Dangers Hour: The story of the USS Bunker Hill and the Kamikazi that crippled her

Discussion in 'Non-fiction' started by syscom3, Oct 3, 2010.

  1. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    Dangers Hour: The story of the USS Bunker Hill and the Kamikazi that crippled her

    Maxwell Taylor Kennedy
    Simon Schuster 2008

    Danger's Hour on the USS Bunker Hill on blip.tv

    Danger's Hour: The Story of the USS Bunker Hill and the Kamikaze Pilot Who Crippled Her by Maxwell Taylor Kennedy

    This is an excellent book that is in effect, two different stories told in parallel. One is of CV-17, the USS Bunker Hill and her operations in the latter part of 1944 and early 1945. As this is being told, a story about the Kamikazi pilot is presented. Eventually both stories converge on the fateful morning on May 11 1945. When the Bunker Hill was hammered by two Kamikazi's.

    The story on the Kamikazi's is well researched. The author used Japanese researchers and original sources to piece together the history and life of the pilot and what was happening with his "unit" as it trained and prepared for its final sortie.

    The story about the Bunker Hill in the first part of the book, consists mainly on the experiences of the pilots, aircrew and support staff. Most of the information deals with the personal aspects of the air staff being aboard a carrier and flying sorties every day. This ultimately feeds back into the 2nd half of the book for when the carrier is hit and burning, what happens to the air group.

    The second half deals with the two Kamikazi impacts and the resultant catastrophic explosions that nearly sunk the ship. The author interviewed many survivors to unfold a story that just captures a readers curiosity.
    When it comes to the naval war of WW2, the aspects of being IN a warship that has major fires going on is not told frequently. The morbid details of what was happening to the crew is told without the author holding back punches.

    Consider what any sailor trapped in a ship has to contend with: Poison gas inhalation, smoke inhalation that causes you to cough up parts of your lungs, inhalation of heated air, being in a compartment where you either get grilled or baked to death, let alone having exposure to flame. The expended water used in firefighting that fills compartments, and the electrocution hazards as water comes in contact with live power.

    This book puts you right into the action, whether its the sailors trying escape the hazards all the way to the engineering crew who were trapped in the engine and boiler rooms and made sure power was not lost.

    The final part of the book involves something that is rarely discussed about any ship that has survived heavy damage. The clean up and burials that follow. Nearly 400 of the ships crew perished that day. many burned or suffocated to death below decks. Every one of them had to be brought out and accounted for. This is as gruesome job as any sailor can have. But it was done. One cannot tell the story of any ship taking damage without the human element of the aftermath being discussed.

    As with any book written decades after this war ended, the "bad" things about the USN had to be discussed. This was a sgregated navy, and it is impossible to discuss the ship without talking about navy policy regarding this. There also were design flaws on the Essex class carriers (early ones) that contributed to the near sinking of CV-17. This is also discussed.

    My only complaint on this book, is it doesn't have deck and room diagrams so as a reader can understand what is happening in each part of the ship as the bomb and fires do their damage. This is a major omission in my opinion.

    The website has lots of pictures and video clips. I highly recommend them to you.

    I would say this book is a good addition to anyone's library who is interested naval warfare, or the airwar in the Pacific.

    Please check the website. It has lots of pictures of the air group and operations.

    [​IMG]
     
  2. Aaron Brooks Wolters

    Aaron Brooks Wolters Well-Known Member

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    Thank you Syscom. I definitely want to check this out.:thumbright:
     
  3. RCAFson

    RCAFson Well-Known Member

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    It is tragic that the USN didn't adopt armoured flight decks until it was too late.
     
  4. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    This issue has been debated many times.

    The armored flight deck has advantages and disadvantages. And in this case, having a carrier of that displacement with an armored deck would mean a smaller air group compliment, meaning more carriers would be needed to do the missions. Which means more targets for the Kamikazi's to hit.

    The armored flight deck was a non starter untill the Midway class set the new standards of armor AND a nice sized air group.
     
