J-aircraft.com Book Review 
Martin Grant

Title: Samurai!

Author: Saburo Sakai, Fred Saito, Martin Caidin

Publisher: Time Life "Wings of War" edition

Price: $5.50 used in pristine condition


          This is the "U.S." version of Sakai-san's memoirs, that has some inaccuracies as admitted by Sakai himself.  Case in point:  Some days after the Surrender of Japan, Sakai and some of his fellow Pilots took off and intercepted a U.S. Dominator. In the daytime. They did not bring it down, but exchanged fire with it.  According to the book he took off with a fictional Pilot "Jiro Kawachi" and shot down a B-29 at night!

           The book is excellent reading however, and from what I can gather is fairly accurate, even if sensationalized. The story starts out with Sakai's childhood failure in school and his mothers struggling to run the small family farm with no Husband.  Sakai's determination to go to flight school after enlisting in the Navy is brought out, as he failed several times the entrance exam. Finally making it, his account of the rigors of flight school is riveting. Sakai eventually graduates 1st in his class earning a silver (or was it gold?) watch from the Emperor. He is next posted in 1938 to China where he has in his own words "less than an auspicious start" into combat, making "every mistake in the book" and eventually exhausted all his ammunition in bringing down a Chinese Air Force I-16.

           Severly reprimanded he goes on in another mission to chase over a long distance a Chinese airforce bomber flight, shooting down one and making it back to base.

           He details his excitement of transferring from the Claude to the more modern Zero and his subsequent assignment to the Tainan Wing and the complete domination of the USAAF, Austrailian, New Zealand and Dutch Airforces flying P-40's, P-39's, F2A's and the like. Here in vivid detail is wild melee's from 25,000 feet up to treetop level, and the deadliest foe the Zero Pilots encounter in the first seven months of World War ll was the B-17.  There is much combat footage here, with much detail. Sakai comments quite a bit on the spirit and courage of the Allied Pilots he and his comrades encounter. Here we are also introduced to some of the Aces of the Tainan Wing, which was the most succesful Wing in the entire Navy. Aces such as Hiroyoshi Nishizawa (whom some say went on to become Japan's Ace of Aces with a score from 85 - 108 being attributed to him), Toshio Ota, Takatsuka, Junichi Sasai etc.

           Sakai is shot up, but not down but is grievously wounded in early August 1942 over Guadalcanal and makes it back to base, a 500 mile trip with terrible head wounds and delirium.  His eye surgery without anesthetic, his loss of more than half his sight and subsequent assignment into instructor and test pilot roles are interesting, as well as his return to combat in 1944 over Iwo Jima against U.S. Hellcats is fascinating and terrifying. His candor in admitting the utter defeat and inferiority of the Japanese naval forces at this point in time is very honest and merits credibililty to his writing. He details the Kamikaze campaign and the development of newer Fighters such as the Raiden and Shiden, but admits they did nothing to get back air superiority that belonged firmly to the U.S. forces. Involved in Home Defense in the last months of the War, defeat finally comes with the atomic bombings and Sakai is drummed out of the Navy with no fanfare and no means of support, losing his first Wife to "poverty and sickness".

 The book is a must read for anyone interested in the JNAF.

Contribute a book review (you can even review a book that has been previously reviewed) by clicking here

Return to Book Reviews Main Page

Return to J-aircraft Main Page