Book Review: Shinano! – The Sinking of Japan’s Secret Supership By Joseph Enright

I’ve done reviews on other popular history books about the ships of the Yamato-class. (see the reviews for: Battleship Musashi by Akira Yoshimura and A Glorious Way to Die by Russell Spurr). So here’s a review of a book about the third Yamato sister ship, the converted aircraft carrier, Shinano.

Unlike the aforementioned books, Shinano! specifically chronicles the sinking of the eponymous vessel and serves as a war memoir for Captain Joseph Enright, the commanding officer of the USS Archerfish (SS-311), the submarine that sunk her.

For those who are unfamiliar with the history, the Shinano was originally to be the third Yamato-class battleship. However, following the Japanese defeat at the Battle of Midway with the loss of four fleet carriers, the drastic need for more naval air power resulted in the Shinano being converted to a carrier. Even at that, her massive size and the lack of aircraft meant that she would’ve probably served more as a resupply vessel. Rushed into service, she had only been in commission for less than two weeks and wasn’t even fully fitted-out or with a full crew when she set sail from Yokosuka for Kure on 28 November 1944. Thus, it was to be a first and only voyage.

Right off the bat, the reader will notice that the book has a very focused narrative. While Enright does offer some insights into his career prior to commanding the Archerfish, by and large, the story is solely centered around the Archerfish stalking and sinking the carrier. The narrative is structured so that the chapters alternate between the American and the Japanese perspectives. For example, one chapter will describe activities aboard the Archerfish during a certain period of time, and the next chapter will describe the concurrent events happening aboard the Shinano. The American point-of-view is obviously from Enright’s own experiences and there is a sufficient amount of detail to understand his thought processes. The Japanese perspective is derived from the journals and interviews of a number of officers, mostly those on the bridge.

When compared to the more popular histories on the Yamato-class battleships, Shinano! is by far the most well-cited and focused. On the upside, there are end-notes and a bibliography which tell the reader where the information was attributed from. So, the facts presented can at least be corroborated. On the downside, the chapters dealing with the Japanese side are much weaker in terms of writing.

My biggest problem with this book is the somewhat amateurish writing. The problem is that not all of the information is well-cited. Like other popular history books on the Yamato and the Musashi, this book is filled with many details that seem way too specific. While the amount of detail in the American perspective is understandable since Enright is recollecting his own experiences, the amount of detail contained in the chapters told from the Japanese side makes me incredulous. It notes the thought processes of other people and contains dialogue that Enright couldn’t possibly have known about, even with the sources listed. More than likely, some of the actions and the dialogue was made up to fit the situation and flesh out the account.

For example, the narrative will describe in an unbelievable amount of detail how a Japanese sailor “rushed to perform some task” or “was thinking about _____.” Many of these portions of the narrative seem more like they belong in a historical fiction book, but this is most definitely not one. Some of the dialogue is attributed to personal correspondence or interviews in the end notes, but a lot of it isn’t. While it’s meant to add some color and characterization to the story (in addition to probably lengthening it), it instead comes off as cliched for a history book. In the end, like Spurr’s book, I kept thinking, “Really? You knew exactly what these people were thinking, doing, and saying at that exact moment?” As a result, these portions of the story really drag down what would otherwise be a decent war memoir.

Overall, out of the other popular history books on the Yamato-class vessels, I found Enright’s Shinano! to be the most focused and decently cited. The book does well to include both end notes and a bibliography. The strongest part of the book are the chapters from the American perspective where Enright provides the reader with insight into his decision-making processes as his submarine stalked and torpedoed the Shinano. Unfortunately, the chapters told from the Japanese perspective suffer from not having enough citations to properly attribute many of the details. Still, it’s an above-average read and may provide some interesting details on a ship that never even got the chance to strut her stuff.

Rating: 3 out of 5

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