  5. RCAFson

    RCAFson Well-Known Member

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    I'm afraid that I have to strongly disagree. The USN examined a design for Essex with an armoured deck and it was only 1200 tons heavier than the actual design, and given the USN's massive preponderance in strength, it seems to me that even if they had to pay a price in terms of a small reduction in aircraft capacity, that it would have been worth it:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_armoured_to_unarmoured_flight_deck_designs
     
  6. renrich

    renrich Active Member

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    The articles at the bottom of the wiki page you have posted seem to strongly disagree with your opinion, RCAFson. Based on reading those articles, I would say that the US used the correct decision in building their carriers as they did. The British carriers, besides carrying a smaller air group were also less habitable in the Pacific because of their more enclosed hanger decks.
     
  7. RCAFson

    RCAFson Well-Known Member

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    #7 RCAFson, Oct 4, 2010
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2010

    There have been some articles written to try and vilify (sorry I don't know how else to put it) the RN decision to use armoured flight decks. Quite frankly, in light of the tragedies of the Bunker Hill and Franklin, I am amazed that you would put any stock in them - the casualty numbers tell the story. The RN carriers were using much larger airgroups towards the end of the war, when they began to use permanent deck parks like their USN counterparts, but the initial design decisions made pre-war limited their airgroup capacity for reasons unrelated to armoured flight decks.

    Just to expand on this, the article; Were Armored Flight Decks on British Carriers Worthwhile?
    http://www.navweaps.com/index_tech/tech-030.htm
    makes a number of statements that are simply untrue and refuted by the wiki article and its sources. For example the claim that "Of the British armored carriers, Formidable and Illustrious were write-offs due to war damage." is complete bunk as is the claim that armoured hangers restricted the height of the hangers to any particular height. The designers chose to build to these heights because it seemed correct at the time, but there's no reason why higher and/or larger hangers could not have been designed, especially if built to the 27500 ton standard displacement of an Essex class, rather than 23500 tons. Only one carrier was rebuilt because that was all Britain could afford, especially since there were several fleet carriers completed post war, along with over a dozen light fleet carriers.
     
  8. renrich

    renrich Active Member

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    No need for you to be amazed. I read the articles and they seemed to make sense to me. If you don't agree with their conclusions, I certainly can understand. The facts are that the US Navy got the job done with it's carriers both early in the war when they were going against formidable odds and later against an implacable foe and the kamikaze threat. The RN contributed little to victory in the Pacific partly because they had their hands full elsewhere. It would have been interesting however if a RN task force had encountered Japanese forces like that the US fought against in 1942-43.
     
  9. RCAFson

    RCAFson Well-Known Member

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    Yes, unfortunately the RN's only potential carrier vs carrier action, in April 1942 pitted two RN fleet carriers against 5 IJN carriers. The USN never had to face that kind of opposition until mid 1944 when they easily outnumbered the IJN fleet.
     
  10. vikingBerserker

    vikingBerserker Well-Known Member

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    Huh? What about Coral Sea and Midway?
     
  11. RCAFson

    RCAFson Well-Known Member

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    Coral Sea was two USN fleet carriers versus two IJN fleet carriers and a light carrier, and Midway was 3 USN fleet carriers versus 4 IJN fleet carriers. The USN never faced greater numbers of IJN fleet carriers than the RN until June 1944, at the Battle of the Philippine Sea where the IJN had 6 fleet carriers and 3 light carriers, but by then the USN had 7 fleet carriers and 8 light carriers.
     
  12. vikingBerserker

    vikingBerserker Well-Known Member

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    Ok, now I'm following your logic. I thought you were referring to odds, not the # of CVs.
     
  13. diddyriddick

    diddyriddick Active Member

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    There is another problem with the armored deck. If the deck is pierced, the ship has to go into a drydock for 3-6 months. The non-armored deck, while obviously easier to damage, was also easier to repair.
     
  14. timshatz

    timshatz Active Member

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    The Eastern Solomons had 2 US CV versus 3-4 (depending on when you count them) Japanese Heavy and Light Carriers. I believe the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands had the US in an inferior numbers role. In truth, the US fought all it's Pre-44 carrier battles at a numerical disadvantage in terms of Carriers. But once production ramped up (and the doctrine was refined), the numbers and the odds changed.

    As for the Armored/Non-Armored debate, you can pretty much pick your side on that one. Armor flight decks had advantages as did nonarmored.
     
  15. RCAFson

    RCAFson Well-Known Member

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    True enough but 3 on 2 , or 4 on 3 is a lot better odds than 5 on 2. I would bet that Somerville would have tried very hard to engage a force of 2 fleet and one light carrier and might have pulled it off too.
     
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