurai:
Saburo Sakai and the Zero Fighter Pilots
Author: Henry Sakaida
Publisher: Champlin Fighter Museum Press
Winged Samurai is one of my favorite books in my small
but growing library of all things JNAF. The book is
an oversized paperback, roughly 11' X 8", and has a
wonderful painting on the cover of Sakai and his Zero
rocketing upwards after he was horribly wounded attacking
a Dauntless formation over Tulagi in August of 1942. We
all know the oft told story.
The introduction from famed US Navy Hellcat Ace David McCambell calls Sakai a "top notch" technician and Fighter leader, and acknowledges that he is "plainly glad he did not have to meet him in combat to prove his abilities...".
The table of contents are as follows:
1) Saburo Sakai - His Early Years
2) Basic Training Days
3) The China War
4) Phillipines - December 8, 1941
5) Dutch East Indies Campaign
6) Rabaul and Lae 1942
7) The Opposition
8) Saburo Sakai over Guadalcanal
9) Pilots of the Tainan Kokutai
10) Sakai in Japan, 1942 - 1944
11) Combat over Iwo Jima - June 24, 1944
12) Home Defense, July 1944 - August 1945
13) The Last Mission
14) The Postwar Years
15) Former Antagonists Reunited
As one might expect from such chapters, there is much discussion in detail of Sakai's exploits. Of particular interest to those who enjoyed "Samurai!" is that Henry Sakaida has, by NAME, identified many of the Allied Pilots who opposed Sakai and his comrades, and for those who were still alive at the time of his writing (1985) you can read in their own words the Allied view of combating the Zeros flown by the Aces of the JNAF.
And there is a very intriguing accounting of pilots and who shot down who, by painstaking research on the part of the author of Japanese and Allied victory/loss records. For example, the two P-39 Pilots who caught Sakai's beloved wingman, Toshiaki Honda, in a cross fire and shot him down near Moresby while Honda reluctantly flew wing for JNAF Ace Watari Handa are identified, as well as the Hellcat Pilot who shot down the Bomber carrying JNAF Ace (Ace of Aces?) Hiroyoshi Nishizawa as a passenger is identified.Want to read an eyewitness account of Ace Kinsuke Muto's last combat in which he lost his life while flying a "George"? One of the Hellcat pilots who was there and witnessed this great aces demise discribes it for you. Speaking of Muto shooting down one of the US pilots there, he says: "....they just bracketed us and made a beautiful run. I saw Speckmann going down in a ball of fire. That guy took him out on the first run."
Intriguing all, but what I found most interesting is the Biography's of other lesser known Tainan Wing Aces such as Ichirobei Yamazaki and Motosuna Yoshida. In this book too, we learn that one of Sakai's Wingman in his famous but short assignment to the Iwo Jima Wing, Masami Shiga, an Ace in his own right, lived through the War to serve with the Japanese Self Defense Force before retiring.
Another point of interest is Sakai's debunking certain myths that have cropped up since the end of the War, such as his famed "last combat". In "Samurai!" it is written that Sakai and a certain "Jiro Kawachi" took off in their Zeros and at night, attacked and brought down a B-29. Not so, says Sakai. "There was no Jiro Kowachi". He says he and several others took off in the daytime and attacked and exchanged fire with a B-32 Dominator "Hobo Queen" but failed to shoot it down. This and several other inaccuracies are corrected.
The final chapters document Sakai's meeting with several US pilots he once opposed in the air over the South Pacific, and the friendship they found and the mutual respect that insued, including a reunion of sorts with the tail gunner of the Dauntless that likely inflicted the near fatal wound to Sakai over Tulagi in 1942. A new friendship was established.
Overall, I'd say the book is a Must Read for all interested in Sakai and the JNAF of World War ll, and if you can find a copy, it is worth saving your pesos for.
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