The Japanese Navy in World War II: In the Words of Former Japanese Naval Officers edited by David C. Evans
While the title may imply just another generic history of the Pacific Theater, this book is anything but. The late David Evans edited together a collection of essays written by former Imperial Japanese Navy officers. What this represents is a wealth of first-hand information for historians. Effectively, it’s primary source material, albeit written post-war with the benefit of hindsight.
The essays are organized more or less chronologically, starting with the attack on Pearl Harbor and ending with a reflection on the reasons why the IJN lost the war. While not every conceivable event in the Pacific War is covered, what’s interesting is that the essays up to the Battle of Midway have a decidedly celebratory tone, but as the war dragged on, it soon became clearer and clearer that Japan had no hope of winning. As a result, the essays slowly take on a much more solemn and defeatist tone. It’s clear that some of these officers could see the writing on the wall.
Bear in mind that these essays were written by officers, not enlisted men, and many of them were high-ranking admirals. Make of that what you will. The value in them lies in the fact that they give insight into the inner workings of the IJN. Most of these officers served on operations staffs in various units. This gives us a window into the bureaucracy and doctrinal thinking of the higher echelons of the IJN. While it’s clear that some of these men were really drinking the Kool-Aid, others were very perspicacious and the level of detail that some of these men remembered is impressive.
In my opinion, some of the best essays are:
Ozawa in the Pacific: A Junior Officer’s Experience
Why Japan’s Antisubmarine Warfare Failed
Japanese Submarine Tactics and the Kaiten
Kamikazes in the Okinawa Campaign
These essays were very enlightening because, particularly with the two on Japanese anti-submarine warfare and submarine tactics, western literature on those topics is fairly sparse.
That being said, it’s important to understand the limitations of any personal account, particularly ones written after-the-fact since they have the benefit of hindsight. It’s also not unheard of for some authors, in this case those on the losing side, to try and embellish or omit certain facts for their own benefit. Yes, the Japanese are susceptible to this as well. For example, some of the essays are authored by Mitsuo Fuchida and certain claims of his have been called into question by both American and Japanese historians. This is NOT to say that everything in this book is falsified, but the reader would definitely benefit by having a good understanding of the broader history of the Pacific War before they read these essays. Furthermore, historians often look for other sources in order to corroborate the information from personal accounts. That’s just good research skills.
In short, this is a great source of firsthand information from former IJN officers. It gives the reader a view from the “other side of the hill” and fills certain gaps in our knowledge of the Pacific War. The late David Evans was one of the foremost experts on the IJN in his day and this work is a testament to his ability to source information.
Overall, 5 out of 5.