The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

WoWasis book review: ‘I-Boat Captain,’ by Zenji Orita with Joseph Harrington

Written By: herbrunbridge - Jan• 05•14

i-BoatCaptainWe first became aware of Japanese submariner Zenji Orita  in author Joseph D. Harrington’s book Yankee Samurai: the Secret Role of Nisei in America’s Pacific Victory (1979), which sent us scurrying to find Orita’s book I-Boat Captain: How Japanese Submarines Almost Defeated the U.S. Navy in the Pacific (1976). The book is alternately chilling and fascinating, as it points out that will a little more planning and strategic awareness, Japan could have inflicted greater losses on allied naval craft. Instead, as Orita discusses, submarines were eventually mostly used to transport troops and supplies, and were increasingly sunk by U.S. destroyers as their shipping lanes became more predictable.

Orita’s story of rising through the ranks provides a wonderful glimpse into the Japanese navy, but it’s hard to root for him. He was gung-ho on the Japanese war effort, beginning with his belief that the conquest of Manchuria was justified, likening it to U.S. manifest destiny. He relates the fate of the Chinese to that of the Native American, giving no regard to the privations at Nanking, as documented by Iris Chang, among others.

That said, however, the book’s a good read. Orita attacked the U.S. mainland, and his description of that event is memorable. The minutiae of submarine life is well-documented including the fact that olfactory senses were challenged by facts such as showers were allowed only every three days and underwear washed every five. Submariners were under constant threat of having electrical and fuel systems damaged by depth charges, which could potentially suffocate their crews by exposure to diesel fumes. Of particular interest are the passages relating to suicidal kaiten pilots, who rode one-man submarines to their deaths, inflicting serious damage to U.S. ships in the process. Orita masterfully provides descriptions of these vessels as well as sobering tributes to the men that piloted them.

Overall, the reader is left with a terrific analysis of Japanese thinking and practice as it relates to submarine warfare in the second World War, and perhaps an improved appreciation for the value of sonar as a critical asset to the allied powers in the Pacific theatre of operations.

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Comment

  1. Kathleen says:

    Sounds like a real interesting read !

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.